Monday, 27 August 2018

Into the wild

Maureen, Al, Michael, Janice, Des and Dave arrive in North Sydney.

North Sydney was the end of our riding trip, as Karen had suggested that riding in Newfoundland along busy highways is less than fun. Turned out she was right.

After our very comfy overnight ferry from North Sydney to Argentia, we piled into a bus and the vehicle and arrived in St Johns in double quick time, missing those rolling hills, the pot holes and the moose, about which roadsigns stated there had been 660 moose collisions in the previous calendar year between moose and vehicles.
Maggie and Janice get their first look at Newfoundland

Our ears were pricked and our eyes were out, as in 'keep an eye out', but alas, we remained moose-less.  Except for this...

Arriving at our hotel, very luxurious after most of our accommodations to date, we picked up bike boxes and began bike packing our newly-washed bikes in the downstairs car park. Fortunately not as airless as our experience in Barcelona several years ago.
Washing bikes in North Sydney

Packing bikes in St Johns

Dinner in North Sydney.
Our farewell dinner, coinciding with Maureen's birthday, was taken at a fancy-pants up-market cafe in St Johns, similar in insouciance to many similar establishments found in Melbourne. Awards were awarded:

  • Maureen the Bedding Award for services to accommodations; 
  • Des the Stacker, Packer and Cracker Award for his relentless vehicle packing and disgorging and the endless supply of jokes; 
  • Dave the Gentleman Moose Award for his chores, chivalry and chicanery when necessary; 
  • Kendy the Madeleine Albright Award for consistent diplomacy n the face of heavy odds; 
  • Maggie the Peter, Paul and Mary Award for achieving 500 miles on a bike; 
  • Angelica the Pearls Before Swine Award due to her flawless wardrobe choices and immaculate presentation both on and off the bike; 
  • Michael the I Didn't Like It But I Did Award for his persistent optimism even when things got tough; 
  • Al the Battery Award for being ever ready and ever charged;
  • Janice the Labrador Duck Award in the hope that one day she will learn to fly.

All in all a good night with stories and laughs.

After hugs and tears and promises to meet again, we scattered to the four winds.

Which is how come Des, Maureen and I got up at 6am to go moose spotting and we saw TWO MOOSE! Later in the day we saw another, albeit at a nature park, then the day after a golden eagle. Wow!

This has been an excellent bike trip full of hills and challenges galore. Pleased to report that not one single injury occurred! Amazing with up to 12 people riding along for 6 weeks.

We all got along so well and enjoyed each other's company immensely with our book and philosophy, nature and politics, sociology and linguistics conversations. It was so good to see Bill and Paul and Karen and Katherine again, even though they couldn't quite ride along with us for the whole 6 weeks. And Walli, hope you're back on your bike again.

Saturday 18 August: Pleasant Bay to Ingonish. We didn’t ride today and instead did a ride/shuttle the day before due to predicted heavy rain. Not so heavy, but it rained constantly all day. Included a mountain just out of Pleasant Bay.

Sunday 19 August: Ingonish to Indian Brook. Another mountain, this time Old Smoky, which was pretty easy to climb but not so easy to descend.

Monday 20 August: Indian Brook to North Sydney. And another mountain, Kelly’s Mountain, which meant climbing for 7 kms. Not steep however. Then an unpleasant ride into North Sydney along the Trans Canada.
Des, Janice and Maureen climbing the last part of the Cabot Trail

Janice contemplating the last downhill of Kelly's Mountain.

Yes, there were views to be had.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Nova Scotia including Cape Breton Island

This is our last leg, so to speak, as we round off our trip with a tour of the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island.

However, before speaking of things bike riding I have to talk about the amazing Confederation Exhibition we saw in Charlottetown. Titled 'Shame and Prejudice' it is an exposition of what happened during colonisation by the French and British in Canada. Resonating with Australian experience at every level, it was not only poignant, but stimulating and evocative. I think David Walsh from MONA should commission this exhibition. The artist is Kent Monkman and more info can be located here.

The bottom right-hand corner of one of the vast canvases depicting English invasion.

Riding has been getting increasingly hilly and i have increasingly enjoyed the power in my legs propelling me upwards. Confidence has deserted me on some days where the massive yet mythical gradients have made my legs jelly.

Karen on top of her game after riding up French Mountain.
We had a serendipitous encounter with a fisherman on the way to Port Hood, who informed us about things Cape Breton. We have come across so many Canadians who are interested in us and interesting for us, such a delight.
Kendy, Angelica and Janice learning about the finer points of fishing, not catching.

Here in Pleasant Bay we have had rain which has interrupted our riding plans and sightseeing. People have been off trying to spot moose, which are proving to be very unreliable, and the whale watching tour was cancelled due to strong winds. We're off to the west coast tomorrow for our very last rides.
Des trying to creep up on a sleeping moose.

Cormorants at the harbour on a bleak morning.

Some more metrics
Thursday 9 August: Charlottetown to Murray Harbour. 80kms mostly all on the Confederation Trail after leaving Charlottetown. Al cooked up a storm in our cottages by the lake.

Friday 10 August: Murray Harbour to New Glasgow. This involved a ferry trip and a car check, Des and I being the drivers for the day. I escorted Walli to emergency at the local hospital which proved to be an interesting insight into Canada's health system.

Saturday 11 August: New Glasgow to Antigonish. A good ride of 80kms skirting the coast and going up and down. Antigonish is a lovely town with a university at its centre.
Relaxed and ready for anything! Maggie, Al, Kendy, Maureen, Janice, Angelica and Dave.

Sunday 12 August: Antigonish to Port Hastings. Absolutely lovely rolling hills and coastal views for 66 kms. Found our way to the Thrift Motel, still sporting its original furnishings!

Monday 13 August: Port Hastings to Port Hood. Along the coastal path for 46kms, incredibly benign.
Maggie, Al and Maureen left to their own devices.

Tuesday 14 August: Port Hood to Margaree Harbour. A 47km ride, bailing at Inverness to ride in the vehicle due to heat and traffic concerns. Turned out to be unfounded.

Wednesday 15 August: Margaree Harbour to Pleasant Bay. Rode the first 25kms to Cheticamp and chickened out of the hills. Another unwise decision in the main. The hills were big but we could have done them.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

From New Brunswick to the Island of Prince Edward

The bridge linking New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Maggie, Des, Dave and Maureen cycle down the last New Brunswick hill.

There are some things to note about this small island nestled between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Here are some, not listed in any particular order:
1. There are fields and fields of potatoes, some white, some cream, some purple flowered.

2. There are no moose or bears.
3. All roads are BUSY.
4. The Confederation Bike trail is very easy to ride and mostly shaded and scenic. The civil engineers who designed the original railway are to be congratulated as are those who built such a sturdy pathway through the fields and woods.
Paul rounds the corner on the Confederation Trail.

Des and Maureen on another part of the trail.

5. Drivers are courteous and stop for bike riders who need to cross busy roads.

6. Food is much the same as in Quebec and New Brunswick.
7. There are cattle and sheep grazing in fields.

Dairy cattle and Canada geese share the pond.

8. The quality of Airbnb accommodation is down and the price is up.
9. In rural areas where the middle-class don't reside, the human index markers are the same as in Australia (and probably the world): obesity, rotten and missing teeth, high fat and sugar consumption, smoking.

Ironman entertains kids at a rural derive station cum cafe to celebrate its launch. The whole town it seemed turned out for the event.
10. There is not so much French spoken.

We are spending our time in PEI in a variety of ways, individualised programs as such. Attractions have included hub and spoke rides, a farmers' market, driving to the north west and the east, dramatic productions, lazing around, sleeping, reading, visiting downtown...The next section of our ride will be the most challenging I think, so we need some R&R.

Paul chose to ride on the wet day.
The north west shoreline.

Ready to catch the salmon coming up the run nearby.

More metrics for the interested
Wednesday 1 August: Kouchibouguac to Boctouche. Pleasant back roads for 70kms. VERY sad to leave our marvellous accommodation in Kouchibouguac.

Thursday 2 August: Bouctouche to Port Elgin. A bit wet and with strong head winds, we pedalled 87km, the last 30 of them on a busy highway. A hard ride. Ended up on a deserted point facing the sea.

Friday 3 August: Port Elgin to Charlottetown. A big ride of 114kms, the first 42 in NB lead by Paul along quiet roads around the coastline. Once at the 22km long Confederation Bridge we boarded a shuttle bus to take us to the other side where we set off on the Confederation Trail.

Saturday 4 August to Wednesday 8 August: hub and spoke rides on PEI.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Eight Days A Week: Leaving Quebec and riding in New Brunswick

Seems like ages since we left Tadoussac early in the morning to face the BIG hills. All the team were keyed up for a long day in the saddle. Not a favourite thing for anyone, riding along a highway, but this stage has been all about highways and very little about byways. Surprisingly we all made it as well as the next day which was slightly longer but NO head wind which is always a blessing. Highlight of the highway was a coke stop. It's often these funny little moments that make a day. I hear you ask if talking to locals in broken French for 10 minutes is a highlight, what the hell are you doing? Umm...good question. I guess we really like each other's company when we get to the end and during stops along the riding route. 

Coke stop friends
We needed to catch a ferry from the north side of the St Lawrence River to Matane, still in Quebec. This involved two shuttles to the ferry terminal and a two-hour ride across this mighty river, followed by a ride to Amqui.

Waiting to board the ferry

Des Moose? 
Karen had a great idea about a bike path which sounded attractive after our highways. Trouble was it involved ascents and descents in the 15% range. Maureen and I pulled the pin early and called for rescue, which duly came. Of course there was no phone reception so the woman at the Depanneur where Maureen and I were stranded phoned on our behalf. Following the bike path instructions we drove and drove but could not locate Des and Kendy, nor Michael, Al, Karen, Bill or Dave. Arriving at the hotel around 7pm, we called the police, as we only had a message from Michael and Al who were also waiting for rescue. At 7.45 Karen, Dave and Bill arrived, and told us where Kendy and Des were hiding out. Finally arriving at the hotel VERY late we were all pleased to be reunited. When Karen suggested a bike path route the next day. Needless to say, we took to the road!

And so we rode on, enjoying a ripping talent concert. Dave did a wonderful loon meditation, Maggie a beautiful song, we danced round and round in a human Venn diagram of where we all met, listed to Maureen's poignant song, Katherine's poem in French and Kendy and Janice's poems about various bike rides and were gripped by Bill's farewell song. He cried. We all cried.

Janice Packhorse?

Our lunch spot tucked away two rubbish bins after the funeral parlour.

And then the rain came down. And down. And down.
Good day for the washing.

Maureen, Des and Kendy riding our last day before blissful rest.

Relaxing at our lovely Airbnb, Al, Des and Maureen.

And now we have three nights to stretch out and forget about bikes and riding places.

More stats for the interested reader

Sunday 22 July: Tadoussac to Forestville along a busy highway, but first we had to climb these humongous hills. We rode 98kms and after the first 20 kms or so things flattened out a bit, but, you guessed it, the head wind picked up.

Monday 23 July: Forestville to Baie-Comeau along the same highway, this time for 101kms. Flatter ride so better time, however the traffic finally wore me down.

Tuesday 24 July: Baie-Comeau to Godbout to catch a ferry to Matane on the other side, followed by a ride to Amqui. Managed 18kms only - see above.

Wednesday 25 July: Amqui to Campbellton: I didn't ride due to posterior matters. Other people who did put in 100kms into a headwind on a hot day.

Thursday 26 July: Campbellton to Bathurst. A good ride along a quiet coastal road for about 65kms before the rain drove us into rescue.

Friday 27 July: Bathurst to Caraquet. Lovely ride along the coastline for 64km.

Saturday 28 July: Caraquet to Mirimichi. Slated distnce of 117km but only rode 76 as Maureen needed rescue. All day on Highway 11 - boring and dull. Happy to bail at the 76km mark.

Sunday 29 July: Mirimichi to Kouchibouguac. A short quick ride along Highway 11 for 52kms.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Circumnavigating Lac St Jean and to the confluence of the St Lawrence and the Saguenay rivers.

The Quebecois are overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming. In their customer service roles they really look after the customer. food is not great, but everything else is good to excellent, including bike route signing. Take a bow, Quebec!

Beginning in Alma, we have now ridden around the lake, stopping off at Sainte-Felicien, Dolbeau-Mitassini, Saint Monique and Saint Gedeon. Lots of saints, I know, and they did a good job of keeping us safe.

The multi-coloured crew preparing to leave St Gedeon.

We overnighted in a great Auberge de Jeunesse in St Gedeon, one highlight the wonderful dinner and brekkie cooked by Kendy and Karen. So good to eat freshly-cooked non-fried food.

The other highlight was Bill tinkling the ivories in both the church at Saint Monique and at the Auberge in Saint Gedeon. This was the first item in our forthcoming talent concert. Beautiful playing, Bill.

Bill playing in Saint Monique.

Leaving Saint Gedeon we headed for Saguenay enjoying a damn good ride along quiet country roads and through lush forests, finishing with a beautiful 'cathedral' ride where the cool trees shaded us, the track was downhillish and the wind was at our backs.

And then the NEXT day! Our Fab Four took off and rode those damn hills. And in anybody's measure of a hill these are HILLS! Al and Katherine also rode off but were not intending to do the whole ride.
Michael, Bill, Dave and Karen.

We have three nights now at Tadoussac to watch whales, do the washing and let our legs relax before another couple of gruelling rides.

Stats that may or may not be interesting

Saturday 14 July, Bastille Day: we took off in the rain which cleared after an hour and rode 90kms to Sainte Felicien. A huge thunderstorm greeted us as we arrived.

Sunday 15 July: a shortish day of 60kms to Dolbeau-Mistassini. Unusually th4e chain fell off my bike 5kms from the end of the day. Michael put it back on. Who's ever heard of a chain falling off a bike mid-ride?

Monday 16 July: a lovely day's ride, short at 55kms, to Saint Monique. Very pleasant lunch at Peribonka.

Tuesday 17 July:  a beautiful 75km ride broken into three parts: forest, road and ferry, then quiet roads and tracks to St Gedeon.

Des and Maureen avoiding moose, beavers, chipmunks and mosquitoes in the park.

Wednesday 18 July: A day of rolling hills and beautiful riding through lush farmland and forests. the 90kms whizzed by under our wheels. Our first day of riding as a 9-member team.

Thursday 19 July: I wimped out along with others to ride the van for the 125kms to Tadoussac.

Where's Garis?

This was the question on everyone's lips as we assembled in Alma, Quebec, from where we began our ride. Garis, it seems, has made an impression on all of us for several reasons: some recalled Garis Gadget on an Orient Express talent night; some desperately wanted his advice about bike issues; and others just plain wanted to say hello.

Some of the people saying 'Hello Garis!'
Bill says 'Hello Garis!' too.

We also missed Garis on our Via Rail journey from Montreal to Hebertville. Slated for an 8.15 departure we expected to arrive at about 4.30 to ride the remiaing 10 or so kms to Alma to meet everyone. As it turned out there was train trouble. And again, Garis was missed!

Garis advising the Czech train staff about pantogrpahs and other things rail-related. He's explaining to Karen  when this was taken.

So Garis, if you're reading this, know that you are a valuable team member in this odd-bod bike riding fraternity that we have collected around us.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Canada, Oh Canada

Come 8 July we flew to Canada via Vancouver, landing up in Montreal. Montreal has surprised us with its bike riding culture and the many many kms of shared and separated paths. We climbed to the top of Mont Royal to get a great view of the city and Leonard! 
One of the huge Leonard Cohen portraits on buildings in Montreal

View of Montreal from the top

Michael, Maureen, Maggie, Janice, Des on Mont Royal

The ride up Mont Royal is a lovely ride of benign gradient through the trees, squirrels darting round about. 

We then tackled downtown where there are both separated bike lanes–Copenhagen lanes we call them in Melbourne–and marked lanes on roads. Knowing which street goes which way is critical in a city of predominantly one-way traffic. After some friendly assistance near McGill College, we cycled down Atwater Street to the market where we enjoyed a delicious lunch from the many food stalls operating there.

Michael enjoying a charcuterie platter
After lunch we rode down the Lachine Canal to the Saint Lawrence River, a quiet ride through both industrial and ritzy housing. During this Michale helped with some minor bike issues like Maggie's handlebars collapsing and my brakes. We didn't pick up the fact that neither Maggie's nor Maureen's back wheels were housed properly, though! 

A bit of bike fixing

Michael and Maggie

In the team so far are Maggie, Maureen, Des, Michael, Janice and Kendy so far. We are being joined by more fellow riders in Alma where we start our 2,600 km ride, first circumnavigating Lac Saint-Jean before riding down the northern shore of the Saguenay Fjord. Then onto St Johns in Newfoundland by traversing parts of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
So far we've ridden about 65kms in Montreal's perfect summer weather of blue skies and warmth.