#28: the fish and chips of human kindness

A rigmarole-ridden day, topped off with Rick and Morty & a fish and chip supper in a private games and sauna room.

The rigmarole:

Kristian left his wallet with our passports in the Dancing Moose Diner, and didn’t realise until 10 miles down the road. A full kit inspection confirmed it was left behind and not just put in the wrong place, so we called the diner from an art gallery near where we’d stopped. (Note: this post is not begrudging him! It’s an easy mistake that could happen to anyone)

The diner was closed: no answer.

Kristian considered cycling back, a 2 hour round trip; Alex and I considered logistics for where we should wait (ideally somewhere with wifi so we could keep in touch, and beer so we could keep entertained). While planning, Penny the art gallery proprietor came out and said she’d rung one of the diner’s neighbours and ask them to check for the wallet. “If they find it, they’ll drive it down”.

A few minutes later they’d found it, and drove it down.

We showered them with gratitude and, reunited with our passports, allowed ourselves to consider the more enormous rigmarole we’d have had to navigate if our passports were lost. Presumably involving going to the embassy in Ottawa at huge expense, Kristian missing his flight and having to book another one at huge expense, me having to fly home from Ottawa at huge expense, and George and Chris Cave having to relocate their holidays from Newfoundland to Ottawa at huge expense.

The ringing an finding and driving also reminded us for the millionth time of the kindness of Canadians and humans in general.

Penny then enlightened us with information on the nearby ferry (“running”), campsites (“several”) and groceries (“none”) while we browsed her excellent art gallery.

The games and sauna room:

Our ride onward from Penny’s was buoyed by success and back-dropped by authentic maritime landscapes (and authentic maritime drizzle). The tiny two minute ferry crossing dropped us next to a fish and chip shack decorated with all sorts of colourful nautical memorabilia, which promised “the best fish and chips in the world”.

An incredibly bold claim, especially aimed at three British lads.

Another brief rigmarole followed to get cash from a nearby campsite (“you can pay by phone or email too, if you have a Canadian bank card..!”). The owner had closed office for the day and retreated to her RV, so we knocked and checked in late, peppering her with supplementary questions in the process (“can we get cash back? can we use the sauna? can we use the games room after hours if we’re super careful?”).

Thankfully she was another kind and wonderful lady who answered yes to all the questions, allowing us warm dry and well lit sanctuary to enjoy our food and finally hide from the day (and week’s) unrelenting drizzle.

The simple things (takeaway, telly, warm sauna-bench wood against your buttocks) feel so much more comfortable, delicious and appreciated after you and all your possessions have been aggressively dampened for a whole day.

#27: release the hounds

Go go go go go go go!

Never a good thing to hear while you’re riding, less so when you recently passed a sign saying “YES, this dog bites!“.

My brain immediately made the connection between Alex’s warning and the sign, but my eyes wanted to see for themselves. So I turned around to see a big brown dog charging after us, spittle flying enthusiastically from its open mouth.

Frantic pedalling followed. At the time my chain was worn so attempts to accelerate hard were met by a series of horrific crunches and lurches. Slower attempts at acceleration felt comically ineffective as Alex and Kristian pulled ahead.

But not too far ahead.

We discussed afterwards the interesting sensation of wanting to get away, but not too fast that you abandon your friends to a barky, bitey fate. Everyone wants to be furthest ahead and away from the wanting mouth, but close enough to demonstrate solidarity and help with counterattacks if biting does commence. A tricky balance.

The dog was easily outrun and, on reflection, it never barked and wagged its tail the whole time it was chasing us. If it wasn’t for the propaganda sign the situation may not have felt particularly threatening.

But a good simulation nonetheless of the mental process that would take place if something more vicious (bear, cougar, pitchfork mob, angry dog) were to chase us.

(We’ve been barked at a lot on the trip, but usually by dogs who are tied to a stick or a porch or some similarly sturdy structure that prevents them from actually attacking anyone until they’re within trespassing distance. One small but zealous pug tried so hard to get us that he yanked himself into an impressive backflip when his rope reached full tautness. He was up again in a split second and never stopped barking the whole time.)

#26: highlights

We get asked questions on the theme of “what’s been the best bit?” quite often.

Screening 79 days for standout moments on demand creates a lot of pressure, and usually draws a mental blank followed by a lacklustre “it’s all been amazing!”.

I thought about it in my tent one night, and all the best moments I can think of revolve around water, usually sitting above it on some wooden structure.

Floating in the canoe under the stars at Lake Catastrophe.

Slightly more intensely, being dragged behind a speedboat on a rubber ring.

Laying on the jetty at the campsite just past Mont Joli.

Walking to the end of the boat launch at Algoma Mills with Victor and Jo, to look at the moon shining over the red hut.

Watching the sky cycle through a palette of every colour at Grand-Anse, then being woken up by the sunrise shining through my tent door the next morning.

Sitting on the beach at Fundy Bay contemplating the enormous tides and watching the clouds create gaps for the moon to shine through, then looking at the reflections of the moon on the water.

Most of these moments were soundtracked by upbeat but melancholy music (this and this being favourites) – a vibe Kristian and I have both been enjoying.

There’s something about water that makes it the perfect backdrop for memorable moments. The tranquillity and stillness allow quiet reflection, and there is enough sound and motion to be watchable but not distracting.

Maybe the only thing more mesmerising to watch is a camp fire.

#25: maritime time

The St Lawrence river bisects the north and south parts of Quebec, and the Laurentide Mountains were a wavy blue silhouette, comfortably on the other side to where we were riding.

But the horizon on our side began to bulge ominously as we approached the Appalachians. At first occasional glimpses of foothills, then slow climbs to altitudes that hinted at what the range is capable of, then potentially enormous climbs in the following couple of days (none of us had looked at elevation profiles or contour lines, so we didn’t know what to expect).

In the end there were no enormous climbs. Just winding roads through forest and alongside river that brought to mind roads we’d ridden thousands of miles ago.

Kristian and I entered Ontario on July 14th, and have been riding in Ontario and Quebec since. Arriving in New Brunswick capped off 6 weeks in just 2 provinces. For comparison, we ticked of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in just shy of 4 weeks, and have just shy of 3 to ride New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland

The upcoming four promise something completely different to the Canada we’ve seen so far: we’ve left behind ice-capped mountains, long flat prairies, forested and undulating lake shores, imposing escarpments, and the extended urban sprawl approaching the biggest cities we’ll see. The stereotype-heavy mental image I’ve built of the Maritimes involves sou’westers, galoches, rickety painted rowboats, flagons of ale, bar room brawls and seagulls.

I spoke to a lady on the section of road leading us from Quebec to New Brunswick. She paused for breath (or maybe dramatic effect) after saying “this road could be anywhere in…”

My mind filled the gap with “British Columbia”, but she actually said “the Maritimes” which was surprising. Trees feature somewhere in my mental image, but for some reason I’d confined thick forests to the Canada west of these provinces.

So far New Brunswick, the first Maritime province, has been sleepy and mellow, and populated by uniformly pleasant people. The aesthetic and atmosphere reminds me slightly of the Isle of Wight.

We’ve ridden through towns adorned with Acadian flags, another French Canadian community with as much pride as the Quebecois – although seemingly slightly more subdued. Lobster traps, stylised lighthouses and nautically themed gnomes and figurines dot the province, creating an aesthetic satisfactorily close to the stereotypical one I’d imagined.

Five of our seven nights here have been spent on or very near to the sea, with three nights spent on our own secluded sections of beach. Conversations about our ride have felt more maritime (“We’ve ridden from Vancouver”, “whew! Is that right? Eat sardines!”). The weather is getting colder. Leaves are turning yellow on the trees.

Autumn is approaching to end the summer of our ride.

#24: Epicurus

“I’ll just grab some hummus”, said Alex as he walked into the store.

“The rich man’s peanut butter and jam”, Kristian and I decided wittily.

A self-proclaimed Epicurean, Alex’s tastes become apparent as he enjoys fruits de mer with olives and cheese for dinner, while we eat plain boiled rice and fried eggs. Our dinner is a mix of tour tradition, budgetary circumstance and simplicity (read: saving time and washing up, read: laziness). His is acquired from three separate independent local stores in Kamouraska.

The smoked eel comes from one fumoir (a smokehouse) and the smoked herring and pickled mussels from another, because the first’s were not up to scratch. The hummus, olives and cheese are from the déppaneur.

We agreed early on that we wouldn’t force Alex to eat food with the highest calories for the lowest price and effort, if he didn’t try to force us to eat campsite haute cuisine each night. This results in complex accounting after each supermarket visit becoming necessary, as various items on the same receipt are split two or three ways.

During his first few days riding with us though, things already begin to approach a happy medium: flavour in porridge becomes compulsory, and Alex agrees to eat it. Rice and eggs are allowed to remain on the menu, but are supplemented with a makeshift spice rack of cumin, chilli flakes, and curry and garlic powders. Compromises meaning that on day 4 we all share chilli burritos – a dinner somewhere in between the ones mentioned previously – rather than eyeing each other suspiciously over wildly different plates.

Any efforts to change the institution that is peanut butter and jam sandwiches, though, will be met with fierce resistance.