Ridgetown was just one of many stops for three bicyclists taking a bike trip this summer.
While most people can only dream of taking a trip from coast to coast, one man, along with his friends, is making it a reality. But it will take him several months as he has more than 6,400 kilometres of pedaling.
Kevin Ansel and his friend Joe Polance hopped on their bikes and took the trip of a lifetime more than 40 years ago. Today, the two and Kevin’s wife Ximena are on the final leg of their commemorative trip.
“Forty years ago, I rode from Huntington Beach, Ca, to New York City. We wanted to do a 40-year celebration, kind of a commemorative ride,” said Kevin.
The bike trip will be business as usual for Kevin and his friends. He said he’s been a bike tourist for many years and has more than 40 tours under his belt. Previous bike tours include trips from Salt Lake City to Denver, as well as trips to France.
This time around, Kevin and his friends took a train to Seattle, Wa., and planned to take a northern route through the United States while purposely cutting through Ontario, Canada. The end destination is Boston, MA.
The group left Seattle on June 5. They followed a route they had put together, which led them over the Cascade Mountains in the Rocky Mountains and then down to Whitefish, Mt. The group then headed south and rode down to Yellowstone National Park.
“Then we cut straight across through Yellowstone and into Devils Tower National Park, South Dakota, through the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore,” said Kevin. “We made it all the way to Minneapolis, MN., and then cross Wisconsin and to Michigan, and then we came out via ferry into Canada there.”
Kevin said the group aims to ride their bikes about 50 to 60 miles, or approximately the distance between Ridgetown and London, daily.
“Our goal depends on the weather and if there is a campground or a hotel. Some days we might do 40 miles, but then there are days we might do 70 miles; that has to do with resources. Our goal typically is 50 miles a day,” he said. “We’re not riding 4,000 miles; we’re riding 50 miles, 90 times.”
The bike tour lover said he often looks for campgrounds to stay at as his first choice. If none are available, he will opt for a motel or hotel. He added there are times when people let the group stay with them.
Kevin said an organization called Warm Showers allows them to look up to see if anyone is willing to host the tourists. He said they’ve stayed with eight different hosts thus far.
Kevin said the trip had taken the group to many beautiful places. He added despite being a small town, Ridgetown had a certain charm that stood out.
“It doesn’t continue to surprise us, but the people we meet are the best part of the trip. The thing that stood out right away was the people in Ridgetown; they were so friendly,” he said.
He admitted they had stopped in Ridgetown as the group needed to exchange their American currency for Canadian for the campground they were staying at as they don’t accept American money or credit cards.
“We might have just ridden through, but the people were so nice. But we took some extra time, had some nice Danish and met some folks. It was just a nice day in the town,” he said.
The bikers often try to eat in local cafes and diners and shop at the local stores while staying away from chain restaurants.
Ximena said she couldn’t resist taking a trip to the local bakery while Joe took a trip to the dollar store to pick up Canadian souvenirs.
According to Joe, Ridgetown’s agricultural landscape impressed him a lot.
“What’s impressed me the most is the farming. We’ve seen tens or hundreds of miles of farms and crops. What those farmers accomplish has really impressed me,” he said.
Kevin said Ridgetown is a “great little town.”
“We’re from California. Irvine has a population of 280,000. In the smaller towns in Canada, it is really refreshing and nice. We can tell that people really know each other, and it’s not like that back home,” he said.
He pointed out that these types of bike tours allow him to see +the world isn’t like one would see on national news with all the problems.
“People are good, they’re giving, and they’re nice people. And we haven’t come across anybody that’s been mean or had anything negative to say about us or aggressive. Everybody has been welcoming to us. It’s certainly given us faith in humanity again,” he said.
When reflecting on the differences between his first trip going coast-to-coast 40 years ago and the trip he is currently on, Kevin said technology had been a major factor.
“Technology has changed. We’re riding better bicycles, we’ve got better clothing, we’ve got better camping gear, and we’ve got bike computers and cellphones now. Forty years ago, we were just getting a map from the local highway patrol or state troopers office,” he said.
He highlighted the difference in not having access to ATM machines 40 years ago, forcing them to travel with traveller’s checks.
“Forty years ago, that was one of the first tours we ever did. We’re just much more knowledgeable and more in tune with our bodies now. I wouldn’t say it’s any harder, but I wouldn’t say it’s any easier. Riding over a mountain is riding over a mountain; it doesn’t matter how fast you do it, you just got to do it,” said Kevin.
While the group has enjoyed their time travelling the United States and Canada, there have been hardships along the way.
Kevin said he broke a back wheel, which had to be replaced, and there were also a few flat tires.
The group agreed, for the most part, the weather has been cooperative thus far. However, they highlighted a few days where the weather was a major factor.
“We had some rain and six inches of snow in Washington,” said Kevin.
Ximena pointed out the differences in weather temperatures in the mornings vs night and how they drastically changed depending on location.
Her husband, Kevin, said the temperature in Rapid City, South Dakota, reached 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, on other mornings the temperature was 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Despite being more knowledgeable this time around, Kevin said resources are still the name of the game.
“A lot of times, you look on a map and plan to stop for lunch. When you get there, it might be just a grain silo, and there’s nothing there. Sometimes there are no stores, or you get to a town, and it’s closed because it’s Tuesday. All of a sudden, we don’t have food or water for the night. We always try to carry an extra day’s worth of food and water with us,” he said.
As of August 19, the bikers are in Buffalo, NY. Ansel estimates they will complete their 4,000-mile trip in roughly two weeks’ time.
Throughout the 90-day bike tour, the group has taken 10 days off for sightseeing and days that have been rained out. He said the group also took a couple of days off at Mount Rushmore to see the National Park, as well as a couple of days off at Glacier National Park and time spent in Minneapolis, MN.
“The entire trip will be approximately 90 days,” he said. “It looks like we’re going to hit it right on.”
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News