CANADA, 11th June – 7th August
We enjoyed a lovely evening with Rachelle and Ned at their idyllic countryside home, surrounded by forest and mountains. Rachelle was like a whirlwind of energy, talking loudly, constantly doing a hundred different things. Her husband, Ned, was the ying to her yang, a soft-spoken, passive man who, perhaps due to a life of construction work (he now owns his own company) and serious mountain biking, or perhaps due to his unruly mop of hair and tuft of goatee beard, appeared at first glance much younger than his fifty years. Rachelle showed us to a cabin that would be our home for the night, and then introduced us to the animals – two horses, two pigs, and two dogs. But this was nothing compared to what we would have found had we come here a year or two earlier, as they formerly ran a dog rescue centre, and had as many as seventeen dogs at a time, overall re-homing some eighty or so dogs over the years.
We felt a good connection with Rachelle and Ned as we sat and ate veggie burgers on their deck looking up at the mountains, and it was easy to agree to stay another night, giving us a ‘rest’ day where we could cycle up into the mountains we were staring up at. Our hosts were busy during the day, so unfortunately couldn’t accompany Dea and I as we made our way up the gravel road alongside a river the next day. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful ride, but the surface we were cycling on got worse and worse, until we were bumping over large rocks. I still had the crack on my left chainstay, and I didn’t want to make it worse. I had been in contact with a mechanic in Calgary who was confident he could do an effective repair, and I wanted to make sure the bike survived that long. So I walked it over the worst sections, and before long we retreated.
The next morning as we were preparing to leave, the topic of WOOFing came up. Rachelle and Ned often had WOOFers coming to help them out. (WOOF stands for Work On Organic Farm, where you do some work in exchange for room and board). Dea kind of said it was something she might like to try but I screwed up my face. “Nah, I don’t like to work,” I said, emphasising my disdain for the word.
We cycled the twenty kilometres or so to the town of Golden, a slight detour off our route, but a necessary one to pick up supplies. Rachelle had arranged to meet us there in order to lend us her discount card for the supermarket. It was typical of her generosity. Loaded down with enough groceries to make it the 165 kilometres to Canmore, we thanked her again and said what we thought were our goodbyes, then began to cycle back up the hill out of Golden.
We passed the last motel and began on the long climb on the highway towards Yoho National Park. My bike was beginning to feel wobbly, and it was creaking a lot. Concerned that something was wrong, I leaned the bike up against a crash barrier and bent down to inspect the crack on the chainstay. Unfortunately it appeared to have got a lot worse, and was now stretching almost the whole way around the chainstay. As if this wasn’t serious enough, I also spotted that another crack was beginning to form in the exact same position on the other chainstay. This was really, really not a good thing.
We consulted as to whether or not the frame was going to hold up for the 160 kilometres to Canmore. From there it was only 100 to Calgary, and we had arranged a warmshowers host in Canmore. But surely I’d pushed this frame as far as I could. This wasn’t just a crack now, this was really serious. “This frame is done,” I said, shaking my head sadly. “It’s done.”
We came up with another plan, and retreated back down to the motel we’d just passed. Inside we asked to borrow the phone and made a call. “Hi Rachelle,” I said, and explained our predicament, before asking, “I wondered if we could come back and stay with you a little longer while I wait for a new frame, I’ll be happy to do some work to earn our keep?”
The other end of the phone became a cacophony of howling laughter: “W..w…w… o…rrr…kk?”
Rachelle’s laughter was good-spirited, and not only did she agree to the plan, but she arranged for Ned to come by on his way home from his own work and take our bags back in his truck. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have liked a motor vehicle taking my stuff, but my frame looked like it was about to collapse at any moment and I was sure it would appreciate me taking the weight off. So Dea and I began cycling back to Rachelle and Ned’s place on unloaded bikes, but we didn’t get far. I kept looking down and seeing my left chainstay separating with every turn of my left pedal. The crack had made it all of the way around, and the crack on the right chainstay was not far behind. “Chris, you can’t ride this!” Dea exclaimed, and I had to agree it did seem a little risky now that my frame was no longer properly connected. So we began to walk together, at least until Dea thought Rachelle and Ned would get worried if we didn’t turn up soon, at which point she cycled off.
Left to walk fifteen kilometres alone, pushing my broken bicycle, I had plenty of time to think. My frame was done now, that was obvious, there was no repairing this damage. I was going to have to replace it, and that seemed like a real shame. I’d done so much on this bike, and even though I’d changed all of the moving parts several times over the years, I’d wanted to keep the same frame. Would I be able to change the frame and it still feel like the same bike, or would it be just a little bit too much like Trigger’s broom? With a new frame the only surviving parts from when I originally bought the bike would be three quarters of the handlebars, the brake levers, the racks, and possibly one gear shifter. It was sad to think that a scrap metal yard I passed along the way was likely to be the final resting place of a bicycle frame I’d had such adventures with.
Back at her house Rachelle took me aside the next day and said, “There is a no-work option to staying here if you want.”
“Is it a paying option, because I don’t like that either,” I said, to more howling laughter. But the proposition was not this either. What Rachelle had in mind was that I could set myself up in a tent on the edge of their property, in a clearing in the forest. When I realised that this was being suggested not so much because they wanted me out of sight, but more because it would give me a private place where I could sit and work on my second book, I was delighted with the idea. I’d been planning on trying to do some writing around Canmore and had mentioned my desire to find a place to write, and this was absolutely perfect. I got myself set up in the clearing, a string of extension cords giving me electricity for my laptop, a large tent under shelter my office, and I had myself a quiet spot surrounded by nature, free from Wi-Fi and other distractions.
But Rachelle wasn’t done helping to organise the production of my book, for she then helped us find a place in Canmore where we could house-sit for a couple, Hal and Tracey, for most of the month of July. We met with Hal and Tracey when they came to stay at a cabin of theirs in the forest nearby a day or so later, going with them for a bike ride (I borrowed one of Rachelle’s bikes for the purpose), and we got along very well with them. It seemed they would be happy to have us look after their house and dog, Gus, for them while they were away, and suddenly there was a plan that could not only see me get some writing done, but actually to get all of the writing done and publish my second book by the start of August. I still had over 100,000 words to write and seven weeks to do it, but now I had the perfect conditions, and I decided that come what may, I would get it done.
Dea left me to my forest retreat, choosing to spend a few weeks cycling around the national parks of Canada, adventures that will be detailed in her own blogposts soon, and I was alone to concentrate on my writing. But getting the writing done wasn’t the only thing I had to do, there was also the small problem that my bike didn’t work any more. I decided that I would just replace the frame with another black Surly Long Haul Trucker frame and hopefully nobody would notice the difference. Before ordering one, however, I thought I’d try my luck with asking for a free one from Surly. I wrote to a guy named Mike at NRG Enterprises, the Canadian Surly distributors, explaining my predicament, and he replied swiftly to explain that eight years was outside the warranty period, but he’d see what he could do. I told him that this was no warranty issue, Surly wasn’t to blame for it, if anyone was to blame it was a kangaroo with a bad sense of direction who caused the initial damage to the chainstay years ago, and maybe a little bit me for not looking after my bike very well. Then Mike didn’t reply.
So I called Mike, not really expecting much, and do you know what Mike said when I spoke to him on the phone? Mike said, “Sure man, we’re gonna send you out a new frame. We think it’s great what you’ve done, and we all had a good laugh about that kangaroo story.”
God, I love that kangaroo.
So, long story short, the awesome people at Surly who make awesome bikes and are generally all round awesome, sent me a free new frame. Which was really spectacularly awesome, except that the frame was silver. Not cool.
So I took my bike apart, and when I did this I discovered something that really did make me relieved I was getting a new frame. When I removed the front derailleur, I found underneath it a third crack, this one in the middle of the seat tube. It had been concealed by the derailleur and some inner tubes I’d wedged under it as otherwise it was too big for the frame, and it was quite a crack. It looked like someone had gone through the seat tube with a hacksaw, it was cut clean through. At this point I began to think I was pretty lucky to be alive. It certainly explained the mysterious creaking noise that had been coming from my bike since, erm, western China. Probably the freezing temperatures there had played a part in the damage somehow. In any case, I’d made it this far with my bike basically clamped together by my derailleur, and now I had a brand new frame, so no harm done.
I went to work in Ned’s big workshop, utilising his tools in a variety of ways to recreate my bike. In a move I’m sure Surly will write and thank me for I first removed all their advertising and spray-painted my new frame black, doing a bad job of it so that it would match my old spray-paint jobs. Then I used hacksaws and hammers in ways you’re not really meant to in order to rebuild my bike on the new frame without having to trouble any bike mechanics with the correct tools, and sooner or later I had a new bike that looked like my old one. Then there was just the small question of what to do with my old frame. We had so many memories together, me and this frame, and I thought perhaps I should save it somehow, memorialise it, turn it into something new, but instead I took a hacksaw to it and cut it up and put it in a box.
For a couple of weeks I lived in a tent in my little clearing, sticking to a schedule of completing one chapter per day, progressing my book forwards into reality. Then it was time for me to move on, but not far. Rachelle had by now arranged for me to house-sit for another couple, Jenn and Mark, while they were away for ten days, and this I did. They lived on the edge of Golden, and the seventeen kilometres it took me to cycle there was the first that I did fully loaded on my new frame. As I rode along I looked down at my bike, hoping that the spirit of it was still alive, that even though almost everything had changed now, even through all it’s evolutions, it was still, essentially the same bike.
“Are you still there?” I asked cautiously.
“Yeah, I’m still here,” my talking bicycle replied. “And thanks for the cool new body!”
“Oh, you’re welcome,” I said.
“Yep, that’s right, just don’t change the handlebars, that’s my head, eh?”
“Oh right, I suppose it is, I hadn’t thought about that.”
“Yep, course it is. Check out my horns.”
I looked down at the drop bars, pleased that my bicycle was still alive, and wondering how my mental state was going to be after a further ten days by myself.
The ten days at Jenn and Mark’s was fairly uneventful, with the book writing being somewhat interrupted by a big TV with World Cup football on it, a good Wi-Fi connection, and a boisterous dog named Morocco that I had to look after. But I kept making progress, and with four weeks in Canmore still ahead, I believed I could get it done.
On the 9th of July I departed for Canmore, electing to cycle the 165 kilometres in a single day, spurred on by the thought of being reunited with Dea, and also a little bit by not wanting to miss the World Cup semi-finals. I felt good on this cycle, starting at six in the morning and cycling strongly all day. It was unlike me to cycle so fast. Had three weeks of rest been good for my body? Was I getting fitter? Or was it perhaps somehow the new frame that held the key? Either way, twelve hours later I was in Canmore and being welcomed into yet another new home by Dea.
For the next four weeks we had this little house, shared only with Hal and Tracey’s dog, Gus, a well-behaved terrier more likely to bark at a toaster than a burglar. Dea took responsibility for looking after Gus, and also me, and I took responsibility for sitting at a desk in the office and writing. It was head down time, and I put in the hours, determined to get the book finished before it was time for us to move on again, knowing that sales of it would help us to finance the rest of our travels. And though it was hard at times, I stuck to my task, propped up by the motivational words and hot meals constantly being provided by my lovely girlfriend, until on the last day of July I went into a writing frenzy, typing the last four chapters in a single mad day.
Hal and Tracey returned home during the first week of August, but they had invited us to stay on for a folk festival that was taking place over the weekend. It was good, because it gave me a chance to complete the editing and formatting necessary, and to get Into the Sunrise out to the world on the 6th of August, bang on schedule. The following day, Dea and I went to the folk festival (Dea had worked a few days as a volunteer setting up the tents to get us tickets). It was a glorious day, bright sunshine and blue skies over the mountain ranges that encircle the town of Canmore. We watched some great music, most memorable being the closing act, a 77-year-old native woman name Buffy Sainte-Marie, rocking out in leather trousers the way I never imagined a 77-year-old woman could. It was a great day, a day when I felt like I was coming back to life again after being buried in my writing so intensely. The sun was shining, people (especially Rachelle and Ned) had once again proven the kindness that’s in the world by helping us out so much, my second book had been published, my bike was fixed (and apparently faster), and Dea and I were free, really free, once more to continue our great adventure together.