Cycling Across Canada - Victoria to Montreal

Cycling Across Canada - Victoria to Montreal

Bike-packing isn’t new to Banff, but with the Canadian segment of the Tour Divide on pause for 2021 due to COVID-19, we have missed our fair share of gravel grinders and road warriors this year. Although travelling south by bike has been off the books for most of the year, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any bikes laden with packed bags rolling through the Bow Valley. 

Earlier this summer, Simon V. Hradil-Kasseckert quite literally rolled up to our shop on his self-supported cycling mission, touring from Victoria, British Columbia to Montreal, Quebec. Simon was kind enough to chat with us about his journey, why he decided to make the trip, his experience cycling through Banff, and more!

How long have you been bike-packing, and what drew you to the sport?

Simon V. Hradil-Kasseckert (SVHK): I really only started biking two years ago when I sold my mountain bike and bought a road bike so I could cross-train while in school at UVic. Soon after, I got involved in triathlon. When COVID hit, all of the races I’d been preparing for were canceled, and I shifted my attention towards local human-powered adventures that I could plan myself. I did one overnight trip with my road bike before deciding to get a dedicated gravel/adventure bike. 

The leap from trips that were only three days long to my three-month-long cycle tour from Victoria to Montreal occurred after two non-stop years of classes. I needed to get away from online learning and take a break. Cycling across most of the country seemed like a good way to do that. 

How do you prepare for such a long unsupported ride? What did you take into consideration while route planning?

SVHK: When people look at the itinerary I made for my “Victoria to Montreal Cycle Tour” many are surprised by the level of detail I included. For me, it was more of a way to curb my nerves about the trip than anything else. I started by researching routes and making my own map, then guessing what a reasonable daily mileage and rest day frequency would be, and eventually setting dates for when I’d have to leave various landmarks to make it to Montreal by my August 8th deadline. 

I grew up hiking in the backcountry, so the idea of camping and the gear involved was not unfamiliar to me. I slowly started accumulating everything else I’d need for my cross-country cycle tour eight months before I left: a trusty adventure bike, panniers, a way to charge my electronics, etc.

My budget was based on what other people had paid for gear, food, and lodging doing the tour in years past. I saved by doing internships in the months leading up to the tour and justified other associated expenses as being worthwhile for the once-in-a-lifetime adventure I'd be embarking on. 

You mentioned that Radium to Banff was one of the highlights of the trip. Can you provide any specifics?

SVHK: The most beautiful day I’ve had on the bike since leaving Victoria on May 15th, or quite possibly ever, was the day I spent riding from Radium to Banff. I woke up to clear weather and climbed steadily out of Radium along Highway 93 and into the iconic Kootenay Valley. The rest of the day was relatively mild with regards to incline, and the views of the wide, tree-carpeted valley and towering snow-capped rocky mountains on either side of me, amazed me each time I rounded a corner. The highway parallels the naturally turquoise Kootenay river for long sections, with plenty of spots to stop and take pictures on the shoulder of the road or at recreational sites. I thought I had reached the climax of the day as I crested the continental divide. To my surprise, it only got more enjoyable when I discovered that Highway 1A was closed to cars and dedicated to cyclists. The forest, mountain, river, and lake vistas all illuminated by the golden sunset made for a beautiful backdrop as I rode into Banff.

Have you had any mishaps or miscalculations? Or perhaps something you would just do differently next time?

SVHK: Mishaps and miscalculations are relative. I arrive at camp tired, hungry, and irritable more times than I’d like to admit, but it’s not an issue since I’m cycling alone. I’ve actually learned to enjoy and embrace the independence and solitude I've experienced on the road

I’ve had to deal with a frayed shift cable, rear-wheel that came out of true, a bent rear rack, and routine maintenance since leaving; but all of it has been manageable, especially with the calm and peacefulness I’ve re-discovered since starting my tour. Bike shops and vendors like Soul Ski and Bike have been very helpful when it comes to repairing things I can't fix on my own, helping me get replacement parts along the way, or giving me recommendations for who will best be able to help me.

Have you started planning your next bike-packing mission yet? Or are you just focused on getting through the mission at hand?

SVHK: When I return to Victoria after my tour to Montreal, I’ll be finishing the last year of my engineering degree. Self-discovery, clarity, and emotional mastery, all of which I’ve set out to find on the road and advocate for, will remain a priority, but I’ll be sitting at a desk and returning to shot training sessions and adventures for a while before I can plan my next big expedition.

What are you looking forward to most about the remaining segments?

SVHK: I grew up in British Columbia, so I knew what to expect and what to look forward to crossing the province. Everything after Manitoba will be uncharted territory for me. However, photos of the Great Lakes in Ontario and historic cities in Quebec tell me that there are many more adventures to look forward to as I cross the rest of the country.

Continue following Simon's journey by reading his blog, and get real-time updates by watching the stories on his Instagram.