16 January, 2024

The Ultimate Family Bike Trip on the Trans Canada Trail

John and Donna Weston and their daughter Meimei in British Columbia

For John and Donna Weston and their daughter Meimei, the idea of a cross-British Columbia bike trip had been percolating since Meimei was about to graduate university on the East Coast and head back to BC, where her family lives. John recalls, “We said, wouldn’t it be cool if we crossed the country on the Trans Canada Trail?” He continues, “We decided to start taking it seriously, and it went from there: what bikes should we use? What mapping system? What provisions would we need for camping?”

John headed out on a preliminary trip with a friend on the Trans Canada Trail from Hope to Princeton, BC. The trip involved crossing washed-out portions of the Trail, traversing ravines, clamouring up cliffs … in short, not for the faint of heart. A couple months later, with Meimei in transition from university to a research fellowship, and with a more clearly thought-out plan, John, Donna and Meimei set off on a family adventure. Each day, two of them would cycle, and the third would follow in a van. The trio would rendezvous each night and switch drivers for the following day.

The galvanizing power of trails

John and Meimei Weston standing in front of a Trans Canada Trail sign

“The funny thing is, none of us had ever done any gravel biking,” John says. But after a steep learning curve and help from friends and experienced gravel cyclists, a plan starting falling into place.

For John, President of Canadian Health and Fitness Institute (CHFI), the Trans Canada Trail was an obvious choice. “The concept of the Trail is really cool and inspiring,” says John. “The idea that you could move across Canada walking, running, hiking or biking is absolutely spectacular.” The CHFI’s mandate is to get people moving, to improve their mental, physical and spiritual health through physical activity. This trip embodied the CHFI’s vision perfectly.

Making new friends and strengthening family bonds on the Trail

John, Donna and Meimei Weston on their bike trip on the Trans Canada Trail

John, Donna and Meimei set off from Vancouver on a 16-day trip that would take them through small communities and larger towns; along well-known sections of the Trans Canada Trail like the Kettle Valley Railway, and lesser-known sections and rural areas.

What stood out for the Weston family was not necessarily meeting their goals or achieving speed records. Rather, it was the small moments in between; running into a former fellow Member of Parliament from Prince George at an ice cream stand in Beaverdell, BC; or receiving the gift of chocolate and water from a self-proclaimed Trail Angel they ran into along the way. “These are the unique adventures that you experience on the Trans Canada Trail,” says John. “These singular moments where your smile reaches beyond your ears because some stranger has blessed you with a hand of hospitality.”

Seeing the family’s bike paniers, people would approach them to ask about their journey, asking where they were coming from and where they were going. In Rock Creek, BC, a couple asked about their trip and then pledged to embark on their own Trans Canada Trail adventure.

A deep appreciation for the region’s history

“The Trail conjures up stories of courageous people who made our country what it is today,” says Meimei. Near Castlegar, she went to the Dukhobor Discovery Centre and became intrigued with the community’s history. Following her visit, she kept encountering different pieces of Dukhobor history along the Trail. “There’s signage along the Trail that features unique Canadian stories – stories you don’t learn about in school. My national pride beamed anew as I discovered historical gems.”

Meanwhile, while Meimei was at the museum, John and Donna were cycling along the Trail near Christina Lake. John says, “We took a detour at one point, and then when we hit the Trail off the detour, we did the natural thing … we went right.” Their path took them alongside old railway stations and a ghost town called Coryell, along the Columbia Trail. They became entranced with the history and beauty of the region in a completely unexpected way. Little did John and Donna know that their “right” turn was actually taking them in the wrong direction. It brought them straight back to Christina Lake … 80 kilometres later. It was 80 kilometres in the wrong direction, but the day delivered its own adventure.

Connecting and recognizing strengths

Meimei says, “When you’re on a trip like this, you encounter challenges beyond the norm of your daily life – whether it’s a broken camp stove without many food options, freezing creek water as the only means to shower after eight hours on the bike, or having to set up camp after a long day of biking – these experiences brought to life our strengths and weaknesses, forced us to work as a team and truly deepened our comprehension of and love for one another.” She continues, “Outdoor adventures such as the ones made possible by the Trans Canada Trail are extraordinary in this way.”

Drawing on reserves of strength and determination

John Westons's point of view on a bike on the Trans Canada Trail.

Donna adds that with a trip of this scope, challenges inevitably follow. She says, “We’re talking about a lot of the things we learned and loved. But sometimes you’re just tired and the day’s not going the way you would have hoped.” On one leg of the trip, between Kimberly and Fernie, Donna and Meimei found themselves along a dusty, isolated forest service road. They rode through the same landscape for hours, feeling hot and moving slowly. Trucks rolled by, whipping up clouds of dust as they passed. Donna says, “It was the lowest point of my whole trip.” Eight hours into the day, Meimei says, “My mom said she was done. And I wasn’t feeling great, either. It took everything I had to say, ‘Mom, this is part of the journey.’”

Donna continues, laughing: “This is not what I wanted to hear. But, eventually, we took a little break, and then we got up, and we continued.” The pair got back onto their bikes and spent the next half hour riding side by side, talking about everything they were grateful for. “We had to dig deep, and we did. We rode for another couple hours, and the sun came out, and we felt very grateful.”

The group reunited at a lodge in Fernie and quickly started chatting with other guests. They shared their experiences on the Trail and their experiences with the CHFI, and they made new friends. After an evening relaxing with popcorn in the lodge’s home theatre, they were re-energized and ready to continue.

The Weston family’s journey took them from Hope, BC, to Canmore, Alberta, over 16 days in September. From cycling over the trestle bridges along the Kettle Valley Trails to exploring the city of Nelson, BC, John, Donna and Meimei returned home with lasting memories. “We’ll remember this trip for the rest of our lives,” says Donna.

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Find out more about CHFI’s mandate to get people across Canada moving here.

Follow John, Donna and Meimei on their social media platform here: Facebook, Instagram, and X.

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