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Days 78 - 86
Day 78. Aug 1. 168 km. Total 6078 km. Montreal!.
Today was a very difficult day of biking but I AM FINALLY OUT OF ONTARIO. Every km seemed to take forever and the day just dragged on. I thought I would never make it to Montreal. I think that it was a case of being so close (1 days bike) away from all my friends and yet still so far (168 km) away. At 80 km I was feeling ready to quit for the day and yet I was not even half way done yet!
From Rockland to Hawkesbury, Hwy 17 was in its usual poor condition, small shoulders that were somewhat cracked but still rideable. Hwy 344 in Quebec was something else all together. The first 10-15 km was highly cracked and broken, reminiscent of Saskatchewan and foreshadowing what I know Quebec roads are like. Even with the crappy road the ride was pleasant as traffic was light and the road meandered along the Ottawa river through cottage country. I'll make a little side-note here. In Quebec people really like their stone and brick instead of wood or vinyl paneling so many houses are just beautiful to look at. I am afraid that I have misplaced my map right now and can't remember the whole route I took so I will just have to fill it in later. Sorry about that.
Now a bit of warning about biking in Montreal. It is a lot of fun to bike through but you have to be careful. The cyclists are crazy, the pedestrians have a death wish and the drivers just don't care. Stop signs are for suggestion only and yellow lights mean hurry up. If you are at the intersection when the light goes red it would be wise to wait a few seconds to let the last few cars run through. Jay walking is a way of life so be prepared for cars stopping to let people cross and watch out for the crazy drivers who stop in the middle of the road to run an errand. In Montreal if you can't find a parking spot it is perfectly acceptable to turn on your four way flashers and stop in the middle of the road to run into a store. I am serious here, they will block an entire lane of traffic doing this and no one honks, they just go around. The funny thing is that with all this disregard of rules, the one I have never seen broken is turning right on a red light which is a big no no in Quebec.
Now you might think that with all this madness that cycling would be really hazardous but I find that it is quite the opposite. The drivers here are quite predictable, they may coast through stop signs and weave through traffic but they are well aware of cyclists. I felt much more worried in small rural towns where you will be at a stop sign and a car who has the right of way waits for you to go. You wait for him because he should go first but after a delay you start to go, then he starts to go, then you both stop. You never know what that other person is going to do and that is much more dangerous than having the car coast through and then you coast through after. Also, being able to run stop signs, ride on sidewalks and weave all over the place does allow you to get around the city much faster <GRIN>.
For those of you who don't know why I know and love Montreal I will explain. Last year I spent 8 months living and working in the city on a school sponsored work term. My time in Montreal last year was, up until now, the highlight of my entire life. Most of my best friends are in Montreal and my experiences here were the original catalyst for this trip. Of all the cities I have visited, if I had to chose one to live in it would be Montreal. The life and character of the city can not be touched, at least in the summer time. The International Jazz Festival, the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival, film festivals and concerts are just some of the things going on and the average night you can walk down St. Catherine's or St. Denis at 2:30 am and there are more people on the street than on Robson St. in Vancouver during the day. The Quebec people are great but unfortunately the government stinks. For a city of 3 million with tourists from all over the world they sure are behind the times. Most of their Metro stations are inaccessible to the elderly or handicapped as they don't have elevators and only some have escalators (usually only one way). Then all the government signs are unilingual French. If there is a service interruption and the bus stop has moved it is only in French. Construction going on? The notice signs will be in French only. This is all extremely frustrating and I think goes to demonstrate the arrogance and narrow mindedness of the government (I will say again that in general I like the people living there). Heck, when I entered Quebec there wasn't even a "Welcome to Quebec" sign. The attitude I get is simply, "We will be happy to take your money but we don't want YOU". ("we" being the government).
Day 79. August 2. 15 km. Total 6093 km. Montreal.
Today was just a nice day off. I lazed around, went to a bike shop for a tune up (McWinnies on Sherbrook, ask for Bruno), got a haircut and then biked around looking at my favorite parts of the city. If you only have a little time to spend in Montreal the must see sights are Notre-Dame Basilica, the top of Mont. Royal and St. Joseph's Oratory. It is also nice walking around the Old Port and around St. Catherine's and St. Denis.
Then for lunch I stopped at my favorite pizza place in the city. Now I am not going to give the name or too many details for fear of being sued but this place is the counterpart of the Seinfield episode about the "Soup Nazi". This place has the best pizza at a ridiculously low price, the cheapest I have seen anywhere. You can buy one slice of pizza for a super low price, a slice plus a pop for a low price or two slices and a pop for a good price. You can't buy 2 slices of pizza for two times the super low price, you have to take the pop too and pay the good price. Following? I tried once to buy one slice, eat it, and go back to get another one. No deal! I was given a slice of pizza PLUS a pop (though that's not what I asked for) and had to pay the higher price. Thus the idea of the pizza nazi and I am not the only one who has seen the parallels. At supper time the line of people can stretch out the door. The person at the counter goes down the line and points his finger at each of about eight people, gets their order and then passes out the pizza and takes the money. If someone hesitates he gets all inpatient and starts pushing them to make a decision. I have heard the regulars refer (quietly) to a new person that it's just like the soup nazi. Hilarious.
Chris and Karen arrived tonight as well so we have a full house. Tomorrow I am going to head to my old place of work and do some typing while Chris and Karen are going to get a tour of the city from Claud, a fellow cross-Canada cyclist that they met cycling in BC and who lives near Montreal.
Day 80. August 3. 0 km. Total 6093 km. Montreal.
I had high hopes for being productive today but it just did not turn out that way. I slept in and then screwed up by heading to catch the bus I used to take to work and then discovering that it only ran at peak hours and I had just missed the last one. I finally got in to work and it had seemed that absolutely nothing had changed, it was as if I had never left. Pretty scary if you think about it. I got about a weeks worth of entries typed up but could not post them because their computers are behind a firewall.
I came home to an awesome party. My friends here go all out when it comes to dinner parties. Last night were quizzed about what we liked. "You like steak? How about corn? Burgers? Ok, we'll need some vegetarian stuff so will make up shish kabobs." She's a whirlwind planning machine and we were a drooling mess by the time she was finished listing what we would be having for dinner. A bunch of friends arrived and we just sat around eating, drinking, and talking until the early hours of the morning. It was just what I needed. There is however, no chance I am getting up at 6:15 am tomorrow to get on the road. I'll be lucky to be up before noon.
Day 81. August 4. 63 km. Total 6156 km. Tracy.
Only 63 km?!? I haven't done such a puny distance like that in a long time. Having a house to stay in really slows us down in getting ready to go. First there is the nice opportunity to have a shower in the morning and then you have to find everything to pack up. In a tent it is easy to keep everything together and when you have everything packed up you just need to look at the ground to see if you have forgotten anything. If there is nothing on the ground you know that it has to be packed somewhere. In a house it is completely different. There are a million and one places that you could have put something down and forgotten about it so packing up becomes a major endeavor. Everything needs to be collected, organized and then repacked before we can leave. The touring CAC book called for us to leave Montreal via the Champlain Bridge but since Chris and Karen had not seen the metro yet I decided that we could take the metro across the river and kill two birds with one stone, show them the subway and get across the river without cycling on any bridges. Well it did not end up being as easy as I thought. Remember how I mentioned how poor the access was to the metro stations? Well trying to carry fully loaded touring bikes down flight after flight of stairs (and me with my trailer), it was not a lot of fun. I had to separate my trailer from my bike and carry each down separately and then Chris and I carried down the bikes. There was one hilarious incident that occurred but I think that you really had to be there to get the full effect. I would have paid a $100 if I could have gotten it on video tape. One of the metro stations had escalators going down and so Chris and I just pushed our bikes on, held the brakes and rode it down. Karen on the other hand had a heck of a time with it. She would get her front wheel on the steps (and it would be turning) and then she would step on but leave the rear wheel on the solid ground. The front wheel would be turning with the steps, she would be shuffling back to try and stay on the top stair while the bike when nowhere. She just could not bring herself to let the whole bike on with her. This went on for about five minutes and by that time she had drawn quite a crowd. I kept asking her to let me do it (pick up front wheel, slide rear wheel onto the same step as you are standing on and just hit the brakes) but she just wanted to do it herself. Finally a guy from the crowd could take no more and went and took the bike from her and rode it down the stairs. I was nearly peeing myself laughing, that made our day but I don't know if I can capture those images in writing.
From Longeau we took St. Charles to Boul. Mary-Victorian which in turn becomes Hwy 132. St. Charles was in poor shape but the Boul. Mary-Victorian had a bike path and Hwy 132 had an excellent paved shoulder.
Remember Claud from yesterday? Well today he was our rate limiting step. We had left the house at 11:00 and were making good time when we arrived at his place around 3:00 in the afternoon. He had invited us over for lunch/supper and like all good cycle tourists we never turn down the offer of a free meal. Steamed mussels, corn on the cob and specialty cheeses for the main course. Raspberries and cream topped with real maple syrup for dessert. By the time we had finished gorging ourselves we could not move without feeling like we would burst and had to just sit around and digest. By the time we left it was 7:00 pm and we had only covered 30 km. With a large storm brewing on the horizon we headed off and made another 35 km before the rain started to fall and we decided that it was too dark to continue. We did not find an ideal camping site, just an empty clearing off of the road, and yet I feel completely secure because I am with friends.
I think that I now know why serious writers tend to go into isolation to write. Since I have hooked up with Chris and Karen I feel that at times the quality and volume of my writing has gone down (and a couple days I have just done point form notes to fill in later) because instead of putting all my thoughts down on paper I have people to discuss it with directly.
Right now I am writing this portion in someone's carport as we sit out a rainstorm. The weatherman was calling for thundershowers in Montreal today and for the last four hours we could see huge black clouds massing to the north but for the morning at least they stayed away from us. Right now we have been caught by the tail end of a storm and have ducked into a yard to wait it out. In this carport we discovered a stocked beer fridge and started joking about how we could explain our presence to the owners should they drive up and see us.
Us: <In English but with a bad French accent>
Uncle Pierre, you are home! We've been waiting for you!
Again, I guess you had to be there but I think it is funny. The rain has passed so we are off again.
10:30 pm. Well here is todays road report. Up to Nicolet we had a nice paved shoulder. We essentially stayed on Hwy 132 all day except for a section around Saint Gregoire. Instead of turning left at the lights and heading toward Trois-Riveres we went straight along a rural road that headed toward Becancour. What luck! The whole road was designated as a bike route and was in great shape. We took the first left and continued to Wolinak where we turned left to Hwy 30/132. This is where the cycling got frustrating. According to the signs on the highway, cyclists were forbidden from riding on Hwy 30 even though that was the only route that we could take AND there was an eight foot wide shoulder! Since there was no other route that we could see we just decided that the signs meant no standing on bicycles on the highway (they had a pedestrian above a picture of a bike) and since we don't do any trick riding we figured that we would be ok. The funny/sad part is that as soon as Hwy 30 ended and cyclists were allowed back on the road, the entire shoulder just disappeared. I mean there was a sign saying "Hwy 30 Fin" and right at the base of it the shoulder stops. So now every single car that was going along Hwy 30 is now on Hwy 132, doing the same speed, with no shoulder and yet NOW they let us cyclists on it. Go figure. It really makes me think that if transportation planners had to ride their routes on bikes we would all have better roads. Later in the day there were also some fair climbs out of ravines that made it a bit challenging.
Tonight we are camped at an amazing rest stop just before Leclercville. We are right on the edge of a cliff overlooking the St. Laurent and as we arrived the sun was setting, lighting up the river and cliffs in a golden glow. I feel sorry for all those people stuck at home on their couches watching TV right now. It was another gourmet supper tonight, rigatoni with a tomato/tuna/salmon/corn/broccoli (a bit of everything sauce) as a main course. For dessert we heated up a huge deep dish apple pie and to wash everything down we had a great micro-brewed beer. (Here in Quebec you can drink in public places as long as you are having a meal).
Well tomorrow Chris, Karen and I part company again at Levis where they will catch the ferry to Quebec City while I will continue on to PEI. I have decided that I am NOT going to drive home with them. Instead of pushing myself and rushing my visit with my relatives I am going to just take my time and see everything that I want too even if it means that I am still on the road well into September.
Well it's going to be another early morning tomorrow so it is off to bed for me.
Day 83. August 6. 112 km. Total 6407 km. Saint
5:15 pm. Right now it is 5:15 pm and I am trying to sit out another rainstorm at a gas station. I am in St. Micheal (~30 km east of Quebec City) and only 3 km from the rest stop where I plan to stay the night. I was going to push on through the drizzling rain but then the sky opened up with a torrential downpour and I had to seek shelter. What happened to all my nice weather. Since day two and up until 3 days ago all I have had to deal with were thunderstorms that would blow over. Now the weather has become cold and overcast with rain on and off all throughout the day. This reminds me of home.
Today at Levis I separated from Chris and Karen for the third and perhaps final time this trip. Now that I have decided not to drive back with them I am not sure if we will meet up again.
Well the rain has died down so I am going to continue on.
8:00 pm. Ok now it is later and I have been at the rest-stop for the past two hours. This rest area is fit for a king! They have running water, cold only :-(, and flush toilets! A first for the trip. To the back, left hand corner there are several trees near a fence so I am completely out of view and feel very secure. I took advantage of the running water in the bathroom and had a full on sponge bath. I cleaned my hair and everything, it felt great to get some of the grime off. The rain has now stopped and it is starting to clear which bodes well for riding tomorrow.
Even with the poor weather, today was a great day for cycling. Hwy 132 had a good shoulder for much of the way and with the road running along the St. Laurent River I had magnificent views of the water and cliffs of the opposite shore. As we approached Quebec City the Laurentian mountain range began to appear to the north adding a fantastic backdrop to the already stunning views. I expect the Maritimes to be something like this but with waves crashing against the beach. I can't wait. We did nearly get ourselves killed at the cloverleaf leading to the bridge to Quebec City. We turned a corner and had to cross 2 lanes of freeway traffic to get to one side. In fighting traffic we caught a glimpse of a sign for Hwy 132 and we had to cross another 3 lanes to follow it. Then we went around yet another bend and crossed another four lanes of traffic and ended up right were we started! Aaaahhhh!!!!! All that for nothing! All three of us were so intent on not getting creamed that we misread the sign and took the wrong turn. To say that was unpleasant would be a huge understatement. On the second attempt we stayed on the left hand side of the highway which turned into a bike lane (after having to cross a busy highway off ramp). Phew, that was close.
With the exception of that little fiasco today I would have to say that overall Quebec is the most bicycle friendly province so far. The roads have tended to be in bad shape but the drivers expect and respect cyclists. I think that the governments position on road repair is let it all go to hell (they don't patch anything, the cracks and potholes are all open) and then in the election year they do a huge blitz of road work. One nice thing is that nearly every town we have passed through has at least some sort of cycling infrastructure and there seems to be a lot of people cycling (with the exception of Ottawa I see three times more cyclists in most Quebec towns anywhere else in Canada). It guess cycling is just a bigger part of their culture.
Speaking of little towns, all the small villages in Quebec are a real joy to cycle through. They all have a very European feel to them with many of the homes finished in stone or brick which lends them the aura of age (and since some of the towns are over 275 years old they really might be). The other neat thing is that no matter how small the town is, they will always have a huge Roman Catholic church, the spire of which can be seen for miles. A testament to the predominant religion of the area in days gone by. And speaking about religious items, the area we are now passing through is very unique in Canada so far. In Ontario people would fill their yards with plastic lawn ornaments and cutouts of animals and Disney characters but here they do something completely different. Here I have been seeing yards with small shrines to the virgin Mary in their garden. I mean small (2 foot tall) statues of the virgin in a cave right in the center of their garden. Other homes have full size (2 meter +) effigies of Christ on the cross set up in their front yard. Whoa, I really did a double take at the first one of those that I saw. Never seen people nailed to a cross in a yard before. Interesting.
Oh well, that's enough for tonight so I am off to bed.
Day 84. August 7. 148 km. Total 6555 km. Saint
1:00 pm. Boy do I ever feel great! I am writing this during lunch in Saint Jean Port Joli after covering 55 km so far. The route up to here has been easy and enjoyable. The road in mainly level and winds its way along the St. Laurent offering fantastic views of the water and the Laurentian Mountains on the north shore. All of the town along here are very picturesque with interesting little areas to explore. It is one such intriguing area that I have stopped in now. Saint Jean Port Joli is a town full of sculptures with all their galleries and displays. I was passing one place called "Sculptures en Jardin" at the west side of town and heard the most wonderful music. Intrigued I stopped to check it out and am I ever glad that I did. The owner has turned his yard into a sculpture gallery with paths winding through the trees and flower gardens leading to each sculpture and in the background he has the most wonderful orchestral music setting the mood. It was all so charming that I had to stop for lunch (apples and cheese, how appropriate). So here I am, sitting in the shade with a view of the St. Laurent and Laurentians while surrounded by the perfumed scents of the flower garden and uplifting music in the background. Se magnifique! I must say it again, the tourists I can hear whipping by on the highway have no idea just what they are missing.
8:00 pm. "The Knock" is successful again although with somewhat diluted results. I was planning on sleeping in a rest area near Saint Andre tonight but when I got there it was a private campground. Since I have vowed never to pay for camping again on this trip I decided to push on too the next rest area about 15 km further. Well I had only gone 5 km further when I decided that I was too tired and hungry to continue and had to stop. I pulled in behind an abandoned barn and started to set up camp while being pestered by mosquitoes. Then I thought to myself, "Trevor, you are an idiot!" Why camp with all the mosquitoes and no water when there are plenty of yards nearby? Now it is times like these that I really, really wished that I had more than grade 8 French but I headed for the closest door any ways
Well even with my utter butchery of the language the idea got across and he let me camp in his yard. Excellent! "The Knock" (Tm) works in more than one language.
I will continue the road report from where I left off earlier. From Saint Jean Port Joli it got quite a bit hillier and there were some fair climbs but around Ouelle it leveled back out. The scenery between these two town was not as nice as what came before and after, just boring, same old farmland. After Ouelle the truly scenic farmland returned. Now I guess in an car you may find it hard to distinguish regular farmland from "scenic" farmland but on a bike it is quite obvious. Boring farms just look like farms you could see anywhere. Scenic farms have something different to offer the eyes. At the start of the day the farms were scenic because they were rolling and nestled between large hills to the south and the St. Laurent to the north. After Ouelle the farms were flat but still scenic because the plains were broken up by huge rocky hills that seemed to erupt from the earth. It was also really interesting to be able to see the church steeple of the next town just as you leave the city limits of another. This is in contrast to Ontario where there were sections where the towns were 150 km apart.
Speaking of farms, I had an eureka moment just now. All through Quebec I have thought that the cows here were just really stupid, I can't get any reaction from them when mooing at them. Then it hit me, I am mooing in English and they can't understand me. Now I wonder how you say moo in French?
On that note I will leave you for the night. Cya.
Well I WAS done but I have something to add. You know what I really hate? When you are just about asleep and then you look up and see a big, black, six legged shape crawling along the inside of your tent only 2 feet from your face. I don't know how these huge spiders keep getting into my tent but this has happened to me the past few nights. Now don't get me wrong I'm not afraid of spiders, I just don't like sleeping with them.
Day 85. August 8. 120 km. Total 6675 km. Bic.
Well enough of a break, I have stopped shaking from fear now and it is time to get back on the road. What good is adrenaline if you don't use it?
7:30 pm. What a camping spot. This view is enough to be worth nearly getting killed a couple of times over. First with the continuation of the road report. As expected the shoulder disappeared 200 meters down the road only too reappear near St. Fabien sur Mer. The shoulder then remained until where Hwy 132 and Hwy 20 split again, Hwy 20 keeps the shoulder (but no bikes allowed) while Hwy 132 loses the shoulder and gets all cracked but is called "Route Touristique". Oh goody, that lets them let the road go to hell in a handbasket because they know most of the traffic will stay on the #20. All this garbage was worth it when I found my camping site. Biking with Chris and Karen has taught me that although knocking on doors is easy and you can get food and showers, you are likely to miss out on the most scenic places. Being in someone's back yard just doesn't cut it. Around Bic I started to get tired so I began looking for a place to set up camp. After a couple of dead ends I saw a promising site, a construction road leading up into the bush on the St. Laurent side of the road. Intrigued I explored. It looks like they are clearing the area for building a house (probably a million dollar one) and the view of the water is outstanding. So that is where I am now, set up just on the other side of a shale berm out of sight of the road. The only downside to this spot is the fact that the ground is all shale and I can't get my tent pegs in to set it up. I had to use rocks to hold everything and in a good wind my tent will probably fall down. As soon as I get home I am buying a free-standing tent and to heck with these pegs.
I learned something else today. Along my trip people often ask me if I ever get lonely traveling by myself. I would answer that no, I was never lonely because whenever I wanted company I just had to knock on a door and meet some completely new people. Well that all changed in Quebec. I did not notice it earlier because I was with Chris and Karen but now that I am alone I do. It IS lonely when you can't speak to anyone because of different languages. Today was really rough. The horrible road, crappy weather and loneliness had put me into a deep depression. Then like a ray of sunshine I met HER. I was in Trois Pistoles shopping for some groceries when a salesclerk came up and asked me (in French) how I was. Now I know just a smidgen of French so when I answered in French she started rambling on and I had to stop her and say that I only knew enough French to get me in trouble. "That's all you really need.", she said. "SHE SPEAKS ENGLISH!!!!" I shouted to myself. Finally I had someone I could talk to! I felt like a man lost in the desert, who after days of drought finds a cool oasis of water and I jumped headfirst into a conversation with her. She was really interested in my journey and impressed that I had made it this far (my ego at this point had swelled past the bounds of my head and was moving skyward). She said that she had always wanted to do something like that and we talked for 15 minutes before she had to return to work and I had to get back to biking. I walked out of the store on cloud nine. I tell you, it was a close call. A pretty face, beautiful smile and an intriguing personality, if I had stuck around much longer I think I would have been a goner. You could have just slapped a Fleure de Lis on my arm, a plate of poutine in front of me and started calling me Jean Pierre, I would never have left Quebec. Come on man! She speaks English, is gorgeous and LIKES cycling! What more could one ask for?
On that note it's off to bed. Pleasant dreams all.
Day 86. August 9. 130 km. Total 6805 km. Lac
Hwy 132 through the town of Rimouski is a complete nightmare. It is even worse than the roads through Saskatchewan. Heck, I have been on better dirt roads. It would not be so bad if I could at least dodge the holes but with the heavy traffic I can't move around and then, with the heavy rain, I can't even judge if it is simply a normal puddle or a two feet deep bike eater. It was so bad that the vibrations shook loose one of the clips that attach my trailer to my bike so when I stopped the trailer tipped over and bent the attachment hook. Good thing that I have been thinking ahead, I had a spare clip and after bending the hook back into shape with my wrench, I was back on the road.
8:30 pm. Another magnificent end to an otherwise poor day. To celebrate my last night in Quebec I bought a great micro-brewed beer called "La fin du la monde", the end of the world. How appropriate. I am leaving Quebec which to most Quebecois is their whole world and I drank it while watching the death of another day after offering a toast to the most ancient artist still turning out breathtaking sunsets after all these years. Again I have chosen to forgo The Knock in favor of bush camping and I am glad that I did (I don't really need a shower, I made use of the hot water in a tourist center washroom today. I wonder what the next person in the washroom thought about the bare footprints on the floor?). I pulled off the road about 10 km from Amqui and I am camped on the beach of Lac au Saumon slowly being lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves on the shore (and the beer).
The Hwy 132 from Rimouski was better than yesterday. To St Flavie, more of the road had a shoulder than not. Then heading east at Mont Joli the amount of traffic decreased and there was a lot of shoulder until Sayabec. There were really only three big hills worth mentioning. Well there was a small one into Mont Joli but then a larger, terraced one out of Mont Joli followed by a long descent. About 10 km further there was a good 8% climb and then one more big hill entering Saint Moise. Then in-between and after these hills the road was level or downhill. (Caveat: I had a 30 kph tailwind so at least it felt level or downhill to me, your mileage may vary.)
Tomorrow I will be in New Brunswick and I am really
looking forward to it. The Maritimes at last! I can nearly smell the Atlantic