Exploring Nicaragua with bicycles!

exploring nicaragua granada Nicaragua

Our first day exploring Nicaragua was spent mostly sleeping, eating and procrastinating over putting the bikes back together after the long flight to Latin America – ok so not much exploring. This resulted in us spending an extra day in country’s capital though, which I don’t really recommend.

So, did our bikes make it?

Yes, they did. There was a minor issue with my bike, but we managed to resolve that issue a couple of days later. Michael and I spent around 3 hours piecing the bikes back together in the carport of our guesthouse. We even had some young kids join in with the rebuilding of the bikes.

bikes nicaragua
The kids in the guesthouse got their bikes out to work on…

My cough

My cough still hadn’t improved since arriving in Managua. In fact we were actually worried that it had got worse after I coughed up some blood the day after we arrived. I might not know a lot about injuries and illness, but I know coughing up blood is definitely not a good thing, so I spent the morning visiting doctors, getting x-rays and picking up prescriptions. Everything seemed to look fine and I was told it should clear up with time. As you can imagine, I was pretty relieved over this news.

The next day, we packed up and cycled about 60km to Granada. We planned to take Spanish classes (at a chocolate mansion – I know, I have a chocolate addiction) and rest until I was well enough really start exploring Nicaragua and to cycle long distances again.

On the road exploring Nicaragua y bicycle… breifly

Nicaragua was definitely a lot more humid and hotter than New York State, so we decided to get an early start cycling. This proved to be pretty much pointless. I decided it would be a great idea to follow google map’s shortest route to Granada. This route took us down some pretty questionable roads, and into what we think was a sketchy part of town. It took us an hour to cycle 5km from the guesthouse, and we were nowhere near getting out of the city limits. In the end, we backtracked to the main road where the guesthouse, was and took the longer route towards Granada, sticking only to the main roads.

Lesson 1 learnt: stick to the main roads, especially when leaving big cities. Don’t be tempted to take the shorter route – it won’t be quicker.

The rest of the day’s cycle was actually awesome. We passed local properties, farms, plantations, volcanos and mountains. The main road was surprisingly well paved, with a good-sized hard shoulder. Even the drivers seemed courteous to cyclists, and we felt no aggression on the road. Originally, we had planned to take it slow to make sure I didn’t over do it. We thought the 60km cycle would take most of the day, but we ended up arriving in Granada around lunchtime – also the hottest part of the day. We checked into our Airbnb, hit the showers and had a siesta.

swimming pool
Michael chilling out by the pool at our Spanish school in Granada

Granada, Nicaragua

Granada is a beautiful, colonial town, but extremely touristy, and therefore, also a little bit more expensive than we were expecting. The colourful buildings, and rustic doorways give a lot of character to the city, and I can definitely see why the city is known to be a photographer’s dream.

For the most part, I rest in Granada, though we did decide to cycle to a nearby lake, which actually turned out to be 15km up a volcano to a CRATER lake. It was beautiful, but it was definitely a hot, sweaty and very difficult cycle day. Surprisingly we saw loads of local cyclists out on the main road between Granada and Masaya (this was before the turn off up the volcano). These cyclists were not the usual commuting cyclists we had seen, but road cyclists.

Leon exploring nicaragua
The cathedral rooftop in Leon

Leon, Nicaragua

After our time in Granada, we planned to leave the bikes at the Airbnb and head into El Salvador and maybe Honduras for a week. This plan changed once we arrived in Leon. For some reason, I’ve started to get a bit motion sickness in anything that goes faster than my bike. The 3 hour shuttle we took to Leon, proved not to be too enjoyable, and I couldn’t think of anything worse than a 10+ hour trip to El Salvador. On top of this, Michael wasn’t too phased about visiting either country, so we decided to stay in Leon, do an overnight hike and visit the Flor de Cana rum distillery before heading back to Granada to pick up the bikes and continue exploring Nicaragua.

During this time Michael and I were discussing our plans for the trip. We made a few realisations and ended up changing our plans once again!

Flying with bicycles: the USA to Nicaragua

flying with bicycles

The first stage: Buffalo to Toronto

Overall the flight to Nicaragua was a bit of a nightmare. This was the first time we had ever tried flying with bicycles, and unfortunately it didn’t go completely smoothly.

First, we caught the greyhound from Buffalo to Toronto. This was probably the only part of the trip that went smoothly. There were only 4 people on the bus and the Greyhound staff didn’t even charge us extra for the bikes – score! We had no issues headed back through the Canadian border. They didn’t even want to x-ray our bike boxes, or any of our bags – double score! At this stage, I was quite hopeful and thought the smooth bus trip was a positive sign for things to come…

Toronto Airport: Flying with bicycles!

It was all downhill from the moment we arrived at Toronto Airport! Once we arrived at the airport, we started to make our way to the departure hall. This turned out to be unnecessarily difficult, when we discovered that the elevators aren’t actually wide enough for our bike boxes. This meant, holding the elevator open while Michael pushed each box into the elevator along with all our bags. Taking up the lift for so long, doesn’t make us too popular with the other passengers. It also turned out we were departing from a different terminal, so we had plenty of small elevators and a train to overcome.

When we finally made it to departures, we checked in then proceeded to the oversized luggage. Now being oversized, you think that would mean they have x-ray machines large enough for oversized baggage. Well, they don’t! The customs officer actually tried to squeeze our bike boxes through the small x-ray machine. Mine managed to fit through. Michael’s on the other hand got stuck. We then spent the next 30 minutes trying to push Michael’s bike out of the x-ray.

Flying with bicycles
Michael attempting to push the bike box out of the x-ray machine with another smaller box, at the “oversized” baggage check in at Toronto Airport. I kid you not – this is the oversized x-ray machine and Michael’s box got stuck inside.

At one point, Michael had the end of a broom, and was pushing the box from one end, the customs officer was messing around with the belt… reversing it and then moving it forward again, and another lady was trying to pull the box from the back. It almost seemed to comical to be reality, and part of me was waiting for the “You’ve Been Framed” camera crew to appear around the corner. After 30 minutes had passed, I was convinced that they would have to dismantle the machine to get Michael’s bike out… but, finally, somehow the box was freed and popped out the machine.

After all this, the officer then told Michael he had to open the box to search it – so much for the 4 rolls of duct tape we used to tape up the box. Finally the officer was happy and our bikes disappeared along the conveyer belt. We hoped the next time we seen our bikes would be in Nicaragua – this turned out not to be the case!

Connecting in Mexico City

We were flying from Toronto to Managua via Mexico City. Originally, when I booked the flights I thought that since it was all with Aeromexico, our bags would be checked all the way through. There was no mention ANYWHERE on the ticket on website, that this wasn’t the case. During check out, we were informed that we would have to pick up the bikes and re-check them in for our next flight. Bummer!

When we arrived into Mexico City, we proceeded to the baggage claim and collected our bikes and bags. FYI in Mexico City you need to pay for the baggage carts – great when you are only planning on being in the airport for 2 hours and have no Mexico pesos on you. Luckily, a local came to our rescue and gave us money for a cart – seriously, an amazing random act of kindness, which put me in a good, positive mood.

The airport staff told us that our bike boxes would need to be checked at customs, so after collected our boxes, we headed to departures! Luckily, Mexico Airport has wider elevators, so getting around the airport wasn’t so much of a drama as it was at Toronto. Once we arrived at the oversized luggage check in, we were told we had to wrap the boxes in plastic wrap. Even now this makes no sense to me, as we were told they would have to open the boxes up and check inside – so wrapping them in plastic before the check really seemed pointless and wasteful. Regardless of our attempts of reasoning with the customs officer, we paid $50 (no joke) to get each box wrapped in plastic. Then we headed back to the oversized baggage, and said “goodbye” to our bikes, once again.

Later, when I did open my bike box, I discovered a piece of paper inside informing me my box had been checked by security – so I guess they just paid for the bike to be rewrapped again? At least I didn’t have to pay for the “plastic waste” again.

Flying with bicycles: the last leg

The flight from Mexico City to Managua was extremely rough and I was extremely happy to be on the ground when we arrived in Managua. On the plus side, the views flying over El Salvador and Nicaragua were amazing. Lots of volcanos, lakes, mountains and beaches greeted us as we made the descent through the clouds.

Flying into Managua, Nicaragua
Flying into Managua, Nicaragua

Clearing border security was easy – we weren’t even asked about an onwards flight (which is great, as we didn’t have one)! We headed over to baggage collection to pick up our bikes – hopeful that our bikes made it ok!

I think from being wrapped in plastic, the ground staff couldn’t tell what were in the boxes and they had been thrown around A LOT! The boxes were extremely beaten up, with several metal parts protruding from the box.

Initially we had planned to put the bikes together at the airport, and then ride to the guesthouse we had booked. I don’t know what we were thinking. It was stinking hot, we hadn’t slept for over 24 hours and we weren’t 100% sure that our bikes were going to be functional ever again! Eventually, we decided to jump in a taxi, squeeze the bikes and all our gear in, and head to the guesthouse to deal with the situation there, instead of in the arrivals hall, with hundreds of touts harassing us.

I had booked a guesthouse that was only 2km from the airport. Our boxes were squeezed into the back of a taxi, and tied down with some rope! After a 5 minutes ride, we arrived at the guesthouse and paid our overpriced taxi fare (got to love that “gringo” tax – man, I hate airport taxis!) We ended up spending 2 days in Managua to put the bikes together and sort our shit out!

So that was our first experience flying with bicycles! Did our bikes survive the trip? Was I well enough to start cycling again? How was it going to be cycling in Nicaragua? You’ll have to wait until the next post to find out.

Lessons Learnt from our experience flying with bicycles:

  • Don’t use a cardboard bike box when flying with bicycles! I think next time we’re going to just try wrapping it in plastic (though my environmentalist instinct hates this wasteful idea).
  • Try and get a direct flight, if this isn’t possible, double check with the airline whether the flight will connect your baggage, or whether you will need to collect it during transit.
  • Riding from the airport when you haven’t slept for 24 hours is never a great idea! Don’t fool yourself!
  • Aeromexico has shit customer service – no way around this!
  • Don’t count on being able to put the bikes together at the airport! Even if you want to try and put them together, have a back up plan in place, in case it’s not possible.
  • If ground staff can’t tell it’s a bike, then they will probably toss it around, A LOT!

If you have some tips on flying with bicycles, then let us know! We definitely appreciate any advise to help make our next experience not so stressful.

Cycling the Erie Canal Trail and New York

Cycling the Erie Canal Trail and new york

Cycling into New York

I was pumped to be cycling in New York state, and to start cycling the Erie Canal Trail to Buffalo. I’d heard so much positivity about the trail, and the countryside, I couldn’t wait to actually experience it for myself.

As soon as we crossed into New York State, bicycle route signs and a hard shoulder appeared! This made the cycle to Albany a fairly pleasant one. That was until a guy in a car pulled out in front of us when we had the green light. He gave us the finger, and then proceeded to get out of his car and start yelling at us. We’re not really too sure what his problem was, but two guys in a nearby café whom witnessed the entire thing stood up for us, and took over the argument on our behalf.

This was a strange introduction into the state, and just one example of the two extreme perspectives of cyclists. It seemed you are either pro-cycling or anti-cycling. Sadly, it actually reminded me of cycling in Perth. In both places there is a definite sense of aggression on the roads between motorists and cyclists (not by all, but by some).

At the end of the day just like there are good and bad motorists, there are good and bad cyclists. Though regardless of this, a car can easily kill or seriously injury a cyclist. I think some motorists need reminding of that.

New York’s capital, Albany

As we entered Albany the awesome network of bicycle paths became immediately apparent! It was a super easy city to cycle in and out of, and was also the starting (or ending) point of the infamous, Erie Canal Bike Trail, which we were both pumped to start cycling.

In Albany we had the pleasure to stay with the wonderful, Becca! We stayed at her place for two days, and enjoyed the sun, mediation and some great food, drink and conversation.

Cycling the Erie Canal Trail

From Albany we started cycling the Erie Canal Trail. The rumours were that the Erie Canal Trail was the longest bike trail in North America. The trail was supposed to be a 365-mile bike trail all the way from Albany to Buffalo. What is it they say about something sounding too good to be true?

We got about 20km outside Schenectady when the trail disappeared. This was just the start of our constant battle to relocate the bike trail. Often when we did reconnect with the trail it was unrideable with our heavy, fully loaded bikes. So we ended up on State Bike Route 5 just as often as on the actual Erie Canal Trail.

To be totally honest, cycling the Erie Canal Trail was a bit of a disappointment, but it wasn’t all bad. Some parts of the trail were really beautiful. We passed several cute towns, camped at a couple of canal locks and took full advantage of the abundance of picnic spots along the route. There were also lots of cool heritage sites to visit along the route.

Cycling the Erie Canal Trail
One of the locks that we camped at on the Erie Canal Trail

Our big 100 mile cycle day

Struggling to find somewhere to camp near and around Rochester, we were forced to book into a hotel. It had been 3 days since we’d had a shower, so I was pretty happy for the luxury of a hot shower, a comfortable bed and buffet breakfast. I had also developed a chest cough, which was starting to affect my riding and also my mood, so I was definitely in need of a few days recovery.

We still had 100 miles (160km) of cycling the Erie Canal Trail until we reached Grand Island (near Niagara Falls). In Grand Island we had planned to stay with a family for a couple of nights, before heading towards Ohio.

During the morning, at the hotel we discovered there was a crazy storm forecast to hit later that night. The thought of camping in a storm was not too appealing – so we did what any sane person would do. To beat the storm, we decided to smash out 100 miles in one day! This is actually the furthest we have ever cycled in one day. It was one of those days where everything went against us. I won’t bore you with the details, I’ll just say it was a bloody challenge!

After a very long and very challenging day, we arrived at the bridge that went from Niagara to Grand Island. From there it was only a couple of kilometres to where we were staying. Finally we arrived at 9pm. I have never been so happy to see a bed! I can honestly say I slept like a baby!

cycling the erie canal trail
Cycling the Erie Canal Trail in Rochester

More Tornado Warnings!!!

The storm arrived overnight, bringing with it tornado warnings, flooding and freezing temperatures. Seriously, it’s May – when will spring arrive? I was extremely grateful to not be stuck cycling in the storm, but still it would have been nice to do a few hikes and explore the Niagara area a bit more.

The storm and bad weather hung around for 5 days. We did manage to find a break in the storm to visit Niagara Falls and seek out an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet, but other than that we were confined to the indoors. This was probably actually a good thing as my cough had gotten worse, and my body probably needed the rest.

Grand Island and a Change in Plan

On Grand Island we stayed with the Cook family – probably the best people on the island (I’m totally not bias)! They had a little log cabin out the back of their house, which we stayed in. We had originally planned to stay with them for 2 nights, and then continue cycling; however the chest cough I had developed changed all that and got us re-thinking our initial plan.

After our epic cycle day cycling the Erie Canal Trail, my cough got worse (not really a surprise), to the point I couldn’t cycle anymore. We couldn’t afford to stay somewhere in the US and wait until I was better, so we started to look into either taking the bus or renting a car for a portion.

The buses and car didn’t seem to work out how we wanted, so in our frustration and strange logic, we came up with the idea to fly somewhere. This somewhere ended up being Nicaragua!

niagara falls
Niagara Falls from the US side

Our Strange Logic

While in Halifax we actually spent more money than we had budgeted for, and our funds were slowly running out. By flying to Nicaragua we would skip at least 4 months of cycling. Plus it would mean I could rest and recover somewhere for a couple of weeks (in the heat), while we take Spanish lessons. Though this was a snap decision, which meant flying with bicycles, I think it was a logical decision!

So after spending 5 nights on Grand Island, we boxed up the bikes (which was more hassle than we thought) and headed to Toronto Airport, to make the long trip to Managua, Nicaragua!

What Nicaragua brought us was not what we expected… and perhaps would lead to another change in plans!

Cycling New England: Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts

Cycling New England

Excited to be on the road and cycling NEW ENGLAND!!

Cycling in Northern Maine felt like an extension to the Maritimes in Canada – fishing villages, sailboats, pine trees, granite rocks, the Atlantic Ocean and super friendly people. From the border we started cycling New England by cycling down route 1 (for the most part). We asked to pitch our tent on people’s land when needed. Occasionally we got invited in, other times we were given gifts, like a dozen farm eggs.

The random acts of kindness from people totally blows my mind – coming from Canada where people are known for their friendly and kind nature, to the US, where you really hear a mixture of things – it was hard to know what to expect.

Like a lot of cycling destinations, it’s the people and the random experiences that are the highlights. Personally I found the cycling in Maine very repetitive and a bit boring. This could be from staying in Nova Scotia over winter, with it’s similar environment or just readjusting to spending so much time off the bike. Either way I found the highlight in Maine to be the people we met.

Cycling New England
Pitching our tent in someone’s yard after they gave us a dozen eggs for free! Got to love cycling New England!

Don’t trust the maps of Maine!

One thing we discovered about Maine is that google maps and other map apps don’t always accurately show the roads. Actually, I found the maps less reliable in Maine, compared to some other countries we’ve cycled through – like Uzbekistan! We were recommended to take a short cut – this short cut actually added several kilometres and hills on our trip.

This “shortcut” we took eventually lead us onto a truck route. The smell of gin and tonic from the overtaking trucks filled the air again. Like seriously, what the hell is that smell? Are the truck drivers gin lovers, or are they running off gin fuel? I guess it’s better than black smoke, exhaust fumes, but it does make me crave gin and tonics, which is probably not a good idea at 9am on a Wednesday morning.

Eventually, we arrived into Portland

Our Warmshowers’ host cancelled on us last minute, so we continued on cycling to find somewhere to camp. Unfortunately, this is where the urban sprawl began! We cycled on for another 40km, without finding anywhere to camp. We ended up staying in a motel – the most disgusting place I’ve probably stayed! The smell of stale smoke stained our clothes for weeks after. So gross – this is my only regret of the trip so far!

And we continued cycling New England into New Hampshire

We continued cycling through the sprawl of hotels, resorts and motels until we hit Portsmouth in New Hampshire. Portsmouth was a pretty awesome city. We spent the day there then camped in the office of another warmshowers’ host.

We were in and out of New Hampshire in a heart beat! The only true discovery other than Portsmouth being a pretty awesome town, was the cheap booze! If you’re in New Hampshire then it’s worth boozing it up before you leave!

Cycling New England
You can’t be cycling New England and not try out some of the local craft beers! There are so many good ones around!

Salem: The home of history and witches

The next state on the cycle agenda was Massachusetts! Since I studied the play, “The Crucible” at high school, there was no way I could skip a detour to the town of Salem! For those of you that have never heard of “The Crucible” it’s a play based on true events in 1692. The event, know as the witchcraft trials, involved a bunch of people that were taking to court and executed for being witches. The play was written in response to the anti-communist movement in the US in the 60s. Super interesting! Definitely worth checking out the play or movie if you haven’t seen it!

Salem was a pretty awesome town. One of the oldest European settlements in North America. It definitely was touristy and their were a lot of tacky witchcraft shops scattered all over the town, but it was still worth the detour.

Boston: Finally some rest days!

After spending the morning in Salem, we continued on to Boston, where we finally got a few days break off the bike.  Cycling into Boston wasn’t exactly fun. The city sprawled a fair bit, but once we found a city bike path, we were all good!

One thing that became immediately apparent in Boston was the aggressive drivers. Even with all the bike paths and cyclists on the road, driving in Boston was stressful and not really that much fun. Sure, if you can stick to a bike path, it might be fine, but stray from that and you’re risking your neck.

Cycling New England
Boston!

To sum up Boston: food, beer, walking, more food, more beer, couchsurfing company and good music! We had an awesome time in Boston!

The Sam Adams free brewery tour with free beer was definitely a highlight and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in the city! It’s a bit out of the way, but definitely worth it – they even have a bike path that leads pretty much to the brewery door! We also got to listen to some local music, walked the freedom trail, paid a visit to Harvard University (because we’re pretty smart) and visited the Fine Arts Museum (free on Wed evenings – and really impressive). Boston also had an awesome selection of vegetarian and vegan joints, so we were two very happy cyclists.

Cycling Western Massachusetts

From Boston we decided to take our couchsurfers’ advice and catch the commuter train to Worcester. Apparently the road from Boston to Worcester is pretty dangerous, and it was raining, so we didn’t need much convincing. From Worcester we cycled to Belchertown. After getting out of the Worcester town centre, the cycle actually was awesome! Lots of hill climbs, but amazing views and beautiful scenery!

We spent that night with a warmshowers’ family in Belchertown – amazing family, with the friendliest dog ever. I was actually tempted to steal their awesome dog – I think she would have loved cycling New England with us haha.

The following day was probably one of our favourite cycle days in the USA – awesome cycle paths, amazing scenery and yes, more hills! We camped next to a state park near the New York border. The campsite was beautiful, and so peaceful. Due to the bad and very unpredictable weather we ended staying with people a lot more than usual (mostly people took pity on us and invited us in to stay). In almost 1 month this was only the forth time we set up our tent! Crazy!

The following day we cycled to the New York state border! Finally, we had come to an end of cycling in New England! Next we were to cycle the “mythical” Erie Canal Bike Trail.

Farewell Canada: Cycling Canada to Argentina

cycling Canada to Argentina

After spending almost 6 months in Halifax, I couldn’t believe the time to leave had finally arrived. From Halifax we were starting the next leg of our world cycle tour: cycling Canada to Argentina!

Being a Haligonian!

When Michael and I arrived in Halifax we had good intentions of maintaining our level of fitness – yeah, that last about a day! With me working in a chocolate shop and constantly getting free chocolate, as well as it being freezing cold and there being so many craft breweries to try out, there was little (read “none”) fitness going on.

Come spring we were two relatively unfit cyclists, ready to hit the road and start cycling Canada to Argentina. Unsurprisingly, we felt the consequences! My butt hurt, my thighs hurt, my arms hurt, even my back hurt – and we were struggling along doing almost half the pre-Halifax cycle distance. Admittedly, it wasn’t just down to our lack of fitness or the extra shit we were hauling along – the weather also had a large part to play in our lack of kilometres.

Goodbye Haifax

When the day finally arrived to leave Halifax, it was snowing and not just a little bit. There was still a tonne of icy snow of the floor that had yet to melt and it was bloody freezing! I’d never cycled in the snow before, and to tell you the truth, I was slightly excited about the thought of it. The novelty soon wore off – about 10 minutes later.

We cycled for 2 hours in the snow and finally stopped in at a Tim Hortons to warm up. Eventually the snow eased and we were back on our way.

cycling Canada to Argentina
Snow cycling in Nova Scotia! And they call this Spring???

Cold nights and friendly people

Our plan for the first night was to camp at a provincial park in chester, however when we arrived it was still closed for the season. It was supposed to drop down to -7 degrees Celsius overnight, and we were already shivering and it wasn’t even sunset yet. Would we freeze to death overnight? Luckily, we never had to find out.

While we were contemplating our sanity and deciding whether to set up camp in the provincial park,  Joan and Rob (two friendly locals) spotted us, and took pity on us. They invited us in, gave us a warm place to stay, and fed us some amazing food. We got to spend the evening sharing some stories – which was much more enjoyable than shivering away in the tent. I’m forever grateful that we never had to discover just how cold camping in -7 degrees Celsius is.

Keji National Park

From Chester we headed to New Germany, then onto Keji National Park. The cold weather and snow hung around, but at least the sun was out… well for a couple of days at least.

When we arrived at Keji, the visitor center had already closed and the rangers had left for the day. Lost for what to do, we decided to head into the park to Mills Falls and camp in the emergency shelter. It was still extremely cold, even with the wood fire we got cranked.

Overnight, there was freezing rain, crazy winds and more snow. The snow continued on into the morning, so we decided to stay in the shelter to wait it out. After lunch the freezing rain had turned to light snow, and we decided it was time to make a move.

To get to Mill Falls we had to ride down a dirt road – overnight this dirt road got covered in snow. We had the fun job of pushing/ riding out in the snow – which I actually found quite enjoyable, though it was quite slow going. Luckily we discovered that all other roads had been cleared, and it turned into quite an enjoyable ride to the Bay of Fundy.

From Keji, we had originally planned to make it to New Brunswick via the Digby ferry, the same day. The snow and bad weather slowed us down, and we only made it as far as Annapolis Royal. Stuck for what to do, we did what any normal person would do and headed to the pub. This turned out to be a great idea, as at the pub with met Brian, who came to the rescue and invited us to stay at his place. Perfect – this meant a good night sleep and time to explore the town in the morning.

cycling Canada to Argentina
Snow cycling in Keji! I did cycle some of it… well the downhill parts anyway.

Saint John, New Brunswick

Eventually we did make it to Saint John, New Brunswick. We only had a short cycle day to get to Saint John, but I was totally shattered on the ferry and slept most of the way. Once we did arrive, it was already dark. It turned out that the ferry port is 5km outside of town. After much confusion we eventually made it to our warmshowers hosts’ apartment – it only took us a shocking 45 minutes (I have no idea how I managed that).

We spent two nights in Saint John – awesome city! I was delighted to have a day off the bike – the cycling was really taking out of me. It was clear that my fitness was not what it was 6 months earlier.

More cold weather

After resting for the day, we were (semi) ready to hit the road again! From Saint John we got on the highway to the border. A crazy headwind and cold rains greeted us. This slowed us down, and instead of making it to the border town, we only made it as far as Saint George. Soaking wet and freezing cold we decided to book into a cheap hotel.

One thing about riding in the freezing cold, it’s just about manageable, until you stop riding! I have no idea how the long distance winter cyclists do it! What about breaks and stopping for lunch when there is no shelter, not even a gas station? We stopped for a minute at a time to eat some food, but there was no way we were stopping for longer than that. It was way too cold! This was probably one of the coldest and most miserable days we’ve cycled in the Americas – it was not fun! Luckily the hotel was pretty nice and the hot shower was one of the best of my life.

Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia
Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia

Headwinds are the worst things in the world – no joke!

We woke up to sun – and another headwind! But, it didn’t matter because it was about 10 degrees warmer, so I was happy. We continued on the highway to Saint Stephen, dropped into the Superstore to spend the last of our Canadian coins, and then crossed into the USA – with surprisingly little hassle!

So after spending the best part of 2 years in Canada, it was finally time to say farewell! I don’t think we could ever repay the kindness we experienced during our time in Canada – it truly is an amazing country (despite it’s cold winters) and we will definitely miss it!

We were finally on our next leg on the trip, cycling Canada to Argentina. Woohoo!

Liked this video about cycling Canada to Argentina? Check out more of our cycle videos here!

THERM-A-REST EVOLITE SLEEPING PAD (regular size): Gear Review

THERM-A-REST EVOLITE SLEEPING PAD

SPECS: Therm-a-rest Evolite sleeping pad

Weight; 520gms

Dimensions; Length 183cm, Width 51cm, Thickness 5cm

Packed size; 23cm x 13cm

Price paid; $152

PROS:

• Very comfortable.
• Nice and warm.
• Small packed size for a full length mat.
• Very thick when inflated.

CONS:

• Expensive.
• Problem with outer material separating from inner causing a huge bubble to form making it unusable to use.
• Seemed to get dirty very easily.

Therm-a-rest Evolite sleeping pad
The Therm-A-Rest when it first began to develop a bubble

OVERVIEW:

On our last cycle trip from France to China we had purchased the cheapest (and sometimes only) gear available to us and ended up with tiny three quarter length inflatable mats that didn’t really offer any barrier against the cold coming up through the ground, particularly on our legs which hung over and rested directly on the tent floor.
We started of our trip across Canada with these same mats, but decided after the Rockies we needed some more warmth and comfort so picked up the Therm-a-rest Evolite sleeping pad in Calgary to give our tenty home some cushiony luxury and warmth!

DESIGN AND FUNCTIONALITY:

The Therm-a-rest Evolite sleeping pad ticked all the boxes for us. Packed up small enough to not take up much space in our panniers, insulated to keep our body heat being sucked out through the chilly Canadian earth and long enough too fully spread out and get some actual sleep on!

These pads taper away towards the feet but just enough to shave more weight off without sacrificing comfort. The cushiony ripples along the pad are nice and squishy provide plenty of comfort, 5 cm thickness means when sleeping on your side you don’t feel like your shoulders are sinking into the tent floor.

THERM-A-REST EVOLITE SLEEPING PAD
You can see where the two padded ridges have joined up to form a bubble

DURABILITY:

The Therm-a-rest Evolite sleeping pad seemed very well made and feel nice and rip resistant, I felt confident about putting them down directly on the ground if needed while setting up the tent without fear of a twig or rock popping them and the seams all look nicely sealed around the valve.

Everything was going great…until Prince Edward Island when I noticed the gap between two of the raised ridges in the pad had disappeared and the two ridges had joined together. I though ‘oh well, not a problem, as long as it doesn’t get any worse…” Unfortunately it did get worse, a lot worse. Once the outer layer had started peeling away and joining up the ridges, there was no stopping it from coming away further every time I inflated it.

It was developing a rapidly growing ‘bubble’ in the pad around where my shoulders rest making it very hard to sleep on. If I took my body weight off the pad you could actually hear the outer layer peeling away and eventually making a loud popping sounds the bubble grew larger and larger like some heavily pregnant orange alien. You can’t sleep on a pregnant alien, everyone knows this.

THERM-A-REST EVOLITE SLEEPING PAD
Giant blister! Not much fun in the old shoulder blades!

In the end the bubble expanded to the very top of the pad making it impossible to use and actually played a part in our decision to cut the trip shorter than originally intended, as I was exhausted from lack of sleep. After reading more reviews online I discovered I was not alone and this seemed to be a common occurrence and fatal design flaw in this otherwise solid piece of equipment.

SUMMARY:

So close yet so far. I loved the comfort, packed size and weight of the Therm-a-rest Evolite sleeping pad, but I didn’t like the gigantic spine melting bubble that formed. If it hadn’t have had this issue I would have gladly called this my bed for the rest of our round the world adventures, but alas, it was screwed. We ended up returning both our pads (Kelly’s was fine but feared the same thing would happen eventually) to MEC where we purchased them from and settled on the more tried and tested Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus Mattress instead as no reviews mentioned anything similar happening.

The Therm-a-rest Evolite sleeping pad gets 2.5 out of 5 for the major faults and discomfort it caused me. (Amazon/ Our Gear List)

Enjoyed this gear review? Check out a few other gear reviews.

MSR HUBBA HUBBA NX 2 PERSON TENT: Gear Review

MSR HUBBA HUBBA NX 2 PERSON TENT gear review

SPECS: MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person Tent

Weight: 1.72kg (3lbs 13 oz.)

Dimensions: 1.27m x 2.13m total internal floor area of 2.7sqm

Price paid: $437 from MEC

Packed dimensions: 46cm x 15cm

PROS:

• Very spacious inside for two people with gear.
• Superlight weight and packs down very small.
• Sets up extremely quickly with option of inner first pitching which is handy if it’s raining!
• Freestanding so doesn’t need to be staked out if set up on concrete.
• Well ventilated, no condensation issues.
• Sturdy in high winds.
• Quick and easy to take down and pack into wide opening compression bag (included).

CONS:

• Expensive.
• Material is highly waterproof but feels thin and slightly fragile like it could tear easily.
• Two of our stakes snapped.
• Floor inside the tent was always slightly damp in the morning despite using the footprint.
• Cross pole on the top of the tent started to bend out of shape.

 

MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person Tent
Plenty of space for two peoples panniers in the vestibules. Prince Edward Island.

OVERVIEW:

We purchased this tent in 2015 before doing the multi day ‘West coast trail’ hike on Vancouver island with the intention of also using it for our round the world cycle trip. The major appeal of the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person Tent for me was it’s tiny packed size, weight and excellent livable space inside so we wouldn’t feel cramped up after months at a time living in it while riding.

I love this tent, the design, the space inside and out and I wanted this to be our home for a long time, unfortunately it just didn’t seem to last and after 4 months cycling from Vancouver to Halifax we decided it wasn’t up for a round the world trip so we ended up returning it to the store we purchased it from.

MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person Tent
Lake Superior, having a freestanding tent helps when you can’t stake it out in beach sand!

DESIGN AND FUNCTIONALITY:

The design and layout of the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person Tent is extremely well thought out and works beautifully. You have a huge amount of floor space for such a lightweight tent, but the big bonus of this baby is the incredible amount of headroom and a feeling of space all around you due to the ingenious vertical sidewalls that the pole set up creates.

Many lightweight tents feel cramped and claustrophobic inside, but MSR managed to make the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person Tent feel like a mansion! We tried out several tents before purchasing this and have tried out many since to replace it, none of which felt as roomy. Several of the tents I tried were actually larger on paper, but when I got inside my feet touched one end and my head touched the other due to a classic ‘dome’ style slanting design as opposed to the Hubba Hubba’s vertical walls. I’m 6”1 and can comfortably lay down in the Hubba Hubba with a little bit of space at my feet for a small bag and we have a nice amount of room either side of us to not to feel like we’re fighting with each other for room.

Kayaking in Deep Cove B.C

The single pole deign is very clever with a central hub connecting a cross pole in the centre to give you plenty of head room and extra stability with another hub each end for the vertical side wall pole pieces to pop into. The poles are made of DAC featherlite aluminum and easily connect with each other and are super easy for one person to connect together by themselves. After you’ve put it up a few times you’ll have this bad boy fully set up in 5-10 minutes…less if it’s raining and you’re cold!

There’s plenty of mesh on the inner tent so it feels nice and airy but still enough material to keep in warmth on chilly nights. Each end of the tent has added ‘kickstand’ opening for added ventilation and to achieve a cross breeze in warmer weather.

The large D shaped doors on either side are easy to get in and out of and have plenty of clearance from the ground so water shouldn’t splash in if you’re making a dash back in to the tent in the rain. Also has built in rain gutters that channel water away from the zips so you don’t end up getting drenched when you unzip the fly.

The two vestibules either side of the tent offers enough room for all of our panniers and would be plenty of space if you were using it for hiking packs. There isn’t a porch or enough room to safely cook in the vestibules, but definitely ample space for your gear.

There are two mesh pockets at either end of the tent to store bits and pieces, would have perhaps been better having the pockets on the sides instead of the ends so you don’t lose any length when the pockets are full.

DURABILITY:

The fly of the tent is made of 20 denier ripstop nylon rated to 1200mm waterproofness while the floor is made of 30 denier ripstop rated to 3000mm. we never had any issues with rain getting into the tent through the roof, but the floor always felt damp no matter how or where we set it up even using the MSR footprint purchased separately.

In order to achieve the impressively light weight, obviously lighter materials have to be used. For me the floor just feels a little bit too thin to inspire confidence and we were always slightly worried about accidentally ripping it. No rips or tears ever did occur in the tent, but no matter how it was set up I always woke up with a wet sleeping bag from the floor.

The plastic hooks used to attach the inner tent to the poles feel very sturdy and I doubt they would ever break unless you stood on them pretty hard and crushed them.

The DAC poles are crazy light, but feel very solid and kept the tent rigid and upright even in strong winds, unfortunately the crossbeam pole in the centre of our tent had begun to bend out of shape pretty badly causing a slight sag in the top of the tent. I don’t know if it would have ever actually snapped, but after 4 months on the road with another 4-5 years ahead of us, we didn’t want to take that risk.

The ‘mini groundhog’ stakes that come included with the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person Tent  are super lightweight and work very well, but unfortunately the heads snapped off three of ours within the space of a few weeks so they definitely lose points there!

The included compression bag is a killer design making packing it away super quick and easy with two compression straps and a string and toggle to squeeze it all together nice and compact. Our bag had developed several small holes on the ends that concerned me; the bag appears to be made of the same material as the tent and if it developed holes that quickly then it might not be a good sign for the tent itself. I could be being a little unfair here as these holes did develop when doing the west coast trail which was pretty wild and rugged hiking where the bag probably took a bit of a beating on the outside of my pack.

mSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person Tent
Camping in Jasper letting the fly dry out before fully setting the tent up.

SUMMARY:

I loved the SR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person Tent . I wanted this tent to be with us forever, but in the end I think it was more suited to hiking and camping rather than a near permanent home that we were trying to make it cycle touring.

Design wise, there is very little I would change about this tent, for two people it hits that sweet spot between having enough space inside and not taking up a crazy amount of room to set up. When wild camping this can be a fairly important factor for choosing a tent as we tend to find ourselves setting up in a random tiny sliver of grass behind a bush on a backroad somewhere so a massive tent that requires a lot of space can be a drawback.

It’s packed size is truly impressive and fit perfectly on my front rack without the need to split the tent up or share the load by one of us taking the poles etc.

In the end the frustration at the leaky floor and our uneasiness with the bent pole made us decide to return the tent while still could taking advantage of Canadian outdoor store MEC’s excellent return policy.

To replace this tent was a tough decision as every other tent we tried after this paled in comparison. In the end we opted for another MSR tent, the Elixir 2 as it is extremely similar in design to the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person Tent, only made of heavier thicker materials. The weight difference is fairly significant (over a kilogram) and it doesn’t pack down as small, but we are hoping that the thicker materials make it longer lasting so we can enjoy our home for years to come on the road! When we’ve actually started using the tent I will post a review of the Elixir 2.

I give the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person Tent a 3 out of 5.

In many ways the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person Tent is my dream tent and it would have scored higher if not for the durability issues we had. Amazing tent for weekend cycle trips and hikes, but perhaps just not up to the rigors of long term cycle touring. (Amazon/ Our Gear List)

Enjoyed this gear review? Check out a few others, the Origin8 Classique Cargo HD Front RackEVO Low Rider Fork Mounted Front Rack and the BRODIE CIRCUIT 2015 Touring Bike.

BRODIE CIRCUIT 2015 Touring Bike: Gear Review

BRODIE CIRCUIT 2015

SPECS: BRODIE CIRCUIT 2015

Weight; 12.97 kg (28.6 pounds)

Material; 4130-butted Chromoly steel

Brakes; Hayes MX5 mechanical disc brakes

Rims; Alex TD-17

Front Derailleur; Shimano Altus

Rear Derailleur; Shimano Claris

Cranks; Shimano Acera 28/38/48T

Cassette; Shimano Acera 11-30T

Shifters; Shimano bar end 8 speed

Hubs; Shimano M475 / Formula

Size; XL (60cm)

Price paid; $850 Canadian dollars, no tax paid! RRP was $1120+tax so I scored a bargain as it was the previous years model and I bought it from outside Canada I didn’t have to pay tax. Woohoo!

Michael's new touring bike, new touring bikes

Note: I am pretty clueless about technical bike stuff so I have no idea what any of the specs mean, so this review will just be pretty basic about what I like and don’t like about my new baby!

PROS:

  • Outstanding price for a Chromo touring bike with disc brakes.
  • Nice upright position, good stem angle.
  • Wide drop bars giving plenty of hand positions.
  • Brakes feel solid and dependable when fully loaded.
  • Looks like a sexy old school classic tourer.
  • Bar end shifters kick ass!
  • Rims take up to 38c tires.
  • Mid blade fork braze ons for front rack / fenders.
  • Three bottle cage spots.
  • 24 speed.

CONS:

  • Slightly wobbly fully loaded (but this was EXTREMELY fully loaded at the start of trip before I got rid of excess crap).
  • Although it can take 38c tires it gets pretty tight with fenders.
  • Paint seems to scratch very easily, cables on head tube rubbed the paint on the logo completely off.
  • Snapped two gear cables and the chain in 4 months, never had any problems like that on our previous trip with cheap hybrid bikes in worse conditions.
BRODIE CIRCUIT 2015
Lots of space for water bottles on a 60cm frame! Lake Superior.

OVERVIEW:

Our previous cycle tour from France to China had been done on a pair of second hand ex rental Trek hybrids that were too small for me and too large for Kelly. So this time I was determined to get bikes that were more up for the task of riding around the world! I had my heart set on a steel framed tourer this time as we would be travelling in so many different conditions that I figured the sturdiness and durability of steel made sense.

I researched the options for buying touring bikes at home in Perth, Western Australia, but our options were fairly limited, more expensive and when you add in the cost and hassle of transporting them to Canada by plane it made more sense to buy bikes in Vancouver at the start of our trip.

I researched as many bike shops as possible in Vancouver contacting a whole bunch and ended up being offered the bargain price on the Brodie Circuit 2015 with the added bonus of not having to pay tax as the purchase was made outside Canada. Kelly’s original bike was a Norco Search from the same shop, but this didn’t work out as I think has been covered in previous posts and she ended up getting the 2016 flat bar model of the Brodie Circuit that I’ll cover in a separate post.

DESIGN AND FUNCTIONALITY:

The Brodie Circuit 2015 was exactly the bike I’d been hoping for with my limited funds! I spent hours staring at the pictures on the Brodie website and from the bike shop, but it is still a bit nerve racking purchasing a bike that you intend to ride around the globe without ever actually trying it out first!

I was thrilled to finally see it up close in the shop and over the moon to find that it was actually a good fit for me! I was in love.

The angle of the stem puts you in a nice upright position for long days in the saddle and the nice wide drop bars means you have a fair amount of space for a handlebar bag without losing hand positions.

The curve and length of the drops are excellent making it nice and comfortable cruising along in the drops without feeling like you’re hunched over too much.

Finally having a bike large enough for me felt great, everything just felt right. The bonus of having a 60cm frame is plenty of room for water bottles! One design flaw for me was the placement of the main bottle cage on the seat stay, using a standard top release aluminum cage; the cage actually interfered with the shifting of the front derailleur. I remedied this easily by bending the cage slightly, but the cage mounts could have perhaps been placed slightly higher on the frame to avoid this interference.

Front and rear facing eyelets on both the fork and rear give multiple rack set up options along with mid blade braze ons on the fork giving added mounting versatility.

It rides beautifully. I hadn’t owned a steel framed bike before and could definitely notice the difference in handling particularly on bumpy roads, the steel seemed to keep me a bit more stable and jarred less when hitting rough patches.

I never felt like I’d run out of gears on this bike, even in the Rockies I felt 24 was enough to get me up the steep passes, I also like that an 8 speed chain and cassette is relatively easy to get a hold of when in random spots around the world.

Can’t comment too much on the stock saddle and tires (Brodie saddle and Kenda Kwest 35) as I swapped them out straight away for my brooks B67 and our Schwalbe marathons, but the saddle did seem decent to be fair.

BRODIE CIRCUIT 2015 gear review
Racked up and waiting for the next adventure!!

It looks sextacular. I will not lie. I have a total man crush on my bike. The dark grey paint job with white Brodie logo looks great and gives it an old school charm. While it looks like a classic road tourer, it actually handles light off road and rocky tracks like a beast too!

DURABILITY:

The Brodie circuit 2015 feels like a serious touring bike when you hop on. The weight of the bike and the beautiful neat welds inspired confidence in my shiny new machine from the first meeting!

The Alex rims took a fair amount of punishment on some of the rougher cycle trails we chose to take and came out unscathed. At the start of the trip I had a ridiculous amount of weight on the rear rack and had feared that I’d end up busting a rim, but they held up beautifully. I’ve since scaled back the crazy amount of crap I was carrying to a slightly more sensible load.

Light rust developed in some of the braze ons, but that’s kind of to be expected being left out in rain and frost across Canada so I’m pretty sure any bike would develop a minor amount.

The paint job while looking fantastic, it does seem to be fairly fragile and it didn’t take long for scratches to appear. The major paint problems were from the gear and brake cables rubbing on the head tube of the bike giving the Brodie ‘B’ logo a nasty scar straight through it. Also had paint rub off under the straps of my top tube bag, I’ve since used tremclad rust proof paint over the patches, but I was hoping the paint job would be a little tougher.

I also managed to wipe out pretty badly in the Rockies while trying to take a photo while pedaling (yeah I’m not the brightest) but the bike took this pretty solid hit and came out fine!

BRODIE CIRCUIT 2015 gear review
My bike has been converted in to more of a beer transporting machine since living in Halifax!

I was surprised to snap a chain so quickly on this bike and go through two gear cables, but I am putting that down to the insane load I was trying to carry so can’t really blame that on the Brodie Circuit 2015.

SUMMARY:

Overall after 7000+kms I am super happy with the Brodie Circuit 2015 touring bike! It handles beautifully, feels solid like it will last me for the next 4-5 years of this trip and beyond and is also versatile enough that it can be used on road and also on trails making our route choices more open. I feel incredibly lucky to have picked up a brand new 4130 Chromo touring bike with all the bells and whistles for $850 and even if I did pay full price it would have still been a solid choice.

It was also kind of nice riding across Canada on a Canadian bike!

I give the Brodie Circuit 2015 model a 4 out of 5 stars. Excellent value and a solid touring machine! (Gear List)

Enjoyed this gear review? Check out a few others, the Origin8 Classique Cargo HD Front RackEVO Low Rider Fork Mounted Front Rack and the MSR HUBBA HUBBA NX 2 PERSON TENT.