Saturday, 28 June 2008

On memories from the road

Between losing my camera and other things, I never quite got around to finishing writing my impressions from Phase 1. Leaving Quebec City was interesting as the number of short range recreational riders dropped off dramatically. This was partly due to the rain but also to the more challenging terrain. The few cyclists I saw on the day I left Quebec City were obviously hard-core, long distance types like myself (i.e. loaded with stuff). There was also a guy on a skateboard, with ski poles and a large backpack. One of the poles had a variant Canadian flag on it with the borders in green or blue instead of red. At the youth hostel in Rivière-du-Loup I heard that he had stopped there and that he claimed that his means of transportation was faster that a bike, something I find hard to credit. He was on a trans-Canada trip.

There is a project afoot to build a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal a certain distance downriver from Quebec City. There were a significant number of posters on people's lawns protesting the decision. While I could understand that they were unhappy about the development, I felt that a lot of people who had put the signs up were being somewhat hypocritical. I admit that the region is question is very pretty and that a LNG port would take something away from the charm of the region. But a lot of the charm has already been taken away by some of the protesters. Many of them obviously decided to build a "nice" (i.e. suburban) house in the country and to commute into Quebec City to work. To say that their houses are a blight on the landscape is probably going too far but many of them sure weren't pretty. As well, they are driving their cars quite a distance to get to and from work. Where do they think hydrocarbons come from? One house I rode past had three vehicles in the driveway: 1 Jeep Cherokee, 1 Lexus car and 1 Lexus SUV. Sorry, we aren't talking about farmers here, unless it happens to be weed they are growing. I am not sympathetic to these NIMBY-ites. The St-Lawrence river isn't just a pretty backdrop. From before the start of recorded history in these parts, it has been a (very) efficient highway for all kinds of goods.

Enough ranting, back to fun memories. On the plains of Abraham, I came across an assortment of cannons gathered from various locations in Eastern Canada. The one that interested me the most was an English cannon found near English Bay on Anticosti Island. Many years ago, I spent part of one summer on Anticosti Island. Since then, the place has held an interest to me. If only I could remember where English Bay (or Baie des Anglais) is on the Island.

Near the brewery I visited, I was traveling through some fields next to the sea. There was a movement of something big swimming in a deep drainage ditch next to the road. I stopped and went back to look thinking and hoping it was an eel or a large fish. It was a semi-aquatic mammal. It looked at me and I looked at it. As I crept nearer, it dove down and backwards to disappear out of sight, leaving me with a doubt in my mind as what it was. The possibilities are A. an otter or B. a muskrat. Both species are to be found in the area. An otter would be much more fun to have seen. On the other hand, muskrats are more common and their Wikipedia article does specifically mention their use of drainage ditches. I like to think that the aquabatic way it disappeared means it was an otter.

When I was on the bike path from Richmond to Quebec City, the long straight sections through trees would often times play optical tricks. If we consider this photo for instance:

The gap between the trees in the distance gives the impression that the path goes up a hill as the colour of the gravel merges with the colour of the sky. At other times, there would a whitish house blocking the path that turned out to be the sky framed by overhanging trees.

The youth hostel in Rivière-du-Loup offered supper at a very reasonable rate of $9 for a three-course meal including a glass of wine. The first course was a salad that included a few blueberries. As I was feeling waggish, I picked one up, turned to the twenty-year old Frenchman who was sitting beside me and asked in French if he knew what it was. His first guess was an olive. With a certain relish, I told him that it was a "bleuet" and started a discussion of the differences between Québécois and European French. In Québécois French, a "bleuet" is a blueberry. In Euro-French, a "bleuet" is a species of small blue flower. A blueberry is a North American variety of "myrtille" in Euro-French. Sometimes it is fun to gently tease the French from France.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

On creating new problems

Of course, having examined the Excel file with time and distances, the problem becomes the realization that the worst sections are the hardest the reduce in the length. The Newfoundland sector in particular is very annoying as there are several long bits that are relatively unavoidable as well as being likely rather tough ones. I think I will need to get me sister to scout out a B&B or two to break the journey properly.

One unfortunate conclusion is that I will have to forgo the pleasure of biking the Acadian Peninsula. More fortuitously, I also have come across the fact that it would be reasonably cheap and convenient to take the train from Bathurst to Miramichi thus avoiding the relatively dreary ride between them. The catch is that I may have to fight the urge to take the train as far as Moncton. This would compress three days of biking into one, but would mean I wouldn't go near Kouchibouguac National Park. Mind you that would spare me from having to pronounce it. ;-)

This would also have the effect of curtailing my time in New Brunswick, almost reducing my time in the province to mere transit. This would put me in league with the vast majority of travelers to Atlantic Canada. Years ago, the Frantics had a three-episode radio show dealing with New Brunswick's supposed dislike of tourists in transit.

On dealing with mistakes

Sorry if I haven't kept you up to date, but as most of my readers know, I was very upset at losing my camera on the trip from Le Bic to home. I am suspicious that the loss was symptomatic of the larger issue that I was very tired from having ridden too long and hard in the preceding days.

What I need to do now is to re-examine the Excel file I made with proposed point to point distances for the second part of the trip using my painfully gained experience from last week at make changes as necessary.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

On the end of phase 1

Well, here I am in Le Bic at the house of Pascale, Jean-François, Jade (aged 6 months) and Maya the Mensa mutt (Australian shepherd-Golden retriever cross).

It has be a very tough day. Rather provokingly, it had been the only day so far where it hasn't rained! However, it has alternated between quite cool and quite warm, partly in connection to my relative position to the St-Lawrence. Along the shore it, the breeze carries the chill of the water and you feel the urge to bundle up. Then the Route Verte turns inland and you have strip. Very frustrating.

In addition, as Autoroute 20 gives out just past Trois-Pistoles, the Route Verte starts taking pains to take you off the old highway 132, that it had been using, as it is now the main road. However, the roads and paths it puts you on aren't up to long distance travel. Too many unnecessarily steep hills with second rate surfaces. On a couple of them, I had to stop and push when my rear tire started spinning in the loose surface. Eventually, just before a particularly tough section, I decided to be done with the Route Verte and got on the 132. It was a breeze. There was a wide shoulder and the road was quite level for much of the way into Le Bic. Part of me is kicking myself for not doing it earlier. This is definitely a point to remember in the future. While there was a fair bit of traffic going past (much it evidently holiday traffic judging from the fact that there were many more cars loaded with recreational vehicles (bikes, ATVs and boats) heading away from Quebec City than towards it), I didn't care. I was both tired and relatively immunised to traffic from biking in Montreal.

Getting to Pascale and co. involved climbing quite a steep hill, before making a left turn onto their road. As I made my turn, a car pulled up. The driver rolled down his window and asked if I was Daniel. I said yes, I was. He was Jean-François. He told me it was just along the road and to look for a blue house with a "Fleur de Lys" flag flying outside. I had arrived.

More to come, dinner is served.

Friday, 20 June 2008

On rain and its effects

To say that it was wet yesterday is an understatement. It was pissing down for much of the day. I was able to convince one of the Quebec-Levis ferry personnel to do the honours for the classic photograph. (Sorry, no photo for the time being, the youth hostel computer isn't set up for it.) The rain was predictably cold and wet so I was experimenting with various ways of covering up. It let up at one point when I stopped to visit a church in a town I will have to remember to look on the map to figure out which one it was. The old woman showing me around was proud to point out the book with the first entry in 1690 or so. I didn't have the heart to tell her that it was probably written much latter (say mid-19th century) as the paper was blue and the handwriting was small, neat and very consistent from entry to entry suggesting a later date. The smallness of the handwriting suggests the use of steel nib pen, something that only came into use around 1800.

There seems to have been far to little to keep the people of the area occupied. Many small towns that were never large have very big, ornate churches and a surprising number of small chapels very short distances from the main churches.

Despite the rain, I rode about 91 km. I arrive in L'Islet in time to visit the Maritime Museum. I was given a guided tour of an icebreaker built at the Davis shipyard in Quebec City in 1941. I was amused to note that most of the gauges and the like were of British manufacture!

Today was much nicer weather, a factor that I think lured into complacency. It was sunny for much of the day, though storms were to be seen. I went through St-Jean Port-Joli. I hadn't realised it was such a center for art of a folky vein. At one place there was a tour bus with Texas plates on it. I hope this wasn't the only thing the people on it had come to see!

As I was making good time, I stopped at a micro-brewery to taste their wares. Unfortunately, as I tippled it began to rain. It was a cold rain that seeped into my shirt despite my rain gear. What I didn't catch onto until much too late was that it was cooling me down dangerously. I think I was skirting hypothermia. Once I cottoned on to this, I changed into my merino shirt for near instant relief.

I arrived at the Rivière du Loup youth hostel fairly late (at little before 6). As I have been riding along the St-Lawrence, I have been seeing why the South Shore is the smart decision. There are some bloody big mountains on the other side.

I rode 114.41 km today. I have about the same tomorrow but that is the end for now. The weather forecast looks almost promising for Sunday, so I may well spend two nights in Le Bic.

As I was riding today, I thought of an expression I should have used in my post "On milestones". To quote Captain Jack Sparrow: "Bring me that horizon." That is the rush of the road.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

On my visit to a 400 year old city

The weather today was par for the course of this trip, a mixture of sun, cloud and rain. The best I can say for the rain is that it likely kept the crowds to a minimum. As it was, many sites were beset by school groups on their end of the year trip. Rather like I did so many years ago. Now that I think of it, at least one of the school trips featured copious amounts of rain.

I visited the Plains of Abraham where they were busy setting up stages for Céline Dion's concert and related activities. The fortifications were fun as always, but the gem of the day was taking a guided tour of the Château Frontenac. The woman giving the tour was dressed in a reasonable facsimile of victorian dress and "claimed" to have been at the opening as a girl. I was amused to hear that when the hotel was requisitioned without explanation in 1943, one of the rumours that was circulating was that the Pope was leaving Rome because of the war and would be setting up shop in Quebec city. In reality, it was because of the first Quebec War Conference.

The afternoon was dominated by waiting for my slot to visit a 400th anniversary exhibition about the people passing through Quebec. I had heard that one part of the exhibition featured the second baby born this year (among others) in the city, namely my cousin Liam. Unfortunately, that part the exhibit choose that time to reboot itself and didn't work. The exhibit was mostly oral history which is not my favourite way to experience history.

The streets and buildings of Old Quebec are truly different from anything else I have experienced in North America. Old Montreal doesn't hold a candle in comparison. Of course, you could argue that Quebec is (and has been) the sterile museum city whereas Montreal represents a much more dynamic, constantly self-renewing city.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

On milestones

A number of milestones have been reached in the last few days. To start with the one most in need of flattering, my mother braved the very nasty weather and drove with me to Acton Vale to inaugurate her new bicycle in the Acton Vale Challenge. I have been surprisingly luck with the weather given that the weather hasn't been good. While it was pouring on the way to Acton Vale, there was very little rain while we pedaled. Mummy did 87 km...
...and I did 109.36.
I spent the night in a very modest motel in Acton Vale. While the motel was very ordinary, the restaurant I chose proved to be very good all things considered. To give you an example, I ordered what amounted to potato skins, (i.e. a baked potato with cheese and bacon bits) however, the cheese used turned out to be something in the brie line! Surprisingly upscale.

Acton Vale has a library. Unlike some libraries I could mention, it wasn't open on Sunday evenings. In fact, its hours were fairly restricted. Rather than have an after hours return slot, it had the following arrangement. I am not sure if this constitutes a possible endorsement of smoking by a library. If it does, then I don't approve.

I made a fool of myself by leaving my water bottles in the fridge of the motel. I only noticed 4.25 km away and had to go back.

Rather than take highway 116 all the way to Richmond from Acton Vale, I opted to take 4e Rang out of Acton Vale for about 10 km. It was a quiet dirt road that went past a surprising number of horse farms. I wonder if there is some particular reason that the area attracts horse breeders such as a high calcium content of the soil.

I got to Richmond in reasonable time. The weather was overcast and humid. As I made my way along the old Grand Trunk rail bed away from Richmond, I decided that as I seemed to be the only person on the wide, flat trail, I could remove my helmet for better cooling.

I went past beaver ponds, startled groundhogs and chipmunks and annoyed a snapping turtle by taking its picture. It had been moving fairly swiftly along (for a turtle that is) until I came up to snap a picture. It retreated into its shell and glared at me. After a couple of pictures, I left it to go about its business.
After lunch in Danville, it began to rain. However, by the time I got to Warwick and this sign... ...it had turned into a very nice day. (Unfortunately, this photo is a sign I need to do something about the spare tire.)

Between the reduced humidity and welcome presence of a tail wind, I fairly flew for much of the rest of the afternoon. Whereas before I had been cruising in the low twenties, I was now seeing numbers in the mid to high twenties. Another factor may have been that I was on a slightly better maintained and drier surface. In this stretch, the white-ish crushed stone suggested a ye olde Spanish road that truly exists only in my mind. There is something addictive about a good long, straight bike path. The vanishing point beckons, calling you further on, and farther in, until the towns fall away like milestones. It was glorious.
My mileage table had called for me to spend the night in Victoriaville. However, as the going was so fine, I hadn't booked a room and that my alternate bed for the night looked great, I kept on going to Plessisville (another 22 km, for a total of 125.95). The B&B La Maison Douce is in a Victorian house that was restored with much passion and conviction (if slightly debatable taste) by the current owners. It was well done, but is slightly overdone with materials that don't quite measure up. It is, however, a great place to stay and something of a bargin.

I dealt with distaff half of the couple who operates it. She is a rather nice, if somewhat religious lady. I am not sure if she is Catholic or merely started off Catholic before turning to something more evangelical. To be honest, I would rather not know. She wasn't obnoxiously religious, it was just that religion was something that was obviously on her mind.

Another milestone occurred as I was nearing Plessiville when the odometer function on my bike computer hit 2000 km. It was at 0 km in Seville! Evidently, I didn't use it enough last summer! ;-)

Today was a mixture of sun and cloud for me with a little bit of rain thrown in for good measure. In fact, between Dosquet and Saint-Agapit, I ran a race with a thunderstorm. I could see it to my left as well as the fact that there was clear (well rainless) skies to the North of it and as the wind was out of the West, and the trail was going North-West, I guessed that if I kept going at a good pace, I could get out of its path. I was also a mite worried about being caught out in the open on that stretch of the bike path. I think I won, by the way.

It was interesting to see that I tended to make better time on the open stretches rather than the forested bits. I think that is the appeal of the open road type thing.

A further milestone was reached when I got to the end of the line, i.e. Quebec City: there won't be anything so glorious in the way of bike paths until P.E.I.'s Confederation Trail. I've become rather spoiled in the last few days. (On the other hand, riding on roads may mean less crud sticking to my bike. I had to wash a fair bit of dirt off Leonardo this afternoon.)

I crossed the St-Lawrence on the old Pont de Québec. Despite being fascinated with its structure, I felt a bit uneasy about looking all the way dooooowwwwnnnnn!!! (I suffer from mild acrophobia.) It too was a milestone. Crossing a major bridge usually is.

I was surprised to find that both Sébastien and Marianne were waiting for me. Surprised and pleased. Little Liam (5 months) seemed intrigued if a mite perplexed. Mathilde (3 ans et demi) was shy at first but then warmed up to me.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

On the road!

Well, after months of planning, me voici! I have made it as far as North Hatley. Well, as far as Waterloo where my father picked me up. So far the only real glitch was that I forgot to reset my bike computer to 700x32c tires. Thus the stats for today are probably off by about 1%. I have now reset the computer. The stats are, drum roll please: Time: 5 hours, 19 minutes, 29 seconds of cycling. Total distance: 109.32 km. Average speed: 20.5 km/h. Maximum speed, 31.0 km/h (breaking the speed limit on the Ice Breaker Bridge).
Highlights in include seeing a woman taking her rabbit on a leash for a walk in Chambly. Low lights include a bit of a bonk (loss of immediate energy) between St-Césaire and Granby. The day started nice but gradually clouded over. By Marieville, I switched from sunglasses to colourless lenses. A little bit of rain but nothing significant. Very humid mind you. This wasn't too bad while biking, but once I stopped it hit with a vengeance.

Friday, 13 June 2008

On final preparations

In light of the rain predicted for Monday and Tuesday, I am going to leave camping gear (sleeping bag, mat and bivouac sack) behind. Monday was the only night I would possibly be sleeping out on this part of the trip and I can bring the camping gear on the bus with relative ease. It would have good to see how well it worked but "que sera, sera". I have a tendency to over pack so I now be able to figure out what I need to leave out for the longer part of the trip.

While rain is in the forecast, I should be able to dodge most of it. Tomorrow's rain only begins in the afternoon. With luck and an early start, I just might be able to dodge most if not all of it.

Tomorrow's route will take me to Granby and probably Waterloo, where a parent will meet me with car. I will spend the night in North Hatley with them. On Sunday, my mother and I will drive to Acton Vale for the Acton Vale Challenge (which touches Saturday's route). I will spend Sunday night in Acton Vale. Back to packing.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

On preparations

With the departure date rapidly approaching, preparations are afoot. I have begun to sort and pack, if not very much. However, by tonight, I should be 90% ready.

Unfortunately, that percentage is too close to the chance of precipitation on Saturday. The weather forecast for Montreal calls for 70% chance of rain on Saturday and 30% on Sunday. Ugh! not good. Oh well, I knew rain was to be expected when I planned this venture.

Monday, 9 June 2008

On a little bit of history I will be passing

I read a blog on military and other affairs written by a middle-aged right-wing British fart mostly for the amusement factor of reading his neanderthal-ish comments of on life and British politics. He has a "today in (British) military history" that does come up with some interesting tidbits, such as part of today's entry describing an event that took place in 1866. I quote:

A train carrying ammunition between Quebec and Montreal caught fire near Danville. The truck with the fire was quickly disconnected, but troops and railway staff were in a quandary as to how to deal with it. Seeing the indecision, Private O'Hea of the Rifle Brigade ran to the wagon, opened it and set about fighting the fire. Others then helped him, and the fire was extinguished safely. Most unusually, O'Hea received the Victoria Cross for heroism in a non-combat situation -the only VC won on Canadian Soil.

The railway line is evidently the old Grand Trunk Railway. This line is no longer in service, and forms the basis of the Route Verte between Richmond and Quebec City. Thus, I will see the site of the the above incident.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

On the uses of chemicals from MEC

This is the last weekend before I leave on the first part of the trip. I have spent part of the weekend getting ready. This includes waterproofing maps and Gore-tex. I have done the latter before, but the former is a first. As I will be mostly relying on the Route Verte guide, I have only two, informal maps to deal with. The first is a colour photocopy of one page of my Quebec Road Atlas on which I have printed information as to where I will be staying. The second is a double sided colour print-out of where I will be going on this trip i.e. these two images.
The idea is to be able to show to people what I plan to do and later what I have done.

Getting back to the title of this post, I am finding it a mite amusing that I am "playing" with chemicals that came from the MEC, a "green" company. Having said that, I can probably be reasonably sure that the chemicals were chosen with a view to minimizing their environmental impact whilst still delivering the desired waterproofing.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

On Proust's madelaine

It is said that smells play an important role in unlocking memory. À la recherche du temps perdu was rather famously inspired by the memories evoked when Proust bit into an herbal tea soaked pastry known as a madelaine. The smell and taste brought him back to his childhood. I have similar experiences every time I drink Barq's root beer. For some reason, to me it tastes rather like the way the bathroom smelt in Granny's house on Upper Lansdowne. I know that sounds strange but trust me, it is a good thing.

Getting to the point, I was anointing myself with sunscreen today in view of trial run on Leonardo. The sunscreen I used was the one I bought in Spain. As I was applying it, I was momentarily transported back to Spain by the smell. Rather neat.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

On some very good news

You may remember an earlier post about a friend in need of a bone marrow donation. According to this news report, he has found one. Very good news indeed. But no reason not to register if you haven't already.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

On an additional map

My previous maps only covered from Quebec City to Deer Lake. Consequently, I have made the following map to show which route I intend to follow between Montreal and Quebec City.
The route I intend to follow is in red, give or take a dozen or so kilometers, and entirely ignoring the "diversion" of the Défi d'Acton Vale.

On Leonardo becoming the Moosebike

I had been meaning for some time to put a moose sticker onto Leonardo (my touring bike) partly in honour of this blog. However, I have yet to find a moose sticker for sale. Not even for ready money.

Consequently, I was forced to use my not inconsiderable ingenuity to make a moose sticker. I found some 3 inch wide chrome tape at a branch of Canadian Tire. I found a moose silhouette on the web. After adjusting the image to the desired size, I printed it. I then glued the image onto the backing of the chrome tape. After letting the glue dry overnight, I cut out the image, then peeled off the chrome sticker before applying it to Leonardo. Obviously, the image was the reverse of the one I printed, but I had anticipated this. While the moose sticker isn't as nice looking as the bull stickers from Spain, que sera, sera.

I can now refer to Leonardo as the Moosebike. Should I want to, that is.

Monday, 2 June 2008

On what a time to be alive

There was an interesting rock formation in the wall of the Lafarge quarry yesterday. Well, at least interesting to me. Then again, I was raised by a geologist which meant a certain amount of interest in rocks rubbed off. Anyway, I took the following image with my digital camera and later sent a copy of it to Papicito (a.k.a. my father) to ask what the diagonal structure was.
He sent back the image with his interpretation of the structure added to the image!!!
I had to ask both my father and Wikipedia to understand what a Diabase dyke was, but at least I will go to bed less stupid than I got up. "A dyke or dike is an intrusive igneous rock that cuts across the pre-existing structures, in this case the horizontally stratified limestone. A sill would have followed the stratification."

Got that? From this I am guessing that there is also a sill in this structure that seems to be at a geometric angle to the dyke.
What a time to be alive when we can toss around information like this!

Sunday, 1 June 2008

On another Tour de l'Île under the belt

Well, another Tour de l'Île has come and gone. Only 45 km this year of the actual tour. They are getting shorter and shorter every year. Ironically, the starting point for the last two years has been well to the East of here near the Olympic Stadium. This is roughly 15 km from my place, so we end up doing roughly 30 km just getting there and back!

This year, the party underwent a change from the usual lineup of my parents, Joey LeBaron, Michael "the Mole" Meagher and myself. My father is suffering from a bad hip so he did not join in. However, his absence was made up by the presence of Margo's daughter Louise. This was her first Tour de l'Île which made it fun. Another cousin had threatened to join us, but failed to show up at the rendez-vous.

The Tour de l'Île often involves a wait at the beginning, and this year was no exception. These waits are the classic times to indulge in "cheese de groupe"'s or group photo. Here we have my mother and Joey LeBaron.
While here we have myself, Louise and the Mole.There are a lot of people (thirty thousand) in the Tour de l'Île and it is at start that you really see them en masse. This is only a tiny fraction of the multitude.
People frequently dress up for the occasion, often with silly head gear such as this group. They attached a number of plastic cups to their heads. I think they were supposed to be horns.
This woman went for the pink look. She was moving at a good clip. I paced her for a fair number of kilometers.This year's route took as through the Lafarge quarry of which I have written in the past. Unlike the previous time, they went in for some more blatant marketing. Rocky, the mascot of Lafarge, was there...
...as was a Long John Silver impersonator. What pirates have to do with cement is beyond me.The weather was grey and intermittently raining, though fortunately it never came down too hard. I didn't push very hard and had very little time to wait at the third relais before Louise showed up. I suspect she would have passed me had she not had a flat tire. This is despite the fact she was on a rented bike.
I tried to get some of "action" shots of her (one of the benefits of digital cameras is that you are not afraid to try some tricky shots). Unfortunately, once she noticed what I was doing, she took after her mother and pulled some faces.