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The Great Canadian Bike Trek Commentary
April 27 - May 16

 

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27/4 I awoke early, even before the sun had started its journey from east to west in this part of the world. A warm serving of beans started me off well for the day and unlike the usual sleep-in until 10 or 11, I was on the road before 7am - the earliest departure of the trip to date. It was a nice time to ride, the calmness and lack of traffic made the conditions almost perfect for my last stretch in Ontario, where I had been for the last 40 days, apart from the few days Mount Tremblant.

I crossed the bridge in Hawkesbury to the Quebec side of the river at mid-morning, and my mini tour du France (Canada) began. I ended up talking to a friendly local for about ten minutes, while he precisely described every possible route to Montreal. I took the longest road as it had the least vehicles and wound its way through along the river through the most towns.

The roadside was dotted with old, stone farm-homes which were complimented by the green grass and the glistening river, of which every now and then, little towns would appear on the other side, every one of them dominated by an old church steeple.

In Montreal, I arrived at Gille's apartment, Shelly Hulko's ex-boyfriend. I was immediately bombarded with fine French hospitality, which included some exceptional beers from Gille's extensive home-brewing operation. Gille and his friend Michel then whipped up some delicious French cuisine, washed down with home-made wine, some Spanish wine, followed by the traditionally French, wine and cheese, with a few glasses of port. I knew at that moment that I was going to like Quebec a lot!


28/4 Last night's hospitality had been a bit too good as I spent a good part of the gloriously sunny day, lying on the couch nursing a nasty hangover. I finally felt well enough to get out into the fresh air, which did me a world of good.

I spent the sunny Friday afternoon cycling around the metropolis of Montreal. The place was alive with activity, with the city's cafe patios spilling out onto the street, fill of stylish people, not the sneaker and jean types found in a lot of North America.

Although I didn't really know where I was going I rode around the city aimlessly and just soaked up the atmosphere. I liked the mix of buildings that the city had - beautiful, old concrete buildings, built as early as the 1600's, contrasting superbly with the modern, sleek, glass towers.

As the sun set, I made it back to Gille's, so we could go out to a pub with some of his friends.


29/4 As Gille had to help his mother move house, I spent the day with his friend's Michel and Beaugie, who being locals, obviously knew the city very well, and I got a real appreciation for the place, and how different it is from the rest of Canada that I had seen.

Each province I had visited had been different from the last, with their own unique charms, but Quebec so far felt the most different of all, almost like another country. There was the obvious language dissimilarities, and subtle things such as the faucet taps and street signs, but the deviation from the rest of Canada seemed much deeper than that. I am told that the Quebec provincial Government is more socialist that the rest of Canada, making education and health more accessable and cheaper. The civil law system is based on the continental Europe system rather than the English one like the rest of Canada. The people seem less conservative than elsewhere, and almost less constrained by rules. Liquor laws are much more lenient, with alcohol sold in corner stores. The list goes on. One difference I liked was the lack of a bicycle-helmet law. I am a great believer in wearing a skid-lid, and may even be dead of a vegetable if I hadn't warn one in the past, but it was great to relive my helmet-free childhood years and feel the wind in my hair again.

Michel, Beaugie and myself rode around Montreal, in the warm sunshine. Our journey took us through the Mount Royal park, a large reserve on the edge of the downtown, built on a hill, overlooking the island of Montreal. It was a good place to be pointed out some of the city landmarks and other places that we would be visiting.

We coasted down St. Catherines, the main street in the city, which was bustling with activity. Through Chinatown en route to Old Montreal, where we had a quick peep at the spectacular Notre Dame, and then we temporarily retired the bikes to walk around through the thin, cobblestoned streets, and then out to the waterfront.

To finish off the great day, we went to a pub with four levels of patios, and enjoyed a few beers out in the sun. A little tiddly, we wheeled the bikes onto the metro, and trained it back to Michel's for dinner, with a few more drinks when Gille turned up, then a few at Beaugie's and then to a salsa pub fill of beautiful women.



30/4 Brunch was at a neighbourhood diner and then Gille, Michel and I went back to Mount Royal, where a large grouping of people had gathered in the sun, to listen to the crowd of tam-tam players, beating tunes at the base of a tall monument. It was a happening spot, with a lot of interesting people around. There were craft stalls, jugglers, plenty of dogs running around and a couple of old men doing flips and other acrobatic manoeuvres.

After some famous Quebec poutine (fries, gravy and weird cheese) for lunch, we went for a look around the 1976 Olympic stadium grounds, which Montreal still owes millions on, and has been plagued with problems since opening such as the retactable roof not working, and the roof caving in from too much snow. It was an interesting design though.



1/5 Montreal people can be fairly vocal, so when I rode through the city on my way out of town, fully packed up with my pile of gear and clanging beer bottles that Gille had given me from his home brew collection, it was no surprise that there were a few people yelling things out.

What they were yelling out, I do not know, it could have been abusive blaspheming to the dorky looking guy on the bike, or it could have been them telling me what a cool dude I was. If they were shouting out that my bags had fallen off my trailor 100 metres back, I wouldn't have known. It really made me appreciate how hard it must be for immigrants who come to a country that speak a different language and actually having to live there day to day rather than clowning around on a bicycle during a 3-day stopover.

I didn't see the rows of strip malls and indentical houses for miles like I had seen on the outskirts of Toronto - it wasn't long after leaving the densely built up city that I was out in the open.

A warm rainfall started. It was nice to feel and smell the warm moist air, unlike the bitterly cold rain that had pelted me in the past, but I didn't want to get everything soaking wet, so I found a park on the outskirts of Boucherville and quickly pitched the tent and crawled into my dry place for the evening.


2/5 I spent a good part of the morning learning a few new French words in the tent. Just listening to my tapes didn't seem too effective, so I decided to use the flip-card technique that had worked wonders during my school years.

I didn't set my sights too high, but was keen to learn one or two words that would be helpful to order food as this was a fairly common form of contact with the Francophones.

Eager to try out my new words, I stopped at the first restaurant I saw and flung a few words from the language of love at the lovely waitress. She seemed to appreciate my effort, but fortunately spoke enough English to get my order correct.

Most of the towns I rode through had bike paths through them, which were filled with everything from small kids on little bikes to old men on bikes of a similar age. The towns, much like the others I had passed in Quebec, with grand silver steepled churches dominating the streetscape and religious statues. But there was the odd large, rundown factory or powerplant dotted randomly along the river's edge, contrasting from the fairly quaint villages.


3/5 It was an absolute pearler of a day, every cyclist's dream weather to ride. I lay in the sun before rising, ate at a nice restaurant in Sorel, bought a new tyre for my bike and then set off to the Ferry, on the edge of town.

The ferry ride was very pleasent indeed, to the northern banks of the great St. Lawrence River, with the water shining like jewel in the sunshine.

My squeaky old blue bike seemed to generate a lot of interest from the friendly Quebecans also riding on the ferry, and fortunately there was a bi-lingual local to translate the questions and answers back and forth. I felt like a South American contestant in the Miss Universe pageant, although not as pretty, with the translator to ask questions.

The road took me through farming towns to Trois-RiviÈres, the main city in the area. The city seemed fairly industrial, but there were some nice pockets of historic buildings, a few cafes with bustling patios and a large bridge across the St. Lawrence that had an almost identical design to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

I arrived in Batiscan where Foosh's grandfather, Luey, was out on the street to greet me. He was a very interesting character and had written a book about his life. Luey's wife, Anne-Marie, was a very sweet lady and a great cook, but unfortunately she only spoke French, so it was more of the Miss Universe translation thing for us.


4/5 Breakfast was a healthy portion of porridge and some eggs, which as Luey put it, was ¨good fuel¨.

The terrain started to get hillier along the river bank and added to the cute villages dotting highway 138. Old gabled homes built right up on the side of the road clustered closely next to one another.

It was so nice to feel the sunshine really warming me up, and when I stopped I lay out in the sun, I kept beautifully warm, unlike in the past when breaks entailed putting on an extra couple of layers as soon as possible to keep from freezing.

I arrived in Quebec's provincial capital, Quebec city in the early afternoon. The city was nothing special in the outter suburbs, but the heart of the town was beautiful, full of lovely old buildings. I met Anne, a criminal lawyer who I had met in Mount Tremblant over easter, at one of the sprawling cafe patios in the city for a couple of beers.

After quenching our thirst, we made it back to her apartment - an old, converted church, right on the outside of the historic part of the city.

I don't know what it is about these Frenchies, but they all seem to know how to cook very well, with Anne being the pinacle of it, serving a sensational steak cooked the in a fine French style.


5/5 Vieux-Quebec (Old Quebec) is the only city in North America to still have a wall surrounding it, giving it an even more historic feel.

After wandering by the attractive provincial parliament buildings, I ventured behind the walls to visit Vieus-Quebec. The place was incredible, with it's mainly 17th, 18th and 19th century buildings making it feel like a museum, with the addition of people still living there and going about there day to day business.

The grandest of all buildings was the Chateau Frontenac, a majestic brick hotel, located in a picturesque setting, right on the edge of the hill overlooking the St. Lawrence river and beyond. Apparently it is one of the most photographed buildings in the world, so I added to the statistics and snapped a few shots.

I explored the narrow streets, filled with buskers doing wierd things and alleys cluttered with painters exhibiting their work. It must have been a good couple of hours before I conceded to lunch on a nice patio. In restaurants in other cities I have visited, they sometimes have paintings of Europe, trying to give the place some more atmosphere, the neat thing about Quebec City is all of the paintings are of Quebec City itself, although it does look like Europe.

After lunch, I visited the Musée (museum) de la Civilisation, which gave me an interesting perspective of Quebec.

Dinner was out in the country at Anne's parents' place, who lived up to Quebec's reputation for fine food and hospitality




6/5 Anne used to be a tour guide when she was at university, so she was quite a good lady to be shown around by. She took me back through part of Vieux-Quebec, pointing out some of the history that I didn't discover yesterday.

We left the city and drove around the island of Orleans, just out from the city, but with a lovely rural feel, with its historic villages.

A gondala ride next to the Chute Montmorency (waterfalls) followed. The falls and surrounding area were spectacular, one and a half times the height of the Niagara Falls, although not nearly as wide.


7/5 My stay finished at Anne's with breakfast of the same high standard that I had been spoilt with since arriving.

Anne rollarbladed a bit of the way with me on the well maintained bike route, and then I set off on my own.

On the outskirts of the city were some large hills that got the pulse rate going, but once I was on the plateau, the view was impressive. Fields of different colours with small groupings of trees and villages dominated the foreground, whereas on the horizon, lay many hazy layers of mountain ranges.

It was kind of uncanny, but in the sake of 10 minutes, the blue sky turned to a dark grey. Like some creepy movie, the wind chilled, and all of a sudden my tyre blew out.

I pulled over and unpacked everything to change the tube when the heavens opened. I was completely soaked from the heavy rainfall, which was accompanied by fork-lightening and loud crashing thunder, very close to each other indicating the storm was pretty close.

I took refuge behind an old barn, which slightly sheltered me from the downpour. Just as everything was fixed and repacked, the storm stopped as fast as it had begun. weird.


8/5 It wasn't long into the ride that I reached the steep 6km downhill into the town of Baie-St. Paul, a pictureque town, nestled between the mountains and the St.Lawrence River, looking just like some of the paintings I had seen in galleries in Quebec City.

The town was the hive of activity with the skinny streets lined with colourful, colonial buildings, mostly converted into botique restaurants and art galleries.

I left town after lunch and headed east along route 362, an AAA designated scenic byway, and that it was! The road twisted around the rugged terrain of the mountainous banks of the North Shore of the St. Lawrence, past little French Villages on cliffs, high above the river, each with their own large catholic church, dominating the view.

It wasn't all blissful though, the road, as pretty as it was, twisted and turned over the largest hills that I come across since British Columbia, but far steeper, some that even the Morris Minor couldn't make it up.

I think if I had left for my ride in the spring time, it would have taken a lot longer as I was finding myself taking long rests, just sitting in the sun, enjoying the views.

The spot I stopped for the night was equally as impressive as any of my rest areas, looking down on the St. Lawrence river, now over 15km wide, but far below.


9/5 Just as I was rejoicing the warm weather that spring had bought, I woke with a chill, which was now surprise, as there were snow flurries outside.

The weather had taken a turn for the worst, and the beautiful spot that I had had seen last night basking in the warm glow of the sunset, was now grey and gloomy.

I had a ferry to catch, so I packed everything up wet and headed off, right into a horrific headwind.

The scenery was spectacular, more of the same, steep winding roads, but the wind helped spoil the moment.

I arrived in St-Simèon, where the ferry departs from. As I was early, I stopped for a bite at a restaurant overlooking the bay, and ended up talking to an interesting Dutch guy, Ronald, who was also waiting to cross the river.

During slice 3 of my house-special pizza, the waitress made an announcement, and as French was one of the 5 languages my Dutch friend could speak, he translated it for me - ¨the ferry has been cancelled due to the gusty winds and big waves¨.

As the next ferry was at 9:30am tomorrow, I rode up to the dense forest behind the town and found a camp site that was only a short ride down the ferry terminal in the morning. I spent the rest of the night learning a few new French words.


10/5 It was an early rising to have everything packed to be down at the ferry for the morning sailing.

Winter had rared its ugly head again, my breath was smokie and there were a couple of inches of fresh snow underfoot. The virgin-white snow decorating the trees' branches was pretty, but it was a nuisence having to rummage around in the bottom of my pack to find my winter woollies, and I was liking the smell of sunscreen.

I arrived at the ferry dock with time to spare and saw Ronald from yesterday, waiting in the lineup.

I ate breakfast and chatted with Ronald at the long, zig-zagging table in the ship's cafeteria, so the hour trip seemed to pass very fast.

I looked around Rivière du Loup, where the shipped docked on the South shore and then set off on the much flatter terrain.

For a while I could see the mountains of the North Shore and the islands we had sailed past, but then the road took me inland through a valley of rolling farmland framed by jagged hills.

I stopped to phone the Internet Cafe in Rimouski, the next city, to see what their hours of operation were so I could plan when to be there. Noone in the establishment could speak English, and my attempt at French using my soggy Berlitz French dictionary wasn't comprehended.

I went into the gas station close by and asked the lady, who hardly spoke any English, to phone them for me. A lot of body language and two phone calls later, I finally discovered that they were open 7am-11pm, so I didn't have to plan around it.

I pedalled on and found a beautiful park to camp in, a large grassy field, sheltered on all sides by forested hills. As everything was soaking wet from last night, I laid them out to dry, but no sooner had I just unrolled my sleeping bag, it started to rain...


11/5 The rain that started last night, hadn't stopped when I awoke in the morning. It was coming down in Torrents, and as I was dry and snug in my tent, I stayed in my tent, listening to the rain pitter-patter all day, reading a good book and watching the puddle in the bottom righthand side of the tent slowly grow.

As my food rashions were running low, all I had to eat all day was rice and granola (muesli) bars, but it was a pleasant break.


12/5 Joyous I was when I awoke to find all signs of percepitation had disappeared, even the puddle in the tent had reduced itself to a mere damp spot.

To Rimouski I rode, past the inlets and islands, over the small hills. The town had all I needed from an Internet cafe, or a cafe with a computer connected to the Internet, a supermarket, so I wouldn't be on a stable diet of rice for the next 40 days, and a casse croute (snack bar) from which I bought poutine (fries, gravy & weird cheese) as I was told Rimouski had the best in the world. I would normally give poutine about a 6 out of 10, but the large helping of Italian poutine, although it felt like a brick digesting, was exceptional.

The town was so friendly, I lost count of the number of people who came up to chat and having to apologise for not speaking French. The odd person did speak English including an interesting character who was walking 140 miles from New Brunswick to somewhere in Quebec, and felt a connection with me as I was also on a trek.


13/5 Seabirds were perched out on the rocks amongst the waves. The squawking from the seagulls was a sign that soon I would be out by the ocean.

Small villages dotted the side of the road, squeezed between the rocky shoreline and the winding concrete thoroughfare. The villages looked poor judging by the small residences, often decorated with retro garden decorations with little peices that moved in the wind. As poor as the coastal communities looked, each settlement still had its own extravangently constructed church.

The afternoon turned ugly as heavy winds set in. I struggled to get 10km/h out of my little blue bike on the flat, exposed road. Even the power-generating windmills on the hill had been stopped as it was blowing too much. Anything that wasn't fully secured down, such as flags, hanging letterboxes and real estate signs, were flapping wildly.

I put my head down and grinded, making slow progress for the day.


14/5 I hadn't showered for a while, and was again smelling of the cocktail of deoderant, aftershave and sweat. The lady in the restaurant yesterday was awfully short with me, I'm not sure if it was because she was nasty or because of my fragrence - I think it was the latter.

So when it started to pour in the middle of the night, I decided to take my practice of using nature as my bathroom one step further. I felt like an African Tribesman, dancing around naked in the rain in the dark, soap in hand, but it felt good, and even better to smell pretty again.

The headwind from yesterday was still present, yet not nearly as unforgiving. To add to the wind, there was a low layer of fog, covering the hilly scenery like a cotton wool blanket, which finally burnt off in the early evening.


15/5 Almost immediately after leaving St-Anne Des Mont, the tree-covered mountains became steeper and edged their way to the coastline.

The abrupt cliffs fell dramatically to the sea, a perfect environment for the many waterfalls tumbling down their faces, some large enough to cover the road with their mist.

The mountain faces themselves, were layers of sedimentary rocks that had been buckled and twistered for millions of years creating spectacular patterns.

The road was flat, straddling the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the mountains towering high above it. Every now and then, there would be a small break in the jutting faces of rock, as the mountains temporarily retreated back from the sea, and these gaps were filled by small clusterings of wooden homes.

The later part of the day took me away from the coast, high up in the mountains, well above the snow line, up and down excessively steep hills, exhausting me, which led to me taking an early night.


16/5 I was up and down today like a couple of newly weds. Over each hill was a seaside settlement, with small wooden bungalows dotted around a bay, the larger ones having a church and shops, with the odd lighthouse on a cliff.

Near the end of the day's ride, I reached the tip of the Gaspé peninsula, a spectacular scene where the mountain ranges that had been the backbone of the peninsula, ended in the ocean. The majority of the area was covered by Forillon National Park, which contained within its boundaries the best of the scenery. Fortunately the road went through the park. Other vehicles were sparse and wildlife seemed to be abundant judging by the 'Don't feed the Animals' signs, rustling I heard amongst the foliage and two cute porcupines I saw scuttling amongst the shrubbery.

The final stint in the park was to the top of the hill, revealing the spectacular inlet below. I rode through Cap-aux-Os and found a nice clearing amongst the trees that was about an as good campsite as one could get. I had just unloaded everything off my bike when a local on a 4-wheeler motorbike joined me in my spot and signalled to me that I could not stay there, so I reloaded everything and found another spot, not quite as nice, just down the road.


 

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