It is my last night in Quebec, and I’m feeling sort of sad that I’ve only spent 10 days in this wonderful province of beautiful landscapes, different language, and easy bike riding. It certainly takes the cake for Canada for the plethora of bike lanes to get you from place to place, sometimes in the woods, or sharing the road with cars but shielded via a fence. I’m enjoying a beer in the city of Pohenegamook before I head to my tent which is setup in a graveyard behind a church, the only thing I could find as dusk snuck up on me quickly and the temperature was getting cold. If anyone bothers me I’ll deal with it when it happens, but it seems to be a safe place.
I had a great sleep behind the Police station and woke early knowing I had a 120km run into Quebec City so was anxious to get some breakfast in me and hit the road. Too bad my stove stopped working again, so I munched a bagel, a few granola bars, and left searching for a restaurant that could get some solid foods into me. I found one about 30km in and gorged on a cheap breakfast complete with coffee. It was a sunny day and I alternated between riding on La Route Verte and on the highway when I didn’t feel like checking out the multiple small towns that appeared every 15km, which one could tell from a distance from the large churches that towered over anything else in the area. Unfortunately at 60km, I bonked from not enough nutrients in my body, collapsing on the side of the road, taking 15 minutes to restore my energy, still hunting for things in my pannier to get me the sustenance I needed. I found a grocery store shortly thereafter and loaded up with dry goods that I could munch on without having to rely on my stove and moved forward, finally making it into the city of Quebec just at sunset after crossing over the St. Laurent river over a large bridge, and being surprised by a huge hill that I needed to take to get into the city.
It was in Quebec city that Ben, someone who answered my call on Couchsurfing Last Minute Requests let me stay with him for my entire time. He cycled during the summer with his girlfriend from BC to Quebec City and had settled for a month before coming up with the decision to head back home on October 7th by bike. I’ve got some serious reserves for him doing it, but all the power to him for doing it. He was great, had a lot of personality, and took me to some spots in the city to hang out, also introducing me to some of his friends, one of them Pierre, who runs a bike store just down the road in Old Quebec (Haute Village) called La Musee Velo. Pierre is the only Surly bike dealer in town, and had an impressive display in his window of Brooks saddles in all sorts of shapes sizes and colours. Once you got into the store there was hardly any room to walk as it was jam packed full of bikes and parts. If you could make it to the back you found the museum, showcasing different kinds of bicycles, some made of wood, parts dating back to the 1800′s and some unicycles that had 4 chainrings! Very cool place and was one of my highlights for visiting the city.
If you recall, I was to meet a friend in the city when I arrived, but plans fell through for some reason or other, so I was feeling sort of lost with my 3 days off from the saddle. It happened that the night I arrived that the local Couchsurfing group was meeting up at a bar named L’Ostradamus, and I had the opportunity to meet a set of hosts, visitors, and good people in this environment, still practicing my french, gaining valuable contacts for the next few days that I was there to spend some time with. It was a late night for me as I headed over to another bar afterwords “Sacrilege” and spoke to a man who invited me inside who carried around a Digireedoo, listening to him tell me about his recumbent bike that he hand made, while he asked me about questions of cycling in British Columbia in the winter months. I hope I gave him enough information to move forward on his dreams! I made it home for 5 minutes late in the night before being taken out by Ben to another nightspot and played pool for the first time in what must be 15 years. I won. Woo!
The next day, I milled around the city, riding around checking out what it had to offer, gawking at some of the old history surrounding this 400 year old city. Cobblestone roads, Old fortifications, and what seemed like a hundred museums were splattered all over the place. I went to Mountain Equipment Co-Op and picked up a MSR Dragonfly Expedition Service Kit to fix my stove for once and for all, knowing that one day I’d have to use the other parts that came with it. I also rode into the Plains of Abraham, after riding up one of the craziest hills I’ve ever cycled on, thankfully unloaded – my GPS was stating 20% grade, where I met a young couple from Ottawa who were on a road trip to Halifax. The Plains of Abraham is a very well known area, where the French and British battled for control of “New France” in the 1600′s. Monuments and placards were setup everywhere, as well as dozens of cannons and guns to showcase the area. It’s a great green space for someone who wants to relax and have a picnic, or play some sports – and was also the place where 60,000 people showed up last Saturday to show their support to bring back the Quebec Nordiques, an NHL hockey team that was taken away from them in the ’90s. I’m all for bringing back more hockey to Canada, let us cross our fingers.
Wednesday, the clouds came in and I feared rain for the upcoming days, however mother nature held out until later on in the evening, allowing me to run some errands across the city, picking up some new sunglasses/convertible goggles so that I stop losing the bloody things. I’ll write a detailed review on these cost friendly units somewhere down the road as I get a chance to test them out with their included 3 types of lenses, and attachments. After, I headed over back into the old town, so that I could take a tour of the Legislative building. It’s actually called ‘L’Assemblage Nationale’, and I was lucky to get in, as there was a private function going on. The building was built in the late 1800′s and is styled after the Louvre, and so far it is the nicest one I have seen yet. Beautiful paintings, floors, and meeting rooms were able to be accessed, albeit a tonne of security and metal detectors. I had a chance to sit in during some hearings, yet was unable to perform a headstand in the building due to my inability to not speak french properly and fear of security doing something worse of just kicking me out. Leaving is an impressive display of mechanical clocks, some dating back 200 years.
I used the remaining time of the sunlight to repair my stove before heading out to meet a friend that I met the night before to have a few beers and share conversation with some of their other friends. I got along great with one man, and he almost convinced me to stay another day to check out a brewery close to his house ‘La Barbarique’ and in hindsight I probably should have. C’est la vie.
On Thursday, rain was coming down quickly yet I still packed my gear, said goodbye to Ben who from what I think was going to delay his departure, and headed out of the city, taking a ferry from Quebec City over to Lavie for $3. Even though it was raining, it still saved a few kilometres from my ride, and I was able to take some great gloomy shots of Quebec City before riding away on La Route Verte (Numero 1) heading heading east. Since it was raining I again bought easy to eat goods to save from the hassle of cooking, and finally the sky cleared and brought a bit of blue sky, although some headwinds along with it. I made it to my Couchsurfing hosts’ apartment in the city of La Pocatiere in complete darkness. La Pocatiere is home of Bombardier transport, a familiar company to me as they make our Skytrain in the city of Vancouver, and also has two schools that are similar to trade schools. My hosts were taking Ecology, and Veterinary studies, and I had the opportunity to go out and party as it was the last night of mid terms for the school, but once I had showered, eaten, and had a bit of time to relax I found I had assglue and spent the night nerding out, listening to music, and talking to one of the hosts who stayed home. It was probably the best decision I could have done after today’s fiasco.
I’m not sure if today ranks as the craziest in the trip, as there certainly has been some weird things to happen along the way, but certainly in recent memory. I left the city of La Pocatiere at about 9:30 saying goodbye to my host riding along the a narrow shoulder through half a dozen towns that started with St. When I looked at my GPS for nearby cities, I had to page through a dozen other towns, churches are everywhere and have signs stating their age, some over 200 years old which gives a good idea as to just how old this area has been populated along the St. Laurent. I rode for a while off of my course and stopped at the side of a farmers field, blasting music looking to make some lunch, a Pad Thai kit I’ve been carrying since Ontario that seemed to fit the bill for my famish. My stove didn’t work again – Same as before, works once and then stops working. This time I tried something different, and removed the pump jet, to see if fuel was coming through and it was, so I cleaned the jet and flipped something upside down – perhaps this has been the problem all along that I didn’t put it together properly. It was sort of a bicycle tourists hack of a Pad Thai as I threw a cucumber and a can of turkey into it, and enjoyed it immensely with a desert of 12 slices of bread and a can of jam. I opted to head down the gravel road as I spied a shortcut on my map and figured it would be a good thing to take on a day with wind behind my back, and sun coming down, even though it was about 10 degrees. I dropped about 100 metres before starting to take some weird routes, ignoring the sign that said “Cul-De-Sac”, finding a road with a gate that was propped open. It took me up a rocky rocky road into an area where there was a great view of a few lakes in the area, and I spied a small winter shelter, immediately thoughts of the story of Alexander Supertramp “Into the Wild” running through my mind. It was open and I found a small stove, a few laundry lines and cans of food stored away along with a bunch of pictures of girls in swimsuits hanging from the laundry lines. I headed out further into the woods before hitting a dead-end – plans foiled. That is until I decided to start hauling my bicycle through the thick branches as my map stated the actual road I wanted to be on was only 500 metres away. I made it about 30 metres before turning back, heading back down the hill and tried another area that seemed close to the highway, Route 289. It soon turned into a swamp, and I was riding over palettes that someone had placed to create a path, until it ended and my bike was covered in sludge halfway up – panniers immersed in this thick mossy bog. Even worse, I got a few soakers in my shoes which are now carrying a horrific stench. Laundry is a few days away so I’m going to have to deal with it. My legs are all cut up from the brush and it looks like I’ve got some rashes from what seems like Poison Ivy. I still trudged forward pushing my bike through the mess hoping for an access road to get me to the highway, spying a “Detour” sign riddled with bullet holes 500 feeet away. I passed the sign and conditions were just getting worse so I threw in the towel and turned around. Blah.
Not to be outdone by a gravel road, I headed back in the direction I came, and decided for one more adventure off-road seeking a shortcut, even though I had wasted 3 hours of my day doing this already. I found a trail that paralleled the train tracks with a gate blocking its path, easily passed with some limbo moves by me and the bike. I rode about 2km in before finding myself in a wide open space with no possibility of getting to get to the highway, elevation being all out of wack from where I estimated the highway would be at. I kept hearing what sounded like birds chirping every 2-3 seconds until my ears were deafened by two large cracks of gun very close to me. I raised my hands and yelled ‘Pas Moi! Pas Moi!’ while I saw a large dog running towards me with teeth bared followed by a man with a large gun. This can not go well. Here I am in the middle of nowhere, a guy with a gun shooting and I’m trespassing, AND can’t speak french worth a damn.
I had 30 seconds to wave my arms, and finally the man started speaking in broken English a bit so we could have a conversation. It turns out he wasn’t after me, and laughed at my story that I was lost and was baffled at how someone on a bicycle could turn up in the middle of nowhere where I was. He actually was hunting a Woodcock, and the sounds I heard were from his hunting dog which was a beacon, and him blowing into his whistle. I was dressed all in black away from my bike, black pants, black shirt, black helmet and he said he thought he saw a bear. Serge apologized to me and gave me good directions to get out of the area I was in, even though I knew perfectly well how I got to the area and we shook hands and left. Shaking from my near death experience and scare I decided to get onto the beaten path and get the hell out of the area where I was. I had wasted enough time and knew that there was challenging conditions ahead.
Those conditions consisted of, 4 degrees temperature, no shoulders, dump trucks galore, and a climb up to 400 metres non stop with no water, no food with the exception of a can of nutella and a piece of 5 cent gum I had picked up a few days before. I also noticed I lost one of my water bottles throughout my jaunt in the woods, my emergency bottle, so I was starting to panic a bit, hoping to find a town or city along the way. It was 5pm, sun setting at 6:05pm and I was 30km away from the closest town, with more hills to climb. I pushed through it, listened to really fast and forward thinking music and headed through 30km of provincial park before finally hitting the summit, and descending at a fast pace, arriving in this town stopping at the church, setting up the tent and finally heading to the grocery store to get some food in me. One for the books for sure. 9 out of 10 times a shortcut that you decide to take on your own is not going to work, but I’m always up for adventure, and glad that my bicycle can put up with this abuse that I give to it. Actually, I’m ecstatic.
Tomorrow will take me into English-speaking territories again, which will be sad in one sense, but great for understanding people a bit better. The people here speak at a million miles an hour and I must have them repeat themselves slowly for me to comprehend, and we don’t get much past the first stages of talking with my broken understandings. Something to set as a goal for the winter, as Africa has a lot of French-speaking countries in it, so this can only be good overall. I’ve thought of changing some of my plans in the next couple days in terms of destinations, and based on my initial cursory review of elevation charts, distance, and conversations with other people who have lived in the east coast during these months it should be entirely possible. That being said, who knows. I have to only be in Fredericton in the next couple of days as I’ve arranged a few deliveries of packages but after that I’m a free man. Well, I already am, but you know what I mean. Bonne soir et merci Quebec pour la bonne experience!