Cycling across Europe painting cows

Sarah Hillock
Photo by Brian James Williams

Part adventure, part fundraising effort for local artist-run gallery Eastern Edge, Hillock is headed to Italy with a bike and a trailer with an easel strapped on. She plans to ride her bike 2700km across the continent.

Where do you plan to go on your European bike tour?
I’m going from Rome through Florence, and up to the Hall of Bulls. That’s where the first ever drawings that man created are, and they’re of bulls. Since I paint cows, it’s pretty much perfect. Then I’m going to Paris, and to the Netherlands, and then to Glasgow.

How long do you think it will take?
I’ll be painting along the way, so I’ve given myself two, two and a half months.

Why have you chosen to do this by bike?
Well, first I really enjoy biking. Tourism caters to your need for exploration and adventure and experience, but it’s also fairly destructive in that it encourages things like fuel consumption through lots of driving and flying. I figure that if I bike, it will even out. Hopefully people will see me or hear about me and think, “hey, that’s a great idea.”

What sort of equipment are you going to use?
I’m taking a bike and a BOB trailer. My boyfriend is going with me as a fundraiser for pharmacy students, he’s a prof at MUN. He’s got a fancy new touring bike, but I’m just using my old courier bike. It’s a road bike—a Frankenbike—put together from various other bikes that’s I’ve had. I took a crank from here, brakes from there.

Does your bike have a name?
Cosmo. [laughs]

Do you bike a lot here in St John’s?
A fair amount… but I don’t bike here as much as I should or as much I’d like to.

Why not?
Good question. Well, for one thing, I live and work downtown, so it only takes me a few minutes to get to my job. Also, people are not as aware or used to cyclists on the roads here, and that makes it more dangerous than it has to be. It’s not their fault, they just haven’t had the exposure. And part of it is being in good enough shape to take the hills. Newfoundland is a great training ground! Olympic athletes could totally come here and train!

I have ridden out of the city quite a bit. My favorite rides..well, it’s a toss-up between Bell Island and Bay Bulls or Witless Bay. Or out to Lester’s, that’s a great ride.

The Bay Bulls/Witless Bay direction is great, though. My friend Jen is kayaking around the Avalon this summer and she’s planned it all out so that she knows approximately when and where she’ll be. So when I get back, I’m going to bike out and meet her, maybe at LaManche.

So your bike fills a lot of roles for you.
Yeah. It’s primary use is professional, or commuting, but I’ll be using for tourism and also as a mobile artists’ residence, in a way.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about cycling in St. John’s?
That it’s hard! Like anything, it takes momentum. All you have to do is keep pedaling. In fact, it’s easier than walking, you get to glide down hills. If you learn how to do it right, you can do it for the rest of your life. It won’t hurt your knees or your legs or anything if you learn about the proper techniques and tension.

Also, people think that it’s dirty. But there are all kinds of equipment to avoid the grease. You can tuck your pants into gaiters, you can get good rain gear, that kind of thing.

Sarah is asking the public to support Eastern Edge Gallery by donating one penny for every km she rides. You can follow her progress across Europe on her blog at