Day 1: Tuesday, July 31, 1990
Montreal to Saint-François-du-lac
My 3-day bike ride to Quebec City remains a milestone in my life. As my first long-distance, inter-city bike ride as an adult, it proved to me that, as a man of nearly 40 years of age, I could still undertake these adventures which previously had only been memories from my youth. It was my first adventure with bicycle camping, the precursor of a decade and a half of similar outings. Indeed, the whole nature of my bicycle riding would change with this ride, from jaunts around the city to heading ever-further out into the countryside.
The account below is a revised and updated version of the original one [View Here], which was written most likely in the Fall of 1990, soon after I had completed the trip..
Even at the time, I could no longer remember how the idea of taking a bicycle trip to Quebec City had first come about. It was something I had been talking about, off and on, for years, the natural extension of my rides which so far had been confined to the city. I still cherished the memories of the two long-distance trips I had made in my youth: An all day trip to Rawdon and most of way back (55 miles each way) and a two-day trip to Ottawa with my friend Donald.
Somehow all things came together and a window of opportunity opened for me in the Summer of 1990. I was able to stake out some time from my valuable Summer vaction for myself, as an impressive two-week family trip had already been booked for later in August. I really did not have any idea how far I was going to get on my trip, only that I wanted to descend the St. Lawrence. At first, I had vague, romantic visions of reaching Rimouski, or possibly even the Gaspé peninsula. As planning became more focused and I looked more closely at the map, computing real distances, I toned down my ambitions to a destination somewhere between Quebec City and Rivière du Loup. I wanted to get below Quebec City, as that is the furthest east I had ever been to date. I also wanted to reach the point, which I then thought was just below Quebec, where the ocean tides competed with the fresh water flow from the river, to reach the 'sea', so to speak.
I might have acheived my original goal had I still had the five to seven days free that had originally been allocated to it. Fate intervened however, in the form of my father falling ill in New Brunswick and needing to be brought home. Upon my first hearing of this, everything was up in the air and I felt my planned bicycle trip, and indeed our family trip, might have to be cancelled completely. Things became to work themselves out, however. The hospital where my father was staying did not want him to travel right away so, with some imagination and determination, I managed to salvage my plans. Rather than take the train from Montreal to New Brunswick on the Friday, I would spend the intervening days on my bike ride, and catch the same train around Quebec City. The window for my trip had shrunk to only four days, from Tuesday through Friday, but I was thankful nonetheless.
I realized after that, once the trip idea had begun to firm up and take on reality, I did not really "train" as much as I should have. Over the month of July I continued riding my bicycle to and from work most of the days (about 5 km each way). I took a couple of longer rides on weekends. One ride, soon after I bought my bicycle odometer, took me on a 30 mile circuit of the city's bicycle trails. On the Saturday before departure, I got up early and took a ride out to St. Anne de Bellevue at the western tip of Montreal Island. The total circuit of about 65 miles was done before noon. I had really overdone it, but had learned some valuable lessons about pacing.
My outfitting had to be done on the cheap. I had only a very modest Canadian Tire bicycle, which had served me well for getting to and from work, but which would prove unsuited to the task I was about to appoint to it. Besides being heavy, its major failing was that it had no 'granny gear' for hill climbing. I did not have the money to buy light, but expensive cycling gear for camping so had to make do mostly with what I already had. What new supplies I added were all picked up on a Sunday trip to Canadian Tire. I bought a simple one man tent and a hiker's foam mattress. I would take my regular sleeping bag, which though warm and cozy was also quite heavy. I bought some cheap saddle bags, which would prove to be too small and quite a hassle in terms of getting caught in my back wheels. My Saturday pre-trip had shown me that I would need a handy supply of liquids. Instead of buying one of those fancy holders, though, I contented myself with a small handlebar pouch. I had no special bicycle clothing, and so would ride with my standard cotton shirt and blue jeans.
It had been hot and sunny all week long, but the weatherman predicted a day of rain for my departure. Since the window for the trip was quite fixed and there was no chance of postponing departure, I resolved to head out anyway, regardless of what the day might be like. Thankfully, the weathermap showed that sunshine would following the rain over the following days.
I got up early, about 6:30, so as to get a good early start on my trip. It was, as had been predicted, an overcast morning with light rain falling. While everyone was still asleep I gathered my clothes and other last minute items, went down to the garage, and finalized the packing of my bicycle. I had a yogurt for breakfast. Then Heidi and Tannissa came down to see me off as I pedalled away at exactly 8:00.
|Ready to Go on a Rainy Morning (Original 1990 Photo)|
|A Daughter's Kiss (Original 1990 Photo)|
|On My Way… (Original 1990 Photo)|
I had a short climb up the familiar city streets to the top of the hill at Monkland, and then rode downhill along Girouard and St. Jacques, all the way to the Lachine Canal Bike Path, which I followed east to Old Montreal.
The bicyle proved heavy and took some getting used to. These first few blocks were like my 'shakedown' cruise. I felt like I was driving a truck. Any side movements were wildly exaggerated. The bike picked up a frightening speed on the downhill. I kept to a fairly easy pace on the flat, using the speedometer to mark out 15 km/hr, and did not feel any real pressure on my legs. Even slight uphills were instantly felt, however. I was already riding in just a couple of notches down from my easiest gear, and so had little room to gear down.
|Day 1: Home to Repentigny|
|[See Larger View]|
The light rain persisted until I was past downtown. I continued on through the morning grey, passing Loretta's apartment along the Notre Dame bike path, and then out on the long trek through the industrial East End towards the end of the Island. It was actually quite pleasant until the light rain started again, just before Repentigny. My new rain poncho was working fairly well, though, keeping me dry for the most part.
By the time I stopped at a the Dunkin' Donuts in Repentigny, I had already gone further east than I had ever been by bicycle. On my way over the bridge on the narrow sidewalk, I had hit the railing with my bundle, which had then come off centre and was making control of the heavy bike even more difficult. I had ridden through much of the town before the rain and my hunger began to get to me. The hot soup and coffee refreshed my spirits and I dried out a bit. I went back outside to where my bike was strategically leaned, for I had learned that parking such a heavy rig was an art. I re-packed the bike bundle, so it would not be off centre. I tightened the two nuts holding the rear carrier assembly off of the rear brake cables. This mechanism had never been designed for such a load, and this interference with the break cables was to be a constant headache. I went into the nearlby depanneur to buy some food supplies and liquids: Quaker granola bars and bottles of orange juice and Gatorade. It was 11:30 before I finally got on my way out of Repentigny.
|Day 1: Repentigny to Sorel|
|[See Larger View]|
I headed east on highway 138, along the north shore of the river. Once I cleared the town, it was a difficult getting used to riding on the highway. The road shoulder was only gravel, so I had to bravely stake out my section of actual roadway - about 18 inches from the edge. It was disconcerting having cars and trucks whiz by me at 100 km/hr, while I was only going 15 km/hr. (I suppose I was used to this as a youth, but it had been many years since I had been out on the open road with a bicyle.) As I cleared the town, the situation improved a bit. With fewer cars coming in the opposite direction, those overtaking me had more room to pass. Indeed, once I was outside of town, the road turned out to be not that busy.
The river vistas were beautiful. Although it was overcast, the rain had once again stopped. (I was beginning to hope that I had seen the worst of the rain - maybe it would be a fizzle.). I caught sight of a ship going downriver. We matched speeds for the longest time before she finally moved ahead.
I went rode straight on, through the towns of Saint-Sulpice, Lavaltrie and Lanoraie, before finally stopping for a break at 2:00, not too far before Berthierville. I had come upon a nice stretch of rocky beach, just below the embankment from the highway. I propped my bike and load up against a sign (For I could not lay it down.) and climbed down to the river's edge, where I had a candy bar and an orange juice from my basket. I stood and watched the boats go by, and got into the quiet and peaceful river mood for about 20 minutes. The view upriver seemed to vanish into a haze (the full signifcance of which had not yet dawned on me - but would quite soon.)
As I set out on the road again, heading for Berthierville and the Sorel ferry, it began to rain once more. I put my poncho back on, but the this time the rain would not be soft and gentle as before. It just kept raining harder and harder. I was out in the open fields and had no option but to continue. While the poncho had been okay in the light rain, I was now getting really soaked. The poncho was doing an okay job keeping my shirt and the top of my jeans dry but my feet and shoes were awash, as were my jeans from the knees down. I had neglected to put the hood of the poncho up as my bicycle helmet was keeping my head dry. The problem was that rainwater was dripping down from the neck - very cold water - and was wetting my t-shirt. The pleasant rain of earlier in the day had taken a decidedly nasty and cold turn.
I had ploughed on to Berthierville by 3:00. By this time, the rain had become a true downpour by and I was seeking any shelter. I left the highway and followed the city street into town. I pulled into someone's driveway and sought refuge under a tree, but this proved to be no real help, so I rode on. A little bit further into town I came upon a small, neighbourhood depanneur, where there was a narrow, dry patio, protected by an overhang. I had been hoping to find a cafe, where I could get inside for some more coffee and hot soup, but I had to content myself with the depanneur's patio, as that was all that was going at the time.
I took off my wet t-shirt, wrung it out, and then put it away in a plastic bag for later. It was wet, but not totally soaked and I did not know if I was going to need it again later. Thankfully, I had a dry shirt, which I put on. I took off my completely soaked shoes and socks, wrung out the socks , thankful that they were wool, and then put them back on. Standing there out of the driving rain, in my stocking feet on the dry cement, I already began to feel a bit better.
I waited out the storm for about 5 minutes, until it abated somewhat - though there was still serious rain, which looked like it was going to continue for quite a while. I discovered that the depanneur had no coffee, so I set out again, looking for a coffee shop. Instantly, of course, my shoes, socks, and knees were soaked again. Having learned to keep my poncho hood up this time, at least the top half of me was dry.
|Sorel Ferry Brochure (2002)|
It turned out there was no restuarant in town, despite its respectable size. I had made one desperate loop around the town square before realizing that my only hope of resolving my wet and hungry condition was to get across the river to a city of decent size like Sorel. Foresaking the comforting presence of the town, I headed back out onto the open highway in the rain, bound for the Sorel ferry which was 5 km away. The rain, while it is still a downpour, did not not seem as bad as before. Still, the road to the ferry led out across the windswept and low expanses of the St. Lawrence islands, where there was nothing to shelter me. I had turned across the wind and the rain was hitting me in the face, while cars were throwing up sheets of water as they passed me in the near zero visibility. My wet feet felt okay, but I worried for my cold, wet knees. I learned, then, the reason blue jeans are not good cycling wear. Once cold and wet, they remain so for a very long time. I feared my knees were really going to ache the next day.
When I finally got to the ferry, I had a stroke of luck. There was only about a 10 minute wait before the next departure. This was good, for no shelter was offered. I had to simply stand in the pouring rain, at the head of the car line, until the boat finally tied up and completed unloading.
The ferry left at 3:30. It had only been a little over an hour since the deluge had so totally transformed my day. I was thankful once again of finding some shelter under the small overhead deck of the ferry. The crossing was quick and I did not have much time to admire the river, busily occupied with wringing out my wet socks and putting them on again. It made be feel better.
|Sorel Ferry & North Shore - From River (2002)|
By 4:00 I was in Sorel and comfortably settled in a Mike's restuarant on the road out of town. My sketchy knowledge of Sorel's geography was sufficient for me to climb up from the ferry dock and to find the main highway on the South Shore, Route 132. On its way out of town, Route 132 opened out into a typical suburban boulevard, lined with shopping centres and big box stores. The Mikes Restuarant had seemed a welcome beacon!
I must have been quite a sight walking in, with drenched jeans and shoes and wet hair, my helmet dropped on the table and my wet rain poncho draped over the chair. The waitress seemed unsure as to whether to serve me or not. I order some coffee and hot soup, then I had a pizza. I have not done any serious research into how to eat while touring by bike, but I understood that carbohydrates were needed.
While I was waiting for my food, I used the washroom to change into the dry socks and undershirt which had had the foresight to place in the side saddlebags. I was still deeply troubled by my cold, wet knees for had no dry pants or shorts to put on. These were packed away in inside the bundle. Undoing the bundle would have been far too much work and everything would certainly have gotten soaked in the rain.
By 4:30, I was about done eating and began to reflect on my situation. I had not gone nearly as far on my first day as I had expected. I was not sorry about having chosen that day to start, however, Despite the rain though. Getting soaked was part of the experience! Besides, the solitude of riding on a grey, rainy had been very nice, before the downpour had struck. Reality called for some action, though. It was still raining outside and the sky was beginning to get darker. I wrote at the time:
I see some lightening of the clouds to the west, but it may be illusory. I plan to set out again in the rain at about 5:00, heading east out of Sorel. I hope to find a campground sometime between 6:00 and 8:00. I will need one with a laundry. I only hope that my poor cold, wet knees won't give out on me in the morning.
I set out, then, from Sorel and ended up two and a half hours later at St. François du Lac, where I spent the night
My bike odometer reading was 341 miles. I had only done 11 miles since leaving Sorel at 5:00, in total making 64 miles, or 100 km, on my first day. This was over nine hours of actual cycling time:
I spent the next two days riding along the South Shore to Quebec City & Lévis. I spend the following day riding over to Montmorency Falls and back, before stowing the bike and beginning the Train Ride portion of my trip.
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