Thursday, 6 August 2020

On steel and getting home

The winds were calmer and more indirect today, which was good as yesterday proved to have consequences. I set off from Sorel, over a lift bridge to its sister city, Tracy. I was following the 132 rather than the Route Verte and was rewarded by the sight of a Rio Tinto steel and titanium mill, emphasis on the steel. It wasn't terribly pretty, but it was interesting to me. I have a certain fascination with industry.

All this stuff we have comes from countless processes and origins. To give just one germane example, as mechanical engineering drop-out, I remember being amazed at the almost magical way iron and carbon come together to make steel, or rather steels as by small variations in the ratios and certain additives, there seems to be no limit on what characteristics you can coax from steel, except possibly light. ;-) And as an added bonus, I gather iron and its derivatives are among the most recycled materials. It also had the bonus of seeing a new to me variety of railway gondola car which looked particularly stocky and sturdy as if they were used to transport very heavy materials such as iron ore. The nearby autoroute, number 30, has the name "Autoroute de l'acier" as the area was and is a relative hotspot for the steel industry in Québec. I was to pass at least one other steel mill, this one having a conveyor belt system to carry ore (or possibly other bulk materials) over the 132 from the shore of the St-Lawrence.

The weather was sunny and cool and I felt I made decent time. I stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Varennes. While I was eating, another cycle tourist came it and asked for a table from which he could keep an eye on his bike. This proved to be the table next to mine and I could see that he had brought 4 water bottles in with him. (I later saw his "whee" bike with attached monowheel trailer: two bottles in the classic positions and two attached to seatpost.) We chatted a bit, though I fear I didn't give him enough props when he said he had started in Vaudreuil that morning as I couldn't recall exactly where Vaudreuil was. (I later found out that it is just off the West end of Montreal Island, meaning that he had already ridden approximately 80 kms that day.)

I attribute this mental fog to fatigue as even after lunch I found that I was relatively sluggish. Thankfully, Varennes was the beginning of the end with a nice, well-used bike path besides the Saint-Lawrence.

Google maps had suggested that the best way across the River was to use the Jacques-Cartier Bridge to get to Île Sainte-Hélène, then take the Pont de la Concorde. However, the Cartier Bridge is not familliar to me by bike. From taking the bus out to the Townships, I know that it's approach from the South Shore involves many twists and turns the logic of which appears oppaque. Not something to be approached lightly. The Bridge also involves a considerable amount of climbing and indeed, it was the sight of it high above my level that proved the clincher. I took the the longer but easier option of crossing the Seaway at the St-Lambert locks, riding along part of the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve to Île Sainte-Hélène, then taking the Pont de la Concorde. Then it was very easy to get home. I rode along a portion of Notre-Dame street that had gone from two-way to one-way to two-way in my absence.

It was less easy to haul Leonardo up the stairs to my flat as my left knee started to complain.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

On fears realized and the colour red

I had been afraid what happened today would occur ever since leaving Montreal: having to pedal back into a stiff prevailing wind. It was blowing at least 30 km/h with gusts up to 50 mostly directly in front of me as I rode through mostly open farm country. The only real exception came at the very end of the day when there was about 10k of closely wooded bike path which was also slightly off the eye of the wind.

In addition, a few hundred meters from my motel in Gentilly, the road had been dug up from side to side in order to install a culvert. This explained why I had been able to sleep with the window open the night before. I portaged across the gap making two trips. I was not out of the woods as some kilometres later, I had to make another portage. As I was reattaching my bags, a female cycle tourist going the other way rolled up. She asked me how I got across. I explained how I jumped the ditch and warned her about the other location. She had a number of bags on the back of her Norco which looked like more trouble to take on and off than mine.

My route took me across two Abenaki Reserves. I felt a trifle worried about the fact that I happened to have worn a red jersey today. Perceived symbolism and all that. Of course, it was a bright red jersey, the colour chosen for visibility and my liking of bright red. Of course, much of me is now red having skimped on the sunscreen.

Home tomorrow and lesser winds forecast.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

On being somewhere that doesn’t quite exist

“Ils sont de Québec,” the woman who had been walking her bike across the Pont du Québec behind me. Like me, she had donned a mask as per regulations. The cyclists she was referring to had not. As well, they had been riding their road bikes on the bike and pedestrian portion of the world’s longest cantilever span. The path is less than two meters wide, being very much an afterthought to rail and car traffic. Consequently, one is supposed to walk one’s bike across, and, because of Covid-19, do so wearing a mask. I had no idea where she was from, but she attributed their stupidity to their being from Quebec City. 

I had bid adieu to the others a half hour earlier this morning, my social bubble reduced to me, myself and I. Someone had sent a witty observation to Mummy the evening before which seemed à propos: “It started as a virus, but it has mutated into an intelligence test.”

I headed East on Route Verte 3 with the Saint-Lawrence sometimes visible on my right. The winds were blessedly either non-existent or favourable. The skies were generally cloudy as befitting the forecast. There were warnings about rainfall resulting from tropical storm I-something. However, I got a lot of kilometres done before it began to sprinkle lightly. I eventually pulled on my rain jacket, but it only began to pour when I pulled in for lunch, 70 kilometres under my belt, roughly two thirds of the way to Gentilly.

I had chosen Gentilly as my first night for two reasons. The first was that it was a reasonable day’s ride from Quebec City and had a place to stay as well as an obvious place to eat supper. The second reason, and a quite trivial one, was that since high school I had been aware that the province’s only nuclear power plant was Gentilly-2, now somewhere in the process of decommissioning. 

However, there is something a bit weird about the place as despite being a substantial agglomeration (more so than many of the villages I have been through) it doesn’t really exist politically, having been merged with Bécancour, likely back around 2002 or so. One testament to this is that I am spending the night in the Motel Bécancour. Riding along in the rain, I saw no signs saying “Gentilly X km” or even “Gentilly (Bécancour ) X km”.  I can’t help wondering if because of the association of the word “Gentilly” with nuclear power, that the bureaucrats in Bécancour have decided to make Gentilly an non-place.

Even if it doesn’t quite exist, I am there. I also reasonably dry.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

On getting to Quebec City and what was done there

I was correct about the B and B having been built in the time of Nouvelle-France. The building dated from approximately 1660. Breakfast involved a dish apparently called a Dutch baby akin to a large Yorkshire pudding with huloumi cheese and strawberries. 

LeLoup, the owners’ Bernese mountain dog, looked on through a glass door. Désirée and Dominique spent a certain amount of time with him, even taking him for walk. This was good as Désirée has expressed a desire for a dog of that breed. Her parents had been having trouble explaining to her the concept that the breed was too much dog. The friendly but insufficiently trained LeLoup helped illustrate the issue to my niece.

We set off on a side road down by the river then climbed slightly to a road which had been the Main Street of Neuville before the advent of Highway 138. There we paused to admire a church which had become the local library. Unfortunately, some of us had longer to admire it and mural than we might of wished as Pappy had a flat tire, cause undetermined. 

It being a sunny Saturday, there were a great many spandex cyclists on “whee” bikes out of Quebec City. It amazed Dominique to see some of them stop at a dep to buy a Coke and a Jos Louis. I wasn’t brave enough to tell her that I sometimes did the same.

There had been the idea that the modus operandi of the day would be to go from farm stand to local bakery in order the stretch the day out. There were two flaws in this plan. The first was that so near to a city, such stands grow fewer in number. The next was that the Route Verte/Chemin du Roi left highway 138 relatively early placing us on a nice back road which definitely didn’t have enough traffic to support road side stands.

We stopped at small to walk down to the River, then we were faced with a steep climb which everyone walked up. 

We rode through some neighbourhoods populated by people with more money than architectural taste. One house was an exercise in fairytale medieval turrets and towers. 

We arrived at Cap-Rouge where we found lunch in the form of a basic casse-croute, the better sit-down restaurant next door being too much trouble for the APU, i.e. he would have to wait in a mask for a minute to be seated. This brought me into conflict with his Nibs and an uptight woman who thought I was too close to her as I tried to park my bike. We were under a high iron railway trestle which Désirée thought ugly but which struck others as soaring.

After lunch, we had a long hill to face. Dominique and your correspondent made it up without pushing. We rode on until the Plains of Abraham and the Musée des Beaux Arts (as opposed to the Musée des Laids Arts) where we hung a left and soon found our air B and B.

It is a trifle eccentric, with two floors, street level and below with both bathrooms on the lower level. We settled in, showered and waited for Fil to arrive with the car and sundry items including food, notably supper. 

This morning Dominique and I went to a nearby laundromat cum bubble tea joint in order to do our laundry. The bubble tea part of the operation didn’t open until noon. Afterwards, I cleaned Leonardo’schain.

I then set off to my cousin Marianne’s house. Luckily, she was there and very willing to play hostess to a cousin arriving out of the blue. We chatted, me in her pool. Her sons,Liam and Nathan, arrived back from having taken the new puppy for a walk. “Toffee” is the pup’s name, chosen as an amalgam of “tough” and “happy” and as a reference to the light brown in his white and brown coat. They have had him for two weeks. It was fun to see a Brittany Spaniel again (Granny and Gandpa having had them). It was also a little sobering though as the last (and indeed only) Brittany Spaniel puppy I remember was Meg. She was born the same summer as my sister! Toffee is still a young puppy learning and playing. He was chosen for his boldness and sociability from his litter mates.

Afterwards, I visited the Plains of Abraham Museum which covered not only the Battle and related topics but also the history of the Abraham Battlefield Park. I was surprised to learn how recent (1908) the decision to make the park was and just how long it took to finish it (something like fifty years). Among the buildings demolished to make way for the park was Canada’s first observatory and the Ross armaments factory. The latter was an obvious thing to remove given the infamous reputation of the Ross rifle.

I proceeded to the Old Upper Town. I was thinking about lunch and was consulting my guidebook as to where it began to pour. Nuts to the guidebook, let’s go indoors. Thankfully, it proved decent enough. It had a large screen TV tuned to the CBC which was broadcasting King Lear. The sound was off but there were subtitles in English. After lunch, the rain subsided long enough to lure me down the the Quebec naval museum which was closed on account of Covid-19. In the process, I discovered my rear brake wasn’t up to scratch. I tried adjusting it with little success. A Google search of open bike shops led me on a wild goose chase to the Lower City and away from where I should have gone at the word “go”, viz MEC. Unfortunately, the latter is no longer where it was the last time I was in Quebec City, very close to where I was, and instead is now well removed from downtown. I set off in the thickening rain before noticing that it was getting a bit late for a visit to MEC on a Sunday afternoon. So tomorrow, I will go there after the Frida Kahlo exposition.

When I got back to the air B and B and drying off, Mummy informed me that Désirée had visited a number of book stores and that at one used bookstore, she had been so frustrated at the lack of organization in the children’s section that she had reorganized it herself. The owner gave her a book in gratitude. She’s got librarian in her genes. ;-)

Friday, 31 July 2020

On a short, slow day

After three vaguely long days and the fact there wasn’t an obvious alternative, I opted to bike with the rest of the group. I wish I had been more involved with the planning as I was concerned about Désirée who seemed both tired and a bit bored. This trip features a fair number of quaint villages and historic churches, but I don’t think is what you are really interested in when you are 12. Furthermore, there hadn’t been enough stops (as in any) for ice cream the day before. I had gone through several tourism pamphlets where I had found a salmon migration observatory which I believed would interest her. Regrettably, I only discovered it was closed after going down a long hill. 

It was a short slow day. Humid and warm, but not hot. Climbing up out of Cap Santé, there was a sign forbidding “soufflage” or blowing. I took a photo and mock umbrage at the municipality for such a silly sign. What do did they expect cyclists to do going up the hill, hold their breath?! ;-)

In fact the sign was aimed at snow clearance vehicle drivers warning them not to blow snow off the road and onto the roofs of the houses below. I am still entitled to take mock umbrage.

Unless I am very much mistaken, tonight’s B and B was built in the days of Nouvelle-France. Unfortunately, this means beams at treacherous heights.

We are getting uncomfortably close to Quebec City. We have already passed one municipality which was definitely a suburb and several that likely are. The types of shops aren’t quite the rural ones desired by some in the party and the only ice cream place I saw today was at the wrong time for Désirée.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

On some surprising luck and humour

By some improbable luck, both yesterday and today saw me arriving at nearly the same time as the others at our bed and breakfasts, despite different routes and yesterday, conveyances. Today, I arrive at the Auberge le Chemin du Roi something like a fifteen or twenty minutes after Mummy, Pappy, Dominique and Désirée, having taken a significantly longer and more arduous route from Trois-Rivières. The previous day, I arrived at the B and B about three minutes before they arrived from North Hatley by car along with Fil. You cannot plan on such timing.

Yesterday, after a brief visit to the Gilles-Villeneuve Museum, I rolled out of Berthierville, stopping to visit the Chapelle Cuthbert, billed as the oldest Protestant place of worship in Quebec, having been consecrated in 1786, if I recall correctly. This claim strikes me as a bit dubious as surely there would have other Protestant churches built in Montreal or Quebec City before then! Especially given that one of the “intolerable” acts that led to the American Revolution was the toleration of Catholics which implies that being Protestant in was acceptable. It was also interesting that the chapel was in fact a Presbyterian place of worship dedicated to Saint-Andrew. The name Cuthbert was attached to as the family who built it were the Cuthberts.

That was about it as far as interesting things until Trois-Rivières. The countryside was agricultural Quebec, dotted with farms and rural garages. I did notice a truck delivering Radnor spring water decorated with a scene of misty mountains.

Getting close to downtown, I was faced with a triple railway crossing. I wondered to myself if all three were actually used. When I crossed them, I saw that they led directly into a paper mill and all three bays had lumber cars in them! I appreciate well-used railways.

At the B and B, it was strange as it was the first time I had seen that part of the family since January. Funnily enough, it was Fil who looked the strangest to me as he had shaved his beard a few days earlier and was now at the stubble stage. We went the Borealis Museum which was largely concerned with paper making and log driving. Both of these activities were important to the City. The videos about log driving suffered from a disconnect as there were many scenes of manly log driving shot in the fifties and some modern interviews with log drivers who were put out of work when log driving came to an end in 1995. There was too much “pastoral” nonsense about how happy the men were to be outdoors (in all weathers) and what nonsense it was to stop the log drives because it was bad for the environment and prevented yachts from safely using the rivers. There was no rebuttal to this. Nor did they show of how log drives had worked in the 1990s, as if they were the same as in the 1950s, I would be extraordinarily surprised.

We had tapas for supper overlooking the Saint-Lawrence. Then Fil drove back to North Hatley.

We set off together this morning. I soon left the party in order to track down a bicycle bell, having managed to forget to reinstall one before leaving. I then left the Greater Trois-Rivières area on a bike path which took on a road through a suburban development whose streets had been laid by some with a wicked sense of humour. I was climbing a hill when what appeared to be a single street crossed the road I was on. “Appeared” being the operative word. One the right hand side, the street was Place Pierre-Eliott-Trudeau, on the left, Place René-Lévesque!!!

I eventually left the suburbs behind and rolled along a flat country road with farms, fields and woods on either side. Then, I came to a sign for the Radnor bottle plant which bore no ressemblance to the advertising image!

My target was the Batiscan River Park. I had worked out it would make an interesting diversion from the 138 as well as being a challenge. It wasn’t quite as interesting as I thought, as I only saw a couple of rapids. However, it was a nice change and challenge to ride. While I was in the park, it sprinkled a bit. In addition, I heard some thunder and saw a lightning bolt, but that was it. However, the others only a few kms to the South took refuge from a deluge in the church they had been visiting. Luckily for them, Désirée had wanted to visit the crypt which meant that they were inside when it started to pour.

As I approached the Saint-Lawrence on the shore of the Batiscan River, I was surprised by the layout of a train bridge as the middle section had been built with a pivot to allow fairly tall ships to go up river. I suspect they were “goélettes”, the late form of merchant “schooners” far removed from the Bluenose and closer to the St-Roch

Nearing Ste-Anne-de-la-Pérode, I noticed the Chenil du Chasseur. This was of interest as my cousin Marianne, who lives in Quebec City, had recently bought a Brittany Spaniel there! I am hoping I will get to see Marianne and her gang (including the Brittany Spaniel).

After a raspberry milkshake, it was a good mostly flat ride to the Auberge where Désirée spotted me rolling up the driveway.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

On my troubled mind

For various reasons, I don’t think I am in very good shape both physically and mentally. The ramifications of social distancing have meant I don’t get the physical exercise and social contact work provided directly or indirectly. My personal demons and wretchedly hot and humid weather meant that I haven’t been riding any great distances this year before today.

This combined with Via Rail’s policy of requiring masks on trains led me to decide against biking to the Saguenay and taking the train back to Montreal. 9 or 11 hours of wearing a mask in a row doesn’t appeal. So instead, I will return from Quebec City on the South Shore by bike.

I set off this morning a little after 8 or so. I’d explored the route beforehand, so I had no trouble get to the bridge to Repentigny. 

I had to lift Leonardo over a curb just behind two younger women doing the same. They were on  “whee” bikes lightly loaded with one or two panniers. One of them asked me where I had started. I admitted Montreal. They had also started today and like me were headed to Quebec City. Unlike me, their destination for the day was Trois-Rivières. That was about 60 kms further than Berthierville where I planned to spend the night. 

While they were on lighter and likely faster bikes, they were much more ambitious than me. This was a drop of acid on my mind.

It also may have affected my judgement in Repentigny. The Route Verte number 5 crosses the municipality using bike paths designed for getting around the neighbourhoods rather than for getting to Quebec City. I could tell this from the map. I also knew that such bike paths are not to be trusted on account of indifferent signage. I also knew that the fast way was to get on highway 138 and ignore the Route Verte. For various reasons that did not stand up to scrutiny, I chose to follow the Route Verte and consequently got lost at least three times. Given my good geographical sense, this was a serious blow to my ego. 

The day was hot and humid with a generally cooperative tailwind. While the wind was appreciated, it did raise my worries about getting back to Montreal with it in my face. The heat and humidity were draining. Together with an unwise choice of lunch, I found myself stopping repeatedly for something cold to drink. One planned stop was at a winery to sample their wares. 

I made Berthierville by mid-afternoon. I was very happy to discover an ice cream place offering soft serve raspberry sherbet. That went down a treat.

Berthierville’s most famous son was Gilles Villeneuve. I had seen signs for a museum in his honour. However, when I checked into my lodgings for the night I discovered I had ridden right past it without noticing it. I later took a closer look and it’s lot is dominated by a U-Haul dealership! As I got a free entry coupon with my room, I might well take a quick visit tomorrow morning.

Mileage for the day was a shade over a 100 kilometres.