Welcome to Neil’s world of Bicycle Touring

Who are Sharon and Neil Anderson?

Neil, the lucky devil, met Sharon while living in Edmonton, Alberta. Sharon was an avowed cyclist; Neil was an affirmed petrol head who owned three cars. Not exactly a match made in heaven.

Sharon began cycle touring in high school. Before meeting Neil, she had gone on two BC and Washington state cycle trips offered by Edmonton Parks and Recreation.

Prior to moving to Edmonton, Neil lived in the small town of Princeton BC. He had observed lots of touring cyclists on Highway 3 going past his front door. Heck, he had even given water to a couple of them. But, personally, he had never considered doing such a thing as cycle touring. After all, he had a car.

Then, enter stage left, Sharon cycled into the picture. At the time she met Neil, she was enrolled at the University of Alberta in the Business Faculty earning a degree in Business and Commerce. She worked part-time at a Racquetball and Squash club in Edmonton’s west end. Neil, a member of the racquet club, played every day. It was inevitable that their paths would cross.

One evening, after Sharon got off shift, Neil invited her to join him at a local pizza joint. There, between bites, Sharon regaled him with tales from her cycle tours. He, between bites, pretended to be interested. Would he ever do such a thing? he wondered. Heck, no, he concluded. After all, he had a car.

Sharon and Neil continued to see one another at the racquet club. Nothing serious. One night after Sharon's shift, Neil thought it too dark for her to safely ride her bike the few blocks to where she lived. Being a chivalrous sort of fellow, he suggested he give her a lift home. After some insistence, Sharon eventually agreed. Now how were they going to get her bike into his car? Neil hadn't realized bicycles were that big. He recommended that she leave her bike at the racquet club and retrieve it the next day. But Sharon declared she needed it in the morning to get to university. Expertly, she removed the wheels from her bike. Then, between admonishments to be careful with her wheels, and him trying to not get grease on his back seat, they managed to shoehorn Sharon's pride and joy into the back of Neil's pride and joy black and gold Firebird.

A few minutes later at Sharon's place, Neil helped unload the bicycle. Finally extricated, Neil noticed moonlight, filtering through overhead branches, struck Sharon's features most remarkably. Neil had never noticed before. She was seriously cute. Neil was smitten. Hmmm, he mused, maybe bike touring wouldn't be so bad. After all, there's a lot of moonlit nights.

They began going out in earnest (even though Sharon's friends weren't enthralled that she was dating someone who wasn't a bike rider). How could anything like that last? But Neil liked Sharon (she always laughed at his silly jokes), and once he made up his mind about something, he was like a pit bull on a postman....

In fact, the poor sod had fallen so hard that one Saturday morning he borrowed a friend's old clunker ten speed with three usable gears — not that that mattered anyway since he didn’t know how to shift. Sharon led Neil to a local bike path. My gosh! What tough work! Edmonton's scenic bike trails are in the river valley, meandering alongside the North Saskatchewan River.

Neil and Sharon were cycling from Edmonton's west end to the city’s east end, and back again, a distance of about 40 kilometers. For Sharon, used to bicycle touring, it was a leisurely romp. But for Neil — someone who had never been on a bike much in his life — it seemed like a terribly long way. And the trails, particularly in the east, undulated up and down like a snake that had been smacked on the head with a stick.

Neil became so tired that on one downhill with a sharp bend at the bottom he just let his bike race headlong faster and faster, careening recklessly out of control. (I think he was secretly wishing that if he crashed, at least his bike ride would be over.) Fortunately for him, his days as a motorcycle rider saved his bacon. Even though he leaned perilously on those skinny bits of rubber, he made it around the corner.

When Neil eventually made it back home, smitten or not, he vowed he would nevermore go on any bike rides. But that was subject to change.

That December, before Neil and Sharon were officially engaged, Sharon gave Neil a Christmas present. She handed him a small envelope. Inside was a key. "It's for the garage," she said sweetly. Wow! Neil was impressed. He knew the house where Sharon was living with her eldest brother had a two car garage and that only one parking spot was occupied. Neil had had his eye on a little Alfa Romeo. Could it be?

Neil approached the garage. With heightened anticipation he unlocked the door. What colour would it be? His eyes adjusted to the dim interior.... The formerly vacant stall held ... absolutely nothing! Huh?

"So, what do you think?" Sharon asked.

"What do I think of what?" Neil replied, still staring in disbelief at the empty space.

"Over there... against the wall," she said.

"Huh?" he said.

"I bought you a touring bike," she said.

"Oh, my gosh. So you did," he croaked.

"Go have a look at it," she said.

"I can see it just fine from here," he said, and closed the garage door.

Sharon was crushed. Neil, meanwhile, mind reeling, tried to piece the puzzle together. She had given him a key to the garage. Cars went in garages. She had bought him a bike? A bike!? Didn't she know he had a car?

Remarkably, even after that episode, on Valentine's Day Neil and Sharon became officially engaged. (Neil can thank his lucky stars that he has great looking legs.) Through that entire spring and summer the gift bike lay against the very same wall in the very same garage in the very same way as it had that fateful day Neil so hopefully opened the garage door. He didn't take it out on the bike path. He didn't inspect it. He didn't even look at it. In fact, he tried to forget it was there.

September 1st, Neil and Sharon tied the knot. Secretly, Neil believed he could break Sharon of her infernal bike riding habit. Surely, he thought, once she's a married woman, she'll come to her senses and get an automobile.

The following July (the bike had now leaned untouched against that wall for a year and a half...) Neil wanted to go to the expo in Vancouver. Sharon agreed to accompany him ... with a stipulation. Upon returning, Neil would spend the remaining two weeks’ vacation doing what she wanted.

"And what might that be?" Neil squinted.

"A bike tour," she replied. "You can even plan the route."

Hmmm, he thought. How tough can this bike touring stuff be anyway? (He had long forgotten his excruciating day on the river valley bike path.) Rashly, Simple Simon agreed.

"You had better start training," Sharon advised.

Atlas shrugged. "Why?" he asked. "I'm in pretty good shape from playing squash."

"It's different muscles," she replied.

"Big deal," he replied. "I'll get in shape on the tour."

"It's different riding a fully loaded touring bike than riding an unloaded bike," she said, trying to persuade the foolish duck.

"So?" he countered. "I don't know what it's like to ride an unloaded bike, so it's not going to make much difference for me, is it?" (Sometimes his lack of logic amazed even him. Perhaps that's why he named his publishing company Cycle Logic Press ... when he says it fast, it sounds like cyc illogic.)

Regardless, the daft lad didn't train by riding his bike. He ran some. He played squash some. He lifted weights some.

They drove to Expo and had a fabulous time ... other than Sharon getting car sick on the way there and the way back.

Two weeks later, back home in Edmonton, Neil was ready for some serious relaxing. Then, Sharon reminded him of his end of the bargain.

Neil dug out an Alberta map and an orange highlighter. They had two weeks before he had to be back at work. He planned a trip from Edmonton to Jasper to Banff to Calgary to Drumheller, heck this was easy, maybe throw in a side trip to visit friends in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, then cycle back to Edmonton, ready to begin work the following Monday.

"Well," he said, proudly showing his handiwork to his wife. "That should make a nice ride," he said.

"Have you calculated the mileage?" she asked, looking at his exuberant highlighter marks.

"Well, no," he confessed. "Not exactly."

"Maybe you should," she suggested. "Exactly."

So, he got out a pencil and a calculator, totaled the distance, divided the total by the number of available riding days, and came out with a number somewhere in the neighbourhood of 150 miles per day.

"That's a little much for someone who has never toured before," Sharon pointed out.

"What?" he retorted indignantly. "That's not far in a car," he reasoned.

"Well, it's pretty far by bike," she countered.

To appease her, he agreed to eliminate the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan detour. After a recalculation, he now had it down to an average of 100 miles per day.

"That's still pretty far," Sharon cautioned.

"Wimp!" he snorted.

Neil traipsed to a local bike shop (actually, I believe he drove) to buy cycling gear. Let's see. What's on sale? What's the cheapest? He never planned on doing this silly thing again, so he might as well buy the cheapest stuff he could find. Here's some cycling shorts on sale. So what if they're a little on the small side. They're supposed to be snug, right? It’s not like I’m going to be dancing in them, he thought. Water bottle? I need one of those? Okay, here's one that includes the cage for three bucks. That should be good enough for a two-week jaunt.

That evening, Sharon's brother, Chris, came over to Neil and Sharon's house to install a rear rack on Neil's bike. Oh, yeah, and the water bottle cage.

"There we go," Neil said, surveying Chris's work. "Ready to roll," he said smugly.

The next morning, panniers packed with little balls of clothes rolled into neat sausage shapes like Sharon had demonstrated, sun shining brightly, Neil strapped on his new helmet, triumphantly threw a leg over his bike’s top crossbar and wobbled off in the general direction of Jasper.

He had gone all of three blocks when his water bottle cage fell off. The plastic mount had broken. Fortunately, he hadn't made it past the local bike shop yet. He made a pit stop and upgraded to what he considered an extortionately priced six-dollar model.

They followed a main route that Neil used to commute to and from work, then connected to Yellowhead Highway #16 towards Jasper. Being a neophyte bike tourer, Neil had never thought about traffic being a concern, so he hadn't looked for less trafficked routes. Nope, he figured, just get out there on the freeway and churn away. Wasn't that what bicycle touring was all about?

Pedal, pedal, pedal. This isn't so tough, he thought. The sun beat down. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Dark clouds obscured the sun. Hail. Yow! That smarts. Good thing I have a helmet. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Ah, the sun's back out. That feels good. Wow. It certainly takes a lot longer to get somewhere by bike. Head down. Into the wind. Neil churned onward to their predetermined campground.

Around 8 pm, after his allotted 100 miles, he rolled into Chip Lake campground. Time on the bike? About eight hours. Neil attempted to dismount. Oh, my. He hadn't noticed before, but his butt was a tad sore. And his legs were sort of made from some rubber compound. And, my, he was sunburned.

He attempted to lift a leg over his bike's top tube, and found, somewhat amusedly, he couldn't lift his leg high enough to clear his bike's crossbar. He and his machine had become one. He laid the bike over, and slowly, carefully, gently, extricated himself from the infernal contraption.

While Sharon set up the tent, Neil sat on a picnic table, moaning softly. Tent assembled, Sharon tossed sleeping bags inside, and began making supper. Neil moaned again and stumbled toward the fabric abode.

"You have to eat," Sharon said to his disappearing backside. "Aren't you hungry?"

"I'm too tired to chew," Neil answered, and with another moan laid down atop his sleeping bag ... fully attired ... including shoes. I'll just have to put them on in the morning again anyway, he reasoned.

The next morning, Neil sat (gingerly) at the picnic table and ate just-add-boiling-water instant oatmeal. He glanced at his bike still propped yonder against a tree. Dang! He wished someone had stolen the cursed instrument of torture during the night.

Time to leave, Neil discovered the reverse from the previous day’s dismount episode was true. Now he couldn't lift his leg high enough to get back on. He laid the bike on the ground, raised his foot about eight inches (as high as it would go), stepped over the crossbar, and pulled the bike upright. He put weight on the saddle and winced. Never had he imagined a bicycle seat could be so hard. Never had he imagined his butt could be so sore. But, folks in an adjacent campsite watching, he stalwartly set forth.

Sharon followed, shaking her head.

Hours later, after stubbornly pumping out another hundred miles (the guy's a slow learner) into driving rain, he collapsed in a heap once again. His butt felt like someone had set a box of matches to it.

The following morning, in the rain, he repeated his now patented process of laying his bike on the ground to mount. Fortunately for him, they had a short day riding the remaining distance to Jasper. Neil completed part of the way standing up.

In Jasper, they happened to meet another touring cyclist couple, Hob and Deb. After introducing Neil to the myriad flavours of hard ice cream, the other cyclists made an invitation to join them for pizza at a local restaurant.

The other cyclists were on a tandem. From Connecticut. They had done a lot of cycle touring. "Even though we have plenty of money," Deb said, between bites of pizza, "we still prefer to bike tour. I think our family and friends are finally starting to believe us when we say we like it."

Sitting delicately on the restaurant's wooden bench, Neil stared back in disbelief.

"How long does one's vital organs hurt?" Neil asked Hob, the male counterpart of the tandem duo.

"Oh, about three weeks," Hob replied.

"Oh, no!" Neil groaned. "We're going for two weeks."

Somewhere between Banff and Calgary, plagued with dead genital syndrome, even Neil had to admit that his choice of on-sale-but-too-small cycling shorts were a mistake. As cars whizzed past, he hunkered down in a roadside ditch and pulled on a regular pair of shorts.

After an overnight in Calgary, Neil and Sharon cycled in a strong side wind to the Drumheller Badlands. Neil was amazed that the swaying wheat fields looked like golden rolling ocean waves. He was a trifle disconcerted when passing freight trucks sucked his side air away and momentarily skittered him towards the passing trailer wheels before he managed to correct his balance.

After Drumheller (Neil decided it a stroke of luck he had decided skip the side trip to Saskatoon), they made it back to Edmonton late one Sunday afternoon. Sorer, but wiser.

Neil would have to go back to work in order to have a real rest. It had rained thirteen of their fourteen days. And on the only day it hadn't rained, Neil got sunburnt. He resolved to never again go on another bike trip in his whole entire life. Thank heavens he had a car.

The next day, co-workers asked Neil what he had done during his vacation. They were far more impressed that he had ridden a bicycle "all that way" than they were with his Expo trip. Hmmm, he thought. Maybe there was something to this bike touring after all.


When the next summer rolled around Sharon somehow convinced Neil to try bicycle touring once again (told you he was a slow learner). "This time I'll plan the route," she said.

Sharon took Neil and a cycle touring friend of hers,Vicky, for two weeks cycling in British Columbia's Gulf Islands, situated between Vancouver and Victoria, BC. They had great weather. Not one drop of rain. They cycled sparsely trafficked roads. They cycled short distances. Neil had no saddle sores. He ate scrumptious and abundant picnics, inhaled copious quantities of ice cream, consumed monster-size portions of decadent desserts. So this is what bicycle touring is all about. Neil was hooked. And he found that the folks at work were no less impressed. Neil even began to ride his bike back and forth to work the odd day ... on less congested routes. Maybe one could teach an old dog new tricks?


From then on, whenever Neil and Sharon had vacation, they went on a bike tour somewhere in Alberta or BC. The Gulf Islands in BC and the San Juan Islands in Washington state were Neil and Sharon's favourite places to bicycle tour.

Sharon finished university and began articling at an accounting firm. Neil quit his job in industrial electronics and went back to university to become a school teacher.

One summer they couldn't take their annual bike tour because Sharon was spending every available moment studying for a Chartered Accountant exam -- including a leave from work plus her entire vacation time.

Neil never wanted to go through watching that agonizing process again. He decided to add incentive for Sharon to pass on her first attempt ... if she passed, instead of having to restudy again the following summer, they would cycle across the United States. He had read an article in a bicycle magazine about the Bike Centennial trail and thought it sounded like a bit of an adventure.

Sharon passed her UFE. The next summer she took a four-month leave. Neil was still going to university and had May through September free.

So, the end of April, Vicky — the same friend that Neil and Sharon cycled the Gulf Islands and Alberta with so many times — was pressed into service to drive them to their departure point in Vancouver. On the way, near Jasper, they drove through a blinding blizzard. Were they starting a tad early?

Four months later, having loosely followed the original Bike Centennial route, they had cycled across America. The American people were wonderfully hospitable. Neil and Sharon had a fantastic time biking across the United States; in fact, up to that point, it was the most amazing experience of their lives. Reaching the east coast after pedalling six-thousand miles, they were still ready for more. They even contemplated buying plane tickets and hopping across the Atlantic to continue pedalling blissfully on the other side.

They purchased plane tickets, but, alas, returned to Edmonton. Common sense and realities of commitments set in. Their dream would have to wait.

But the seed had been planted. Sharon, stifled in a desk job, roasting wieners over a garbage can, yearned for more travel. Neil finished his degree and along with 6,000 other applicants that year submitted his résumé to the Edmonton Public School Board. Somewhat surprised, Neil found he was one of only six applicants to be hired that year.

After a couple of years of gainful employment, the government of the day brought in sweeping budget cuts to education and health care. New teachers were suddenly without contracts. Neil was one of them. He commiserated the loss of his employment; but Sharon saw it as a splendid opportunity to throw off the shackles and hop back onto  bike seats.

Poring over maps of Europe they did minimal planning. When Neil's work ended in June, they put their house on the market and headed east across Canada. Having spent two months of a previous summer cycling in the Maritimes, they figured they would hit Quebec's Gaspé, do a little slingshot around the peninsula, and catch a flight out of Halifax to Europe. It didn’t turn out exactly as planned but the end of October saw them in France.

They spent the next fourteen months cycling around Europe. One day, ready to sail from Rhode Island to Turkey, they phoned home and learned that Neil's mother was scheduled for a round of breast cancer chemo treatments. Though Neil's parents urged them to continue their trip, they decided to return to Canada in time for a surprise Christmas.

Sharon immediately landed another accounting job in Edmonton. Neil began writing about their travels. However, the travel bug bites hard and wanderlust in their hearts continued unabated. They saved for a year, spent a final Christmas with Neil's mom and dad, then in January with a year-long open ticket boarded a plane with their bikes bound for New Zealand.

After cycling in New Zealand for about a month, Neil called home. His mom, age 56, had passed away two hours prior. Neil's dad said he would wait until they returned home before having the service.

Neil and Sharon cycled five months in New Zealand. Then they caught a plane to Australia and cycled from Sydney to Alice Springs. (Neil is writing a book — A Dingo Stole My Shoes — about their journey into Australia's untamed outback.) After three months in Australia, they flew to Fiji for a couple of weeks of rest and relaxation before returning to Canada.

Sharon immediately got a job in Vancouver. They lived with Neil's brother, Scott, in Maple Ridge. Neil worked on his first book, The Lead Goat Veered Off, about their three months cycle tour on the island of Sardinia.

Sharon commuted weekdays on the West Coast Express train, leaving the house at six in the morning and not returning till seven at night. After six months she had had enough. "We either move downtown, or we move out of the city."

The couple still wished to travel. But they didn't relish living out of boxes between adventures. They searched the Internet for houses near Princeton BC. It was an opportune time to buy as the local copper mine that had employed a major proportion of the townsfolk had recently closed, and a variety of properties were on the market.

One property was located in the nearby small town of Coalmont BC. Priced right, and ideally situated in a number of ways. Not only was it close to where Neil's relatives lived, but it was also only a block from the sparkling Tulameen River and the newly appointed Kettle Valley Rail Trail.

Sharon and Neil bought the place and moved their bikes in. Strange how life sometimes works out. Once moved in to their new digs (the "Big Wooden Tent" they called it) they couldn't believe how much they loved rural living. Everything was right out their back door: mountain biking, hiking, swimming, cross-country, and downhill skiing. It wasn't like living in the city.

As they say, two can live as cheaply as one ... but only for half as long. Even though the cost of country living is lower than living in the city, it still costs some. In order to pay bills, Neil secured a position with the local school board. It's a small district. He worked an average of two days a week. It was perfect in that it left him time to pursue other interests. Writing. Photography.

Neil completed his book about their biking adventures on Sardinia The Lead Goat Veered Off. Shortly thereafter, he began working on Partners in Grime, which has subsequently been published. He continues to work on their cycling adventures — or is that misadventures? — in New Zealand and Australia; titled A Hedgehog Ate My Soap, and A Dingo Stole My Shoes.

Sharon always wanted children. And living amidst British Columbia’s bucolic country splendor the desire became even greater. After much resistance (it was like the bike gift scenario all over again: "Why do I want kids? I see them all day at school."), Neil finally agreed.

A son, Norman, was born on a cold December 28. Quite the Christmas present. Neil and Sharon love him to bits ... and Neil is having way more fun being a dad than he ever imagined possible.

Needless to say, Norman became acquainted to life through the plastic windows of his Chariot bike trailer pulled behind his mother’s bicycle. The only time the little tyke complained was when his mom went too slow uphill.

Two and a half years later on June 8, Norman was joined by a sister. Kiaira is Celtic for "small dark one," but her parents are pretty convinced it actually means "small loud one."

By the way, Dad has come to be officially known as “The Spoiler.”

I wonder how they're going to like bicycle touring?


What you should know

songs to cycle to

  1. 1.Ride the Lightning

  2. 2.One Fine Morning

  3. 3.My White Bicycle

some photos