Gaspé Day Two – Trois Rivieres to Quebec, Quebec

July 9, 2012

The morning after my first 150km day, I awoke completely immobilized by muscle pain. In this cycle-induced “locked-in syndrome,” I couldn’t even muster a moan; instead I protested silently, my mouth flapping open and closed with the dumb shock of a fish out of water.

The Sunday morning canicule (“heat wave”) didn’t help my sorry state. Stiff and contorted, I stumbled over to a nearby diner for breakfast. I would have been a hit, if I was auditioning for an extra’s part for the Walking Dead. I also broke fast with a zombie’s violent dexterity, pausing only for the briefest of moments to contemplate the Quebec diner’s “all meat” dish, which included not just the usual bacon, ham, sausage tri-yum-virate, but three additional slabs of unidentifiable salami and/or pepperoni. Any revulsion, however, was quickly swallowed along with a generous dose of ketchup.

The route to Quebec City was populated with a wide diversity of cyclist sub-species. I leeched on to the competitive cyclists, who whizzed by me on their daily training rides, trying to match them pedal for pedal and guiltily drafting behind them. In contrast to other cyclists, I became aware of my growing impatience to meet my daily mileage goal. The most impressive were the cross-Canada pilgrim types, creaking along with mini-trailers and bikes laden down with gear. Hardened by so many days on the road, their bodies seemed to have morphed into caves, housing hermetic consciousnesses, drawing forever inward, away from the quotidian discomforts of the road. There outside appearances were cavelike indeed; crannies ran through rumpled clothing, shaggy facial hair sprouted here and there, a patina of dust settled permanently on every inch of their body and gear. The pilgrim exhibited a remarkable stoicism, a complete acceptance of personal limitations, married with an almost fanatical certainty in their final destination.

I also encountered another bohemian breed of biker. Laden with dreadlocks instead of helmets, dirty and over-exposed to the elements, these carefree nomads offered another counter-point to my zealous pedaling. For bohemians, destination is merely a suggestion. Cloaked behind their unkempt, odorific exteriors, these hippies hold a certain wisdom and tenacity, managing to move slowly while continuing to live in the “now.”

The one break I allowed myself was to give in to the gravity of one of the many strawberry stands strewn along my route. When Steinbeck wistfully bellyached that “the strawberries don’t taste as they used to and the thighs of women have lost their clutch!” he clearly hadn’t spent six hours on the saddle of a cycle. Stuffing my face with these summer strawberries was an unparalleled pleasure. In addition, I was relieved not have to test the clutches of the burly farm lady who served them up.

The rest of my trip to Québec was a tale of Beauty and the Beast. First, the beauty – the 50 kilometers leading up to Québec is absolutely stunning. The cycle trail shoots off from the highway and drops into a sudden expansion of lowland along the St. Lawrence River, which bursts with verdant fecundity.

After marveling on nature, on this hidden beauty, I had to confront the beast: the writhing, impenetrable tracts of highway surrounding the city. Roaring beltways and sprawling construction sites cut off my approach to the city time and time again. I grew edgy, even desperate, like a poor migratory beast, instincts snubbed by an impossible barrier. Despite fading energy reserves, dizzying hills and arduous detours, I managed not to collapse. At nighfall, I crept across the comely cobblestones of Vieux Québec, and crashed uncontrollably, face first, into a youth hostel pillow.

Sharing the shoulder with stoic escargot.

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Gaspé – Day 1 – Montréal to Trois-Rivières

July 5, 2012

Leaving my Boyer apartment, headed for Gaspé, the End of the World.

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:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/story/2012/07/03/quebec-arrest-man-running-arrest-alberta.html

Dumped on the side of the Road after my ride with Sureté Québec.

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.


Dictionary.com FAIL

July 5, 2012

My desperate attempt to find a synonym for scandalous Stymied (word of the day) by ridiculously placed ad.

 

I am officially boycotting Dictionary.com, which to date has been my usual casual/lazy source of multisyllabic synonyms, mostly because of their convenient domain name. They have, however, placed an impossibly irritating (and partly invisible0 popup RIGHT OVER their search bar. Which means that my attempts to find the perfectly weighted alternative synonyms to fuel my twitter banter sent me to some ridiculous website, using ridiculous multimedia images to promote a ridiculous, totally undesirable, expiring American automobile brand.

The irony? Today’s word of the day, one of the few remaiing uneclipsed areas on Dic.com’s home page, is “Stymie” – to hinder, thwart, or block.

I urge you to share this astounding, frustrating idiocy with word lovers everywhere, and to join my Dictionary.com boycott. I am willing to make do with my existing lexicon until they remove their catastrophically cumbersome ads.


Simon Don’t Ever Qu-Whitfield

July 4, 2012

One of my motivations for buying a performance road bike is to start exploring the gutsy sport of triathlon. With the countdown to the London 2012 Olympics beginning, check out this video of Canadian triathlete Simon Whitfield’s comeback to take the lead, and eventually the silver, in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

If anyone finds the full CBC feed of this race, PLEASE send it to me. This is one of my favorite Olympic moments. This video captures the zenith of Whitfield’s comeback, but he starts his comeback sprint about 6 minutes from the finish line, in something like 28th place, and never lets off.

“The question now is: how much have you spent? How much do you have left? Whitfield is picking up the pace. Karen, this is unbelievable, remember what he did in 2000? Simon Whitfield can taste it…And here comes Simon Whitfield…Nobody has ever been able to do this in the sport of triathlon…Four men will sprint for three medals…And there goes Simon Whitfield! Whitfield has the lead!”

#savenothingforthewayback

This is an excellent article talking about Whitfield’s Adapt or Die training regime for the 2012 London games.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/olympics/simon-whitfield-hoping-age-is-just-a-number/article4387476/

(His impressive Gold medal performance in 2000)

‘Great things happen to people that make great things happen to themselves.’


Travelling Alone in the Gaspésie

July 2, 2012

Il faut qu”il soit immense le silence qui offre le cadre ou ont lieu de tels vacarmes et de tels mouvements, et si l’on songe que, à tout cela vient s’ajouter et consonner la présence de la mer lointaine, peut-être comme la sonorité la plus profonde au sein de cette harmonie préhistorique, on peut seulement souhaiter que vous laissiez patiemment et en toute confiance, cette grandiose solitude accomplir en vous son travail, solitude qui ne pourra plus jamais être effacée de votre existence, et qui, dans tout ce que vous aurez à vivre et à réaliser, agira continûment et de manière discrètement décisive, telle une influence anonyme, un peu comme en nous le sang de nos ancetres court sans cesse et se fond avec le nôtre pour produire un composé unique qui ne se répétera jamais. 

-Rainer Marie Rilke


Lochinvar Returns Unscathed!

July 2, 2012

1 man. 9 days. 2000 kilometers. 775km by bike…

A veritable Greek romance, a marvelous adventure, marked by an abundance of shipwrecks; hairbreadth escapes from wild beasts, bandits and pirates; innocent maidens, preserving their virtue in spite of all assaults; ending in miraculous reunions of those long believed dead…

Turns out you need a 3G phone to stay connected in Gaspé, so I was off the grid for the last week. The north coast of the peninsula is barely inhabited. An alpine forest charges down precipitous cliffs, making war on a sea of troubles. The only available space between these two unstoppable armies of nature, is held tenously by a winding, grey highway – a grim, desperate mediator trying to maintain an impossible peace.

Thanks to all of those you who checked up on me to make sure I was alive. Its nice to know that I wouldn’t be completely forgotten if I was swallowed by the sea or buried in the brush. Thanks also to all of you who didn’t check up on me- your unshakeable confidence in my decision-making and survival skills is truly touching.


Updated Itinerary – Step One: Shave Legs; Step Two Bike to Gaspé.

June 22, 2012

After much deliberation, I have decided to depart from my doorstep towards Gaspé. The initial leg of the journey will take me along the north side of the St. Lawrence until Trois Rivières, QC, and then on to la Capitale on Sunday. That makes a total of 260km for my first two days, which should leave me so thirsty for a cold beer and the company of humans that I will likely set aside my federalist preconceptions and indulge in St-Jean festivities without the slightest fuss. By then, I will gladly get behind any vision of this province that will allow me to sit still and drink beer.

This “urban” leg of the journey will allow me to assure that I am appropriately provisioned for cycling and camping when I hit the Gaspé, and to discover why La Fete Nationale in Quebec City is all the rage. It’s also a way for me to burn off all this bottled up excitement without having to first survive an anaesthetic 15 hour bus ride to my start destination.

Après ça, I will be bussing to Rimouski, where I will undertake to bike the entire, bulbous, peninsula of la Gaspésie. 

For the ostensible purpose of staving off future infection, I will be shaving my legs this evening. Stay tuned for the uncensored video footage.

#savenothingforthewayback