Wednesday, 24 October 2007

On the path not taken

I was discussing my proposed trip last weekend with a family friend of about Margo's vintage. One of the friend's brothers was either about to take or was thinking about taking a motorcycle trip that resembled my proposed trip as he was going to Newfoundland from central Quebec. However, he was planning to ride along the North Shore of the St-Lawrence until the road runs out. From there, he was going to take a ferry to Newfoundland.

I must admit I had given it a brief bit of thought, but the logistics of it don't work for me. This northern route has more hills and fewer towns. Too few towns for my liking. It is one thing if you are on a motorcycle to push on for 50 km to reach the next down, but quite another on a bicycle. In addition, I believe the ferry service in question is far less frequent than the North Sydney to Port-aux-Basques run. If memory serves from my initial investigations, the latter service is something like twice a day in high season. I would be surprised if the former was more than once a week. I would spend too much time worrying about timing my arrival to match the ferry.

Addendum Post-Facto
I found the website of the ferry company that serves the Lower North Shore, Relais Nordik. This took some doing, namely looking up the Harrington Harbour website. It was the first village in the area I could think of owing to the fact it was where La grande séduction was shot. There is in fact 1 ferry a week, taking 3 nights to get from Sept-Îles to Blanc-Sablon. Not terribly useful. It also asks that you book your vehicle at least 30 days ahead of sailing and ideally 180 days! I am not sure if this applies to bikes, though it likely doesn't. ;-)

One off-beat option that the Relais Nordik website brings forwards is the possibility to sailing from Rimouski on the South Shore to Sept-Îles and from there to Blanc-Sablon. This could cut about two weeks worth of cycling, but
I wouldn't get to see New Brunswick or Nova Scotia. However, it would add the best part of a week on the ferry. Chances are I would go stir-crazy on the ship.

Monday, 22 October 2007

On timing, accomodations and party expected

The duration of trip will take is very much up in the air for a couple of distinct reasons. The first is the fact that who will go on this trip is still an open question. Obviously, I will be going. However, whether Margo and Chris will be along has significant ramifications. First of all, I think that if I am by my lonesome, I will be making better time for the simple reason that I am younger, bigger (an advantage on the longer haul, but not going downhill! Margo and Chris often passed me on long downhills. See below, I'm in the one in orange) and possibly fitter than they are.

This gives me an "unfair" advantage. We would also be camping which would mean carrying more stuff per person than if I went alone and credit card toured (i.e. stayed in motels and hostels), again meaning a slower pace. Furthermore, if Chris and Margo were along for the ride, we would more likely spend extra time in Québec City than if I were by myself. I have been there many times and don't feel any particular need to sightsee. However, Chris has never, to my knowledge, been there and it would be a seriously missed opportunity if he didn't spend at least a day visiting the place, especially as I would a good person to be his guide as I have two degrees in history.

The other complicating factor is work. The initial estimated distance from Montreal to Deer Lake is approximately 1810 km. If one assumes roughly 100 km per day, this translates into 18 days of cycling, which combined with rest days, ferry crossing, visiting my sister, etc. leads to the idea that one could cram it into 3 weeks vacation time. However, that is a very dense chunk of time with little options for variations. The problem arises from the fact that while I currently enjoy 4 weeks of vacation time per annum, my workplace discourages people from taking their vacations in too large a chunk. They can't actually force us not to take such a long vacation as it is not in the contract, but that point has yet to be tested. Consequently, it remains to be seen if I can weasel the time. I am hoping that I may be able get the longer period by saying I am prepared to coordinate the period with other people's vacations to avoid problems.

This problem may be eased by the fact that my sister has recently left Port-Aux-Basques for Norris Point, in Gros Morne National Park. This locale is roughly 70 km beyond Deer Lake. This in turn means an extra two days of cycling. Strangely enough, the extra required time, makes it easier to demand the full 4 weeks of vacation time in one chunk as there is it would be unreasonable to do the distance in 3 weeks.

However, there is yet another complicating factor in that in the coming year, my union's contract is up for renegotiation and as the local representative, I will be on the negotiating team. I don't know how much time it will take or whether there will be a break for summer vacations or what have you. I do know that I don't know.
One option I have thought of would be break the trip up into two sections. One section, possibly with Margo and Chris, would be from here to about Le Bic. I would then take a bus back to Montreal and at a later date, would take the bus back Le Bic and resume the journey. Depending on how long the gap between legs of the journey, I might even leave my bike with a friend of my brother Philip in Le Bic.

One downside of cycling to Newfoundland compared to Spain, is that window of opportunity is much smaller. I will be likely cycling in high tourist season. I was in Spain in May which seemed to be lowish season. I was also pretty much off the tourist beat, unlike my proposed route through the Maritimes.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Origins of a trip and blog

Origins of the trip

It is hard to say why one does anything, let alone an idea so foolish as cycling significant distances in a region known for bad weather and rough terrain, but I think the seeds of this expedition began on my last expedition, which involved cycling considerable distances in a region known for good weather and rough-ish terrain, namely Spain and, to a lesser extent, Portugal.

Last May, I cycled from Seville (or Sevilla as the locals spell it) to Santiago de Compostela in the company of my aunt Margo and her husband Chris. During our trip, we discussed ideas for other cycle-touring adventures, one of which was to explore parts of Quebec, notably the Gaspé. While Margo is from Montreal, she and Chris live in Vancouver and he has never been to that part of Quebec. I was lukewarm to the idea as the Gaspé is not terribly interesting to me as it suggested a lot of hills.

When I got back to Montreal, I found out that my sister was moving to Newfoundland, specifically, Port-Aux-Basques. This lead me to the idea of flying out to see her and cycling home. A certain amount of research and mediation led me to the decision to invert the order of events and cycle to Newfoundland and fly home. The reasons were that the prevailing winds tend to blow from West to East and that I don't have to worry about my bike being damaged on the plane before I start.

At first this was mostly a mental exercise, but the planning has snowballed. Two things that encouraged it were the Trans-Canada Trail Guide to Newfoundland and the Guide de la Route Verte. While the information in the former can be summarized as forget taking your touring bike on the TCT, the latter describes bike routes from about 4-5 blocks away from here all the way to New Brunswick.

Choice of Route

While I cast a few thoughts about going through the United States, the fact of the matter is, Maine really isn't a great for bicycles. Every time, I cross the border into Maine, I feel I have left "settled" country for the boondocks. Don't get me wrong, Maine is settled, just not very densely compared to the surrounding Canadian regions. Also, if I don't go through the United States, I don't have to bother bringing my passport.

Oddly enough, deciding which route to be take through the four provinces I will be visiting was fairly simple for in three cases. There is only one road that can be taken for most of the distance in Newfoundland. For Quebec and Nova Scotia the decisions depended on the route taken through New Brunswick. Once New Brunswick was decided, the routes to be taken were fairly obvious.

The Route Verte network reaches New Brunswick in two locations. One goes to Edmundston via an old railbed, i.e. very good cycling. (Indeed, my parents raved about it.) The other goes via a lesser cycling route to Campbellton. From either of these two starting points in New Brunswick, three routes suggest themselves. The first is to cycle down the Saint John river from Edmundston to Saint John, N.B. (as opposed to St. John's, Newfoundland) and from there take the ferry to Digby, N.S. From Digby, the route to North Sidney (and the ferry to Newfoundland) is fairly obvious. Alternatively, I could go up the Bay of Fundy and cross into Nova Scotia by land. However, I drove this route a couple of years ago and it didn't strike me as great cycle-touring. So instead, I will go from Campbellton, down the Eastern (or Acadian) coast of New Brunswick.

This route has three distinct advantages. The first is that I have never seen that part of New Brunswick. The second is that it goes through Campbellton, New Brunswick. My maternal grandfather (Margo's father by the way) came from Campbeltown, Scotland and the similar name amuses me. The third reason, is that I now have a decent excuse not to visit a pair of uncles in Berwick, Nova Scotia as said local is too far off the logical route.
(One them decided to retire from teaching history in Ottawa and set himself up as peasant farmer. At one point he was raising veal calves despite not having an established outlet for said veal, and was also letting them get too old to be interesting veal, but not old enough to be proper beef. My uncle neglected to do the market research which would have told him that there wasn't a market for "cuddly calf" veal in Nova Scotia. I understand he is now out of the veal business. The other uncle, an unemployed Roman Catholic priest, decided to join in on the farming venture and moved to Berwick as well. For various reasons, I find them a bit much. They are on my father's side of the family.)

Origins of the blog

I was inspired to write this from reading Margo and Chris' blog, Wanderings. As well, I feel the need to express in writing my thoughts on the planning process. With any luck, I will posting from Cyber cafés from here to Deer Lake. Maybe even beyond.

The name Moose Wanderings, comes from a combination of their blog title and the role of the moose as a symbol of the trip. While in Spain, I put a bull sticker on my bike, as a symbol of Spain. While pondering this proposed trip, I had the silly idea that I should get a moose sticker for this trip as one could argue moose are a symbol of the regions I will be traveling in. I also have Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers' song "Gotta get me moose, b'y" running through my head. It evokes Newfie culture to me. As well, the odyssey the narrator of the song goes through could be seen as similarly quixiotic as the undertaking I am thinking of.