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Retired Guelph teacher completes 6,800 km bike ride across Canada

'We are always capable of more than we imagine and I found that many days,' said Robin Todd, who completed the journey in 40 days

A retired Guelph high school teacher proves age is not a factor after riding her bike across Canada in 40 days. 

Robin Todd, who is turning 57 next month, completed around a 6,800 kilometre journey from Vancouver, British Columbia to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Starting the journey in late August, Todd set out to ride across Canada to prove age is not a factor when it comes to success, especially for women and girls.

“We are always capable of more than we imagine and I found that many days,” said Todd, who recalls as a younger woman, being told to do things a certain way by others.

"Over the years I would listen and I would worry, 'Was I doing it the right way?'" she said about nutrition, cycling and other activities, "(But) this trip has been all about realizing there's no right way, and I would really like to impart onto young women is that once they figure things out for themselves, that you don't necessarily have to listen to others."

The idea to complete this trek came to Todd last year. After retiring from the head of the English department at Centennial High School in 2020, a friend of hers from Mayne Island, B.C., reached out to her and suggested she come visit.

“I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to fly out, I'm going to see her, and then I would ride out to Cape Breton,” said Todd.

Todd mentions she also bought a new gravel bike in 2020, which she could use on and off roads, another factor that influenced her decision to do the trek.

“That really reignited my love for cycling, I got a little tired of riding on the road,” said Todd. “The gravel bikes, you can ride off the road beautifully and you can ride on tracks too, it made cycling more fun."

To prepare, Todd started planning what to put on her bike and began training in March 2020. In the beginning, she started her training with running and then would do some cycling, including one-day and two-day trips to places like Kincardine or Grand Bend. By June 2021, she was riding 600-700 kilometres a week.

“They were doable,” Todd said about training. “I felt it the next day, I could do 13 hours on a bike.”

Originally, Todd said she planned to do the ride late May, but the provincial borders in B.C. were still closed, so she decided to push the start date to late August. She said she was lucky with her timing as forest fires took place within the province later that summer.

“I saw some burnt-out areas, but the air quality was fine,” said Todd. “I had just missed the fires by about a week, that was just sheer luck."

While cycling, Todd wrote about her experiences in a blog called The Backpacking Poet. Her blog depicts this cross-country journey, starting with posts about travelling through B.C., cycling through the Rockies and grassy plains near Regina and facing the strong winds in Northern Ontario. 

During the tougher moments on the trip, Todd said she appreciated the support online from many of her former students, who cheered her on.

"Having their support was certainly motivating," said Todd, adding there were some days during her trip where she felt like she was being 'ground down.'

"I think even imagining the classroom was an effective way of channeling my energy."

On day 32 of her trip, Todd took a break to visit her friend in Quebec before setting off for the Maritimes, and arrived in Cape Breton on Oct. 9.

"I was ecstatic, I was absolutely ecstatic," Todd said about the moment she arrived at her destination.

Along the way, Todd said she also enjoyed the little victories, like biking through wind for an entire afternoon.

"It's such a reinforcement of your own strength and you tap into those moments when you need that strength again."

This isn’t the first cycling trek she has been on. Todd explains she started cycling while working in Lake Louise during the late '80s. In 1988, Todd went from Lake Louise, Alba. to Guelph. After that, Todd would go on to complete treks in Hawaii, Fiji and New Zealand.

“I was definitely a lot mentally stronger now than I was when I was 23,” said Todd about those past experiences. "I'm really happy with how resilient I became."

She adds that while she was being careful throughout her trip, everyone she met was very friendly.

"I didn't meet anyone at all who was suspicious and I wasn't worried about my bike or me, I was very lucky."

Since completing the trek, Todd is considering putting together a class with other teachers to share tips and resources that helped her along the way. 

"I knew I was profoundly privilege for having the resources for doing this trip, and that never left me."

While she was hoping to her journey would inspire other women, Todd said she also had one man, also a retired teacher, reach out.

"He said, 'This is my dream, I've always wanted to go cross-Canada by bicycle, but I was afraid," said Todd, who mentions she got the man to look at gravel bikes and further consider doing a similar ride.

"I think it's because fear creeps in, fear in doubt and I think we have relearn and reinforce, 'Yes, we can do this.'"

To read about Todd's cross-country journey, click here to check out her blog.