BACK!

 

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?

Riiiight.

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.

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Rosemont to Oka loop

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.

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The bridge from Laval to that place across from Laval

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.

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MuffChuck and ThunderCunt’s Bitch-Hiking Guide to Canada: Part 2

So it turns out that this three-part story is inching along in seasonal installments.  Life in the real world (as opposed to the vacation world where I am still gallivanting across the country) has pulled a 360 in the last few months and I am still catching my balance and letting the dust settle. Among other things, I bought a car (I KNOW) in order to commute to a new job- but more on that adventure here.

Back to the Rockies.

Our train pulled into Jasper, Alberta  in the early afternoon and we were immediately greeted by MOUNTAINS.

Yum

 While the three day train ride was enjoyable (in fact, we had a wine-infused, scrabble-playing blast), we were stoked to be back in our bike seats.  We toured around the adorably touristy town of Jasper, restocked on some food items and settled in at a local pub with wifi to try and find a place to spend the night.  We eventually settled on a mountain hostel located about 5km from town, and with bellies full of veggie burgers and beer we set out on our way.

The person with whom we made our reservation neglected to tell us that the last couple kms of the ride was a steep and steady incline uphill. We half biked, half walked (half cried) the last part of the day’s trek, in the dark, undoubtedly with bears hot on our trail.

The next morning we woke up early, re-packed our trusty steeds and set out into Jasper National Park. We took the Icefields Parkway (perhaps better known as The World’s Most Spectacular Journey, nbd) and set our daily goal at 104km, to set up camp in the Colombia Icefields. With no transport trucks and a giant shoulder for touring cyclists, we were in heaven.

SMILE
Respect the uphill; savor the down.

Our first day biking through the Rockies was a borderline religious experience. The uphill was intense and the downhill was divine. We picnicked with a chubby black bear, filtered glacial water and speculated that the road shoulders were so wide to prevent gobsmacked cyclists from careening into ditches.

As it started to get dark, we estimated that we had about 8km left to the campsite on the icefields. We were beat and the incline was so steep it was a challenge even to walk our bikes. Defeated, we pulled over and I went down to a creek to filter water while my wheely companion stayed by the road with her thumb out (wishful thinking, I thought). Five minutes later, however, we were loading our bikes on the back of a pick-up and hitching a ride the last few kilometers to our beautifully remote campsite.  We spent the evening drinking, eating and swapping stories with our tent neighbors from Toronto.

Yum.
Double yum.

The next morning we were immediately greeted with the realization that we had not packed appropriately for the unpredictable mountain weather. As the name Icefields should have suggested, we woke to a heavy cloud cover and below zero temperatures in the middle of the summer. That aside, we layered up in all of our clothing, ate our breakfast in the only sunbeam we could find and heard the thundering crack of a glacier breaking.

As we had spent the previous day steadily climbing uphill, today was scheduled to be a whole lotta down. This should have been nothing but delicious leg-saving, sight-seeing, candy coated bliss -and for the first hour or so, it was. The clouds even parted at one point as we were careening downhill and the mountainy, sunshiney goodness was heart-breakingly beautiful. Then out of nowhere we sped around a corner and were hit by a wall of rain, sleet and wind. The weather change was so dramatic that we were soaked through in 0.5 seconds and had to stop biking due to zero visibility. In a move of total desperation and moist badassery we pulled over to the side of the road and threw up a tarp to hunker down until the storm had passed. This ended up being an entire hour of shivery, character building quiet because we were so cold and so wet and despite the fact that we took turns giving the road the thumbs up, nobody wants to pick up a couple of soggy cyclists.

But after an hour or so the sleet turned to rain and the wind died down and the rain finally turned to drizzle. So we packed up our tarp, layered our freezing fingers with dry socks and booted it to the Jasper/Banff border. At this point I was also quietly mourning the loss of my phone (and pictures) which had been soaked through in the storm.

After a longer than anticipated lunch break at a horribly touristy restaurant and supply store (Alberta has nothing on Quebec when it comes to poutine), we were off.  Recognizing that I was feeling a little sulky due to the loss of my phone, TC made a point of purchasing us a large bottle of gin and taking several beautiful shots of us deep in Banff National Park.  Like Jasper, Banff is eye-poppingly beautiful. Everything was still wet (including us and all of our gear), but we still had perma-smiles glued to our glisteny faces, because let’s be real, there are few better places to be cold, wet and phone-less than the Canadian Rockies.

BANFF!
BANFF!

After a few more hours of biking, we started trying our luck on each water/snack break with our thumbs to the road. We had plans to be at the Misquito Creek Hostel for sundown, but we were hoping to make it earlier in order to put up our feet and dry our clothes. As a hitch-hiking rookie, I had a healthy amount of apprehension around being picked up by strangers so far away from home. This apprehension was fed substantially when the first people to pull over were two beefy oil-riggers with a man-sized pick-up. As it turns out, nothing builds your faith in humanity like hitching rides with strangers, as our ride turned out to be the friendliest couple of guys you can imagine (and heroically strong -being able to lift our bikes and gear onto the back of their truck and fasten it all down without batting an eye).

Beaute.
We will work your wood for a bed and warm clothes.

Our new friends dropped us off 15km down the road at our destination for the evening (actually, they offered to drive us all the way to Kelowna but we kindly turned them down, not wanting to spend too much time behind closed doors). Our mountainy hostel was a dream and our hosts let us hang our wet clothes and throw around fire wood for a couple of hours in exchange for a discount on our stay. We spent the evening drinking gin, socializing with other travellers by the fire and sleeping in an adorable log cabin with a group of strangers. Tomorrow’s destination: Super Natural BC!

And voila: Part 2! Stick around for part three in which our dirtbaggy heroines run into some minor bike troubles and discover that super special gear that makes you go real fast with no leg-work necessary!

Exploring the Laurentians: Montreal to Mont. Tremblant

Biking mountains (not to be confused with mountain biking) is sweaty and beautiful work.  As last-minute preparation for my big, hilly trip, a cycling companion and I took three full days to trek north-west off of the island and up to Mont Tremblant.  This was also an opportunity for me to break in my new, shiny bicycle, sadly leaving Slimer home (and likely feeling abandoned), propped up against my bedroom wall.

Our Route

We left early Sunday morning and made our way off of the island, getting lost only a few times due to my superior navigation skills. Once we made it through the hustle and bustle of Laval we picked up Le P’tit Train Du Nord, an old railway turned bike path that would take us the rest of the way to Tremblant.  Unlike the previously
traveled Water Front Trail, this route rarely took us by busy roads, and we (arguably) even saw more water.

Onward to Tremblant.

The first day we made it through a handful of scenic, so-cute-it-hurts little towns, including St. Jerome, Prevost, St. Adele and Val David.  It was a steamy day, and unbeknownst to us we were traveling the entire time at a slight incline, which made things a little slow.  While we did not reach our target of 140km to Tremblant the first day, it was totally worth it because we found a cosy camping spot near St. Agathe des Monts:

Worth it.

The next morning panic struck when we realized at breakfast that we had mistakenly picked up low-fat instant cappuccino, instead of regular full-fat goodness.  After risking a taste we decided that it would not do and, as hurriedly as two un-caffeinated coffee-addicts could (very slowly), we packed up our stuff and ventured onward in search of java.  Fortunately for us, the town of St Agathe des Monts was a short bike ride away, so we lazed around town, refueling until early afternoon.  Eventually we pulled ourselves together and set out the rest of the way to Mont. Tremblant.

Proof that we made it.

We returned the second night to our first home by the stream and woke up to heavy rain.  Lucky for us, the rain subsided before we had to pack up our gear and we were only hit once with a blinding downpour on the way home.  Despite multiple stops for food, coffee and berry picking, we made it home before dark (ie in record time).

Misty mountains!

Number of deer spotted: 4

Number of poutines eaten: 3

Number of kilometres traveled (off-route wandering excluded): 290

Montreal to Ottawa (minus 30km) Holy crap.

It was May long weekend, which also happened to be my birthday weekend, and I wanted to spend it in Ottawa.

When normal people travel to between Ottawa and Montreal, they drive. Or bus. Or maybe take the train.  In what I now consider to be a moment of questionable judgement, I decided it would make a fun (and completely feasible) day-long bicycle ride at just over 200km.  I’ve known people who have done the trip in the past, so no big deal, right?

Wrong.

Thankfully I have an Ottawa-abiding soul mate who shares the same passion for cycling and who so kindly agreed to come meet me half-way.

So it all began at 7:00am on Friday morning.  I packed up my bike with two paniers and my sleeping bag (a tent was to be purchased at our friendly neighborhood Ottawa MEC).  I was on my way and totally invincible -Hawkesbury by 1pm, no problem. The ride started with a tour across the entire south side of the island, which was quaint and beautiful.  For the first dozen kilometres or so, I rode alongside the Lachine Canal, which was fantastic despite the wind being to my face.

Breakfast break.

My self-assurance (and energy) started to dwindle by the third hour, at which point I still had not made it off the island.  Yes, an out of practice cyclist is a slow cyclist. On the bright side, I got to acquaint myself with a handful of Montreal’s boroughs that I would not have visited otherwise: Lasalle, Lachine, Dorval, Pointe-Claire, Beaconsfield, Baie D’urfe and St. Anne.

I was thrilled when I finally reached the bridge and said bye-bye to Montreal.

View from Bridge to l’Ile-Perrot

Once on l’Ile-Perrot I made the first in a series of mistakes and took a wrong turn.  Thankfully this was only a minor setback, and after a quick phone call to my oh-so-patient roomie I was back on track.

Okay, so a quick sidenote to defend my cycle-adventuring honour: I brought two sets of directions with me on this trip.  The first set was acquired from what I now know to be a less-than-reliable fellow blogger.  The second set was mapped out by yours truly on almighty Google.  I figured with two sets of instructions I could not go wrong, and at the first sign of trouble I would nip into a depanneur and purchase a road map (smartphones, huh?).  I was foiled on two fronts. First, I opted to go with the shoddy blogger directions that took me on unnecessary detours and conveniently omitted important turns.  Second, while stores in little Quebec towns do carry maps, they don’t see the necessity of carrying interprovincial maps.  Lucky for me, I have a man in Montreal who works near a computer and agreed to be my long-distance navigator (in shining armor).

Bicycle lawn decorations.

Needless to say I showed up in Hawkesbury several hours later than scheduled, leaving my travel companion to cafe and curb hop (because everything in Hawkesbury closes at 2:30pm, apparently). The second half of the trip was a hundred times more pleasant and starry, despite a few minor setbacks (ie. finding ourselves on the side of the highway for several kilometres).  We reached the outskirts of Ottawa around midnight, and instead of chance the bike paths so late at night we hailed a van-cab to take us the rest of the way home.

 Paying no attention to our bike-ride fatigue, we finished the night off with champagne and plans to bike a simple 40km to Wakefield the next am.

Superheroes

Important lessons?

1. I am not cut-out for solo bike journeys.

2. 200km is too far for one day

3. Think about a smart phone.

This is how I roll.

How not to get eaten by a bear.

This summer, a friend and I will be biking through the mountainous wilderness from Jasper to Vancouver.  The plan is to rough it (like the cycling vagabonds we are) and sneaky camp along the way.  Realizing that we are completely lacking in the camping gear department, we took a trip to our friendly neighborhood MEC to price a few essentials.  After picking out a tent built for two and swooning in front of the die-hard camping gear, we thought it might be a good idea to look into bear spray -not because we actually thought we might see a bear (nevermind get within spraying distance), just because it seemed like the cool safe and responsible thing to do.

Okay, so bear spray.  We located a chatty and informative MEC employee who informed us that bear spray is a controlled substance, so he would need to see ID and have us sign a waiver before our purchase. Fine, fine.  He then gave us a breakdown of the spray itself: It comes in a small can or a large can.  Small is better to keep on your person in case of surprise bear attacks, but large has more sprays and better range. No problem.  Also, make sure to give it a test run (not near playgrounds, or you know, people) and wipe down after use to avoid getting it on things that may come into contact with your eyes (ie. hands). Alright.

(Warning: If you are the kind of person that is afraid of things that are terrifying, you may want to stop reading here.)

Before we leave our new friend cautions us that although bear spray is an irritant, it becomes a bear ATTRACTANT once it settles on the ground.  TC and I laugh nervously, but no joke.  The spray is pepper based and once it settles on the ground, it becomes a foody smell which may cause, what I can only guess would be droves of bears, to come sniffing around. Use bear spray and get the hell away. Check.  We say thank you and leave with a handy MEC Bear Spray fact sheet.

And by handy I mean terrifying.

I read the fact sheet out loud as we unlock our bikes.  It is full of helpful, yet predictable tips such as “Bears run much faster than humans” and “Keep your campsite clean.”  Then you turn the page and shit gets real.  For example, please take the following tips on what to do if you are “charged or attacked”

    • Don’t Panic
    • Stand your ground and get your pepper spray ready.  Sometimes a bear will make several bluff charges. Do not use your pepper spray unless you are sure the bear is not bluffing
    • If the bear stops after a bluff charge, slowly wave your arms, talk softly and back away slowly.
    • If the bear doesn’t stop, use your pepper spray.
 
 And it only gets worse.  We are helpfully cautioned to adhere to the following steps if the “spray does not stop the bear.”
    • If it is a grizzly, play dead. Most experts recommend that you lie flat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Remain silent. Leave your pack on for additional protection.
    • If it is a black bear, do NOT play dead. Do whatever you can to fight off the bear. As an exception to this rule, if you are positive you are facing a mother bear with cubs, and contact is imminent, you should play dead.
 
And my own personal favorite:
    • If a bear of any type keeps biting you for a prolonged period of time, or if you are convinced it is feeding on you, fight back. Never play dead if you know that a bear is preying on you (eg. if it attacks you in your tent).
 
Naturally this evoked every single horrible bear scenario my mind could think of, including the image of me waking up in the middle of the night to find the head of a giant bear peeking through the door of our tent, Jurassic Park style. I tell my friend and we laugh.  But seriously, I feel this leaves me with more questions than answers. For instance, how do I know for sure that a bear is bluff charging (not to mention how to I avoid throwing up due to extreme fear)?  Another friend of mine just helpfully informed me that black bears and grizzlies are not always that easy to tell apart, which throws me into a state of anxiety in my own living room. How will I know when to play dead and when to fight back?  More importantly, where do I learn how to fight a bear? Also, how many bites qualify as prolonged biting? Can’t I just assume (if I have not died from a panic induced heart attack), that one bite qualifies as fight-back worthy bad news?
Okay, so it is evident that I have a few more things to add to my to-do list before I venture off into the great big wilderness:
….
19. Buy a new sleeping bag
20. Learn how to fix my breaks when they do that annoying thing I hate
22.Figure out how to how to bear-proof food while camping
22. Learn how to fight a bear

 

Ottawa to Wakefield

One weekend in June I cycled to Wakefield QC and back.  This trip deserves recognition for being my longest ever trip at approximately 35km each way.

To begin, my traveling partner TC and I did some minor web research to prep for our trip.  I owe large credit to GoBiking.ca for their clear directions and helpful tips.  However, this did not stop us from taking a wrong turn on St. Joseph, nor did it stop me from lodging my front tire gracelessly into a railway track at the end of the most dangerous hill.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After packing our rucks with camping gear, protein bars, extra clothing and bottled water, TC and I were on the road by 6:00pm.  We experienced minor delays on St. Joseph Blvd due to my superior map reading skills, but once we started in the right direction it was smooth sailing cycling.

We navigated some pretty major hills (ones that put Sommerset to shame), but the sights as we left the city made it worth the slow haul on my three-gear.  Traffic was pretty minimal and we frequently had drivers stop to ask if we were lost/needed directions/were out of our minds to be cycling in the middle of nowhere with 100-year-old bikes.

By the time we reached Chemain de la Riviere the sun was starting to set.  Although we thought far enough ahead to bring bike lights, we urban dwellers forgot how dark it can get in the countryside.  Needless to say, the last few kilometres were completed in darkness. By the time we reached Wakefield we had been biking for three hours and we were pooped.  Our plan to pitch a tent in the Gatineau hills was spoiled by the darkness and we ended up making camp on the side of a road near a cemetery.  Thankfully, a generous local we met at a bar offered to let us pitch in his back yard where we enjoyed beer on-the-house, homemade breakfast, a morning swim and a tour of the village.  Wakefield is nice like that.

Bicycle adventurers.
 
Our Route
 
 We started in Ottawa and crossed the Alexandra bridge (beside the Museum of Civilization). Once over the bridge we turned left on Rue Laurier and then right on Rue Montcalm.  The next turn should have been a right at St. Joseph Blvd, however I suggested that we hang a left at the traffic circle instead (we figured out our mistake pretty soon because St. Joseph comes to a dead-end this way).  The rest is easy breezy.
 
St. Joseph Blvd actually turns into Route 105, which we were on for a good 90 minutes or so.  This is where, for the next 90 minutes, we passed signs reminding us incessantly that we were still in the town (village?) of Chelsea.  This road follows the river and you pass places like Peter’s Point and Kirk’s Ferry.  Finally, just as it was getting dark, we veered right on Chemain de la Riviere.  This quaint little road takes you along the river, right into the heart of Wakefield
 
Chelsea, again.

Helpful tips, from one amateur to another:

1. Chelsea is large. Seriously, you will be passing signs that read Chelsea for something like 90 minutes.  Never get your hopes up that you are almost out of Chelsea, because chances are you will be wrong.

2. Biking in the dark is not as fun as it sounds.  Give yourself enough time to get there during daylight, otherwise things can get a little sketchy.

3. Not all locals you meet in a bar will be the beer-sharing, breakfast-making, hospitable types.  Use discretion and stay safe.