#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.

#23: roadside Jesus

“Find Jesus, then take the second right”.

These were the barmaid’s directions to a free beach-side camp spot. When so much of the route is long stretches on turn-free roads, directions become a lot more succinct.

The evening was soggy, with a downpour outside where our bikes and currently unfound campsite were, but not inside the cosy microbrewery where we were enjoying a pitcher of thick stout. Beer always tastes better when you’re sheltered from the weather; but slightly less so when the forecast foretells an inevitable soaking on the way to, and while setting up, camp.

There was no waiting this one out, so we set off. 6km back toward Kamouraska and into the gloom, with only a wooden statue of Jesus – one of hundreds scattered around Québec – to guide our way.

The change in weather was impressive. Before the torrent and the cold arrived we’d spent the day “comfortably topless”, as Alex put it. On the way to camp we were in full waterproofs and warm layers, but riding through occasional pockets of air that were 5-10° warmer than the rest – a sensation I’ve never experienced before.

But the forecast also foretold a dry and sunny tomorrow morning, so we held out hope for the cosy smugness of being in a well pitched tent, knowing we’d be dry tomorrow regardless of what nature threw at us during the night.

The morning brought sun for drying tents and clothes, and wind perfectly directioned for blowing us along our route.

Another reminder that tribulations and sogginess are temporary.


#22: all the half-ways gone

There was a weird sense of finality riding into Quebec City.

When Alex and I toured in 2013, it was the end of our ride. Despite having 1300 miles left to ride, some part of my brain feels the same this time.

After arriving at the ferry terminal, purchasing our tickets and reminiscing on the first two months and 3200 miles of the tour over a couple of pints and a(nother) poutine, Kristian and I took our bikes on board and crossed the St Lawrence river to the oldest city skyline in North America. The distinctive Old Town with 400 year old buildings lines the shore; imposing and attractive buildings above offset those below with a different type of grandeur. Definitely a fitting city to end in – aesthetically and in character.

Earlier in the day Sylvie had said to Kristian that “it’s only a month left now”, and he said hearing it like that made it feel more like a countdown to the end. I sort of agree.

We’ve passed all the half-way points I can think of: longitudinal, just after Winnipeg; planned miles, redundant after the first variation in the route; actual miles, a number and location we won’t know until the end; time-zone, when we’re half way back to UK time; calendar, this was 2nd August; opposite tourer, when we bumped into our first west-bound coast-to-coast cyclist; the Atlantic Watershed, just before Shabaqua, after which rivers flow to the Atlantic rather than the Pacific, .

(Perhaps the only one we haven’t crossed is half way, as the crow flies, between Vancouver and London. According to an online calculator for that, that point is somewhere near Greenland).

The feeling is compounded by only having ridden three days in the past ten, too. A result of bunching up our rest days for Montreal and Quebec City. So much time off the saddle tricks you: miles, place names and bike sensations get replaced with relaxation, errands, and general hanging out.

But it is only a trick. We still have four provinces left to ride through, and they’re the four that I’ve become most excited about. Partly because they’re reportedly quite different from the rest of Canada, partly because the pictures painted by my mind of what to expect in them have have the longest to mature.

Tomorrow we get back on the saddles and back, properly, on the road. The pace will be more relaxed. Rest days will be scattered more evenly, rather than 30 consecutive days then 7 rest days in a 10 day period. Alex will be with us too, which for us all is by far the most exciting development despite only getting a one sentence mention at the end of this post.

And the next time we feel a sense of finality, it will probably be less of a trick.

#21: Anatomy of a rest day

On this blog I want to convey the parts of cycle touring that you can’t find on Google. Hence why I rarely write about the constant beautiful landscapes, and why today’s post is about “rest” days: the  misleadingly named days when tasks and chores and errands that accumulate on the road must be done in a frenzied burst of productive activity!

Today (four coffees were peppered throughout these activities):

Wake up around 9.30. Shower, croissant, conversation.

Work 2 hours on the balcony: freelance contracts.

Think about hare-brained schemes for future employment and try to figure out their relative levels of viability and practicality. Feel excited and daunted. Hash out prospective initial plans.

Eat tomato and coleslaw sandwiches for lunch.

Bring accounts up to date. Kristian and I are aiming to spend less than $40 a day, and we track purchases and running totals. We’re both currently below budget, he by more than I.

Work 2 hours on the sofa: freelance contracts.

Look at the phone. Consider phoning one of the three people I’ve lined up interviews with for the Other People’s Adventures series.

Jot down questions for these interviews instead. Negotiate with myself that now’s not the best time to call, for no particularly convincing reason.

Work an hour according to prospective scheme plans that were hashed out earlier.

Clip toenails, trim facial hair. The ablutions requiring specialist tools we no longer carry (after they were sent to landfill).

Look in the mirror and laugh at the new facial hair arrangement: two month’s worth of moustache, offset with one millimetre of beard.

Unpack and repack all bags to check they’re ready to go on Monday, and to remind myself of any tasks that need doing. It’s amazing how quickly you forget tasks that felt pressing on the road.

Tasks accrued and completed:

  • Charge devices
  • Write postcards
  • Archive unnecessary maps
  • Take pictures of gear for article I’m writing, take photos off of SD card
  • Rejig contents of buried bag of stuff that never gets used: remove extra layers and put them in clothes bag for upcoming cooler provinces, put headphones and finished books in their place
  • Hang all parts of sleeping set-up to air out. Realise why footprint comes in separate bag (because it gets wetter and stays damper than other parts); resolve to keep it in its separate bag from now on
  • Throw out things which have become useless: old inner tubes with more punctures than is worth fixing, the one ear plug without a partner, pen lids whose pens were lost long ago
  • Put various bits that have found their way into the wrong bags back into their rightful places
  • Laundry
  • Wash up pots and pans

Feel refreshed by restoration of “a place for everything and everything in its place”.

Feel empowered by a re-streamlined set-up.

Feel allowed to relax for the remaining two rest days.

Write and publish this blog post.

Go to watch the free Cirque du Soleil show in Quebec City.