Tag Archives: Canada
8 June, 2014

Bienvenue Cyclistes!

Perdon. Nous bicyclette de Seattle, los Etats Unis. Je ne parle pas Francais. Parlez-vous anglais?

Oui?

Tres bon! Merci beaucoup!

The change came at once upon crossing the Ottawa River. Or, as the map upon my handlebar said, the Riviere de Outaouais. The first of a week’s worth of La Route Verte signs lay just a kilometer beyond the provincial boundary, welcoming us onto Quebec’s famed bicycle network. No longer would we have to balance our bikes along the narrow edge of pavement and keep constant vigil for trucks and cars trying to pass with too little room. After weeks in Ontario we would finally be able to direct both eyes to the scenery and not our safety mirrors!

La Route Verte 1, the Voyageur’s Path, led us across the countryside of L’Isle-aux-Allumettes, through wetlands and forests where bouquets of trillium grew wild among the ivy and the scent of lilac and honeysuckle floated on every breeze. We crossed farms, rolled through acres of dandelions, and turned our pedals along the shores of lakes and streams and, of course, the Ottawa River. The crushed gravel path we so longed to reach, the very network of trails I had in mind when building our Salsa Fargos and selecting our wider 700×38 tires, was now leading us through Fort Coulonge to Gatineau and onward to Montreal. LRV1 was a land-based route that followed the annual journey of those hardy French-Canadian canoemen who made the fur trade possible so long ago. What a joy to lay awake in my tent, wild-camped on the side of the trail, reading of their history in Grace Lee Nute’s “The Voyageur” and to hear the names of the very towns and villages we had ridden through that very day!

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La Route Verte 1 near Fort Coulonge.

After two nights back across the river in Ottawa, a wonderful capital city, we were anxious to return to the Quebec side of the river and continue our journey to Montreal. I fell in love with Montreal on a business trip in 2012 and couldn’t wait to show Kristin the sights. And after three nights in the old quarter, we continued along the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City. La Route Verte 5’s urban bike path was our guide out of Montreal, just in time to avoid the arriving Formula One crowds in town for that week’s Grand Prix. Three days later, after a trip through the St. Anne River valley, La Route Verte 6’s undulating gravel trail brought us straight to the old fort’s ramparts, just blocks from our hotel perched high above the hilly, historical city. La Route Verte doesn’t just make cycling in and out of large cities possible and safe, but it shows that even the oldest of cities can be retrofitted with bicycle infrastructure. And if a city founded some 400 years ago can find the room to squeeze in some bike lanes, then surely the younger cities can too.

I try to find the thinnest lines on the map. And then sometimes I just follow the compass.

I try to find the thinnest lines on the map. And then sometimes I just follow the compass and a hunch.

Of course, the bicycle has to play a bigger part of the culture for that to happen. It can’t just be a recreational piece of sporting equipment. And that’s where the region’s origin as “le Canada” really shines. A cyclist we met in Deep River, Ontario said that of all the places in the world he cycled, there was none better than France. “In France, the cyclists are number 2 on the road. The farmers will always be number 1, but cyclists come second!”

Montreal was a joy to cycle in.

Montreal was a joy to cycle in.

We won’t be in France for several months, but I couldn’t help but feel as if a dormant strain of French was untwisting itself from my DNA as a cyclist and bubbling to the surface. I found myself greeting every passerby with a hearty “Bonjour!” as I rode, smiling at the day, and waving to the flowers. I’d enunciate with awful anglicized phonetics the words on the signs we’d pass and bellow, “Bienvenue Cyclistes!” whenever our chosen campground was emblazoned with the sign marking La Route Verte supporters.

A river had flooded the trail and it was only after the water rose above the panniers and I noticed fish swimming past me that I turned around. Kristin took this from dry land after I managed to turn around.

A river had flooded the trail and it was only after the water rose above the panniers and I noticed fish swimming past me that I turned around. Kristin took the photo from dry land after I managed to turn around.

We wild-camped at a picnic area on the trail. Long pants and sleeves for mosquito protection.

We wild-camped at a picnic area on the side of the trail. Long pants and sleeves for mosquito protection.

Unfortunately, the abundance of apostrophes isn’t the only thing that’s throwing me off with regards to the French language in Quebec. I also have a problem with inconsistency and double-standards. And after seeing, what seemed to be, every single piece of text in Ontario written out in both English and French, from the labels on the cookies in the Dollarama to the overbearing billboards on Highway 17 explaining all of the numerous ways motorists will likely perish, it came as quite a surprise to find virtually no English in Quebec. It is certainly disappointing to find no translation on any of the monuments, statues, or plaques we’ve encountered along our travels in the province. What a wasted opportunity to educate the Anglophones on French-Canadian history! While the French Language Services Act seems to guarantee that all governmental agencies and the like are to be bilingual in Ontario (and we’ve seen plenty of French in British Columbia as well), it seems that Quebec swings the other way and goes out of its way to keep English from its signage. Or a store owner’s use of social media, for that matter. As an observant traveler just passing through, I found it interesting to see some of the historical explanations and plaques in Quebec include the Inuit translation but not English.

C’est la vie.

Strolling along the Rosary monuments depicting the stations of the cross at Our Lady of the Cape shrine in Trois Rivieres.

We enjoyed a meditative walk along the Rosary monuments depicting the stations of the cross at Our Lady of the Cape shrine in Trois Rivieres.

Enjoying a nice meal at the Bonaparte Restaurant in Montreal.

Enjoying a nice meal at the Bonaparte Restaurant in Montreal. Thanks JVP!

Special Thanks: The last couple of weeks have been great fun thanks to the arrival of summer, pleasant cycling conditions, and the generosity of those in our life. Want to thank Steve and Kate, our WarmShowers hosts in Deep River for a great night of drinks and board games. Also have to extend a hearty thanks to my good friend, “The Real Brian Donahue” for e-buying us a round of drinks and dinner at the Highlander Pub in Ottawa, and to our realtor and friend Justin Vander Pol for a lovely French dinner in Montreal. Would also like to give a quick tip of the cap to Bill Harris, a longtime pen-pal of mine, who so graciously allows me to send along a monthly dispatch for inclusion in his blog, Dubious Quality. Be sure to check it out.

27 May, 2014

Great Lakes, but Not-So-Great Roads

For the past two weeks, we have been cycling the shores of Lake Superior and Lake Huron on a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway from Thunder Bay to Sudbury, Ontario. We have been surrounded by beautiful scenery, even if the weather and road surface have been much less than perfect.

While the population along the Trans-Canada Highway is generally sparse, the number of Provincial Parks is not. There is generally a Provincial park every 50-60 kilometers (30-36 miles), whereas towns are not quite so frequent. Unfortunately, this didn’t help us much as many were closed, soaked with snowmelt, or charge up to $40 just to pitch a tent. We even spent 83 km (52 miles) cycling through Lake Superior Provincial Park. Beyond the Provincial Parks, there are many private campgrounds providing bathrooms, hot showers, and often laundry facilities. These amenities are nice, but it was a shock the first time we had to pay $30-40 to pitch a tent. That said, everything in Canada has cost 30-50% more than in the US even with the favorable exchange rate of $1.09 CAD per $1 USD. That was unexpected.

The Terry Fox Memorial honoring the inspiration and unity he gave to Canada. Despite the statue being about a man who attempted to run across Canada, there is no legal way to access the memorial by foot or bike. We had to break the law for a couple of km to see this.

The Terry Fox Memorial honoring the inspiration and unity he gave to Canada. Despite the statue being about a man who attempted to run across Canada, there is no legal way to access the memorial by foot or bike. We had to break the law for a couple of km to see this.

Another surprise, though this one pleasant, are the great waterfalls and boardwalks with railings leading to them. Some of these paths are over a mile long and all in great condition. The most beautiful waterfall was Aguasabon Gorge with plenty of remaining snow and ice creating a truly unique view.

Aguasabon Gorge is just a quick detour off highway 17 and was well worth the stop. Kristin particularly enjoyed the walkway.

Aguasabon Gorge is just a quick detour off highway 17 and was well worth the stop. Kristin particularly enjoyed the walkway.

Until a few weeks ago, when I thought about cycling the shores of a lake, I was expecting flat terrain. From Thunder Bay to Nipigon was fairly flat with just a few rollers; however, as we left Nipigon, we started riding above Lake Superior and climbed and descended most of the day. We had a few days of nearly 3000 feet of climbing. These were the biggest hills that we saw since the east slopes of Glacier National Park. Our climbing legs hadn’t been exercised in weeks, but suddenly we needed them again.

While we are now using our climbing legs again, we have yet to need our shorts yet. Doug mentioned in his last post, that I was convinced that we were chasing winter. My thoughts on the matter remain unchanged. On May 16th, we spent an extra night at the Rossport Inn in Rossport, ON, to allow a few inches of snow along our next day’s ride to pass. Unbelievable! That said, we really enjoyed our “day off” helping Ned, the owner, build a chicken tractor-coop (a mobile chicken coop that can be dragged to a new location as needed) and sharing stories with him and his brother, including the day Ned punched out Bob Seger for being obnoxious in his restaurant. Ned made us cocktails on both evenings we were there and even invited us to stay for a dinner party with some of his friends two days later. However, there was dry weather on the horizon, so we politely declined and continued on. Just a few days later, after the dry weather passed, we cycled through a thunderstorm, hail, and three torrential downpours, all in a single day. Finally on May 23rd, we got a full day of sun and temperatures in the middle 60s and the next day, temperatures reached the 70s. We were finally able to break out our cycling shorts for the first time since March 23rd when we departed Seattle. We think spring/summer is finally on its way!

We spent a day off at Rossport Inn and helped the owners build a tractor-coop for their chickens in exchange for some gin martinis.

We spent a day off at Rossport Inn and helped the owners build a tractor-coop for their chickens in exchange for some gin martinis.

As we approached Canada and in our early days in Canada we kept hearing that Route 17 (Trans-Canada Highway) has a narrow shoulder and the drivers were not very accommodating for cyclists. One gentleman went to the extent of saying he had lived in Thunder Bay his whole life and is ashamed that Route 17 remains as poor a cycling road as it is, especially after several cyclists have lost their lives on this road over the years. Well, all the warnings were appropriate as the road had a narrow paved shoulder, rarely more than a foot wide for most of the way and often as little as six inches. To the right of the shoulder was soft dirt. Most of the drivers moved over a few feet to give us a little extra space as they passed, but several large 18-wheelers chose not to or didn’t have that choice as traffic was coming towards them. Thank goodness we had our mirrors and could see these situations develop. We would yell “Ditch!” or “Truck!” and carefully move onto the soft shoulder, swerving around in the sandy soil waiting for the danger to pass. I had one spill in the dirt, but no damage to me or the bike, just a few bruises and additional frustration for the crappy road conditions on a route that many cyclists use every year to traverse Canada.

Thankful we're not riding roads with so little shoulder all the way across the continent.

Thankful we’re not riding roads with so little paved shoulder all the way across the continent.

Overall, we really enjoyed the scenery and we would highly recommend the northern shore of Lake Superior as a road trip (by car) for anyone looking for something a little off the beaten path, especially if you bring your own canoe and fishing tackle. There are gorgeous views and lots of hiking and picnic areas along the way as well as campgrounds accommodating tents or RVs and motels. We even saw a moose on our way into camp one night and a river otter in camp that same night, on the Magpie River. Definitely drive west to east (clockwise around the lake) for better views and wait for the middle of June or later in the summer to have a better chance for nicer weather. But bring your bug spray.

Doug grabbed this photo of a moose while biking to the campground outside of Wawa, ON.

Doug grabbed this photo of a moose while biking to the campground outside of Wawa, ON.

Rolling past some of the oldest rocks on earth. The Canadian Shield is comprised of rocks from 4.5 Billion years ago.

Rolling past some of the oldest rocks on earth. The Canadian Shield is comprised of rocks from 4.5 Billion years ago.