Day #10: Green Mountains

After a carbohydrate-filled breakfast of more potato salad, we were on our way south from Plattsburgh, our next destination of the day: Port Kent, NY where we would catch a ferry across Lake Champlain into Vermont.

Our first stop, for second-breakfast came early as we came across a restaurant just on the south side of the city. And so I got a bit more coffee and we both had a bit of French toast. As we ate the owner told us stories of his spending many years living in France where he met his wife. The restaurant made a bit of a nod toward that with a few French dishes on the menu. He also talked about how despite being told by many people that he had to have a liquor license to be successful he was doing very well without it and wanted to remain an alcohol-free establishment.

We got on our way and headed south, along NY Bicycle Route 9. Unlike what we’d been spoiled with in Quebec, this “Bicycle Route” didn’t offer a separated lane for most of what we rode of it, and sadly, sometimes it didn’t even offer a paved shoulder. However here in relatively rural upstate NY, it was relatively light on traffic and we always felt completely safe with drivers giving us ample room as they passed.

A few kilometres further down we took another stop. After a landscape of trees broken up by small villages, a field full of sculptures caught our eye. Always up for a break, we stopped and took a look around.

By the time we finished our exploration of the sculpture garden, it was already beginning to get really hot and muggy. Fortunately, about this time our route took us back into the woods.

The route meandered through the woods for a bit where we started to get our first taste of the hills that we’d be facing for many days to come. We were beginning to work for our ride. Of course, the nice thing about the hills is summed up in the song that Daegan made our mantra for much of our time in New England.

And indeed that was very true as we headed in to Port Kent, New York where we’d find the ferry to Vermont. The hill gave us a nice 60 km/hr (37 mph) descent. We arrived at the ferry with time to spare where we learned that instead of paying the higher price for “two people” or “one person and one cyclist” we paid for “one bike”. Before long the ferry arrived and we were able to board it and got a reprieve from the day’s heat with a bit of the “natural air conditioning” that Lake Champlain provided.

The ferry arrives

Daegan enjoying the break from pedaling

Eventually we arrived in Burlington, Vermont, a city I hadn’t visited since the late 80s just after I went to university there. As it was a good time for a break again, we found our way to a lakeside deli where we picked up sandwiches and fries (more carbs!) and relaxed while we watched the water.

After lunch we headed back on the road, once again heading south, this time along an old rail trail. The heat was beginning to get pretty oppressive and was some of the worst we’d experienced so far. It got a bit worse still when we turned east and lost the breeze from the lake. On the plus side, we ran into another cyclist who saw us looking at the cue sheet for our route. When we told him where we were coming from and where we were headed he offered to lead us part of the way and so we followed him for several kilometres through some of the suburban parks that I suspect would have been as confusing as those in Ottawa were had we been on our own. Eventually we found our way to a suburban wasteland of big box stores and strip malls in the city of Williston, VT. Now not only was there no longer a breeze from the lake, there was the added heat of endless acres of pavement and tons of cars spewing out hot exhaust. It was, you guessed it, time for another break, and as we were firmly entrenched in suburbia, Starbucks presented the best option for that. We stopped in and ordered cold drinks and cooled down a bit before leaving to re-enter the blazing sun.

We headed east yet again, going a couple of kilometres before we found ourselves completely lost in a residential subdivision. The directions didn’t seem to make sense and we rode around a bit trying to find something that matched our cue sheet to no avail. Finally, knowing that we had another 60 or so kilometres to go yet that day I remembered what Sage had said before we left: “You make your own rules. You stop when you want to stop, and ride where you want to ride.” And so we consulted google maps one last time and found a hotel within a few kilometres ride. We backtracked back past the Starbucks and checked in to a hotel where we showered and then basked in air conditioned splendour with bad television for the rest of the afternoon after which we walked up to a chain restaurant for (surprisingly delicious) steak dinners before heading back to the hotel for a well-deserved rest.

Day #9: South of the Border

Relaxing in the courtyard of our host’s home

Even though we’d had a break just two days before in Ottawa, we were happy to relax in Montreal. Dae got to sleep in again, and I got to relax at our host’s home, having a leisurely morning before going out to breakfast where we were to partake on one of my favourite things about being in Quebec, cafe au lait.

Coffee by the bowl, my favourite!

We wandered around Montreal a bit, easily one of my top three favourite cities in North America. We ate lots of good food including fantastic dim sum at a place a friend of mine suggested, lingered over iced coffee, went to the movies again (Prometheus – very entertaining!), and took in some street art.

Visiting the shrine…

Our first night’s dinner was fantastic. We weren’t the only couchsurfers there – there was a woman who was originally from Ontario but now lived in India and was in town for an Acrobatic Yoga workshop, another woman was there from Singapore for a job interview in Montreal, and another woman was there who was originally from Haiti. Several of them had worked together to make a delicious salad, Creole chicken and savoury creole cornmeal pudding that went well with the sauce from the chicken. Dessert was vanilla ice cream with maple sugar and syrup. With such a diverse group around the table the conversations were fascinating.

The next night we went to visit my friend Hélène who I stayed with last summer when riding to Quebec City. Her house was being renovated when we were scheduling our trip and so we ended up staying with someone else. However, after dinner we decided to spend another night in Montreal at Hélène’s house the next night so we got two full days off!

Our last rest day was truly restful with a nice long sleep-in for both of us, followed by a leisurely breakfast at a restaurant a short walk from the house. Dae felt inspired and used the French menu and then ordered his breakfast in French – I think the first time he spoke French to a stranger. After breakfast we packed our bags and headed over to Hélène’s house across the St. Lawrence in Longueuil. Hélène was not yet home so we relaxed a bit with Dae hanging out with her cat, Mimi while I had a lovely nap.

When Hélène got home we all went out for dinner and as it was a work night for Hélène and we were riding the next day, we went to bed early.

The next day we were up bright and early, eating a light first breakfast and coffee before heading out. After several days of going generally east, the time had come to turn due south. After two days of relaxation, getting going again was tough. And to make it a bit more challenging, there was some confusing construction and road closures in Montreal’s inner suburbs. Making it even more difficult, we had a strong headwind for the first time on the trip. But on the positive side, the bike route was, for the most part, a fully separated lane until we were well out of Montreal, just in time to stop about 30 kilometres away for our second breakfast: Italian paninis and smoothies at a lovely cafe. Sadly, it seemed like it took forever to go that little distance – a bit of a discouraging start to the day. Finally, after we cleared Montreal and its suburbs, we picked up a little speed as we got into the country.

Heading into the country

The route between Montreal and the US border was really lovely. There were lots of small farms, big fields, and long stretches of road without traffic. As you might imagine, it could feel a bit weird to be alone in a desolate place like that. Imagine our surprise, then when we came across one of the strangest sights of the trip. On the east side of the road was a house. But instead of the house being on a normal foundation, the bottom of the house was supported by long metal I-Beams (like the structural steel that they make skyscrapers out of): one in the front, and one in the back. And these I-beams were supported on, of all things, stacks of wooden crated, elevating the house so that the bottom of the house was well over 6 feet high. Across the road from it was a dilapidated shack. It appeared to be abandoned and the yard was filled with trash. This was so strange we stopped the bike. As we stood there trying to figure out why an abandoned house would be lifted well off the ground, it occurred to me that a picture might be in order and maybe someone else would know what this was about. I got out the iPhone to take a photo and that’s when I heard the sound of big angry dogs barking from within the shack and heading our way. I shouted to Dae that we had to get going! We pedaled away from there as fast as we could. We never managed to get a photo, or to figure out if anyone lived there or if we’d stumbled across some feral dogs. A few kilometres later we stopped for a shade break.

After our last odd experience, part of me wondered if it was wise to stop here. Seems like we might have walked into a B horror film.

Fortunately, we had not ended up in the next installment of the Night of the Living Dead series and before long it was time for a late lunch. All that was available to us this time was a truckstop/bar but it had a nice porch to eat on and so we sat outside and ate our smoked meat sandwiches and rehydrated ourselves while a group of boisterous motorcyclists sat speaking French peppered liberally with Quebecois curses at a nearby table.

After lunch we ended up back on a lovely bike trail that took us to within a few kilometres of the US border. And a few minutes later our trip became an international one.

Crossing the US border by bicycle is a really pleasant experience. While I find that US border guards to be pretty gruff, traveling on a vehicle with hardly any capacity for smuggling goods, and no capacity for bringing any undeclared people means that there tends to be less hassle. We still had to answer the usual questions of where we were going, whether Dae had permission from his mom (we had a letter from Sage saying he was OK to come with me – a nearly essential practice when crossing the border without both parents), and whether or not we were bringing in any drugs. He asked this question a couple of times, the second time saying “Are you sure? No advil or tylenol even?” Wow, he almost had me there – I had a small bottle of Advil, the same ones I’d taken for my sore wrists a few days earlier. Once we cleared up everything I was bringing in, he sent us on our way.

By the time we left customs it was quite hot. We stopped for a break on the side of the road and a 60something man rolled up on his bike and asked about our journey. He offered us water (we were OK at this point), and let us know that we could stay in his back yard if we wanted to. It was nice of him to offer but unfortunately without a tent we weren’t going to be able to.

We continued onward, closing in on our host’s home in Plattsburgh. With the high temperatures and strong wind, we were consuming much more water than usual. Once again we found ourselves running dangerously low on water. On the positive side, it wasn’t long before we found a convenience store where we could have some snacks, eat some popsicles, and refill our water bottles. Looking back on this trip after the fact, I realize that bringing more water would be a very good idea. 5 bottles for two people was just enough and having extra would have been a very good idea.

Finally, after 115 kilometres (71 miles) and a very long day we found our way to our host’s house. We walked up to the screen door and knocked. No answer. We looked in and the house was something of a disaster – lots of clutter and very dirty. Dae, having his wits about him suggested I check the address. Whoops! We were about 2 blocks away from where we were supposed to be! Good thing nobody came to the door.

Our host met us and had dinner ready for us. He definitely knew his cyclists as well. Not only was there spaghetti ready for dinner, there were side dishes of potato salad and macaroni salad. Carb loading is definitely your friend on a ride like this. We spent the evening talking about our host’s travels and the time he spent in Cambodia – it sounded absolutely fascinating. A quick walk down the street took us to a dairy bar and convenience store where we got some more snacks for the next day’s ride and some ice cream for that night’s dessert.

A good, albeit odd, day. And fortunately, completely zombie-free.

Day #8: Montreal!

After finally falling asleep at 2:00 AM or so, 6:00 AM seemed to arrive really quickly. After having a shower, packing our bags, and having a little snack and a cup of coffee. I was once again human.

Who am I kidding. That was not the case. I was pretty sleepy and overwhelmed even at the idea of only 86 kilometres – 44 kilometres less than what we did the previous day. At 7:45 we bid our host farewell – not without a little regret as unlike the other hosts we met, we never really got to spend any time together.

Today’s ride only took us a few kilometres – not even out of Rigaud, before we stopped for our second breakfast. For me it was more to have more coffee, but it still didn’t stop us from each having a pretty large breakfast.

Good thing cycling burns lots of calories or I might feel bad about a huge breakfast like this!

A bit more caffeinated, we got back on the road, soon heading down toward the Ottawa river which we hadn’t seen since we left Ottawa the previous morning. As we approached the river, the traffic tapered off but the terrain got a bit more hilly and we rolled up and down hills all the way to Hudson Once we got there we waited for the ferry that would take us across the river to Oka. It wasn’t long before it arrived.

Quebec Flag

Once we got across the good cycling really began in earnest. One of my favourite things about riding a bike in Quebec, and in particular in Montreal, is the state of cycling infrastructure. Throughout the province there are many dedicated lanes, well-maintained paths, and relatively courteous drivers. And it definitely paid off. The province has become a very big cycling tourist destination. Not only that, the livability of Montreal and cities like it are much improved as entire families, even those with young children, are able to get around safely by bike. Even on busy downtown streets it was not unusual to see entire families traveling on their bikes with children as young as 6-7 years old on their own bicycles. To me this was the greatest indication of the safety of the streets for cyclists.

A dedicated bike lane, most often physically separated from the road itself and sometimes turning into a dedicated path started the minute we crossed the river and took us another 60 km into the city.

The first half of the ride was still very difficult. Though I did my best to keep to myself, I was tired and grumpy. With only four hours sleep the whole prospect seemed pretty overwhelming. Still, we had a few moments that made me smile. The most surprising was a few kilometres after we got to Oka and started down a dedicated path through a forest. We crested a small hill and there was another oncoming cyclist who had stopped. Ahead of him was a chubby, medium-sized black dog that I assumed was his. The dog was waddling its way toward us as we pedaled toward it. And then I looked again and stopped where we were. This was no dog. This was a porcupine. Sadly, as soon as I had realized what it was and dug out my phone to take a photo, it got startled and headed into the bushes.

The road took us closer in to the city, through suburban neighbourhoods and along the river. At another point, when we were ready for a rest, we stopped at what appeared to be a park on the side of the river. Out in the water was a small cottage on an island. As we sat there, a man left the cottage, hopped on a raft attached to a rope/pulley that ran from the island to the shore where we stood and pulled himself across the river and to the beach before hopping in his truck and heading out.

Many stops were made for food, snacks, and caffeinated beverages. The caffeine didn’t help much, though, and I was still tired and began to question whether doing this trip was a bad idea or not. Fortunately, a rational part of me could see through my attitude enough to know that after a good night’s rest I’d reclaim my usual good mood – much like the one that Dae was maintaining. But fortunately I didn’t have to wait that long. About 30 kilometres before we finished the day we stopped at a park near the water. There we snacked on cinnamon raisin bagels and re-hydrated. As we sat there a little sparrow came over to our feet and cheeped at us. We looked at him and tossed a crumb of bagel. He picked up the crumb, hopped over the bank a little bit near the water’s edge and as he did, you could hear the screams of several baby birds. The bird then hopped his way back to us, cheeped for more food and we gave him another crumb which he brought back to his family again. This happened over and over until eventually they’d had enough. There was something so sweet about this little exchange that after that my mood improved and the rest of the ride was lovely.

Getting closer!

Finally, after 86 kilometres of riding we found our way to the lovely tree-lined street where our next host lived. And even though we’d just come off another rest period just two days before we were set to take another rest. After the previous couple of days’ rides, I was definitely ready for it.

Day 7: Thank You, Google!

Our time in Ottawa was packed with rest and relaxation. I got to sleep late, spent the morning doing a bit of writing and catching up on email and having a few leisurely coffees. Dae, who stayed up late playing Minecraft with our host’s son who was about his age slept even later than I did. Once he woke up, we headed out to have a bit of fun.

Our first stop was a museum that Dae found the previous night searching for things to do in Ottawa. The Diefenbunker is a decommissioned and formerly secret bunker built in the early 60s to be used to house a skeleton Canadian government in the event of a nuclear war

Diefenbunker entrance

Entering the Diefenbunker. Had it been put to actual use, those who went down this passage would stay indoors for up to a month, and resurface to the unthinkable.

The bunker has been repurposed as the Canadian Cold War Museum. For me it was a reminder of a time I had forgotten. While North Americans have what I think is a relatively high degree of fear about any number of things from terrorist attacks to pandemics to peak oil, to me the idea of “Mutually Assured Destruction” scared the living daylights out of me. It was scary to think that we spent so much time certain that we were dangerously close to a war that could have a huge effect on us no matter where on earth it happened.

Dae found it both interesting to learn a bit about the history of the cold war, but also as he is a bit of a fan of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, both reading and writing, he also found it pretty inspiring. Between seeing this and passing a few nuclear power plants along the way he began formulating an alternate history of southern Ontario and at this point has started to build maps in Minecraft complete with in-game radio stations that play music and voiceovers from survivors.

After the Diefenbunker we went out to the movies to see Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter – a delightfully light film – just the right sort of relaxing escape we needed after revisiting memories of a time when I worked with classmates on the Nuclear Freeze Movement and notes went home from school urging parents to prohibit their kids from watching The Day After as it was a bit too intense, and perhaps a bit too real for us at the time.

After a dinner out and a bit more relaxation we went to bed a bit early, our longest scheduled ride ahead of us – close to 121 kilometres (75 miles).

The next morning started with our usual routine of packing our bags, filling our water bottles and having a big breakfast. Today we had chocolate chip pancakes, bacon, coffee, and orange juice. A delicious start with loads of carbohydrates to give us the energy we would need to get through the day. All packed up and with the bike loaded we set off eastward, our first border crossing ahead – this one between Ontario and Quebec.

Leaving Ottawa

Our hosts took this picture of us just before we left for Quebec.

The day was absolutely gorgeous and we rode along the Ottawa river for the first few kilometres before heading out of town, first through some rather desolate suburban industrial parks, and onward into the country. Eventually we found what would be our companion for the next 104 kilometres: the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail.

The trail was another stone-dust trail. Like the Trans-Canada on our previous day’s ride, it was a little slower than a paved trail but perfectly acceptable and with the added bonus that there were no cars allowed on the trail, very few riders, and hardly any road crossings. After a short time we hit our first mileage landmark – 500 kilometres.
500 KM!

Between Ottawa and Rigaud, Quebec, there were very few places to stop. Our first opportunity was in the early afternoon in Bourget. Though we were in Ontario the town felt very much like Quebec with French being spoken in town far more than English from what we could see. We stopped at a pizza place and ordered a pizza to share since they didn’t offer slices and went over to the local grocery store to replenish our snacks.

While we were in Ontario, I tend to associate church spires like this with towns in Quebec.

Fully stocked we returned to pick up and eat our pizza, sitting on the lawn next door to the pizza shop. Once we finished we went back in to the pizza place to refill our water bottles at the tap or in the washroom as we usually do. This time, though, they told us to just take all the bottled water we needed – especially nice as it was all refrigerated.

This was a long day for sure. While our normal days up until now were averaging around 80 kilometres, this was well over that. Still, with no traffic stress, lots of snacks, a bit of music and gorgeous weather we were very happy. Traveling a bit further on we came across a delightful surprise way out in the middle of nowhere:
Fresh raspberries!

Things began to get a bit more challenging as we approached early evening. First we noticed that we were running low on water. We carried 5 bottles and we each had only about half of one left. We were also getting a bit hungry. It had been 100 kilometres since we left Ottawa, and quite some time since our pizza earlier in the day. At the same time the trail was getting a bit more challenging as the surface had a bit more of the fine gravel on it in places than usual. The result was that not only did we have a bit more resistance, but sometimes, when you didn’t expect it, one or both tires would go into a skid and I would have to wrestle the handlebars to make sure that we didn’t fall. Finally, though, we got to the main road leading to Vankleek Hill – the fist reasonably sized town we’d seen since lunch. And so we took a 3 kilometre detour into town to see what options there were. The first option, a grocery store, was just closing as we pulled up. With little water and not much food I found it far more disappointing than it should have been. But we trundled onward, soon finding out why it was called Vankleek Hill. Fortunately, though, at the top of the hill was a family restaurant where we each had a large meal and were treated to tons of water. It took a surprising amount before I was satisfied. Finally, though, about 7:30 PM, we were finished and as we were running late, I sent a quick text to our host for the evening: “Running a bit late, 30 KM or so to go should be there around 9:00” before hitting the trail again.

About 15 kilometres further down the trail in St. Eugene, Ontario, still another 14 kilometres from our host’s house we saw something a little disturbing. A simple sign that read: “Thank you for riding the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail. Trail Ends.” Meanwhile, we still had a good distance to go. And not only that it was getting close to sunset. However, the good news is that across the road from where the trail ended, a trail continued onward – right where Google said it would be. We decided to continue onward. Maybe Ontario’s portion of the trail ended and now that we were entering Quebec the trail would continue under their maintenance.

After about 500 metres we could tell that this wasn’t the case. The trail looked a lot like the Millenium Trail we saw on Day 3. And when we stopped we found that the bugs were similarly distributed there. Looking at our iPhone we saw that there was a main road to get there – it was about 5 kilometres farther but all paved. I opened our bag and got out our lights and we had our next bit of bad news. The taillight had turned itself on sometime in our ride and the batteries were dead. Meanwhile, the headlight worked beautifully but unfortunately as we have several headlights at home with several different brands, I found that I grabbed the wrong light for the mount on my handlebars. We were stuck with the trail for better or for worse.

After a couple more kilometres, the trail worsened and looked less like a recreational trail and more like an old railbed whose only improvements were to remove the ties and rails.

The trail that Google sent us down looks less and less bike-worthy by the metre.

And meanwhile, the sun is getting much lower in the sky.

Despite the difficult situation we were in, the beautiful sunset was not lost on us.

With about 2% left on my iPhone’s battery I sent another text to our host at about 9:00 PM saying that the trail was looking really bad and we were going as fast as we could but weren’t sure when we’d arrive. Before we started again we used a couple of cable ties to attach the headlight to the handlebars so that we could see where we were going. However, we shouldn’t have bothered with the effort. After only a few more metres, the quality of the trail became so poor with all of the loose gravel that we could no longer ride. With about 8 kilometres to go (5 miles) we had to walk the bike, all the while pushing a loaded bike weighing close to 100 lbs through the gravel. After riding over 100 kilometres in the hot sun, after being on the road for 14 hours.

Now you might think that this would be discouraging. Some might think that there would be great complaints from one or both of us, and regrets for our not anticipating this issue in the first place or being so stupid for not having brought usable lights. You might have thought that we’d be a bit scared for what was going to happen next when we heard the pack of coyotes to the west. But instead something else happened. We had a fantastic time.

The night was really clear and we got to see more stars than we’d seen in years. As the mosquitoes circled, I put on bug repellent, and Dae put on a stereotypical televangelist’s voice describing what we needed to do in order to keep the mosquitoes from biting. At some point the televangelist morphed into Captain Kirk who also had lots of silly advice for how to avoid being bitten. (I blame our proximity to William Shatner’s hometown of Montreal for this). Goofy songs were made up, conversations were had between characters of audiobooks that Dae hadn’t listened to in 8 years, and in short despite (or because of) being near exhaustion, we had one of the best days of our trip so far.

Eventually we saw lights of houses ahead. And after a while, the lights got more frequent. Finally, we found ourselves at the road google told us we’d arrive at. And so we turned into town and made our way to our host’s house. Made our way sheepishly, I should say, because it was now 11:30 PM. We were four and a half hours later than we had expected we’d be. And not only were we sheepish, we were exhausted. It had been about 16 hours since we left Ottawa that morning. Our odometer, with the side trips we’d made to get lunch and dinner, now registered 130 kilometres (81 miles) that day. Not only was it a longer ride than any that Dae had done, it was the longest bike ride I’d ever done. We were exhausted, but there was one more bit of bad news ahead: our host had to be out the door by 7:45 AM the next day which meant we also had to be out the door by then giving us about 7 hours before we had to get up and get ready to leave. But like you may have experienced on a long road trip during which you are working very hard to stay awake for several hours, when you actually do get to go to sleep, your mind won’t let you. And so, I lay in bed for easily 2 hours. I think I finally drifted completely off to sleep around 2:00 AM – just under five hours before we’d have to wake up and prepare to ride to Montreal.

Day 6: Canada’s Capitol

Just before bed on our night in Perth, I did a bit of searching about what to do about my sore wrists and rapidly numbing hands. By the end of the that day’s ride, I had lost most feeling in my pinkies and ring fingers, and felt a bit numb on my ring fingers. There were a number of people telling anecdotes about their own bike tours in which their hands got so messed up they were no longer able to even eat with silverware. This was definitely something I needed to address and soon. The answer was simple in theory: lean less on my hands. I resolved to try to do that as we rode.

We left Perth after a quick breakfast and headed east bound for our first rest day. The first few kilometres put us on the Trans-Canada highway, a relatively busy stretch of road. Not the most pleasant of riding with all of the noise and fast-moving traffic, but there was enough of a breakdown lane to keep us feeling pretty safe. And not long after that we turned off onto a series of small farm roads where, once again, we were able to listen to some music (Back to James Brown for a bit today), and relax for a bit.

But not long after we got off the Trans-Canada I realized that simply trying to lean on my hands less wasn’t working. The bike was adjusted such that I couldn’t help but put a lot of weight on my hands. And even if I moved them into different positions, I still was leaning on them a bunch. The answer, I decided, lay in adjusting my bike for a better fit. The first step would be to deal with the handlebars.

Now most people would agree that changing out a major component like one’s handlebars just before a big bike tour is a bad idea. And I wouldn’t disagree with you except to say that in my case, the old ones weren’t working much better for me. And so I went with trekker bars. The bike shop installed them and I did nothing with them until this point. Today, though, I resolved that I would make them work for me. The bars were originally installed with the part closest to me significantly lower than the other side. And so I loosened them and rotated them so the front was much higher – higher, even, than the front part of the bars. I then adjusted the shifters and brakes so that they would line up properly. Finally, for good measure, I slid my seat a bit forward to make it easier for me to put more weight on my bottom and less on my wrists. We then took off and though it took a few more tweaks, the difference was amazing. These bars not only stopped hurting my hands, they were very comfortable. My advice to both myself for future trips and to others going forward is to take your bike fit really seriously. Though I fixed the problem with the bike fit on this day and nothing got any worse, it wasn’t until last week I got all the feeling back in my hands. Fit is important.

Trans-Canada Trail
In Carleton Place we picked up the Trans-Canada Trail, a trail I rode much of as it wandered east of Montreal during last year’s ride. The trail was as good here as it was in Quebec: stone dust – not so deep that it was slippery though it was a bit slower going than a paved trail would be.

The only down side was that much of the land we rode through was wetlands. And while wetlands are beautiful as you can see, they are also breeding grounds for so many different insects, most of whom bite. So despite the heat, we didn’t stop often in this 30 kilometre stretch of road as any time we did, the bugs would swarm and would keep bothering us despite our using bug spray with a large amount of DEET. We found, though, that as long as we were going over 20 km/hr the bugs wouldn’t really bother us. This didn’t mean that they gave up, though. In fact, as we rode, a look at the shadow we cast showed the two of us on the bike, and clouds of insects big enough to show up in shadow following us.

Finally, though, we were approaching Ottawa and ended up in the suburb of Stittsville where we were able to find a couple of sandwiches at a Polish deli. By this time it was quite warm outside and even though the air conditioning in the deli was unable to keep up with the heat, it was still nice to get out of the worst of the heat and drink something cold.

Ottawa was a bit of a challenge to navigate through. There were a number of very good bike trails, but the cue sheet we made from Google’s directions was a bit of a challenge to work with.

73.49 0.04 | Slight right to stay on Promenade Navaho
73.73 0.24 | Turn right onto Navaho Dr
73.76 0.03 | Turn right
73.78 0.01 | Turn left
73.81 0.03 | Turn right
73.83 0.02 | Turn left
73.87 0.03 | Turn right toward Tower Rd
74.27 0.41 | Turn right toward Tower Rd
74.37 0.09 | Turn right toward Tower Rd

As you can see, the specifics, when it comes to bike routes are a bit light. Unless your odometer is perfectly calibrated and you’re watching it like a hawk, it’s really difficult to know exactly where to turn and so we got very lost and relied a bunch on the iPhone’s GPS to find our way. The last 10 kilometres took almost two hours to travel for this reason. And it got even harder when the iPhone battery ran out and we were no longer able to find ourselves with the GPS. We were now completely lost and entrenched in Big Box Suburbia with all of the major streets, horrible traffic, and inconsiderate drivers you would find there. And to make it even more challenging, it was now one of the hottest days in recorded history. We needed help!

Help came in the form of a chain coffee shop with free WiFi. Since also had an iPad with us we got a bunch of directions from google maps from where we had ended up, and then made several screenshots of the map itself. And while we did that we drank lots of iced tea to cool ourselves down and lift our spirits.

And so, with a relatively good idea of where we were going, and no longer overheated and frustrated with the suburban drivers, we took to the streets again and found our way to our friends’ house. Never was a cool shower more appreciated than that day. And there was even better news. Now that we’d reached our first major milestone, Ottawa, Ontario, we were set to have a rest day. No alarms going off for us tomorrow, no pedaling to do, only rest, relaxation, and a bit of laundry to be done.

Day 5: Passing Through Cottage Country

After a quick breakfast of oatmeal, fruit, and nuts, we left our hosts behind and headed further east. Once again we checked out one of Google’s suggested trails, the Cataraqui Trail, and found it to be pretty much impassible with a loaded touring bike. So instead of riding off road, we made our way to Perth, stopping about an hour in to get a second breakfast of eggs, home fries, bacon, coffee, and juice at a cafe in Sydenham. It didn’t take us long to move from the standard three daily meals to 4-5 meals/day and nearly constant snacking.

Eventually we reached the aptly named Perth Road. At the same time, I felt my body beginning to register a complaint. To this day I remember someone in one of the pre- Bike Rally workshops mentioning that what might feel like a minor discomfort for a short ride could turn extremely painful over the course of one or more day’s ride. This came back to me as I sat on the side of Perth Road, digging through the panniers looking for some Advil. My new handlebars, designed to offer many different hand positions for maximum ergonomic pleasure had started to be a problem. My wrists were really beginning to ache, my pinkie and ring fingers on both hands along with one side of my middle fingers were beginning to go numb. With hundreds of kilometres to go this would have to be addressed soon. But for now I resolved to try to switch hand positions more often and hope for the best.

We got on our way and saw some of the most beautiful scenery of the ride so far. While there were very few stores, we’d learned from the previous day and hoarded more food and water in our bags. The terrain began to get more hilly but we didn’t mind that much. After all, ever hill we crested seemed to reward us with views like these:

As it got warmer, we felt more of a need to cool off. While swimming wasn’t permitted at this lake, we found a work-around.

Despite the beauty of the ride, we began to tire of snacks and were ready for a real meal. And by mid-afternoon we found our way to Westport, a town of just over 600 people but somehow still having several restaurants and even a small, but well-stocked supermarket. We stopped for more fish and chips, rapidly becoming the meal of choice for the trip which prompted Daegan to say as we finished lunch: “Powered by fish and chips and Fig Newtons: The Vehicle of the future!”

Filled with a good meal, rested, and with the snack bag restocked, we headed out of town and almost immediately came face to face with an enormous hill: Foley Mountain. I’m glad we didn’t know it was coming as I was likely to have dreaded it all day. The incline started off really steep and we quickly ended up in our lowest gear. But then, maybe 50 metres before the top, the road became even steeper and our speed slowed. And then something I’ve never experienced in my life as a cyclist occurred. Our 1.5″ wide wheel began to spin on pavement. Thus ended our attempt at this hill. We walked it the rest of the way up. This would be the only hill we couldn’t ride all the way up on the entire ride, including far hillier places such as the Green Mountains of Vermont and the mountains of western Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Fortunately, though there were other hills on the rest of the day’s journey, none were anywhere near as challenging and we spent the remainder of the ride to Perth singing along with goofy late-80s hip hop, playing improv games and making up stories together.

Finally, after 86 KM we ended the day at our host’s home in Perth. Our timing was perfect, as we arrived with just enough time to have a shower before heading out to a park where several friends from the community had gathered for a bi-weekly potluck. Dinner was lovely and we had fantastic conversations about permaculture, bike touring, and simple living. When we returned to the house, our host and I sat outside and chatted about current attitudes on parenting, kindness, and the various projects we wanted to do in the future. While we talked, Dae got to have a bit of relaxation in the form of what I think was his first experience with a Playstation. Before bed the two of us played a bit together. So far on the trip, Perth was the first place I really felt at home. It’s a small town not unlike the one I grew up in, but with a large progressive community filled with warm and friendly people. I hope someday to spend more time back there.