Eastern North America Tour Y2K, Part IV
Day Thirty-seven: I start early in the morning, anxious to be on my way. The trip into Sherbrooke goes smoothly, more mixed residences and small farms; however, I am desperately needing to buy a map, as Sherbrooke is near the limit of the New England map, and the map of Québec I was given is almost useless; it must be over 20 years old (no date). However, I see no gas station or other store where I can buy a map. Finally, in Sherbrooke, I make an effort to find a map, walking up and down several streets but finding no stores that would carry the same.
So, I go on my way without a map. A few miles out of town, I find a gas station and get my map, now almost five dollars. I cross the river and travel on some miles. Most of time the Canadian highways are fairly narrow, often with cracks or broken places near the edges, and the motorists zip by, usually without slowing much. Here and there is a section with a bit of a paved shoulder. Well, here it was no shoulder and a good bit of traffic.
After traveling 33 miles for the day, I find a place where I can pull off the road and get into some shrubs to pee. So, I stop and while there, I have a bite to eat as well. Less than a mile down the road, I discover a picnic area and decide to stop again, again getting out food to eat. After all, I have made a fair bit of progress.
However, two Québec cyclists show up before I have even finished looking around (there's lots of signs in French about a man who was drowned and of a woman who died pining for him and how the spot may be haunted). We try our best at a conversation (my French is better than his English and her English is a little better than my French), and I learn that they are doing bed and breakfast cycling within Québec, thus they carry small panniers. He tells me that I can come with them if I want to, and they take off, so I have to hurriedly stuff everything and catch up. That's not difficult, as they are slower than I am. They must have caught me only due to my two stops.
We ride together on into Windsor with only two brief stops, at which we all make additional exchanges; for example, he asks me about my solar panels. Then, in Windsor, he decides to take the bikepath from Windsor to Richmond, something they had mentioned when we first meet. I ride across the bridge to the bikepath, but it turns out to be fine gravel, although along a beautiful riverside. So I turn back, having lost just a mile, and continue on the other side of the bridge. I hate that I didn't get their names or a picture. Well, most of the traffic is gone, and for the last half, I have a wide paved shoulder. On the ride, I meet and briefly talk with another B&B cyclist traveling in the opposite direction, a woman traveling alone.
I stop in Richmond to eat at the Subway, and then, very sleepy, I ride out of town to find a small rest area on the other side of the river, so I use the toilet located there and lie down outside for a brief nap. My nap, however, is interrupted by an approaching squall, and I and the bike have to move around a bit under the picnic table's roof to keep dry.
Then when the rain stops, I wait longer, and sure enough, here comes the second burst. Finally, all rain stops, so I use the toilet again and head out. Before I've gone very far, I encounter two wet B&B women cyclists, hurrying towards town with cheap plastic raincoats. For obvious reasons, I don't try to stop them. That's five touring cyclists in one day, bringing my total for the trip to 14.
Riding on this side allows me to enjoy the beautiful river a bit, the St. François. However, I notice an entire line of rain from some dark, low clouds to the east, and I notice that I am going to get the tail end. So, I look for shelter but see nothing, and the town of L'Avenir, which I enter, is too small for stores. Then I see a sign that I remember from taking French, over an empty building, reading "Hotel de Ville." I check my pocket dictionary to be sure, and stop to rest at the town hall while two more storms pass over, not as strong this time, but just as wet.
Then I travel on to Nicéphone, where I find a nice IGA with all sorts of precooked foods and a place to sit and eat them. I do just that, and then I struggle while talking to some kids outside before taking off. A woman tells me of a place for camping just six miles down the road, and it is two hours before dark.
But I travel just a mile, and I am passing a kid riding a mountain bike on the path next to the road, when I hear a loud pop, and my rear tire starts bumping badly. I quickly stop and pull the bike off the road and lay it down. A screw is embedded in the tire. The kid comes back to help me. He can't speak English, and I can speak just a little French, but he is eager to help. His one hand is almost a claw, with a short forearm, one finger, and his thumb. I find my tools and try several to pull it out, not even thinking about the piers in the bag. Finally, we get it out, and he helps me remove the casing, which is a real help when using Continental tires, which almost require three hands. I patch the tube, put the tire back together, and find it won't hold air three times. Either my glue is bad, I have botched the job each time, or there is another hole made by the screw which I didn't see. At any rate, I tell the boy as best as I can in French that he needs to go on home, as it is getting close to dark. I think about offering him some money as a reward, but I notice he has an expensive bike, so I don't.
After he leaves, I remove all the bags, turn the bike upside down, and replace the tube. Then I put everything back together. It's not dark yet, but I have just half an hour and a busy road. Then I look at the woods right in front of me. I push the bike down the path until I see a likely spot and wait until no cars are coming and then push the bike into the woods. Here, the trees were mostly cut and the ground torn up, and then everything was left alone. Thus there is a mixture of good-sized trees, weeds, and piles of soil taken over by ferns. It's difficult pushing a bike into with lots of grabbing vines and hills of dirt, and it's difficult finding a place big enough for the tent, but I manage. However, I am so keyed up that I leave the computer and my clothes on the bike and sleep in my dirty clothes. After I lie down, too hot and keyed up to sleep at first, I hear a sound like someone digging very near. I finally fall asleep, but I wake up frequently on the uneven ground, and one time I hear a deer snorting at me.
Compton - Nicéphone, 60.8 miles, 10.3 mph, July 7, 2000.
I wake very early, and I soon as I get over my grogginess, I get up, get everything together, and push the bike through the ferns to the road. Five miles down the road, I stop in a little park to pull myself together, and there I discover that I don't have the flat tube anymore. Did I leave it back in the woods or along the road?
I then leave the park on another road, as I intend to follow 122 rather than 143 the rest of the way to Sorel. In some ways, it's an excellent choice. I have very little traffic, for the most part, and a good view of farmland, this being larger farms on flat land without any residences. The road is also almost flat, although I am fighting a slight breeze. On the other hand, there is no place for water or food the whole distance, which is somewhat less than 30 miles. In fact, I have trouble finding a place to stop and remove my raincoat and leg warmers as the day warms up. So, I end up riding the whole distance with only a brief stop.
Then when I reach Yamaska, I get some food, but I'm still anxious to get to the ferry, so I hurry on, promising myself a rest later. In Sorel, I get some great fresh bread and find some tubes and a patch kit, but I am eager to get on. I even pass up a nice park.
The trip to the other side on the ferry is quicker than the wait in line for the ferry, and when I get to the other side, there is no park. So I continue to ride, looking for a park. Taking only brief stops, I travel to Joilet without much rest, 60 miles by 2:30. There I take a rest and do some typing, and it's 4:40 before I know it. As I start to leave town, I see an information center, so I stop to see where the next camping is, as I haven't seen any woods yet.
The young woman tells me that there is a place 29 kilometers ahead, but there is also a place right there in town, if I will go back a little. So, I follow her map. It is a long distance with many turns. I notice along the way how mixed up the bicycling is in this town. Some of the riders are on the roads, more are on the sidewalk, and as many bicycle against traffic as with it. In addition, there are bike paths, both on one side, and taking up a traffic lane, with sometimes both ways on the same side of the road. This is all nonsense, as I have no trouble bicycling while using road rules in the same town.
When I reach the campground, I find a lake surrounded by RV's, full of well-dressed older people, little flower gardens, etc. They even have a little gate that raises or lowers to allow people to enter or leave. The price is $18, before taxes. This is a real rip-off. The people living here get a great discount while the poor bicycle traveler pays the RV rate. I would have no privacy, no good night's sleep, and no piece of mind. I would rather sleep in a ditch than that.
So, I leave town, feeling very angry. However, on both sides of the road are woods, and on my side, there is no fence. I go down to look, and I find that there's lots of room to hide a tent and bike, so I find a place to put the bike and set up the tent, and I crawl in. I feel much more comfortable (and $20 richer) being here.
Nicéphone - Joilette, 71.9 miles, 10.7 mph, July 8, 2000.
Day 39: During the night, I awake to the sounds of voices. Some young men -- from their voices -- have stopped their car on the road not far from me and are loudly talking in French, none of which I understand. When a car goes by, they seem to yell "Papier!" (paper), but I don't know why. Then, after some confusion, a car stops, doors slam, and I hear them no more. An hour or two later at first light, they are back and making noise again. Then the car starts up, and they are gone. Although I really don't know what was happening, the best explanation is that they ran out of gas and had to hitch a ride, get some gas, and return.
I have camped close to the road many times, and this is the closest I've come to being discovered. Of course, I camp where there is no road or pull-off, and of course, my tent and bike were well out of sight; however, any one of the fellows could have gone into the woods to pee, and I was behind a thin screen of trees. On the other hand, I don't know how close they really were. If they were just 100 feet down the road, they would not have discovered me even if that had happened. And what if I had been discovered? It's doubtful that the young men were criminals or that they would find any of my stuff worth taking if they were. Still, it would have been better to have been camping farther from the road.
Since I am awake and it is getting light, I decide I might as well go ahead and leave, although I give myself time to wake up. When I leave, there is no sign that they were ever there. From the road, my spot is quite invisible behind the small evergreens.
As I ride on, I discover several miles of better camping opportunities in the woods if I had know ahead. However, if I asked, very few people would have thought of my camping in the woods; almost all would have referred me to the campground. And, I would have had a hard time explaining myself in French anyway.
I feel somewhat uncomfortable following the road today. Although it is an two-lane road and has some regular intersections, it has the feel of a limited access highway; for instance, it passes over many roads on bridges and connects to them indirectly . I wonder if they intend to upgrade the roadway at some future time.
After riding a long ways and leaving the wooded areas, I stop at a town to see if the gas station has drinks. It's not open, but there is a machine, but I don't have the required $1.25 in change. Just as I am about to leave, a woman arrives and goes inside, so I ask her in my poor French (she doesn't speak English) if the station is open and if I can get some change. She is not afraid to let me inside at that early morning hour, although she tells me the station isn't open, but she changes my bill, and then she gives me an extra quarter. I am puzzled by the extra quarter, but we can't communicate well enough for me to understand. I try the machine as she is leaving, and it does not work, but I get my change back, so I give her her quarter back. Then I finally understand: she gave me the quarter because the machine would not be able to make change. Very nice of her.
After getting into very interstate-type road as 158 meets I-25, I turn back onto ordinary roads and travel on to Laurentides. There are people waiting for the store to open as it's not yet nine o'clock, eastern time, so I get into some conversations with them. Some speak very good English; others know no English at all, but all are friendly. The bread is fantastic. Only in Canada do you find bread this good!
I think about stopping at the park in town, but there's an admission fee (it's a park recognizing someone famous who I've never heard of), so I continue to ride out of town. Finally, I find a guardrail where I can rest my bike and sit on some concrete to rest. I eat my bread and nearly fall asleep, but there's not enough room to lie down. I rest there awhile, unaware of anything, and most probably asleep sitting up, when a cyclist appears. Dennis, who is from Rocanville, Saskatchewan, tells me that he is 2/3rd through with his trip across Canada. He decided to take the trip on his own, but the cancer organization in his town decided to use his journey to raise money, so he had been writing messages to them every day. He looked fit, healthy, and a little too sunburned, much like me, in other words. After having a good conversation, he leaves, and I find it is nearly lunchtime.
I ride into Ste. Sophie, get a drink, and eat some more of my food on the picnic table. Then it begins to rain, first a little and then more and more, causing me to don my rainsuit and gradually retreat from the picnic table to the wall. But it's no good, the rain keeps increasing and the sky looks bad. I finally decide that the best thing to do is to ride on to St. Jerôme in the rain and get a motel there. It is a nasty and uncomfortable trip of about five miles, but I find a motel as soon as I enter town, so I get a room. The room costs as much as the money I've saved by not staying in campgrounds; on the other hand, I can now use the internet to get my mail and update my web site.
The first thing I do is to connect to the net and go through my mail. Then I check on website traffic, check on search engine changes, send a note to my partners and to my aunt, and then I log off, having been on-line for four hours. I go get something to eat, which ends up being a loaf of bread and sardines, as there are limited options nearby. I then go back over my record of the last few days, making changes and corrections. I look at the time on the computer, and it's after twelve, so I lay down and fall asleep.
Joilette - St. Jerôme, 35.2 miles, 10.2 mph, July 9, 2000.
Day 40: I wake up in the morning at 4:30 having gone to sleep just four hours earlier. I spend the next few hours combining my log with the web page about my trip. I also update the page of sites linking to mine. Then I download the pages, check traffic on the site, check my mail, and get ready to leave. It is already nine o'clock my time, ten o'clock local time.
My first stop is at a bank, which proves to be closed because it's Monday. Then I go to a supermarket where I get fresh bread and some fruit. I then head north through town along 117. After leaving town, I notice the bike trail passing under a bridge. One of the men at Laurentides had told me about this trail which follows 117 for 200 kilometers (120 miles) along an abandoned train line. I notice from a bridge crossing the trail many cyclists ascending a hill but especially two that are carrying full camping gear, one with a trailer, the other with black front and rear bags. The wind is blowing hard, and I know I will be climbing for a few days. Wouldn't it make sense to follow the gradual grades of the railroad rather than climb steep hills into the wind? However, the surface may be too soft. I ride up to the trail, and to my delight, the surface is almost as hard as pavement. So, I work to catch up with the two cyclists. I catch them just as they turn down to visit a store and introduce myself.
They are both from Québec and have traveled today (their first day) about the same distance as I have. François speaks the best English, and he tells me that Marc is leaving his job on a bicycle trip to British Columbia, looking for new opportunities, while he is accompanying him for the first three days of the trip. Besides pulling a two-wheel trailer full of supplies, François also has his cat with him, a big fat, heavy yellow cat appropriately named Garfield. Marc speaks English seldom, but he understands it much better than I understand French, as he often listens to sports events in English on the TV.
We proceed on our way together at a slower pace than I would like. It seems that François' trailer is slowing him down, although he blames it on a hard day's work the day before and little sleep. The gravel on the trail is another reason for being slower, although it's difficult to decide by how much. As we travel, we pass hundreds of people riding bicycles, and some are making trips lasting several nights, identifiable because of their larger saddle bags. The people are of all ages and both sexes as well. In Québec, exercise is generally considered a good thing, and riding a bicycle is quite respectable. Although traveling slowly, my new friends certainly know how to travel mile after mile without stopping. Whenever I stop for a photo, I have to hurry to catch up. Whatever fault can be found with the trail, I find that it has some wonderful scenery of woods, lakes, and three different rivers (which flows with powerful force), plus lots of good resting places, many with just a picnic table or a bench, others with fully equipped rest-rooms -- including showers, information centers, and places to eat. There are even a few billboards along the bike route.
While François and Marc make short rest stops along the way, they don't stop for food, and my supply is running low. They don't seemed to be worried at all. They have come this way before and know where they will get food and water and where they will camp. It's now getting late, and there is now little traffic along the trail. They turn in at a campground, marked "private, for members only," but they tell me they aren't stopping here and that it's OK. However, I don't understand stopping here. While food may be purchased, there is little choice and it is expensive. A drink costs me $2.00. They just buy some trail mix. Then it's an extra mile of riding on dirt roads when François is obviously tired.
At any rate, we resume and eventually reach a town (St. Faustin-Lac Carré) with a small store which fortunately has an excellent selection of packaged, precooked foods. I am able to buy a whole meal. Some customers, who also bicycle, ask me about my trip. Then we resume, climbing a good bit more, and then descending some. François suddenly tells me that we have to quickly find a place to camp. I find a place back in the woods, but he says it is too small, and eventually he decides to camp right next to the trail, saying no one will come along at night. I am puzzled: they seemed to have had a destination, and they had said that there was a place to get water. I am also worried about whether camping here is OK, but François says that regulations are not taken that seriously in Canada: we would only have to say that we would never do it again.
Although it is getting quite dark, I am mainly hungry, and I wolf down all of the food I bought, ignoring the mosquitoes that are attacking in mass, while they put up their tent. Then when I start to put up my tent, I snap one of the sections of the rear hoop while doing so. I don't think I used too much force; I think the pole snapped because it is twelve years old and has been used hundreds of times. Nonetheless, I have a major problem. Without the pole, the tent can't be erected properly, and I am about to enter a mosquito's paradise. François says not to worry as the nearby town will have tents. I hope so; otherwise, I will have to reroute my trip to find one. I set the tent up as best as I can and put the minimum gear inside. During the night, I get very cold.
St. Jerôme - St. Jovite, 51.2 miles, 8.8 mph, July 10, 2000.
Day 41: I awake early in the morning, very cold. A heavy dew has fallen, and since my tent is in the open, it is soaked. The tent is resting on my sleeping bag at the rear, so that is soaked too. I get up and put on more clothes to get warm. François and Marc are awake, but they are not showing much energy yet, so I tell them that I am going on to St. Jovite alone. We say good-bye not knowing if we will see each other again.
Not very far down the bike path, I encounter a deer which is confused about what to do. At first the deer plays invisible, which is pretty stupid, as the deer is in the middle of the path, not in any brush or anything, and of course, it's right in my way. Then it runs down the path in front of me, taking long bounds, and swooshing its fairly long white tail. Finally, it bounds off through some fields.
I follow the path until I come to a paved road, and I follow it into St. Jovite. The sports store is not open for another two hours, but I make myself comfortable and begin typing up my account. After the sun gets a little warmer, I get my tent out and hang it up to dry between some posts. Eventually, some people come to open the store, and they are puzzled by the drying tent, so I have to explain in French, as best as I can. By the time that the store is ready to open, I have all my gear back on the bike and out of their way. I go inside, but the sales lady doesn't speak any English, so we have to make do with my poor French. We find an appropriate tent, the size and type is right, the price is good, but she doesn't understand at all that I want my old tent sent back home. Finally, they get a young teenage girl to come and ask me in English if I want to send the old tent to my home, and I say "yes." For some reason, this puzzles them very much even though I had pantomimed the pole breaking, but they agree to send it for ten dollars, which they consider too much. But I am very pleased. I have bought a new tent without losing my old tent (for which I can get new poles by mail) for $159 Canadian, which is less than $110 US. My old tent will be good for many trips once I get new poles. Since the old tent is a single-wall tent and the new tent is a double-wall tent, they will be useful under different conditions.
Then I go by the supermarket and get some more wonderful bread and some other food. My next trip is to a bank, which involves going down a major hill. I also get water from a town park. I am now ready to continue, but it is a long way back to the bike trail, and the highway is here. Perhaps it will be a better route anyway.
The highway is very much like an interstate, with a divided roadway, overpasses over major roads (but normal connections with small roads), and also -- fortunately -- good shoulders. It would be a fast route except the hills are steep and the wind is still blowing strong. I remind myself of the need to get in a lot of miles early in the morning before the winds increase.
By the time I reach the next town, Labelle, I have decided that the highway is no faster than the trail. After all, if it was not for François' slow trailer, we would have been averaging a higher speed.
So, I eat in the park above the River Rouge while drying my sleeping bag and looking at the new tent. Then I get directions to the trail and go to rejoin it at the station. There I find François and Marc taking a break, their tent drying in the sun. François explains that we ran out of daylight the night before thus had to make an emergency stop. I also get into a long conversation with two French Canadians who speak excellent English about their trip and mine. They are staying at motels and thus have less gear than us. They show me a map of an even longer bike trail in Québec which circles Lake St. Jean. The Labelle stop is built around the old train station, and it has much more in the way of food, water, and bathrooms (including a shower) for travelers than does the main highway (any advantage to having cyclists as customers is that they stop and eat more often).
Mark and François are now ready, and we leave together. Our travel is much like before; that is, slow going for a long time, and then a very long stop. Marc and I ride together, and he tells me about the Tour du France results. I develop a new strategy of going ahead, taking a break, and catching up, because I prefer to push harder and stop more often. When we reach the next town, they don't wish to stop for groceries again, but I need to, so I catch up them resting at the next station. Just as we leave, I discover a screw loose that holds my panniers, so I stop to fix it while they go on. It is a long ride before I catch them, and we ride together some more. Then we stop again.
At this very long stop, François announces that he is going to turn back the next morning because he hurt his leg during the day. He says another reason for being slow was his jacket rubbing against the tire. He does not mention the very heavy load he is carrying, which includes food for a week for him and his heavy cat, a long half-inch bike cable, a large and heavy tent, a fairly heavy camp chair, and lots of other gear . They have already agreed on a place to camp. Again, I am getting worried because we are sitting around while it is getting late.
We continue and travel through an isolated area with lots of possible camping areas off of the trail. Then we reach Lake Nominingue, with lots of people and development. The bike trail is now paved! Here François suddenly announces that they have decided to stay at a motel, so we separate on short notice. I have no problem with their decision per se, but I do wish they had said something earlier, as I could have been using my greater speed to cover more miles. Now it's close to six, I still have to set up my tent for the first time, and I'm hardly in an isolated area.
However, before going more than a couple of miles, I see a trail leading off from mine, and I explore it and use it to get into an isolated woods. I can hear people talking from my site, but I can't see a trace of them, so they can't see me. I then figure out how the tent poles work, set up the tent, get everything into it, and settle for the night. I type some, but I am too tired to continue long.
St. Jovite - Nominingue, 46.8 miles, 9.4 mph, July 11, 2000.
Day 42: It's another very cold night, but I wake up and put on my thermals, for what they're worth, in the wee hours. I had thought that another cold night might happen, so I made sure that they were handy. When I went to bed, someone was operating machinery of some kind -- probably a farm tractor, and when I wake up in the morning, someone is operating the same equipment. It's funny about sounds; I didn't hear this machinery before getting into the tent, and I never notice it again once I get up.
I get up and get everything together, only I can't find the mosquito spray. Well, I must have packed it in with something, so I quit looking for it. Besides, I was going to buy a spare before heading into the deep woods anyway.
I am feeling fine, and I make good time, although taking time for one photo. When I reach the highway, I get on it because I'm tired of fooling around at low speeds on sand. Besides, I have been feeling quite uncomfortable. On the first day, I had seen some signs in French which I thought said we must pay to use the trail, but François said that that wasn't quite correct. Then, after we met up again, they had stickers on their bikes, and François said they had met a bike patrol who had asked them to pay. He said I didn't need to pay until I got caught; that was the Canadian way of doing things, and he said that I couldn't pay at one of the station houses. I don't like such ambiguous situations, and I didn't want to have to try to explain in French why I hadn't paid previously, so I thought, if I take the road, this whole mess will be ended. For what it's worth, a season pass is only $10.
But right away, I hit three steep hills, each without a paved shoulder due to double passing lanes, walking the first because it''s too steep and long, walking half of the second, and riding the third. A little ways later, while climbing a fourth hill, my tire suddenly goes flat.
I look around and see a pull-off behind me. Investigating, I find it leads to a spring. So, here I fix my tire, having to remove the bags and the wheel because the hole isn't obvious, although large, using the same patches and glue that failed last time, but this time they work. I think there was a second hole in the previous tube that I didn't see. It takes a while getting everything back together, and while doing so, I discover my onion is pretty rotten, so I throw it away and clean the pot near the spring. While I'm rinsing the pot, two men with bikes on their vehicle stop to get water, so once again I get to explain my trip, my solar panel, and my web site. I'm sure by now that I'm way behind where I would have been on the bike trail -- and I certain that I wouldn't have had a flat on the bike trail -- but, on the other hand, the flat tire is a highly unlikely event.
It's a fairly easy ride from there into town, a total distance of about 30 miles from where I rejoined the highway. I purchase rice, small noodles, soups, dried vegetables, and packaged meals, as I will be traveling away from any town for two or three days. I also get a wonderful loaf of fresh-baked whole wheat bread. And I get some extra deet for my six-legged friends. Then I go to the next store where I get some hot dogs, tuna, and sardines. I am now ready for the woods.
While resting in front of the store, I see two cyclists with baggage begin the trail and a similar cyclist finishing the trail (which passes next to the supermarket). By count, if I haven't made a mistake, that's a total of 74 cyclists I've seen who were traveling overnight, at least according to their gear. Before reaching Québec, I had seen eleven. Then on my second day in Québec, I had seen 13. The rest, except Dennis, were seen on this trail. While most were staying at motels and traveling for just a few days, it was impossible for me to know in Québec how far and how long people were traveling. Most of the ones I had seen one the trail were traveling downhill (towards Québec), and I wonder what percentage were doing the downhill half only, although traveling uphill with a 2% grade is hardly exhaustive.
Then, after admiring the water passing under the bridge, I head north. Route 117 seems to be an excellent route to follow. Usually the shoulders are wide, and usually they are well paved. Only when there are passing lanes do the paved shoulders disappear, and not always then. In traveling around Lake Superior in '98, I often went many miles without any paved shoulder. One needs more room in Canada due to the many oversized tractor-trailers or trucks with double trailers, some with as many as eleven axles, although I don't see any with more than eight axles today.
After another twenty miles, I enter my last town before Val d'Or, which is over 150 miles away. Again, I find some packaged food but I also manage to find some ripe bananas, which are usually green at the stores nowadays. However, the only place I see to get water is in a restroom, and the tap is too small for me to be able to fill it. And I don't wish to buy any more expensive drinks. So I leave town, one bottle short, but I haven't been drinking much water, and I'm sure to find a place to refill them. Bad mistake. I quickly drain my second bottle and start on the third. The road keeps climbing and climbing, making the opportunity for water less. I pass a deer, which is down off of the road, invisible from motor vehicles.
Then I see someone washing a car, so I stop, and he is happy to fill my bottles with excellent cold water from his hose. I have some difficulty explaining about my trip to him and his young son. Not much later, I arrive at the picnic stop which I though was further away. I could have gotten water here too from the tap inside because the fountain outside is not working.
I then enter the wildlife reserve, which like so many of the same, allows hunting and fishing. I get a pamphlet that talks about both improved and unimproved camping sites for "les amateurs de camping" (being tired, I translate this as "camping amateurs" but later I realize the French meaning is "camping lovers"). It also says that a "doit d'acces est obligatoire pour la pratique de la peche sportive" which I translate as a "permit is required for fishing," but it does not mention camping on my own. Some of the cyclists I talked to said that I can camp on my own, but I find that nowhere clearly stated.
Nonetheless, it's getting late, and I want to try using the new tent fly for the first time, so I hunt for a site. But none of the places I see look likely. Then, I see a road heading uphill. I seldom take a road, but this one shows no signs of use and quickly becomes impassible for motor vehicles. At the top of the rise, I find what would be the perfect place to camp except it's not under a shade, which means the tent will be wet in the morning. Well, let's see what difference a fly will make!
The mosquitoes are fairly bad here, so I have to spray myself, especially since this tent takes longer to set up. My missing mosquito repellent shows up in the tent after I've gotten in. It must have been inside the tent all along, even though I couldn't feel it. I try typing and manage to finish a few sentences of the day's account, but I'm fading fast, even though it is still fairly bright, so I put up the laptop and crash.
Nominingue - La Faunique Vérendrye, 67.9 miles, 10.9 mph, July 12, 2000.
Day 43: In the morning, I get up with a wet tent, as I had predicted. However, no water has gotten inside, unlike my single wall tent, so I can type some before I get up. I get out to face the mosquitoes after getting everything inside ready. I put on my rain jacket to reduce the attacks. Then I load my bike as quickly as possible, which is a little more complicated than usual because the wet tent takes up all the room in its bag. However, I think to put the rest of the stuff I had placed in that bag into the pocket for the raincoat, solving the problem.
Then I'm down to the road and on my way. However, I seem to have a new problem. Yesterday, after fixing the tire and remounting it, I noticed an occasional knock, which I blamed on the bottom bracket, where such knocks usually occur. But riding without cranking produced the same occasional knocks, so I was stumped. Later I noticed that the wheel was looser in its axle. This morning, the bike is knocking terribly hard. Surely, there is a broken bearing in there. I decide to stop and see what I can do at the first good spot. However, as I ride, I realize some other problems: I can't remove the freewheel to work on the axle because the remover is too wide for the wrench. I will have to wait until I reach a bike shop to repair it. However, I can adjust the cones to some extent without removing the axle, and if the problem continues that is what I'll do.
I look for the picnic site shown on the map which is just after a campground and just after a stream crossing under the road; however, I find a picnic area indicated on the opposite side of the road down a back road. This quickly turns into sand, traveling over several hills, with no picnic spot in site. It could be a good distance away, so I get back on the main road. Then, after I pass the stream, there is no picnic place. Either the map is wrong or the picnic area was moved.
I climb a hill, looking for another place to stop. At one point, I encounter a rushing stream of water, and I do something foolish -- I get water directly from the stream. Yes, François had said that all the water in Québec is safe, but François is not necessarily correct. Traveling on, I find a place where I can lean my bike against the guard rail (some dozen feet from the roadway) and some more running water, so I use the water to cook with (safe, because it's boiled) and use the guardrail to help dry the tent. After I finish eating some noodles cooked with vegetable soup starter, I clean the pot, and then fill it with water which I then filter into my bottles. Much safer and not that much bother, and the taste and coldness of the water are not harmed.
I then begin again and after some miles, I arrive at the Chutes of Roland. Here a dollar buys one the right to walk around on planks to inspect these waterfalls, the logging run, a good bit of woods around the falls, and two no-flush johns, which lack any paper. The lack of paper comes as a surprise, as I am almost out. After exploring the area and resting a short while, I set out again. I would have liked to have cooked here, but there are too many people. Lo and behold, just a mile and a half up the road is a picnic area along Lake Roland.
Here, I have another paperless outhouse, a lake to get all the water I need, and a picnic table, so I make my second meal for the day. Here I boil rice to which I add chopped up hotdogs and dehydrated vegetables. The dehydrated vegetables taste much better than the vegetable soup mix. I also filter replacement water from the lake and type a little.
When I leave Lake Roland, it's about 1:30, central time, and I won't need to cook again for the day. I didn't do anything about the rear wheel while here because it has quit making any noise.
The road generally has good shoulders, sometimes as much as ten feet wide, which are usually in excellent condition, although they are sometimes broken up or missing. I am usually going up or down hills, but the grades are not usually steep. The woods is a disappointment. This may be a wildlife reserve, but the trees have mostly been cut and only small ones are left, which means I'll find few good camping spots. However, the view of the lakes, rocks, and rivers is still quite beautiful. The rock strata, as they appear in cuts along the sides of the roads, are twisted and bent, with many different colors, reminiscent of a candy cane factory. Unfortunately, they are quickly being covered with teenagers' names. From time to time, I see piles of stones at the high points on these rocks, sometimes most artistic. I was told in '98 that the Indians are responsible for these.
I was told that there aren't any places to stop for food or supplies the whole distance though the wildlife reserve, but, somewhat before the midway point, I discover a gas station, a store, a restaurant, and a motel. There I buy a drink and a small package of paper (the two coming to $2.53). The woman at the store and I talk in French some; she's been to the US, so she is sensitive to the problems of a non-native speaker. She tells me I have some problems with my verbs. My verbs and everything else! I'm just glad I can communicate. I also top off my gasoline, which was getting low, the station attendant upset that I was filling the bottle by myself and then spilling gasoline everywhere and getting angry at me as a result.
I travel on a number of more miles and stop at a lake to eat a bag of peanuts, which -- according to the package -- contain some 1,800 calories. Yet I wolf them down as if they are nothing. I also pass a place where people are camping. I am confused about these camping sites, and I should have asked at the store or gas station. Do I need to pay to camp in the primitive camping areas? These areas have signs that talk about "the right of access" but they seem to be connected to fishing, as mentioned on the pamphlet. I think of going up and asking, but I hesitate and go on. Some miles farther, when it is time for me to find a place to camp, I discover another such site on Lake Camatose. Here, there is only one man who speaks only French, but he says his son in the boat speaks English. I ask him anyway, but he is very difficult to understand because, unlike the lady in the store, he does not stick to the point, slow down his speech, or try to use simple words. He does tell me that they have to pay to camp there and retreats into his trailer, saying his son can answer. But his son is taking forever to get back to shore, so I go on.
I seem to be having problems with the rear derailleur, so I take the right rear bag off and look at it. The black flies now flying out to the road and bothering me, so I have to put repellent on before I can look at the bike. There's nothing wrong with the derailleur, but the rear axle cap is open on that side. I push it back in place and promise myself to find a bike shop in Val d'Or.
Farther down the road is a place for trucks to stop, and beyond it, I find a fairly clear area under some trees to pitch my tent. It's really too visible from the road for my liking, and I don't have a green tent anymore. However, with the woods almost impassable and consisting of all small trees, there's not much to pick from. My other alternative, which I have already passed, is a high, flat rock. After I get into the tent, I carefully kill all the mosquitoes that have flown inside. Then I remember that I have some opened chicken hotdogs on the bike, so I decide I better go back out and place them away from the tent, but I wait a while before doing so. While I am typing, I hear something breaking branches in the brushes behind the tent. So I go out to see if I can see the animal and/or chase it away and to put the hotdogs in a tree, away from the tent. The animal is nowhere to be seen, as it heard me leaving the tent. If it was a bear, I would have left myself. I put some food in a bag in a tree, but I really can't reach high enough to keep a tall bear from getting it.
Then I get back in the tent, hoping to type, but I'm now too sleepy to do any more. Before I fall asleep, it starts to rain light, but I ignore it, even though I don't have the fly up. The inner wall should be good enough against some drops. However, when I wake up in the night, a real storm is developing, so I have to cover the tent in a hurry, doing a botched job of it, as I don't cover the foot of the tent. Oh well, that part should drain well anyway.
La Faunique Vérendrye - Lake Camatose, 62.0 miles, 10.1 mph, July 13, 2000.
Day 44: In the morning, I awake and finish typing my notes. Then I get up and get ready very quickly, due to the mosquitoes again. This time, although the fly is wet, I manage to make a smaller bundle of it. Shortly after I begin, it starts raining, and I am glad I am underway rather than back in the tent. However, my paved shoulder ends, making coping with the traffic more difficult, although the traffic is unusually light this morning. The rain keeps playing games with me, increasing until I put some more rain clothes on and then stopping. After 14 miles without paved shoulders, they reappear again. I'd like to find a place to stop and cook, as I'm very hungry, but the only picnic areas I find are labeled "Doit d'access obligatory."
I find another grocery; this one right on the main road, but there's very little in it beyond the usual junk food. However, the fellow tells me that the store definitely is the last one, but I've only got 30 more miles. He also tells me that the weather prediction is light rain in the morning and heavy rain in the afternoon. Since he speaks good English, I ask him about the "Doit d'access" signs, and he tells me that one is supposed to pay when entering the park, except the cyclists all ignore it and camp in the brush. He doesn't know the cost, except a fishing site is $13.50 a day. Of course, the fishing site has no improvements except for an unsanitary toilet that would be illegal in the US. The fishing site would be free on TVA land. Ob the previous day, I did see a flier that showed about $60 per day in costs if one uses deluxe sites (which probably comes with toilet paper and a flush toilet). No wonder this park is not very popular!
As I leave, it starts raining again, and the rain gets pretty heavy. None of the other picnic areas are available to me. No wonder everyone considers this a long trip by bicycle! I ride mile after mile, having no fun in the rain, which has now turned cold, occasionally stopping for a few raisins. By lunch time, I've covered 45 miles on a banana, some raisins, and a soft drink. Then, in the pouring, miserable rain, I see something that makes me hopeful -- a bridge. I stop and look, and sure enough it's possible to push my bike down under there, which I do.
There's no sign anyone's been down here since the bridge was constructed; in fact, a lot of the materials were left behind. I hang my rainsuit and gloves up to dry, and then I get out my stove, matches, gasoline, pots, and food and cook up some rice with dehydrated vegetables and pieces of hot dog, just as I had for lunch yesterday. After I have eaten and am thinking about working on the laptop and maybe staying here tonight (I'd have to work hard to clean the rocks off of the site, as the ground is a mixture of rocks and sand), I notice that the rain has stopped and not a drop is rippling the water. While I am putting everything up, I notice that the sky has gotten much brighter. So, I forget about writing and get ready and go.
The afternoon ride is much more pleasant, with the sun breaking through from time to time. I ride out of the park without ever seeing another free picnic table, but right after leaving, I stop at a government rest site for a few moments, not that it's a necessity any more. It even has the covered picnic tables that I was wishing for. I also find another stopping point, this with a gas station, restaurant, and some snacks, but none of the snacks are the kind I eat.
Unfortunately, the paved shoulder ends, so I have a more difficult time getting to the next town. The main problem is that drivers just don't slow down much anymore. I don't get freaked out by some car missing me by inches, but when the vehicle is pulling a wide trailer or a boat (or both!), the behavior is the same. Truck drivers carring ungodly amounts of gasoline on eight axle tractor-trailers will miss both me and an oncoming car by inches without slowing down or nothing. I also notice that the monster truck drivers tailgate much worse than do the motorists; sometimes the trucks are so close together, you'd think they were a train. This makes riding on a shoulderless road a much greater strain and explains why most people won't ride bikes on the highways. I think the driving behavior should be corrected, but given the current unsane thinking in our society, adding shoulders is probably an easier solution.
I reach Louvicourt, get some bananas and a drink, and move on. I am about to investigate a camping place, when I notice a cyclist all in black approaching. Sure enough, it is Mark. He tells me that he has come 140 kilometers today and intends to sleep at a motel in Val d'Or, so we separate. I investigate the path I had seen, but I find three bad problems: I can't get out of sight of the main road, I can't find a place to leave the bike, and the moss is all soaking wet. So I leave, accidentally dropping my bandana -- which was hanging from the pocket next to the water bottle -- while doing so without noticing. I tend to lose bandanas.
Some miles down the road and on higher ground, I find a hill of sand, so I push my bike over it to camp on the moss beyond. This spot is much drier, has plenty of trees, and some brush conceals my bike and tent from the road. The black flies aren't as thick here although still a problem requiring deet. The tent gets pitched a little crooked due to being on a slope, but that's much better than being in a bog.
Lake Camatose - Louvicourt, 74.8 miles, 10.7 mph, July 14, 2000.
Day 45: Between last night and this morning, I have used the laptop for nearly three hours, but the battery is not yet badly run down, despite the fact that it was raining most of the day yesterday. I don't see any black flies and few mosquitoes as I get out of the tent. Of course, I got everything ready inside the tent before getting up.
It rained a good bit during the night, so after packing my other things into the bags, I have to pack a wet tent. This time I try to get rid of excess water, and I roll the tent up smaller. While I am finishing, the flies are showing up in numbers, so I use a little repellent, a rare action in the morning.
Pushing the bike out is easier than pushing it in, as gravity helps me through the sand, plus I can go straight down the hill. However, after I start and ride downhill a ways, I get speedometer readings of up to 1,111 miles per hour. Must be my speed sensor has been moved a hair, probably from the low bushes I pushed it through. It's very firm but I try moving it in one direction. Although I could sense no movement, there is a zero reading now when I coast forward, so I push it the other way, and I'm back to normal. I kinda hate that I can't average 1,111 miles per hour, but I'm glad that I'm not averaging zero. The "highest speed" reading for the day is now 84.5. I wonder if that's as high as it can go on that reading. A more common way to get a false reading is by pushing the bike slowly a long distance before beginning to ride.
On my trip to town, I encounter Christopher from Joilette, who has been making the big loop up into the north woods in Québec that I have been dreaming about for years. He has been on the road for three weeks. Unfortunately, his English is almost as bad as my French, so we have to strain to understand each other. He warns me that one bike shop in Val d'Or is not a good place to stop.
I ride on into Val d'Or, passing some of the gold mining operations, and then call my sister. Going into town, I stop at two supermarkets, neither of which has fresh, hot bread ready, and sit on a bench eating some cooked chicken and raspberry pie at a little park in front of the second market, I am in the mood for calling it a day already, as the sky is dark and it has been drizzling since I entered town. My tent is wet, my clothes are dirty, and I want to find someone to work on my bike. However, I meet a Québecker there who speaks English well, and he tells me where to find the best laundromat and warns me against the bike shop as well. I miss the laundromat because I still don't know which sign to look for but, after asking again, go back and wash my clothes. There is a rest room, which allows me to wash all of my clothes except my rainsuit, which I have to wear for obvious reasons. Then I make my final supermarket stop and score some hot bread, although not as tasty as some of the other loaves. There also doesn't seem to be as much demand for hot bread in Val d'Or. A look at my watch shows that it is noon time, and at my bike shows I have traveled less than 17 miles. I entered town at eight; where did all that time get to?
The weather still doesn't look good, but I've lost my desire to linger, and I head out of town. For a ways, the roadway has a good shoulder. The rest of the day is spent traveling down the highway with no paved shoulders and mainly spruce woods on either side -- birches are also common -- and stopping briefly at small towns. There's no wind to fight and no steep hills, so I make good time. At four thirty, I stop at the provincial park at Cadillac and dry my tent in the slight sun, use the rest room, and fill my bottles.
I also notice an anomaly in my distance. I looked at the speedometer in the morning before leaving and read 74.8 miles, but I had written down 70.8. The distance on the odometer does not agree with my mileage today but is high by three or four miles. Although I remember otherwise, I must have recorded my mileage at the first place I stopped last night, not the second, so I add four miles to yesterday's distance.
I am ready to camp, but I want to cover more miles. So at five, I start again, watching the speedometer, as I am insisting on covering at least 60 miles for the day and worrying about passing some good site. Finally, I reach my miles, but there are no nearby camping opportunities. I ride on, looking closely. I really can't camp in a spruce woods because the branches interlock, and the ground is spongy.
Finally, I see a likely embankment, lean the bike at the bottom of the ditch, and go up to examine it. I find a neat little cubby hole between the spruces which can't be seen from the east due to the trees or from the west due to a higher rise of embankment. The spot is too small to pitch the tent in, but I use the self-standing feature of my new tent and put the tent together on another spot and then place it into position. Then I get everything into the tent and crawl in.
I'm surprised to find the battery power is above 16 volts as I had used the computer a good bit before starting and almost all of the day had been heavy overcast; however, I find I am too sleepy to type and thus go to sleep at about six thirty. At twelve, I wake up and type these notes.
Louvicourt - Cadillac, 61.2 miles, 11.8 mph, July 15, 2000.
Day 46: I wake in the morning to discover that it has not rained, nor is my tent covered with dew. I pack my gear and the tent without any insect problems and get my bike back on the road. I then have a twenty-five mile trip to the next town, Rouyn-Noranda. It's a nice trip with a few hills near the the end.
As I near the town, I find that the road is being worked on. One section of a new roadway was not built correctly and is being rebuilt. Surprisingly, they are adding a layer of sawdust and wood chips to the road. Here, it's far enough north that deep frost pockets exist, and frost damage to the roads is likely to be bad anyway, due to the saturated condition of the soil and extreme cold temperatures during the winter. Therefore, the roads are built like railroads on deep piles of sand and gravel.
As I ride into town, a sign tells me that the center of the town is to my left while the industries are straight ahead, so I turn left to run into an industrial park and a two-mile loop back to almost where I started from. I am fortunate to get some advice from a cyclist to help me find my way back.
There are two supermarkets, but at the first, the price for hot bread -- any type -- is $2.56, so I get some discounted bananas (9¢ each) and some 59¢ yogurt instead. I try to find a replacement bandana in a store with lots of clothing, but evidently Canadians don't use bandanas. They have some similar cloths that are lighter in weight and smaller in size. I do get an Allen wrench set because I am missing one Allen wrench (it's probably in the saddle bag of my other bike), and I can't make a number of adjustments as a result. It's too bad I can't buy just one, as the set is over twelve dollars. And I end up making the mistake of buying a very poor map of Canada. If my French was better, I would take it back to the store, but I won't be able to explain. It does not show any distances or minor towns, and it just shows the route numbers for the very most important roads. If it were sold as a wall map, that would be different, but it's not, and it would make a poor wall map too. The second supermarket yields a nice big loaf of fresh, hot bread for $1.99.
After leaving town, I pass a gas station where large numbers of eight axle trucks carrying full loads of boards are parked. I think about getting a picture of my bike next to one of the monsters, but there is no room for such a shot. It's my mistaken impression that the trucks will not be moving for the day. Instead they pass me by one's and two's over the next hour, causing me to have to pull over every time as there is no shoulder here and they don't slow down and some car always shows up, or the trucks are going to always pass me at the top of a blind hill. Very irritating.
I find a nice provincial roadside park on the edge of a lake to rest, eat a bit more, fill my water bottles, and regrease my chain. Before I leave, two traveling French-Canadian cyclists arrive. They have been traveling for eight days, stopping at motels at night, and are anxious to get back home. The distances they travel are 3/4ths of my daily distance, and they carry much lighter loads, but I am still impressed. I have now seen 77 touring cyclists, more than on all my previous trips put together. Bicycling is an important sport in Québec.
The roadside park is at a fork in the road, and from then on, I see very few trucks and not many cars either. The road includes some hills at this point, some rather steep, I pass a small pretty lake where I could linger if I wanted to, but I stop just briefly and continue towards Ontario. I pass over the boundary at exactly 2,515 miles -- the distance of my 1988 trip to Pennsylvania -- on the outskirts of Virginia town. I stop at their information center to see about a map, and I am pleased to get a great Ontario map, the best map I've ever purchased -- even if they do now charge $2.00 for it. I also see exhibits about the local gold mine, which is now shut down. The town's population has dropped to 900 due to lack of industries, and there is a hope of gaining some income through tourism. The woman working there and I both love this opportunity to talk -- for one reason, we have both been having to talk in French all day, so I end up staying a couple of hours, past my camping time. Plus, when I leave, I notice the black clouds ahead are definitely pouring down rain.
I leave town hoping for a camping spot but still wanting to get in my 60 miles too. Most of the side roads near town have warning signs because the land belongs to mining companies. One warns of an open pit. Going farther, I notice that the woods here have more of a variety of trees that may offer better camping. And I see abandoned road sections from time to time from when the road was last rebuilt. Finally, I see a section of abandoned road up on an embankment that has lost its pavement and is overgrown with trees. Pushing my bike up onto it discovers a place to put my tent where it can't be seen. The insects are few in number. Again, once I get into the tent, I am uncontrollably sleepy. I guess I need my noontime naps which I haven't been taking. After twelve, I wake up to type these notes. There are now huge numbers of mosquitoes around the tent, and the mosquito repellent, the rain coat, and the face net are on the bike. I can only hope that they will be sleepy or gone in the morning.
Cadillac - Lardner Lake, 60.4 miles, 12.0 mph, July 16, 2000.