IT’S FALL. And biking in fall is literally one of the best things in the world. Or at least in the fall, in this soon to be ice-cube of a country. Like, light neck-tube and hand warmers weather. You know.
About a month ago, still in the sweaty throes of summer, my partner and I took a day trip to Chambly and back. Why? Because it’s not CLOSE close, but also not FAR far. And the sun was shining. And our legs were itching. And he swore that there’d be beer at the end of the line.
Once you get off the island and do the old uppy downy on Mr. Cartier, it’s a breezy two dozen kilometers on mostly bike paths and side roads. We left sometime well past noon (as is our signature move) and got there in time for an early dinner/beers AND were back on the island before dark.
If you have a free day kicking around before the air gets cold, you should hit up this trip. Even if you are a bixi rider. I’m pretty sure you could bike to Chambly and back on a bixi without too much problem. I mean, if their invisible tethers reach that far, or whatever.
Guys. In February 2016 I jumped on a flight from Delhi to Kathmandu. The plan was to meet a friend and do a long-ass trek (not to be confused with a long ass-trek) from Jiri to Everest Base camp and back. Google tells me that this is approximately 300km, and the total altitude gained is around 9000m, which is taller than Everest. A whole lotta uppy-downy.
My lovely travel companion and I took the standard horrifying 10 hour ride from Kathmandu to Jiri where we stayed our first night. The next morning my travel companion woke up feeling a little under the weather, but we made the decision to make the trek to Shivalaya (a village about 3.5 hours away). If memory serves me correctly, it was on and off rain and that kind of weather that is both too hot and too cold. We got turned around on several occasions (no, really, we don’t need no guide) and were moving at a slow pace, so the walk took us about double the time. But it was beautiful, look!
We spent a few nights in Shivalaya while my companion worked on restoring his health, however things did not improve and we made the tough decision to part ways (him back to Kathmandu via jeep and me onwards and upwards). I was only mildly petrified about striking off on my own, and as luck would have it, a small group of British doctors showed up at our guesthouse with a guide and agreed to adopt me.
The five us us trekked for a solid 10, 11, 14 days? This is where my story telling gets a little hazy and I dazzle you instead with a (chronological) series of low quality cellphone shots of the Himalayas.
I was originally of the opinion that trekking was probably pretty easy. I mean, walking, right? Guys, no. It’s actually pretty hard. But those mountains. Totally worth the numbness in my legs and emerging bedsores on my hips and freezing cold bucket showers in the outdoors and the probable vitamin deficiency in my body.
Eventually, after, maybe 7 days(?) we get to Namche and our relatively solitary trip turns into the Disney World of Nepal with high-end cafes and shops and even an Irish pub. We had witnessed a fair amount of devastation in the less trekked regions due to the earthquake a year earlier, but from this point up, everything (I use this term lightly) had been restored in time for tourist season.
We rested here for an extra day to acclimatize to the altitude (3,500m) and then said goodbye to our guide. The going was a little slower from here, as the altitude increased more steeply, and to avoid symptoms of sickness (and DEATH is a symptom), it is recommended to ascend only 300-500m per day.
The Brits and I parted ways after our night in Tyengboche. That was our coldest night yet, and it had me full-on regretting my choice to trek in half-assed gear (for example, running shoes and harem pants). I spent the next four days trekking solo, which is not quite as bad-ass as it sounds because the trail was well marked (follow the yak trains!) and you never walked far without running into another trekker.
Okay, so this post is already too long, so i’ll summarize the best bits. I met some rad people. pet a yak, experienced some funny hallucinations at 5000m and made it to base camp! The way back was quick and easy, however I didnt have enough time on my visa to make it back to Jiri, which meant being forced to take the plane out of Lukla. This was about a million times more terrifying than the bus ride in and a gajillion times more expensive. Not recommended, guys.
So there it is. Too many pictures and not enough story, but I only did it for the views and the air and too see that mystical mountain where all those expeditions and documentaries take place. If you’re still reading by this point, here are a few words of advice:
1. Start your trip in Jiri. When you fly directly into Lukla, you miss out on so much beauty, solitude and yak cheese.
2. If you hire a porter or guide, DO YOUR RESEARCH and go with reputable companies. Porters do dangerous work for little money and it’s your responsibility to make sure your staff are taken care of.
3. Bring a game. Or 12. We spent our evenings playing San Juan. I think the Brits were more sad to say goodbye to the game than they were to me.
4. Eat as much local food and drink as possible. This includes the locally brewed/fermented beverages like chaang, tongba and raksi.
So, two months before my initiation into the life of the chronically under-employed, I was lucky enough to visit Myanmar for a couple of weeks. It was beautiful, friendly and full of pagodas. And hot like you might imagine it is on the surface of the sun (I mean, I’m no scientist, but I’m just saying).
We took an over-night bus from Yangon to Nyaungshwe (which turned into an over-night/over-day bus due to the unfortunate breakdown in the mountains). Even though it was a gazillion degrees outside I somehow managed to convince my travel companion to rent a couple of bikes and take a tour across/around Inle Lake the next day. So, equipped with a little hand-drawn map from our guesthouse, and all the water we could carry, we set out in search of the lake, a vineyard, and those wild local fishermen who paddle with oars attached to their feet.
We did the whole Myanmar thing and stopped at every pagoda and lookout point that we stumbled across. At least at first. I mean, after the first several dozen the heat starts to win out and there’s this little part of you that dies while screaming DEARGAWDNONOTANOTHERPAGODAPLEASE.
Eventually we made it to a little village where we ate lunch in a local restaurant (which may or may not have been the culprit in the violent food poisoning we contracted later that evening). Despite the fact that Myanmar only opened to tourism a few years back, the locals are already pretty tourist savvy and wasted no time to offer us a boat ride across the lake. Obviously we were all HELL YEAH because we were hot and tired of pedaling and boats.
We threw our bikes on the back and gave our driver about the equivalent of $8 US and he took us through a winding maze of houses on stilts and water gardens. I was pretty convinced that with all of our weight (which felt much too high as the driver had us sitting on chairs he had brought aboard) we were going to topple over at any of the sharp turns. But we didn’t.
As our luck had it, the boat broke down in the middle of the lake and i got the privilege of helping our driving get it running again by handing him tools and holding random pieces of equipment. We were stationary long enough for Andre to snap this:
Once on the other side of the lake, we hoisted our bikes up onto a dock taller than my head and somehow managed to climb up without incident. Guys, it was really beautiful, all the houses on stilts and water gardens and lo and behold, only a few more kilometers down the road we found a vinyard with reasonably priced Myanmar wine (much better than the even more reasonably priced Myanmar whisky) and a view.
We watched the sun set, but amidst all the magic we forgot that we needed to cycle back, and then it got dark. So we teamed up with some other wheely tourists and cycled home in a pack with our cellphone lights to guide us through the Myanmar countryside. That night we proceeded to get my first bout of food poisoning in over six months of travel, and the magic stopped abruptly for a couple of days (but returned in the form of an e-bike through old Bagan. Seriously. Google it).
Stay tuned as we continue to travel back in time to the Himalayas where I wander around with a bag on my back through the mountains like it’s a great idea!
Hi! So it’s been a year since I’ve visited this place. Since my last post, which is only Part One of an epic British journey, I’ve cycled to Gaspe (Remember? The trip that never happened?), hiked through the Himalayas and thrown a bike on the back of a boat in Myanmar. A friend recently commented that I had been up to quite a lot recently and didn’t I have a blog for that?
So maybe it makes sense to start from the now and then move back in time? I’ve been back for almost six weeks now. And last weekend two of my friends got married and saw it appropriate to invite not just me but my cycling partner to their wedding. I use the word appropriate because we were obviously the ones to yell BIKE TRIP and consequently show up on bikes: smelly, sunburned and paniers full of PBRs.
Going someplace, and then retracing your steps back is decidedly the inferior way to travel, so we opted for a loop from Montreal to Oka (wedding territory) through Laval on the way there and through Hudson on the way back. A solid 120km all in, which is perfect for cyclists that chronically wake up late and start drinking early.
Sometime dangerously close to noon we were on the road, heading Montreal North (which is more accurately known as north west to the rest of the world). After skirting through Laval’s bike lanes to nowhere, we crossed into Deux Montagnes and made it to the venue a good 45 minutes before wedding time. Just enough time to pitch a tent, kill a few PBRs and change into our wedding clothes. Sadly I don’t have any pictures because we probably had heat stroke and let our phone batteries die. But we cleaned up as well as could be expected and the whole thing was beautiful.
Weddings being weddings, we stumbled into the tent at some unknown hour and were doubly sweaty and disoriented when the sun came up way too soon. In our typical style, we accepted a ride into town for breakfast and all the diner coffee we could drink before returning to pack up the tent and prepare for the trip home. This time we left early (before 11am!) and zoomed down to oka in time to catch the ferry across to Hudson.
The trip back was longer but even more beautiful, not necessarily because we avoided Laval, but because we hugged the shoreline (not to mention tailing packs of cyclists in spandex) most of the way. Hudson became all the mysterious variations of Vaudreuil, a quick roll across the top of L’Ile-Perrot and then Finally Montreal. We arrived home the same way we arrived to the wedding, sweaty and tired and a little sun-delirious.
Last summer my little sis and I did something pretty cool. It was one of those last minute here-goes-nothing kinda things, and for me, the wicked result of a series of disappointmentsinteresting life hiccups.
So we meet at the Montreal airport and have to face the typical shit-storm labyrinth associated with bringing a bicycle on an airplane. Like seriously airport guys, with the exception of Porter Airlines (who seem to have a well oiled system and an endless supply of Steam Whistle) this is not brain surgery: Bike goes in bag, bag goes on plane, everyone is kind to one another. /Rant.
Alright, REWIND a moment and let me provide a little context. This happened to be my first ever overseas bicycle trip. This also happened to be Sis’s first ever bike trip. I was recovering from a broken foot. Sis hadn’t owned a bicycle since training-wheel days. And we hadn’t traveled together since we were shit-disturbing children. Context is everything.
ANYWAY, since flying to England means time-travelling into the future, we arrived there at 6am (or 1am our stupid sleepy time). Also, since a good night’s rest is for the weak, we had planned to reassemble our bikes and make the 60km ride to Reading that day. Nothing a couple of dozen coffees can’t fix.
Unanticipated Challenge #1? Finding our way out of Heathrow Airport. Since there is only one way out and it’s designed for those fast moving vehicles with motors, Sis and I played chicken with the cars until some nice airport employees threw our bikes into the back of a truck and drove us out of the compound and into freedom.
A cheater start, but then we were off- wobbly and powered by cheap caffeine, we were off.
We caught Bath Road (appropriately named as technically we were on the way to Bath) and headed West. This took us through places named Slough and Maidenhead. We got caught in rain, got a little turned around and were baptized by fire into the roundabout-heavy, high-hedged and narrow-laned left-sided experience that is cycling across the UK.
Upon arriving to Reading we were so very warmly welcomed by our first host and soon-to-be best mate in all of England. Here we rested our weary jet-lagged bodies for two nights.
Day #3 saw us leaving Reading and getting hopelessly lost. We took a detour off of our trusty Bath Road to visit Stonehenge and got caught in circles of nameless streets and towering hedges and had our first brush with scary-fast A grade roads. The sun was setting by the time we hit Hannington (as my sister fondly describes it: The village in the middle of nowhere surrounded by walls of hedges) and we were fall-down happy to find a pub that would meet all of our immediate needs (food, drinks and camping in their back yard).
The next day had us waking up in Hannington to a pot of tea and a parade of hounds.
So we took the next logical step and hitched a ride with our new best mate to Stonehenge. And then proceeded to break into Stonehenge.
Our saviors with a motor then kindly dropped us off at our next destination after snooker and a pint. Day 4 and only 2 day of biking (4 days of rain). We were killing it. We crashed in Devizes with a lovely couple from warmshowers and in the morning we were back on the bikes for what we expected to be a leisurely 50km to Bath.
The road to Bath was predictably less leisurely than we had anticipated. Don’t get me wrong, despite the on-and-off rain, it was a beautiful ride following the Avon canal which was full of adorable longboats we can only surmise were full of hobbits. Parts of the route, however, saw us cycling through rubble and fields, particularly tricky for Sis on her shmancy road bike. All that aside, Sis happily remembers this part of our trip as the day with lots of downhill,
We made it to Bath with more than enough daylight to spare. Unfortunately I don’t have many pictures, but believe me when I tell you that this city is gorgeous. Like, totally worth the google image search. We crashed with another warmshowers host (who offered us the standard cup of tea upon arrival despite it being a zillion degrees out and him being smack in the middle of carnival prep). Sis and I spent the night consuming the standard unholy amount of pub food and drink. The we helped the carnival folks fasten CD’s to a fishnet until bedtime. Standard Bath experience, I’m sure.
And that concludes part one of our trip. Stay tuned for part two: Bristol, Brigdwater (I know, I know) and beyond!
Everything about this makes me over-the-moon happy. I didn’t realize it, but I had somehow convinced myself that winter would quite likely last forever this time around. I didn’t know how much I had missed spring (summer?!) until it snuck up outta nowhere and smacked me right in my stupid smiling face.
Downhill free fall and uphill sweat-fests. Pothole dodging and traffic weaving. Fisticuffs with taxicabs and is that a ferris wheel in St. Henri? Sounds of protest, birdsong and holy shit our city just tripled in size. It doesn’t quite feel like hibernating until the sun comes out and we all remember that we have a whole wide world in our own backyard. I kid you not, the swings are singing and the reason I avoid bike lanes is all coming back to me now. Smiling at girls on longboards and cursing bixis under my breath. Finding my breath somewhere on Peel St and losing it again on St. Laurent. Bike grease on everything and secretly loving it.