There’s once more so much to write about. But the perfectionist in me hates half told stories. So I’ll keep some blog post ideas in the back of my head for now and continue down the path of photo blogging. Valleys and Passes is what the Crowsnest Highway (Hwy 3) is all about as it zigzags along the US border. The road follows a valley untill you get close to that border, which then means you have to go over a pass to get away from it. The river on the other side of the pass of course flows South as well, so the game continues… Some of the climbs in British Columbia are definitely more challenging than in the rest of Canada. But beautiful is that same old word again to describe all this. Photo blogs are so much more fun :).
Leaving Montreal also meant leaving Quebec. I’m in Ontario now and will be for quite a while, it’s a long way to Saskatchewan. I’ll be leaving Toronto tomorrow, heading North through the Bruce Peninsula. While falling asleep telling that boring Bixi story in my last blog post I completely forgot to mention how much I loved Montreal. It’s joining a long list of cities I’ve had a crush on. Before Montreal there was Paris, London, Vienna, Berlin, Istanbul, Milan, Portland, San Francisco and many other medium-sized cities such as Gent. Other than Ottawa and Toronto, Montreal is a real cyclists city, the biking infrastructure is supreme. It’s also a sort of a mixture between a European and North-American city which is very appealing to me. Montreal for example has everything I like about Portland, but on top of that there’s a more lively sense of history.
Thank you to Marjolaine & Jean Luc, Myka & Dax, Kris & Gord, Kt & the Bloomfield Bicycle Shop, Judith & Bart and Kate & Andrew. You’re all part of my ever-growing list of great Warmshowers stays! And Reece, thank you for selling me your old GoPro, I probably won’t have the time now to do much with the footage but it’s staying on bike for the rest of my trip!
I had a really enjoyable stay with Michel and his family in Edmunston. Having three young kids hasn’t stopped them from doing some bicycle tours. That’s what trailers are invented for, right?! Obviously they go slower and less far, but the fact that they’re doing it is great and it’s exactly what I would do if I’ll ever have children. They’re planning a trip in Germany for 2016 with the kids on a tandem, I’m sure it’s going to be a great adventure for the whole family. I was talking with Michel about blogging and sometimes being too connected through internet while traveling. He was talking about what he called his “pre-internet travel” to Australia in ’95. Just like my sister now, he did some WWoofing while he was there. Obviously there was no internet, so you had to write them a letter and they’d send you a booklet with all the WWoofing places. I had no idea WWoofing already existed back then, I thought of it as a network that grew online. But obviously a lot of initiatives like this were already around before the internet came and took part of the adventure away. And of course I could do without, but yet here I am, blogging behind my laptop. With two cameras, a smartphone and a gps device on the table as well. The gear minimalist at work. (In my defence about the cameras: since I might be gone for a year I brouht the X-E1 with the 35mm lens along with the X100 that normally would be my sole camera. It would just be stupid to have such a great camera and lens collecting dust in Belgium for a year.)
Michel told me that a lot of people who ride their bike across Canada will traditionally take the Trans-Canada Highway from Fredericton up North to Edmundston. To make things clear: this is a four-lane highway. In the US you’d call it an interstate, in Belgiun an autostrade. It sure has a nice shoulder to bike on, but why on earth would you ride on a high-speed highway where tons of cars and trucks will zoom by you?! I don’t see the fun of that and I think it’s only reasonable that this is illegal in Belgium. I’m proud to say that I didn’t bike a centimeter on this highway on my ride to Rivière-du-Loup the past four days.
The first day I biked to Woodstock on the left bank of the Saint John river on what used to be the Trans-Canada Highway before the four-laner came. Somewhere halfway it actually dead ends and you’re supposed to go on the four-lane highway for a few kilometers. But I met a cyclist who told me that although it’s not on the map, the two parts are actually connected by two small roads down to the water with a little rails-to-trails bridge in between. It was great, why wasn’t this on my map?! The fact that the old highway dead ends for cars makes that there’s virtually no traffic on it since there’s not that many houses along it. Cycling this abandoned road with its rusty guard rails was a weird experience. A bit like one of those postapocalyptic eighties movies. Or more recently The Walking Dead. Luckily there were no zombies to fight against. But there actually was a continuous battle going on. I’ve been fighting against a feirce NW/NNW headwind over the past four days. At times it was really stormy and I just had to settle for going slow.
The landscape in the Saint John river valley somewhat reminded me of Virginia and Kentucky. In a certain way this makes sense because I am cycling through the Canadian part of the Appalachian mountain range. The second day I switched sides to the right side of the river. It began with a flat tyre. If I remember well it’s the first one since Jackson, Montana on my TransAm trip last summer. I think that puts me at about 2300km without a flat. Not too bad. A flat every now and then is just inevitable, no matter how good your tyres are. With the Schwalbe Marathon touring intended tyres like I have, I don’t have to worry much about glass on the road. To exaggerate a bit: my tyres will just crush it back to sand. It’s all kinds of fine metal wire that’ll occasionally get through and give you a flat.
I mostly rode on a gorgeous trail that is part of the Trans Canada Trail. The surface was pretty good and it gave me bit more cover from the headwinds compared to the open road. I met other touring cyclists for the first time that day. An Australian couple that had also done the TransAm a few years ago. Now they were on their way to Cape Breton. They were flying on the road while I was slowly moving into the wind on the trail next to it. If I’ll ever find myself in Australia close to Kangooroo Island, I’ll definitely visit them, they’re Warmshowers hosts as well.
That night I wild camped for the first time in Canada. It took a bit of effort to get my food and toiletries up in a tree with the cord I had bought for that purpose in Halifax, but it was a great camping spot. When I came through Grand Falls the next day I knew that the trail ends there. While I was cycling on the old highway again I saw that it actually was still there, but completely overgrown. As you can see in the photo this part is/was forbidden for atvs, so maybe that’s what you get when you ban the quads on the trails? At least in New Brunswick, because in Quebec they’re not allowed or they have their separate path and the atv-free Route Verte & Trans Canada Trails in Quebec that I’ve cycled on were in great condition. They don’t seem to need the quads.
But I didn’t make it to Quebec yet that day. I went really slow between Grand Falls and Edmunston, I was being slowed down by American headwinds. The Saint John river forms the border with the Maine here, I dont think I’ll be this close to the US again untill I reach the Rockies. That night I stayed in the de la République provincial park a few kilometers past Edmundston. The campground here has a reduced rate for cyclists, you pay 10$ instead of 25$. Yes, camping in Canada is really expensive, 25$ is apparently between the lower prices. I had read on a blog that this particular campground has a cyclists rate, that’s why I went there. The weird thing is that this reduced rate isn’t posted anywhere, you won’t find it on their website or not even a the entrance on the price list. It nearly looks as if they want to keep it a secret. If it would be known, I’m sure they would get more cyclists staying there. And I actually think that all the provincial campgrounds in Canada should have specific hiker/biker sites just like on the campgrounds on the Atlantic Coast in Oregon and California. Right now there’s a lot of people who will just wild camp because it’s so expensive, but I’m sure there’s a quite a few among them that would be willing to pay 10$ every now and then for a shower. And no doubt that it would be beneficial to the promotion of hiking and cycling tourism. Just an idea.
The next day I entered Quebec (and a new time zone). The Route Verte brought me to Rivière-du-Loup on another beautiful rail trail. The RouteVerte cycling network in Quebec is known for its quality and beauty, even in Belgium. It’s a real joy to bike on it. For some reason I didn’t take any nice pictures of this trail, so here’s a few more photos fromthe the days before that. I’m pretty sure you don’t get to see these kind of things on that truck-filled Trans-Canada highway.
Today a dear friend of me flies to the US for a three-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon and Washington. I think the first time our paths really crossed was in the second year of highschool, working together on an assignment. We had to write and draw one page of a comic book story. As I remember we made something about a military battle around the Panama Canal in what I guess was some sort of World War III context. I’m actually wondering now what our teacher thought of that scenario. The things thirteen year old kids will come up with. That nuclear holocaust never came, but we stayed friends over the years. In the photo above you can see the eighteen year old versions of us in 2002, having a rest on a bridge in France on our Cévenol hiking trip. It’s a blurry scan of a disposable camera picture, but it’s one of my favorites. Now we’re both thirty, time flew by again. I don’t have a clue what we were talking about on that bridge, but I’m sure we’ve both succeeded to keep the spirit of such moments alive. Koen, all the luck on your journey. Break a leg, or whatever the appropriate wish for hikers might be.
p.s.: I’ll follow you on your You Gotta Move page, so you’d better not give up on posting things like I did last year on my TransAm blog :p. And who knows, maybe we’ll really get to meet each other in Manning Park somewhere in September!