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Stealth camping across Canada

Ryan Yeske and Ben Devitt, who grew up in Sechelt and now live in Vancouver, had the experience of a lifetime when they cycled across Canada with a third friend from Nelson, Shawn Betts.

Ryan Yeske and Ben Devitt, who grew up in Sechelt and now live in Vancouver, had the experience of a lifetime when they cycled across Canada with a third friend from Nelson, Shawn Betts.

Yeske hatched the plan for a cross-Canada trip after Devitt and he cycled to Seattle in 2003. After a year of planning, they made a shake-down cycle trip to Squamish, then quit their jobs, left their sweethearts in Vancouver and started out on June 14.

Devitt had a new bike and Yeske's wasn't more than two years old. They had packed camping and cooking gear, so their bikes were carrying about 100 pounds each. As they rode up Taylor Way hill in West Vancouver, they complained that they weren't in shape and were wondering what lay ahead.

They travelled from Vancouver to Nanaimo, then up Vancouver Island to Port Hardy where they caught a ferry to Prince Rupert. From there they continued to Prince George, Williams Lake, Jasper and Banff, eventually ending the B.C. leg of their journey in Calgary.

Camping on a limited budget was challenging, and the men slept in deserted outdoor baseball dugouts, outdoor hockey rinks, hydro rights-of-way and bridge underpasses. The guys have coined a term for camping free. It's called stealth camping and this pretty much became the standard for the rest of the trip.

Another problem, at first, was hot weather; 30 degrees is very hard when biking. They were drinking eight litres of water each for a day trip. The mosquitoes and horse flies were voracious, fires near Terrace filled the air with smoke, and thunderstorms struck without warning. Rumble strips, narrow shoulders, logging trucks and log bark chunks on the side of the road challenged the cyclists.

This portion of the trip was to be a bit of a shake down for the bikes and the riders while still close to home. Weaknesses turned up, and Yeske and Betts designed mud flaps from old juice containers near Huston.

A major equipment failure was shaping up for Devitt. He noticed his rear spokes were coming loose just before Prince George. He stopped at a bike shop where they were tightened and adjusted late one Saturday afternoon, and the guys left Sunday for Quesnel. Devitt's bike had loosened and was out of true again and he got to a bike shop. This time a spoke was pulling out from the rim. He needed a new rim, but this shop couldn't get one for week or so. He tried to make it to Williams Lake but broke another spoke, so he hitched to Williams Lake where he bought a new wheel and enjoyed stampede time.

After a two day rest waiting for the bike wheel, they were off to 100 Mile House, then down the big hill from McDonald summit, an eight per cent grade for 10 km, the biggest thrill ride of the trip. On to Little Fort, then Jasper, but after Little Fort Devitt's wheel was again breaking spokes so they had to limp into Jasper and wait for Devitt's dad to find a bike specialty shop in Calgary to build another wheel and send it on the bus to Jasper.

They had a beautiful trip through the Rockies, then on to Calgary to get the bike wheel tuned. They travelled together as far as Regina, then because Devitt didn't have a passport and Yeske had to go to Duluth, Minnesota, they parted. But they were to meet again in Montreal and again in Charlottetown.

Devitt was impressed with the generous hospitality of strangers. On one occasion he was peddling between Ottawa and Montreal when at Deux Rivières, people saw him biking and called him in to join a family horseshoe tournament and picnic. He stayed overnight and was fed and given free beer -wonderful hospitality!

Weather is always important to cyclists. The cooler summer on the prairies was a bonus for less active mosquitoes and more comfortable riding temperatures. The worst weather was experiencing the tail end of hurricane Ivan in Newfoundland, where very strong winds blew Devitt off his bike. It took him four and a half hours of cycling to go 12 km, and torrents of freezing rain all but did him in with hypothermia. Finally a kind soul stopped with a pickup and took him to Cornerbrook, which saved him.

The 900 plus km trip in Newfoundland was desolate, but again friendly people took him in at Grand Falls, Windsor and St. John's.

The trip took from June 14 until Sept. 26 and covered a total of 9,720 kilometres. Devitt reached his goal of St. John's and flew home on Sept. 30. Betts took a bus from Halifax to New York, a harrowing experience, and from there a bus to Pittsburgh Pa. Yeske flew home from Halifax a week before Devitt. It was quite an experience for them all and everyone is proud of their accomplishment.