From Wabamun to Calgary International Airport by bike…with human company!

What better way to get to a bike tour than to bike tour to it? Points against in this case; I was out of cycling condition, dubious about the visual and experiential merits of biking in my home province, and services were simply too far apart between stages in this spartan landscape. I also wanted a gentle ride so both Murph and I could ease into it. I decided that it would be fine – Alberta is flat in the middle, the weather forecast looked superb and I was aching to try some of my gear out. I was also willing to sleep in a ditch if I had to since campsites were not well-spaced, and on the route I was thinking of, every inch of land is fenced and private. I started roughly planning the 350km trajectory.

My brother-in-law, Mika, is a very good amateur road racer and had previously expressed interest in doing a little tour with Murph and me. I’ll admit, I am not generally inclined to tour with another human, never mind a nouveau Greg Lemond. No matter how willing they are to go at my pace, I can’t help but feel the need to rush instead of dawdle along like usual. Add to the mix my enormous over-protection of the old dog…I really doubt a human travel partner could understand and tolerate my need to pander to her limits. Though I feared a failed expedition, I accepted Mika’s offer to come along. I left it to him and his Garmin + Strava app to plan the route with a little input from me.

Six day later, Murph and I are camped just outside of Calgary, and Mika has pushed on to his home which is only another 40 steep kilometres away. How did it go? Well, the weather turned absolutely wet, foul and freezing. The mosquitoes sent us around the bend. We faced strong headwinds five out of the six days we rode, and the route we ended up on, though beautiful, was peppered with long sharp hills and horrible gradients. Though Strava found us pretty paved routes, the traces are left by ultra-light road racers, not loaded bicycle tourists.

Despite all this, we didn’t kill each other! Mika is an incredibly gentle and tolerant person – I probably would have killed me! The route suited his abilities and priorities more but he certainly tried to understand my limitations and work with them. We are from two different cycling philosophies but managed to keep it together enough to mostly enjoy our experience. This is a kind of miracle, for cycle touring with someone new, especially with differing ability and experience (he with the bike-fast-and-far part, me with the bike-slow-and-travel part), requires a colossal amount of compromise. I would have preferred a gentler pootle to Calgary so as to keep my physiology intact and the pooch sweet on cycling, but what I got was a pretty fierce and scenic little ride that I will look back upon as worthwhile despite my frequent and loud cursing. Thank you Mika – you are a true gentleman and a really nice guy!

Only three sleeps to go until the real McCoy. Next stop; Amsterdam layover.

It is my desperate hope that this entitled and self-indulgent travel will raise a ton of money for my favourite charity along the way; The Oldies Club. These gorgeous people work to find homes for overlooked elderly dogs who are stuck spending their golden years in shelters and fosters all over the UK. The link below will allow you generous, dog-loving folk to donate what you can – as little as £2 or $2 – more if you can. Also, please consider them if you are ready to give a beautiful old soul a loving new home. Do it for Murph!! Click on the just giving link below.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dogandsnailbiketravels

A vlogging virgin starts a YouTube channel…be kind!

If you can muster the energy, please like, subscribe and share my YouTube channel (this will not only help me to grow my channel, but more importantly, will help me spread the word for the Oldies Club). To do that, view the video in YouTube itself, hit the SUBSCRIBE button, and then the little bell beside it so you can receive notifications when I post a new video. It means a lot to Murph and me, and the dogs of the Oldies Club!

What’s it all about, Murphy?

Oh dear. I almost called my shiny new bicycle touring blog ‘Existential Cranks’ because I thought it was clever. Is this next tour really going to be about sweating out lingering existential angst though? Bollocks to that. It’s definitely got a certain carpe diem vibe this time around. This upcoming Arctic Norway-to-somewhere Mediterranean (possibly Gibraltar, maybe Sardinia) is much more about celebrating decent health in my 50s, and a continued lust for adventure. My dog is coming with me and I am slow as a snail on my fully-loaded touring bike. I carry my home with me. Dog and Snail Bicycle Travels. Simple, and not nearly as pretentious and onerous as the other idea.

The time to fling myself off the cliff is nearing. The tiny house is sold, the car is sold and all personal belongings have been mercilessly whittled down to what will be carried on the bike, and two boxes to be left with my parents here in Wabamun, Canada. Murph and I fly from Calgary to Amsterdam on May 30th – about 5 weeks from now. After a few days recovering from jet lag, we hop onto a flight to Helsinki, then Ivalo, Finland where we begin to pedal north for 500kms. Once we reach the most northerly road-accessible point in Europe, the North Cape, we will start heading down the west coast of Norway, eventually joining the Pilgrim’s Route (Eurovelo 3) to see how far south in Europe we can get. After the tour is over, we will resettle in the Brexit-addled UK.

My little terrier, Murph, as mentioned, will be my returning co-pilot. This will be our fifth big tour together since 2008 when we crawled up the Massif Central from Burgundy, France, and free-wheeled down the other side into Provence. I was so green and so unfit, but by the end we were completely dazzled by the freedom and exhilaration of bike travel. I was amazed that my little dog was such a natural vagabond. She charmed everyone we met along the way and opened doors to wonderful, warm encounters, insistent offers of drinks, meals, free camping and great stories.

Sestrieres after a big climb over the Alps from Italy into France

Our last tour of note was a soggy 7000km trek through eight European countries over three months in 2016. Murph was already twelve years old and I was certain it would be her last bike adventure, especially after a devastating cruciate ligament tear two years ago from which I never thought she’d recover. Well, she is now fourteen and a half, zipping around like a pup, and despite being quite hard of hearing and needing long naps, is still full of terrier beans! When I pulled out my dust-covered touring bike a few months ago, her whole body started wagging and she tried to hop unaided into her bike basket. I took it as a clear sign and started planning another dream tour in earnest, but I thought I’d better make it THIS year in case Murph finally decides to act her age.

Of course, touring with a dog is all about the dog. Her needs, comfort and enjoyment come first at all times. In consideration of her mature age, I plan to take more breaks and spend fewer hours in the saddle daily before we set up camp. Where she was responsible for socialising me with other humans in the past, she’ll now teach me to slow down and smell the wild blueberries. Her personal kit has been massively upgraded; she has her own dog-specific sleeping bag, a very expensive Thermarest Trekker air mattress, a luxurious padded perch on the back of my bike (with sun and rain covers) and a full complement of technical clothing to protect her from the elements. She will also have absolute control over daily mileage decisions. She is less keen about strangers fawning all over her now, likely because of her hearing (she gets startled), so I’ve prepared signs in the languages of the countries we are crossing, asking people to leave her be unless she requests attention. Queen Bee. Finally, if at any time during the tour I feel she’s not coping, we will stop and rest a few days or call the whole thing quits.

I plan to maintain this blog along the way (to follow us and receive new posts, use the link to email alerts on the right) and will also attempt to make fabulous (ha!) videos on my new YouTube channel. Links will be posted right here shortly.

I have never tried to raise money for charity on previous bike tours. I HATE pestering people for money. It has been pointed out to me, however, that I am very selfish to squander the opportunity to do some good.

Therefore:

It is also my desperate hope that this entitled and self-indulgent travel will raise a ton of money for my favourite charity along the way; The Oldies Club. These gorgeous people work to find homes for overlooked elderly dogs who are stuck spending their golden years in shelters and fosters all over the UK. The link below will allow you generous, dog-loving folk to donate what you can – as little as £2 or $2 – more if you can. Also, please consider them if you are ready to give a beautiful old soul a loving new home. Do it for Murph!!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dogandsnailbiketravels