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.
Anyone who knows me a little more than a little knows that I have a very attainable dream of cycling from Montreal to Gaspésie.
Beautiful coastline cycling through some of Quebec’s most scenic spots. (Psst. I also heard whispers that there are tailwinds the whole way).
Unfortunately my plans last summer were botched following a break-up and a real fear of setting out solo. On the bright side, it was replaced with this fabulous adventure to the far reaches of our east coast. This summer’s trip was also redirected following a long-distance relationship shuffle, and again I was stuck with the prospect of striking out on my own. I’m sure there’s a moral in here somewhere about trip-planning with lovers, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Then again, maybe not.
ANYWAY. That combined with THIS:
And I was all “Well to hell with any fun this summer.” So I applied for a Vipassana (because 100 hours of meditation and 10 days of silence is anything but fun). However, as you might be surprised to hear, Vipassana spots are booked solid until something like November, so that was a no-go.
So I did a lot of sitting, a lot of breathing and played a lot of chess.
But lo and behold the universe works in mysterious ways because my lovely sister (and newbie cyclist) was like:
“Let’s bike England.”
And I was all:
“When do we leave?”
Stay tuned for the adventures of Malorie and Audrey in Return to the motherland: Which way to the pub, mate?
**England is not by real-true definition our motherland, but we lived there long ago for some pretty formative years of our lives. We even developed accents and started using words like rubbish and fancies. We also have a squishy spot for British comedy**
Montreal is a beautiful city. It is full of old buildings covered in new art. We are presently smack in the middle of Montreal en Lumiere, a festival that combats the dark and dreary winter with lights and shows and art installations that I whole-heartedly appreciate and half-heartedly understand.
Over the summer, during our graffiti festival (which is exactly what it sounds like), I fell in love with a local neighborhood installation. These guys fit so well into my stereotypically hipster borough that I needed to immortalize them on a minimally visited cycling blog with low-quality cellphone pictures.
It all started with graduation, then a job offer, and then before I knew it I was dishing out cash for street parking, safety inspections and Quebec registration. And parking tickets.
I have without a doubt joined a new world of deciphering french road signs, paying attention to gas prices and shoveling my way out of massive snowdrifts. I never before recognized the multitude of challenges inherent in car ownership. Take parking for instance: I can’t just lock up my auto to any old signpost and call it a day. Nope, I have to cruise around the block in an ever widening circle and pay careful attention to the signs that indicate where I can park as well as when and for how long.
Then comes the actual act of parking. Montrealers love their street parking, which necessitates car drivers to master the highly technical parallel park maneuver. My car is the size of a boat and, being a new driver, every parallel parking job I manage is a small but still confetti-and-champagne-worthy success.
And then there are the highways. Long stretches of nothingness that connect suburbs to box stores, and people from work, to home, to work again. I spend so much time on highways these days that I am certain that all the little towns I pass on the way to and from work exist only for the highways to connect them. I’ve spent days cycling on highways (and let’s be real, they are no place for bikes), but it doesn’t come close to the disconnected feeling of hurtling along in a metal box, far removed from distance, weather and community.
Also, I’m not fluent in car. I’m not really fluent in bike either, but my car doesn’t speak to me the way my bike does. With my bike I get to be a team player, while in my car I am a passenger in the driver’s seat. I recently told a friend that I would love to get something installed, Flinstones style, to keep me active while driving an hour a day. He suggested I get a bike (go figure).
On the other hand, my car opens doors (get it?) to otherwise inaccessible work, storage space and the potential for road trips. It also forces me headfirst into the grown-up world of insurance payments and waking up extra early to move my car before the clock strikes ticket-and-towing hour. That said, I am still on a one year plan to return to my original car-free day-to-day.
I have been MIA for the past month+ gallivanting across the country with my soul-sister and our wheely steeds. Now I am home and slowly adjusting back to life off the bike. I want to share our adventure with you, but it’s long and some parts are blurry due to a consistent fatigue and alcohol induced haze. Reserve your judgement til the very end; I’m going to try.
Our journey started on a positive (and surprisingly sober) note in Ottawa, Ontario. TC met me downtown and together we cycled westward to the countryside. After a lovely night of food and wine with family, we were Sudbury bound to catch our train out west. While this leg of our trip was just over 500km, we gave ourselves over a week to make the journey to try and account for potential bike trouble and inevitable laziness.
The trip started out easy-breezy with picturesque countryside, sunshiney weather and pancake flat terrain. Our first couple of days too us through Arnprior, Pembrooke and Petawawa, which while for the most part were cute little country towns (villages?), were not overly exciting. We spent our days biking (duh) and stopping for swim breaks wherever possible.
At night we did our best to find a secluded spot to cook dinner and pitch our tent. This sometimes necessitated a bit of creativity, stealth and trespassing. No, we are definitely not above trespassing.
The farther westward our travels took us, the more beautiful the countryside and the more friendly the people -as it turns out, everyone loves a couple of bike touring ladies. On day 4 of our trip we left drab and dull Petawawa (sorry Petawawians, but let’s be honest) and traveled our first leg on the Trans-Canada highway. Now, I know people who have personally extended their sympathies to me for having to spend so much time biking on the TransCan. We spent the remainder of our trip jumping on and off the highway and I can honestly say that after the initial pee-your-pants-fear-of-lorries subsides, it’s actually a pleasant experience. It’s a pretty sleepy highway for the most part, and the view is fantastic.
Somewhere shortly after Deep River, the TransCan becomes the Road a NationForgot. Basically, this meant no place to refuel for a pretty huge stretch, leaving us on one occasion to filter water from a questionable side-of-the-road creek and to daytime-nap just off the highway shoulder. Needless to say we were thrilled when we barreled downhill into Mattawa (pop. 2500ish) on day (evening) 5 to find that it was filled with adorable people and delicious beer.
We were instantly adopted by the kind folks at The Moon Cafe who gave us first class treatment and allowed us to get stupid rowdy at their fine establishment. After closing the bar (because after you bike your face off, it never hurts to drink your face off) we were invited by another local to crash at her place. Here we dazzled and amazed people with our armpit hair and tales of cycling bravery.
We had a late start the next morning, due in whole to our newly acquired hangovers. That aside, we managed to make it to North Bay before dinner where we were greeted with homemade dinner and a comfy bed to sleep in, courtesy of our fabulous couch-surf host. Oh yeah, she also made us breakfast in the morning so despite our achey heads and bellies, we were feeling like the luckiest broads in Ontario.
After leaving North Bay, which was surprisingly cute and friendly (sorry North Bay folks, but you are not known for these things back home), we jumped back on the TransCan on the road to Sudbury. TC and I have speculated that this point is approximately where we started to lose our minds, due partly to fatigue and partly to a lack of socialization with other people. The results? Lots of singing, extreme laugh attacks and general tomfoolery.
We pulled into Sudbury early afternoon on Day 8 and again we were impressed with the hospitality we received, from locals taking us on spontaneous town tours to inviting us out for drinks and debauchery. As is our style, we swam all afternoon, drank all night and made it to the station in time to catch our 5:10am train.
And thus ends part one of three of our cross-country trek. Stay tuned for Part Two: And then there were MOUNTAINS!