This Retired Canadian Couple Has Traveled by Bike in the Americas For Years

Candian couple Charles and Denise have been into bike trips since they meet each other 18 years ago.

Now they are retired, but that doesn’t mean things have slowed down. After Charles and Denise retired, they have traveled by bike in Americas for a total of 2 1/2 years.

In this interview, Charles and Denis share how they keep travelling.

Learn how they prepare for their adventures, how they live on the road and what kind of bikes and gear they recommend.

Cyclists Charles and Denise

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Our names are Charles Coderre and Denise Blanchard. We live in Granby, a little town 80 kilometers east of Montreal in the province of Quebec (Canada). We retired in 2012 and have been traveling by bike in the three Americas for a total of 2 1/2 years. Right now, we are home trying to decide where we go next! Of course, our favorite activity is traveling on our bikes in countries we never been before. Charles also plays guitar and mandolin and Denise likes photography, painting and gardening.

How and why did you get into cycling adventures?

Denise and I have been together for 18 years and we have been doing bike trips from the beginning of our relationship. But Denise has been doing bike trips since 1980. She cycled in Greece, Turkey, South Korea, Holland and other destinations during her vacations. Ever since we met, we were dreaming of longer adventures and especially biking in the Andes in South America. We followed many cyclists on their blogs and got inspired to do the same. So, when we did retire, we went off on a 6 months bike trip in the United States, cycling the west coast, from Vancouver to San Francisco and then crossed the continent to the east coast to join Washington DC and back up to Canada (8,300 kilometers). This was our training run for our two-year journey in South America!

Cyclists Charles and Denise

Why is traveling important for you?

Traveling is an important part of our lives as we enjoy meeting different people and discovering new cultures. It is mind opening. As Canadians, we enjoy very good economic and social standard levels. When we travel, we realize how easy we have it in our North American culture compared to other less fortunate countries. Life seems to our eyes simply harder in some areas of the world. It is harder but people seem to be closer knitted and family seems to be way more important than what we are used to. We live in a very individualistic society and traveling in South America made us realize how we kind of lost the sense of family and community that we could witness while traveling in the countries. So yes, traveling the world is eye opening and make us realize how lucky we are, but also what we may have lost in the race for economic domination.

Cyclists Charles and Denise

What have been the best parts of your cycling adventures?

We found that the best part of our cycling adventure was in Peru and Bolivia. The scenery of the Andean nature and the lifestyles are so different than anything we know that we were simply seduced by it. We spent a lot of time in the high Andes (over 3500 meters altitude) and were amazed by the way native farmers channel the streams coming down the Sierra and succeed into irrigating terraces on steep hillside to cultivate an infinite variety of corn, potatoes and many other grains. We loved the wilderness of the high Sierra, which allowed us to pitch our tent almost anywhere under the stars. And native people are friendly always making sure we were all right to sleep in our tent in sub zero temperatures.

Cyclists Charles and Denise

What have been the most difficult parts?

The most difficult part of our adventure was the acclimatization to the effort in high altitude. Riding a fully loaded bike on steep gravel roads in the high Andes is so very demanding physically. It took Denise and I a good three week to get our bodies acclimatized at the beginning of the trip but once this was done we were good to go every morning.

Funding for our adventure was not a problem. As we are both retired, we have income coming in no matter what. Besides, we rented our house for the duration of the two year project and this gave us incremental revenues. So, we didn’t have to limit ourselves in any way on the road. If we felt for a few days at the hotel to rest from the bikes we’d do it without restriction. Same thing for food and restaurants. We camped a lot in the wild and in the high Andes, which we enjoy very much. We also used the Warmshower association and were hosted by some wonderful members many times but with the very low prices of hotels and hospedaje in South and Central America we treated ourselves many many times.

The biggest dangers on the road are reckless car or bus drivers but for the majority people are respectful of cyclists. We use flashers on our bikes so we are visible and Denise and I ride in a share the road manner if security allows it.

If everything is a mess and we are tired, it is time to stop and rest! We remember this time in the high mountains near Huaraz. It was late afternoon and we had planned to go over a pass at 4,900 meters and end the day in lower grounds after the pass. But on our way up at around 4,700 meters the sky covered up and it started snowing heavy flakes. So instead of persisting, we stopped, pitched the tent for the night and woke up in the morning with 6 inches of snow around the tent! The sleeping bags were wet and the tent was icy but we folded everything and started pushing the bikes toward the pass which we reached under a shining sun. We had the most amazing high mountain scenery of the hole trip that day. And once we started our descent in the valley we stopped for lunch and took time to dry all the equipment before the next pass with the view on a glacier up above!

Cyclists Charles and Denise

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

As we explained in the paragraph above we slept in all sorts of facilities but our preferred option is our tent in the high andes and on the Carretera Austral in Chile. We use a Hillerberg Nallo GT3 and we love it. It has plenty of space for the two of us and we can store all our panniers in the front room for the night. When we camp we use a MSR Dragonfly multi fuel stove. We carry two 625ml fuel bottles and we enjoy the way it can burn just any types of fuel. Just stop at the gas station and fill it up for a dollar and away you go for 7 more days of cooking!

What is your best advice for new cyclists?

Just get out and do it! You do not need a specific bike to start doing bike trips, even long ones like the one we did. But you need your bike to be very well maintained. On our 2 1/2 years on the roads, we saw travelers with all types of bike, some more suited than others for long term adventures, but they all had one thing in common…they were on the road, doing it!

For our part, we built our bikes starting with Surly Long Haul Trucker frames and added specific components, which we liked. I’d say that the three most important things on a bike are the wheels, the tires and the brakes! We rode 30,000 kilometers on Schwalbe Mondial tires and the threads are still good!

Cyclists Charles and Denise

How do you prepare for your cycling adventures?

We always maintain good physical shapes. Charles is doing spinning sessions at home and Denise is running on a treadmill. We ski in the winter and bike as soon as the snow is off the roads in Quebec. To prepare our trips, we read Lonely Planet books on the countries we expect to travel in. We also explore internet to read multiple traveler blogs and get ideas of specific sites we want to visit and activities we’d like to do. We plan our routes with Internet software « Ride With GPS » and pick the roads that are less heavy on vehicles circulation. Denise likes to carry paper maps and Charles likes his GPS. But when in the country, we engage very often in conversations with locals and ask about roads and directions and sometimes discover sites we never heard about anywhere else! One other thing we do is learn the spoken language of the countries we are going to visit. In the case of South America, Spanish will be handy everywhere but in Brazil. When we plan the trip, we leave a lot of space open for side trips or change of plans. A plan is only a plan and if its not fun anymore, we make new plans!

Cyclists Charles and Denise

How do you finance your cycling tour?

As we are retired, we have revenues coming in to finance our adventures. We also rented our house for two years. We never asked for official sponsors but had help from some companies on specific items related to our bikes. The area where we spent the most on our trip are food and lodging. The cost of our trip was 11,000$ per person per year. And when we subtract the rent of the house it dropped to 6,500$ per person per year.

How do you balance normal life with cycling?

On a total of 5 years of retirement, we have been on the road 2 1/2 years. Our children are grown up and are taking care of themselves so we are free as birds to do whatever we want!

Cyclists Charles and Denise

What has been your best cycling-related purchase below $100?

Our best piece of equipment below 100$ is our Cargo Net bungie cord! It allows to secure the material on the top of the back rack and we can hang stuff to dry on it during the day. In fact, it costs 15$ and we love it! The second piece of equipment we love is our flasher. Being seen is essential and this strobe is somewhat annoying for car drivers. The model is the Danger Zone from Portland Design.

What other favorite gear do you have?

Our favorite gear is our Rohloff SpeedHub. We love the Rohloff Speed hub for the ease of shifting and the great gear ratio spacing it has on the 14 effective speeds. The system allows to shift to any speed at any time, even when at a full stop on a street corner or in the middle of a steep hill. A great advantage!

Cyclists Charles and Denise

What will the future bring?

We are looking at cycling the French Alpes in 2018 and head on to Italy and Croatia. Denise has tons of destinations she wants us to go to and as long as we will be fit and enjoy it we will keep on traveling by bike because it is definitely our preferred mode of traveling.

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One Comment

  1. Great article about a very inspiring couple! Can’t wait to read about the next adventure!

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