Day Fourteen.

Québec.

I took a ton of pictures, so see the gallery at the bottom of the page for the whole enchilada.

View from the Plains of Abraham

View from the Plains of Abraham

Feeling pretty exhausted after my day off in Québec. I walked who-knows-how-may miles, at least ten, up and down the hilly, frequently stair-y old city. I need to spend my next day off actually off.

I had a great time exploring the city. I managed to not ride my bike at all. I got up at 8 and walked over to the mall for some coffee. After that I took the bus into Old Québec which was easy. There was a time in my life when public transit seemed daunting but I guess NYC has emboldened me.

I spent the next several hours wandering around the city. The citadel, the funiculair, the Hotel Frontenac, Plains of Abraham, Vieux-Port. Around 1pm I started to get pretty hungry. I had read online about something called a ‘tourtiere quebecoise’ – a ´Québec meat pie. But damned if I could find any place that served them. I finally gave up and had something at a cafe called Buffet du Antiquite or something like that. The atmosphere was better than the food, and this is true for almost every place I ate in Québec province. I had a beer with lunch.

I felt very sleepy after such a big meal. I dozed on a park bench for about 30 minutes. Then I got up and wandered around… more sightseeing until around 6:30 I stoped into the Hotel Frontenac’s bar, the St. Laurent, for a vodka martini. Reminded me a bit of the Waldorf in NYC, except a better view.

 

The martini put me in a strange mood, and I had a lot of stuff on my mind as I watched the fortifications at dusk. A harmonica player was doing a sad french number. I took the bus back home, thoroughly satisfied with the day.

 

Day Thirteen.

Plessisville to Québec.

Awoke feeling refreshed. The rest area remained undisturbed all night. I did see one of the very common scooter guys, but he drove by fast in the dark and did not see me. I packed up camp, ate a small breakfast of a croissant and orange, and headed out on the Route.

It was slow going. My legs did not want to move, and neither Lyster nor Dosquet had any place to get coffee. I was really out in the boonies. Finaly, after an arduous ten miles I found a dépanneur in St. Agapit and got a cup of coffee and a danish.

Then, like magic, I was rebooted. I easily conquered the remaining 25 miles and then I was in Sainté Redempteur, a suburb of Québec. And then I was crossing the Pont Du Québec.

Pont Du Québec

Pont Du Québec

Pont Du Québec from afar

Pont Du Québec from afar

After so many tiny wooden bridges across creeks and rivers, I was not ready for the size of it. The picture in y map book gives you no idea of scale – it’s a huge steel monstrosity crossing the Saint Lawrence. I met a local just before crossing and he was pretty impressed that had rode all the way from New York.

Then I rode down the Corridor du Littoral, which is basically the path that runs along the north shore of the St. Lawrence from the bridge to Québec proper. All the way there are these towering cliffs on the left side and the river on the right. They’ve taken good advantage of their waterfront – it’s mostly a park – not many businesses or homes.

Finally, after about 10 kilometers, the city atop the cliffs comes into view. It’s a sight to see. And then you find yourself in the narrow stone streets of the Quartier Petit Champlain. The city still visible high above the Vieux-port. The buildings are all made of finished stone. The whole city very much has the feel of a medieval fortress.

I wandered around for a few hours looking for a place to charge my phone. At one point I climbed the stairs up the liffs carrying my bike and baggage on my shoulders. That was pretty rough. Finally I found a cafe and sat googling hotels while my phone recharged.

Laval

Universite Laval

I discovered via the internet that cheap lodging was available at the Universite Laval, in the Sainte Foy area about 6km back west towards the bridge. Since I’ll need to head back that way when I leae on Tuesday, the dorms seemed like a good choice.

I rode to the Universite but I couldn’t find anyone in the dorms. Luckily my mapbook had Laval listed as “Bienvenue Cyclistes” and there was a phone number. Finally I found the right place (‘Pavilion Parent’ — for Bernie?) and they gave me a room in ‘Pavilion Lemieux’ (for Mario? Do the Canadians name all their colleges after hockey players? Seems like something they would do. But no, it’s Alphonse Marie Parent and Ernest Lemieux, whoever they are.)

 

Dorms

My dorm

The dorms are not bad at all. I got my own room (the bathroom is shared with others on the same floor) and I paid $30 per night. Plus the bust stop is right outside to take me downtown (‘centre-ville’) tomorrow. After depositing my baggage I showered and loaded up my dirty laundry and took the bike in search of a laundromat (‘buanderie’). The laundry finished, I then put everything (including my bike) back in the dorm and walked the campus looking for food. I found an A&W Root Beer and figured it must be fate. It’s funny, you order fast food and they still say, ‘bon appetit’ when they hand it to you, which it’s not exactly a gourmet meal.

I noticed today that Québecers in general don’t really use cellphones in public much and that old people are cycling fools. I’ve seen more people over 50 cycling around than not. Although that could just be because everyone else is at work. But the ratio is still much higher than in America. And most of these old guys are pretty strong cyclists. I’ve been passed by several old men today.

Québec from Lévis

Québec from Lévis

Day Twelve.

Windsor to Plessisville.

Apparently the rest area is a popular spot for pre-dawn fishing becuse several people came and went during the night, and it’s difficult to sleep in a strange place with people showing up to do who-knows-what at a strange hour.

Sunrise at the rest area was beautiful. I woke up and packed up and Mauricienne and Nicole woke just in time to take some pictures and say bon voyage. The ride into Richmond was great, the sun peaking through the pines along the river. Finally, a sunny morning.

Saint-François

The Saint-François River, as seen from Richmond Bridge

Which turned into a hot day. Got terrible coffee and a snack cake at a ‘dépanneur’ (convenience store) in Richmond, but ound a nice place by the lake to enjoy it.

Richmond's Bridge

Richmond's Bridge

The Route Verte became mostly flat after Richmond and I pretty well blazed through the 40 kilos to Victoriaville where I stopped for lunch. The ride was pretty good, just real hot.

I had a terrible burger at a TGI Friday’s knockoff called Bravo Pizzeria. I was hoping for a $5 meal in a bag but everything in this town seems to be sit down so I paid $13 bucks. It was not remarkable in any way except they put green onions on it. The coleslaw was bland and the fries were fries. At least I’m full.

And sleepy. The sun is still beating down but there’s a nice breeze blowing. Church bells ringing downton. I think I’ll let lunch settle a bit more before I set off towards Plessisville.

***

The ride to Plessisville was quick and mostly uneventful, except for the first time on this trip I had a noticeable tailwind. For a few minutes I thought all this cycling had turned me into a super human, but then I noticed the trees were all pointed in the same direction as me.

Super Jos Louis

Super Jos Louis

Finally found what looks like a good spot to camp a few miles north of Plessisville. A little rest area just off the route and slightly below it, so the tent won’t be plainly viewable to any passersby, of which there will be few. I have seen much less traffic on the Route out in this part of the province, though I am hearing a plane for the first time in days, which is oddly comforting.

 

People & Bikes only.

The Route Verte is for bikes and pedestrians only.

Day Eleven.

Rock Forest to Windsor.

Rest Area outside Windsor

Rest Area outside Windsor

Chemin de la Riviére

Chemin de la Riviére

I am giving serious thought to the idea of ‘camping sauvage’ at the rest area here. A shower is not worth thirty bucks to me, especially with the river right here. This is a beautiful, peaceful spot on public land. I have half a bottle of water and plenty of food. I doubt anyone will bother me.

Today really felt like work. Lots of unexpected climibing with little reward, until now. Left camp Beau-lieux in Rock Forest around 8am and said goodbye to Silvano and Paola. We exchanged emails and facebooks. From there I rode into North Hatley and grabbed some coffee and croissants and hung around for a few hours. I think it was nearly 11 when I finally set off for Sherbrooke.

Sherbrooke

Sherbrooke

Hotel De Ville

Hotel De Ville, Sherbrooke

The ride took me through multi-variant terrain- farms, rivers, highways, and suburbs. The only real remarkable occurrence was finding an educational ‘mine touring’ company outside North Hatley. Apparently the area contains Québec’s largest copper mine and they are able to take tourists through the old mines. A wagon, pulled by a big tractor full of hard-hat wearing tourists was just leaving as I pulled up. I would have liked to try the tour but it was in French.

Mauricienne and Nicole

Mauricienne and Nicole

In an interesting turn of events, I saw a couple of old ladies on loaded touring bikes back in Windsor but I didn’t stop to say hi. Then I saw them again on the road to Richmond and they looked a bit lost so I helped them with directions. Then as I was setting up camp at the rest area they showed up and asked if I was camping here. I said perhaps and they said us too. So suddenly there were three of us camping sauvage. Their names were Mauricienne and Nicole and they were also headed to Québec. They were a pretty spry, funny pair. Only Mauricienne could speak English fluently so she was the translator. We made a campfire on the rocks out by the river and sat there for about an hour. As it got dark, a big full moon began to rise. Most of the time they just talked to each other in French bu I was tired and it was peaceful… I was content to tend the fire and listen to them chatter. Undoubtedly one of the finest nights of the trip.

Our Campsite

Our Campsite

Day Ten.

Granby to Rock Forest.

I forgot to relate two interesting occurrences from yesterday. The first ame shortly after I began to follow La Route Verte. I was flagged down by two puzzled looking guys who asked if I was following the route. When I said yes, they asked if we were on it. I said I thought so and pulled out my map, and we determined we were not in fact on the route, so we backtracked a few blocks and saw that we had turned off the route when we passed a street under heavy construction.

So good thing I met those guys or else I would have been lost in Montréal for who knows how long.

Super May West

A super May West

The second thing happened towards the end of the day. It had been raining off and on all day and I had stopped at a small rest area around 4pm to get out of the rain. After a few minutes an old guy pulls up on a scooter and says something about the rain in French. I tell him I don’t speak French and ask if he speaks English. He laughs and says something I don’t understand, from which I gather the answer is no.

He disappears for a moment behind the shelter and I hear him taking a leak. (This is to become a trend in Québec. I saw a lot of public urination– maybe it’s not a big thing for them?) A few seconds later I hear the distinct *pop* of an aluminum can being opened.

He comes inside the shelter. Either he chugged his beverage or he left it by his scooter. He’s a bit red around the eyes. Could he be scooting under the influence?

Anyway, we try to have a conversation which is pretty tough. All I’m able to discern is that he lives in the area and rides his scooter. It stops raining, we shake hands and I take off, having no idea what we just talked about.

Route Verte - Waterloo

Route Verte - Waterloo

The Route Verte has been much more interesting today. I took off from Granby at 7am, having had a couple muffins and some juice provided by Camil. It was a pretty ride to Waterloo, similar to yesterday’s terrain. It began to full on rain as I pull into Waterloo and I use a tiny kiosk for shelter.

Eventually it lightens up enough to allow me to move on in search of breakfast. I find “Resto Du Parc”, a nice little diner, and have bacon, eggs, and coffee for $5. Deal. I note that they give me peanut butter for my toast, same as at the hotel. This is definitely a Québec thing – or maybe a Canada thing?

Rain in Waterloo

Rain in Waterloo

I stop at IGA for some sundries and get caught in the rain again. Finally, around 11am, I leave Waterloo.

The route takes me next through Mont-Orford, a national park, with, not surprisingly, a mountain in the center. Also several nice lakes. It’s only been four days since I came out of the Adirondacks but my legs seem to have forgotten what to do. Or rather, the climbing here is different… instead of long, gradual ascents, it’s a lot of short, steep climbs, which is tougher. At least for me. Still, the trail is really nice. I’m definitely in the boonies of Québec now. Hardly a paved road to speak of.

Mont Orford National Park

Mont Orford National Park

Outside Magog

Outside Magog

The other thing is that the clouds today have been pretty ominous. Big, black thunderheads have been threatening the mountains all day. But the sun keeps peaking through and no major storm has come. I’m not sure if this phenomenon is something typical to the region or if today is just a weird day. I kept panicking that I would be caught in a massive downpour but it never happened.

Turtle Crossing

Turtle Crossing

Now I’m in the moderately sized town of Magog. Finally down out of the mountains. Not much camping ahead unless I press on past Deauville. Another fifteen miles. It’s 5pm and it would be bad to have to set up camp in a downpour.

***

The weather got much better. Ate at LeMcDonald’s and pressed on towards the camp ground. Along the way I ran into a couple who had been touring on a tandem bike that I saw a few days ago. I stopped and said hello and the conversation turned to where we were camping tonight. I told them I was going to a place about an hour away and they said they knew of a place only 5 km away. I asked if I could follow them and they said sure.

Paola and Silvano

Paola and Silvano

They’re an Italian couple named Paola and Silvano. Well, we made a couple wrong turns, consulted a few locals, made a few more wrong turns, and about 90 minutes and 19 miles later we finally found a place to camp. Camp Beau-Lieux. At least it’s close to the Route Verte. Paola has done three tours before and Silvano does one every year. He’s been all over the world.

The weather this evening was beautiful. The campsite is next to a busy highway but there is a kooky character telling ghost stories to the kids two sites down in French. I can’t understand a word but I can tell he’s doing a good job. I lay awake in the tent for awhile with the rain-fly pulled back, looking at the stars and listening to the histoires de fantômes.

Eastern Township Mountains

Eastern Township Mountains

Day Nine.

Montréal to Granby.

Je suis desole, je ne parle pas français. Parlez vous anglais? This is becoming my mantra. (Though I actually just looked it up after 3 days of saying it wrong.)

Left out of Montréal this morning at 10am and it took me a good twnety minutes to find the Route Verte. Convinced I had built up a strong base and that adding sunscreen to my face, already broken out, (too many nutrigrain bars? Polyester sleeping bag pillow?) was a bad idea, I intentionally neglected to put sunscreen on. Well, I got burnt. Today happened to be the first day I was riding directly east. So, yeah.

Au Revoir Montréal

Au Revoir Montréal

The Route Verte starts out as basically a bike lane that takes you through the suburbs of Montréal, but the further you get from the city, the more it becomes rail trails that cut through farms, fields, and woods. I spent almost the whole day riding, finally stopping around 7:30 but with no real significant breaks. I managed to cover about 70 miles. I saw two woodchucks, one crane, and a jackrabbit. Plus great flocks of birds.

Route Verte

Route Verte

Granby, where I decided to spend the night, had little to offer in terms of campsites. But I did manage to find a pretty nice ‘gite en passant’, which is a bed & breakfast. Initially they wanted to charge me $72 but when I told them I didn’t want breakfast they knocked it down to $60. So ok.

The place is a house run by Camil and Ginette, a nice couple, I’m guessing in their fifties, who turned the bottom floor of their house into a guest suite. Ginette answered the door in her floral moo-moo and we attempted to converse, her English bad and my French non-existent. Luckily, Camil, her husband, a thin, quiet, reserved type, eventually showed up and he did the translating for both of us. For some reason they were very detailed about which key did what.

I took a shower and am feeling pretty good. I calculated that I have about 200 miles to Québec, which I could do in four easy days or three hard days. Given that the terrain is mostly flat I’ll push for 3 days.

Entering Granby

Entering Granby

Day Eight.

Montréal.

Mont Royal

Mont Royal

An ‘off’ day, though in truth I biked about 25 miles exploring Montréal. Started the day with a personal challenge — ordering breakfast.

Even though most people here speak English most of the signs and menus are in French. Luckily I remember enough from French 101 to know what an oeuf is. And that great thing here is that I have an excuse to be a man-baby.

View from Pont Jacques Cartier

View from Pont Jacques Cartier

I pedaled around the city, taking in the various sites– Notre Dame Basilica, Habitat 67, the islands created in the Saint Lawrence for the 1967 World’s Fair, Mont-Royal, all the 19th century Canadian bank headquarters, Chinatown, the village, Old Montréal, Quartier Des Latins.

My main goal was to pick up a map of the Route Verte, which I did acquire from ‘Le Maison Du Cyclistes’, a combination bike shop, cafe, and travel agency. The guy was pretty helpful.

In fact, all of the people I spoke to were. I didn’t really get the sense that they hate to speak English, which is what someone once told me (ok, that’s what I heard in rural Ohio). It’s more that they are proud of their French heritage and they want to preserve it.

Couche-Tard

A store for retards who are unable to leave their couches.

I am vaguely apprehensive about the availabiliy of campsies, especially over the next few days. I am also not sure whether to take the longer, more scenic route to Québec through the south, or to take the shorter norther route along the Saint Lawrence.

Rain is forecasted for the next two days. The worst of it tonight. Glad to be in the motel for one more evening. I need the rest and the shower. Temperatures have been generally cooler this far north. It was only 63 degrees when I woke this morning. Got up to about 81.

Stopped at a sports bar-casino called ‘J’m La Frite’ (I Love Fries?) for a beer and my first ever plate of poutine. It wasn’t bad, although I think I prefer my french fries with just plain ketchup.

Poutine

Poutine

 

Old Montreal

Old Montréal

Habitat 67

Habitat 67

Chinatown

Chinatown

 

 

Day Seven.

Ausable Chasm to Montréal.

Rode almost 80 miles today. The initial ride out of Ausable into Plattsburgh was once again overcast but it did put me outside of Lake Champlain which was peaceful in the early morning and I stopped to watch some ducks and bass boats.

Plattsburgh Monument

Plattsburgh Monument

Plattsburgh was a rally nice old told, one of the biggest on Lake Champlain and had a couple of nice old monuments. Also, for some reason which I couldn’t figure out there were multiple locations selling Texas Red Hots, which I am pretty sure is just a fancy name for hot dogs. But I could be wrong. I had a good cup of coffee and a passable bagel at Baxter’s Bagels. Baxter is a german shepherd, by the way. No idea where he learned to make bagels.

At some point while drinking my coffee I decided I was going to go all the way to Montréal, which was a lot of miles and would mean my seventh straight day of biking. I made good time out of Plattsburgh and the ride was rural, nice. I stopped outside a dairy farm and studied some cows. When I got to Champlain I didn’t realize I was essentially on the Canadian border. I followed the route that Google recommended but it was blocked off and I got stopped by the border patrol, who thought I might be trying to avoid the port. But once I told him I was only carrying camping equipment he seemed satisfied.

The actual crossing itself was simple. I just answered a few questions about what I was doing an I was in. No paperwork, no passport stamp.

Welcome to Quebec

Welcome to Quebec

The terrain in Canada initially was also provincial, rural, and nice. With the exception of the signs being in French, it was just like New York. However, the sun began to shine pretty hot and the ride grew less fun as the day progressed. By the time I got to the suburbs of Montréal I was dog tired. I decided to stay at a hotel out in the suburbs rather than pay more and potentially have trouble securing a room in the city proper and it looks like the motel I picked, ‘Motel La Siesta’, is pretty reasonably priced.

I feel pretty bad about not even trying to speak french but there’s just no way. I can’t understand more than a few words. Still, most people speak English pretty well so I guess that’s good. Although I haven’t really developed a tactic to let people know I don’t speak French. I just say Bonjour…hello.

Still, though, I managed to get stamps, beer and Middle Eastern Food. I’m now in the room and ready for a relaxing evening of French-Canadaian TV and I already feel like a different person after a real shower.

The suburbs are much like any suburbs, except in French:

Poulet Frit Kentucky

Poulet Frit Kentucky

 

Day Six.

Crown Point to Ausable Chasm.

Another fifty plus mile day. Left Crown Point around 6:30am and rode to Port Henry in search of breakfast. The weather was foggy, wet, humid, cool. The morning was quiet and easy to enjoy, but the silence kept getting interrupted by cars. I am no car hater but I find my time so much more enjoyable without traffic.

Port Henry - Fog

Port Henry - Fog

Port Henry - Fog
Port Henry – Fog

From Port Henry I rode through Willsboro, Essex, and Keeseville. Each of these is more or less situated on Lake Champlain, depressed towns with little industry or business, but still picturesque, built up years ago when iron made the region rich.

 

Today is starting to feel like work — I’m tired and it’s still another 80 miles to Montréal. That means I need to figure out where and how far to go tomorrow. I wonder if it’s a particular skill of mine, turning fun into work.

Anyway, I am currently camped at Ausable Chasm. I just got back from hiking the chasm itself and it was pretty awesome, actually. They have kind of disney-fied this giant sandstone canyon and it’s pretty touristy. Part of me hates that. What right do people have to charge money in order that we might see the natural wonders of the world? It’s crass. They name each pool and rock something stupid and put a little signboard– “Did you see Table Rock? Did you visit the Eagle’s Nest?” But maybe the kids dig that stuff. They aren’t corrupted cynics like me. Yet.

Regardless, the place is amazing despite its commercialism. There’s something to be said for that – no matter how much they layer on the schmaltz, the magic still comes through.

Chasm, River, and Hydroelectric plant

Chasm, River, and Hydroelectric plant

 

Inside the Chasm

Inside the Chasm

Looking Down on the Chasm

Looking Down on the Chasm

Day Five.

Schroon River to Crown Point.

Not sure whether I am stronger or weaker from the previous four days. Today started out tough because my phone would not connect and I got kind of lost on Schroon River Road. It was mostly unpaved and very scenic, though. I am losing my fondness for unpaved roads. However, I did come upon a waterfall in the woods, which I commemorated by taking my first ‘nature shit’.

Waterfall

A beautiful place to shit in the woods.

The road had hardly any traffic so I figured I’d just squat behind the nearest boulder. Of course, immediately someone drove by. Hopefully they thought I was just a hiker inspecting the local flora, identifying a rare orchid or a particularly interesting caterpillar. Although I feel like it must have been pretty obvious that I was dropping a deuce. Nature.

I finally found my way back to a main road and a friendly local cyclist suggested I bike along Brant Lake towards Hague. He said it was pretty nice. And the lake was nice, but he neglected to tell me I’d be climbing a mountain for four miles into Hague. It was harsh, dudes. The sun was beating down most of the time (I still haven’t picked up sunscreen) and I had not even gotten coffee. But I pushed on like an ant climbing a dorito. A steeply tilted dorito.

Just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore I suddenly felt a strong, cool breeze all around me. The bike became as light as a feather and with hardly any effort I was sailing at high speeds. The terrain still looked flat, but I was going fast. I was ready to chalk it up to a divine wind, when suddenly I began going downhill for serious. The next four miles were the most pleasant I have ever traveled. The speed cooled me down, no need for pedaling, and the bike handles like a dream when it’s moving at high speeds. I can take sharp turns at almost full speed.

That put me in Hague, where I chatted with an old lady about Ticonderoga and cycling. She recommended a restaurant in ‘Ti’ called the Hot Biscuit, which after a relatively painless ten miles I can report is not bad at all. I found a laundromat and am currently digesting my lunch and washing my clothes. Not sure whether I’ll stay in Ticonderoga tonight or press on to Port Henry, about 16 miles north.

Ticonderoga

Ticonderoga

***

Decided that it was best to move north after checking the rates at the local Super 8 and discovering there was no vacancy. I pushed on to Crown Point and I’m glad I did. I found a campground run by a nice old guy, Bob, who only charged me $10 bucks to pitch my tent. So if you’re ever in Crown Point, check out the RV park. Bob rocks.

The weather here is very strange. There’s a rainy, stormy wind coming off the lake but the sun is shining on the other side. The breeze feels great. I feel pretty tired– ate a big late lunch. I did pick up some local peaches and cherries today from a fruit stand that were great.