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Starting Out…

Luke sent us his story of how he got started cycle touring, and it's a great one. It does well to show how simple starting out on the road is: “Bike, tent, bed, food and water. Simple..”

It started with a chance meeting with a wonderful woman in a bar.

The wonderful woman, Shambrai. The bar, The Royal. A bar/music venue slam bam in the middle of Nelson, British Columbia – nestled in the stunning Kootenay Mountains and run by wonderful human beings hell bent on providing the Nelson population of 10,230 with the best musical talent they could convince to travel all the way up to their mountain location. And convince they did – I was fortunate enough to be passing through as I was on tour playing drums with Billy Bragg. The gig sat between our Vancouver and Calgary shows and it was the smallest venue on the tour; we had played to between 700 to 2000 people a night but in Nelson we were playing a sold out show to 200 people. It was a show that was to take my life in a new direction.

The band played a blinder and retired to the bar in the glow of a great gig and accepted the generous hospitality of our hosts. I started chatting with Shambrai. Quite early on in the conversation she told me of her forthcoming plans to cycle across Canada. Cycle across Canada. Vancouver, British Columbia to St Johns, New Foundland. Cycle. Across. Canada. I was immediately intrigued, I have always enjoyed cycling – graduating from a BMX to a mountain bike and eventually I was drawn to road cycling to the extent that I would even take various bicycles on tour with me when I was fortunate enough to forge a career as a professional musician. But this was a whole new ball game. Cycle. Across. Canada.

We got back on the tour bus at 2am to make our way down through the Rockies to Calgary for our next show and discover the news of the demise of Margaret Thatcher. Anyone who is aware of Billy Bragg will appreciate the signi?cance of being on tour with him on the day that Mrs T shuf?ed off this mortal coil. Again, I digress. Before we left Nelson I made Shambrai promise that she would keep in touch and regale me with tales of the road.

"I had some weekend festival work with Mr Bragg over the summer but there were a couple of two week gaps in the schedule that I would possibly be able to fill cycle touring, so I hatched a plan..."

Well, stay in touch we did and over the following month or so during the lead up to her departure from Vancouver in one of our correspondence I broached the subject of maybe joining her for some of her journey – I was in the mood for adventure. I had some weekend festival work with Mr Bragg over the summer but there were a couple of two week gaps in the schedule that I would possibly be able to fill cycle touring, so I hatched a plan.

I had no idea what equipment I would need or what I would ride. I assumed I would be able to convert my road bike and in a rush of enthusiasm purchased some stylish Brooks panniers and a handlebar bag. I subsequently checked my road bike to discover no eyelets to mount pannier racks. Ok, now I needed a bike to go with my panniers; I had almost literally put the cart before the horse. I decided to treat myself by visiting a shop whose window I had always stared through like a kid looking into a toy store – Condor Cycles in London. The experience I had there was brilliant. Julian seemed almost as excited as I was, I was positioned on a gib and measurements were taken for my ultimate touring bicycle, a Condor Heritage. I justi?ed the purchase as an investment in my well being. F**k it. I had scheduled to meet Shambrai in Toronto in August. I was told that the bike should arrive about a week before my departure.

In that time I read blogs and other online information to work out what I would need for my travels. It didn’t seem like you needed much. That was kind of the point. I ?ew with my bike to meet Shambrai in Toronto and, wanting to start on the right foot, had it rebuilt in a local bike shop. I must point out that by the time I arrived, Shambrai had already cycled to Toronto from Vancouver, so she would always have 5000km on me!

If you’ve ever considered cycle touring, transcontinental or a weekend jaunt, then my advice would be ‘don’t hesitate’. There were three main experiences that affected me having chosen this mode of transport and this journey. The ?rst was the liberation I felt from the trappings of modern life. One morning after breakfast I looked down upon four small packages. They contained my mattress, sleeping bag and tent. My bed and my home. I carried them on my bicycle. That and my food were all I needed that day and were capable of providing me with such memorable experiences. The second was the pace of travel. Seeing the road slip seemingly effortlessly, quietly and smoothly under the wheels and taking in the surroundings and views at a pace at which one could properly digest. This could have an impact on the way the immediate environment affected your mood, swinging from relative frustration in built up, edge of town, enormo-mall highways to the calm, meditative experience of freewheeling beside a ?eld of corn watching butter?ies, swallows and crows go about their bucolic business. The third and probably most important was just the sheer unadulterated joy of being on a bicycle.

"I checked my road bike to discover no eyelets to mount pannier racks. Ok, now I needed a bike to go with my panniers; I had almost literally put the cart before the horse...

We were stopped by the police when we accidentally found ourselves on a highway, we camped behind a ?re station when we were losing light with no campsite ahead of us, we swam in Lake Ontario and then had lunch on its banks, we wild camped in a forest, we ate apples we plucked from trees surrounded by butter?ies in a meadow, we pulled up at an off-the-beaten-track campsite at night which then seemingly unfolded into a scene reminiscent of Glastonbury Festival, we bought fresh produce at roadside farmers markets and cooked wholesome carb heavy food, drank wine under the stars and slept the depths of the truly exhausted after triple-digit days. We were eaten by bugs, barked at by dogs, cooked curries on camp stoves, were sunburnt, soaked and then soothed by whiskey laced hot chocolate by a camp?re. Exhausting climbs were followed by exhilarating descents, tubes de?ated and were repaired as lumber trucks roared by, road kill was acknowledged and birds of prey were saluted. The silent, solitary and sometimes sun-baked cycling was embraced as much as the opportunity to meet like minded two wheeled folk, other intrigued and intriguing travellers, and witness the beauty of the Canadian countryside…

Life felt lived.

If you’re thinking about it, do it.

I’m going back for more…