Friday, July 15, 2011
Well, as long rumored, the 2011 bike trip is finally underway. Once upon a time, the destination was Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and beyond, but I’m scaling back expectations just a little bit to account for the late start. Now, I’m breaking things down into smaller chunks, and will re-evaluate occasionally to see if I want to keep going or turn back. One of the reasons for my ambivalence is that summer is just a swell time to hang out in Baraboo. Indeed, there are few better pleasures than sitting on the front porch in the evening sharing ice cream and fresh berries with the neighbors! But, November is a pretty nasty time to be biking the Maritimes, so I’m heading forth.
My first destination is near Munising, Michigan, where my brother David and his partner Barb will be having a short vacation. On Wednesday, I had a bit of shock when I actually checked some distances that I had previously just guesstimated, and discovered that it’s not “about 80” miles between Stevens Point and Peshtigo, but more like 125! Ditto for Peshtigo to Munising. So, doing a little math, I realized that if I left on Thursday (as I had been tentatively planning), I’d get to Munising just about the time that David and Barb were leaving. So I spent the rest of the day in a mad scramble to pack and put the house in some semblance of only moderate disorder. Sincere apologies to all the friends and neighbors who did not get a personal “good-bye,” but with the roar of the combine derby at the fairgrounds behind me, I pedaled out of Baraboo just about 8:00 p.m.
My goal for that first night was a modest one, the Nelson farm just past Wisconsin Dells. I bid adieu to the cranes on Shady Lane Road, breezed past the gawking tourists on the Dells strip, and with a nearly-full moon lighting the way, rolled into Sarah and Nels’ place about 9:45. While Nels finished with the cows, I was warmly greeted by their corgi, Pepperoni and the grumpy rooster who will soon be soup (according to Sarah). To my delight, ice cream was on the evening menu, and then a comfy rest.
The whole rationale to my evening ride was to cut the distance to Steven Point from 100 miles to a more manageable 80 (and get a few hills out of the way). So, Thursday morning, I set out down Nelson road and turned north toward the great sand box. The early going was a bit rollier than I expected, but by mid-day things had flattened out as I expected. Guided by the excellent BFW map, I was able to plot a course on nearly empty roads, though at one point, a turkey with a death wish flew out of the shoulder and directly across my path, about five feet in front of my wheel! Probably better than hitting a deer, but still not something I would welcome!
I made steady progress and rolled into Point around 4:00, stopping at the Hostel Shoppe for a new front tire (the right size even!) and then finding Jen, Bruce and Molly Stewart’s apartment near campus. I had hoped for a personal visit, but the family was off to a reunion in Minnesota this week, so I had to content myself with a shower and another comfortable place to lay my head. Before turning in, though, I came downtown to the fabulous Portage County Library and then met old friend Joe Luther for pizza and reminiscing.
Having changed my tire in the Stewarts’ kitchen this morning, I’m lingering in Point a bit. It feels as though it is the last major city I will see for a while, and so I’m taking advantage of the library again, and just soaking up some of the civilization. I also wanted to get at least a brief update out, since I dropped off the face of the earth so abruptly.
One other challenge about Wednesday: my computer hard drive died a noisy, tragic, and probably final death. So the address list I’d been composing for this trip was lost, and I’m trying to reconstruct it. If you know someone who like to receive these missives, let me know, and I’ll add them. Likewise, if you want them to stop cluttering your inbox, I’m happy to take you off. Also, note that future mailings will probably come from my new address rob(at)nelsonadmirals(dot)com, so you might want to make sure that your email system knows not to send those to the junk folder.
That’s it for now. Time to beat the heat!
Stevens Point, WI
To answer everyone’s first question right off the bat, yes, it is hot. But, it’s not really that bad on the bike. I try to take it easy, biking for a few hours in the morning while it’s cool, and then taking frequent breaks and drinking lots of water during the rest of the day. It is also really a luxury to be travelling while the days are still so long! I can easily go beyond 8:30 pm (9:30 now in Eastern time) with plenty of daylight after the heat of the day has passed.
That was the case last night. I made my goal of Escanaba by about 7:30, but the city was much larger than I expected, and I didn’t get a good vibe there. I decided I didn’t want to see Escanaba in da moonlight or under any other conditions! So, I pushed on to Gladstone, a brief stretch of a four-lane 35/2/41, where I met my first pair of obnoxious honking drivers—despite the fact that there was very light traffic and a whole other lane that they could use!
When last I wrote, I was getting ready to leave
I made my way to Shawano, along the way passing a curious flag-festooned two-pony covered wagon headed in the other direction, with a little girl running behind. My entrance to Shawano was delayed by a bridge under construction. Once I made my way around, though, I got much the same “Escanaba vibe,” so I started out for Bonduel, but just on the edge of Shawano found a soccer complex which was mighty inviting. I heard someone come lock the bathroom door (about ten feet from my tent) at about 10:30, but they didn’t feel obliged to hassle me, and when the sprinklers went off at 3:30, I was blissfully out of their range!
I know it was only a few days ago, but already, Shawano to
Peshtigo is a bit of a blur. Saturday
was a beautiful morning, and getting an early start, I had the roads to
myself. Breakfast in
There was an oasis in Peshtigo, however, at the home of Sam and Judy Komp. For those of you from Baraboo, Judy is Brenda Schick’s aunt, and the Komp’s welcomed me into their thoroughly air-conditioned house and treated me to interesting conversation, scrumptious meals, and a comfy bed. What more could a guy want? Oh, how about the Brewers on the big screen—and a win no less!!
So then it was just yesterday morning that I pedaled out of
Peshtigo, passing an ostrich ranch where eggs are only $10 each. Marinette and Menominee were still waking up
on Sunday morning, but a very enthusiastic golden retriever was not. His owner assured me that he would only “lick
me to death.” The dog was way more
interested in saying hello to me than returning to its owner, so I grabbed his
collar and the pup damn near pulled the entire bike over before I was smart
enough to let go. Nonetheless, the
fairing snapping sideways smacked me right on the shin, and I earned my first
injury of the trip. Though I have found
glaring errors in my MDOT bike maps, I was able to make my way along some
disturbingly sunny county roads (where are all those great forests?) for a
while before being shunted onto Hwy 35.
A dip into
Already this morning, I’ve revised my planned route to Munising twice in response to feedback from locals, and I’ve also toured the pet casket manufacturing company here. For any of you in the market, they make eight sizes of casket and sell about 25,000 a year. I’m pretty sure that Winston’s remains still reside in one of their products that I am using as a bookend in my office.
OK, I’ve already used up my early cool hours this morning. Time to get back on the road!
Thanks for all your kind thoughts!
Friday, July 22, 2011
Have I explained sufficiently how great a
So, having completely shot my “bike early,
rest, bike late” strategy, I ended up chugging through the hottest part of the
Shortly after the rain stopped, I saw two
bikers ahead of me, who turned out to be Kim and John from
Just after crossing into
Tuesday and Wednesday were spent lounging
at the “rustic” cabin, which came complete with stove and microwave,
washer/dryer, cable TV, and wireless Internet.
David and I circled some loons on the lake while he caught a few
bluegills from the canoe, and then we played tourist in Munising, buying
souvenirs, checking out the National Parks Service visitor center, and eating
pastries in the pinkest bakery I’ve ever seen.
The Salvation Army was closed because they had no air conditioning, and
the cool little café/bookstore on main street had virtually no books of
interest. We bought some freshly-caught fish
and visited Munising Falls before heading back to camp, where once again the
team of sled dogs stationed just up the road started their nightly howling fit
about 3:30 in the morning.
Then yesterday, everyone was up early for
departure. David and Barb and the dogs
were packed in the pickup for the trip back to
Climbing out the east side of Munising, I
passed the Big Foot Sanctuary, where the sign promised “Field Trips by
Appointment” and “We don’t shoot, but we hug ‘um.” Newly-paved Hwy 58 directed me through a
variety of forest types before swinging close to shore, where the crashing
At the mouth of the
After my late lunch, I had a brisk evening
ride of 43 miles to
This morning, a whitetail deer came right
up to the screen door of the guest room, and alerted me that buckwheat pancakes
would soon be forthcoming from the kitchen.
Another pleasant morning of trading stories, and then I bid Gary and Jan
a warm farewell.
This stage of the trip is a bit of a challenge for me, since I no longer have a firm destination and deadline in my sights. It may take me a bit of effort to maintain my motivation, but hopefully the wealth of friendly, helpful people out there just waiting to be met will keep me going!
While at the Munising cabin, I also got a
reply from Captain Joe of the Drummond Island Yacht Club. I’d asked Captain Joe about getting a lift
from Drummond (U.S.) to
Thanks for coming along, and keep sending along those hints and suggestions!
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Hi Everybody, a lot to catch up on today.
Way back on Friday afternoon, I was standing in Trout Lake, eating an ice cream cone and facing the decision of which direction to take toward Drummond Island. In the end, I opted for a route that would take me through Kincheloe, where I had found a potential host through couchsurfing. Selected as having “Michigan’s Best Tasting Water” back in 2002, Kincheloe has little else going for it right now. With an international airport sandwiched between two prisons, it is a desolate place. But there was a welcoming face there for me. Lorna is a geography teacher currently making ends meet working at the bakery in the Sault St. Marie Wal-Mart, and living in a subdivision of aging manufactured housing that had originally been built for the air force base there. When I arrived, her stroke-stricken mother was watching TV, and a couple of her teenage sons/their friends ( I never was quite able to figure out which was which) were hanging out. She was about to start on on-line Bengali lesson in preparation for a January visit to her Indian boyfriend. The house seemed pretty busy (and warmer than outside), so I pitched my tent in the yard and settled in there.
Saturday morning, Lorna fixed scrambled eggs, and then I set my sights for Detour Village, on the extreme eastern tip of the U.P. Along the way, I enjoyed a nice break at the home of Jeff and Joyce (contacts through warmshowers.org), who weren’t home, but invited me to stop by and harvest some raspberries from their garden.
By 2:00, I was in Detour Village, just as the small local art fair was starting to wind down. I started quizzing people about the possibility of finding a boat to Manitoulin Island, and it seemed to be a consensus that the best tactic would be just to hang out at the marina and see if a boater was headed that way and would take me and my bike along. After indulging in a huge chicken supper (a fundraiser for the performing arts center there), that’s exactly what I did, generally making myself a pest to the sailors and the DNR staff that ran the marina. I thought I had scored a lift on my first try, as the captain of a large yacht who had stopped to fuel up said that he was headed to Meldrum Bay and would be glad to take me, but about an hour later he had to recant the offer when his wife objected. With no further leads, I made camp under one of the canopies leftover from the art fair and planned to try again on Sunday.
Sunday morning, I was awake and packed by shortly after 6 a.m., and since there didn’t seem to be much activity at the Detour marina, figured I could take the ferry across to Drummond Island and see what was happening at the marina there. On the map, the jump from Drummond to Manitoulin looks pretty simple—a trip of maybe ten miles by water. But because all the marinas are on the west side of Drummond, it’s really a much longer trip. After being the only passenger on the 6:40 ferry, I briefly checked Whitney Bay (en route crossing the wide swath of rocky desolation caused by the island’s mining industry) and then turned toward the marina at the more popular Yacht Club.
Along the way, a pickup truck passed me by inches, despite the fact that we were the only two vehicles on the road, triggering my usual response of flipping him off. The truck immediately screeched to a halt, and the angry looking driver jumped out and started yelling and coming toward me. I tried to just ride past him, but as I did, he reared back and kicked me—hard—in the side of the chest, nearly throwing me off the bike. I managed to keep going, but then he jumped back in the truck and came after me again. I got to the shoulder and tried to put a road sign between me and the truck, thinking that might discourage him from running me over. He stopped and sent another stream of invective my way, but didn’t get out, before finally speeding off again.
This was not my favorite moment of the trip.
But I decided I was not going to let some jerk ruin my plans, so I continued on to Drummond Village, and at a stop sign a few blocks from the Yacht Club, the truck pulled up alongside me again. This time, the driver got out and came around toward me. Not offering an apology, he shook my hand and said that he had been ticketed for swerving to miss a deer and that in his opinion, I was no different from that animal, and he’d be damned if he was going to get another ticket. As if that was some consolation for my bruised ribs. At least during this third encounter I had the sense to get his license plate number.
Nothing was happening at the yacht club marina, though the staff said they had had plenty of boats headed to Canada the day before. So, I retreated to Detour, where I at least had established a friendly relationship with the DNR staff and some of the other boaters. As the ferry approached the dock, I could see a boat heading toward the North Channel, and sure enough, I had missed a potential ride. The rest of the morning brought no new leads, and only some chastisement by a captain who said that with new immigration attitudes, I’d be putting at risk any fool who would help “smuggle” me into Canada. By noon, I’d pretty much resigned myself to going through the Soo. Max from the DNR had been telling me how cool some of the small towns on the Canadian side were, and I’d even planned my route back north so that I could stay at Barbeau (how could that not be related to Baraboo??) on Sunday night. I only lingered because I didn’t want to get to that one-bar town too early.
At 2:00, I packed up, said goodbye to my marina friends and set course for Barbeau. On my way out of the parking lot, I said hello to a man who looked a bit wild, wearing jeans patched with sail cloth and pushing a cart from the supermarket. We chatted just a bit, and within a few minutes I was figuring out how to jam the bike down into the cabin of his sailboat! This was Captain Bill, and he was just hanging out in Detour until Tuesday, when he had to drive to Grand Rapids to pick up his Seattle girlfriend at the airport. He was in the mood for a diversion, and if I’d basically pay for fuel and steer the boat while he slept during the night, he’d teach me to sail and take me to Meldrum. Max assured me that Bill would not get me killed, and we motored out of the harbor.
Once under sail, we were making about 6 knots until we got in the lee of Drummond Island, and then we had to use the motor, and it appeared we would have to run it the rest of the night. I had a little crisis of confidence, wondering if this was really the right thing to do, and we even turned around briefly, but in the end, adventure prevailed, and we continued to Canada through the evening and on into the darkness, when Bill went below for a nap, leaving me at the helm of the Nortena.
I think that sometimes it takes a crazy person to help another crazy person, and Bill and I are both a bit unconventional. A retired math teacher, Bill more or less lives on his boat all summer and winters in Seattle. I learned that he grew up in Jackson, went to the same high school as my brothers, and that we even had at least one mutual friend (Michael Wright, of Rosier Players fame)! We grilled burgers off the back of the boat, and he told me about his favorite bays on the passing islands. During the latter part of our trip, Bill started to express some suspicion that I was an undercover immigration official, out to snag him in some sort of sting, and I’m not sure he ever completely gave this notion up.
Around midnight, we tied up to the dock at Meldrum Bay, and reported in to Canadian immigration by phone, before settling off to sleep on the boat. In the morning, a bouncy high school girl came down to collect our docking fee and sell us fuel, and I warned Bill that she was my secret undercover accomplice! When all was said and done, the trip cost me just over $100, which was a bit more than I had hoped, but it had saved me over 100 miles of fighting trucks on the Trans-Canada Highway, and earned me the title of “deckhand” to boot!
The west edge of Manitoulin Island is pretty remote, and I enjoyed almost empty roads through the “towns” of Silver Water and Evansville before reaching the touristy, but charming, Gore Bay around noon. After walking there for a bit, I continued past yet another “Bridal Veil Falls” (perhaps the most popular falls name on the continent) and then visited the very underwhelming Ojibwa Cultural Center in M’Chigeeng. Hills and busier traffic accompanied me to Little Current, where I made contact with David and Sheila, who had agreed to host me for the night in Whitefish Falls. The Finleys belonged to the Farquar clan in Scotland, and with Farquar’s Dairy Bar right next to the phone booth, I decided that anyone who had biked across the world’s largest freshwater island in just one day deserved a treat from a family business.
Shorty after 8:00, I set out across the swing bridge (which turns 90 degrees once an hour to allow ships to pass) and onto Great Cloche Island, which is essentially a large, rocky wildlife preserve. It was about 20 miles from Little Current to Whitefish Falls, and flat road and a tailwind let me speed through the first half of the trip before the hills of the eastern part of the island started to slow me down. But with darkness approaching and lighting in the distance, I pushed through as fast as I could, and reached David and Sheila’s just ahead of the raindrops.
David set me up in the screened gazebo, and after sandwiches around the dining room table, I had a very restful evening, awakening to a hummingbird at the feeder.
So all that brings me to yesterday, which already seems like a lifetime ago.
I spent the early morning marveling at Sheila and David’s gardens, wedged among the rocky coast of the Bay of Islands, and after a relaxed breakfast, set off to tackle Willis Mountain. Actually, it turned out to be a whole series of climbs and descents as I crossed the range of ancient mountains that line the coast. Rocky. Stark. Beautiful. Exhausting!
After several days of tiny settlements, the supermarkets and fast-food restaurants of Espanola were a little bit of a shock. I stopped at the library for directions, and then left town past the enormous paper mill that dominates the city visually and olfactorally (is that a word?). Jaklin Road kept me off the Trans-Canada for several miles, and was wonderfully remote. It also featured a tree that seemed to be fruiting pairs of shoes—I wonder what the local tradition behind that might be!
And then I was stuck with no other option but Hwy 17, the dreaded Trans-Canada Highway. It wasn’t as bad as I had expected—it was much worse. Fast cars, big, double-trailer logging or fuel trucks, all with no regard for your life or safety. It makes one feel like a little squishy bug in a world of boots. I finally settled on a strategy of staying on the pavement until I saw a vehicle in the mirror, and then getting onto the gravel shoulder and trying to ride there. Yuck, yuck, yuck. After only a few miles (which seemed like a lifetime), I was rescued by Old Nairn Road, which took me the back way into Nairn Center, which I believe had exactly one store, but its own hockey rink. From there, a series of rubble and potholes which could only generously be called “roads” roughly paralleled the highway. A railway worker I met said the road “embarrassed” him. I could only manage about 5 mph, and could feel every piece of the bike shudder and strain through each bump, but I’d choose that option again in a heartbeat.
Eventually, I ended up on Hwy 55, which started calm enough, but became more and more congested as it approached Sudbury, eventually turning into a four-lane, no-shoulder monstrosity. Because the rock on which it sits limits development of any back roads, I had to stay on 55 almost all the way to the downtown of this gritty, industrial city.
Back in Espanola, I had sent out several requests to the Sudbury couchsurfing community, and at 6:00, I went straight to the library to see which had yielded fruit. The Sudbury library, of course, closed at 5:00. Fortunately, the clerk at the nearby Days Inn was sympathetic, and let me use their computer to check my inbox, and even gave me a map to Ramsey Lake Road, where David, and American audio designer and his doctor wife welcomed me. After a shower and a dinner of leftovers, Min left for the hospital and David and I tackled a plumbing project which met with one obstacle after another before we finally got the PEX hose run from the garage, over the closet, and into the pump room shortly after midnight.
Which more or less catches us up to today. I’ve spent the morning writing, and now need to decide whether to spend a day exploring Sudbury with David or pushing on right away through the awful traffic. My next goal is Ville-Marie, where La Route Verte begins, and the maps show nothing by busy highways between me and there. Those two days will likely be the most challenging of the trip.
Thanks for reading,
Just a short message today to let you all
know that I’ve made it through Hwy 17 without becoming roadkill. The trip from Sudbury to Verner was actually
better than expected, though not exactly what I’d qualify as “fun.” The road was busy, but most of the drivers
gave me a wide berth, and a couple of construction zones helped slow things
down a little bit. Lumber trucks passed
me going west, while trucks carrying plywood passed going my direction. Like their product, the drivers of the latter
seemed a bit more refined. Also, I also
met an abundantly-tattoed cyclist named James travelling in the opposite
direction, headed west from Toronto with no particular destination in mind. He told me his last four days on this road
had been hellish, which made me even more happy that I would be leaving it
It also may have helped that this morning I fastened a five-foot piece of foam pipe insulation across the back of my bike with a piece of flagging tape on the end. Hopefully, the cars think it’s a piece of iron that they’re going to hit if they pass me too closely!
I spent yesterday afternoon doing laundry,
getting directions and a new rear tire at the bike shop, and then visiting
Sudbury’s impressive “Dynamic Earth” geology museum. It’s funded largely by the mining industry,
and in some ways seems like a bit of greenwashing, but there nonetheless was a
lot of cool stuff there. Sudbury sits atop
huge nickel deposits, and the boom time came when stainless steel (of which
nickel is a component) was invented in the early 1900s. Do you know what product uses the most
stainless steel worldwide? Kitchen
sinks. At the museum, you can
remotely-control a real mechanical digger underground, learn about the history
of glass, and get an astronomy lesson (since the nickel apparently arrived here
via meterorite). The highlight of the visit is a tour of three cold and
dripping demonstration mines 25 meters underground. Our guide reminded me very strongly of Rhys
Moller, for those of you who know the lad.
Also, a correction: In Sudbury, I stayed with Garret and Lin—not sure why I called him David in the last chapter. I barely saw either last night, but apparently the plumbing project had hit other snags in my absence. I also spent some time trying to tune Bentley a little bit. The front derailleur is unreliable going into the smallest chainring and either the bottom bracket or the right pedal bearings have started to get noisy—both of which are a bother when climbing hills.
This is definitely Francophone territory
now, even though I’ve yet to enter Quebec.
The clerks at the grocery, restaurant, and library speak English to me,
but French to each other. My plan from
here is to head north toward Marten River tonight, and then maybe cross into
Quebec at Notre Dame du Nord on Friday.
My network of places to stay has run pretty dry in this area, so if
anyone’s got friends or family out here, let me know! Towns will be few and far between for the
next little while, and Monday is a holiday, so I’m not sure when I’ll get a
chance to write again.
Take care and thanks for joining me,
Sunday, August 1, 2011
After leaving Verner on Friday afternoon, I
got to enjoy a peaceful ride past Field, which according to historical markers
had been wiped away by a flood and rebuilt about two decades ago. The road was again flanked by worn rock
jutting from the earth and bent at crazy angles, with scrubby pines and bushes
covering most of the horizontal surfaces.
From there, I continued on Hwy 64, with expectations of staying in
Marten River for the night. But at about
7:15 p.m., Marten River turned out to be only a party store, chip stand, and
resort campground, with no promising locations for stealth camping. So, figuring that traffic on Hwy 11 (also
designated as part of the Trans Canada Highway) would be lighter in the evening,
and that my red flashers would more effective in the twilight, I pushed through
toward Temagami. My reasoning proved
mostly correct, I think, as there was a steady stream of trucks headed south,
but very few passing me on the way north.
I did notice, however, what seemed like a lot of RVs ``sharing`` the
road with me for a Thursday night.
I briefly considered camping at Finlayson Point park just south of Temagami, but at $36.75 for a site, family loyalty can only be stretched so far. Instead, I found a quiet spot behind the school complex, where ravenous hordes of mosquitoes helped me hasten to put up the tent.
Friday morning, I was again up early to try
and beat traffic. I observed three
consecutive trucks going south, each carrying a new passenger rail car. One would think that you might consider
shipping rail cars by. . . well, rail,
but what do I know. There was also a
``wide load`` which passed me by about 18 inches. Only after it was in front of me did I notice
that the blade of the bulldozer it was carrying extended beyond the bed by
about 16 inches.
Shortly before 9:00, I was blissfully done with Hwy 11, and on the road to Cobalt. ``Ňntario`s Most Historic Town`` was the site of a great silver rush from 1903 to 1928, when it accounted for 44% of the world`s supply, and the town is still dotted with old mine buildings, ``glory holes,`` and abandoned equipment. In Haileyville, an honest-to-goodness bicycle lane appeared alongside the road, and I rolled along into New Liskeard, where I took a dip in the lake to try and rid myself of the previous night`s DEET. The downtown might have been charming, but it was completely clogged by traffic, a chronic condition, according to the librarian. I took an obligatory photo of the ``Big Cow`` and set off for Quebec on Hwy 64.
Along this trip, I`ve regularly missed
concerts and markets by a day, I was just a tad late for the Sudbury Blueberry
Festival, and too early for a pow-wow on Manitoulin. But guess what, I was just in time for the Truck
Rodeo in Notre Dame du Nord. Even the
name of the town suggests a graceful, quiet hamlet. But on this weekend, it is transformed into a
mecca for Canada`s rednecks, who swell the population from 1,500 to somewhere
between 50,000 and 100,000. And it felt
like every one of them was driving an RV on Hwy 64 on Friday afternoon. Arriving in the town, it was absolutely
packed with campers and RVs (even the church grounds were full), and shirtless
men made a regular progression to the one party store for cases of beer. I filled up on maps at the tourist office,
and got out of there.
Black clouds and high winds soon developed, and I struggled to stay on the road. My goal was to take a break in Guerin, and I took refuge under the short awning of a chip stand there just as the rain started to fall in droves. The two girls who ran the stand were very welcoming, and I enjoyed my first serving of ``poutine`` (french fries drenched in gravy and melted cheese). The rain stopped after about an hour, and I resumed the trip, finding my first signpost marking ``La Route Verte`` just a few miles east of town.
I followed the wide paved shoulder north to
Remigny, but not finding anyplace to camp in the village itself (most of which
was occupied at an 80th birthday party at the community center), I
returned to the edge of town where a man was working on his roof from a rickety
scaffolding. In my broken French, I
brazenly asked if I could pitch my tent there and in exchange, help with his
project for the rest of the night. Denis readily agreed, and even let me bunk in his woodshop between his snowmobile and
the new dormer he was preparing. We
spent about an hour building and installing some ladders for the roof, though I
honestly don`t know if I was more help or hindrance.
In the morning, Denis treated me to cappuccino, and then I slowly foraged my way to Rollet. Slowly, because I had finally started to identify wild blueberries. Every few hundred meters, I would spy a bush, declare ``Bleuets!`` to no one in particular, and then circle back to collect a handful. The berries have a somewhat nuttier taste than what we`re used to in Wisconsin, but no less delicious.
When I finally reached the gas station at
Rollet, I met several people who were curious about the bike and the trip, and
one even offered a place to stay in Rouyn-Noranda, my next destination. This being Saturday, I also met several
bikers out for rides who wanted to chat.
Rouyn-Noranda is one of the more charming larger cities (about 40,000) that I`ve encountered so far. Their weekend sidewalk sales were just winding up downtown, and the streets were still full of merchandise, jugglers, wandering brides-to-be, and games for the kids. I eventually connected with Janick and Caroline, who had agreed to host me for the night, and we shared a lovely evening over cheese and vegetable fondue and wine and discussed politics, history, and their own extensive travels. This morning, their almost two-year old son was giving me a tour of the living room.
That`s it for now. I hear the making of breakfast in the other
room. Janick has invited me for a round
of golf, but rather than subject him to the horror of watching me butcher the
course, I`ll probably set out for Valle d` Or and this afternoon and then enter
the wilderness on Monday.
Have a great weekend, everybody,
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Seems like I always remember a few details just after I send out an update. For example, in Sudbury, I forgot to mention that Garret was an audio engineer who designed the sound system for the U.S. Senate chambers. And in Rouyn-Noranda, I neglected to add that Caroline (who hosted me there with Yanick) is a distant relative (second-cousin, I think) to Denis, who I helped with the roof in Remigny (and she also knew the guy who was celebrating his 80th birthday).
The French keyboards here in Quebec are a bit of a challenge. In particular, I can`t get the question mark and apostrophe keys to work, though I`ve got plenty of other squiggles and slashes I can play with.
I`ve finally left the mining region, arriving in Mont Laurier Tuesday afternoon. Perhaps one of the surest signs that I`m no longer in `the north`is that the moose warning signs have now been replaced by deer warnings. And another thing about moose : if you believe the signs, the moose in Quebec are benign, curious, cuddly, playful things, ready to gently approach you for a friendly game of fetch, while the Ontario moose are fast, mean, and wicked, intent on smashing through your car window and then driving off with a pack of their friends in your vehicle.
Sunday morning, I enjoyed a festive breakfast with Yanick and a couple of his buddies before they went out for a round of golf. While they chased the little white ball, I left Rouyn-Noranda, the copper capital of the nation, and cycled through Malartic (home of what will soon be the world`s largest open-pit mine), and on to Val d`Or, where a new gold rush has turned the area into a boom town. This was all still along Hwy 117, which had an occasional shoulder, but since it was Sunday, traffic was light, and there were only a handful of trucks over the entire 100km. I did pass at least four roadside crosses marking traffic fatalities, however, which does give one pause.
Arriving in Val d`Or just ahead of a torrential rain and hailstorm, I eventually tracked down Bernard, who had offered to be my host. Bernard, 33, with an incredibly deep voice, owns a successful bike shop on the main street of town (where loudspeakers every block are tuned to the latest pop music) and lives in his parents` basement just around the corner. As I arrived they were just headed out for Chinese buffet and asked if I wanted to go along. Buffet (question mark) While on a bike trip (question mark) Does the bear poop in the woods (question mark) Well, actually the bear poops along the shoulder of Hwy 117, but I was nonetheless all game for a buffet.
Bernard`s brother, just back from 42 days in the field doing geologic exploration, was flush and treated for dinner. Indeed, the gold boom has even made it hard for Bernard to find people to work in the bike shop. Still, the town did not feel particularly joyful, with lots of individuals wandering the streets at night, and Bernard`s house had an air of resignation about it (to which the thick cigarette smoke definitely contributed). It was a relief when Bernard took me to the shop and then gave me a bike tour of the town, including the Concorde-capable airport. His mother`s boyfriend said it only takes 5 grams of gold per ton of rock to make a profitable mine.
Monday morning, Bernard kindly adjusted my front derailleur, and then I was off into the wilderness. From Val d`Or to Mont Laurier is nearly 300 km, almost all of it through La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve. I wasn`t sure exactly what to expect, but I stocked up on a couple of days` worth of food and water and set out.
The park was beautiful, with endless vistas of pines and tamarack, clear lakes, and rugged exposed rock. That seems a trivial description for two days of travel through a national park, but what else can I say (question mark) Trees, trees, trees, water, trees, rock, trees, rock, water, trees, etc. I didn`t see much wildlife, expect a pilliated woodpecker, and the crows which seem to be everywhere in Canada. The road through the park was still Hwy 117, so there was plenty of traffic (including a coast guard boat being shipped on a flatbed). My biggest challenge was dodging the raindrops by either staying in front or behind the big black clouds which dogged me for two days.
I camped at a rustic site near the middle of the park, next to a couple of other folks, who didn`t seem to mind too much that I didn`t have a reservation, but weren`t particularly friendly either. Tuesday morning, just before leaving the reserve, I made a side trip to the ``Forest Mysterieuse.`` This was a nature trail that had some educational signage about forest and bog succession, but the main mysteries I was pondering during my walk through it were 1) Is this poison ivy I`m rubbing up against (question mark); 2) Is it legal for me to eat these blueberries (question mark); and 3) Are the bears watching me eat their supper (question mark)
From the end of the reserve to Mont Laurier was a couple of hours in the heat of the day. I`ve learned to be wary of destinations with `Mont`in their names, but surprisingly, it was mostly a downhill ride. Andre, a retired veterinarian, had offered me the camper in his backyard for the night, but unfortunately, by the time I arrived, something in my stomach had taken on a life of its own--maybe the Mysterious Forest was not done with me after all. Andre was hosting his two grandchildren, who seemed like very nice kids, but between my trips to worship at the porcelain throne, I`m afraid I wasn`t much company. Lunch came up shortly after I arrived, and then the lovely dinner that Andre had prepared. Andre seemed exceptionally chatty, but I finally managed to excuse myself at about 8:00 and spent the next 11 hours sleeping in the trailer.
Tuesday morning, I was able to keep a light breakfast down, and I`ve spent the morning in town doing laundry and marvelling at the return to civilization. The city is Baraboo-sized, with a thriving downtown that includes yoga studios, acupuncture clinics, health food stores, and lots of other interesting shops that one would never find in the grittier north. It definitely feels as though the Euro-quotient has been dialed up a notch here in the Laurentides.
My time so far on La Route Verte has been extraordinarily disappointing. It`s been four days of Hwy 117, pedalling next to fast traffic and sucking diesel exhaust. From here, though, there is over 200 km of bicycle rail-trail to the outskirts of Montreal. This is supposed to be the real gem of the route, and I am definitely looking forward to it.
Thanks for coming along, everyone, and I hope you are all well.
Mt. Laurier, QC
Saturday, August 6, 2011
If you are going to live in a major metropolitan city, you could do a lot worse than Montreal. It’s culturally and culinarily diverse, it has interesting architecture and liveable neighborhoods, there’s plenty to do, and you can’t shake a Pop-Tart without getting crumbs on one of the gazillion of beautiful women pedalling their bikes around town.
Yes, Montreal is a place that loves its
bikes. There are bike paths and lanes
throughout the city and across the entire island, and these are often as busy
are the roads themselves. And it has
another great invention: The Bixi. The
Bixi is a seemingly indestructible 3-speed bike with fat poofy tires, an easily-adjustable
seat, and automatic front and rear lights.
For $5 per day, you have access to the city’s entire fleet, distributed
across town by the dozen at automatic check-out stands about every three
blocks. Simply swipe your credit card,
take your pick of the Bixii, and off you go.
When you get to your destination, slam your Bixi into its new station
and walk away. As long as your trip
takes less than 30 minutes, it costs you nothing more, and when you’re done
with your errand, pick a new Bixi and pedal away to your next stop. You don’t have to remember where you parked
your bike, and you can drop your Bixi at one end of the old city (for example),
and when you’ve reached the end, a new Bixi awaits.
Today, my Bixii and I bought fresh strawberries at the Jean-Talon farmer’s market, cruised the wharves and locks, scoped out the fabulous library and university area, watched a man juggle fire in the old plaza, visited the magnificent “Irish” cathedral, and took in a free professional performance of MacBeth (in English) outdoors at Parc LaFontaine with a thousand or so Francophones.
In my brief experience, no one here knows
how to parallel park, but hey, nobody’s perfect.
Yeah, so Montreal’s pretty cool.
Unfortunately, getting here was not.
The bike trail through The Laurentides was splendid, passing mountain vistas, neat geology and churning rivers, uppity resorts and charming villages full of funky artists. No cars, and a gentle grade up to a peak of some 400 feet and then back down to Laval. Sadly for me, I was still wrestling with the consequences of “The Bear’s Revenge,” and spent most of my three days between Mont Laurier and Montreal trying to imagine some kind of food item that didn’t make me nauseaus. I already have a hard time eating enough during these trips, and with calorie intake vastly reduced, my zip was really zapped. Any kind of hill would have just killed me, so I was very grateful for that gentle, even grade.
By Thursday night, my appetite recovered
enough to tolerate ice cream, and I had an honest-to goodness breakfast on
Friday. Which was good, because the day
turned hot and I needed my wits about me to negotiate the last 20 km of the
“P’tit Chemin du Nord” trail, which devolved into a sometimes-marked series of
twists and turns through residential neighborhoods, behind grocery stores,
across a boardwalk, and on a gravel trail next to an expressway. Getting across Laval (which is a rather ugly
industrial-suburban island just north of Montreal) was a pretty straight shot,
and when I stopped for water at a park on the south edge, an elderly couple
took me under their wing and guided me onto Montreal, into the city, and
through the ghastly traffic and byzantine roads to the U.S. Consulate.
If you were looking for a U.S. citizen, wouldn’t the American consulate be a good place to start? Apparently not, because at 4 p.m. on a Friday, there are only Canadians there . . . and they don’t even know what bar the Americans hang out at!
While I am a bit homesick, that is not why
I was searching out another Yankee. Some
of you might be aware that there are elections in Wisconsin on Tuesday. An absentee ballot was e-mailed to me, but in
order to be valid, my vote must be witnessed by another U.S. citizen. I tried to flag down cars with New Hampshire
and Massachusetts plates, and made a half-hearted effort at the Travellodge,
but my spirit was broken, so I retreated to De Lorimier Ave, and the home of
Martin, my host for the weekend.
Martin grew up in Rouyn, and works (surprise!) in the mining business! He takes care of all those big machines in the mine and the mill at his current job in Mali, alternating seven weeks on the job in Africa with three weeks home in his third story apartment. He’s also a bike trekker, and today while I was frolicking with the Bixii, he built a new folding bike from scratch on his back porch! And in another small world twist, while I was biking the “P’tit Chemin du Nord,” he was driving to Val d’Or to buy a fork from Bernard. And Bernard’s sister is his tattoo artist! (and she has made some dough off him, let me tell you!)
Martin’s been great. He’s made me feel very welcome and at home,
even when his hosting plans ballooned to include a couple of old friends and
two girls from France. Last night we
listened to bad live music at a bar, and right now he’s taking the recumbent
out for a spin. He’ll take my ballot to
New York tomorrow, so it can be sent overnight back to Baraboo.
My appetite and energy are still not fully recovered, but at least things are passing in and out of the proper orifices now. I’m hoping to be in shape on Sunday morning for an early departure for Trois Rivieres and Quebec City on Monday.
Happy August everybody, and don’t forget to
Thursday, August 11, 2011
La Route Verte from Montreal to Quebec City largely follows 'Le Chemin du Roy' (‘The King’s Highway’), built in 1737 to connect the two settlements, and at the time, the longest road north of the Rio Grande. After some initial twists and turns, La Route settles in nicely near the northern coast of the St. Lawrence River, each 15 km or so passing through another small town and the massive church that comes along with it. Between towns, roadside markets are frequent, selling fresh sweet corn, blueberries, strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, and other produce grown on the adjacent farms.
It’s about 150 miles from Montreal to Quebec, and I had planned to make the jump in two days. But in the tiny village of Lanoraie, I was distracted by a sign that promoted something like ‘Superstars on the Promenade.’ I was imagining a big parade or carnival, but it turned out to be a piano recital in a small room of the municipal building. The highlight was a trio of sisters who alternately played pieces for two, four, and six hands. The stage was set in front of a large set of windows, and as they performed to the packed room, the grey skies behind them erupted into a prolonged downpour. I had wedged the bike under the only available cover, right near the building entrance, and after the show, hoped that perhaps a member of the audience might show some interest and invite me to get out of the rain at their home. Instead, people started borrowing my raincoat so they could run to their cars, then drive past and throw it back to me out the window.
Though the rain let up, my spirits were dampened, and it didn`t seem likely that I would make it to Trois Rivieres as I had planned. So I crossed the street for a sandwich at a small restaurant, and no sooner had I placed my order than a pair of cyclists appeared—a couple of guys from Toronto on holiday, headed along the same route. We chatted over our meals, and then they set off in the rain for a bed and breakfast. My lethargy was rewarded, however, when shortly thereafter, I spotted another pair of cyclists coming in for a stop. While the first two had been rigged out with fancy bikes, the latest gear, and a budget for accommodations, these two were riding in T-shirts and shorts on modest, well-used bikes with their stuff stashed in a plastic Sealtest milk crate strapped to one rack.
This was Simon and Riel, two sociology students at the University of Quebec, on their way home from their first bike trip to Montreal, and they welcomed me to join their merry band. Simon is tall and flamboyant, with long dark hair and a wide repertoire of lines from American movies, while Riel is slighter, quieter, and more introspective. But both are smart and brave and funny. Along with ‘the old man,’ we made quite a trio. Both rode fast, and it was often a challenge to keep up with them, but it was certainly worth it, in part for their knowledge of places to camp on the way, but more importantly for the wonderful sense of companionship and camaraderie that they freely shared. It was such a delight to have someone to joke with and exchange ideas and observations. At one point on Tuesday, we passed a woman on a touring bike who had stopped at a roadside restaurant. When I chided Simon about not stopping to chat with her, he replied, ‘Stay focused, Robert. We are riding a bike, not a girl.'
With Simon and Riel as guides, we rode hard, took long breaks, secretly camped behind information centers, and met lots of interesting characters on the way to Quebec City. Coming into the city, we took detours through some old neighborhoods and riverside parks before ending up at the downtown market where we bought corn, salad fixings, and bleuets for a triumphant feast back at Riel`s apartment. Then as afternoon melted into evening, sadly, I bid my comrades au revoir, and went in search of my next new home.
Quebec City is built around a cliff, and on the lower ledge, a wonderful bicycle trail skirts the water of the St. Lawrence. Unfortunately, being on the down side means you’re eventually going to have to climb that slope, a feat I didn’t even try on the bike. The incline is so steep, in fact, that I had to stop for air three or four times just pushing the bike up the hill toward the Plains of Abraham (where the British battled and eventually defeated the French). But I made it and with a little help from the locals found my way to Maguire St and the home of my next host, Marc.
Marc is a physical therapist, and perhaps the most enthusiastic host one could ever find. Upon my arrival, he got me settled in the basement (James, a cyclist headed from Halifax back home to Toronto was already installed in the guest room) and then whipped up delicious seafood pasta for a late dinner. The following night (Wednesday) another pair was added to our merry band when a couple on their way from British Columbia to Newfoundland arrived at nearly midnight, thoroughly drenched from the evening’s downpours. Grinning from ear to ear, Marc sent them off to the shower, got their laundry into the washer, and then started working on foaming mugs of hot chocolate.
I’m told it doesn’t rain every day in Quebec City, just the days that I’m here. But it’s a pretty darn nice place to be stuck in the rain. Riel and Simon said there are two things I must see: the Cirque de Soleil and the Moulin d’Images, both of which are free. On Wednesday night I did the latter, which is a 45-minute photo montage-animation-history--art-music project projected along a nearly 1 km row of abandoned grain silos at the quay. People wearing 3-D glasses stake out places up and down the piers on the opposite side of the harbor with their lawn chairs and blankets to take in the show. The famous Cirque will have to wait until tonight, and hopefully the weather will cooperate.
In between, I’ve spent the mornings lounging at Marc’s and the afternoons exploring the neighborhoods, shops, cuisine, and history of the City on foot. Thursday afternoon featured a visit to the Morrin Center—a former jail now converted into the City`s only English-speaking library and a cultural center for the 1.5% of the population that are Anglophones, while Wednesday`s highlights included a tour of the parliament building and later watching the steady stream of buskers perform in one of the public squares of the Old City. I`ve also enjoyed visiting many of the City`s libraries, several of which are now housed in old churches.
Quebec City strikes one as a bit more refined than Montreal, and definitely more touristy. The restaurants are more upscale, and there are few of the corner stores that dot every neighborhood of Montreal. There’s a greater sense of history, and you can rarely be more than a cannonball toss from a statue, interpretive sign, or historical marker. But there`s no Bixi bike, perhaps because the city is too steep and they`d all keep ending up at the bottom of the cliff.
Meanwhile, turns out that all is not sweetness and light back in Montreal. Leaving Martin's neighborhood on Sunday morning and sweeping past Olympic Stadium, I found myself along a seemingly endless stretch of refineries and petrochemical storage facilities along the southeastern shore of the island. Ugly and stinky! And since arriving here in Quebec City, I’ve read of a bicyclist who was flattened by a truck while using one of Montreal’s bike lanes—part of La Route Verte, and perhaps an intersection I went through a few days ago.
For now, though the sky is clearing, so it`s back out to explore a bit more before showtime!
Quebec City, QC
Monday, August 15, 2011
It’s National Acadian Day, so what better
time to cross into
I arrived here in Edmonston just in time
for a celebratory lunch of chicken stew and ployes (a kind of buckwheat
pancake) on the downtown square, with music and flags and all the trimmings. It’s not an official holiday, but one that
all of those with Acadian heritage (French who were deported from
The trip from
“Amazing” is an overused word in my opinion, but little else can sum up Cirque du Soleil. The performance is, of course, breathtaking, with all the wild acrobatics and choreography, accompanied by live music and fancy lights. How exactly does one woman learn to spin a dozen hula-hoops all over her body? But the phenomenon is perhaps even more amazing, that a small group of street performers has evolved into this international spectacle. The show is still performed outside, under a highway overpass, and the crowd just gathers to stand on the gravel and watch (unless you want to spring for a $15 reserved spot on a bench). Lights and cables are attached to the bridge, and images are projected onto three-high towers of railroad boxcars. It’s a tantalizing mix of the spontaneous and the professional.
Friday must have been a lonely day for
Marc. First, Mel and Andrew left early
in the morning, then me an hour or so later.
James was still on the sofa, but conscious when I left, with plans to
leave later that afternoon as well. I took
a slightly extended route out of the City, stopping at the wood-fired bagel
shop and then crossing the bridge across the St. Lawrence and following the
bike path to
Montmagny is located across from
Isle-aux-Grues, and some of you might recognize that as “
Friday night brought me through the artist community of St-Jean-Port-Joli, and after a brief rain, into St.-Roc-des-Aulnaies and the home of Steve and Lucie. Unfortunately, they were just headed out to a last-minute dinner party, but I was grateful for the shower, leftovers, and restful night in the tiny camper in their driveway.
On Saturday, I continued along the coast to
La Pocatiere, where my disappointment with the
I was planning on getting past Riviere-du-Loup, but just before Notre-Dame-du_Portage, I met Gilles and Lise on a tandem bicycle at an organic farm stand. Gilles had just finished his own seven-week trek through the Maritimes two days earlier, and they invited me to their home a few miles ahead where I enjoyed admiring Gilles’ stonework and garden, Lise’s amusement at English idioms, wonderful meals, and lots of entertaining conversation. In the morning, we looked at photos of Gilles’ trip, which mainly consisted of gravel roads and rain. Not exactly my idea of fun, but it nonetheless reaffirmed my faith in the willingness of people to help a traveler!
Consequently, I got a late start on Sunday,
not hitting the road until noon. In
Riviere-du-Loup, I met Laura, a French woman who had just finished her
cross-Canada trip, pulling her little bulldog in a trailer all the way from
I made camp beside the town’s baseball
diamond and was up early this morning to enjoy the long gentle downslope of the
trail (on a slightly better surface) into Canada’s only officially bilingual
province. Already, I’ve found a place to
tent for the night and an invitation to dinner with Nora and Gerard, which will
allow me to participate in tonight’s Tintamarre celebration, where the Acadians
beat pots and pans and generally make a lot of noise. Apparently, we do it once here (at 6 p.m.
Atlantic Time), and then we charge into
Monday, August 22, 2011
Happy to report that my week in New Brunswick has been pleasant and largely uneventful.
After a warm welcome and a delicious dinner from Nora, Gerard, and Gerard's sister on Monday evening, Nora and I crossed the border into Maine for the Tintamarre celebration in Madawaska, which consisted of about 150 people dressed in the red, white, blue, and yellow star of Acadia, beating pots and pans and blowing noisemakers as we slowly walked a circuit around a downtown park, where speeches, music, and a fabulous dancing exhibition followed. In 2014, Edmundston/Madawaska will host the World Tintamarre convention, and everything leading up to then is a little bit like a dress rehearsal. It felt a little weird to be back in the U.S., especially since nearly everyone was still speaking French!
Tuesday dawned rainy, and despite my mother's maxim that “if it rains before seven, it's done by eleven,” the precipitation showed no signs of letting up. Fortunately, Nora and Gerard seemed happy to have me stay an extra day. Gerard took me to his morning coffee session at Tim Horton's and Nora found it hilarious when I took over the kitchen later in the day to make a raspberry/rhubarb/apple pie for dinner. But “holy moley,” Gerard and the others thought it was pretty tasty.
By Wednesday, the skies had cleared, so I bid adieu and set off along the scenic drive down the St. John River. The road was smooth, traffic was light, and small towns were scattered at useful intervals. Stopping for ice cream at Perth-Andover, I discovered that I had crossed back over the Francophone-Anglophone divide. While all the official signs were still bilingual, all the commercial signs were exclusively in English, and people spoke to me in that language without even an trace of French accent. Also, the huge, dominating Catholic churches were starting to be replaced by a variety of smaller Protestant parishes.
After passing through Florenceville-Bristol (“the french fry capital of the world”), that night I camped at the baseball fields in Hartland. Thursday was more of the same, though I was on the wrong side of the river to see the world's largest axe (in Nackawic) and the world's largest maple leaf (in Millville). In Fredricton, I witnessed some very uninspired historical theater at the guard house downtown performed for an audience of five people (though I did learn that the British used to drop shillings into the mugs of unsuspecting New Brunswickers in order to “recruit” them into the army during the war of 1812). Then I crossed the river to the home of Tom and Pam, who have their own private dam, pond, and waterfall in their backyard in St. Mary's. Tom was working on building a rowboat in the driveway when I arrived, but stopped to fix a wonderful dinner, followed by a delicious breakfast the next morning.
Before I left on Friday, Tom also packed me a very nutritious and filling lunch, every bit of which I was grateful for later in the day, when it started to sink in that the dots and names on the New Brunswick map really had no relationship to actual towns. I kept looking forward to stops in Maugerville or Sheffield, or White Cove, only to discover that there was no “there” there. At the Youngs Cove tourist info center, I faced a decision about whether to continue east on flat road to Moncton or turn south over hilly Hwy 10 to Springdale, where I had a host family lined up. Ultimately, the staff and a visiting motorcyclist convinced to me to take the southern route, which also preserved the option of visiting Fundy Bay.
So, I headed south on Hwy 10, which had a fair bit of traffic, and featured three long climbs into a headwind, including Kierstead Mountain. I had a bit of a scare on the downside when my wheels fell into a seam in the pavement at about 35 mph, and I thought for sure I was going to topple, but somehow I managed to keep my balance, and I arrived in Sussex in one piece. Sussex is the “Mural Capital of Atlantic Canada” and does have a lovely little downtown. This weekend, it also featured a huge flea market which draws people from all over the province (“If you can't find it at the Sussex flea market, it probably doesn't exist”). Without any room for more souvenirs, I wasn't even tempted to stop, but continued past the towering Potash Co. mines on to Springdale with my first tailwind of the day.
Arriving at Jess and Mike's log cabin along Hwy 114, I found a note explaining that they were out backcountry swimming and that I should make myself at home, which I readily did, working my way through an entire container of leftover pesto-pasta while reading the local paper. Jess and Mike arrived a few hours later, each carrying a zonked out little girl. Mike himself zonked out a few moments later, while Jess insisted on feeding me “second dinner” with the leftovers from their cookout. Saturday morning featured pancakes and fruit salad, and then Lillian, their four-year-old put me to work reading books and doing puzzles. Jess and Mike started canning pickles, and when I asked if I could help, they assured me that I was helping plenty by keeping Lillian entertained!
Shortly after noon, the family packed up for a day at the flea market, and I was seriously tempted to join them, but felt the pressure to take advantage of another day of nice weather. So after Lillian escorted me down the driveway on her bicycle, we went our separate ways, mine including more monstrous hills to climb on my way toward Fundy National Park, and then a screaming switchback downhill into the park headquarters.
The fog was blowing in when I arrived, and even at the shore, one could barely see the water. The park was hosting a music festival, and as luck would have it, I was just in time for a country band, which honestly didn't hold much interest for me. Fundy Bay features some of the highest tides in the world, and the difference between low tide and high tide is supposed to be spectacular. The village of Alma, just outside the Park, features a wharf and lots of lobster shops, and I wandered there briefly while the rising tide lifted all boats. The fog started to lift, and more hills on the coastal road beckoned, so I rolled out and continued along Highway 915.
Soon the fog returned, my glasses misted over, and I became very thankful for the fluorescent orange shirt that Gerard had given me in Edmundston. I don't actually wear it, but figured out how to clip it over my rear pack so that it is more visible from behind, and under those conditions, it was a great relief to have it. After about 20 km, I came to a small sign by the side of the road that Jess had predicted: “Free Camping at 'the Shire'” indicating a small mown area with a fire pit and some lawn chairs overlooking the coastal wetlands. There was also a small camper there with the key in the door. It offered relief from the mosquitoes as I ate the fresh peas, cheese, and homemade biscuits that Jess had packed me, and after some consideration of the guest book, I determined that sleeping in the camper was acceptable. Shaking out the sleeping bag covering the bunk, however, six baby mice dropped onto the floor. I removed both mice and sleeping bag with a heavy conscience (just that morning, I'd read “The Tailor of Gloucester” to Lillian) but a few minutes later, Momma Mouse was darting around, looking for her brood, and I decided I'd get more rest by putting up the tent.
Sunday morning was still misty with poor visibility, so I decided a visit to the bird sanctuary at Mary's Point would probably not be worthwhile. I was too early for the breakfast buffet in Riverside Albert, but later up the road had a nice meal at Patty's Place in Hillsborough. By now, the fog had lifted, and I could see the muddy red banks of the Petitcodiac River growing ever longer as the tide drifted out. I reached the bridge to Moncton just about at low tide, when the river was little more than a trickle.
Moncton is a city of well over 100,000 people, and the downtown was preparing for the Pride on the River parade. But with a forecast of possible afternoon thunderstorms, I chose to make for Sackville, where the Bliss family had offered to put me up for the night. The road followed the opposite shore of the Petitcodiac, which was now starting to fill up again. Meanwhile, a fierce headwind had developed in front of me, and my mirror was filled with black clouds and sheets of rain. Struggling mightily, I limped into Dorchester, where the wind relented and the storm receded so that I could enjoy my last few miles into Sackville.
Sackville's a beautiful little college town with bookstores and coffeeshops and something called “Mel's Tea Rooms” on Bridge St. The Blisses live just off downtown, and Doug welcomed me and showed me the little dollhouse in the back yard which would be my lodging for the night. Also staying at the Bliss house was Brenna, who is on her way back from Nova Scotia and nursing a sore wisdom tooth, which precipitated a trip to the emergency room earlier in the day and a dinner big on “soft food,” including a mountain of mashed potatoes that I helped prepare (yum!).
From here, it's just a few miles to the border of Nova Scotia, so I expect to achieve my goal of “biking to Nova Scotia” later this morning. From there, I'm planning to head toward Sydney, on the eastern coast, at which point I'll decide if I want to tackle Newfoundland or not. I learned yesterday that it's quite a bit longer from end-to-end than I had thought (about 1,000 km), so I'll have to really think about whether I'm ready to take that on.
But for now, the sun is out and the weather is cool, so it's time to get back on the road. Thanks for reading, and happy mid-August, everbody!
Friday, August 26, 2011
Good Morning Everyone from misty Cape Breton!
Last time we were in touch, I had just crossed into Nova Scotia on Monday. That was a bit of a challenge, as the crosswind across the marshy isthmus that connects Nova Scotia with New Brunswick was really strong and threatened to blow me into the traffic of the Trans-Canada Highway. Even from the Tourist Info Center, it took me about an hour to negotiate the two miles into downtown Amherst, stopping every few hundred meters in the lee of a building to re-group.
After celebrating with some cinnamon rolls in Amherst, I decided that with the high winds and predictions of rain for later in the day, it just didn’t make sense to try and go further. Outside the post office, I met Dave from New Brunswick, who suggested I go to the arena and one of his buddies, Mike and Bucky, would find a place for me. After about ten minutes of head-scratching and phone calls, Bucky said his brother Dallas would let me camp in his yard, across from the lumberyard where he worked. A strong but gentle fellow, Dallas fixed home-made fries for supper for his girlfriend Katrina and “Buddy” (me), and then suggested I use the guest room so that I didn’t have to put my tent up in the rain.
Tuesday morning dawned bright, sunny, and cool, and with Dallas starting work at 7:00, I got an early start to take advantage of the fine day. My first stop along the coast was in Pugwash, which is famous for its pewter, but also for the “Pugwash Movement” that was launched by ruthless industrialist Cyrus Eaton in 1957 to promote world peace and nuclear disarmament. The Thinkers’ Lodge still hosts occasional meetings, although most of their conferences are now held elsewhere (www.pugwash.org). I didn’t expect to reach New Glasgow in one day, but by the time I stopped for a lunch of Donair (what they call a gyro here) at Tatamagouch I was over halfway there. During a brief stop at the one-man Tatamagouche library, the curator asked where I was from and when I replied “Wisconsin,” he said, “Ah, the recall state.”
From Tatamagouche, I followed the coast through the non-existent towns of Marshville, Seafoam, Toney River, and Caribou River into Pictou, which is where the first Scottish immigrants landed in Nova Scotia. From Pictou, it was just a short hop to finish my 100-mile day just outside New Glasgow and the home of Andrew and Katrina, along with their dogs Willow and Rosie. Willow had just gone into her first heat, so Katrina made her a stylish pair of frilly purple diapers, and it was also Rosie’s birthday. Despite Andrew’s diet and rigorous workout routine, we celebrated with cake and ice cream along with three cross-Canada cyclists who were also staying and a couple of other friends who stopped by. Rounds of Buzzwords and Scattegories followed, with much hilarity!
In the morning, Andrew was off to his job at the funeral parlour, and I decide to join Neils, Hayley, and John for the first 10 km of the day before our paths diverged. They continued straight on Hwy 4, while I veered back north along the coast. Shortly thereafter, I passed a cairn on the coast commemorating the arrival of refugees from the 1946 Battle of Culloden, which included stones from the actual battleground in Scotland. “While the battle is recorded as a loss to the Scottish warriors, the exodus that followed was a tremendous boom (sic) to our great land.”
I had planned a short day for Wednesday so that I could see a play in Antigonish, and in Malignant Cove, I needed to decide whether to take the long way around the cape into town, or the more direct route. Another cyclist was stopped at the intersection, and I coasted over to ask advice. Within a few minutes, I had an invitation for a place to stay, as well as a cycling partner for the rest of the day. Norma Jean (who is so named because of Marilyn Monroe but not for her) was on her first 100km ride, breaking in her new Cannondale and gearing up for a 100 mile ride with her boyfriend Neil later this year. We had to backtrack 7 km so that she would finish the entire 100 km , but the treat of some company was well worth it, and she seemed glad to have some extra motivation to achieve her goal.
Norma Jean operates a bed and breakfast in Antigonish, and set me up in the guest room of her adjacent apartment before dashing off to her other job as a hairdresser. In the meantime, I got to explore the town’s thriving business district and ponder new and bizarre selections at the ice cream stand. After a delicious salmon dinner, I was able to persuade Norma Jean to join me at the show and we walked a few blocks to the campus of St. Francis Xavier University. “Heroine” was the story of two female pirates, one a notorious scamp and the other a former British military officer who had posed as a man nearly her entire life. The acting was very good, but the script was a bit heavy on exposition and could have used an occasion appearance by a third character. Still, not a bad introduction to Nova Scotia theatre!
After breakfast at the Inn with a trio of Canada Post staff and bidding good-bye to Norma Jean (couldn’t resist), I returned to campus for a visit to the Coady International Institute (www.coady.stfx.ca). Founded by Moses Coady and others (including Norma Jean’s grandfather) in the 1920s, the institute promoted the foundation of Co-cops and credit unions and established the “Antigonish Movement.” Today, they have a broader focus on grass-roots international leadership and offer certificates and programs to students from over 130 countries. I got a chance to chat with a couple of staff, and generally got a really good vibe there.
I don’t know where else to fit this in, but I’ve also noticed another curious tradition: many of the churches here have fake clock faces painted onto their steeples, and it is always 10:30. What’s up with that? And you’ll be relieved to know that McDonald’s offers “McLobster” here.
A brief stop at the local bakery for oatcakes and then I was back on the Trans-Canada for about an hour before I could again veer off for the coast of St. Georges Bay, which I followed around to the Canso Causeway, where I crossed onto Cape Breton Island. After an hour gathering maps and info at the tourist center, I climbed into Port Hawksberry only to discover that the library was closed for renovations. (Port Hawksberry is also dealing with the recent news that NewPage is closing a pulp mill here, costing about 600 jobs.) So I continued through the warm late afternoon on Hwy 4 to St. Peter’s, my last outpost before about 100 km of no services.
Posters in St. Peter’s advertised a ceilidh at a local inn, but after I decided to cut my day short there and have a Chubbyplatter dinner, I was disappointed to learn that the ceilidh had been replaced by two students who were playing mediocre Beatles, Eagles, and Stan Rogers covers. At least a jazzy sax player from North Carolina (who also thought there was a jam session that night) eventually joined in for a couple of numbers. I’d also hope the place would be packed with locals, one of whom might adopt me. But the locals wisely stayed away, and so I crept down to the locks (the St. Peter’s canal links Bras d’Or Lake with the ocean) and pitched my tent in the lee of the lockmaster’s office. It wasn’t a bad spot, but between the wind, rain, and the periodic awakening of the huge air conditioner, it wasn’t a particularly restful night.
With most local shops closed, I broke down and had breakfast at Tim Horton’s after my early rise, and then I was quite surprised to find a tourist office on the way out of town, where the staff has been more than happy to let me monopolize the computer for the last 90 minutes while waiting for the weather to clear a bit. That last part hasn’t exactly worked out, as it’s gone from mist to rain while I’ve been writing, but things are supposed to clear up later in the day, so I should be able to get near Louisbourg.
Finally, Canadians this week are mourning the loss of Jack Layton, the charismatic leader of the New Democratic Party who just months ago led the NDP to new heights as the official opposition before succumbing to cancer on Monday. People of all political stripes are grieving, and Layton will be given a state funeral tomorrow, which is unheard of for a member of the opposition. I’d like to leave you with an excerpt from the letter he wrote just before he died, which has been widely quoted on the CBC and elsewhere (http://www.ndp.ca/letter-to-canadians-from-jack-layton):
Saturday, August 27, 2011
First of all, as several astute readers of FF12 noticed, the Battle of Culloden was in 1746, not 1946 as I erroneously wrote. Nice to know that folks are reading these missives carefully!
Now, just a short update before I fall off the edge of the Earth:
Friday morning, I finally left the tourist center outside St. Peter’s at 11:30 under low, gray, (but dry!) skies. The road along the eastern shore has been largely forgotten, in the shadow of the more famous Cabot Trail to the north, or the center route past Bras d’Or Lake. Indeed, communities such as Grand River, L’Archeveque, St. Esprit, Framboise, Fourchu, and Gabarus seem to exist only in some cartographer’s imagination. For 100 km, there are no gas stations, restaurants, motels, or any other kind of commercial enterprise. And the houses aren’t necessarily close, either. Instead, it’s mile after mile of stunted conifer forest with the occasional stunning blue lake or glimpse of the ocean. As an added benefit, there’s also hardly any traffic, and fewer than a dozen cars passed me during that stretch. And as an extra bonus, the day eventually turned sunny, and then hot just in time for an ice cream break at Albert Bridge.
I’d hoped to reach Louisbourg in time for a performance at the Louisbourg Playhouse, a replica of the Globe that Disney originally built for the filming of “Squanto,” and which was later moved into town and roofed. The late start didn’t allow for much dilly-dallying, but I made it with about an hour to spare, enough time to snoop around the fishy-smelling village and scout out a place to pitch the tent (which turned out to be right next to the theater). As for the performance itself, it featured five musicians playing a mix of covers, original pieces, and local tunes, along with several skits. For those who have seen the Wisconsin Opry, it was a similar formula, aimed primarily at the over-60 tour bus set.
This morning, the slamming of car doors roused me as staff of the local fish packing plant arrived for work just after 6:00. Unfortunately, the rest of the town is not composed of early risers, so I had to wait until 8:00 for the last breakfast of the season at Kersey’s Diner. But after that, I was ready to continue rolling along the furthest eastern edge of the coast, through Main-a-Dieu, Mira, and Port Morien, home of North America’s first commercial coal (in 1720) and Boy Scout troop (in 1908).
Often, passersby ask if my fairing is good at deflecting bugs. On my way out of Louisbourg, I learned it is also effective at deflecting seagull poop, when a bird I startled from an overhead line let loose just as I passed beneath. I bet they don’t include that in the marketing.
Now I’m at Glace Bay, where Guglielmo Marconi sent the first trans-Atlantic wireless message in 1902. I’ll poke around here a bit and then head for Sydney and then on to North Sydney, where the overnight ferry will whisk me off to Newfoundland, unless I lose my nerve before then. I’m told Newfoundlanders are among the most friendly people on the planet, but I’m not sure how easy it will be to find Internet connections, so it may be a while before I’m able to be in touch again.
Thanks for reading!
Glace Bay, NS
Monday, September 5, 2011
One thing about bike trips: time seems to move very slowly, and yet become ancient history almost inmmediately. Wednesday morning in Gander already seems like months ago.
As you'll recall, I was feeling a bit ambivalent about what route to pursue. I eventually decided to keep heading straight for St. John's, leaving the option open for a side trip along one of the several peninsulas along the way. I've grown a bit weary of the long, long distances between towns and the lack of any services once you get there, and I figured getting into a more populated area would allow me some options for shelter if the weather—which has been remarkably fine thusfar—should decide to change.
So Thursday took me through Gambo and Glovertown and into Terra Nova National Park, where the scenery really seemed very little different from the previous several hundred kilometers. But the Park was having a performance of “Go With the Flo'” that night, so I decided to stay, and joined a dozen other hardy souls in the chilly ampitheater to watch the musical travails of Flo the salmon as she tried to get through the wicked culvert on her way to spawn. A bit ragged around the edges, but what the three-person cast lacked in polish, they made up for in creativity and spirit. After the show, the clear skies over the Park offered a brilliant view of the stars!
On Friday, I took a nice morning stroll around the Park's Sandy Pond, enjoying the calls of loons echoing off the flat water, and then stuck my head in the door of the counting station at Northwest River, where 916 salmon have been tallied this season (that's considered good).
From the Park, I made a short swing onto the Bonavista Peninsula, which yielded more hills, surprisingly busy roads, a strong headwind, and no places for breakfast. I labored into Clarenville for a “traditional Newfoundland” lunch of fish cakes, but the city lacked any kind of charm, save for the sight of young boy sitting out on his front lawn with a couple of buddies practicing his accordion.
Back on the Trans-Canada, the fierce headwind, long hills, rumble strips, and impatient Labor Day weekend traffic made for a truly unpleasant evening. I'd hoped to reach Chance Cove, but gave up on that and decided the town of Come By Chance had a nice ring to it. But exiting the highway, the air became foul and a huge oil refinery came into view on the horizon, with the wind blowing the smokestack plumes right over Come by Chance. So, I reluctantly got back on the road and about 40 minutes later, as dusk was falling, pulled into Southern Harbour, a quiet fishing village strung along the side of a tiny peninsula. At the community's one business, a small grocery, I asked for directions to the ball field, and the kind proprietor said I could pitch my tent in her sister's yard next door, where I'd get a bit more shelter from the wind.
Saturday morning brought clouds and more hills on the Trans-Canada, though the wind and traffic had abated. Then, after a mediocre lunch at a truck stop near Whitbourne, the road gloriously flattened out and the forests were replaced with something more like meadows. Warm blue skies had also chased the chilly clouds away. I was actually able to visit some of my higher gears again, as I cruised past occasional large rock outcroppings and the clumps of RVs camped along gravel service roads for the long weekend.
Soon, I was able to trade the Trans-Canada for a side route into the pretty bay community of Holyrood, where a large family cookout briefly adopted me, and then up along the coast of Conception Bay, until the rolling road was eventually swallowed by the sprawling fast-food outlets and muffler-repair shops of Upper Gullies, Kelligrews, and Foxtrap (though I couldn't complain too much about the appearance of a Berg's ice cream shop!). The development dropped away, though, as one more excruciating hill rose up between Topsail and Paradise.
Cresting the hill, the ugly urban sprawl resumed, but now it was a long, gentle coast into the heart of central St. John's and my refuge at the apartment of Chad, Sarah, and Eliza, three free spirits who rescue outdated groceries from area dumpsters and operate a bicycle collective around the corner. As one of only two warmshowers hosts in St. John's, they are used to welcoming stinky, tired cyclists finishing epic cross-country journeys. Their neighborhood is audibly rich: in the evenings, little girls ride their bikes up and down the dead-end street and neighbors hold conversations from their door stoops. Though I can hear their voices clearly, I can barely understand a word.
The oldest city in North America, St. John's clings to the steep hill that forms the natural harbor here. A few blocks from the apartment, container ships are loaded at the wharf, while brightly-painted row houses compete with churches, banks, coffee shops, restaurants, and bars for footing along the winding streets. Being both Sunday and Labor Day weekend, the old city was a bit subdued when I explored a bit yesterday morning, but there was nonetheless a gentleman playing bagpipes on Water Street when services at St. John's Anglican Cathedral let out.
Then, finally, on Sunday afternoon, I tackled the last stage of my outbound trip. I'm running out of adjectives to describe big hills, but the 15 km from St. John's to Cape Spear included three more monsters that forced me into my lowest gear and had sweat pouring down my forehead. But after an hour, the two lighthouses of Cape Spear swung into view, and I was standing at 47 degrees, 31 minutes 14 seconds north latitude; 52 degrees, 37 seconds, 26 seconds west longitude; the easternmost point in North America. You can't ride any further from here without water wings.
For those of you scoring at home, that's seven days and 564 miles across Newfoundland without a drop of rain! The trip overall has taken 54 days and covered approximately 3,235 miles. From Cape Spear, it's a mere 916 miles to Greenland, 1,590 miles to Iceland, 1,869 to Ireland, and 2,222 to Portugal. I'm sure there's a ship in the harbor headed in one of those directions, but I think I'm probably ready to start heading for home. I believe I'll linger in St. John's a few more days before returning by long ferry to Nova Scotia for another pass through that province.
I hope this Labor Day finds you all enjoying the company of friends, family, and comrades, and pursuing your own adventures. Thanks as always for riding along!
St. John's, NL
Monday, September 12, 2011
By now, I’m afraid that some of you might be bored with more examples of the exceptionally generous people I am finding during this trip. Alas, this installment has more of the same!
Back in St. John’s, after my conquest of Cape Spear, I spent a couple of days exploring the town and enjoying the company of Chad, Sarah, and Eliza. While the girls took an overnight camping trip, Chad and I spent Labor Day morning clambering over the guns at Fort Amherst and breakfasting at the The Guv’nor Pub, though they were fresh out of their famous moose sausage. Later, I would hike out to the windy perch of Signal Hill, where Marconi received the first trans-Atlantic wireless signal in 1901 (yes, I know this is confusing: at Signal Hill, Marconi received a dot-dot-dot signifying the letter “s” in morse code, but then the company that owned the trans-Atlantic undersea cable kicked him out of Newfoundland, so he built a new station at Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, where he sent the first message in 1902. “S” apparently does not qualify as a “message.”), and then take the long, winding path back into town through The Battery. Board games and Canadian TV comedies entertained our evenings, and on Tuesday, we gawked at a gargantuan cruise ship which had arrived at the downtown wharf.
My hosts on Angel Place were a real delight, but by Wednesday, it was time for me to start the trip home. After three sets of goodbyes, I found a remarkably flat path out of town through Bay Bulls, and then made for Argentia. Hwy 90 between the Trans-Canada and St. Catherines was a lovely, quiet road, but when I turned west in the early evening, the sun was smack in my eyes, and presumably those of any driver approaching me from behind. After studying my map in a driveway near the intersection, I approached the homeowner, who said it would be all right for me spend the night in his yard. This was Larry, retired from a cardboard box factory, and before I even had the tent set up, his wife Patty had invited me in for “a cup of tea.” Patty, is a cooking professor at the College of the North Atlantic, just home from a celebrity chef fundraiser in South Africa, and my “cup of tea” turned into a glass of Bailey’s, chips and warm dip, two burgers, and a couple of mudslides when her siblings and in-laws stopped for a visit. Larry and Patty were off to St. John’s early on Thursday morning, but when I crawled out of the tent, there was a veritable feast awaiting me on the picnic table: a bacon/egg/cheese sandwich, glass of juice, two ham sandwiches, a bag of chips, two bottles of Gatorade, another two diet Pepsi, half-a-dozen granola bars, a quartet of carrot-cake muffins, and a steaming thermos of coffee (with cream and sugar!).
Thus fortified, I set off for the ferry at Argentia. It was only about 60 km, but rain clouds threatened, and the route included a 22 km stretch of gravel road, which was quite near the edge of what my rig could handle. Plus, the bouncy ride and the thermos of coffee conspired to require pit stops about every 20 minutes! Not wanting to get caught by the rain on my last day on the island, I whizzed through the village of Placentia, and was within three km of the ferry terminal before the first sprinkles of a rainy afternoon caught me. Still, I’m not about to complain about three km of rain out of more than 1,000 km of Newfoundland!
The ferry from Argentia back to North Sydney was about 14 hours, calm, and uneventful. Nova Scotia on Friday morning welcomed me back with brick air and sunny skies.
For weeks, I’ve been hearing about how beautiful the Cabot Trail is, and also how gruelling the mountains are. I was honestly in no mood to tackle another weeks of tortuous up-and-down, but I also wanted to see the legendary scenery, so from North Sydney, I rented a car and drove the Cabot Trail. The scenery was quite spectacular, but the hills also lived up to their billing: 4 km of 12% grade; 5 km of 13%. Ouch. I did pass a couple of pairs of touring cyclists and a group of locals, but believe you me, I was happy to be in the comfort of my snazzy Dodge Caliber.
Like Newfoundland, much of Nova Scotia has been extensively logged, but the Cape Breton Highlands National Park did feature 4,000 acres of undisturbed hardwood forest—the largest such ecosystem in the Maritimes. By comparison, the Baraboo Range is 144,000 acres.
Thanks to Brian Grondin near Milwaukee, I was better able to take advantage of Cape Breton’s musical offerings during my return across the island. After a disappointing dinner in Cheticamp, I sped the Caliber through the dark to Margaree Valley, where I enjoyed a terrific three-fiddler concert (Howie MacDonald, Dwayne Cote, and Wendy MacIsaac) in the small barn behind the Normaway resort. A dance followed, but this was largely taken over by the adolescent set, and the steps were a bit beyond me anyway.
I’d planned to just spend the night curled up in the car, but one of the staff, Elmer, offered me space on his “Chesterfield” (sofa) a few miles away, so I followed him further up the valley. In the morning, his wife Martha canned beets while Elmer spilled oatmeal on the kitchen floor, and I enjoyed breakfast with them until the clock told me that the rental car was about to turn into a pumpkin.
The map shows that the road back to North Sydney passes through Finlayson, but I saw no trace of the place along the way. Skirting past the Alexander Graham Bell Historic Site and the home of the “Silver Dart” in Baddeck, I got the car back to the rental agency just under the wire, and returned to pedal power.
My next musical destination was a fundraiser ceilidh in Marble Mountain, which should have been an easy ride from North Sydney, but clouds behind and before me dogged me as I clung to the St. Andrews Channel and Bras d’Or Lake. In McKinnons Harbour, I sat out a shower under the porch of Brad, who told stories of nuns and pondered what to do with the chipmunk he’d just captured in the basement, while pausing every few minutes to ask “what for the love of God are you doing here on a bicycle?” Later, another porch just past Valley Mills offered an hour of shelter during a heavier rain. But I made it to the community center in plenty of time, and along with 80 other people packed into the small hall, enjoyed several hours of alternatingly touching and hilarious entertainment by a handful local performers, all wittily woven together by Robert Woodley and his accordion.
The yard of the nearby Catholic Church provided my campsite for the night, and Sunday morning found me in West Bay just in time for a quick clean-up in the bathroom and then the services of the United Canadian Church. Just a modest white building with little adornment, the morning’s theme of forgiveness and the sense of community among the parishioners resonated far more deeply with me than what I’d found a week earlier at the imposing cathedral in St. John’s. After the service, I discovered that the organist, who helps run the show while the parish is temporarily without a minister, grew up in Warsaw, Indiana, and in fact worked at the Wagon Wheel while she was in school!
Kay and her husband Ray invited me out for breakfast, but that responsibility had already been taken by Mitchell and Marguerite, who asked if “anyone had invited me home for an egg yet.” So, I spent a lovely morning at their home up the road and was stuffed with home-made pancakes and leftover sausage and bacon.
From West Bay, it was a pleasant ride under crisp blue skies back to Port Hawkesbury and then across the Straits of Canso and onto the mainland. Turning south after the causeway, I followed the coast through Mulgrave and the mythical towns of Melford, Sand Point, and St. Francis Harbour before pitching my tent just past the “No Camping” sign at a provincial beach park at Port Shoreham. As I struggled against the wind to put up the tent, Lee and Marie from across the street arrived for their evening walk, and promptly invited me for breakfast in the morning. Without any ambient artificial interference, the full moon shone like a spotlight on the beach, drawing eerie “moon shadows” on the sand. The wind soon relented, and I relaxed to the sound of the crashing waves.
Breakfast with Lee and Marie this morning was delightful, and featured my introduction to “white pudding” (or “mealy pudding”), a mixture of oatmeal, suet, pork, and spices stuffed into a sausage and fried as little disks, along with stories of Lee’s service in the Coast Guard and Marie’s career as a nurse.
Hospitality just seems to come naturally in this part of the world. Yesterday was, of course, the 10-year anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, and in The Maritimes remembrances largely focused on the good that sprung from that tragedy. After U.S. airspace was closed, jets crossing the Atlantic were forced to land as soon as safely possibly. In just one example, 38 passenger jets—along with nearly 6,000 passengers—arrived at the airport in Gander, a town of about 8,000. Without a second thought, the residents of Gander and Gambo and Lewisporte and all the other neighboring communities in Newfoundland opened their hearts and hearths to these strangers from all over the world and gave them food, shelter, and compassion for as long as it took until they could resume their trips home. The CBC featured a call-in program from Gander last night (that my host Chris undoubtedly had a hand in) where people shared stories of the lasting friendships that span the intervening decade. I hope that ten years hence, I will still be friends with many of those who have shared this journey with me.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Good Morning, Everyone!
I encountered a small crisis shortly after my last message from Halifax, when I discovered I still had the key to Al and Sarah’s apartment in my pocket, just after turning over my bike as checked baggage at the train station. So, with the clock ticking towards departure, I lugged all my gear back uptown towards the library, where Sarah works. It’s closed on Monday (of course), so I planned to drop the key in the book drop, and on my second try, found a business that would give me an envelope—and as it turned out, the clerk there knew Sarah and Al, and offered to return the key for me. In a town of 400,000, what are the chances?!
The VIA train was remarkably efficient, departing and arriving at each station within minutes of the schedule. The tracks followed an eastern and northern route through New Brunswick that I hadn’t cycled, but unfortunately covered this area at night (while I and the other passengers were drowsily wondering why the seats in the carriage didn’t recline). We switched trains in Montreal and again in Toronto, where a 75-minute layover allowed me to explore just a little bit and find a great deal for dinner (two falafel sandwiches for four bucks!).
I had a little heartburn about trusting my bike to the baggage handlers, but it emerged from the train in Windsor with nary a scratch. Neither the bridge nor the tunnel between Windsor and Detroit have any provisions for getting bicycles across, however, so my friends Tom and Carol graciously picked me up at the station late on Tuesday night and drove me and the ‘bent to their home in Ann Arbor, commencing my tour of friends and family that over the next week would take me to Dexter, Manchester, Brooklyn, Jackson, Holt, Dimondale, and Grand Rapids. As much as I have enjoyed meeting new people on this trip, I must admit it is a bit of a relief to not have to introduce myself every night, and I got to enjoy soccer practices, sixth-grade football, and watching the Brewers clinch the NL Central on TV.
In Grand Rapids, my friend Tracy introduced me to Artprize, where over 1,500 artists exhibit entries in every imaginable downtown venue for three weeks. The public votes on what they like or dislike, and the winning artists walk away with some $450,000 in prize money. Entries range from simple 11x17 paintings to wooden bear sculptures that occupy an entire public fountain or metal monkeys that colonize a pedestrian bridge. It’s a little nutty, and even late in the day on Sunday, most places were packed.
Monday morning, I had hoped to catch the 10:15 ferry from Muskegon to Milwaukee which meant leaving Tracy’s house at 6:00 and pedaling like mad in the dark and drizzle, with heavy black walnuts thunking to the pavement all around me. After an hour, I reached the Musketawa Trail, where the canopy of trees—which on most days is a huge asset—on this morning had left piles of slippery leaves. I nonetheless cycled as fast as I could and covered the 25 miles in 100 minutes (thus answering the frequent question, “How fast can you make that thing go?” About 15 miles per hour, apparently).
I rolled into Muskegon right on schedule at 9:00, but to my dismay discovered that the ferry would not be keeping its schedule. The morning crossing was cancelled due to six-foot waves (are you kidding me? that wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow in Newfoundland!), and the attendant was not optimistic about the afternoon sailing either. So, with few options other than spending the day in Muskegon, I rented a minivan and drove my soggy self around Lake Michigan and to the Milwaukee ferry terminal, where the Lake Express was indeed still tied to the dock. Even including gas, the car rental cost me $20 less than a ferry ticket would have. From the terminal, it was back on the bike for a leisurely ride along the shore (where a guy was actually surfing in Lake Michigan) to Glendale and the home of Brian and Christine and Luc, their 3-1/2 year-old. Brian is one of my heroes on this trip, having tipped me off to both the warmshowers network and a site that tracks all the music opportunities on Cape Breton Island. The four of us had a delicious, entertaining dinner capped with pumpkin ice cream, fancy cheese, and port!
All week, I have been dodging clouds and rain that an unusual weather system parked over Lake Michigan has sent spiraling north into Michigan and south across Wisconsin. On the NOAA radar, it looks something like a hurricane with its eye over Gary. Tuesday was no different, with long tentacles of rain looping through the Milwaukee area. My 85-mile route for the day would take me along the Oak Leaf Trail, the Hank Aaron Trail, the New Berlin Recreation Trail, and finally, the Glacial Drumlin Trail. I waved goodbye to Christine and Luc with a wave of dark clouds in front of me and an even darker band of clouds rolling in off the lake. For most of the day, however, I managed to stay between the two pinchers, even encountering brief spells of sunlight. Along the trail I met an elderly biker from Milwaukee who ended every sentence with a little laugh and could do little but complain about bicycle “racers” taking over all the bike clubs. A few miles later, I passed a fellow headed home to Chicago who after a year circling the country with his bike and trailer in search of warm winter weather had concluded that there isn’t any.
Around London, with the back pincher of clouds closing in on me, I caught up with the front pincher, and my luck with the rain finally ran out, resulting with a wet, chilly, muddy ten miles to Cottage Grove. A sprint through the gloom brought me to the east side of Madison for a shower and a welcome respite and fabulous vegetable-laden dinner with my friends Meg and Woody.
So there you have it. Today, the skies look to be mostly clear, and I should have a lovely day of riding through rural Wisconsin before tackling my last challenge of the trip, getting over the south range of the Baraboo Hills. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn that it’s still tomato season here, and I’m eager to see if there’s anything that survived the summer in my garden!
Happy to be almost home!
Wednesday, October 6, 2011
In “Bridge of Sighs,” Richard Russo's adolescent protagonist Lou writes,
“When I set out on my bike, it was usually with a sense of anticipation, not just that I might discover something new, like a cave in Whitcombe Park, or someone new, like Gabriel Mock Junior, but also I might think something new and unexpected, as if I were letting out my brain, its thoughts, much as my mother let out my pants' cuffs. And when returning home from my travels, I had the very pleasurable sense that I was a different boy from the one who'd left and half expected my parents and neighbors to notice the change.”
Well, I don't know as I can offer any observations quite so profound as Lou's. The most obvious difference that everyone seems to notice about this boy is just how much less of him came back from Newfoundland. I neglected to report this earlier, for fear of panicking all my surrogate mothers out there, but between Stevens Point and St. John's, I lost 18 pounds, and despite the best efforts of hosts and sisters-in-law to fatten me up, have hovered right around 150 ever since—a weight I've not touched since I was Lou's age.
For those interested in other data, I biked approximately 3,223 miles from Baraboo to Cape Spear, 436 from Cape Spear to Halifax, and 369 from Windsor to Baraboo. Along the way, I spent 19 nights in the tent, 14 with friends and family, 29 with folks I met via warmshowers/couchsurfing, and 11 with people I met on the street that day. One of the most gratifying figures from the trip is zero—the number of flat tires or other significant mechanical breakdowns. Sadly, I did not keep track of the Pop-Tarts and ice cream cones consumed.
Physical dimensions aside, it continues to amaze me how quickly one's mind adapts to different environments. In Montreal, St. John's, Halifax, and in dozens of other places, I was able to adjust to the new “normal” and be at home in my new surroundings within a few hours or even minutes of arrival. Last week, even before I reached Baraboo and performed my “Wonderful Life” loop around the courthouse square on Wednesday evening, I felt like I had never left, the familiar rhythms of the place already reasserting themselves and making the past two and a half months seem like a mirage.
Not that being home doesn't have certain perks. The simple act of walking in tennis shoes was a novelty on Thursday morning, and I find great joy and relief in laughing at the clouds without worry about when a downpour might drench me and all my worldly belongings. And slowly reading the newspaper on the porch in jeans and sweatshirt without any anxiety over whether I'll cover enough miles today is surely a luxury.
(Even this chapter of FF betrays the change: On the road, I usually type updates as fast as I can, as the timer on the library computer drifts toward zero, while here at home I can write at leisure, procrastinate, and brood over each word. The result is certainly different, though not necessarily better.)
Despite the comforts of home, part of me already misses the novelty of the trip—new roads, new friends, new vistas—and also the anonymity: the opportunity to make a good first impression on someone every day, because they don't know the dumb things you've done recently or the way you neglect your lawn. Biking also has a way of reducing life to a very few fundamentals: eat, bike, don't get hit, find a place to sleep. Without that sharp focus, the din of other projects and responsibilities competing for my attention can be a bit daunting.
If you haven't guessed by now, the dominant theme of this trip has been the overwhelming generosity, hospitality, and trust of those I've met along the way (both Canadians and Americans). A lot of my friends express surprise that people would welcome a stranger into their home, or that I would not be nervous about sleeping on the couch of someone I've just met. Certainly, we all hear about rare cases where bad things happen. But I believe that most people are good, caring people, and welcome the opportunity to share what they have with others—these sort of friendly interactions tend not to be highlighted on the evening news, however, and so we become jaded and suspicious. Long-distance biking forces you to rely on others for help, and more often than not, they are happy to oblige.
Sunday is Canadian Thanksgiving, and I will celebrate with my neighbors Karen and Ken, who took such good care of my house over the summer. I have much to be thankful for: a safe trip, many new friends, and an appreciative audience which indulges me by following my progress!
For those of you who are interested in seeing a few pictures, inspecting the 'bent, or asking that burning question, I'll be doing a presentation at the Village Booksmith in Baraboo on Friday (October 7) at 7:30 p.m. Already, the 744 photos I took have been winnowed all the way down to 714! (If there's sufficient interest, I'd be happy to repeat the show in Madison or another venue, and I'm also available for weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc.) Coincidentally, the Sauk County Historical Society will host a program on Thursday (October 6) at 6:00 p.m. by Earl Wichern, one of three Baraboo teenagers who biked to the New York World's Fair in 1939!
Until then, thanks for joining me on this adventure! If you've missed an installment, you can catch up at www.finleysfollies.com, where you'll also find significantly fewer than 744 photos.
Cheers, and thanks for riding along,
All content copyright 2011 by Rob Nelson.
rob (at) nelsonadmirals (dot) com
For photo captions, right-click image and select ``properties.``