I am infinitely glad to have started my journey to Gaspé on bike and not bus. After weeks of bottling up the excitement, it just seemed so wrong to keep the lid on for another ten hours. Crusading knights too, blissfully ignorant of the immoral or perilous qualities of their quests, left from their doorsteps, and trotted gallantly out of their towns with armor shining, chests puffed, chins held high.
While the Plateau streets were not exactly lined with hankerchief waving women or teary-eyed admirers, I still felt as if I was rolling across center stage as I made my way east on the Rachel bike path. Departing in such pomp and circumstance shed exquisite new light on my Montreal. The drab, crumbling concrete of the Olympic stadium stood revitalized, stretching above me like a mighty, ivory tusk thrusting into the heart of an open blue sky.
I made my way over the bridge into Repentigny, and followed the scenic highway on the north side of the St. Lawrence. Everywhere Quebeckers made preparations for the evening’s St. Jean celebrations. The kilometers rolled by smoothly, until a few confusing turns in La Route Verte (Québec’s extensive, safe, but somewhat unreliably signed cycling path network), left me on an overpass overlooking the Autoroute 40. Unable to face a 10 kilometer backtrack, I decided to ignore the signs interdicting bicycle use and to speed along on the shoulder of the Autoroute. I wouldn’t say I felt safe. My adrenaline was pumping as impossibly large trucks roared by me at impossible speeds. But the shoulder was quite wide and I felt I could stay well away from the cars.
Fortunately, before I became animal écrasé, I was saved from my bull-headed self. After about five kilometers, the censorious sirens of a Sureté Québec squad car sounded behind me. A few minutes and mumbled excuses later, I found myself making excellent time towards Trois Rivières in the front seat of a squad car. My co-conspirator – a deconstructed bicycle named Springsteed – cowered guiltily in the back seat.
Turns out that I might have made the evening news, had I made a bigger scene with the policeman. A week later, a cross-Canada runner was arrested for refusing to leave the same highway shoulder I was picked up on:
After my helpful brush with the law, I managed to finish the 140km trek to Trois-Rivières. After an enormous portion of Steak et Frites, I milled about with the boisterous St. Jean revellers while night settled lazily on the crowded city streets. Unfortunately, I’d run out of daylight with which to find a campsite.
My first attempt to find a surreptitious place to sleep ended with screams. After stumbling along the river in the dark, I stumbled across a suitably secluded section of brush. ‘Perfect!’ I whispered to myself in relief. Ducking under a tree branch, I pushed my heavily laden tour bike into a small clearing. I was stopped short when my wheel thumped into some sort of root protruding out of the darkness. Irritation at this minor hindrance quickly morphed into terror. Focusing my flashlight downwards, the obstructing limb turned out to be not of the tree, but of the human, variety. Forgetting its fatigue entirely, my body mobilized into instant flight mode. As I turned to flee, I glimpsed the gaunt, grey face of some sort of a drug-addled vagrant, slumped unconsciously against the trunk of a tree.
After my literal brush with a death, I was more than relieved to stagger into the first motel that would take me, deadbolt the door, and fall into the safe, serene embrace of sleep.