This post will cover the trip from Brockville to our current location in La Patrie, Quebec, including our wonderful time in Montreal.
We are now just about 200 miles – four cycling days and one layover day – from our destination of the Atlantic Ocean. We will be arriving at Bar Harbor, Maine on August 28. Our current locale, La Patrie, is in eastern Quebec, very near the US border. From our campsite, we can see the mountains of New Hampshire. Maine is around 30 miles away. All of this makes the end of this adventure feel very near – I’m not ready for this astonishing trip to end.
After our layover day in Brockville, Ontario, but before leaving town, we took a 90-minute boat cruise into the Thousand Island area of the St. Lawrence River. There are actually over 1800 islands over a 50 mile stretch of river, most big enough only for a house and a dock.
In the current full glory of summer, these islands are very bucolic. When the river freezes over and the winter hits Ontario, they would be less hospitable. The cruise also gave us a look back at the town of Brockville, and a glimpse of some of the historic (and recent) mansions that dot the shoreline.
After our cruise, we met our friend Tom Lockwood who lives in New Hampshire, at the Brockville train station. We cycled that day to a campground near the Upper Canada Village. That night featured one of the strongest rainstorms we’ve had on the trip, and our campground was saturated with water. Tom pitched our guest tent on high ground and avoided the flood.
We were warm and dry in our trailer – convincing us once again of how wise we were to have bought it for the trip.The nightly war with the mosquitoes and no-see-ems is another big plus of having a trailer – if we had only a tent, our 2-month long struggle with flying parasites would have driven us totally crazy, compared to the half-crazed state these bugs put us in.
This recreated village uses only lumber milled onsite, from a sawmill that has been operating continuously for 171 years.
One of the main buildings, the Willard Hotel, was owned from right after WW II until the early 1950’s by Tom’s grandmother and her husband.Tom had sent us some photos of the building when his grandmother was running it as a vacation site, including several photos of Tom himself as an infant. It was remarkable to share the moment of Tom reconnecting to such a wonderful memory.
The cycling that day also included some very nice views of the river. That night, we camped in the province of Quebec, around 40 miles west of Montreal. The following morning, we rode with Tom back to his car, which was parked at a train station near Montreal’s main airport. The route was beautiful, following some canals and beautiful riverfront communities. Quebec has invested a lot in making the province bike-friendly, a welcome change from most of Ontario, where the positive cycling experience is in spite of the poor cycling infrastructure.
– and into Montreal, to the home of a friend of Bay Area friends of ours, Yana and Jason. These Montreal folks, Agathe and Michel, have made us absolutely welcome and comfortable in their beautiful home in the Villeray section of the city. Miraculously, their home is one of the few with a driveway, let alone a driveway that can accommodate our van and trailer. We enjoyed sleeping in a home for only the third and fourth night of our entire trip.Agathe’s work has a career arc that is parallel to Wendy’s in the field of mobility for people with blindness and low vision, providing direct instruction as well as teaching teachers in the university program. She and Michel are avid cyclists and veteran cycle tourists – their bike fleet numbers seven. They will be riding from Vancouver, BC, to San Francisco starting on September 1. We look forward to welcoming these wonderful new friends at our house in San Francisco at the end of September.
On Sunday, after a delicious breakfast with Agathe and Michel, we took Wendy’s bike to a shop to complete the repair that had begun in Brockville. The guys in the bike shop were terrific, and the repair was done in 25 minutes. We spent the rest of the day cycling around this fabulous city, covering around 20 miles. I used bikes from Montreal’s excellent Bixi bike share program.Montreal rivals Minneapolis as a bike friendly city with miles of bike lanes. Late in the afternoon we happened on Montreal’s Pride celebration, which was festive and full of good energy.
On Monday, we walked with Agathe and Michel to Marche Jean Talon, a remarkable, huge year round farmers market located in their neighborhood. After a delicious lunch back at their home, we all enjoyed viewing the partial solar eclipse (53% occlusion in Montreal) using a homemade pinhole viewing box. After that, Michel kindly escorted me by bike through the city onto the bridge leading out of town,and I cycled the 23 miles to a campground that put us in position for our final week of riding to Bar Harbor. Wendy worked on SFSU prep (she’s still working part time at SFSU – the fall semester begins this week) and met me with the van and trailer at the campground.
From our campsite close to Montreal, we rode 65 miles to the town of Eastman. On the way, we entered an area of mountains, apple farms, and forests with just a touch of autumn in the air and color in the trees.This is the first time we’ve been in this kind of terrain since we left Wyoming, some 2200 miles ago. The route to Eastman took us on beautiful rural roads and through very nice little towns like Chambly, with bike trails and lakes. My route after Wendy returned to get the van and trailer was mostly on a network of beautiful dedicated bike trails, some of which had art installations to add to the pleasure.
A threatening sky led to a hard rain for most of last night. We learned today that there was major storm damage in Montreal, with many trees down. North of Montreal there was a tornado – there are 8-10 tornadoes a year in the province. Fortunately, we were warm and dry in our trailer.
Eastman is on a lake, and is sort of the gateway to a lake-filled region that is particularly gorgeous. Today’s 68-mile ride from Eastman to La Patrie took us deeper into this region.The weather was perfect – cool (mid-60’s), wind at our backs – and both of us were elated with the return to this type of terrain. Today’s elevation gain – 4291 feet – is among the top three of the entire trip.
We passed through Magog, a very pretty town on a large lake,and had lunch at a little restaurant in a village called Ste. Catherine de Hadley. To get to Ste. Catherine required a 1/4 mile climb with a gradient that averaged around 10-12%.
Cycling through this area is like cycling in France. The people of Quebec are proudly French. Many are bilingual to a degree, but some speak no English. I must have been French in another life, because I feel a very close affinity to the people of Quebec, as I do to the people of France. There’s a certain je ne c’est quoi that I just love. Both Wendy and I would put Montreal and eastern Quebec on the list of favorite places we have visited on the trip and places we want to visit again.
We have been surprised at the very limited cell phone and internet service for most of our trip, making it more challenging than expected to post our blog and stay in touch with friends and family. Some of the campgrounds early on in the US, especially the RV parks, had good wifi. Wisconsin had the best cell service of the entire trip; it was difficult to go back to really spotty service in Michigan and Canada. We’ve frequently needed to go to library, restaurant, or Tim Hortons (which are the equivalent to Dunkin’ Donuts in America – they are virtually in every fairly large town in Canada).
We loved Brockville and environs. The setting is lovely along the St. Lawrence River with cargo ships passing by. There are also many good restaurants; we loved our walleye fish dinner the first night so much that we went back to the same restaurant our second night to enjoy it one more time. The 1000 Islands boat tour allowed us a glimpse into the area and its recreational options, including sea kayaking, boating, camping on the islands, and scuba diving. The St. Lawrence River has very clear water – and by August, the water temperature is in the mid-70’s. There are three underwater shipwrecks in the immediate area and an underwater park just offshore with underwater sculptures – it’s billed as a great place for beginning divers. It was great to see that the dive shop also offers diving for people with disabilities. We highly recommend Brockville.
As Howard already said, we also really loved Montreal – a wonderful large city with great diversity, food, breweries, parks, cultural events, cycling paths and lanes, AND drivers who are friendly to cyclists. The kindness and warmth of Agathe and Michel was a marvelous bonus.
Now, of course, we are seeing this area during summer. We’ve seen some additional signs that remind us of what a different experience winters would be here. On the boat tour, the guide mentioned that the St. Lawrence River ices over which halts all shipping for two months during the winter. It’s hard to imagine that this huge river with its strong currents and massive amounts of water could freeze. Fishermen move icehouses onto the river – just like we saw and heard about in Minnesota.
As we experienced in our entry to Canada from Michigan, it was really interesting to again have two countries flanking the same river – the United States on one side, Canada on the other. We also learned some fascinating facts: the Canadian-American border is the longest undefended border in the world; the Seaway of the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes goes halfway into the North American continent; and 20% of all of the fresh water in the world is in this Seaway.
Inclusion seems to be the norm in our experiences here in Canada. I loved seeing this yard sign near Brockville. In the town of Magog, I found this sculpture and its wayside sign remarkable. It is called L’Esseulee (The Lonely) by the sculptor, Roger Langevin. The sign discusses the three elements of intimidation: the intimidator, the witness, and the victim; and how the space next to the girl invites spectators to sit with her and protect her from the aggressors. It goes on to say that the town of Magog is against all intimidation, not just of the young, but in all forms.
We have enjoyed local produce in Quebec – and blueberry pie! On my return trip back to the van and trailer, I often stop at produce stands and small stores to pick up some groceries. I had quite the challenge to fit my spare bike battery, jacket, pump, fruit, vegetables, bagels and cream cheese, yogurts, and a blueberry pie in my pannier and on my bike, but I pulled it off!
On my return trips to our van and trailer, I also have more time for sightseeing. I stopped at Fort-Chambly and learned that it was built in the early 1700’s and used for many purposes, including defending against the British from entering Montreal and Quebec (it failed). I find it interesting that the French province of Quebec joined the rest of English-speaking Canada long ago; there are definitely some people here now who would like to become a separate country.
And who knew (though it’s obvious when you think about it) that cul-de-sac is a French word that is commonly used in America…
Mailboxes continue to provide some fun and insights into the communities we have been passing through – here are some photos of mailboxes from Michigan and Ontario that clearly show how rural most of the two regions are.
While I haven’t had all of the leisure time that I had expected on this trip (we were so unrealistic of what our days would involve on this trip!), I have had time for ten-minute meditation sessions on almost 20 different days with the Headspace app (thank you to Reed and Amanda for turning me onto this app). If you have not heard of it, I highly recommend that you try it out with ten free sessions and see what you think. It has helped me immensely to find the calm in my day-to-day life and our world’s current storm – that even when there are clouds, the blue sky is always present too. (And no, I am not working for or invested in Headspace!)
Tomorrow we leave beautiful Quebec, and so we are working on spending down our Canadian dollars as we return to our country. Canada’s bills (vs. American money) are so much more attractive with see-through “windows” and different colors for its various denominations – and its bills are accessible with Braille on them (another example of inclusion here in Canada).
Amazing that we are on the final approach to Bar Harbor, Maine and the Atlantic Ocean! I can already taste the lobster in our celebratory dinner!