I had no idea until this last trip, but if you tour in the fall everything belongs to you.
I shit you not. We had our own private beaches. Our own private no-charge camp site behind a microbrewery (on multiple occasions). Our own private parks. Sometimes even our own private roads.
So yes. We very stylishly left Quebec City in a boat which delivered us back to the south shore of the St. Laurent. Here we jumped on and off the TransCanada until about Rimouski, about another 300km.
It was not uneventful. For instance, we met this man, who is old enough to be my grandfather, yet disappeared over the horizon while we very much did not disappear over the horizon.
We also found this thing. Omen or artwork, we weren’t sure. But it spun okay.
And we took shelter from the rain in this barn.
We were assholes in Trois-Pistoles.
And we watched seals in Le Bic
Oh, also I walked my bike up this mean hill.
And then, 300ishkm later, ta-da RIMOUSKI.
If memory serves me correctly, Rimouski was the last place I remember before the hills really started. It’s a cute enough town by the water. We visited a local microbrewery, stayed in the ‘burbs with our lovely warmshowers host and terrorized the local Walmart (because by this point we were feral cycletourists and you couldn’t take us anywhere).
We will return to the past in my next post, BUT GUESS WHAT. We are presently gearing up for a three month tour through Scandinavia and northern Europe. Quit our jobs? Check. Buy new rain gear? Check. Dehydrate EVERYTHING? Check.
For the first time EVER I am going to attempt to keep this blog updated in real-time. So you (is anyone out there?) can bare witness to our flats and sunburns and stroopwafles. Fingers and toes crossed.
Following last year’s sweaty winter under the Indian sun, this winter felt like an eternity (seriously, these are the scenes of our city from just last month). So in a world where shoulder season (apparently defined as travel period between peek and off-peek seasons; by this logic, I would consider the entire span of November-April as one long shoulder season) still means parkas and boots and sticky metro rides and all of that snow that you apparently just can’t ignore out of existence, I’ve had my fingers crossed that come April 1st I would not feel seasonally pressured to throw more money into our once novel transit system (ie BIKING WEATHER).
Now we’ve swapped snow clouds for rain clouds. BUT.Once upon a time it was warm and sunny and I was biking, biking, biking. Once upon a September 1st 2015, my now-partner (then almost-partner) set off with our bikes all packed, in the direction of the now near-mystical Gaspe. I had recently sold or packed away all of my worldly belongings, quit my job, and had a flight booked to Mumbai for October 1st, so I was feeling especially light and liberated.
Our route basically took us along the south shore of the fleuve St Laurent.
(Bonus knowledge! A fleuve is not a rivière. A rivière flows into another river, while a fleuve flows right into the ocean or the sea.)
After leaving the island several hours post-sunrise, we crossed the same highway multiple times on these very safe and convenient ramp and stair combos. Once we made our way inland, the 300km ride to Quebec City was exactly the melange of farmland and poutine that you might expect.
The roads were pretty quiet, it was sunshiney and we had all of the choice campsites. Being that both my cycling partner and I prefer late mornings and lots of food stops, doing the 100km a day we needed to have us in Quebec City for the weekend was a bit of stretch. BUT WE DID IT. JUST IN TIME FOR PRIDE.
A note about cycling touring in Quebec: Like much of Canada, this province is huge and sparsely populated between cities (even the in-between towns are super sleepy). That said, as long as you’re not a complete asshole, the don’t ask, don’t tell mentality will ensure that you always have a decent campsite with a privacy and sometimes a view.
We arrived in Quebec just as the sun was setting on day three. After a little bit of navigation we found our wonderful Warm Shower hosts (as well as their adorable cats with leashes). If I remember correctly, they greeted us with the standard WS hospitality (beers and showers first, food and conversation later), and so kindly hosted us for the weekend, helped us with minor bike repairs and toured us around their beautiful city.
GUYS. Even if a tour along the Gaspé Peninsula seems like a stretch, definitely consider the Montreal-Quebec City mini-trip. It was flat, pretty quiet and scattered with bike lanes or wide shoulders along the way.
We left off in beautiful bath, in which as I stated before, we didn’t get too many pictures, but is a reminiscent mix of Harry Potter and high society. Like, magical and unaffordable all at once.
We hopped on to the Railway Pathway, a 13 mile stretch of paved path linking Bath and Bristol. While it was quite straight and, as one of our hosts claimed “bloody fucking boring,” we enjoyed the break from roads, cars and roundabouts.
We arrived in Bristol and were greeted by our CS host who led us up hills and past Banksy street art to his flat. We stayed for two nights and played tourist for what I assume is the genuine club-hopping, bridge-sighting, card-playing Bristol experience.
This was totally Sis’s time to shine as I fell prey to much too young British men offering me far too many shots at the bar. Thankfully, being the capable adult that she is, we navigated the Bristol streets under the cover of darkness and drunk and got home in one piece.
When it was time to say good-bye, our host took us to the outskirts of town (over the bridge crossing the gorge, our memories are like 85% sure) and we were off. Although it was slightly off route, our intrigue had us headed in the direction of Cheddar Gorge. Chedder? Like the Cheese? And let’s be real, what exactly is a gorge if not just a giant hole in the ground? FILLED WITH CHEESE? We had to see.
As with most of our biking days, it rained on and off, and somewhere in beautiful cider country Sis’ back rack snapped clean in two. Thankfully we were able to macgyver it into place with the help of a few bungee cords, and then left our bikes at a shop in Cheddar to be repaired as we took a tour of the village. Once in the village it was all we could do not to ask passersby “Excuse me, but where is the cheese gorge?” because apparently this was not as obvious as it could have been. But, since nobody else looked lost and we didn’t want to be those dopey Canadian cyclists, we wandered until we found its entrance, got a sadly underwhelming peek and headed back to get our trusty steeds.
We camped that night at what we soon learned was a typical British camping field with tents and RVs all lined up beside one another. We moved a little slower the next day and due to some creative map interpretation, accidentally found ourselves in Bridgewater (based on our own experience and chats with other Brits, it seems about equivalent to our Hamilton).
The day after was equally long/hilly/rainy and Sis was starting to feel a little bike tripped out. Thankfully that day saw us finishing in Dulverton which is just at the entrance of beautiful Exmoor National Park (Sis’ request that she would regret while we spent the better part of the next day climbing mountains).
Our Dulverton hosts were a couple of young guys who’s parents were away and seemed all too eager to invite our drenched, sweaty selves into their home. Well, kinda. I pitched our tent in the back yard while Sis was terrorized by the giant and curious chickens (“all of my greatest fears are being challenges today”). But! Fresh eggs and warm showers? No real complaints.
We took off early the next morning and got to see Exmoor in all of it’s very hilly glory.We biked, walked and cried our way through the park, reached its highest elevation, and then careened down to catch our first glimpse of the ocean.
And this isn’t the end -I swear we did more. More biking. And even more squishing our bikes on to planes, trains and automobiles. 2017 promises to be a big year for biking so it is my goal to have this and my other past trips spewed on these pages and archived away for future emergency nostalgia. You know, to make space in my little head for the big adventures to come.
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!