A Tale of Two Cities

A bike tour has no ideal. There is no way in which it is supposed to unfold, and there are no things that must happen for it to be considered a “bike touring experience.” This is something which I think I am slowly coming to terms with, especially as I enter and exit bigger cities.

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Quebec’s tourism industry is thriving, and I found it a bit overwhelming trying to decide what my “must do’s” of this stop were. Thankfully, the weather was awful for my entire visit, and so I was forced to improvise, and improvisation is wonderful.

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Nearly every day I spent with my friend and her family started like this:

Eventually, we would decide to do something, and as the four days I spent there unfolded, I fell in love with the randomness.

I snuck into the upper floors of Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. This was silly, but so much fun. I love the idea of getting lost inside big buildings. There’s adventure in it, and attempting to navigate the convoluted logic of hotel labyrinths brings a childlike sense of wonder to the ceremonious and dressed up architecture.

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I sat in a car and listened to the heavy rain. I could do this for hours. It’s no secret that I love the rain, but I especially love it from the confines of an impromptu fortress. It’s incessant rapping becomes as comforting as a heartbeat, and its consistency like that of an old friend. Rain would be the perfect weather if it wasn’t so wet.

It can be really hard to write about staying in a city. When on the move, there’s the constant change of scenery, and events are so matter-of-fact that the trip practically writes itself. I cherished my time in QC, but for so many reasons that I can’t put into words. Everything would seem so mundane and trivial, and I can’t betray my affection for my memories by trying to extract every last detail from them.

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After many goodbyes and sincere promises for future reconnections, I was on my way again towards Trois-Rivières. This time, I switched to the north side of the river onto highway 132, as it’d been recommended as the more scenic route. However, it quickly moved inland enough to put the St Lawrence out of view, and I took the first opportunity I could to get a bit closer by one of the many side roads along the shore. Some words of caution: when you see a road zig-zagging on a map, there’s a good chance that it indicates steep hills, and on one of my scenic detours, I encountered my first (and hopefully last) 26% grade climb, 10% more than anything I’d seen up to that point. Exhausting.

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True to form, the northern road was a treat, being mostly flat (save for that easily avoidable nonsense at the beginning) and relatively free of traffic. I encountered mostly beautiful farmland on the stretch between Quebec City and Trois-Rivières. The 125km day passed by uneventfully, but the relaxed cycling allowed the expansive and serene landscape to fill my heart as I reflected on the many great moments I had in QC.

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A friend of mine in St John’s gave me a connection in T-R, and so I spent the night in a comfortable bed, my fifth night in such comfortable accommodations. The couple I stayed with were very kind, and fed me generously. They also packed a lunch for me the next day! This gesture stuck with me; for a brief moment, I felt like a young boy heading off to school, not a grown man travelling across the continent.

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I had made a warmshowers connection in Laval – just above Montreal – and I headed off late the next morning optimistic about making the next 150km stretch in a day. The wind had other plans for me, though, and by the 85km mark, I was spent, and I started surveyed the sides of the road for a suitable camping spot.

I ran into a couple of gals who were just heading out from Montreal on a 3 month tour of Quebec! They had impressive bikes, and I asked them far too many questions about their gear. We ended up camping together behind some hedges on some nicely trimmed lawn in Berthierville, and as I viewed our site from a distance to see just how visible we were, I was glad that for the colour our tents.

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Kept lawns and tended to hedges meant that we had to get moving quite early, as we knew that it wouldn’t be long before maintenance staff started rolling in. Sure enough, as we prepared breakfast across the road, we saw vehicle after vehicle enter the large gardens. If we were slightly lazier, we surely would have been spotted.

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After breakfast, we went our separate ways, and I headed towards Montreal in no particular hurry, since the day had barely even begun, and I had a mere 85km until my destination. The weather was restless, and I couldn’t decide just how waterproof I wanted to be. All of its indecisiveness vanished as I entered the giant island of Montreal, though, and conditions were generally wet and miserable for the final 25km of riding. Nearly all of the roads had designated bike paths, but their conditions were quite rough, and I spent plenty of time and energy dodging the numerous potholes and cracks.

I finally arrived in Laval and connected with my host family, who lived just across the bridge from Montreal. They’re a family of four who’ve done some big bike touring, and it was great to talk about our many common experiences while on (or off) the road. I declared that I would bake cookies for them in appreciation of their hospitality. However, that is a skill that has seemingly been sacrificed in the service of my tour; I’m happy to report that no one was harmed in the consumption of those “cookies.”

Montreal has been an significantly different experience than Quebec City. Due mostly to ominous forecasts, I’ve spent four days here, as in QC. That’s where the parallels end, though. To be honest, I’ve felt the sheer size of Montreal to be quite overwhelming. I don’t think I’d ever want to live in a big city. I feel too insignificant. I guess on some scale, we’re all insignificant, but it’s nice not to be reminded of it all the time. I found that the constant streams of unfamiliar faces left me feeling a bit isolated.

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I must have walked 20km on my first day in Montreal, with no less than 5 of those km being to try a true Montreal-style bagel. Definitely worth it. In fact, I was impressed with every restaurant I tried. A friend of mine connected me with some local peeps on Thursday, and I took my bike out on the town to find them. Carting my bike around with me as we went around the more populated areas renewed some of the charm of being a bike tourist. The bike, even unladen, was often a conversation piece, and I’m sure I was wearing a big silly grin whenever I had the opportunity to go into the details of my journey.

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Itching to dance, I got out to take some swing classes on Friday, down at a highly recommended place called Cat’s Corner. So much fun! The entire place was a sweaty mess due to the high heat and humidity, but no one cared.

My host family has been incredibly generous and flexible with their time, as my departure date has changed twice now, but tomorrow, I will head off towards Ottawa, no matter what the conditions. The desire to move is strong, and I can’t wait to be on the road again. Hopefully the skies have purged themselves sufficiently enough to give me a relatively fuss-free trip, but the frequent spectacular thunder and lightning storms during the last couple of days have assured me that, even if the conditions are less than ideal, I’ll have something cool to look at.

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On the last night of my stay in Laval, another warmshowers bike tourist showed up! Martin is from Switzlerland, and he just finished biking up from New York City. It’s quite funny that we’re both at the same house at the same time. Soon, he’ll be off to Quebec, and I’m a little bit jealous of the tail wind that he’ll inevitably be riding with.

Oh…I finally gave my bike a much needed upgrade:

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Kudos to Dave Conroy for the fork-mounted water bottle holder idea. If bike touring has any staple, it’s cock sauce. Bonus: it can double as short-range bear spray in a pinch. I think.

Catch ya later!

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3 comments

  1. Great post Joe, and the photos are awesome. On to the giant province of Ontario, in which you will have a birthday!

    Maggie aka ‘Mom’

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