a video!

Long time no post (five months, really?!). Here’s a music video Annie made for Dr.How and the Reasons to Live using my GoPro footage. Ready for a roller coaster bike ride across Canada?!

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montreal to ottawa to toronto – farmlands, lakes & rail trails

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!

le p’tit train du nord & montreal – quebec, part three

For some reason I didn’t take a single picture on the P’tit Train du Nord bike route. You’ll just have to believe me when I say this rail trail is beautiful. And it has a great surface: Annie had no problems biking it with her race tyres. It’s also a very popular trail, the day we biked to Montreal (Saturday) we saw more bicycles than cars, not kidding.

After a fun night out at the Terrasse St.-Ambroise with our WS host Héloïse and two of her friends Annie and I both felt a bit hungover the next day. Luckily the Atwater market was close by. This covered public market was the ideal place to wake up a bit before we2014-07-08_2726_internet started exploring the city on our Bixi bikes. By using this public bike system we didn’t have to worry about our bikes getting stolen and it also gave us more freedom because we didn’t always have to walk back to where we left our bikes. Apparently it’s costing the city of Montreal a lot of money to keep the whole Bixi project running. It even went bankrupt earlier this year, but it’s saved for this summer. Some people want to shut the whole project down in the future, but I think that would be a shame. It’s a great public service. It just shouldn’t be seen as a profit-making company. I’ve used similar public bike systems before in Paris and Brussels and it’s an incredible way to explore any big city. That being said I have to admit that we had a problem with our Bixi bikes. The first day Héloïse and her sister Andrea gave us their 2014-07-06_2678_internetyear pass keys to use (thanks again!) and everything went smooth. On out third day in Montreal we bought a 7$ day pass. At some point during the day we wanted to get two new bikes after a walk down at the Old Port. But the terminal said that our previous bikes weren’t registered as returned although we were 100% sure they had been properly locked into the system. Obviously we didn’t want to pay the 250$ deposit per bike they put on your credit card in case you’d be thinking of stealing one of the bikes. So I called the phone number on the terminal. Long story, but we found the two specific bikes at the station, locked but not registered as such, and the person on the phone couldn’t do something before a technician would come and check if the bikes were actually there, which could be at any time during the afternoon. So that would be the end of our Bixi story, but just as I hung up the phone, a technician coincidentally arrived at our station. So he helped us out and another fifteen minutes later we were biking again while he was closing down the whole Bixi station because of a problem in the computer of the terminal. To sum it all up: even though we clearly had some bad luck I still love the Bixi bikes!

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In the evening it was time to pack Annie’s bicycle and after another sad airport goodbye the next morning I started cycling across Canada on my own again towards Ontario. Annie, thank you so much for flying to Quebec and biking with me for two weeks. It meant a lot to me and I think you’ll agree with me that it was gorgeous and unforgettable. See you!

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the land of the saints – quebec, part two

We had two weeks to spend together, so instead of going straight to Montreal along the river we went more inland to explore Québec a bit more.2014-07-01_3792_internet We biked through a region that is known as the Laurentides. Further up North this mountain range has some real mountains, but the part that we were in consisted more of a series of steep but short hills. Together with the warm and humid weather these rollercoaster hills made us both think of our passage through the Ozark mountains in Missouri last summer. It was also the land of the Saints: Saint-Paulin, Saint-Gabriel, Saint-Donat, St.-Faustin-Lac-Carré,… Yes, nearly all the village names here start with Saint. The most original one we biked through was Sainte-Émilie-de-l’Énergie. Still not as cool though as that place called Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! I biked through on my first day in Québec, you can’t beat that.

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In Saint-Jean-de-Matha we were welcomed by Alain & Véronique. We had a great time together and it was a pleasure to talk with Alain about bicycle touring, cycling and lots of other things.  I recognized my own passion in him and I think we could have easily talked for two more days. Right now they’re on their own bicycle trip with their son and a friend of his along the Pacific Coast from Portland to San Francisco.I wish them a great trip, which it undoubtedly will be, the Oregon and Californian coasts are beautiful.

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We mostly biked on quiet roads. The hills and the heat were persistent, but the lush and green landscape made up for that. Between Saint-Donat and Lac Supérieur we basically had the road to ourselves on the Chemin du Nordet, a 40 km route highly appreciated amongst cyclists with some views on the higher Laurentian mountains further up North.

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2014-07-02_2659_internetIn Saint-Faustin-Lac-Carré it was time for a well deserved rest day after five days of cycling. The Camping Domaine Desjardins must be one of my favorite camprounds. Over the past years I’ve stayed at a couple of hundred campgrounds while bicycle touring, so that says a lot. At 24$ per night with cyclists reduction it’s still a bit expensive. But their camp spaces for cyclists are gorgeous. In fact the whole campground is set up with respect for nature and it basically feels like you’re camping in the woods, but with all the amenities of a normal campground. Luckily they also had a shelter where we could cook on our first night while the rain kept on pouring down with heavy force.

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After this rest day we were ready to head down South in direction of Montréal for the next two days…

la nouvelle-france – quebec, part one

More than two weeks without a real update… where should I begin? Maybe I’ll start with the why. My route between Halifax and Quebec was planned in such a way that I would arrive in Quebec on June 25th. Annie flew over from Colorado to bike with me to Montreal in the past two weeks. When you’re having a great time together it’s just no fun to be behind your computer. And a great time is for sure what we had.

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But let’s take up where I left off. When I explored Rivière-du-Loup more than two weeks 2014-06-24_3749_internetago now, I really felt that I was “somewhere different” compared to the days before in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Or compared to my time in the US last summer. Obviously Quebec isn’t France, it’s recognizably Canadian or North-American on a larger scale. But the French influence, history, cultural baggage, identity or however you want to call it is much more visible and alive than I thought it would be. It’s more than just the language. I definitely experienced this on Saint Jean Baptiste Day or the Quebec National Holiday on the 24th. My Warmshowers guests in Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies invited me to a local event for Quebec day. Everyone had brought some food, a band was playing music, there was a play area and popcorn for the children, plenty of Quebec balloons and flags. There was even a passionate speech about these flags and the national identity of the people of Quebec by an older guy who clearly wanted to inspire the many children that were present.

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Between Rivière-du-Loup and Quebec I biked along the Saint Lawrence River on the Route Verte.  The river is about 20 km wide here and it feels more like you’re cycling along the coast. The mountains on the other side of the river were screaming at me to take a ferry across and start biking & hiking there.

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But I resisted and I arrived on time at a campground about 3 km away from the airport. A few hours later I met Annie in the airport. It was obviously great to meet again, but there was one problem…

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I was ready to help Annie to re-assemble her bicycle, but it appeared to be still in Toronto! Even though she had two connecting flights with Air Canada, she apparently still had to declare the bike at customs in Toronto. All we could do was go to the campground after a promise that the bike would be in Quebec the next day. And so it was. Even better: they delivered it for free at the campground.

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After a relocation from the not too special campground to a hotel closer downtown to visit the city for two days we were ready to start cycling in direction of Montreal. Touring together again for the first time since September last year when we finished the TransAm on the Oregon coast.

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The first two days were still along the Sant Lawrence River. On the other side this time, on a part of the Route Verte that is called Le Chemin du Roy. When we reached Trois-Rivières it was time to head up more North: the Laurentian Mountains awaited us…

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* new * – the map

*NEW-NEW-NEW, Now an all new page under “cycling canada”: the map !

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appalachia – along the saint john river into quebec

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.)

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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 2014-06-21_3730_internetgoing 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’s2014-06-20_2515_internet 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.

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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.

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2014-06-20_2538_internetThat 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.

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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 2014-06-22_2553_internetpay 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.

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