Cycle Across Canada: Be Surprised, Be Amazed

In the spring of 2013, two friends decided to pedal their bikes across Canada from coast to coast. Nothing unusual about that, right? I mean, many people cycle across Canada. Not as many people… if any… decide to use tandem bikes. Old tandem bikes. But, that’s what photographer, Shannnon Hutchison and her friend Caley Fox decided to do, hoping to share their ride with family, friends and the odd hitchhiker filling their second seat.

cycle across Canada

I recently met Shannon through a work event, and she kindly agreed to share her experience and some of her incredible photos.

GTL: Where did the name “Whomp Nation” come from? 

SH: Caley and I were attending photography school in Montana and trying to think of a catchy name that we could use for the trip. Our friend came up with the term whomp, meaning to immerse yourself full into a culture and experience. We weren’t sure about it but then our group of friends couldn’t stop saying ‘let’s whomp’ and it just stuck.

cycle across Canada

GTL: Cycling aside (not that it wasn’t hard!), what was the hardest part of your trip? 

SH: The hardest part of the trip was the cold. I am terrible in cold weather, and have my condo always at 25 degrees, which is not outside weather, especially in April!  Instead we were greeted by cycling and camping in some 0 degree weather. It was tough waking up in the morning and rolling out of bed, packing everything up and starting to cycle in the cold only to end in the cold to try to fall asleep to. With the cold weather though came the trend of people inviting us into their warm homes to stay the night!

cycle across canada
GTL: What have you learned about yourself as a person through this journey? As a photographer? 

SH: Everyone kept telling me how strong and determined I was to complete the trip.  At the time I kept saying that it really wasn’t a matter of that, it was more the matter of me just enjoying every moment and looking at the positive side of things.  When I start something I don’t quit and I always put it to my positive attitude.  After having some distance away from the trip I think that being positive definitely helps me enjoy things, but every time I see a map or watch some of the video of me hauling my very large tandem bike,  I have finally accepted that I was indeed pretty determined and it did take a lot of mental strength to get through the whole thing. With that said though, I did enjoy the entire thing!  As a photographer I just really took in the beauty of the landscape.  It was a lot of work to stop in the middle of a ride, man handle the tandem bike to get to my camera and take the photo but it was well worth it to now have our book made.

GTL: What advice would you give to others who are planning a cross-Canada bike trip? 

SH: It was the time of my life, you are going to love it but there will be moments where you are going to come across obstacles.  Allow others to help and stay open to all the people you meet, that was one of the best parts of the trip.  Take in the beautiful landscape, and enjoy the exercise you get every day.  Some things I wish I knew before the trip – every morning before you head out plan out 3 possible places to stay by the end of the day, one that is less than your average kms (in case you run across some problems or are just feeling rather lazy from consuming way too much poutine…), one that is about your average km mark away, and one that is past that in case you are feeling a little stronger than usual that day.

We started doing this later in our trip and helped prepare us for the km we could/would have to travel that day.  As well there are times where you find that there isn’t a small km mark where you can stay so you can prepare yourself for a long day ahead.  Also, don’t be scared to ask someone where a good place to pitch your tents is – you will be surprised some of the places you can end up, from a baseball dugout (a great wind stopper) all the way to someone’s cozy guest bed!

cycle across Canada

GTL: Which cities/provinces surprised you the most? I won’t make you choose your favourites, as I’m sure there were too many to count, but I’m curious about what surprised you.

SH: We went in without much expectation for places we would be visiting, a lot of those were put into our head by people we met as we went.  In the maritimes we were warned about Quebec.  So far we had been greeted with open doors, places to stay, and were sent away by strangers with food to eat that day.  We were told it was only going to be in the maritimes and that Quebec was going to be quite cold to us.  It turned out this was not the case at all.  We were offered so many places to stay in Quebec that we had to turn people down because we had already been offered a place to stay that night.

Cycling into Quebec City we had people yelling out their car windows asking if we had anywhere to stay that night, the warmth and conversation we had there was overwhelming.  One day we had gotten so many flats that we not longer had tubes left.  A woman came out of her house, speaking no english, and me speaking very little french.  She managed to get us into her car and drove us 25 kms to a bike shop to get new tubes.  They also showed us a better way to fix our flats. This definitely changed my opinion on Quebec from all the stereotypes I went in with.

GTL: Traveling with family and/or friends is an amazing experience, but it can have its challenges. What is your advice to travellers planning epic journeys with a companion? 

SH: This is a big one.  Caley and I went in not knowing each other too well.  Some things looking back that I would recommend are talking to each other about expectations of what you each want, and what your roles will each be. Discuss strengths and weaknesses you each possess, and what you need in times of stress. As we went along we figured some things out, if Caley was feeling stressed I would bike ahead the next day for us each to get time on our own.  Also, a BIG one, have your own tents!  This allows you each to get your space and have some time on your own at the end of the night.

Huge thanks to Shannon for participating in the interview for this blog. To check out more of her stunning photographs, visit Shannon Hutchison Photography.

Have you ever done a long bike trip? Road tripped across Canada? What advice would you share?

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