Thursday, 29 August 2013

Week 7 Clarence Creek to Saint-Felicite (830 km)

Bonjour tout le monde, je suis au Quebec! Whilst I've been franglais-ing my way along for the last week or so, I won't put you guys through it. Ok so this week I went around Montreal and through Quebec City, both places I've been to before and didn't really fancy hanging out in again with Dawreen. So I'm gonna skip over them and tell you about my favourite bits. There was a super nice stretch of riding between the two cities along the north side of the Saint Lawrence River, which combined with some hot humid weather meant early starts and afternoon siestas in leafy parks and "Halte Velo" along the roadsides. Usually with a baguette and some stinky cheese. When in Rome... The province as a whole is very bike friendly, with the best road surfaces and shoulders I've seen for this whole trip. I also had some of the strongest tailwinds so far, definitely owed after the horrific prairie crosswinds...30 km/h and barely pedalling... best kind of riding! I took the ferry across the river at Quebec City, still in crazy humid weather. I had just about managed to get my tent up that evening when a huge storm rolled in across the river and battered my tent in all directions until at least 2 am. Whilst I remained waterproof, I was not animal proof. I woke up to hear something snuffling in my food bag under the tent fly. Of all the animals I've encountered in this trip, I hate raccoons the most. They are crafty, not scared of you in the slightest and worst of all have little animal thumbs which gives them the power to get into pretty much anything, no matter how tightly closed you think it is. And they hang out in gangs, like delinquent teenagers on the local rec and wake you up at night with screeching hooting noises, which translate as "HEY YOU GUYS I found a defenceless cyclist and this one has peanut butter, lets make her stay awake till dawn defending it against our relentless attacks". Or something like that. I hate raccoons. Anyways, yelling at them doesn't work and throwing things works for a while until they realise you can't hurt them. The only thing I've found that really gets rid of them is to stay absolutely still, let them get really close, then let them have it with the deet. I have an industrial sized aerosol can of OFF just for this purpose. Muhaha who's laughing now stripy face. Anyways, the snuffling. Bloody raccoons again I thought, right I've got the can in my tent, just have to quietly open the zip then the first one to show its face gets it: when engaging raccoons in battle, you have to strike hard and fast and show no mercy. Hold on, there's just one? Thats weird, maybe it lost its gang in the storm. It's kinda small too..... wait that's not a raccoon it's a baby skunk!! Soooo cute!! Aww you lost your mamma in the storm?? Poor little guy. Wait, skunk. Skunk. SKUNK IN TENT!! GETRIDOFITBEFOREITGOESOFF. Ahhh the great outdoors, gotta love it. 

EDIT: don't worry animal lovers, deet in the face has no lasting effects, I've sprayed it at myself enough times

Clarence Creek to Saint Jerome - 119 km
Saint Jerome to Louiseville - 122 km
Louiseville to Deschambault-Grondine - 96 km
Deschambault-Grondine to Montmagny - 138 km
Montmagny to Saint-Andre - 106 km
Saint-Andre to Saint-Fabien - 102 km
Saint-Fabien to Saint-Felicite - 147 km

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Week 6 (part 2) Espanola to Clarence Creek

So this time both bench and wifi are supplied by the tourist information centre in Deschambault-Grondine, who have also thoughtfully forgotten to supply any "NO CAMPING" signs and left the wifi on after they closed up....I'll let you draw your own conclusions about where i'll be sleeping this evening. Merci beaucoup mes amies. 

So from the name of the town I guess you already know I'm fiiiiinally in Quebec, after what feels like 3 months in Ontario (actually only 17 days of riding). Phew, it's a big old place that Onterrible. But having covered bits of most of it I'm not going to be able to call it that anymore. Despite having mercilessly mocked its bugginess, dampness, yokelness and general inferiority in comparison to BC; and despite the best efforts of some rather vicious Giant Hogweed, I actually quite liked (some) of it. There, I said it. Eastern Ontario had some of my favourite stretches of road to date: tree-covered rolling (but not excessive) hills, lilypad-covered lakes and some really lovely little towns. After clearing the (overrated) Great Lakes, the whole eastern area along the trans canada highway was totally awesome. Ottawa is the capital of Canada and a city I'd never visited before and now it might just be my favourite. Its less soulless than Toronto, less pretentious than Montreal and more Canadian than Vancouver... I liked it so much I spent the whole day there exploring. The people I met in EO were pretty cool too, but that's been the case for most of this trip and cannot therefore be attributed to their Ontario-ness, eastern or otherwise. I met fireman Jamie by the river in Pembroke - thanks for the donation, the beers, the breakfast and for reinforcing that donuts are not a valid food group... He must have loaned me some fireman luck too as the next day (whilst lost on the way to Ottawa) I met the lovely Amelia and the fire department of Carlton County. They were also fundraising for cancer research and absolutely insisted that I hung out and ate pizza with them. Who am I to argue with so many half naked muscly men. Ahem. Aaanyways I eventually tore myself away and ended up crashing in Don and Carolyn's back garden.., complete with homemade veggie lasagne for tea and my own private beach view... Shout out to Gordon and Lesley in Ottawa - thanks for the route advice and the donation! My last night in Ontario was in Clarence Creek, where Eric the campsite owner refused to let me pay for a pitch and brought me all the cold Pepsi I could drink. I think I'll be coming back here. 

Toronto to Sudbury - overnight train
Sudbury to Espanola - hitched with Roy back to where I left the trans-can to go south
Espanola to Corbeil - min. 134 km (forgot to reattach bike comp after train)
Corbeil to Deux Rivières - 90 km
Deux Rivières to Pembroke - 121 km
Pembroke to Constance Bay - 119 km
Constance Bay to Clarence Creek - 115 km

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Week 6 (part 1) Bruce Mines to Toronto (287 km)

I know what you're thinking... 2 posts in one day?? Well first of all let me assure you I had a donut break in the middle (maple ripple, 7/10) and also this only covers the couple of days before I stopped for a little rest. Don't get used to it, normal services will be resumed shortly as I'm back on the road tonight.

My first rest days! Its been 36 days of riding, 5 provinces and 4270 km since I left Vancouver. Phew! Some of the other riders I've met take a rest day every week or so, but that hasn't really appealed to me so far. First of all, I'm on a tight budget, and getting off your bike usually means spending cash. Second, as my mileage isn't crazy, most days I usually arrive at my destination by mid afternoon, so plenty of daylight left for exploring. Thirdly, I just haven't felt that tired until quite recently, so for me a good four days off to catch with long lost friends seemed to make the most sense. At Espanola, I diverted from my trans-can route to ride down through Manitoulin, catching a ferry to Tobermory, where Malcolm (Mikes dad) was waiting to collect me and drive me and Dawreen (my bike) back to his house for the night. In my book of quotes, T.S. Eliot says "The journey not the arrival matters". Perhaps his arrivals needed more beer and garlic bread, because after a day of rain and headwinds, my arrival in Southampton was pretty much the best thing ever. Huge thanks to Malcolm and Wendy for looking after me so well. Super nice to see you both again.

The next day Mike and I drove to his place in Cambridge, a good 2 hours away, and spent the next 24 hours in a catching up whirlwind of beers, dogs, guns and lawnmowers, which is pretty much how I'd always thought his life would turn out. Hahah. Joik. My old UEA friend Elle and her BF Jake picked me up and carried me away to Toronto (another hour in the car) for some serious beach lounging, hot tub dipping and burger scoffing, which brings to where I am now, sat on a balcony overlooking Lake Ontario and writing this. Tonight I catch a train back up north to resume the trans-can mission feeling recharged, refreshed and a good two stone heavier than when I arrived. Perfect.

Bruce Mines to Espanola - 177 km
Espanola to Southampton - 110 km
Southampton to Cambridge
Cambridge to Toronto

Week 5 Savanne River to Bruce Mines (917 km)

AKA around the top of Lake Superior and part of Lake Huron for those unfamiliar with the geography of northern Ontario (that's pretty much everyone then, including approximately 65% of northern Ontarians who looked at me blankly when I asked where the nearest gas station was). If you're struggling to find it on a map, its the area marked "HERE BE BEARS AND BUGS". Got it? Good.

Ok, so this weeks update of last weeks activities is kindly sponsored by Elle and Jake, and comes with extra spelling mistakes as I'm writing it on their MacBook (I'M A PC WHY U NO CAN HAZ RIGHT CLICK??!) and also because my left hand, affectionately renamed "the claw" has reduced functionality and is now apparently only good for braking and gesturing at trucker drivers that come too close.

In Thunder Bay, I went to pay my respects to Terry Fox, a Canadian hero relatively unknown outside of this particular part of North America. Putting it briefly, he was the son of Tim Horton and Celine Dion who rode a moose across... ok ok ok ok no I'm kidding please don't kill me Canada. Terry Fox was a young man who lost a leg to cancer, but regardless decided to run across Canada from east to west raising money for cancer research during the 1980s. He covered over 5000 km before being forced to quit just outside of Thunder Bay due to a recurrence of cancer that killed him just nine months later. He was 22. His image is iconic, and anyone spending any extended period of time in this country will eventually catch a glimpse of him on TV: dated 80s clips showing this man with an artificial leg and a mop of curly 1980s footballer hair running in raggedy hop shuffle step during his Marathon of Hope. Despite the appalling weather and several signs insisting that cycling was absolutely totally definitely not allowed on that bit of road, I went to see his memorial statue on a hill overlooking Thunder Bay. It was humbling, inspiring and motivating and totally worth the absolute soaking I got minutes after arriving. High five Terry, high five.

On a cheerier note the rain passed and I arrived in Nipigon in the middle of the annual blueberry festival, where for one weekend the entire town dresses as blueberries, sings songs about blueberries, and eats a lot of blueberry pie. Amazing. Things got even more amazing when I rolled into Schreiber (definitely better than Terrace Bay) and had the good fortune to meet the awesome Catherine who invited me to spend the night in her backyard. That alone would have been supercool, but I was also invited for dinner, introduced to her lovely mum Rosemary and step dad Sam, and the extremely handsome Harley the dog. Swoon. These guys took me on a tour of the local beaches and waterfalls, let me sleep in their summerhouse, stuffed me full of breakfast and sent me on my way laden down with homemade goodies and many other treats. You guys!! So nice. Come visit anytime!

The rest of the week was super rainy/foggy/rainy until I left Lake Superior, when the weather lifted and I was able to see the large numbers of bears at the side of the road which before I had no doubt been riding past completely oblivious. The attractiveness of solo wilderness camping is negatively correlated with increasing bear density, which resulted in what I like to call urban camping - AKA sleeping in the nice display sheds Home Depot have outside the front of their stores. Rainproof, windproof, bearproof and handily located near the highway at the edge of a town near you.

Savanne River to Thunder Bay - 138 km
Thunder Bay to Nipigon - 108 km
Nipigon to Schreiber - 101 km
Schreiber to White Lake - 151 km
White Lake to Wawa - 126 km
Wawa to Montreal River - 110 km
Montreal River to Bruce Mines - 183 km

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Week 4 Virden to Savanne River (893 km)

So now that I've consumed my second donut of the day I feel like I contain sufficient calories to update this thing. Wifi this time is courtesy of Tim Hortons, purveyor of good coffee, cheap food and open 24hrs. AKA a sight for sore eyes (and bottoms) especially for the cold and soggy cyclist. I'll talk more about my love for St Timothy of Horton another time I'm sure, but right now I guess I'd better get on with this before my battery goes. 

So, I started and ended this week with 2 different companions. The first was Joe, who I picked up in Virden and left just outside Winnipeg. I'd like to say it's because he couldn't keep up with my blistering pace, but actually he was taking some days off to hang out with a friend. This was the first time I'd riden with anyone else, and it was kinda weird at first, but we had similar riding styles so it worked pretty well. It was especially nice to have some company during some   hideous weather on the Manitoba border - having someone else struggling up hills through sideways rain makes it better somehow. More motivating I guess. Especially for Joe as I told him I'd buy us all the beer and pizza we could eat when we got to that nights destination, knowing full well it was a one horse town with a (probably closed) gas station at best, if we were lucky. Haha. Sorry Joe, but it got you up that hill eh. Teehee. After parting with Joe I met the lovely Rebecca in a laundromat. I was shivering in my pjs waiting for my clothes to dry, and she took pity on my sorry state and invited me over to her RV for dinner with her husband Mark and Bozo the cockatiel.... we had cocktails and fresh vegetables and it was amazing!!

The wind eased off a little as I got into Ontario, and the people got even nicer, if that's possible. I met the awesome Struthers-Ward family in a rest area, who insisted I joined them for lunch and gave me a super kind donation too. Awesome!! The following day I met my second cycling buddy of the week. Sydney was lurking behind a bin at the side of the road, doing a pretty good bear impression. Fortunately I spotted her bike and realised she probably wasn't going to try to eat me. We rode together for a couple of pleasant days, sharing a similar philosophy of braking for coffee/pie/donuts/beer as frequently as possible. Winner. We parted after Savanne River but I'm sure I'll see her down the road somewhere.

Anyways, I'd better get back on the road before I eat donut #3. Good job these shorts are lycra. 

ps. the best thing about having a buddy is that I actually get to be in some of my photos....

Virden to Sidney - 142 km
Sidney to St Francois Xavier - 117 km
SFX to Richer - 102 km
Richer to West Hawk Lake - 103 km
WHL to Crystal Lake - 145 km
Crystal Lake to Ignace - 157 km
Ignace to Savanne River - 127 km