Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Adventure Cycle Experience

There are a lot of untold stories still in my mind, from cycling Canada to Argentina.  Sure, lots of them involve things people wouldn't want to hear about, like cycling through 4 straight countries without doing laundry (don't worry, they were just little ones) - but some parts of that year are continuing to have an impression on our lives.  I know for me, that year of cycling changed my life.  I, like so many other touring cyclists, desired to transform that lifestyle from something temporary to something permanent, and share it.  How could you make a living riding your bike?

Some people have written books, others turned into full-time 'adventurers', getting sponsors.  When we were cycling through Argentina, getting closer and closer to Buenos Aires, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do when I got back.  As the flat endless fields of grain slowly moved past, I thought about a conversation we had with an Argentinean about tourism, and its potential impact for good.  And I thought about cycle touring, and about raising money for charity…  and as the pedals went round, so did my thoughts, until it finally all came together.  

It's taken a few years since I got back, but the ideas that came under that Argentinean sky have finally come together in my newest endeavour - my cycle touring company, Adventure Cycle Experience Ltd., and its partner charity, Bicycles for Humanity.  I realized that by offering people guided and supported bike tours, I could help people who might never otherwise go on a bike tour experience this great way of travelling.  And by riding a bike, they're travelling in an environmentally friendly way, and encouraging healthy living.  From that very first day leaving our backyard, I knew that travelling by bike is the ideal way to travel, and this could be a great way to introduce that to others.  It's not hard - it's just riding a bike!  

I was trying to tie it all together with a development agency so that the experience could be rewarding not only for the person going on the tour, but for those in need as well.  That's when I stumbled upon Bicycles for Humanity.  It's now a global non-profit movement, each run by individual chapters, all with the same goal - taking used and unwanted bikes, and sending them to where they not only will be used, but will be life-changing.  By sending bicycles to communities in Africa and Latin America and distributing them to health-care workers and those without transportation, it's possible to completely transform communities and individuals.  People now can travel 5 times as far for work, or visit 4 times as many patients, and children can attend schools that otherwise would be too far away.  It's a great concept, and one that after a little research, I decided I wanted to get involved with.  And so, living now in Fredericton, New Brunswick, I founded the Bicycles for Humanity New Brunswick chapter, which is funded by Adventure Cycle Experience.  For each person who comes on a bike tour, $100 is donated to Bicycles for Humanity.  This money goes straight into transportation costs for the bikes.  It's all very cool, and something that I'm very excited to be a part of.  

So finally, nearly 3 years after reaching Buenos Aires, it's come together.  Being in New Brunswick, we are offering cycle tours of the beautiful Atlantic provinces of Canada for now.  Maritime Cycle Tours, by Adventure Cycle Experience.  And hopefully someday we'll be able to expand and offer tours throughout the amazing areas of Mexico and South America and I was able to see.  But for now, the Maritimes are offering more than enough sensory enjoyment.  So if you ever wanted to experience a bit of what Jeff and I were able to experience on our ride for HOPE, you've finally got your chance.  We've got both camping tours and bed and breakfast tours available, for those seeking a little bit more comfort.  And no camping in ditches or gas stations will be required.  

We're starting off small, and hoping that word-of-mouth will help to get us started.  So if any of you are interested in finding out more, or have any friends or family who might be interested - it would be so very much appreciated if you'd pass on the website, www.maritimecycletours.com.  I also want to show my appreciation for those of you who followed us along on this blog as we cycled to Argentina.  So I've got a special coupon code for anybody who reads this blog, or who you pass this along too.  Anybody who puts 'HOPEBLOG50' in the comments section when booking will get an extra $50 off any tour.  

I know we've used this blog for a few non-Canada-to-Argentina stories, so I will try not to take this over with Adventure Cycle Experience entries - however if you're interested in some more bike touring reading, I've started a new blog, located at: adventurecycleexperience.blogspot.com.  Hopefully the entries will be entertaining, enjoyable, educational, and any other e-word you can think of.  I'll be doing my best.  You can subscribe to this new blog right here, and feel free to pass it on, if you're interested.  Thanks for your continued support over the years.  

Saturday, July 30, 2011

9 Days Until Departure!

It's crazy just how quickly this summer seems to be flying by. There's still so much to do, and it's going to be August in just a couple of days! As far as our Capital to the Coast trip, things are coming along. The biggest news since our last post is that we have a fifth rider joining us - Sam Ferrey, of Rocky Mountain House. Back before we were leaving for Argentina, we looked to Sam for a little inspiration, as we'd see him out cycling around town, much faster and more professional looking than us. He did way more training than we did, and he wasn't even training for anything. He just rides his bike a lot. And so despite being a late entry onto the Capital to the Coast team, we have a feeling he's going to be leading the pack, as since we started tracking our training kilometres he's been in the lead and hasn't looked back.

I wanted to thank everybody who sent us an email after that last blog entry - we had a few people tell us that they were definitely going to be making a micro-loan to our Kiva team, and we much appreciate that. As of this instant, we've got $625 loaned through our team, which is very exciting. We're over a third of the way to our goal! That being said, we've still got a ways to go, so if you haven't checked it out yet, now is a great time. You can visit out team site at http://www.kiva.org/team/capitaltothecoast - you just click "Join Team", and then decide who you'd like to make the loan to! The current repayment rate for all Kiva loans is 98.79%, and a lot of the local agencies that they use have a 100% repayment rate, so as of today I would say a micro-loan here might be a more secure investment than a US Treasury Bond. (No offence to any of our American readers).

As for the training, we haven't been doing quite as much as we had hoped, and so these 150 km days are going to be a pretty good challenge for most of us. But, we are very excited for hitting the road and seeing what our legs are able to do. Just 9 days until we leave. For those of you who would like to stay up-to-date as we ride, we'll be updating our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/capitaltothecoast as we go. Just visit it and "like" us to get more info. Plus, it just is nice to be liked. So please, feel free to do that.

Sorry to interrupt your long weekend with instructions on what we'd like you to do, but whenever you have a minute, it would be great if you checked out our Kiva lending team at http://www.kiva.org/team/capitaltothecoast, and our Facebook page as well. :) Thanks, and have a great weekend!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Capital to the Coast 2011

It's been almost two years since Jeff and I reached Argentina on our bikes. Two years is a long time to be sitting at home, re-living the adventure of a lifetime. I'll be honest - I miss riding my bike everyday. I miss that life. And since returning home Jeff and I have been talking a bit about our next 'great' adventure, maybe crossing Asia from Hong Kong to Istanbul, winding our way through the Central Asian republics, crossing 5000 metre passes in Tibet, experiencing the culture of Iran… But right now, that one is still in the planning phase, and won't be happening for a number of years. So for right now, in order to just remember what bicycle touring is all about, we decided to go on a little ride and see a part of our own country that we've never seen before. This summer we'll saddle up and ride from our national capital, Ottawa, to the Atlantic coast in Halifax. It's only a ride of 1500 km, which maybe we're taking a bit too lightly, but planning on riding in ten days of cycling. No marathon this time - just a nice little sprint.

And this time, it's not just Jeff and I. We've got two friends joining us. First is Chris Morshead of Ottawa. Chris and I became friends shortly after I arrived back from Argentina. He's the kind of guy who loves adventure and pushing himself. He convinced me to run a marathon relay with him, in February, without doing any training. Just to make it more challenging. He's that kind of guy. He's also got an honours degree in International Development, and an interest in the global side of things. A perfect fit for touring with us, we think. He's got no experience in cycle touring, but we have the feeling he's going to be out in front every day, pushing us on.

The second cyclist joining us is Paul Skinner, of Strathroy, Ontario. Paul is also enrolled in an honours program in International Development at the University of Ottawa, and seems to pretty much always be up for an adventure. Now I wasn't exactly sure how to introduce him- I've got three different ones planned out. I could tell you that we met Paul while on our ride for HOPE, in Ecuador - in fact, we even mentioned him in our blog entry "Climbing Cotopaxi (aka: The Hardest Day of Our Lives)". The line went something like this: "The Canadians came a little while later, and we learned that Paul had thrown up a number of times as well". We met at the refugio, halfway up Cotopaxi, in one of the most physically challenging days of our lives. We did happen to meet up again in Guayaquil, Ecuador a week or so later, where we went out together to watch some Champions League soccer. Or another way to introduce him would be as the brother of Laura and Sarah, the sisters who joined us and made cycling a lot more fun from Huaraz to Cuzco, Peru. You may remember a few blog entries with those girls mentioned once or twice… This time we've convinced their brother to come along, which we're sure he would have done back in Peru if his visit to South America had been a bit longer. Or finally the third way I could introduce him is as the younger brother of my girlfriend Laura. We've been together for just over two years now, and I thought it would be great to have her younger brother out biking with us for this trip.

See now if you can piece those three things together - you might find a nice little behing-the-scenes love story from ride for HOPE that happened without a real mention here on our blog, but actually makes quite the story…

Anyhow, we'll jump back to the present. Chris, Paul, Jeff and I are going to ride our bikes from Ottawa to Halifax, 1500 kms, in 10 days of cycling. We're excited for it. It's going to be a lot of fun - but we've decided again to make it more than that. Cycling from here to Argentina more than reinforced our desire to make a difference in the world and help fight poverty, which we're going to continue to do through this trip. This time we've partnered with Kiva, the largest micro-loan coordinators on the internet.

Micro-loans are a relatively new way of jump-starting development, which we all are big fans of. Entrepreneurs, whether it's an asparagus farmer in Peru or a weaver in Bangladesh, apply to a local micro-loan agency for a small amount of capital in order to start or expand their business, usually in the $500-$1200 range. These agencies help with a business plan, and loan the money. Then the profile of the entrepreneur gets posted on Kiva. This is where you come in. You visit the site, and read about the various entrepreneurs looking to build their business. You pick one, and with a few pecks at the keyboard, they have a loan! A loan of just $25 can be the difference between subsistence living, and growing a business to support a family and thrive. And the best part is that this is a loan. As part of the business plan, the entrepreneur will pay back the micro-loan, ensuring development in a sustainable manner. You then get the $25 (or $50, or $100) back in your account, and you can either put it back on your credit card, or lend it to somebody else, or just donate it to the Kiva organization, and get a tax receipt.

Basically, if you're going to have $25 sitting in your bank account this year, you might as well do this. That $25 could make all the difference to somebody else. And it doesn't cost you a thing.

You can find out a bit more information on our website for this trip www.capitaltothecoast.com, and you can make a loan through our Capital to the Coast team at Kiva. Just click "Join Team", create a profile, pick who you want to make a micro-loan to, and you're set! It's honestly very easy, and fun as well. I promise you, you'll enjoy this. And you'll want to do it again. As the loans come in we can see the progress our team is making, and we are sure that we'll have no problem reaching our goal of $1500, a dollar for every kilometre that we're riding.

I hope you're all doing well, and hopefully you'll enjoy coming along for the ride once again! We hope you'll join our team!

Friday, September 3, 2010

ride for HOPE Final Video

Well hello there. It's been quite some time since we've put up a blog entry - we've had a bit of a cliffhanger going for almost a year now, in fact. Some of you may be wondering, did we in fact make it home? Was our surprise successful? Though the vast majority of you likely have forgotten all about us and our adventure already. It's crazy to think that it's been nearly a year since we arrived home after riding from Canada to Argentina.

But, we did in fact do it. We rode home from the Calgary airport in two days, sharing a wonderful meal and night with a stranger who offered us a place to stay halfway home. The next day we rode the rolling hills from Sundre to Rocky, excited and nervous. It was quite the shock to everybody when they arrived home from work and found us sitting in the backyard waiting. It was good.

So what's happened since then? Well, we held a fundraising presentation and silent auction in Rocky, and with everybody's amazing support, we were able to hit our $50,000 goal. Thank you. For every one of you who donated a dollar, who told a friend, or forwarded on our blog - thank you. You made this fundraising an incredible success. And since then, Jeff and I had to face the 'real-world' and the 'real-debt' that we were in personally after this trip, and so we've both been working, saving our pennies.

But, we haven't forgotten about our trip at all, and in fact we've been busying putting together a few presentations. Our most recent endeavour was building a short video of our trip - Canada to Argentina, in 12 minutes. Now we've told a lot of stories on here, but now you finally have a chance to see it with your own eyes. We'll let you see the landscapes, the people, and life on the road, all from the seat of our bicycles. The video was entered into Mountain Equipment Co-op's video competition, and we have a chance to win a $2000 gift card with it. We'll be the first to admit that by the time we got home we were ready to be leaving on another adventure, and so this gift card would go a long way to sending us from Hong Kong to Istanbul. Or wherever the next ride may be. So we're shamelessly asking you to visit the link and watch our video, and just as importantly - vote. Because every vote counts to get us through to the finals, and onto the road again.

Now I know we're a bit biased, but we think this video is awesome. And we're pretty sure you'll agree. Pretty crazy, and pretty sweet. Enjoy, vote, and pass it on. Thank you, and thank you all for your continued support throughout our 'ride for HOPE'.

Now click here to watch our video, and vote!!!

Or if the hyperlink doesn't work, copy and paste this address into the address bar:


Friday, September 25, 2009

The Finish Line - Buenos Aires

Current Location: BUENOS AIRES, Argentina
Distance Cycled to Date: 19,048 km
Days Since Leaving Home: 379

And here it ends. After 379 days, Jeff and I cycled triumphantly into the city of Buenos Aires, the city we had left home aiming to reach over one year ago. We did it. We set a goal, and we achieved it. We rode our bikes from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, to Buenos Aires, Argentina. We feel pretty darn good about that.

We had left home with the plan of finishing the trip in Buenos Aires, but along the way we felt the urge to keep going. To see more, and go further. We wanted to keep going throughout Argentina and Chile, spending 3 more months cycling, however, the reality of our financial situation started to show, and we decided we couldn't justify going on and on. No matter where we reached, we knew that we would want to go further - and so, we decided to finish this trip as planned, in the city of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina.

However, in making these plans, we decided not to tell anybody. Many of you may have had no idea how much longer we would be cycling, but the last that anybody had heard was that we wouldn't be home until December. We decided to keep it a secret, and surprise all of our family and friends. So as of right now, sitting in Buenos Aires just hours before leaving for our flight home, nobody even knows that we're in this city. It's been difficult keeping it a secret - we've spent 4 days here in Buenos Aires, celebrating ourselves, but unable to tell anybody else.

The cycling in our last week was, quite honestly, a little boring, scenery-wise at least. From Cordoba to Buenos Aires is nothing but flat farmland, which made for some long days. We weaved and wove down different rural roads, trying to find the balance between the least amount of traffic and the widest road. As much as the cycling was uneventful, every time we stopped we were met with such enthusiasm and hospitality that we couldn't help but love rural Argentina. Every gas station that we stopped at, we would get peppered with questions and encouragement and well-wishes. In one decent sized town, we were invited to be guests on their radio show, which gave us an opportunity to showcase our new Argentinean accent when we speak Spanish. We had initally thought we would be a complete joke to everybody listening, but we managed to follow the whole interview. What a difference since the last time we were interviewed back in Mexico! Following the radio show, we were met by a tv reporter, who asked if she could do a small story on us for the news as well. So our smiling faces and broken Spanish was seen and heard all over rural Argentina last week. We all had a great time with it. As we rode out of the town the usual amount of honks and waves was far surpassed, as everybody who had just heard us on the radio called something out to us. We're kind of minor celebrities around here. You know, not Messi or Maradona, but we've got our following.

The ride into Buenos Aires was, well, crazy. The closer we got to the city the more traffic picked up, until as we were finally entering the city the intensity of the traffic nearly mirrored our emotions. From single lane, to divided 4-lane, to finally 14 lanes of traffic, all on one freeway. With 4 to 6 lanes of service roads beside us. And overpasses and underpasses and 3 lanes merging here and a few more over there - it was kind of insane to be biking through. After we finally did arrive safely, I had remarked to Jeff that it was surprising that they allowed bicycles on there - and he told me that he had noticed 3 different 'no bicycles' signs that we had biked past. Understandable - that was no place to be riding a bike. (As a side note, we had been pulled over by police twice in the past week - once they made us get off the freeway leaving Cordoba, but the second time before Buenos Aires they let us keep going. We were pretty convincing that we knew what we were doing)

And so, we arrived in Buenos Aires. Down Avenida 9 de Julio, straight to the famous Obelisk seen on many postcards. We made it. It was a strange sensation, knowing that we had done it, both that we had reached our goal, and also that the trip was over. It didn't seem real at all, and it still doesn't, 4 days later. Tonight we'll board our plane, and return to Canada. It seems just unreal - it is unreal. (Also, Jeff adds - we're unreal)

However, we've managed to save a little bit of cycling for ourselves. Because in keeping this a secret, we haven't asked anybody for a ride home from the airport in Calgary - instead, we'll arrive home just like we left, on our bicycles. And so we'll have over 200 km of cycling back in Alberta, giving us time to think and reflect on everything we've seen and done in this past year. And then - I guess we'll just show up in our backyard, knock on the door, and walk in the house. Maybe ask what's for supper? We're not really sure just how this surprise will work, but we do know as much as we're sad that this trip is over, we are quite excited to be home. This year has certainly given us the opportunity to appreciate just what a great thing it is to be home.

We won't post this entry until we get back home, in order to keep this surprise in order. But there will be at least one more post, as we still have just a little more biking to go. And thus ends Canada to Argentina by bicycle. Now just a little post-trip cool-down ride to go.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Soccer, BBQs and Great Hospitality

Current Location: Cordoba, Argentina
Distance Cycled to Date: 18,247 km
Flat Tires to Date: 60 (Keenan - 32, Jeff - 28)

While we're certainly still loving Argentina, we've yet to really find a cycling rhythm here. We go 120 km, then 204, then 25. The biking itself has been up and down - we had a fantastic tailwind a day out of Tucuman, which let us end the day with an average speed of 30 km/h. That made us decide to push for a 200 km day the next day out of Frias, however, the wind died down in the night making us do all the work ourselves. As the day went on the wind started to pick up again, but this time blowing straight at us. We managed to hit 200 km, and then found a spot to camp in the ditch, Mexico-style. Rather than dying down during the night, the wind only grew stronger and stronger, and the next day we could only average 11 km/h. We just never know what's coming next.

From Dean Funes, the wind continued to come straight from the south, making us work far more for every kilometre than we would have liked. And then the rain started. It had been so long since we biked in a real rain storm that we hardly knew what to do - until this point we realized we've only had 2 days of rain in South America. Somehow we've just kept getting sunny days, until now. Biking into Cordoba in the rain was a fun adventure, as it was probably the most adreneline pumping cycling that we've had since Guayaquil, back in Ecuador. With traffic and pedestrians everywhere, and a city that stretches and stretches forever, we just dodged potholes and puddles and buses and taxis in the rain for what seemed like forever. (Also, I had to go to the bathroom soooo bad - that could have been contributing to the stressfulness of the situation).

We had planned to stay in Cordoba for a couple of days, one of the main reasons being that we wanted to be here for the Argentina vs. Brazil World Cup Qualifying match. We had met somebody from the city in a gas station a week before, and he invited us to his house to watch the game when we were in the city. We couldn't turn down an offer like that, so when we got into Cordoba we made arrangements to head over to his house. It turned out he lives in a beautiful house in a great neighbourhood, and all sorts of family friends had been invited over for the game, and a big traditional Argentine barbeque afterwards. It was one of those nights that we'll likely never forget, as we were treated like old friends by everybody there, and got to eat and drink like Argentineans. Cups of shared mate, the traditional herb-tea that everybody drinks, glasses of wine, meat fresh off of a fire-grill, and even a few people who spoke perfect English to help with translating if our Spanish started to fail us. Despite Argentina losing the match, everybody was in high spirits still as we started dinner at 11. (Yeah - 11 pm!). It wasn't until nearly 3 am that everybody finally finished up with dessert and coffee, and was ready to head back home. A great experience all around.

We also got a chance to meet a group of 23 (23!) cyclists on an organized, supported tour from Brazil to Ecuador. It was great to talk to so many different cyclists from such different backgrounds - and made us a bit jealous! Every day a bus carries all their gear, and they have a cook to make them breakfast, lunch and supper! However, they don't get to camp in any ditches, so both ways of tourings seems to have their pros and cons. We've gotten a chance to explore Cordoba a bit by foot, and we're enjoying every minute of this cosmopolitan city. We had planned to leave already, but we somehow find ourselves going to bed waaay later than we ever did before Argentina, and we decided to take another day to try to catch up on some sleep.

It's been a great stay in a great city - and despite sounding like a broken record - we're still loving this country. (If they only put a shoulder on the road, it probably would be the perfect cycling destination...) But - we don't like to complain too much. We're loving it. If only it never had to end...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Year on the Road

Current Location: Dean Funes, Argentina
Distance Cycled to Date: 18,092 km
Longest Distance in a Single Day: 204 km
Length of Time Since Leaving Home: 1 Year

It was exactly one year ago that we first packed our panniers, trying to figure out just how to attach everything to our bicycles as our family and some close friends watched. We had announced months beforehand that we would be leaving September 1st, and so that morning, despite never having ridden our bikes fully loaded, we were going to leave. It was a morning of emotional goodbyes as we set to leave everybody behind and ride our bicycles to Argentina. As we wobbled down the street, with Jeff nearly tipping over into a car while trying to quickly wave goodbye, I'm sure that a number of those watching secretly questioned just how far we would make it, and wondered when the phonecall to come pick us up would come in.

And yet somehow we just continued to ride. We started out the trip with freezing nights, rain and sleet, but just kept going, with Argentina as our destination. Looking back now, in some ways it's hard to even imagine us being those same people that left home one year ago. From thinking that the Sunwapta Pass was an incredibly long climb, to digging around through every pannier, taking over an hour to fix a flat tire. As we left we didn't really know what we were getting into, and to be quite honest, I'm not sure we imagined just how much fun we would have every day.

The other day I was talking to my cousin Adam online, and he remarked that he was surprised at how little trouble we seem to have had throughout this trip. And it's true - we hate to admit it, but this whole trip has been much easier than we would have guessed. Maybe it's in our short memories and senses of humour, but for the most part, this really isn't that hard at all. We just get up everyday, and ride our bikes. Some days are more difficult than others, but at the end of every day we just find a place to sleep, eat a meal, and relive the good parts while forgetting about the bad. And then the next day start over again. Taking it one day at a time, anybody could do this. It's just riding a bike.

When we left home we were in no shape to ride a bike 100 kms every day. It didn't stop us from trying, but we still remember clearly day number 3, when we could hardly walk because our muscles were so stiff. But we've come a long way since then, finally becoming finely tuned cycling machines. (We've been looking for a way to fit the phrase 'finely tuned cycling machines' for a few months now. Puya!)

With over a year of fundraising done, we're hoping to be closing in on our goal of $50,000. We will have some one-year numbers from HOPE International within the next few days, and we'll let you know just how close we are. We also wanted to wish good luck to everybody participating in this year's Father Bonner Charity Golf Tournament in Edmonton, with all proceeds going to our HOPE International project in the Dominican Republic. We're hoping you can have a weekend of weather as fabulous as we've been enjoying down here, cycling in Argentina.

It's still hard to believe that we've been going for one year already. The trip's not quite over yet, but as it winds down and we pass this one-year mark, we're enjoying reminiscing. We're feeling good. One year later, and biking's still a whole lot of fun.