Friday, 30 October 2015

Negotiating Changes

Location: Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
Many of you will remember Tom's post Cycle Touring Fatigue where he talked about having a tough time of it; the stress of the uncertainty, the boredom of the routine of the bike tour, the lack of knowledge acquisition and intellectual stimulus. Not to mention his most recent post "What Constitutes a Failed Cycle Tour?" This has been a tough few months for us in many ways with lots of realisations and self-reflection. And we are so grateful for all the messages of support and tales of similar feelings. It's definitely something that tends not to be talked about all that much. Having perused through dozens of blogs and websites of other cycle tourers and travelers the number of times I've come across anyone just saying 'this isn't for me' or 'I'm not having any fun' is extremely rare. Sure there's hardship, people have rough days, weeks, months maybe even, but to admit to not enjoying it overall, to wanting to go home, is rare. The singular example I have come across is an excellent one from Shirine Taylor's blog,, in which they flew home early after 2 years on the road. I can totally recommend Shirine's blog, she's a great writer and photographer and an inspiration.

While things have certainly improved in some respects the truth of the matter is that Tom is not a wanderer at heart, at least not a long-term wanderer, and so this trip will not go the full distance so to speak. I, on the other hand, am a wanderer. I can happily amuse myself looking at the flowers by the side of the road, trying (and usually failing) to identify the birds, letting my mind wander as my bike rolls along beneath me. I love it, I don't think it's routine or tedious, I think every day is different, small differences sure, but different. One of the big things we've had to come to terms with in the last few months is that neither Tom or I are right or wrong in our take on the cycle tour. It's just how each of us feels and rather than try to convince the other to come round to our way of thinking we have slowly learned to accept each other's point of view and try to figure out the best way forward for us. This hasn't caused us to fight, but it is a major point of difference so we've been talking a lot about how we both get what we need and how we both get to be happy.

It's really tough. In all honesty I don't want the trip to end, but Tom's happiness is more important than the trip and while it's not more important than my happiness (our individual happinesses are equally important) my happiness is more common and easily found, like blackberries in a British hedgerow. Tom's happiness is rarer and requires some cultivation, so at present we are trying to figure out optimal growing conditions for Tom. The trip was never about proving anything and whilst we intended to be away much longer we always said that if we stopped enjoying it or wanted to change it we would. And I am totally comfortable with this, though it must be said that the blog makes this a little harder. There is a certain level of obligation, felt more keenly by Tom than me, to "not let our readers down". Whatever that means, I'm sure you all have your own stuff going on and would soon get over it!

There is certainly a lot, which for me at least, remains unfinished. At the inception of the trip I didn't really have any great desire to visit or tour Central or South America. Now I feel a definite draw to explore these epic and beautiful countries, preferably by bike. So I very much hope we will be back. And as the tour comes to an end I can't help but reflect on how much has changed since the start, all the sights we've seen and the incredible people we've met, what was left unaccomplished and things that surpassed our most hope-filled dreams. It's been a remarkable journey, something many people have referred to as 'once in a lifetime' but I sincerely hope not. I want a life filled with 'once in a lifetime' experiences that push the boundaries for me, that take me out my comfort zone, that make me see the wonders of the world anew, that make me see how people can shine brighter than the stars and kindness stretch over vast chasms of difference. Life is full of wonder, adventure and joy - we just need to keep looking for it.

And that is what I most desperately fear about going home. It is all too easy to slip back into 'normal life', for the gripes and grinds of the everyday to take up all my days and for me to stop seeing the world for what it is and focus instead on the petty nonsense I find myself tied up with when I'm in normal life. Travel for me is so freeing, so removed from the obligations I place on myself at home, it allows perspective and gives me the time to be grateful for so much. So it is with some apprehension I return, but I am determined to keep the positive impacts of the tour nurtured in the cold, dampness of winter in the UK, to keep the sunshine I've been saving up for eight months shining in my mind and to seek to see the minute differences each day brings and appreciate all I can, wringing every last drop of pleasure, fun and joy out of every day. In this way I hope that at home I can live up to the trail name I was given by Justin and Melissa as much as I can on the road - Rainbow Bright. And with Cake Topper (that's Tom by the way) by my side I think this is just the start of another chapter of a lifetime of adventures. I'm already trying to decide what's next!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

What Constitutes a Failed Cycle Tour?

Location: Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
There comes a time in all walks of life when the going gets tough and you feel like you want to throw in the towel. However, you are taught at a young age that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.  In fact there are a plethora of sayings to keep one motivated and they all basically boil down to; don’t give up, don’t be a failure.  But surely there must be a point when enough is enough?  This is a question I am facing on the cycle tour at the moment.  You may remember a previous blog post, Cycle Touring Fatigue, when I told you all that I was having a hard time and had been for a little time.  That was back in July.  It is now knocking on the door of November and, truth be told again, I have never actually gotten over feeling fatigued by the trip.  It’s not physically tiring, although at the present time I am extremely tired pretty much all of the time, it is more just a feeling of dullness.  A heavy fog touching everything, taking the shine away from all the experiences.

Sophie and I have talked a lot about these feelings and we both thought that a change of pace and scenery would do the world of good; a change is as good as a break, they say.  So we have been in Mexico for just over two weeks now.  The first few days we stayed in a hotel and did very little.  We then spent two days cycling down to Tulum and have spent the rest of the time doing the Spanish Immersion course.  New country, new culture, new language.  There has been no change to my mood. I am increasingly finding myself frustrated with the situation.  I do not want to feel this way.  I am in a major holiday destination for the entire planet.  Hundreds of thousands of people choose to spend their holiday time and money here to rest and recuperate and I’m underappreciating it.  So I am deciding if it is time to come home and admit failure.

My first reaction to the conversations with Sophie of heading home were these feelings of failure.  We had spent years saving and planning for the trip of a lifetime and how after only 8 months I’m having to fly home with my tail between my legs.  We set up this blog and told everyone that we were going away for 2 years and now, after just one third we might have to cut and run.  I feel like I’m letting Sophie down, I feel like I’m letting you down and I feel like I’m letting myself down.  You may have noticed that I haven’t written anything for a long time.  A reason for this is I wanted to distances myself from you, I wanted to make it easier for me to be forgotten.  This was foolish.  After looking at articles online I have discovered that by writing, one names feelings and emotions making it easier for your brain to pigeon hole that emotion (brains seem to really like to categorize things).  Another useful part of writing is it helps you remember the good times because you think about them again and write them down (full disclosure, we miss out some really dull bits from the blog!). This action of remembering and writing actually creates a stronger memory to recollect in the future.  So in a roundabout way by trying to distance myself from you I actually made the trip harder because I wasn’t reinforcing my positive memories.

But this feeling of failure is an interesting one.  Sophie and I have cycled 8,500 miles unsupported in 3 countries.  We have cycled further west and north than either us have ever been and we are currently at my most southerly point.  Even with writing this I can’t help but feel that this is a job left undone.  When we return early (again, full disclosure we will not be out for the whole 2 years, we are definitely not going to South America) I know that I will have failed Sophie and myself.  Sophie is a wanderer.  She loves to travel, see new places, meet new people and experience new cultures.  It fuels her, she is an extrovert and is powered by these activities.  I am not.  I’m an introvert.  Although I may seem outgoing, easy going and game for whatever it takes a lot of energy and it tires me out.  And it’s taking its toll.

What I’m trying to say but not very succinctly is that I am not a failure.  I’m not entirely sure that failure truly exists.  We came out here with a plan.  We didn’t complete the plan but we did come out.  We made that step.  I know now that I am not a wanderer.  I like going away, meeting new people and seeing new sights but I can’t do it for long extended periods of time, my batteries get depleted and they need to be recharged at home, where I have great friends and a fantastic family.  Although new cultures are exciting for a short time, I need to head back after a while to a place I understand and know what to expect.  It is horrendously clichéd and it actually literally pains me to say, but in these last 8 months I have found more out about myself than any other years previously.  I’m not saying I found myself (I was never that lost or unaware enough) but I got to know me, which has been great.  So in the next few days we have to make some decisions about what to do next.  But whatever we choose, we'll choose it together, it’ll be the right choice and we’ll have a great time doing it.

Monday, 26 October 2015

¿Hablas Español?

Location: Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
We managed to ride from Playa del Carmen to Tulum without getting any punctures or heavily rained on. The road was much the same as the previous day - good quality dual carriage way with a decent shoulder - and we were in Tulum by noon. Though we'd been sent a map of the location of our home stay family's house and instructions that it was between "Jaguar y Tepezcuinde" this didn't do us much good as none of the smaller streets had any signs indicating their names and none of the houses had numbers. We knew we were on the right street, just no idea which was the right house. Having ridden the whole road and turned back wondering what we would do now a guy outside a cafe said hola and asked where we were going. When I explained we were looking for an address and showed him it on my phone he unfortunately didn't know where it was either. He asked a dude stood near him if he knew but no luck. He asked if we had a phone number for the family and then he called them to ask for directions for us. As we waited for our host family to come meet us we talked some more with Ramon. He'd lived for some time in Colorado and had now set up his cafe here, selling BBQ ribs and chicken. If he hadn't helped us we'd have had quite a palava finding the house.

Julio arrived by bike and led us back to the house. Along with his wife, Paola, and their kids Frida and Cesar they run a little homestay for students of the Spanish school. We have our own room with bathroom and share meals with the family. When we arrived there were two other students staying too. Linda is from Texas, but her Spanish is amazing and Hanna, from the UK, who is a bit of a polyglot.

After getting unpacked we headed to the beach, first time since arriving in Mexico. We took a taxi as we wanted to suss out a safe place to lock our bikes without having to worry about them. The beach was fairly quiet. Despite the white sand and palm trees the scene was not the tropical paradise of brochures. Grey clouds streamed overhead in a strong breeze and the sea churned. Don't get me wrong, it was beautiful, just sultry. We were famished after riding so headed straight for some food - fish tacos and prawn and cheese quesadilla. Yum! We then spent a couple of hours strolling around, swimming and strolling some more. Then it started to rain and we took shelter at a beach bar where they gave us some incredible fresh coconut with chilli salt. It was so delicious. The rain eased and by the time we ambled back to where we'd been dropped off our taxi was waiting there again to take us home.

Lessons started on Monday morning.  We were in a class with one other guy, Danny from the Netherlands (and we all know how good the Dutch are at languages right?) and quickly got onto basics and grammar for 2 hours, had a short break, then another hour of conversational Spanish with Paola and another student, Tom from Australia.  And this pattern continued through the week.  The lessons are intense and tiring, but fun and we do feel like we're picking stuff up, slowly.  The school also arranges additional activities on a daily basis - yoga each morning before class, then traditional Mexican board games, Mexican cooking and Salsa classes on different afternoons of the week - all in Spanish, of course.  Friday came around and we decided that a few more days would be beneficial so we opted to stay, probably until Wednesday.  Tom has really got the hang of the verbs and is much better at understanding the rules of the language.  I am better at just having a go - if I don't know the word I make it up or act it out, often Tom can help correct me, so we make a good team and I think a few more days and we'll be adequately able to fend for ourselves in Mexico.

Friday night we went out for a few drinks with Tom and Hanna to celebrate the end of the week and say bye to Hanna who was leaving Saturday morning for Cuba.  The weather was much better on Saturday (all week the rain has been on and off so we only got to the beach a couple of times) so we headed for the Mayan ruins with Tom and Danny.  

They are in a beautiful spot, on a small bluff overlooking the surrounding area and out to sea.  Tulum is the only Mayan city built by the coast and the city flourished between the 13th and 15th Centuries and faded after the Spanish conquered the area.  Now the site is inhabited by a large population of iguanas and seasonally visited by many turtles and tourists.

On the road just outside the ruins there were some hombres selling 'frio coco', cold drinking coconuts.  It's the first one I have had since I was last in India, 11 years ago.  It was delicious and I can't wait to drink more of them.  After we finished they split the shell and we ate the soft flesh with chilli salt and lime.  Our thirsts suitably quenched we headed for the beach for a few hours of swimming and snoozing before heading home for an early night.  All the brain activity from learning Spanish, plus the hours in the sun, the late night on Friday and beers have wiped us out.  This learning malarky is so much tougher than cycling!  We have a rough route lined up for the next bit of the trip, around the Yucatan Peninsula, which we've based on recommendations from Paola and Julio so we have some research and planning to do before we head off.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Hola Mexico!

Location: Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico
I was stressing a bit about bike boxes before we got them.  The boxes we got when we were leaving the UK were too small and it was only due to good fortune that we were able to get bigger ones from the bike shop in Glossop (see Leaving the UK: The Last Few Stumbling Blocks).  So I was worried that the ones we were scheduled to pick up from Bicycles Plus in Oshawa weren't going to be big enough.  There's not a lot of bike shops in Oshawa and we were heading into Thanksgiving weekend so if these weren't good enough we might be in trouble since our flight was at 8am Tuesday morning and we were getting dropped at the airport on Monday night.  Tom was relaxed about it and Rhi said that if we were stuck then they had tons of cardboard boxes in the basement we'd be able to fashion something from.  Of course, as is always the case, worry does no good and in this case it was absolutely unnecessary.  The bike boxes Bicycles Plus had for us had housed 2 sizeable fat bikes and were perfect for us.  Plus they had saved loads of awesome packaging for us too.  Major thanks to the super helpful dude there who made our bike packing so much less stressful than when we left the UK.  With that bit sorted we just had to get all our other stuff packed up, which was easy enough and left us with lots of time over the weekend to enjoy Thanksgiving.  We had a fantastic meal with all of Rhi's family at her sister's house; the full works - turkey, ham, potatoes, loads of veggies, stuffed squash, stuffed mushrooms, gravy.  Amazing!  Then there was a whole plethora of desserts - pumpkin cheesecake, brownies, pumpkin pie, cherry cheesecake, apple pie.  The following morning we went to a farm for pumpkin picking, which was a lot of fun and we left with a good haul of Halloween appropriate squash.

We said a sad farewell to Steve and the girls and then Rhi took us to the airport late Monday evening.  Toronto Pearson Airport isn't bad when it comes to providing space for people hunkering down for the night; we found ourselves a couple of benches next to each other, with space for the bikes and luggage, overlooking a section of runway.  We ate our turkey sandwiches while watching The Wire and laid our heads down for the night.  Not the best night's sleep it must be said, but we both got a few hours and when morning came round though we were both a bit bleary eyed we were both functioning.  We checked our bags in ourselves and no one weighed them.  We then took the bikes down to the oversize baggage area and had to undo all the duck tape we'd only just put on, but the security guy was very friendly and nice and they had extra tape so it all worked out.  We had some breakfast and boarded the plane.  It was so much less fretful than our last flight.  The rest of the journey went by without note.  We arrived into Cancun at lunchtime and spent about 3 hours reassembling the bikes and repacking our gear.  An English lady who'd just arrived told us how impressed she was with what we're doing and many of the Mexican staff of the airport came to ask us about our trip and welcomed us to Mexico.  We finally got underway and were pleasantly surprised that the road had a decent shoulder and was remarkably good quality.  It was about 5pm, it was hot, humid and sunny and the road wasn't too busy or tricky to navigate.  Until we reached the start of downtown Cancun then it got crazy pretty quickly; the shoulder disappeared, traffic increased, the road spread to being 3 or 4 lanes wide and buses, taxis and colectivoes pulled in front of us screeching to halt by the side of the road to pick up and drop off passengers.  As we neared the centre of town it got so nuts we decided to walk sections on the pavement as we were genuinely worried about getting knocked down.  Check in was easy and we got the bikes and all our gear up to our room on the sixth floor via the lift.

After showers we headed out for food as we'd not eaten anything proper since breakfast.  It felt thrilling to be in a new country that felt so different.  It reminded me in many ways of India, but for Tom it was something pretty different.  As we wandered along we were gently accosted by advocates for one restaurant or another trying to entice us in to their establishment.  Alejandro on reception had suggested a place which is where we headed for beer and tacos.  The next day we lounged around the pool and chatted with other guests who happened to be from Kings Heath in Birmingham (where our friends Mel and Paul live).  The next day we planned to take a trip to Isla Mujeres just off the coast but when we awoke the sky was deep grey and rain was lashing down.  Well it is still rainy season, though honestly I thought it would be similar to monsoon in India where it erupts into a monster electrical storm and torrential rain falls for an hour or so each day and the rest of the time its sunny.  Not here.  Since the rain started on Thursday morning its barely stopped until Saturday morning.  The streets outside the hotel were shallow rivers.  There were actual whirlpools around some of the drains.  When buses drive past waves of water flood over the pavement and splash against the walls of the buildings.  Since the rain was so sever we checked out buses so that if on Saturday morning the roads seemed impassable we had an alternative option for getting to Tulum in time for our course on Monday morning.  Buses are cheap and frequent and everything I can find online says they have no problem loading bikes in with the luggage so we knew we had a plan B.

This morning we awoke and there was a little lightness in the sky, still grey and cloudy, but not quite so foreboding and it wasn't raining so we were all set for our first fully loaded day on the bikes for over 3 weeks.  Leaving Cancun was again a bit hairy, lots of traffic and not much shoulder to speak of, plus an incident with a lorry where he turned right directly in front of us very nearly causing us both to crash and a couple of run ins with loose dogs.  We made good time and were happy that despite feeling a little unfit our speed wasn't too shabby which was good because about 6 miles from Playa del Carmen, our destination for the night, it started to rain.  Light at first so we pushed on and hoped we could make the town before it got too heavy.  No chance.  It tipped it down and in no time we were soaked through.  We stopped to put our high vis jackets on proceeded through giant puddles of rainwater.  Just before a major intersection on the outskirts of town we pulled over to check the map.  Just as we set off again I noticed my front tyre was flat.  We got some shelter under some porches and changed the inner tube.  Our pump is pretty broken at the moment and its pretty frustrating work pumping up a tyre so we took it in turns and finally got it up to pressure (or at least what we thought was right since the gauge is one of the things that is broken).  Flipped the bike back over and began to load the bags back on when BANG!  Ear-ringingly loud.  I had a moment of thinking a gun had been fired then I realised that it was worse we'd caught the inner tube when we changed it and had caused a blowout.  Time to change the inner tube again, more frustrating pump based shenanigans ensued, but we got it sorted and got on our way.

Less than 10 minutes down the road I realised my front tyre was going down again.  ARE YOU KIDDING?!  What the hell?  We're not far from the airbnb place we've booked for the night though and the rain is just bucketing down so rather than stop and fix it we just get off and walk.  By the time we get to the apartment somehow my back tyre is also flat. This last hour and a half has to easily take our 'Most Punctures in the Shortest Time' award, especially since half that time was spent fixing punctures!  Not the best day ever on the bikes and the rain is still pouring so we are going to get drenched again when we head out for food, but it felt good to be back on my bike and we're really looking forward to starting our Spanish course so we can communicate with the super friendly locals better.  But right now its time to get out the puncture repair kits and fix some inner tubes!

Friday, 9 October 2015

Destination Reached! (For Now...)

Location: Toronto, ON, Canada
We got up super early at Corey and Carol's as they had to get to work and it made sense for us to get an early start since we'd be cycling through city or suburbia for most of today's ride. We hadn't had any luck finding a host for what would be our last night on tour before getting to our friends' house in Oshawa but Corey and Carol suggested a host that they had stayed with in Mississauga so we'd contacted Andrew and he had very kindly agreed to host us even though he wouldn't be around. After eating breakfast together we were out the door shortly after 7am but within 5 minutes we had to repair a puncture on my front tyre. Not a great start, but we were still going again before our usual start. We'd decided to ride back the way we came a few miles to get on the canal-side bike path up to Lake Ontario but before we could get there we had to get off the road as the fog had come in so thick that it simply wasn't safe for us to be on this busy road despite donning lights and high vis jackets.

We managed to get to the fire station and hung out there for maybe an hour waiting for the fog to lift. It was pretty frustrating, we were about 2 miles from the bike path but didn't want to risk passing the busy intersection just up ahead when you couldn't see further than 20ft. So despite our early rising we didn't really get going until gone 9am. Once on the bike path it was very atmospheric with the fog still coming in waves and clinging to certain dips or corners. Finally it did lift and it was lovely, scenic riding along the Welland Canal. The plants lining the path were draped with spider webs bejewelled with dew glinting in the sunlight, it was a beautiful scene.

Occasionally we passed mammoth ships heading south, huge container vessels slowly working their way through the locks.

After the canal path ended navigating through towns riddled with construction and bad signage wasn't easy going, but we got on another bike trail after lunch which took us into Burlington.  From there we were on a fairly busy road through urban sprawl. In Oakville a road cyclist caught us up and while he was riding along chatting with Tom a woman opened her car door right in front of them. The other cyclist swerved, Tom managed to just avoid taking her door off and I screeched to stop inches from Tom. The woman looked utterly shocked and very apologetic as she witnessed it all up close. Hopefully it will make her check her mirrors in future since she very nearly took three riders out in one swoop. As our adrenaline levels returned to normal we made it into Mississauga and to our hosts' place. It had felt like a very long day after the foggy start and then the slow progress through city streets and we both fell almost instantly asleep. After our impromptu nap we went to the store to get food and settled in for an early night. We had a very slow start the next morning and didn't get on the road until 11am. We rode into Toronto and had what must be our most urban picnic.

The bike path through Toronto itself was pretty good and certainly helped us get through the city, but then we were on the road; the busy, narrow, potholed road for what seemed like an interminably long time. It was one of our worst days of riding. We had to be so wary of the cars, constantly vigilant for dangers in the road and forever stopping at traffic lights. It was desperately un-fun and exhausting. But the reward at the end of it was arriving at Steve, Rhi, Chloe and Molly's in time to celebrate Chloe's 9th birthday. This had been a goal of ours since before the start of the trip and it felt great to have arrived at our destination. Steve and Rhi are old friends of ours, also through frisbee at university, and it was lovely to know we were going to get to just chill out again, enjoying the company of good mates. It's been so awesome of Steve and Rhi to let us stay so long as they were also hosting Steve's parents, Ian and Christine, who have been over visiting from the UK. It's been really nice for us to have so many Brits around to talk to!

A week later, we were heading back into Toronto to meet up with my mum, Caroline, and my sister, Reanna, who were flying out to spend a long weekend with us. With only lightly laden bikes we opted to catch the train from Oshawa to Toronto to save us from hours of city roads again. We'd booked an apartment through airbnb and had a great few days eating out lots, doing some touristy stuff and just wandering the streets. It was so great to spend some time with family and do something different to how we've spent most our bike tour days. After waving them both off we headed to Jordan and Clarissa's place to spend a couple more nights in the city sorting a few things out. We met these two in Zion, way back in April, and they'd offered to put us up when we made it to Toronto (they featured in I am not an Iron Lion in Zion). It was awesome to meet up with them again, swap stories and update them on our tour. We got to sample some delicious Indian food too from the aptly named 'Roti Cuisine of India', which was fantastic as curries are not something we've come across much in our travels.

Tom had also arranged a visit with VanHawks, they are a new company in Toronto building bikes for the modern day urban environment.  Not only does the Valour look all slick and modern but they are built with a computer brain for easy navigation, blind spot detection and it all connects up to your phone and the web.  What more could you ask for?  After a very brief spin round the block we were taken inside to check out the techie bits.  The riding was a bit strange after riding our tourers pretty much non stop for 7 months but they felt comfortable and fine.  It's hard to get a proper feel for a bike after only a 400 metre loop in traffic.  Inside the offices we chatted about the navigation and other cool bits on the bikes. My favourite thing was the gears; like our bikes they have an internal hub, though not a Rohloff, so none of the derailleur issues you get on most bikes, plus they run on a belt drive, not a chain, so they were super smooth and very quiet.  Also unlike our bikes which have grip shift gears which click through from 1 to 14, the gears on the Valour are friction based, I don't really understand how they work, but the grip shifter is illustrated by a little cyclist on a flat bit of road and as you turn the shifter the flat road rises up into a hill so you just pick how much of a hill you're climbing. I thought this was a cool feature. Unsurprisingly Tom's favourite part was the techie connectivity stuff the bike can do.

On Wednesday we got the train back to Oshawa to spend a few more days at Steve and Rhi's. We've got a hectic few days coming up getting packed up and sorted for the next leg of our travels as we fly to Cancun, Mexico on Tuesday 13th October, but we've timed it perfectly as before we leave we'll get to experience Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend. When we get to Mexico we have 4 nights planned in downtown Cancun then we're riding down to Tulum for a week's Spanish immersion course where we will stay with a homestay family. We're really excited about this next bit, its going to be so different from all we've experienced so far.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Across the Border and Over the Edge

Location: Niagara Falls, ON, Canada
After a delicious breakfast of French toast we said goodbye to Jason and Michelle and got on our way. The route through Erie was disrupted by construction, so it was a slow start, then for many miles after we were riding through vineyards and rural housing. We both needed a wee but there was nowhere appropriate to go. It wasn't rural enough to sneak off into the bushes and not built up enough to have gas stations or cafes. Thankfully we came across a portaloo in a carpark, phew. More miles of vineyards and the fragrant scent of Concord grapes with glimpses of the lake followed. Then we crossed the border into our seventeenth state, New York.

We had fish butties from the lake for lunch in a little cafe in Barcelona and then continued on to Dunkirk. That evening we were camping in Evangola State Park and needed a few supplies, the shop I got directed to when I asked the library assistant where the grocery stores were was probably the weirdest shop I've been in on the trip. Dunkirk is another somewhat run down town and the shop was a strange set up: mostly cheapo-discount-food store (all brands I'd never heard of and sad, shrivelled produce) with one corner set out like a cafe, but with all the seats stacked up with boxes and other shop clutter and then another, larger corner devoted to a huge selection of creepy looking dolls. Very odd. Well I made it out alive and we continued on to the campground where we pitched up and ate dinner watching the sunset on our last night in the U.S. 

During the night, around 2am, a siren started and continued for quite some time. It woke us both up, we got out the tent to go the bathroom and check to see if any of our fellow campers were panicking, which they weren't. No idea what it was warning or who it was signalling to, but it stopped again after maybe 10 minutes so we just went back to sleep. The next day we made it into the outskirts of Buffalo and called in at a Tim Hortons for wifi and coffee. We'd planned to stay that night with some friends we'd made in Alberta who lived near Niagara but at Timmy's we got a message saying they'd had a family emergency and couldn't host us. No worries, there's lots of Warm Showers hosts in the area and campgrounds too so we were sure we'd be fine. We sent a request of to a host, did a little campground search and set off to cross the border. Riding through Buffalo was not a lot of fun, but most the roads we were on at least had a bike lane or were wide enough for cars to get past. We eventually made it to the Peace Bridge, followed signs for pedestrians and cyclists, squeezed our way through the turnstile and walked over the bridge and into Canada and Ontario, our sixth province. 

The border crossing was straightforward and simple, which was a relief, and we decided to stop for lunch at a cafe by the bridge as we were out of food (didn't want to carry it over the border) and it was about 1pm. Unfortunately the cafe didn't have wifi so we were unable to check on our Warm Showers request, but we did have a chance to check our passports and realise the guard hadn't taken the U.S. visa slips out of them as he should have done. Since we were only yards away from the border buildings we were able to go back and find someone to take them. We rode down a fairly quiet riverside road to Niagara Falls. As we approached we could see plumes of mist rising from the river and we both got pretty excited. 

It's weird approaching them because aside from the rising mist you'd have no idea they were there.  It looks like you're riding into a city, which you are, but it just seems strange that within this little metropolis there's this huge, natural wonder. And the falls really are stunning! It's a lot of fun getting covered in the spray and wondering at the rainbows.

The cafe at the falls had wifi, but wouldn't let us download emails so we still didn't know if we had anywhere to stay, but we checked out the nearby campsites and were horrified to learn they were around $40 a night with a 2 night minimum. Back by the falls we had a slightly odd interaction with a dude who had the head of an original GI Joe who suggested a load of motels when we asked him about places to camp. 

Having soaked up enough of the falls we headed into town to a Timmy's to try to get emails. Holy cow! The street up from the falls is like Blackpool or some similar tacky tourist resort. Stood outside the Timmy's we gathered a little crowd of well wishers but no emails from potential hosts. So we sent a message to a different host and then went to find pay phones to try and call them. Incredibly there were pay phones, but no answer from either host. It was now about 5:15pm, we had no where to stay, we had about 2 hours of daylight left and were in the middle of an expensive tourist trap. We decided to head to the town of the second host we'd contacted as it was a little closer and then play it by ear. Outside yet another Timmy's on the outskirts of Fonthill we had received an email from the second host saying ring them again. We were able to borrow a phone off the couple cleaning the windows, but no answer again so we left a message that we'd head into town for some food and try to contact them again. The grocery store didn't have wifi, there was no pay phone around, the sun was going down. I'm pretty sure I looked fairly dejected as I waited outside the store while Tom went to get us some food. That's when Corey came over and insisted we stay with them, they were on Warm Showers, had toured and knew what it was like. What a huge relief that was after a day of uncertainty and obstacles and once again renewed our faith in the kindness of strangers. Proving, for the umpteenth time, that "you can't always get what you want, but if you try some times, you just might find, you get what you need".