Today’s daily prompt, “Churn” makes me think of churning water – which took me back to a trip I took with Daegan almost three years ago.
Daegan and I wake up on a July morning and though we have a train to catch very soon, here I am running around the house gathering things, doing last minute packing. Our plan is to tour east of Quebec City – an area we’ve seen very little of. As accommodations are relatively few and far between we’re bringing a tent and sleeping bags just in case. Finally we are ready.
We’ve got a LOT of gear this time. I have two panniers on the back of my bike, two on the front, Daegan has two of his own, and on top of that we have bags we got at the dollar store with a few more things besides. The nice thing is, that when we get to the train stations, we can put our panniers in the bags so we only have to check a couple of bags each.
We head out into the beautiful summer day. The weather is perfect cycling weather, cool and breezy and the ride to Union Station is all downhill. Despite my last minute packing, we arrive and are checked in with an hour or so to spare. The great thing about traveling by rail is that the bikes were able to simply be handed to the baggage handler and put on the train as-is. No boxing or packing required.
Six hours later we arrive in Montreal. It’s already evening and train schedules being what they are, we are unable to catch one to Quebec City with a baggage car until the next day. So we splurge and check ourselves in to the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth hotel just upstairs from the train station. The view from the window is stunning:
We made our way downstairs and next door to check out the cathedral from the inside.
That night we load ourselves up with Thai food – and as much rice and noodles as we can handle. We need to start loading up on carbohydrates for our riding.
The next morning we are up bright and early. We decide the hotel breakfast buffet is ridiculously expensive and instead make our way down to the station. We check our bags and bikes again and find our way to Tim Hortons where we eat the first of many breakfast sandwiches we will eat over the upcoming trip. Of course we also get hash browns.
Riding to Quebec City is a little shorter – only about 3-4 hours. And then we are at the train station. Intelligently, we have picked a hotel at the bottom of the big hill the old city is built on. There will be no big cycling climbs for us. We make our way through the afternoon rush hour traffic to the hotel where we see a sign we’ve come to love:
This sign means there will be a safe place to store our bikes, a few tools and a pump if we need it. Any food they serve will have healthy options with lots of carbohydrates to fuel our ride. We lock our bikes up in a room off the lobby, and toss our things in to the lobby and wander around the neighbourhood of St. Roch. It’s an eclectic neighbourhood with restaurants from cultures around the world, cool architecture and the occasional anarchist bookstore. It feels comfortable and interesting – and less touristy than Old Quebec just a few km away.
We even come across a fridge which advertised free food – take and leave what you like. At the moment, though, it is empty.
After exploring the city including several book, second hand clothing, and record shops we find our way to a restaurant and each have a big chicken shawarma sandwich before heading back to the hotel and settling in for the night.
The next day, caffeinated and full of breakfast we head out.
Our first day only has about 60 kilometres of riding probably best for us as we didn’t do a whole lot of training. There were rolling hills and lots of greenery. The weather was cool so we never got overheated – in fact, by the end we were a little chilly.
We stay the night in Montmagny – a small suburb. The hotel there lets us store our bikes in an unused conference room. After each of us has an amazing and welcome hot shower, we head down to the restaurant for dinner. The hotel is known for the birds it has in an indoor garden so we see a few of them on the way. Fueling up for the next day we I not only have pasta, I get dessert as well.
The next morning is still a bit cool but very sunny. We set out with a big target: Kamouraska – almost 90 km (50 miles) away.
We continue through the morning. It’s not being really easy but we manage. Along the way we see many signs for “Fraises” – strawberries and finally we decide to stop and get some at a farm stand. We meet an old man who speaks as little English as I speak French but we manage to have a genial conversation anyway and between Daegan and I we manage to polish off a basket of strawberries as we sit with him on his porch.
About an hour after lunch I’m exhausted. We’ve been about 30-40 kilometres and I’m not sure how it can possibly be that we’re only half way there. The bike seems impossibly heavy and every turn of the pedal is a huge effort. Finally, we see a sign for a campground and we decide to give up for the day and set up camp.
We set up camp, read a bit and then reheat some dinner on the camp stove. As we sit there, I question my ability to do a long tour, and then focus on something I can actually do. I look at my gear and see if I overpacked. I realize I’ve packed several books – a 900+ page paperback, 2-3 smaller paperbacks and even a hardcover. I resolve to leave those for the next person at the campsite. Before we go to sleep I go down to see the sunset by the river.
The next morning we wake up, heat some water on the camp stove and make some instant coffee. We have a couple of energy bars to get us on the road and hope to find somewhere to get a good second breakfast further down the line. About half an hour later we’re rewarded with just that – a big breakfast of eggs, sausage, potatoes, and toast.
The road we’re on has a high speed limit – about 80-100 km/hr, the curb lane is wide and we have lots of room to ourselves. But eventually we leave the road entirely.
Kamouraska, our original goal is only another 40 km or so and we’re there just after lunch. Our Airbnb is in an artist’s studio – one of many in Kamouraska. After settling in and showering, we decide to wander the city in search of food and are rewarded by our proximity to the ocean.
After that we head down to the waterfront as the day comes to an end.
The next morning we are up bright and early and head for Riviere du Loup – “Wolf River”. Some bad weather is coming and we can feel it in the wind. Just like the previous night we arrive at the hotel just after lunch and check in. This place, too, is “Bienvenue Cyclistes” rated and doesn’t just give us a space in a room to lock our bike, we get a giant shed – one of many used by snowmobile riders touring in the winter- to store our bike and all our gear in.
We book the room for two days, knowing that it is meant to pour the next day. We don’t normally watch television except on bike trips and always the worst shows. This time around we seem to be unable to tear ourselves away from Battlebots and are excited to find that it’s going to be on while we’re there.
The next day we walk through the rain to a nearby restaurant. Instead of walking on the busy street with no sidewalk, I decide we should try going overland – down an embankment, through a grassy field and back up another hill. It sounded like a good idea at the time but we find out in the end that it took us in to a swamp and the grass was soaking wet from the rain. We looked like drowned rats by the time we got back up the other side – and we saved no time. We did have a bit of an adventure, though!
The next morning we wake up and the weather is only marginally better. It’s actually cold enough that I decide to wear long pants and it’s still drizzling a little and foggy. But we’re changing course and heading south toward New Brunswick and I’m excited for the ride. It’s about 75 km – about 45 miles, but almost all of it is off-road. We head out in to the rain before we can have second thoughts.
From here on out we don’t see many people at all. All day on this trail we saw no more than 4-5 people. Meanwhile, we are steadily climbing. After about 40 km we realize we are extremely hungry and have very little food – we’ve eaten most of it on previous breaks. I take out my phone and check Google Maps. There’s next to nothing around. We won’t be crossing any roads any time soon and there are no restaurants. Finally, about an hour away I see that we will cross a road that will take us to a tiny town that has a single small convenience store. We decide to head there.
Getting there is no small feat – it’s off the path by about 10-15 minutes and is uphill the whole way. When we get there we buy candy bars, pastries, and nuts. Anything that looks like quick energy. We also try to ask if we can refill our water bottles again but my French is not up to the task and finally I have to resort to sign language before I’m understood. Eventually we are fed and much happier. We head back to the trail
We find our way closer to civilization arriving at Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! – the only town in the world with two exclamation marks in its name. Its name comes from an archaic French word for an unexpected obstacle or abruptly ending path. It’s a fitting place for us to end up on a day like today – a day filled with climbing, cold weather, and lack of food.
One of my friends sees the photo of me that was taken here and clearly her mind went to the identical place mine did when seeing the name of the town.
Finally, after several difficult hours we arrive in Cabano and find a hotel.
The hotel is old and the walls are thin but it’s clean and inexpensive. As we check in we are told of the rules which include a $5 charge for smoking in the room. Something tells me the owner might be a smoker. Fortunately the room doesn’t smell of smoke at all – perhaps $5 buys a lot of effective cleaning in Quebec.
That night we both have steak at the pub next door along with lots of potatoes and dessert. Over dinner we decide that we’re pretty tired and the idea of another day’s ride south to take us to New Brunswick is a bit daunting. Instead we decide to turn back toward Riviere du Loup. But this time, the ride should be different. First off we start off with a massive breakfast. Then we go to the grocery store next door to the Tim Horton’s and get lots of snacks. I resolve to eat more along the way to avoid losing my steam and watch the calorie count on my watch. I seem to be burning the equivalent of an energy bar every 30-40 minutes so I try to eat at least one an hour. And off we head back through the forest. We have a bit of uphill at the start but then the blessed long downhill starts and we make excellent time. We still stop at a few of the more beautiful spots, though.
When we get back to Riviere du Loup we end up avoiding bad weather again by staying in a hostel where we end up having dinner with many travelers. One of them asks if he can catch a ride with us to our next stop. Sadly for him, we had to tell him we were on bikes. Dinners at the hostel are delicious and home-cooked and we leave there well fed.
Before we leave Riviere du Loup I get an idea. Now I know we won’t need to camp anymore, having planned the rest of the trip’s lodging well. I stop at an office supply store, get some boxes and box up my front panniers, tent, sleeping bags and other gear. All told I put 40 lbs of gear in boxes and ship it home. Riding is much easier after that that I suggest perhaps part of our problem with our days being so long and difficult is how often we’re taking small 5 minute and 10 minute breaks. We resolve to try to ride for at least 1-2 hours before stopping unless it is for something important. Our time improves.
Along the ride back, we see the places we’d been to earlier in the trip. We stop at what we thought of as “our old breakfast spot” in Kamouraska for a big breakfast.
Eventually we pass the strawberry seller. He’s still sitting out on his porch. He gives a smile of recognition and waves to us.
On the second to last day we find ourselves racing a storm back to the hotel. We see it from the moment we start riding in the morning, waiting just on the other side of the river. Clearly it’s pouring over there. Groups of dark clouds cross the river and we see them ahead and behind us but somehow never actually over us. We do our best to ride quickly and without breaks.
In 2008 I lived in Old Quebec City and used to commute back and forth to work in the suburbs by bike. It was a gorgeous place to live but there was one downside. My work was at the level of the river, and I was staying in a hotel on top of the hill. Every day I had a big climb to get back and I never got to the point where I could do it without stopping for a rest or even walking it. Today, though, after a series of days in which I didn’t go as far as I had hoped, or as fast as I’d hoped – days in which we made wrong turns or didn’t bring enough food I wanted a success. Today I would not only take on this hill in to Quebec City – I’d head up one of the steepest approaches I knew. “Cote de la Montagne
We do take a quick stop, though, for a ridiculous photo opportunity.
As we pull back in to the city of Montmagny, we feel the wind picking up, and just as we pull in to the hotel, the rain starts to cascade down. We’ve managed to dodge another rainstorm.
When we wake up the next morning we’re disheartened. It’s a bit cloudy outside and more bad weather is forecast. We eat quickly and get on the bikes. If we’re going to get rained on let’s get it over with.
When we get outside, though, we’re pleasantly surprised. The weather is nice – not too hot or cold. And there’s a delightfully unexpected bonus. A strong wind is coming from the east. We’re riding west. We get on our bikes and appreciate the big push the wind gives us. Before long we’re cruising at 30 km/hour – about 50% faster than we had on any other day. We take about 2/3 as long to go back to Quebec as it did to get from Quebec to Montmagny just a few days before. Before long we board the ferry and there is Quebec in the distance.
The rain hasn’t arrived yet though we can see it coming. We cross the water and head for the hotel. This time I’m not so lucky. The hotel we stayed in originally is booked. Instead we must stay in a hotel in the old city – up a big hill.
In 2008 I lived in Old Quebec City and used to commute back and forth to work in the suburbs by bike. It was a gorgeous place to live but there was one downside. My work was at the level of the river, and I was staying in a hotel on top of the hill. Every day I had a big climb to get back and I never got to the point where I could do it without stopping for a rest or even walking it. Today, though, after a series of days in which I didn’t go as far as I had hoped, or as fast as I’d hoped – days in which we made wrong turns or didn’t bring enough food I wanted a success. Today I would not only take on this hill in to Quebec City – I’d head up one of the steepest approaches I knew. ” Côte de la Montagne” When I lived there it was so steep I never dared try it. As you can see from Google Streetview, it’s a bit daunting and continues a good distance beyond what you see in the photo.
I started up, pedaling steadily. Before long, despite the cool air I was sweating and in one of my lowest gears. About half way up, though, a stranger called out to me from the sidewalk: “Allez! Allez!”(Go! Go!) and I overheard another saying “Fort!” (Strong!). Who am I that I’m doing this? Even with a pair of fully loaded panniers (I only got rid of two and the extra bag on top), I managed to get up the hill without stopping. I ended the trip on a high note.
Looking back now I can see my perception of the trip has changed. Along the way I saw a number of shortcomings – things I could’ve planned better or done better. But looking at it today, it was a series of excellent and beautiful experiences topped off by a huge success. It’s a great lesson in how much of an effect our perspective can have on what we think of an experience.