Our last post here was almost four months ago when we were just a few days ride from arriving home in Hamilton after over a year on our bikes. During those last days in the saddle, we talked about writing up our arrival immediately and getting it up on the blog the day after we got home – after all, those exciting moments are best conveyed while fresh in the mind – but that did not happen. In fact, writing clearly fell by the wayside after our return, and boy has time flown since then! We busied ourselves with home life and settling into our city and community, and we avoided thinking about the end of our trip for quite a while. Maybe it was a defense mechanism to allow us to escape coming to terms with our journey coming to a close. However, the final days of our trip as well as our experiences upon our return are filled with important events and emotions that are worth documenting and sharing. It may take some time for us to catch up to the present time – but by all means, lets pick up where we left off!
After our rest in Geneva on the Finger Lakes, we quickly reconnected with the Erie Canal trail, blasting through Rochester without realizing we were in the city at all (off-road trails are great!). We crossed paths with four other touring cyclists within a few hours of each other, including Peter – who, at an inspirational 69 years old, has toured the world throughout his life, recently retiring and off on a cycle trip towards the Maritimes in Canada.
The final miles of the canal trail continued to be very flat, very well graded and at this point unpaved, so also very dusty. We took a look at our bikes and gear at our campsite in Niagara Falls, NY before crossing the border into Canada, and everything was absolutely coated with a layer of fine limestone dust. Reuben got a kick out of this and figured we should arrive home dirty – looking the part of weary travelers at the end of our 13,500km journey. I, on the other hand, wanted to end things on a cleaner note, so I took some time to give things a good scrub, but then realized I may have wasted my time – torrential rain was being predicted for our last day on the bike. Now that is a way to end a trip! We had planned to meander our way through Niagara on the Lake, a quaint little winery town, before our final push into Hamilton, but due to the forecast we figured it made more sense to target a friends house in Beamsville, about 40km from home, for our last night on the road. If it was going to pour on our final day at least we would only have to deal with it for a few hours!
I was eager to get back into Canada and cross our final international border of the trip. However, we had never seen the American side of the Falls and Reuben insisted we stop to check it out before crossing. I hesitantly agreed, and we had a small picnic overlooking the landmark on a perfect weekday with few tourists crowding the views. When we did arrive at the border, the guard couldn’t believe our story and insisted that we couldn’t have biked to Panama. She gave us a warm welcome into our home country and we headed off to show the kids the wonder that is nearly in our backyard – the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. What a treat to see things from both sides of the border in the same day.
Of course these final days of riding would not be complete with a few mechanical issues! Shortly after crossing the border the now-familiar ‘TWANG’ of a broken spoke came from Reuben’s rear wheel on a quiet country road. We pulled over right beside a massive horse who trotted up to greet us. While unloading his bike to replace the spoke, Reuben realized that the key to our locking wheel skewers was nowhere to be found – we must have left it at our campsite on the other side of the border after cleaning the bikes! Thankfully he was able to fix the spoke without removing the wheel, but we were a bit worried about what would happen if there was another problem in the next 24 hours. Without removing the wheel there is no way to fix a blow-out or replace an inner tube! We dealt with that reality a few hours later when the wheel went flat just minutes from our destination but Reuben was again able to patch the tube without removing the wheel.
After patching our (hopefully) last flat of the trip, we pulled into the driveway of our friends Neil and Johanna. We had camped on their property almost 13 months ago, when we had done a ‘shakedown’ overnight trip to their place before beginning of this journey. It all seemed very surreal to be so close to home – and now with friends for the night instead of strangers. We set up the tent for what we knew would be the last time of the trip, we cooked and ate our last supper and we slept soundly beside each other, savouring this last night in our tent.
The next morning we woke up to the sound of what we had expected: rain. We ate an awesome breakfast in the warmth of our friends’ home – in no hurry to be on our way. Packing up our gear in the rain didn’t seem as annoying as it had in the past – after all, we would be able to dry it out at our own home that night! The drizzle turned to rain pretty quickly and the sound on the rain cover led Harper to take a nice long morning nap as we pedaled towards home.
On the outskirts of our city, we heard what sounded like a gunshot and Reuben’s rear tire started flapping against the ground. No problem, right? We had carried a spare tire for the last 12 months just in case of a blow-out like this. However, without the key to unlock the skewer, it could not be installed and we were stuck with a 3-inch gash in the sidewall of the tire. While it was only a quick 15km downhill ride to our house where we knew a spare key was waiting in our basement – we didn’t want to ‘arrive’ home on those terms. We knew a welcome party would be waiting there for us at the end of the day and we wanted to arrive all together as a family with our friends surrounding us. So Reuben decided to MacGyver a boot for his wheel out of a Ricolo bag of cough drops (those bags are incredibly strong). It meant the tire would be under-inflated and we would have to ride our last kilometers very slowly – it worked!
After averting this disaster, we decided to wait out the afternoon at a bookstore and café close to home. It felt strange to be waiting around while we were so close to the finish, but we relished in the everyday joy we had discovered on our trip and took time to explore around us without letting the rush and busyness of ‘normal’ life get to us.
Of course, even while sipping coffee at a café, our bikes parked out the window beside us garner a fair bit of attention – and a lot of questions. Throughout our trip, almost every time we stop to take a break we almost always get asked: “Where are you from and where are you headed?” This time around the answer was pretty funny – we only lived a few kilometers away! We laughed each time someone asked us as their initial reaction to us being from Hamilton quickly turned to awe as they realized the length of our trip and how close we were to its completion. People couldn’t help but smile.
The rain let up late in the afternoon and we decided we should probably get going. Despite the rain, our friends Heather and Erik and their son, whom we hadn’t met before, joined us for the final ride into our driveway. We met them at a park a few kilometers from home where the rain stopped and the kids played for a bit while we caught up.
And then we headed down the rail-trail towards our house. We were living out a moment we had thought about for the last year. We had never dreamt our final stretch would involve this much rain, or that we would be moving so slowly just praying that Reuben’s wheel would survive a few more rotations. Those moments felt so surreal. So unreal really.
At 5:15pm on June 1, 2012 we navigated our streets towards home – turned the corner on Myrtle Avenue and saw our family and friends waiting and cheering for us under umbrellas and under covered porches. Cameras flashed and tears fell and the rest seems like a bit of a blur after a rush of hugs and food and hellos and goodbyes.
And then quiet.
A quiet in a home that was ours. A place insulated from the rain, the blowing breeze, the chirps of birds or rushing traffic. A place that felt huge and empty and hollow – and yet warm and full of wonderful memories. We had made it. We had completed 378 days from start to finish on the most amazing journey of our lives. The dream that had been born three years ago had been executed and was now accomplished, done.
And now we could begin to dream once again.