Three Terrace girls biked across Canada this summer, a three month trip they say was incredibly worth it.
“It’s an amazing experience,” said Sarah Schuss, who is 19 and going into her second year nursing at Trinity Western University.
“You experience Canada from an entirely different perspective than you would driving.”
The trip instigator, 20-year-old Johanna Vandenberg, agrees.
“You really feel how Canada is built, like the geography of it,” she said. “It’s really worth it.”
Johanna said her mom, Cathy Vandenberg, made a similar trip with a friend when she was 20, and Johanna has wanted to do it since she was 16. Last year, she planned the trip with her sister Ria, 18, and her friend Sarah.
Johanna and Sarah were in university at the time, and Sarah says she was unsure if she could do it, so she did not commit to the trip until two months before they left.
No time for training, the girls scrambled most things together last minute, with Johanna and Sarah arriving home from university close to a week before departure.
Sarah had ordered a new 27-speed Kona Sutra road bike, which arrived the day before they left.
Ria was studying hard to graduate early, and was cramming her assignments in until the night before they left.
“She was packing all her stuff at the same time. It was great,” Sarah laughed.
On May 10, they loaded their bikes with camping gear, food and water, and headed out – Johanna on a Surly Long Haul Trucker, and Sarah and Ria on Kona Sutras.
“The first week was a little tough,” Sarah said. “We kind of built up our endurance as we went along.”
Following a general route plan, Johanna said they mapped out specifics a few days in advance.
”We tried for like 100 kilometres a day,” she said, adding that one day they went 150 kilometres because there was no campsite to stop at.
“There was times when it was really hard, really stressful, and then there was times when it was like, “Yes! This is the best thing ever!” Johanna said.
Most of that was based on weather, terrain, traffic and the size of the road shoulder, Sarah said.
Despite the natural beauty, travelling through the Columbia Icefields (or Icefields Parkway) in Jasper National Park was one of the hard stretches which Sarah remembers vividly.
“It was a really treacherous part of the highway… it was pretty flat up until we started getting into the ice fields, but we were facing this brutal headwind almost all day.
“It seemed like we were just inching along and then we started getting into the Columbia ice fields and the elevation just went way up and we were climbing for what felt like hours,” Sarah said.
Things didn’t improve when they hit the descent.
“It was dangerous and really steep and there were big tour buses passing us on corners,” Sarah said.
They parked their bikes at the bottom and took a long break to de-stress, she said.
Covering so much ground, Johanna says they ate quick foods like pasta, minute rice, canned stew and sandwiches.
“We were always eating, we were eating probably every hour,” she said.
Some of the good highlights were the days they spent touring in most of the major cities. They also spent a day checking out the Tunnels of Moosejaw, which Johanna says felt like a maze.
“They had really neat stories… [the history was] explained to us and acted out as we walked through the tunnels,” she said.
In Ontario they went to Sault Ste. Marie and took the Manitoulin Island ferry across Lake Huron.
“It was really relaxing, we felt like we were doing kilometres without putting out any energy,” she said. Then they travelled south to Greenock, near Walkerton Ontario, where they took a week-long break visiting Vandenberg’s relatives.
Then they loaded their bikes again and headed towards Montreal, northeast to Riviere-du-Loup and then southeast to Halifax.
“New Brunswick actually reminded me a lot of B.C.,” Johanna said.
“Especially the foliage and the way the highways followed the rivers.”
She says they did not see many sights of the east provinces, as weather was poor and they were travelling quickly for their destination.
They got to Halifax August 11 and flew home a day later. Sarah says she always biked around before, but now she is much more eager to bike.
“It’s kind of become our normal,” she said. “We were on our bikes every day, 8-10 hours a day, so it feels normal to be on it all the time.”
Looking ahead, the girls are considering future bike trips, and are throwing around bike tour ideas in Scotland, New Zealand or Iceland.
They also recommend it to anyone, noting that they met 50- and 60-year-old cyclists on their trip.
“You are never too old to do it,” Sarah said. “You kind of just have to get on your bike and go.”