Tuesday, 28 November 2017


real date: 24th July 2017

Flavienne is a superhost.  Not only does she keep plying us with wonderful food, she also takes us out for a meal and a drink at her favourite craft brewery down in the Quartier Funky. And then she invites us to stay as long as we want.  Careful, we warn her, we have been known to take up such generous offers.  As it is, I am trying to negotiate a replacement Thermarest camping mat and seeing if I can find a local shop to help me out.  And there's the blog to start writing.  And we're still trying to meet up with Ruth and Gordon, who have followed us here from Montreal.

if my eyes are closed it must be because I'm savouring the beer

While I start plodding away at this blog with the opening episodes from Europe, Flavienne and Gayle go for a spin on their bikes along the river.  The city has created a riverside park area with a bike path that connects to the coastal road we're going to take when we leave.   I take a trip to MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op), Canada's foremost outdoor equipment and clothing store, with my broken mattress and sob story.  Here's the deal - the manufacturer have offered to replace it but I need to give them an address for somewhere in 2 weeks' time.  So I asked them if I couldn't just swap it at a local supplier.  The problem is I had to write in black pen "Do Not Replace" and then photograph it for the manufacturer, so when I first explain at the customer service desk they seem unimpressed.  Did I buy the mat at MEC? No, I didn't.  Then I'm sorry but...... I bite my lip.  I know I have to get beyond the customer service clerk and to a manager.  Is there any chance they can reconsider?  I understand they are under no obligation, but I'm on the road and I'm desperate.  Bingo.  The clerk goes to speak to his manager, Adreanne, who is very sympathetic and trés sympathétique aussi.  Despite not being able to connect with the manufacturer, she agrees to a swap. First class service from MEC.

the view from the citadel hill
Meanwhile Gayle has connected with Ruth and we finally meet up with our friends.  It's about 10 years since we first and last met them in Turkey, but for some reason they feel like old friends.  They're a real hoot, and we catch up on their ride from Toronto to here and their plans to reach Gordon's ageing aunt and uncle in new Brunswick.  Ruth confesses that she really wants to take us for some traditional Canadian activities.  Would we like to go clubbing? Seal clubbing, she means.  

We're hoping that our friends can assist us.  Ever since we arrived in Canada we've been followed.  All the time in Montreal and even in some of the small towns we passed through on the way to Quebec City a man in a white van has been cruising around, keeping an eye on us.  We don't want to seem paranoid, and we know many countries have clamped down on security since 9/11, but who is this Mr. Purolator guy?  Ruth glances at Gordon.  "Do you think we should tell them?"  She looks concerned.  Gordon hesitates.  They keep mum.  We will never know.....

We end up at Quebec City's (and North America's) oldest surviving grocery store. Gordon and Ruth are thrilled to discover a jar of maple syrup butter.  We sit down outside for a pause and Gayle asks Ruth how they eat it.  In response, she produces a teaspoon. "With this!"  The sweet sticky stuff is soon despatched.  We say our farewells and hope to catch up again on their home turf - way out west - someday soon.

in the Bas Ville

Before we depart Quebec City, Flavienne has one more delight to share with us.  She tells us she has been saving it for some time, as it's something you can't buy in the shops in Quebec.  We are honoured guests as she prepares us a fabulous meal featuring moose steak.  Not only this but she has asked a friend, who owns a cabin at the ski resort village we will pass through tomorrow, if we can stay there for a night.  Her friend has happily agreed and so we are indebted to Flavienne for a wonderful stay in her city and for the next night too!  Elle est incroyable!

a feast

Monday, 27 November 2017

serendipidity #4

real date: 17th August 2017

"Where're ya heading?" The man shouts out of the window of his car.  
"Mexico" I shout back, grinning.  No-one expects this answer.
"Ya kidding?"  He nearly falls out of his car in disbelief, but quickly recovers to shake my hand.  Gayle is pulling into the lay-by as his wife comes over to join us.
"Isn't it beautiful!" Gayle is smiling - probably because the skies are starting to clear and the rain is behind us.  In front of us is a glorious view of the hills surrounding the lake.


Ken and Angela are from Toronto.  Ken tells me he used to cycle until he had a problem with his knee.  He stopped cycling and gained weight.  But last year he discovered e-bikes and now he's cycling again.  They insist on giving us their egg butties.  I want to refuse, we have some lunch, but they insist and Gayle is happy to accept.  They also give us some fruit and, while I'm not looking, Angela slips Gayle a pack of vegetables.  While we're standing there chatting the two lads from Montreal cycle past.  I notice they're wearing Viking helmets.  Gallic humour.

Setting off again along the lake shore we finally begin to climb.  It's a long straight drag up the hill and out of the national park.  We pass some roadworkers at a false summit.  Looking up to the next summit Gayle asks one of them "Is that it?" He grins and nods, yes.   Before we descend down the other side we come to a view point with a couple of picnic benches and pit toilets.  We stop for lunch and gaze across to the southern hills of the park. Over there is the strange geological feature of the park - a plateau of barren rock that has been pushed up out of the earth's crust.  We can't see it.  But we get a great view anyway.

The onward ride is fast for us - a long downhill that throws us out on the main highway at Deer Lake.  It's a service town.  We do some laundry at the Visitor Centre and load up on supplies before heading out along the rail trail that cuts directly east across the middle of the island.  This trail will save us a huge amount of kilometres on the highway and take us close to the highest point in Newfoundland.  Except the trail has been bombed.  Or at least it looks like it has.  It's rocky and pitted and really bad to cycle. Also, there's nowhere to camp.  So we pull off it and find some wasteland on the edge of town to camp.  We decide to take the highway instead.  I'm really dsappointed but in hindsight it turns out to be the right decision.  We later read a cyclist's account of his TransCanadian ride and one day where he rides only 25km, on this very same stretch of rail trail.  He describes it as his worst day in the whole ride.

washing your dirty laundry in public

real date:  25th June 2016

People sometimes tell us how brave we are.  It's not a characteristic I often think of, but it crosses my mind as I walk into the mens' toilets at the service station.  It's Sunday lunchtime and the place is busy with people on the road.  We've had a great ride this morning, with the sun out and a big blue sky and a blustery wind on our backs pushing us southwards. It's been fairly effortless, but now the road turns northwards, back up along the other side of the inlet towards Holmavik.  We think we're due a break.  Inside Gayle catches up on uploading her photos to Flickr while I use the available hot water to wash down all the dirt accumulated on the bikes while we crossed through the highlands.  In one rainy afternoon they got caked in mud and grit.

Now I'm standing at the sinks washing my socks, boxer shorts and a t-shirt.  There's a handy soap dispenser and those Dyson hand dryers that blow the water up your sleeves, no matter how careful you are.  Small boys and old men look at me out of the corner of their eyes as they come to wash their hands.  But I remain unashamed.  I'm out and I'm proud.  I'm cycling.  I'm allowed to do this kind of thing. I'm washing my dirty laundry in public. 

"These sinks are for hand-washing only" - the sign is in English only.  Presumably the locals don't come here to shave or catch up on the laundry.  I'm not being brave.  I'm just having to shake off my natural inhibitions.  My parents didn't bring us up to do this kind of thing.  Mind you, I'm sure my mum'd be happy I'm wearing clean underwear.

another quality stop courtesy of N1 services
We sit outside at a bench to have lunch and meet Alice from England, cycling in the opposite direction.  Tereza and Jakob arrive.  Tereza looks happy to see us but also a bit peaky.  Jakob explains that she's not feeling well.  We're surprised that they've been behind us.  The last time we saw them was before the heavy rain in the highlands.  They tell us how they managed to outrun the rain.  They've since been around one of the peninsulas we've just crossed - and they've had to fight this northerly wind for two days.  Now Tereza just wants to sleep - their hard riding is catching up on her.  We follow them northwards up the coast and wave to Jakob when we pass their cammpsite for the evening.  We push on a bit further and then drop down to a river that has carved out a gorge in the land.  It takes us out of the wind.  Their are nesting birds nearby that get a bit annoyed with us  and the sheep also look a bit disgruntled at our appearance.  Tough - we have some shelter and we're not budging. 

the bridge was long gone

Sunday, 26 November 2017

applied math with Nola and Rick

real date:   6th October 2017

Rick tells us it's about twenty miles to Freeport, up the coast.   But we use kilometres.  We cycle about 14 km an hour on a good day.  

1 mile = 1.6 km  How long will it take us to get to Freeport, without breaks?

The weather forecast is promising. Tomorrow it will be cloudy and around 68°F.  But we don't use Fahrenheit.  We use Centigrade.

To convert Fahrenheit to Centigrade deduct 32, divide by 9 and multiply by 5.
So should we wear shorts and t-shirts when we set off on our bikes?

There is plenty of choice of bread in the supermarket.  But we've noticed that some of the cheap loaves have too much sugar.  A cheap loaf coasts about $2 whereas a good multigrain loaf might cost $4.29.  

$1 = £0.75  (good grief, it was about 80 pence a year ago......)  How much more will we spend, in pence, on a loaf of bread to avoid the overly sweet stuff?

Nola wants to know roughly how much weight all our baggage is on our bikes.  We're not certain - it varies depending on how much food and water we're carrying, but we think it's about 30 kilos.  But in the US they don't use kilos.

1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds  How much weight will I have if we eat the 1 kg of porridge oats and 500 gm of pasta I'm carrying.  Give the answer in pounds for Nola.

When you have completed the math assignment turn over the page and complete the discussion paper "Donald and Me: how will the president change your life?"  Don't forget to include your fully-annotated references.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

a new world

real date: 13th July 2017

Louis-Philippe is making us laugh again.  He has a whole cast of characters in his repertoire but this one is the best.  Zorro the Raccoon.  We have been asking about what we should look out for along the way in Canada.  I am particulary worried about bears.

"Bears?  Oh, you'd be lucky to see a bear.  No, there's a worst pest than bears.  Raccoons!!"  And he goes on to describe their appearance - the tell-tale 'zorro' mask - and how big they can be. And then he sticks his thumb out.
"And this is their critical weapon! An opposable thumb." He mimes opening up a jam jar.  "With an opposable thumb you can open up anything!  And they will.  They'll open up everything!"  Lysanne nods in agreement.  Now, you may think they're exaggerating but I remember asking about the bin lid on the first morning we are at theirs.  The lid has a massive hole ripped into it, from one edge.  What happened?  "That's the squirrels.  They'll eat into anything.  They've eaten the handle off the barbecue.  And they're BIG!"  Louis-Philippe is unaware of my general fear of mammals.  Quietly I am adding 'squirrel' to my list of Ones To Watch Out For.

We spend three nights with our super-helpful Warm Showers hosts.  When we fly into Montreal from Reykjavik it's late afternoon and we have to unwrap and set up the bikes before rolling out of the airport.  Everything goes smoothly and we are soon riding along the fast highway out of the airport.  It's a really rough road - we seem to be in the lane with all the gouges and broken potholes - but, as there are three or four lanes and rush hour has passed, we are not bothered by other traffic.  It's dark by the time we arrive though.  Lysanne and Louis-P invite us in to beer and lasagne and when they find out it's Gayle's birthday they even manage to rustle up a sparkler to put into the dessert.

The city has a huge network of bike paths which makes riding around fairly easy and we enjoy exploring the downtown and old quarter and some of the funkier neighbourhoods.  The Jean Talon market is a blend of deli and gourmet food with organic produce. We are only there for about five minutes when we notice a couple chowing down on a roast chicken.  We have to have one.  Bear in mind that we've just arrived from Iceland where the prospect of eating meat would have meant me unlocking the credit card..... Within a few minutes we are tearing a chicken to pieces with our hands and greedily sucking and gnawing the bones.  It's like one of those cameo scenes in Tampopo.
the joy of fresh produce

We are quickly retrieving some French phrases from our brains.  If we start a conversation, we try to do so in French first.  Then, when the locals hear our shoddy attempts, they respond in English.  Lysanne and Louis-P went to live and work in Quebec City for some years and were quite shocked to discover on their return that the percentage of anglophones had increased.  They estimate it now at about 50%.  They have to use both languages in their jobs.  It seems inevitable for Canada's third largest city.   Now, how do I phrase the question..... Est-ce qu'il y a des raccoons autour d'ici?
merci nos chers amis

Thursday, 26 October 2017

a poor man's dinner

real date: 6th October 2017

"What you should do is forget Canada."  It sounds like a stereotypical American response, but Nola is really only trying to help me get started with the blog again.  I'm stuck in Iceland and complaining about not getting enough time to catch up.  Nola's advice has the ring of a teacher who has dealt with many a student who has got behind with their coursework.  This isn't surprising because she is a math teacher "or maths as you English like to say it!" with many years of experience.  She's counting down the years to retirement (only four more) so that she and her husband Rick can head off to travel the World, or at least the States.
Portland harbour

Rick is a retired fireman and he warmly welcomes us into their home in Portland, Maine.  It's a modest wooden house on a quiet street.  The garage next door is not modest - three storeys in fact - but that, if you'll excuse the pun, is another story.  When Gayle asked Canadians about the States many of them replied that it was similar to Canada but "there is more of everything".  We're amazed at the number of vehicles they have, but as Rick explains, they'll keep a car "until it dies".  So, in addition to their tandem, their normal bikes, recumbent trikes and Harley Davidson, there is also a pick-up, two run-around cars, one of which is an electric hybrid, plus the piece de resistance - a mobile home that really does fit the definition (but not the garage).  This is by no means unusual here, as we discover later.  Rick shows us around the RV which is nicknamed The Bus, for obvious reasons.  He and Nola plan to get plenty of mileage with it when she stops teaching.

They're a lovely couple who engage us in plenty of disparate but interesting conversations and we feel right at home with them.  It's the north American way - everyone is so natural and easy to get along with - that we almost take it for granted now.  Their large garage roof is covered in solar panels and they're able to bank energy credit from the output and help subsidise their neighbour's electricity bill too.

on the waterfront

Portland is a relatively small city and easy to get around.  The late summer heat continues into October and we have a sunny day to explore the downtown and get ourselves tuned in to the USA.  The city's waterfront has a touristy boardwalk with a range of restaurants and the day we're here there's a cruise ship in.  But it all seems quite low-key and relaxed.  

relaxed locals

unleashing the beasts
In the morning Gayle mentions lobster to Rick.  We thought the season had passed (it had in Canada, where there are more limits on lobster fishing), but Rick is eager for us to try it and, despite not liking it himself, he offers to cook some for us.  Nola's pleased, as it's a real treat.  She tells us they never eat it in a restaurant because, apart from the mechanics of eating it, it's usually overpriced.  She is telling us this whilst simultaneously demonstrating and instructing us in the best way to dismantle the creature and extract the flesh.  The four young blackish monsters Rick put, writhing, into the steaming pot, are now bright red and inert.  

Back in the day, lobster was seen as a low-value catch, and eaten ony by those too poor to be able to afford fish.  Ruth and Gordon told us that his ageing relatives in New Brunswick would recount how they were so poor, all they ate was lobster.  And they would plough lobster into the fields to fertilise the soil.  How times change.  The meat is undeniably tasty.

teaching another skill
We are then overindulged by our hosts, who confess to having a chocolate vice. Gayle's is ice-cream, and as they've just stocked up on a deal at the local supermarket, they are able to treat us to a 'tasting session'.  Nola has a connection to Ben & Jerry's as the co-founders started out in her university town in Vermont.  It strikes me as a tenuous link but a marvellous excuse.  We indulge.

After a wonderfiul relaxing start to our journey through America, we are bound to actually start the journey.  Rick and Nola share their knowledge of our proposed route plans, advising us on busy roads and things to look out for.  Their words "Maine is hilly" echoes that of our Quebecois hosts who warned us about the Charlevoix region north of Quebec City.  We have been warned!

serendipidity #3

real date:  8th August 2017

Our shopping ritual is generally always the same: park up at the supermarket, recite the list of items required, one of us goes in and shops, one of us stays outside with the bikes.  It rarely fails, although I have been known to forget the occasional essential item. Ahem.

We make it to Le Havre St.Pierre and finally find the shipping company office where we get our tickets for the supply ship that will take us up the Quebec shoreline to the Labrador border.  The town is not too big and we need a camping spot where we can pack up early for the 6am departure.  Happily, we spy a bit of grass tucked away behind the shipping office.  Everything is going to plan.  Now all we need is food for the boat journey.  It's Gayle's turn to shop.  She comes out after about three hours and tells me she can't find this and she can't decide on that.  So I go in to take some important decision on what kind of bread or which biscuits.  This takes me only two and a half hours, because I am waylaid looking for milk powder, which wasn't on our list in the first place.  

So, after all this time we are finally loading up our bikes in the carpark when a man approaches us.  Where are we from? Where are we heading?  Where are we camping tonight?  He's quick, he's direct.  We fire off the answers.  He responds by explaining that he has some cabins he rents out on the edge of town, but he has a small basic one that is empty tonight - we can have it for free tonight if we'd like?  We say yes, thank you very much.

Daniel with a photo of his grandfather
 Daniel left home when he was 16.  He worked away for years and returned years later to sell the family home on the shoreline and used the money to buy a smaller house and some land.  On this land he's built three luxury cabins for holidaymakers.  He has the air of a successful and benelovent business man. He tells us how lucky he is.  He has had help from others, great deals were struck, all to help realise his business dreams.  We are the beneficiaries of his largesse and we are really grateful - the small cabin is comfy and convenient.  It makes leaving in the morning so much simpler - and we have a nice evening in a room with furniture, rather than just lying in our tent.

After talking non-stop and showing us around for an hour he realises that we are fading fast.  He apologises - a bad habit of talking too much.  Before he departs, all Daniel asks is that we clean up in the morning. Such a nice guy.

the F35 beckons

real date:  22nd June 2017

glorious lupins
The spray from the waterfalls is flying up out of the gorge beneath us before we even see the falls themselves.  The sun is low and there are huge shadows now.  Amazingly there are still several cars in the carpark and a couple of camper vans.  People are heading along the boardwalk and down the steps for a closer look.  An attendant at the paying toilets chats to a friend.  A man is putting up a tent on the edge of the carpark.  The falls are wide and big and there's a roar of falling water into the gulley below.  It's about 11pm and we are still sight-seeing.  And then it's time to camp.  We ride on, not far, but indecision and poor choices mean we backtrack until we finally settle for a ledge below the road.  At midnight we finally lay our heads to rest.

with the spray from Gulfoss falls in the background

In the morning it's raining.  It rains til 3 in the afternoon when we finally emerge and get ready to ride on.  We've caught up on our sleep, and as we only have food for four nights, we want to cover at least a few kilometres.  We're heading into the highlands - the interior of Iceland - along the F35 dirt road that crosses south to north.  It's a gentle beginning - the road is asphalted for further than our map indicates and the climb is very gentle. 

In fact we lose altitude before hitting the dirt and crossing a low river on a bridge and starting to climb steeply.  We push a bit and finally hit the pass just as the clouds start to look threatening again.  Undaunted we c0ontinue down onto a flat plain with surrounding mountains in the distance.  The route is taking us between two of the country's smaller ice fields.  At the bottom of the descent we come to a long bridge over a raging river.  The wind is up now, blowing strongly and we seek shelter behind an emergency hut.  We're cold and it's windy.  Hang on.  Isn't this an emergency?  A moot point - the hut is locked tight.  Undecided, we cook our dinner in the lee of the hut.  While doing this two more cyclists arrive. A Polish couple who look quite cheerful and energised and who plan to reach a place off a side track further on.  We wish them well and eat our tea.  Gayle has her eye on a distant barn.  Another cyclist turns up, but he too has plans to get further along the road.  He's a bit more macho than me, I can tell, not put off by a bit of weather.

All alone once again, Gayle reconnoitres the barn.  It's in a small enclosure but it's open and empty.  As the wind is still gusting and the skies look dark and forbidding we don't hesitate.  Within twenty minutes we have everything inside and the tent set up for the night.  There are signs that another tent has been set up on the dirt floor inside.
the worst view we ever had in Iceland
After a fairly peaceful night, disturbed only by the arrival of a car camper who parks next to the barn, but doesn't come inside, we emerge to another windy day.  We greet the neighbours and then pedal off along the dirt road, wrestling the bikes in a big sidewind.  A few cars pass us slowly.  One parks up ahead and the passengers get out for a walkabout.  As I cycle past I crash into the car.  The wind is so strong that I am having to lean against it.  As soon as the car provides some shelter, I veer straight into it.  It reminds me of the joke about the stupid dog that likes to chase parked cars.

It's a long slow grind because of the wind.  The dirt road itself is not too difficult to ride, but the terrain is difficult to read as it's completely barren and indistinct and it's hard to see where we are heading.  We meet another couple cycling from Switzerland just before we stop for an early lunch in a spot of shelter.  The sun emerges and we start to feel more positive.  Over in the distance we can see one of the ice fields coating the mountains in the east.  We eventually crest the pass and the road ever so gently begins to descend.  By now the wind seems stronger but it is right behind us.  For what seems like an hour we are quite literally blown along a rough washboarded road at a ridiculous speed of over 20 km an hour, without even having to pedal.  All we have to do is avoid the big rocks and keep upright.  It's amazing, thrilling and frightening all in one.

Our reward for this wearying slog are the hotsprings that are about 3 kilometres off the main track.  Here we find the Polish couple Jacob and Tereza already preparing for a good long soak.  The Swiss couple arrive soon after us and look ready to stay a week.  There's camping here, but as jakob points out, why pay for camping here when we can ride 500 metres along the road and camp for free.  Mr. Macho is also here. We all congregate in the steaming outdoor hot pool and the hot waters quickly soothe the aching muscles.  Our cycling colleagues have brought along a taste from home - and the bottles are passed around.  There's a shared feeling of camraderie and entitlement as we look over this hostile landscape and think about the effort required to get here.

Before dark we head off with Tereza and Jacob and find a rock garden to camp in.  It takes a while clearing space for the tents, but it'll do fine.  The wind has dropped.  We can sleep soundly.
big country, big sky
The next day starts well with sunshine and little wind.  We are eager as we know it will be easier today - all downhill isn't it?  It seems so, although the road is sandy in places.  
when we moaned about the wind, Jacob pointed out, it's better than being in the office
We stop at another hut for lunch and then get going into what might be greener country - except it's not.  There are sheep about but we've no idea what they can be eating.  Jakob and Tereza fly off - they're much quicker than us - obviously not carrying a load like ours.  Mr. Macho soon catches up with us and chats to us for a while.
it's difficult to capture the views when the distances are so great, but this sums it up
 And then it rains.  And rains.  And rains.  We have to remind ourselves that what we are doing is just like all the tourists in cars, but slower.  Ha!  The road turns to mud and we can feel the rain penetrating our waterproofs.  It's dismal.  We push on and realise that the rain is actually following us.  It's moving across a vast landscape but almost staying exactly above us, like a cartoon rain cloud.  Finally we reach tarmac.  We're drenched, but now the road drops down into a valley and lookee here, there are trees!  This looks like a great place to camp.  And then the clouds break, the sun emerges, we dry out, pitch our tent and we all live happily ever after........

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

serendipity #7

real date:  26th September 2017

"Excuse me, are you thinking of camping there?"

That woman in the high-viz tabard has come back.  I knew it'd be a problem.  She has already walked past once.  It's typical.  We're on a little short-cut back road, hardly any houses at all, and we spot a clearing with just a chain across the opening.  It looks like an ideal spot to camp after another hot day.  Gayle and I are wandering back and forth looking for a decent pitch but without any luck.  It's rocky and stony ground.  And now here's this woman again - she must be a council worker in that get up.

"Only if you want, we have a lovely spot by the river you can camp on.  It's much nicer than here and it's not that far away."

RJ and Jillian
Jillian is on her evening after-work road walk and tells us that she once saw another cycle tourist camped in a lousy spot on this stretch of road, but as he was already set up for the evening she didn't feel like disturbing him.  We, on the other hand, are all too eager to accept her generous offer.  She describes her house and phones the kids so that they are not surprised when we turn up.  It is as she describes - a lovely spot down by the riverside.  When her husband comes home from work he says hello and invites us up to the house for a drink and we spend the evening in their garden by the fire, chatting about all sorts of things.

what a spot

 The day had begun well.  We enjoyed riding the bike trail to Lunenburg, taking us through a series of pretty bays along the way.  The houses looked like those of wealthy owners - unsurprising as there's a fast highway to Halifax from here.  Lunenburg itself is a pleasant little town kept busy with a steady stream of tourists.  It was a planned colonial settlement by the British who drew up a street plan without setting eyes on the lie of the land.  The town is therefore in a grid formation spread over a very steep hill, overlooking a harbour where boats are still built.  We spent a large part of the day looking around, before heading off to camp along the coast.  And that was when we meet Jillian, who saves us from a rocky bed.

Lunenburg was built for European protestants

how did we resist the fresh cakes??
In the morning she leaves the house open for us so that we can use the bathroom before moving on.  We are also supplied with fresh eggs from their henhouse.  Jillian has told us about the cafe over the river.  From her side we take a chain ferry (free to cyclists) to the southern side.  And there we find LaHave Bakery - a wonderful place in an old Outfitter's Store.  We feel obliged to stop for a mid-morning tea despite only cycling about 800 metres.  The sun is shining and it's another beautiful day - summer just won't go away in a hurry.

grin and bear it

real date:  2nd August 2017

It's early morning, dawn, the sun will soon be up.  Outside, from the woods, I can hear an animal approaching quite fast.  The sound is heavy, four feet?  It stops.  It has seen our tent.  It emits a sound, a puzzled exclamation.  When I try to recreate it later, when telling this story, it sounds like the noise Scooby Doo makes when he's questioning something.  But this is no animation.  This is real.  My heart starts to beat faster but I don't dare move.  What is it???  And then it retreats, back the way it came, into the forest.

I don't want to cook breakfast there, ostensibly because we are close to a house, but with the knowledge that something is in the woods.  So we pack up and stop down the road on a side track.  It starts to rain.  Great.  Gayle is cheery and indefatigable all day but my morning's moment of fear is weighing heavily.  The road from Forestville unsurprisingly continues through the forest.  It is, as always, dense and dark.  It feels claustrophobic, pressing in on us from the sides. It seems every day is like this - the forest pressing in, getting closer, the darkness, the horror.  The horror.

At Baie Comeau, a small town split in half by a headland, we stay with Ken and Marie-Elaine and their children.  I am drawn out from my melodramatic foreboding as they stuff us full of wonderful food and a copious amount of beverages, some of them alcoholic.  Marie-Elaine's sister calls in and then one of her best friends from school, up from the Big Smoke (Montreal) with her policeman boyfriend.  Everyone is francophone but speaks English for our benefit - for which we are most grateful.  Ken is a paramedic and Marie-Elaine a dietician, working in a nearby Innu community.  She tells us the problems that we might already have guessed.  Obesity and related health issues such as diabetes and heart conditions are prevalent due to a taste for sugary drinks and a western diet that does no good.  But, quite frankly, this is not just a problem for the Innu community - it applies to the whole of Canada from what we have seen so far.  There is definitely an awareness of the need to exercise, judging from all those cyclists we saw around Quebec City and Montreal, but awareness doesn't always lead to action, I suppose.

Ken and Marie-Elaine with their young daughter

We have a fun evening with our hosts.  I ask about bears along the route and they all agree - at this time of year with the blueberries ripening, the bears won't pay us much attention.  But what about keeping food in our tent?  Oh no, we should never do that.  I recount the noises I heard this morning and ask what they think I might have heard.  "Rabbit?" Marie-Elaine suggests.  A bloody big one, I think.  She then recalls seeing bears along the road near Forestville.  I wonder, do bears make Scooby Doo noises?

In the morning we say our adieus to our lovely hosts and head off along the coast.  The day is sunny and hot but there are now coastal views as we climb over and around headlands.  It's really stunning and dramatic and a reward from some boring days among the trees.  In the afternoon we find a place where we can get water and then head back inland.  The road skirts a few tucked away lakes and then suddenly climbs steeply.  I get ahead of Gayle and then pause where the road eventually flattens out to get my breath and wait for her to catch up.  There's no traffic at all.  Not a sound.  After a long wait I finally hear Gayle.  But she's whispering and shouting my name at the same time.  "John! John! Look!  A bear!"  As I turn around I see a young black bear ambling out onto the road between us.  I quickly turn my bike around to face it.  In that time the bear has heard Gayle and is also turning around.  It bounds back into the forest from whence it came.  Gayle is enraptured.  I am mortified.  We ride on through the hills.

A while later we stop for a break where there's a clearing beside the road.  Gayle suggests we stop and camp.  I ask her what bears eat.  "Um, berries mostly."  And what are these all around us? "Um, berries, I suppose."  I refuse to stay.  We push on and finaly re-emerge back at the coast in the village of Baie Trinite.  After cooking our tea by the salmon river, we look about for a spot to camp.  There's a fish processing plant by the beach, and it looks like there's cover behind it, within hearing of the waves.  A sign says "Prive"  We roll beyond it and quickly push into the grass and dunes to find a nice spot, miles from any bears.  As we nod off, Gayle is still enthralled by the beautiful beast she has finally caught sight of.
at least, I think we were miles from any bears...

Why didn't you get a photo of it, I ask her.  "It was either warn you or take a photo", she replies, not hiding the hint of regret in her voice.

we need to talk about Donald

real date: 20th October 2017

"We can't talk about it to them anymore"

Gayle is quite shocked to discover that when she asks the folk we are staying with about their president and whether they know anyone who voted for him, the answer has invariably been yes.  As to the whys and wherefores, well, there seem to be lots of reasons.

But the striking aspect of the current political situation here is that people feel they can't talk about the subject to Trump supporters.  "They won't listen" or "They won't admit he's an idiot". If there's no dialogue, then there's no reasoning.  It bodes ill for the future.  And what seems to disturb most people about Trump, aside from the abhorrent possibility of a nuclear war with another country, is the effect his style of leadership has had on the US itself.  They worry that his bullying, nasty, brutish, mean outbursts have given voice to a previously silent minority who now feel emboldened to say and act in a similar way.  He's given voice to the racists and reactionaries.  

Kelly, one of our Warm Showers hosts, tells us that now, when someone in a car does something stupid on the road, she automatically thinks: Trump supporter.

We've seen only one pro-Trump sign whilst cycling in New England these past two weeks.  But there are plenty of "rednecks" knocking about the backroads in their pickups.  In one town I was cut up by a pickup that had overtaken me.  It got stuck at lights and as I rolled up on the inside of the lane I looked in the window at the driver as I passed.  He had a beard.  I wasn't thinking Hipster.  He had denim overalls.  I was thinking Hillbilly.  Gayle followed behind and heard him say "What're you looking at?"  What's he going to do, I wondered when she told me this, shoot me?

Another time, another place.  We are on a bike trail and an older couple stop to chat to us, ask us where we're going.  Mexico, we say.  The man is interested in our route.  We start to explain that we want to go down the eastern seaboard, through North Carolina and on to Cuba first.  The wife interrupts. "You want to be careful there, they'll lock you up and throw away the keys." In North Carolina? "Do you mean Cuba?" Gayle asks. They don't lock British tourists up in Cuba, I assure her. "They must be Americans then" she harrumphs. Or do you mean Guantanamo? I ask.  "Well, they all deserve to be locked up, they do" she shoots back.  If that's so, why didn't any of them get a trial? I ask.  "Have a safe trip" she hisses back, before striding away.  Her husband is still standing there, mute, stunned by what has just happened.  We are shocked and angry too.  What was just a normal pleasant conversation between strangers has just exploded into an angry exchange, because of one stupid thing said.  We shrug.  Trump supporter, is all we think.

a load of baloney

real date: 21st July 2017

Flavienne is cooking up a huge pan of something as we sip beers from her fridge.  She's telling us about her recent cycling trip to the States and then we move on to why she prefers living in Canada to France.  She's not the first Frenchwoman to decry the machismo of french society and women's position in it, and she certainly looks very happy here in Quebec City where she works at the university.  We ask about her doctorate.  She studies plankton.  Yep, plankton.  I begin to wander what is in the pan on the stove.

It turns out that plankton produce over 60% of the world's oxygen and that climate change might have a serious impact on this.  Flavienne's work involves lengthy Arctic visits on a research vessel.  In her spare time she dabbles in music and cyles a lot.  Quite proudly, and rightly so, she tells us that she cycles to work throughout the year, even in the winter.  We ponder this, having just descended a huge hill to reach her appartment in the Bas-Ville - the old worker's quarter beside the river.  
Quebec City's Bas Ville

The neighbourhood has the feel of a French city - more so than the grander and impressive downtown old quarter which has all the large stone classical buildings from the French colonial era.  Her neighbourhood is becoming trendy, but hasn't lost it's authentic rough edges.  The local park puts on an outdoor film one evening a week and lots of street furniture has been set up for people to hang out in the open spaces.  The streets themselves are narrow and lined with three-storey town houses, mostly split up into appartments like Flavienne's.  It feels like a pocket of Europe sewn into the North American quilt.

We sit down to eat the pasta that Flavienne has rustled up for us.  There's some unidentifiable meat in the sauce, unnaturally pink.  In my politest way, I ask what it is. "Baloney", she replies.  Aha!  And they say that French cuisine is better than English, eh?  But Flavienne is an experienced cyclist and she has wisely reasoned that we'll be ravenous.  We eat the lot and go back for seconds, scraping the pan clean.