How to Make the Most of a Short Road Trip to the East Coast

Road trips are often an excuse to get on the road and go somewhere.  A lot of people have a destination in mind but if you really want to make the most of it and have fun with those whom you are travelling with — don’t plan so much.  Instead, why not turn it into a game or a quest?  Of course, this can be applied to any road trip.  Not just one to the east coast of the United States.

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Since I changed jobs earlier this year in May, I’ve had to acknowledge that I have significantly less vacation time than before.  This meant shorter road trips or in some cases, no road trips!

Fortunately, I had one road trip planned and approved of prior to my move to a new job.  Road trips are often an excuse to get on the road and go somewhere.  A lot of people have a destination in mind but if you really want to make the most of it and have fun with those whom you are travelling with — don’t plan so much.  Instead, why not turn it into a game or a quest?  Of course, this can be applied to any road trip.  Not just one to the east coast of the United States.

Waking up to a sunrise over Hawaii 2 and Lake St. George.
Waking up to a sunrise over Hawaii 2 and Lake St. George.

When the folks at Cards against Humanity purchased an island and renamed it Hawaii 2.  The first thought that crossed my mind was to find it and go there.  If we happened to find some other things to do along the way, so be it.  Just as my friend and I were about to set off to find this island, I discovered that The Holy Donut also resided int the state of Maine.  This turned into an amusing road trip that we dubbed “The Search for Hawaii 2 and the Quest for the Holy Donut”.  (I’ll write about my experience finding Hawaii 2 another time).

Here were some highlights along the way and back:

Never stayed in a lean-to before so why not give it a shot?   No need to worry about a rainfly and pretty warm.  Just had to deal with my friend's snoring...
Never stayed in a lean-to before so why not give it a shot?   No need to worry about a rainfly and pretty warm.  Just had to deal with my friend’s snoring…
Had no idea what the weather would be like but we ended up hiking the tallest mountain in Vermont (Mt. Mansfield).  Yes, that is a storm approaching, and yes, we got caught in it on the way down.  Not super pleasant but it was a great experience to take in.
Had no idea what the weather would be like but we ended up hiking the tallest mountain in Vermont (Mt. Mansfield).  Yes, that is a storm approaching, and yes, we got caught in it on the way down.  Not super pleasant but it was a great experience to take in.
Stopping by for a quick hike or two in New Hampshire on the way into Maine.  Great views.
Stopping by for a quick hike or two in New Hampshire on the way into Maine.  Great views.
Who would've thought one would encounter a piece of the Berlin Wall in Portland, Maine?
Who would’ve thought one would encounter a piece of the Berlin Wall in Portland, Maine?
Looking at all the options at the Holy Donut.
Looking at all the options at the Holy Donut.
Local food.  Local cuisine.  Always important to enjoy.
Local food.  Local cuisine.  Always important to enjoy.
Road side attractions and stops are always a must.  Don't ignore them, each has their own unique story to take in.  The owner of this giant root beer barrel told us that it took him and his friend over 850 hours to build this out.  It was rainy that day but we still stopped to take a seat and enjoy a bottle of local root beer and a root beer float.
Road side attractions and stops are always a must.  Don’t ignore them, each has their own unique story to take in.  The owner of this giant root beer barrel told us that it took him and his friend over 850 hours to build this out.  It was rainy that day but we still stopped to take a seat and enjoy a bottle of local root beer and a root beer float.
We couldn't really plan for when we'd be able to see the sunrise over Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. Weather was rather unpredictable so we drove up (extremely slowly) through the fog up to the top where we slept through the night.  Extreme?  Maybe.  We weren't the only ones though!
We couldn’t really plan for when we’d be able to see the sunrise over Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. Weather was rather unpredictable so we drove up (extremely slowly) through the fog up to the top where we slept through the night.  Extreme?  Maybe.  We weren’t the only ones though!
I had never encountered so many wild blueberries on a trail before.  We just kept picking them while hiking through the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge.
I had never encountered so many wild blueberries on a trail before.  We just kept picking them while hiking through the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge.
On the way home, we passed by the Bread and Puppet Art Museum in Vermont.  It was a brilliant place to stop off on the long drive home and quite inspirational.
On the way home, we passed by the Bread and Puppet Art Museum in Vermont.  It was a brilliant place to stop off on the long drive home and quite inspirational.
Across from the Bread and Puppet Art museum was the Cheap Art Store.
Across from the Bread and Puppet Art museum was the Cheap Art Store.

We did all of this and more in about a week and were never in a real rush.  Everything was chill with plenty of time to just talk about the meaningful as well as enjoy the nonsensical banter.  I also tried applying a twist on to the music as we drove home by building a playlist that only involved songs with ‘home’ in the title or reminded my friends of home.

Small things add up to make your journey a truly memorable one — and to add to the fact that you return from your ‘quest’ successfully, just makes it even more fun.

So to sum things ups:

  1. Turn your road trip into a quest.  Make it realistic, not impractical.
  2. Allow yourself time and the attitude to just enjoy the silence, the journey, and the nonsensical banter between stops.
  3. Don’t miss out on roadside attractions that you may just spot along the way.  Give yourself permission to stop — rather than rushing towards the destination.  The destination isn’t going anywhere anyhow.  You may not find this roadside attraction again.

An Attempt to Plan for the Greenbelt

Aside from doing some regular uphill training, I’ve been playing catch up since a recent one-week long road trip out to Maine.  As much as the Greenbelt Route is well promoted, the documentation to actually plan out your own trip is a little more difficult than I thought.

Planning each Day of the Route

The tricky thing is that some sections of the Greenbelt Route have more access to accommodation than others so attempting to plan out certain days cycling the route is difficult.  In addition, the GO Trains and Via Rail trains bike racks are not always readily available.  It’s good to read up on this earlier so I’ll incorporate this into my planning for next year.

It appears that these bicycle rack-equipped trains are only available until September 5th which is unfortunately because I’d prefer to be cycling in mid to late September rather than in August.

What to take along and how to pack

Bikepacking example
Bikepacking example via GearJunkie.com

I’ve also been trying to figure out what to bring along and how I should pack.  It’s actually quite fun and interesting because I’ve been pursuing a more lightweight and minimalist approach to hiking, so to only have everything with me on a bike is an added twist on the approach.  Fortunately, there have been some great information online on bikepacking … sometimes too much.

I do have to do some maintenance on my single-person tent and re-waterproof some of my gear from hiking.  Unfortunately, I still have to modify some more of my bike which means possibly adding a front pannier rack, and a couple of bike packs for easy storage.  I’m also considering replacing my bike saddle/seat — which is a little tricky because it’s a mountain bike which I’m technically using for bike touring.

More training to come so we’ll see what’s next in coming weeks…!

Additional Links of Interest

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Another EveryTrail Alternative

So … on and off … I’ve written about EveryTrail alternatives.  There have been good options, free options, not-so-easy options, and so on.

My sister recently graduated from University of Toronto with her computer science degree and the scene for developers is tough these days, very few jobs for a recent graduate.  While she’s job hunting, I’ve been talking with her about the challenge with embedding maps on to blogs and not being locked into a platform.

She ended up building her solution called Map-A-Trail.  You can upload your GPX file and it’ll generate an map and elevation chart that you can embed on your blog.

You’ll notice there’s a possibility of cute overload, but that’s just how she operates.  Check it out, try it out, and maybe give her some feedback — but be nice and constructive about it. 🙂

I’ll be testing it out myself more thoroughly but so far it looks like it has got potential.  Obviously, I am to be biased as an older brother but you can trust that I don’t accept using clunky apps.

Map-A-Trail example screenshot

Trying a New Route

So my friend and I had been bouncing this idea back and forth about how I should bike to her house for a visit and then we’d go check out this bakery in the vicinity.  Tricky thing is that she and her family live in Scarborough near Lake Ontario and I currently live in North York (no lakes but we got streams and rivers).  For those who aren’t familiar with the city of Toronto — North York and Scarborough are different parts of the city.

As I was mapping routes out, one of the first things I noticed was the lack of bike trails that could take me from North York into eastern Scarborough.  Everything in North York ran north-south.  This meant I had a choice to either ride along main avenues (big no-no for me) or find small residential streets and ride through those until I could make my way into the networks of trail paths in Scarborough.

Awesome multi-purpose trail path near Brimley in Scarborough.
Awesome multi-purpose trail path near Brimley in Scarborough.

I have to admit some trepidation on my part because despite having grown up and lived in Toronto — there are a lot of areas of the city I’m not familiar with.  Funny how that is isn’t it?  We sometimes know parts of other cities we travel to more than we know our own.

Anyhow, with some help from the popular RidewithGPS.com, I managed to create a route down to the Port Union area where the waterfront trail has been in development.  The waterfront trail in the downtown core and the Beach area really should be connected to this Port Union area but I’m guessing there’s a lot more work to be done and that’s a story for another time.

I managed to export this route and upload it to the new Garmin GPS that I had picked up.  This would serve as my guide to get to my friend’s place.  This was my test run.

Stopping for a break
Stopping for a break

I’ve been enjoying the new tires.  They are definitely making my ride a little easier and smoother.  According to the GPS, I manage to get to a speed of approximately 23 to 25km so far — sometimes faster if I’m going downhill but I have my doubts whether I’ll be able to go significantly faster on a consistent basis — not with the mountain bike frame and the relatively fatter tires.  My goal really here is just to manage energy more efficiently in the long-term when I’m going to tackle the Greenbelt Route.

Unfortunately as I make my way further south, I end up taking some wrong turns.  It is rather tricky trying to read the directions on the GPS and bike at the same time.  To top it off, the route that I had mapped out apparently took me on to a hiking trail and I found myself carrying the bike down some stairways.  Ah, the consequences of using Google Maps.  Still good enough.

Bridge over Bridge
Bridge over Bridge

The route took me further into a more elaborate network of paths which were amazing ride through.  Some were a part of a larger park, others were nice manicured gardens or extended backyards that led into a ravine area.  The diversity was amazing and I was grateful that such a network of multipurpose paths and trails were developed within the city.  To some extent, I wish the part of North York I lived in had more of these.  I followed these trails south until I hit the lake and it was a happy sight.  I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to drop by my friend’s place in time because I kept getting lost or taking a wrong turn.

After I stopped by my friend’s place (it was fun and her son was hilarious and inspiring) — I took the same route back home.  It was practically all uphill most of the way.  To make it even tougher, the wind was blowing at me the entire way back.  Good training opportunity for future reference, but quite the challenge.  Thank goodness it was a beautiful day and it wasn’t too hot or humid.

Made it to the lake and Port Union
Made it to the lake and Port Union

Some Post-75km Ride Updates

Firstly as promised, the full version of my 75km bike ride (sans a few sections):

So after tackling the 75km Ride for Heart a number of weeks ago, I’ve been further reflecting on my experience of cycling 75km.  Some of the things I’ve contemplated revolved very much on how I would be able to improve that experience.  It was tough I have to admit — trying to keep up with folks who were on a road bike.  I definitely had the power, stamina, and strength to go up the hills but the ease at which they glided downhill and on simply straight flat surfaces caused be to take a step back and really see how much energy I was wasting.

Some friends pointed out to me that I should really get a new bike — but that simply isn’t an option. Too expensive and not practical at all. Maybe in the future I’ll swap my mountain bike for a touring one.

I decided to take my bike into the local Trek store in Toronto which is somewhat of a pain because my current neighbourhood does not have any bike shops within a reasonable distance but it was necessary. I ended up leaving my bike there for a week while the fine folks there helped me do a tune-up and change the tires to something more appropriate for the road ahead when I begin the ride on the Greenbelt Route. I realize I probably need to figure out how to do some of this stuff myself (which I have for some things) down the road but for now — I figured I was buying new tires so why not have them tune it up too.

Edge Touring GPS on the bike
The Edge Touring on the bike

Now, thinking ahead for the Greenbelt Route, I can’t imagine myself cycling with a bunch of maps printed out (and it seems no one has thought of selling a set of maps for the Greenbelt Route yet). After I did some more research on mapping routes out — I decided to dish out a chunk of change on a Garmin Edge Touring. There were definitely more expensive models with fancy features like connecting with your phone for updates and such but I really did not need that and I certainly did not want to spend an excessive amount of money for features that were pointless for me. I really just need to be able to map out a route on my computer that I can then upload to the Garmin Edge Touring — which would allow me to follow the proper route on any bike ride.

At the moment, I’m still testing it out but so far so good … more to come on that later.

The additional thing I’ve been trying to figure out are all the different pieces of cycling gear and clothing that I may require. I don’t really find myself drawn to most cycling clothes — perhaps it is the hiking side of me speaking — but I do see how they will be helpful. Once again, trying to figure out what is necessary vs. a luxury — I don’t want to spend money on stuff that I already have and can simply re-purpose.

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Walking into The Wave, Coyote Buttes

Every so often along the way, I’d turn around and it’d be like looking at a completely different world.  The tricky thing about hiking through this remote and vast wilderness is that it is easy to lose track of where you are and where you came from.  Everything appears different when you move about and will look different as the sun changes position in the sky.

Ever since I planned my first road trip to Utah, I’ve wanted to hike to The Wave, situated not too far away from the border between Utah and Arizona.  It is frequently photographed and to some degree, its additional claim to fame is scarcity — the fact that only 20 permits are provided each day.  True, it isn’t accessible to everyone but the positive aspect is that this policy not only preserves the area from being overrun with foot traffic — it also really allows you to feel and take in the environment and the feeling of isolation.

Back in November, just as I was gearing up for my hike up Kilimanjaro — I suddenly receive a notice from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that I had was selected from the lottery system for a permit to hike into the Coyote Buttes North area, which is where the Wave is located within.  Since my permit was for a specific day over the Easter long weekend and allowed for two people to hike in, I thought I’d offer it up to my friends first.  My last resort was to walk up to anyone at the ranger’s station and invite them along.  Fortunately, my friend and food blogger Lisa Sit, decided that she’d tag along and see why hiking was such a big deal.  Lisa’s experience with hiking was limited but I assured her that it wouldn’t be crazy.

That morning was a very early start for us.  I think we woke up at 5am and drove from Kanab, Utah to the Wire Pass parking lot.  Just to get to the parking lot was a fairly long drive because of the road conditions.  Although I noticed later in the day that quite a few people drove their sedans and sports cars to the Wire Pass parking lot — I highly recommend using an SUV or some sort of vehicle with higher clearance because the road is pretty rugged.  I was hoping to arrive soon after sunrise but the drive between the highway to the parking lot took longer than expected — we made it sometime between 7am to 8am which was good enough for me.

We had our gear ready to go and I decided for some reason at the last minute to forego my trekking poles.  It was definitely a brisk morning in late-March and the wind made it feel colder.  Once we started hiking and got some exposure to the sun however, it felt a lot warmer.

Still early that morning as we set off from the Wire Pass parking lot and trailhead.
Still early that morning as we set off from the Wire Pass parking lot and trailhead.
Quite windy and cold at this time but the landscape is stunning in the morning light.
Quite windy and cold at this time but the landscape is stunning in the morning light.

Even the initial landscape is amazing to me.  I was totally thrilled to be stepping into this more remote area but what was completely exhilarating for me was the fact that there was no map to follow.  We had a few visual cues that the BLM provided us with but other than that, I had a compass and a GPS.  We simply had to find our own way to the Wave which is the first time I have simply hiked into an area with no established trail.

It doesn't seem like the desert but we found ourselves crossing stretches of sand at times.  Given how windy it is, I imagine sand just builds up in different areas.
It doesn’t seem like the desert but we found ourselves crossing stretches of sand at times.  Given how windy it is, I imagine sand just builds up in different areas.
Our first major climb on the journey towards the Wave.
Our first major climb on the journey towards the Wave.

The initial part of our journey was relatively straightforward.  We followed a route that seemed pretty apparent.  It wasn’t until we had to climb over a rocky section that we continually stopped to survey our surroundings and make sure that we were heading in the right direction.

Being aware of and taking into consideration Lisa’s hiking experience, I would try to find less strenuous (and safer) ways to get to certain waypoints on the map.  This is one of the things that constantly remind me of the way we live, how we set goals, how we plan strategically at work in the office, etc.  We know we need to get somewhere so we know the direction we need to move towards — but how we do that is rarely ever that straightforward.  Often in these situations, just as in hiking in the wilderness — we need to navigate away from the target in order to make progress towards the goal.  In simpler terms, the path is not linear.

I can keep staring at this landscape for hours or days on end.  Simply unreal.
I can keep staring at this landscape for hours or days on end.  Simply unreal.

After trekking up, around and through certain formations -- we are presented with yet another grand view.  We're also directionless.
After trekking up, around and through certain formations — we are presented with yet another grand view.  We’re also directionless.

Every so often along the way, I’d turn around and it’d be like looking at a completely different world.  The tricky thing about hiking through this remote and vast wilderness is that it is easy to lose track of where you are and where you came from.  Everything appears different when you move about and will look different as the sun changes position in the sky.

It is nonetheless as if we are on a mini expedition.  Always something new to see and a new way to look at the world around us.  As we make our way closer to the where we think the Wave is located, we find ourselves thinking about the dinosaurs and how they may have lived in this part of the world.  It also reminded me of the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania and how a land once fertile and filled with wildlife — in addition to being the home to some of the early ancestors of the modern human — became dry and arid with a significantly more hostile climate.  I may only imagine a glimpse of what may have been history taking place on this land.

Like a jigsaw puzzle from the dinosaur age.
Like a jigsaw puzzle from the dinosaur age.
Wafer-like formations.  They may seem delicate but these are actually quite tough.
Wafer-like formations.  They may seem delicate but these are actually quite tough.

Wherever we looked, there was always something to be inspired by or to simply be in awe of.  The colours, the rock formations, the flowers, the vastness of the region we were standing in — everything for me just felt so much larger than me.  You can really begin to visualize it when standing close up with a variety of rock formations.

The hike itself was not really tough up to this point — it was primarily about footwork more than expending energy.  In addition, the morning was quite cool and windy so I can’t even say we broke a sweat.  That is, until we hit the sand dunes.  I didn’t expect such steep and large sand dunes but it was a struggle to hike these.  There were moments where for whatever reason, sand just started sinking and pouring inwards through some hole — which sort of freaked me out a little but we just stepped around that.  Don’t really want my leg falling through one of those!

Once we made it past the sand dunes, it was back to footwork.  We encountered some a few hikers who had arrived earlier and were just making their way out.  I was thankful that they pointed us to the entrance of the Wave because we had taken a longer route around.

A big sigh as we confront and tackle yet another sand dune.
A big sigh as we confront and tackle yet another sand dune.

Finally arriving at the Wave and just taking in the colours, textures, and yes ... a lot of wind.
Finally arriving at the Wave and just taking in the colours, textures, and yes … a lot of wind.

Our arriving into the Wave was a pretty momentous occasion.  I’ve tried to obtain permits for quite sometime and it was beautiful to have this rare opportunity to stand amidst such a peculiar rock formation.  We just walked around quietly taking it in and obviously, taking photos.  It was really really windy too — the Wave was practically like a funnel for the wind.

Funny enough, as I walked through and around the Wave — I finally had the opportunity to see what the colours were really like.  With the Internet and all the photographs showing up of the Wave, I’ve found that many photographers over saturate the colours in photographs which tends to exaggerate the intensity of the colours.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with artistic impressions and such, and I also acknowledge differences in lighting too — but I know the degree to which lighting can influence colours so it is simply interesting to compare what it really looks like for me in person.

An Obligatory Photograph of the Wave
An Obligatory Photograph of the Wave
A closer look at what the Wave really is.  A really fascinating geological rock formation.
A closer look at what the Wave really is.  A really fascinating geological rock formation.

Oddly enough, the most fascinating aspect of the Wave for me was what the formation resembled itself rather than the contrast and colours.  I loved the fact that I could “walk on the Wave” by walking on the ridge of each layer of the formation.  For me, it was a perfect place to clamor and jump around to see what sort of interesting vantage points I could take in while I was spending time in this special place.

Lisa, however, decided to take a nap.  Not what I expected but I think that is an achievement in itself too!  If only they gave our achievement badges for experiencing wilderness and hiking, like they do in video games.

We probably spent about 45 minutes to an hour in the Wave until an older couple arrived at the entrance.  It was good timing because there was still the hike back and I didn’t really want to hang around to share the Wave with more people.  I’ve gotnothing against them but the Wave isn’t really that large to begin with and I think beyond 3 or 4 people, it begins to feel crowded.

With that, we set off from the Wave — hoping to follow the path we had used to head back.

Photographed on our way back, one of my favourite photographs from the trek. We are so small relative to the world around us!
Photographed on our way back, one of my favourite photographs from the trek. We are so small relative to the world around us!
Some more stunning formations on the way back.
Some more stunning formations on the way back.

The way back felt completely different than our experience earlier in the morning.  It was hotter with the sun blazing down on us, but with the wind — it was still relatively cool.  That said, I can’t imagine hiking this in the middle of late spring or any time during the summer.  It’d be ridiculously hot.  Not my style.

In addition, with the exception of some notable visual cues or landmarks — everything looked different to us.  I think we took some detours on the way back but I continued to be blown away by what we saw.

I also didn’t realize in the morning how much sand there was to hike through.  I wish there were enough sand to sandboard down but the sand dunes here tend to be have some ruggedness and rocks to them.  On the way back, we noticed quite a few groups heading in so I was happy that we were out there earlier than most folks.  We knew who were actually heading to the Wave because they would have permits latched on to their backpack and a map provided by BLM in their hands.  Regardless, it just wouldn’t have been as pleasant and thrilling of a hike if we simply followed other people or had others following us to the Wave.

More sand on the way back.  Unfortunately.
More sand on the way back.  Unfortunately.
A very full parking lot!
A very full parking lot!

When we finally made it back to the parking lot — it was busy and full.  Very surprising but apparently this may also be due to the fact that it was a long weekend and spring break with many families either taking time off to visit or travel together.

So looking back, would I do this trek again?  Definitely, but I would try a different route and explore more of what was out there.  I’d also start even earlier in the day to really take advantage of the time given to us with the permit.  It’s not everyday we get to hike into this area so we might as well make the most of it!

As much as I thought the Wave was amazing, I think the journey and the experience along the way made the most impact on me — even more so than stepping into the Wave.

Yes, my own obligatory photograph.
Yes, my own obligatory photograph.

75km and Onward

I did it.

Thanks to so many folks who supported me. That includes my friend who trained with me for her 75km, the wonderful people who made a donation to the Heart & Stroke Foundation in supporting my ride, and of course — the many kind and supportive words that I received along the way.

This is for me just the beginning as I journey towards 500km.

So how’d it feel? Uhm. Challenging. Even with the training. For the first time, I really felt how much slower I was going with my current bicycle. Throw in some headwinds (I learned about that recently … thank you Suzan!) — and there were times when I was wondering if I was moving in the right direction…

So waking up at 4am is not much of a problem for me. Same goes for getting soaked in a thunderstorm just from setting up the bike on the car rack in order to get to the event. The toughest part was trying to keep up with my former coworker who was on a road bike! Alas, I didn’t have the opportunity to ride with the person I was training with but I was happy to hear she killed it! Made it to the finish line 40 minutes before I did. I can only say that I was stopped numerous times for photos … and they were not for me. 🙂 Anyhow, I was simply happy to see friendly faces and content that I made the first major step towards the Greenbelt route.

What was it like?

Here’s a glimpse of what happened on Sunday in this very brief time-lapse video. I’ll post the full thing later.

So now what?
I keep training. I’m planning a number of cycling routes with friends (more news to come on that front).

I’m also planning to take my bike in for a tune-up and change up the wheels to something more appropriate for the road and gravel. I spoke with a guy at the Trek store over the weekend about my goal for next year and was informed that fewer manufacturers are making 26 inch wheels … but fortunately there are still some being made that will work for my mountain bike. I breathed a small sigh of relief because I really don’t want to be buying a new bike. Not any time soon anyways.

Doing some research on some good cycling routes in the Greater Toronto Area.  Preferably not on the road so if anyone has any suggestions … feel free to throw it on the table.

I’ve had the opportunity to bike much of the Waterfront Trail in Toronto, the Lower Don trail, the Beltline, as well as a number of other trails scattered within the city of Toronto.  I am taking a closer look at the trail around the Humber River but I feel like I need to go a little further out of the city for a longer route.