Canadian Consulting Engineer

Cycling DiBattista

May 1, 2011
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Jeff DiBattista, P.Eng. is a principal in DIALOG, working from the Edmonton office, and he is current president of Consulting Engineers of Alberta.

Jeff DiBattista, P.Eng. is a principal in DIALOG, working from the Edmonton office, and he is current president of Consulting Engineers of Alberta.

Between June and August last year he cycled coast to coast across Canada accompanied by his family – wife Traci, and children Alyssa and Nick – who travelled along with him by vehicle. Jeff made the trip for the family experience and to raise funds for cancer research, totalling over $40,000. At age 40, however, he also says that taking the challenge “could have been part of my mid-life crisis.”

Q. You cycled about 100 kilometres a day?

Yes, roughly. It was a little tiring but not exhausting. Many days I’d be wrapped up by 2.30 in the afternoon and my family and I could spend the rest of the day exploring whichever little town or city that we happened to be in.

Q. Was it dangerous?

About two-thirds of the trip I was either on secondary highways or on highways that were in pretty good shape with a wide paved shoulder.

But there were about 2,000 kilometres of road where the shoulders aren’t paved that weren’t very fun. I was riding a cross bike, more like a racing bike than a mountain bike, so I couldn’t ride on gravel. It meant that I was unpleasantly close to some trucks, particularly on the Trans-Canada through northern Ontario.

Even Highway 16 heading into Saskatoon – the northern TransCanada through Alberta and Saskatchewan – is in great shape until you get about 30 kilometres outside Saskatoon. Then the road just falls apart and the shoulders aren’t paved. So you are out there playing chicken with transport trucks.

Q. What was your favourite place?

I have been struggling to answer that question. The different places we visited, I gave each of them mentally what we can call an “interestingness score.” I stole that term from the Flickr website. I would say the interestingness is the sum total of the cultural, the historic, the physical geography, the urban fabric. When you wrap all that stuff up together I found Newfoundland and St. John’s extremely interesting. The physical geography is very different from the rest of Canada. The language is a bit different. The food is different. So I really enjoyed it.

Q. Did you socialize with the locals on the trip?

Oh yes. We stopped in a lot of small towns, lots of places with populations of a few hundred, or maybe a thousand. These communities have tried to reinvent themselves as their young people have moved away, or the highway bypassed the town, or the mine closed. They all face similar challenges and are all trying to find ways to sustain themselves.

Q. Did you see any striking examples of engineering?

The province that probably surprised me the most as an interesting place to ride was New Brunswick. About a decade ago New Brunswick built a new trans-Canada highway and left behind the old highways that follow the St. John River. The St. John is a pretty big river and it has bridges all the way down because both sides have been inhabited for 100 or 200, maybe more, years. The bridges are absolutely fabulous if you are a structural engineer as I am – truss bridges, concrete arch bridges, wooden covered bridges. It’s quite a lovely bicycle ride along highways that are almost deserted. So as an engineer I highly recommend that one. It’s very cool. cce


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