VMCT: A Cycle Tour From Victoria, British Columbia to Montreal, Quebec
If you’ve been following along with the blog, you’ve read about a “year away from the classroom”, a “gap year”, a “rather large four-month self-supported human-powered adventure”. You’re probably wondering why I’m using these phrases and what they mean.
Eight months ago, when I started to lose passion for what I was doing, I began feeling an urge to connect deeply with myself and my desires—to audit myself with regard to whether I was on the ‘right track’. Why had I burnt out on studying time-and-time-again? Was I moving in a direction opposite to my ‘true calling’? Was I using hard work to mask something else that was going on? Or, did I just need a break to rejuvenate my depleted energy stores? Deep down, I knew that I needed to hold space for myself to reflect on these issues and reconnect with myself in a deep and profound way.
At about the same time, I became mesmerized and inspired by people’s stories of epically long human-powered adventures and the amount of time they spent in solitude. I thought back to the summers I’d spent working at a remote wilderness camp when I was in high school. Weeks spent outside had allowed me to connect with nature in a primal way and mental clarity ensued as a result.
When I decided to take a year off from my degree and embrace experiences outside of ones I could put on my resume, a human-powered travel experience of my own immediately came to mind. I would have been thrilled to cycle tour from Europe to Asia, or hike the Pacific Crest Trail. However, we are in the middle of a global pandemic. So, I began thinking about safe, low-impact adventure options. I found out online that it takes people anywhere from two to four months to ride coast-to-coast across Canada.
Honoring both my commitments to engineering and self-discovery, I decided to spend eight months doing internships and then to make use of my time off by committing to the physically and emotionally challenging yet, ultimately, monotonous and cognitively restful task of turning one pedal over the other. Dedicating a whole year to cycling from Victoria, British Columbia to Montreal, Quebec seemed excessive, so I decided I’d work for six or eight months and then make my adventure plans for the summer before I returned to my degree. Working in industry was more appealing than stocking shelves at a grocery store for a number of reasons. And, although the way I’ve written about my incentive to continue studying may raise questions for you about my original motive, my decision to study mechanical engineering was completely self-informed. I enjoy the technical aspects; I enjoy the problem-solving aspects; but, I crave creativity and freedom at the same time. Since I have spent a lot of my year doing things that contribute to my degree, I’ve been confronted with the reality that it hasn’t been so much a ‘gap year’ as a ‘year away from the classroom’.
The format of my cycle tour will be largely solo and self-supported. I set the ‘conservative’ goal of riding to Montreal where my grandparents live instead of setting out for St. Johns, Newfoundland on the true east coast of Canada. Doing an expedition of this size with others has benefits and drawbacks. Having someone there when you’re tired, hungry, cold, and wet can be a massive morale booster, but discrepancies in interests, objectives, or physical abilities will only be amplified through physical and emotional challenges day after day. Returning to my initial objective of self-discovery, solo seemed like the appropriate mode. That being said, I’m sure there will be periods where company is welcomed for a few days or even weeks. I hope to meet up with ConnecTour—a group of cycle tourists crossing the continent this summer as well—in Calgary and ride with them to the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border. Like many other cycle tourists before me, I will be bringing everything I need to eat, sleep, work on the blog, and generally survive and thrive while on the road.
I would be remiss not to comment on the relevance of the pandemic to my plans. Like everyone else, I have been affected and forced to make compromises over the last year. Many of these you’ve already read about: Taking a year away from the classroom, moving for work, moving for social connections, limiting myself to domestic travel,… And, like everyone else should be doing, I have to take responsibility for my personal health and emotional wellbeing as well as the health of those around me.
The proverbial elephant in the room for most people is the tension between making sacrifices for the health of themselves and others and doing the things they would like to be doing, which might benefit their emotional wellbeing. I will list a few points about risk and risk mitigation to illustrate the consideration I’ve put into my adventure plans:
- Being a self-supported, solo endeavor, the tour will have minimal impact on the communities around me.
- From a consequentialist standpoint, there is risk involved with cycle touring; however, there is also risk involved in living in a seven-person student home.
- The opportunities for personal growth and burnout recovery for myself during this time are not insignificant.
My personal ethic for the tour regarding COVID-19 is to practice ‘conscious’, ‘responsible’, and ‘adaptable’ travel:
- Conscious Travel – Being conscious of my well-being as well as the communities and ecosystems I travel through.
- Responsible Travel – Taking actions to ensure the safety of myself and those around me to preserve the natural state of the places I cycle through.
- Adaptable Travel – Willingness to change plans if it becomes necessary.
Specific responsible actions to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19 during this adventure will include the use of masks and hand sanitizer, and reducing my interactions with communities I cycle through by limiting grocery shopping and restaurant meals as much as possible.
In the coming weeks, I hope to publish blog posts with more details about my itinerary, gear, and budget. As they become available, I will link them here:
- VMCT Itinerary
- VMCT Gear List
- VMCT Budget
I appreciate your interest in my summer adventures and support as I continue to share my experiences with you.
Love reading your blogs. I have been sharing your stories with some of my friends with similar interests. I have been an avid cyclist for years but your journey has inspired the bikepacking lifestyle in me. Love the way your started with short trips, testing the waters. As an entrepreneur I liked reading about your bike repair business. Looking forward to reading about your journey to Montreal. Will donate $50 and hope I can email you questions as I start my own journey bikepacking.
Love reading your blog….I’m an engineer myself, chemical, and worked for Royal Dutch Shell in Houston, TX….worked as a research technician and got my BS in ChemEng from university of Houston part time. Retired in 2009 and moved to Los Angeles in 2012….took up cycling and bought a recumbent trike to ride. Training for the AIDS Lifecycle ride next year then plan to do the pacific coast route from Vancouver to San Diego next fall. Looking forward to your blogs on your cross country ride….gives me ideas on how I can post my rides to the internet when I do them…..much luck and god speed Simon.
Young man…. that is the best thing you could do for yourself. I will quote HG Wells; “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”
And when you get to Montreal, if you want to challenge yourself, learn french. We never know enough languages…
Enjoy the ride by bike, the best way to travel.