In 2012, Daegan and I embarked on our longest ever bicycle tour: 500 Kindnesses. This project was treated like a charity bicycle ride in that we asked for “sponsors” to support us. But instead of sending money to a charity we asked them to perform a random act of kindness for someone. In the end, over 1,000 pledges were received. Our ride would take us from Toronto, northeast to Ottawa and Montreal then south through my home state of Vermont, eventually ending up in New York City. The trip was made on a tandem bicycle as Daegan was still young (only 13) and less confident cycling on busy streets like we might encounter in the major cities we’d pass through. Or perhaps, if I’m honest, I can say that I was far more nervous than he was and having him riding the same bike made me feel more comfortable.
Over the next several weeks I’ll be posting original entries from the trip.
July 9, 2012 – Approximate distance: 75 km
After finally falling asleep at 2:00 AM or so, 6:00 AM seemed to arrive really quickly. After having a shower, packing our bags, and having a little snack and a cup of coffee. I was once again human.
Who am I kidding. That was not the case. I was pretty sleepy and overwhelmed even at the idea of only 86 kilometres – 44 kilometres less than what we did the previous day. At 7:45 we bid our host farewell – not without a little regret as unlike the other hosts we met, we never really got to spend any time together.
Today’s ride only took us a few kilometres – not even out of Rigaud, before we stopped for our second breakfast. For me it was more to have more coffee, but it still didn’t stop us from each having a pretty large breakfast.
A bit more caffeinated, we got back on the road, soon heading down toward the Ottawa river which we hadn’t seen since we left Ottawa the previous morning. As we approached the river, the traffic tapered off but the terrain got a bit more hilly and we rolled up and down hills all the way to Hudson Once we got there we waited for the ferry that would take us across the river to Oka. It wasn’t long before it arrived.
Once we got across the good cycling really began in earnest. One of my favourite things about riding a bike in Quebec, and in particular in Montreal, is the state of cycling infrastructure. Throughout the province there are many dedicated lanes, well-maintained paths, and relatively courteous drivers. And it definitely paid off. The province has become a very big cycling tourist destination. Not only that, the livability of Montreal and cities like it are much improved as entire families, even those with young children, are able to get around safely by bike. Even on busy downtown streets it was not unusual to see entire families traveling on their bikes with children as young as 6-7 years old on their own bicycles. To me this was the greatest indication of the safety of the streets for cyclists.
A dedicated bike lane, most often physically separated from the road itself and sometimes turning into a dedicated path started the minute we crossed the river and took us another 60 km into the city.
The first half of the ride was still very difficult. Though I did my best to keep to myself, I was tired and grumpy. With only four hours sleep the whole prospect seemed pretty overwhelming. Still, we had a few moments that made me smile. The most surprising was a few kilometres after we got to Oka and started down a dedicated path through a forest. We crested a small hill and there was another oncoming cyclist who had stopped. Ahead of him was a chubby, medium-sized black dog that I assumed was his. The dog was waddling its way toward us as we pedaled toward it. And then I looked again and stopped where we were. This was no dog. This was a porcupine. Sadly, as soon as I had realized what it was and dug out my phone to take a photo, it got startled and headed into the bushes.
The road took us closer in to the city, through suburban neighbourhoods and along the river. At another point, when we were ready for a rest, we stopped at what appeared to be a park on the side of the river. Out in the water was a small cottage on an island. As we sat there, a man left the cottage, hopped on a raft attached to a rope/pulley that ran from the island to the shore where we stood and pulled himself across the river and to the beach before hopping in his truck and heading out.
Many stops were made for food, snacks, and caffeinated beverages. The caffeine didn’t help much, though, and I was still tired and began to question whether doing this trip was a bad idea or not. Fortunately, a rational part of me could see through my attitude enough to know that after a good night’s rest I’d reclaim my usual good mood – much like the one that Dae was maintaining. But fortunately I didn’t have to wait that long. About 30 kilometres before we finished the day we stopped at a park near the water. There we snacked on cinnamon raisin bagels and re-hydrated. As we sat there a little sparrow came over to our feet and cheeped at us. We looked at him and tossed a crumb of bagel. He picked up the crumb, hopped over the bank a little bit near the water’s edge and as he did, you could hear the screams of several baby birds. The bird then hopped his way back to us, cheeped for more food and we gave him another crumb which he brought back to his family again. This happened over and over until eventually they’d had enough. There was something so sweet about this little exchange that after that my mood improved and the rest of the ride was lovely.
Finally, after 86 kilometres of riding we found our way to the lovely tree-lined street where our next host lived. And even though we’d just come off another rest period just two days before we were set to take another rest. After the previous couple of days’ rides, I was definitely ready for it.