Musicycle Tour 2007
by Derek Olive
Heading out of Keremeos BC
I remember sitting in 1997 in a stuffy gym locker room after having
worked out, dreaming about cycling across Canada. At the time, I
promised myself I would when I finished University; however, by
2006, as too many promises to ourselves are, this promise had become
broken. Motivation sometimes arrives from a dark place. I found
myself working at a job that had moved me further away from what
I had hoped I would be than I ever thought possible. As I sat pondering
my existence one fall morning, I became convinced that, before all
remnants of my old self disappeared, I must do something extraordinary.
If I didn’t, I knew I risked closing the door on a part of
me that I was not willing to let go. Thus began the planning for
a cross-Canada music/cycling trip.
I am a music composer by training, which essentially means I sit
on my butt a lot and write music. In June 2006 I had released my
first folk/jazz vocal CD and knew that the following summer would
require a tour somewhere in Canada. Having been chair bound writing
symphonies or music for the album for most of my young career, I
had never had to deal with planning a music tour before. I had,
however, cycled through many countries and was committed to demonstrating
that music touring and sustainable transportation could be happy
While I admit that I have a car, I get around mostly by bike—even
in the winter. There are days, however, when the cold weather and
snowy roads make it too easy to justify driving. Every time I drive
I ask myself, “Could I have done this in more sustainable
way?” All too often, the answer is, “Yes,” and
I continue to work towards the goal of 100% emissions-free transportation.
The music/cycling tour brought me one pedal stroke closer to this
Lethbridge and a COLD rain that will fall on me
After spending the winter of 2006/2007 planning, by April 2007
I had the Musicycle tour itinerary confirmed. The tour would be
completed with a fellow musician (Johnny Eden), last four months,
consist of 67 shows, require my carrying 160lbs worth of gear, and
roll over 6500 km under human power. By the end of the tour, these
numbers would look very different: no fellow musician, lasting less
than four months, consisting of 55 shows, and rolling over 8151km
under human power. The load never got any lighter…
The tour started in Powell River, British Columbia, which meant
that I had to travel by train from Ottawa to get to my starting
destination. The history of the railroad in Canada is interesting,
to say the least. British Columbia was actually lured into confederation
by Sir John A MacDonald with the promise that the railroad would
be a reality ten years after Canada’s creation. After having
taken the train across the country I understand why so many people
balked at his promise; crossing Ontario alone takes some 30 hours
by train, and then you have the long winding prairies and, of course,
the mountainous peaks of Alberta and B.C. It is no wonder it took
more than 10 years to create this rail system! Traveling through
BC’s Fraser Valley had the steel wheels of the train cursing
the sharp corners with squeals. Not even my imagination could bring
to life the suffering that must have been endured to lay those tracks.
Unforgiving cliffs that tumble into a raging river, coupled with
accidental stumblings with nitro-glycerin, took many lives (most
of them Chinese).
White River, Ontario.
Home of the ORIGINAL Winnie Bear, with Kristin
On the first official day of the tour, May 11 th, after having
tested my fully loaded bicycle trailer that felt a little less stable
than I would have liked, I wrote the first few lines to a new song
in an effort to replace the fears of what lay ahead with some encouraging
“Let the weight of the situation push you
Not be the burden that slows you down
There’s a bright star that warms my face
So may the west wind lead me home”
BC’s Gulf Islands are perfect for being seen by bicycle.
The Sunshine Coast, with it’s rolling tunnels of trees and
ocean breezes, left me with no regrets about starting the tour.
Tucked away on Gabriola Island is a little place called Degnan Bay,
and on that bay there is a cute little cabin, filled with the kind
of hippie-types you might expect to find in a place like that. This
was where I played my first House Concert. House concerts are exactly
what they sound like: concerts in peoples’ houses. The setting
is intimate; the audience, completely present while laughing and
smiling at all the right places in the songs. It was a joy to be
introduced to this type of venue.
Galiano Island brought one of many surprises on the tour, Tim
Harvey. Tim had recently completed an around the world trip under
human power. I had read about some of his adventures, and we spent
a night sharing stories about our past cycling adventures over beers.
Victoria and Vancouver gave the most fitting greeting they could
offer: rain. With friends in abundance in both of these cities,
however, I had more than enough to keep me warm and happy. I had
completed my Masters in Vancouver in 2003 and was delighted to be
back in this Lotus Land of ocean and mountains.
Not enough time to enjoy Superior’s pleasures
After Vancouver and the beauty of the coastline, the tour turned
eastwards, following the spine of the last ice age, the mountain
ranges of interior B.C. As the rivers of asphalt followed the glacial-fed
ones, the trick for me was not losing too much time stopping. Not
because I needed a rest, but because the view demanded my attention
and time to enjoy it. Following one of the highlight concerts of
the tour at the Artist’s House B’n’B in Sicamous,
I rolled eastward, passing the site of the Last Spike of the Transcontinental
Rail Line that united Canada from coast to coast on November 7 th,
1885—four years after Sir John A’s promised end date.
The climb between Revelstoke and Golden, B.C., which rises 887
m in a mere 68.6 km., made me think of a saying I came up with on
another of my cycling trips: everything that goes up must continue
to go up…and up…and up—until you start
seeing snow patches! The winding road through Glacier National Park
took me to the top of Rogers Pass. Named after Major Albert Bowman
Rogers, the CPR surveyor who found it in 1881, Rogers Pass still
had snow, and the view at dusk when I arrived was glorious.
Whenever people talk about the Rocky Mountains, two places usually
come up in conversation: Jasper and Banff. I have spent time hiking
in both National Parks, and they are both nice. OK, they are more
than nice—they are amazing. However, their beauty often eclipses
other wonders found in the Rockies—for example, Field, B.C.
Field is situated inside Yoho National Park. It is smaller than
Banff and Jasper, so if you have in the “bigger is better” mentality,
skip Field. However, for the rest of us, Field offers an unparalleled
Rocky experience. Unlike the town sites of Jasper and Banff, it
is not crawling with tourists because there simply isn’t room
for many. And by some strange coincidence, Field boasts a large
Quebecois population! My dream had come true—the Rockies and Quebec
all rolled into one! Now if I could just import some good cheese
and Montreal smoked meat…
Riding through the mountains of BC was daunting for me for one
and only one reason: I knew eventually they would end and I would
be left with the scar of their journey—the prairies. When
you climb mountains on a bicycle, you know that eventually the incline
ends at some glorious summit. The wind, however, knows no end. The
sun-bleached road signs of the prairies are nothing more than sparks
for your imagination to start you wondering; wondering what they
can be telling you that you can’t all ready see in the distance.
Saskatchewan is called the land of living skies; this makes sense
when the weather, as it did when I cycled through, changes quickly
from rain, to hail, to funnel clouds, to tornadoes, all in the course
of one afternoon of cycling. When I saw the first funnel cloud,
I did what any normal person would do—I took pictures. There
was not much else I could have done anyhow; on the flat prairies,
there is nowhere to hide.
A fun place to stay in South River, Ontario
Regina, I learned, was named “Pile of Bones” by Aboriginals
in the area because of the large quantity of buffalo bones on the
site—remainders of the days when First Nations and Métis
people used to bring the bones to Regina to sell for 0.05¢ per
ton to Europeans who made glue and fertilizer out of them. Apparently,
mass slaughter didn’t pay much... The day out of Regina was
punishing, the wind had no mercy and violently shook my bike, pushing
me in every direction but the one I wanted to be going in. Normally
I can averaged 20km/hour, but on that day, I was happy to do 12
km/hour. I went to bed tired, soar, having done 136km in 8.5 hours,
and hopeful that the wind would change directions.
The next morning, the first thing to wake was my ears, valiantly
trying to deduce which direction the wind was coming from. Once
they awakened my brain, I popped my head out of the tent and, looking
up at the tree tops, discovered, to my delight, that the wind had
shifted. Fortunately, that day I would be a sailor not a cyclist!
Leaving my campsite near Brandon, Manitoba, I descended into a small
little valley, understanding, of course, that my senses were heightened
by any rise or fall in the landscape, so I use the term “valley” loosely.
I remember the moment of seeing that valley clearly, because it
was then that I decided that I would continue on. I had all ready
broken 200km that day and decided that I would see if I could break
300km that day. The long descent of a prairie sun lured me along;
however, as long as a prairie sunset is, darkness eventually prevails.
It was all most completely dark when I saw a dear leap across the
road in front of me, and oddly as it may sound, I took this as a
sign to continue on. When I finally pulled into a stranger’s
driveway at 10:30pm, I had been riding for 11.5 hours and my speedometer
read 301km! The kind folks whose door I knocked on offered me a
hot chocolate without even missing a beat. I gratefully accepted,
and, after good conversation over much needed hot chocolate, I set
up camp and slept like the dead that night.
As suddenly as the prairies began, they ended. A few trees appeared
sporadically somewhere around the eastern edge of Manitoba and suddenly
there was a wall of them—and that wall didn’t end for
days. With the trees quickly came the official welcoming committee
of northern Ontario—the swarming bugs of summer. After feeding
the bugs for a few days, I arrived in Thunder Bay, which was my
first introduction to what would be some of the most beautiful stretch
of country I cycled across. Lake Superior is a truly magnificent
wonder—a lake which is actually an inland ocean and one that
should be on every Canadian’s list of places to see. Parts
of Superior are almost tropical in nature, with beaches and crystal
clear water that leave you guessing how far down the bottom really
is. Thunder Bay also brought with it some long awaited company;
my partner Kristin would join me for the next 2 weeks of cycling.
Following Hwy. 17 from Thunder Bay to Wawa, I played a house concert
on the shores of Superior that I will never forget. In the gathering
room of my gracious hosts at Naturally Superior Adventures, the
setting sun provided the perfect visual as I played one of my instrumental
Derek Olive, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa.
Photo: John W. MacDonald
Toronto saw the joining of two very Canadian projects: my cross-Canada
Musicycle tour and Jowi Taylor’s Six String Nation Guitar.
The guitar was built from some 64 pieces of Canadiana, such as Pierre
Trudeau's canoe paddles, Paul Henderson's hockey stick, the Golden
Spruce, and the St. Boniface museum where Louis Riel went to school.
Jowi and I had been trying to link up for over three months, and
when he asked me to play the guitar at a house concert in Toronto,
I was overjoyed. Hearing Jowi tell his stories of collecting the
pieces for the guitar and re-telling the stories people have told
him as he has toured the guitar around Canada brought tears to my
Continuing east, I came to the nation’s capital, and the
place where all my planning for this tour had commenced. Ottawa
has a bad rap for being a bureaucrat’s town, but after having
lived there for a year, I know this reputation is somewhat undeserved.
With bike paths that are cleared in the winter, a vibrant music
scene, and Gatineau Park just across the bridge, it is a town for
artists and athletes, not just the suits.
Riding from Ottawa to Montreal, I was reminded of my first cycling
trip I took when I was 21 (over 10 years ago now). I had ridden
from Montreal to Algonquin Park, meeting friends for a week long
canoe trip through the lakes of Algonquin. Having thousands of kilometers
in my legs since then, the ride this time seemed much easier. The
memories of this first trip cajoled me on towards my home town,
Montreal. When I crossed the bridge onto the island of Montreal
and rode into Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue (my home town), I was cheering
out loud! I had ridden 6700km to get there, and waiting for me was
a long awaited treat—the best poutine in the world. The first
thing I did, even before going to visit my father, was fuel up on
this healthy treat on the boardwalk in downtown Ste-Anne’s.
I played a fun concert in Montreal where I was happily reunited
with friends and family I had not seen in over three months.
Nova Scotia: Home for a rest
Quebec City to Halifax was a tough slog, as I was sick, the weather
was horrible, and, being eager to finish the tour, I had set myself
a tough pace. By the time I arrived in Halifax, my singing voice
was reduced to something resembling a Darth Vader impersonation,
and I longed to be settled in a place where I did not have to unpack
my things for many days to come. I played a small house concert
to conclude the tour, packed my bike into a box, climbed back onto
the train, and returned to Montreal. Shortly there after, I hopped
a plane to my new home in northern Quebec.
Surrounded with snow in Waskaganish, a Cree community on the James
Bay, I find myself in a town with no paved roads, where people quickly
know who you are. The familiarity of faces and the slower pace of
life has been a welcomed respite from the constant motion I was
in during the Musicycle tour. In the works is a new album about
Canada in which I will put to words my new understanding of how
history has shaped me and my country. My interest in history has
always hailed from the same place—having touched some part
of it, which I felt fortunate to have done lots of this past spring
and summer. The Musicycle tour afforded me the opportunity to gain
a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the vastness and
beauty of the Canadian landscape. It also provided a new hunger
to better understand the relationship between this vastness, our
history as a country, and our definition of what it means to be