Welcome to Incidents of Travel (IOT), the travel blog formerly known as CrossingCanada2017.
Ben Buckton is a professional violinist and violin/ukulele teacher based in Hertfordshire, England, who has spent his professional career touring the world, seeing mostly hotels, concert halls, restaurants, tour buses and check-in queues. In an attempt to make amends for this, he has started revisiting various parts of the planet in the company of a bicycle and a ukulele.
In the summer of 2017 he cycled solo coast-to-coast across Canada, raising over £7,000 for SOS Children’s Villages. Starting from the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island, then over the mighty Rocky Mountains, through the endless Prairies, into Ontario and the Great Lakes, and then up the St Lawrence River and on through the Maritimes to the Atlantic, only stopping when the tarmac finally ran out in Newfoundland, about 5,000 miles later.
“I’d been planning this trip for years, trying to find a period of time when I wouldn’t be missing important family, teaching and work events. In the end I just chiselled it into my diary and made everything fit round it! We have lots of family and friends all over Canada (my wife’s father and family live in Toronto) and we’ve had many wonderful family holidays there, so it was a great chance to catch up with everyone as well as make countless new friends.”
How It Was Done: Cycling Solo Coast-to-Coast Across Canada
You’ll find the blow-by-blow daily blog of my 2017 trip on the home page of this blog, but here’s a little bit of what it took to get myself transcontinentally-prepared.
Firstly, what I used to look like when cycling:
And what I look like now:
On a training camp in Scotland with my wife Susie and our eldest son Sam (23):
As winter settled in, indoor sessions on a turbo trainer were the perfect way to get in shape for the big trip ahead:
Learning to dig deep and push myself right to the limit was the key:
Back on the road, I began preparing for all kinds of weather:
I vowed to keep the weight down, and to ONLY take the bare essentials:
Even Deeper Background: We’re Going To Need A Bigger Bike
Having decided to embark on this cycling adventure, it seemed that I needed to do something concrete as a commitment to the project; something I could point to as a beginning. Maps, routes, gear, people, timing, money – these were all things that filled my head, but I needed a single act that would be both practical and symbolic. I decided to build a bike.
This had not been my intention. I was looking forward to choosing a shiny new touring bike from an ever-growing list of recommendations culled from reviews and friends’ experience. I couldn’t wait to let skilled mechanics assemble the bespoke bike of my dreams, before pedalling off into the sunset, poor but happy.
Then I found myself returning to a photo of a bike frame. Two simple triangles of steel welded together into a diamond. My eye couldn’t help trying to pinpoint how the various bits would join this frame, wheels here, brakes there. And I realised that I really didn’t know enough about how, and why, a bicycle works the way it does. I’d mended chains, adjusted brakes, fiddled with gears and cables, all the usual day-to-day stuff for a keen cyclist, but this photo of a bare frame made me think “why not?”. I knew that this was the starting point I needed.
Several weeks later a big, slightly battered recycled cardboard box arrived at my door. Picking it up I thought:
Ripping off tape with abandon, inside I found a shiny blue frame and fork, with two wheels nestling amongst lots and lots of plastic protection.
When you think ‘steel’ you’re probably thinking ‘heavy’, but before other materials conquered the cycling world steel tubing was brought to a near-perfection of lightness and strength by Reynolds (this frames uses Reynolds 725 tubing, for those with an interest in these things). Every pro and every amateur rode steel and loved it. This frame, made by Paul Hewitt in Leyland, Lancashire, was so beautifully light that I wondered why we ever bothered to move on to aluminium and carbon.
The hand-built wheels, designed to withstand heavy loads and endless miles, had a trick up their sleeve – a tiny hub Dynamo and a USB socket to power lights and even handle smartphone/camera etc. recharging.
I had “prepared” the garden room immaculately. Everything laid out like an operating theatre. In a war zone. Other bikes would have to fend for themselves for a while.
I scoured the known world for the best deals on the best bits of kit I could afford, and gradually the bike started to take shape. Occasionally I daydreamed of having all the parts ready, laid out, waiting to be assembled in a sensible order, but the internet and postal deliveries (and my life!) just don’t work like that. If the postman brought a package, I’d traipse down to the end of the garden and leave it by the frame for a few days until I had time to fit it. Things moved on slowly in this manner until the time arrived when even a layman might admit that it was starting to look quite like a bicycle.
I measured, greased, bolted, threaded, tightened and tested for what was starting to feel like an embarrassing amount of time, but consoled myself with the thought that I was learning. Mostly by getting it wrong a couple of times first. Here I’d like to acknowledge the best diy resource ever conceived by man or woman: the YouTube video tutorial. Not so much the super-professional company-types, but the ones by amazing individuals with a lifetime’s knowledge that have taken the trouble to make videos (without any awful music) that make you feel as though you’re in the presence of a patient master. (Just for a diversion, I also quite like the ones posted by confident lads in rock-band t-shirts who drop all the ball bearings on the floor, whilst holding a can of beer, before putting the crank arm on backwards. If you’re of a nervous disposition, I suggest you avoid the chainsaw tutorials made by quite possibly the same lads)
For the 1st proper road test (after the aborted previous one where the chain broke, rear mech went into the spokes and the gear hanger got bent – oops. Luckily wheels and derailleur are now officially rated as ‘strong’. Lesson No.263 : don’t put chains on in the dark when you’re tired and in a hurry) – anyway, for this roadtest I left the bars naked as the day they were born, to get a final decision on a few adjustments. No mudguards yet either, and it rained.
2nd roadtest: postponed.
Finally ready, new red bar tape on, mudguards fixed, Dynamo usb gadget connected. Oh, and the sun shone. Despite being -3°.
This thing may look a bit odd but it really works.
My bike draws its first admiring glances outside Cafe Nero in Chesham – after having a good look with another chap at a table, this keen cyclist came in to the cafe to grill me! I hardly got a word in, but I did manage to eat my banana, drink my coffee and enjoy the recognition! What more could you ask?