Claus Lauter: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Why We Travel Podcast. Today we will go to Europe and we will have a special form of transport. We see how we can travel in Europe on a bicycle. So therefore, with me is Ed Gilles. Ed Gilles is a husband and the dad of a happy biker, family of four from Yukon in the northern part of Canada.
Wife, Jocelyn Yani moved cycling from Vancouver to Tijuana, Mexico along the western US coast. Her sons Herron and Sitka came along. They continued bike. Touring every year with chariots and WeHo throughout the Pacific North West on tandems, across Cub New Zealand, Australia, French Polynesia, and most recently on four separate bikes to 20 countries over six months and 10,000 kilometers across Europe.
So that tells you already a little bit of the experience that has on cycling the world on bicycles. And we wanna dive a little bit deeper into this today. So, hello and good morning to Canada. Hi.
Ed Gillis: Hi, close. So thanks for having us. Thanks for this opportunity to,
Claus Lauter: Yeah, it’s a pleasure. Give me a bit of an idea on your first childhood travel memory to get started with.
Ed Gillis: , for mine, most of my childhood traveling was, , done kind of camping , in Ontario. So I grew up, , near Toronto, in Ontario and Canada. And to be honest, we didn’t do a whole lot of travel. We did some, Mostly camping, , in an old vinyl tent, , or canvas tent, I guess really was, the four of us.
, had a younger brother and, , my two parents. And yeah, we would go, camping and, , go for walks and go fishing, in the lakes in Ontario. It was mostly local. I do remember in grade nine we took our first ever plane flight. So I was 14 when we first flew down to, , Florida to go to Disney World, and that was very, very,
Claus Lauter: So that’s probably where you caught to travel back
Ed Gillis: A little bit.
Claus Lauter: Fast forward. , you got into cycling and you decided to do cycling trips that are a little bit out of the ordinary and a little bit longer than the usual person would do it. So gimme a bit of background how that started.
Ed Gillis: Yeah, well, as I wasn’t, uh, much of a traveler when I was younger. But then I , met, , my wife Jocelyn, , when I was in my twenties, and she was preparing a, bicycle tour across Canada. With a group of 30 other young people, they had decided that they wanted to spread a message of environmental awareness and sustainability and social justice across Canada.
And so they, , decided they wanted a bike. , she led the group and then somehow recruited another , , 20 somethings and they were biking across Canada. And I met her just before she was about to. To do this and fell in love with her and fell in love with, , cycling along the way. I hadn’t had a bicycle since I was in grade 11.
It was stolen from the side of my house, and so when it was in my mid twenties, yeah, I met her and, , bought a not very high quality bicycle from of the kind of hardware shops in Toronto and, , I was able to manage to make that bike last a little while for our honeymoon and other things.
But, , yeah, so definitely the bug was caught mostly from meeting Jocelyn and being inspired by her.
Claus Lauter: Okay, Now we have done trips all over the planet, but today we wanna talk about specifically, Hiking in Europe, so you did a long trip there. Give a bit of an idea where you went and how you started with the planning for such a long trip.
Ed Gillis: Yeah, the planning, , really kind of started in our last trip. So when our boys were seven and five, we took a trip to, , New Zealand and Australia, and we were towards, It’s the end of that trip on these, , family tandems there that fold up and go on the roll on the plane. We had the boys attached to us, and , towards the end they started saying, What’s the next trip?
Oh, what about Europe? And so let’s go to Europe, Dad. Yeah, yeah. Pizza. Yeah. Yeah. I want to do this and that. I wanna go to Paris. And yeah, the planning started about six years before, and , we said, Okay, in five years we’re gonna go to. And, let’s, , try to make that happen. We came home, , from our big trip in New Zealand, Australia, and, , we started playing board games like year’s, a European board game where you build trains in Europe.
And so we were being inspired in that way. But the main planning actually came from the boys. So now they were 13 and 11 when we left, and they had been planning for a couple of years just on their weekends, , necessarily instead of playing video games or anything else, they were borrowing the family laptops to do research on where they wanted to go.
And that’s kind of what made the trip as, , wonderful as it was, is the boys had an opportunity to do most of the planning. So we ended up going to places that Joscelyn and I may never have even gone to because the boys , had control of where it was, is we were going. So we ended up in 20 countries , we ended up at, the very last day in Osn, Norway, we hit 10,000 kilometers, , on this trip, , over six months.
, started in Malaga in southern Spain, and we’re pretty soon on the west coast of Portugal. , up there through Spain, , across France, and then through the Tyrian Alps, down through Croatia, Albania to Greece. And then we, flew up to Switzerland to meet another family from the Yukon and then went along the Rhine River, , to the coast.
The North Sea and then ended up, , biking from there up to Oslo. So it was quite an epic six months. We were pretty constantly on the road and, one of those trips, you can’t plan everything. So, and a three week trip to Troop Cuba, maybe you can plan every day out, but really we planned the first couple of weeks and from there every day was, Okay, where’s tonight, where are we gonna go?
And , it was pretty awesome, the spontaneity of it all.
Claus Lauter: Okay. No, that sounds amazing. Specifically that the kids took the planning in their hand and, came out with a plan to go, and then also keeping in mind, Countries in Europe that is probably more than what the average European has seen in from European countries. I’m just making this up, but I reckon it is.
So, So you saw quite a lot now with you on a bike. There’s only so much stuff that you can take with you. what’s your preparation there? What’s your focus on there?
Ed Gillis: , I like to pack a whole lot of stuff, we start out with me doing the packing. We have a list and, , of course we only have four bike pans each that we can pack onto our bikes. This time the boys had their own bikes, so it was pretty amazing. , for a few years now, we sold those old tandems and they’ve been cycling up, , these big mountainous passes we have in the Yukon, so they’re all ready to go.
but we only had, yeah, only so much weight we could put on. I like to put these big piles and I make a big, big pile of all the things I think we should have with Frisbees and razors and all these other things. And then my wife, Jocelyn, is, she’s the one that, , cuts it all down. So she takes maybe half of the stuff in my pile and puts it away.
And then the rest is what we bring with us. So over the years, , , we’ve replaced a lot of sleeping bags. lightweight sleeping bags and even our travel pillows used to be fluffier than they are now. So we’ve gradually upgraded to some lightweight stuff that we can put in there.
But it is the bear essentials really normally when we’re traveling here in the Yukon, we have to dehydrate food, so we dehydrate food all year round cuz we’re going into the backwoods. But we knew that, , at least for food, we didn’t have to pack a lot this time. So that was pretty good. It’s maybe a couple of changes of clothes and our tents and our, Camp Stove, which is also very tiny.
And yeah, so it turns out that we don’t need, , all that much. Probably the most is all of our bike repair gear. We have pretty much a second bicycle with us, , on there with a derailer and new cogs, new everything, , spokes and cable wires and the whole bit. So that’s probably the heaviest. So that goes on my bike.
Claus Lauter: Okay. Did you take your own bites from Canada to Europe, or how did you do?
Ed Gillis: Yeah, we did. We brought our own bikes. We have, , a couple of surly long haul truckers, my wife and I, and, , our sons have a Kona Rove. And my, , youngest son just has his old road bike that he likes , to bomb around on. All of them have racks on them, and we brought them along, yet we had them biked up at our local bike shop.
, we had some adventures when we had some bike. When they, we got the bike, if we needed to have them boxed and sent from Greece. When we had to fly to Switzerland, we ended up taking them apart and we had no idea how to put them back together because they had unpacked them at the bike shop. , we’re now gonna start boxing, our own bikes, unless we leave town here in Yukon.
, our friends at I here , in Yukon know how to bike pack them exactly the way we want. But, , now I think mostly we’re gonna pack our own boxes because otherwise we did not have, we had no clue. We were riding bikes for two or three days in Switzerland. They’re all wobbling all over the place. We had definitely not put them together properly.
We’re gonna start doing it ourselves so that we only do them very bare minimum of taking them apart to put them in a box.
Claus Lauter: Okay, so I personally have a schedule on different days, like rest days, excursion days, travel days, and whatsoever. How did you schedule that specifically with the kids? How was like a typical week?
Ed Gillis: We scanned it out a little bit. We knew that we were going to be in the neighborhood of 10,000 kilometers, so we planned out how much we wanted to do in a day, and the goal was to do between 80 and 90 kilometers when we biked. And then that would give us a, about a day or so, a week to have off.
And that’s when the kids really got to work. So my oldest son, her really got into. So whenever we were near, especially in France and then even up in Denmark, there’s phenomenal cold water surfing. So he had planned all of those day, week kind of things, , I’d say in those two spots especially to make sure that we had those days off.
And then my youngest son, Sitka, , he’s really into climbing. He’s a real climber. So just outside of Lisbon, for example, he found this massive ropes course. And so we were on that for one of our days off. And then, , we did take, , four days in the Tyro Alps in Shena, I believe Ascena is the name of the town there.
And so we did some A via Ferrata, one of those climbing things where it’s kind of like mountain climbing, but we have harnesses on. So that was his kind of dream, was to do this near the Alps , in Italy. So the boys planned that one day a week.
And of course then their soccer fans as well, we booked a day in Paris and a day in Porto to make sure that we found, , the soccer games at just the right time. So there was a little bit of planning in terms of how we’re gonna plan the soccer games out just right, but otherwise, , about 90 kilometers in a day if, we can.
And then, , trying to find some of those special days off a couple of days at a time for both of their birthdays. birthdays, So they got to pick and they found a little cabin somewhere on the coast of Spain to be able to, do the things that they wanted to do for their days off for their birthday.
So yeah, we just generally left it to them, and actually we had a lot more fun, as I said, than we would’ve probably had otherwise because we wouldn’t have thought to do some of these things with them.
Claus Lauter: That’s a proper life skills for kids. I think there’s nothing better than to do this now when it comes in Europe. Are there differences in the infrastructure for biking or is it generally good? How does that look like?
Ed Gillis: The whole trip was stunningly. Diverse. We’re from Portugal and then into the Alps and into Scandinavia. I mean, everything was different. We found, , in many cases phenomenal bike infrastructure in France, for example, the val up the Atlantic Coast on their West Coast, , was phenomenal.
So it Off road all the time. It was, , paved trails parallel to the road or maybe away from the road and it was on a side road very safe. So it was really amazing infrastructure in France. , little less so in Spain, in Portugal, but, , still stunning because you’re right along the coast anyway, so you don’t mind it.
, once you get into Croatia, Albania on the Adriatic coast. There’s not a lot of infrastructure there, so you’re just following roads. But, , we found even in those situations, the drivers were phenomenal. Even in Spain where they said, Oh, watch out for the drivers, like they were really, really respectful.
And partially maybe they see that there’s children with us, that could be a good part of it. But I think just generally, everybody was really respectful and very curious as to what these people were doing on bicycles, especially in Albania. Which is a country I guess that had been shut off for, decades.
And, , just the curiosity that people had shouting, where are you from, , et cetera, was, pretty awesome. But the best bike infrastructure I think everybody knows is in Scandinavia. So Denmark and Sweden particularly, and Copenhagen is just a phenomenal city. We try to avoid cities because we just get stressed and nervous.
So we prefer to be in the countryside and generally cities have industrial. Land that’s not super great. So we have to, like, on the way into a big city, you’re just miserable for a day and then you enjoy the city and you’re miserable on the way out. But, normally we take a train in and that’s what we would’ve done.
Like in Lisbon for example, took a train in and enjoyed, which is a Lisbon, a phenomenal biking city, but then you have to take a train back out. But Copenhagen was a whole nother. Class like all to itself. It was really phenomenal. You could just hop on your bike and it could be midnight, like with one night.
It was not midnight, but pretty close. It had gotten dark and we were just gliding along the downtown without a care because the bike infrastructure is on the road, but so separated from the road. it’s so smoothly designed. So yeah, , we All sorts of different, experiences with the bike infrastructure, but also where it wasn’t there.
Then you have the spectacular coastline that you had in Croatia, for example, or in Portugal. So yeah, it was a pretty diverse place. It was like having, I don’t know, like eight or nine or 10 different bike trips all at once.
Claus Lauter: Okay. What was the biggest challenge that you had during that?
Ed Gillis: The challenges are kind of what makes it, especially biking as a family. So we decided when we were, just beginning to have, , thinking about having a family that we didn’t want to have, , having kids be the thing that slowed us down.
In fact, having kids has made us more adventurous and got us out more and bonding as a family, I. That bonding comes in. Some of the particular real challenges, and we were, , about 10 kilometers away from our goal. We haded 9,990 kilometers. We were just about to take a train into Oslo and , that morning we woke up and we had to bike maybe 10 kilometers to get to the train to make sure that we had it and earn was maybe five or something cuz we weren’t gonna get to our goal right away.
and then we noticed that. Our back racks, the knob or like the bolt had snapped right off and it was wobbly. We’re like, Oh, okay. That’s not very good. And then as we were going along, , maybe two kilometers in my wife’s chain snapped, like completely snapped. And so we’re like, Oh my goodness, but we have to catch the train in 30 minutes.
And I said to myself, Don’t worry everybody, I’ve got a chain, one of those little chain connectors. Oh yeah. And my son, No, no. My oldest son, Harron, he’s always coming up with a solution too. He said, I’ll just run the bike, Dad. I’ll just run it down the hill. , I’ll ride and then I’ll run it up Eddie Hills.
I’m like, Harrin, don’t worry. I’ve got it. I’ve got it figured out. I’m the dad, I can do this. Sure enough, the chain connector was not the right size, so I spent five or six minutes and I just couldn’t do it. And I was so frustrated and I threw a bit of a hissy fit as even it was embarrassing me.
Even as a dad, I was upset. I was stomping around , and I’m saying words that my children probably shouldn’t hear, and so Harron stepped in. He said, Dad, it’s all right. I’m gonna take it from here. And he took the bike , and he did it. And I don’t know how we did it, but we made it exactly like the train was pulling into the station as we rode around the corner and in and on we got with a broken chain.
And I was still embarrassed and mucky hands with all the stuff. We had lots of challenges, but the best part about it was seeing our kids. Having grown up, it wasn’t so much like we were taking our kids on a trip anymore, it was that we were just riding with our best friends.
Right. And they’re wholly competent. If I was like in a grocery store, being like, Ah, for 30 days in a row I’ve picked this, I’ve been doing grocery shopping, I can’t handle it anymore. And the kids would say, It’s all right, dad, I got it. They would step in. So, it was a neat thing.
All those challenges, we overcome as a family. And normally it had been us trying to calm the kids down and it seemed like, , the rules reversed. This time. The boys have, , really matured into these pretty awesome travelers.
Claus Lauter: Awesome story there. And I understand that you want to inspire other young families to believe in this kind of traveling and this adventurous lifestyle, and you already wrote a book about this. Tell me a little bit more about this.
Ed Gillis: When we first had Heron, we decided we wanted to do traveling. And because his head was too fragile as when you’re under one, you really shouldn’t wear a helmet because your skull is still forming. So we decided to go on a hike, and so we went to the Camino de Santiago in Europe.
So we hiked along there for a. And then did some more hiking in Italy and then ended up in Patagonia in, , South America. And I forget kind of where we were going with that,
At the beginning we started out doing that way, and everybody would always say, I guess, yeah, when we were hiking the Camino, they thought it was so neat that we were traveling with kids and they, like, normally people just stay home.
You should write a book about this. And, , we kept saying, Yes, yes, we should. And so we returned home. But then life gets in the way. You go back to work and you just don’t have time. And so finally after Australia and New Zealand, we kept a blog, , and people, you should write a book outta the blog.
And even still, it took us three or four years before we could put those blogs together and come up with a book. And so finally, before we went to Europe, because I knew for sure I didn’t want. People to see us in Europe and say, You should write a book. And we say, Yeah, I know I should. So this time we went to Europe and I said, I did write a book, it’s called the Oceania Odyssey and it’s available on Amazon.
And we even had little stickers we called our team, Yukon four Explorer is the name of our little group here. There’s four of us. And we even had a little logo made and everything. So we were prepared this time. And yeah, really proud of the book. It’s actually a lot of fun. , we try to, Some tips in there as to what it is that we do, , as family to make things work.
An additional to having the kids plan, the other thing was how you deal with school, I guess, is the big question that a lot of people have. So we try to write a little bit about some of the experiences that we have and how the kids learn while they’re on tour. Our favorite thing in Europe it was called the Desserts of Europe Challenge.
And so the boys, every day we would find a cafe and the boys had to go in and order whatever dessert they wanted in the language of the country that we were. And so it got more difficult once we got to Croatia and Albania . But they were learning, how do you say, one, two, May I have one? Please. Thank you.
In these languages, and so this is them learning languages. They were also helping to be in charge of the. Because if they wanted to go surfing or climbing, we had to save up a bit of money from our daily budget to be able to have some of the extra money to do this. Their math was there. Geography, I’m also a history teacher, so it was pretty constant history all the time to the point where I think they kind of wished that they hadn’t brought me along.
It was pretty phenomenal , in that way as well that’s , the book tries to come up with these, , some of the tips, but also just more, it’s about the funny stories. It’s about what those little moments as a family, whether it’s when Sitka stepped in a huge. Pile cow poop in New Zealand, or when our stove exploded, or even this time like that, story of, towards our end of a trip when all our chains are breaking or moments when we’re rushing and rushing to try to make the ferry, it’s the last ferry.
Like all of these different moments are just so much fun to share these stories. I’ve always been a writer. Like I’ve always been writing for other people. I used to work in Canada’s parliament, writing speeches, et cetera, but I never got to write for me. And so this has been a.
Fun thing for me is just to write funny stories based on experiences I’ve had so really excited about book and still in the midst of kind of converting our European blogs into a book. Hopefully by Christmas we can have our second book out, which is, , really exciting.
Claus Lauter: Now it’s a good way, I think summarize the adventures and what you give back to your kids and at the end of the day, to yourself and your wife, Journey. Every travel, every trip makes for good journeys and it’s long lasting memories. No one can take that away from you. And I think for kids specifically, they become better humans if they start traveling early.
Maybe we are on the same page there.
Ed Gillis: Yeah, absolutely. Yes.
Claus Lauter: Ed, where can people find out more about you?
Ed Gillis: We have , our website is Yukon four Explorer. So Yukon, the number four Explorer Yukon is why U K O N. So Yukon four explorer.com is our blog. It’s got all the information about, , accessing the book, which is available on Amazon as well. And we do have Instagram, although it’s slowed down a little bit, it was every single day.
My wife Jocelyn got really into photo taking and she takes phenomenal photos on Instagram. So every day we would put up our 10 favorites. It’d slow down a little bit every weekend. So this past weekend we were out mountain biking around and the Yukon and the snow. So, once in a while post them up. But there is an Instagram at Yukon for Explorer as well, but mostly it’s the blog.
People can access some more information to tell some more about our.
Claus Lauter: Excellent. I will put the link in the show notes. Then you just one click away. One final question, Is the next plan already in your head
Ed Gillis: I’m just along for the ride close, really, Like my wife and sons are the ones that are, the machinations are behind the scenes, so while I’m doing dishes or while I’m, repairing the bikes, they’re all planning the next trip. So, yeah, we’ve got trips planned for the near future.
It’s harder because as the boys are getting older, we’re worrying a little bit about them needing to stay. For the summer or, boyfriends, girlfriends jobs and things like that. , but however, the next trips are probably gonna closer to home. We really wanna see the, , east coast of Canada.
So we might, , head out there. And then two summers ago we did a trip in the Rocky Mountains. might do a little mini book about that. , but we didn’t get far enough because there were forest fires right in our path. And so we had to turn around and go back up into the rocky Mountains instead of going into British Columbia.
But my wife has a whole bunches of cousins and aunts in bc. So this summer it’s gonna be BC probably, and then we’ll fly out to the east coast of Canada to see Newfoundland. And then the summer after Heron’s surfing, , passion has not eased it all yet, so, the idea is to retrace our honeymoon from, , Vancouver to Tijuana, and then we’re gonna ideally maybe rent , a surf van and go down to the Baja and let him surf for a week or so.
So these are all plans. Yeah. As I say, beyond my control. I don’t come up with the ideas, I just implement them
but it’s good. I’m along for the ride and it’s a pretty sweet ride.
Claus Lauter: Excellent. Cool. Thanks so much. We come to the end of our today’s episode. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your insights. I think it’s very inspiring and I hope to see more people following your path.
Ed Gillis: , yes, definitely on the website. , we’re very happy to answer questions pretty much every day for people asking these little details, so we’re very happy to be in touch with people as well. Thanks, Klaus. This is a lot of fun.
Claus Lauter: thanks. Bye bye.
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