Well and Truly Underway

Saturday morning we woke up and surprisingly, though I hadn’t done a bit of packing (Daegan, responsibly, was all ready to go the night before), I was able to get everything together and we were out the door a little early bound for Union Station and our train to Montreal.

The ride itself was nice. We did get rained on a bit but there was no traffic to speak of. The ride took us through the heart of downtown on some relatively new bike lanes.  I am always really aware of my having grown up in a tiny town when I ride through the centre of town. The tall buildings, people walking around, and streetcars really captivate me. The 15 year old me who dreamed of leaving the tiny town for a big city (originally I was aiming for Boston) would be very pleased to know where he ended up.

Checking in the bikes was ridiculously easy. Bring the bikes to the baggage counter, show your tickets, give them $25 per bike and they take them away. We checked two of our panniers for free as well.  We went on to wait, watching people coming and going. One new addition from previous train trips was for us was the presence of an officer and a dog checking out some of the passengers.

The ride to Montreal was slow, but uneventful.   For the first half of the trip we looked out the window, catching glimpses of places we’d been on previous bike trips. Before long, though, the fact that I woke up at 4:30 AM caught up with me and I dozed off and on for the rest of the trip.

After we got to Montreal we grabbed our panniers off the belt and then, sat down with a few other folks waiting for bikes. About 15 minutes later a cart showed up with our bikes on it. We loaded our panniers on our bikes and 5 minutes later were on the road. The bike train is truly a fantastic and seemingly underutilized service.

That night we got to spend time catching up with an old friend. We went out for a delicious, carbohydrate-filled dinner and then I made a little mistake. Though it was 9:00 or so, I had an espresso.  It seemed like a good idea at the time but by 11:30 it seemed less wise. I fell asleep for about a half an hour and then woke up and was wide awake. I wasn’t able to get back to sleep until about 1. Then I had a fitful sleep until I couldn’t sleep any longer at 6:30 AM. I woke up, chatted with Sage a bit.

Before our trip Daegan and I both talked about how we would do this trip better than previous ones. The first thing we realized was that we needed to leave earlier. Too often we have relaxing lie-ins, lots of time drinking coffee and either chatting with whomever we’re staying with or watching bad TV if we’re in a hotel. But today was not the day for making that intention happen. We had coffee and conversation until about 9:00 before deciding it was clearly time to get out the door or we’d be spending another night in Montreal – a great city but not really what we intended – and we’d forfeit or free hotel night in New York.

And so, we rode a whole 900 metres to Tim Hortons where we got breakfast wraps and hash browns. Carbs and salt might not be the best choice for a normal day but with a long ride ahead of us, it was just fuel.

Daegan – fueled up and ready to go…

It was now almost 10:00 AM. So much for our resolution to get on the road early.  We rode through the quiet streets of Montreal and then up we went, over the Jacques Cartier Bridge – the biggest “hill” of our morning – we wouldn’t see a bigger one until the very end of the day.  Views from the top were lovely.

And then, after all of the stop/start of the city traffic we were on our way. Once on the other side of the bridge, we went down in to a park and rode along a dedicated bike trail for about 15 kilometres. The nice part is that there were no vehicles other than other bicycles and one hand cycle. On the other hand, we were next to the St. Lawrence river and the bugs were epic. For the most part they didn’t bite. However, after a couple of kilometres we learned to keep our mouths shut and to talk with minimal opening of our mouths. Failing to do so would result in eating at least 1-2 bugs every sentence.

Finally we got off the trail and headed in to suburbia. Now in Toronto, cycling in to suburbia often means entering a no man’s land between the city and the country where cyclists are not welcome, drivers are rude and pass too close. You push hard to get through it quickly to minimize the amount of time you spend in such a terrible environment.  In the suburbs of Montreal, though, we find something quite different. There’s always space for bikes – even on residential streets.  For us, we had bike lanes and quiet streets in the city followed by a dedicated lane over the bridge to a dedicated 15 km path, and then another 15 km of dedicated lanes like the photo below. By the time this ended we were in the country

And when we finally went beyond where these lanes were available to us, the roads were quiet and had signs saying to give cyclists 1.5 metres (5 feet) of space. Most drivers did even more than that, usually opting to completely change lanes.

We continued through farm country, seeing a few other cyclists – a few roadies including a woman on a really nice looking Pinarello and a group of three tourists loaded more heavily than us but still managing to pass us very quickly.

We looked everywhere for the strange elevated house and the house where the dog had been let out to drive us away that we talked about here. There was absolutely no sign of where it might have been. There were lots of really lovely, clearly expensive houses but nothing that matched the dilapidated shack in our memory. We got to the abattoir sign from that previous entry and knew that we had clearly passed where it was but it was no more. It shall forever be a mystery – one we can’t even seem to figure out from Google Streetview archives. If there weren’t two of us sharing this memory I’d think we’d imagined it.

The second of our resolutions for this trip we did manage to keep and that was to avoid stopping for breaks. On previous trips we’d stop often. In a 30 km stretch we might stop for a rest, a snack break or just to check email and social media and then get involved in that. The result was that we would take longer to get shorter distances than we might otherwise be able to do.  And  so our ride to lunch was really fast. While we were on the road for 2 hours 45 min, we were actually moving for all but 14 minutes of that – and that included stops to capture those photos, a washroom break and even time spent at various traffic signals.

The ride to lunch

Lunch was at the place we also talked about in this entry. And like the missing shack, either things had changed or our memories were faulty. The restaurant was a bit more upscale than last time and there were no bikers around. There was, however, a giant breakfast on the menu and since I had been craving pancakes all morning I decided to go for it and Daegan followed:

Eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, home fries, toast, cretons, pancakes, and fruit. Even having ridden all morning, I couldn’t finish it.

Having eaten, I started to really feel the effects of my previous two day’s lack of sleep. Even the cup of coffee I had was doing little to help. I was tired. And we weren’t even half way to the hotel.

But we couldn’t sleep there and so we got back on our bikes and headed out.  For the first few hundred metres we heard roaring engines and squealing tires and I worried that someone might be coming up behind us at a great rate of speed. But then we saw: there was a “motorsports park” where people seemed to be driving their street roads to race.

The route given to us by Google this time was a little different. A new, and delightfully paved rail trail had been opened since we were last there and we had a great ride across it.

On the down side, I was getting really tired. And I knew I had at least a couple of hours to go. Riding seemed like a huge effort and everything seemed harder than it needed to be. But the thing about being on a ride like this: there are decision points where you can decide to stop and sleep and there are other places where there truly is no choice. You must power through. The effort required to get anywhere where you can rest is the same so you might as well get to the end.

Before long we were at the US border. After a quick water bottle refill and washroom break we cleared customs with little event and were riding in New York State. We were welcomed by a road with a wide breakdown lane perfect for cycling – sometimes even side by side. Luxury! And then I noticed that the wind had died down a lot so I could play music from my phone without it being drowned out. And so I put on some energetic music – many of the same things we’d listened to the last time we’d ridden this route. It was amazing how much this transformed my attitude. Now I was ready to finish strong. My legs didn’t feel as tired, my need for a nap diminished.

It was surprising what we could remember about the ride from five years ago. We recognized the house where the guy offered us a beer and a place to stay. We recognized “Stetson Road”. But then Google threw us a curve ball. It said to continue on to a narrow dirt track straight ahead. A track that said “Private Road”.  We deliberated a bit and then decided to give it a shot. What’s the worst that could happen?  And so we began.

At first it was like an ordinary road and took us through what were clearly someone’s orchards.

The road started to disappear. The road itself seemed to go to the right, through a break in some trees but looking at my GPS watch it said the track we were supposed to follow wasn’t there.  We turned back around and went to the location where we supposedly left the trail.  Then we figured it out. Here is the trail we were meant to be following:

If you look closely you can see that there is a space here about the width of the road. Sometimes below the weeds we could see where the ground had been packed by long ago tires.  For about 5-10 minutes we pushed through the weeds and relied almost exclusively on the GPS to guide us. Eventually we glimpsed something in the distance.

Trash piles, some trailers, some heavy equipment, and only the merest suggestion of a path. Hopefully there were no people there – particularly the ones who made the “Private Road” sign.

Eventually we continued on until we saw god.

The good news was that “god” was a sign. We were almost to the road. We only had to get past a slightly creepy trailer with a witch on it – like something from “Something Wicked This Way Comes“.

And then, it was over and we were back on the road.  This was another street with a great breakdown lane.  And by this point we only had about 25 km to go. Not bad at all.  And the views got better as we went. Before long we could see Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains of Vermont in the distance.

Before long traffic started to pick up and we found ourselves in Plattsburgh. We had only one little hill to climb (a little bigger than the Jacques Cartier Bridge from that morning) and then we made it to our hotel.

With our little ride to Timmy’s, our morning ride (above) and our afternoon ride we hit 118.9 km today – 74 miles. I was pretty tired. It’s one thing to do a 120 km ride, another thing entirely to do it with a  couple of panniers and 5 hours/night of sleep for two nights.

Both Daegan and I agree – there’s something particularly luxurious about a long hot shower after a ride like this. The transformation from being covered in road grime adhering to sunscreen to clean and fresh feels particularly great.

We had dinner at the hotel – fish and chips, which had a surprise. Apparently in this restaurant “Fish and Chips” means fish with potato chips (crisps). I was disappointed at first and then I saw: these were homemade. We enjoyed our dinner and went back to the room where we watched a bit of TV and I chatted with Sage some. Before long, though, my day caught up with me and I fell asleep. I had a delightful 9 hour sleep – the longest I’ve slept in months.

Today the weather was not being cooperative. It was cold and drizzly outside. And so instead of riding to Vermont we booked another free night at this hotel (all this business travel is paying off). We had breakfast and now Daegan is napping while I write.

We’ll probably go for a walk in a little bit to get some lunch and have dinner in the hotel again. The day, other than that, will likely be punctuated by naps, reading, and perhaps a visit to the swimming pool…

Tomorrow we’re off to see a friend of mine from University. There’s a bit of rain forecast but not as much as today. The ride will be about the same distance as yesterday morning’s ride so it is likely to be a bit easier. It will be pretty flat most of the way as well until the very end.

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