Day 6 – Lancaster to Longueuil – 117 KM
August 18, 2011
The night before the last day of the official Bike Rally started with something that would start to become a habit over the next week or so: waking in the middle of the night with confused anxiety about the ride. Perhaps it was missing breakfast the morning of Day 5, or maybe it was something else entirely, but my subconscious began to be convinced I was going to screw something up big time on the Rally. In this case, I went to bed at about 10:00 PM just as the night’s social event – a dance in a nearby tent – began to heat up. Still, there’s nothing like riding over 100 km to make it possible for you to sleep under nearly any conditions. An hour or so later, however, the dance ended. It was the ending that woke me up as I heard one of the co-chairs of the Bike Rally speaking over the PA thanking everyone for coming and making a few announcements before shutting down for the evening. However, in my exhausted and disoriented state, I woke up and was convinced for a moment that what I was hearing was the morning announcements and that in the next 10-15 minutes everyone would be leaving for Montreal. And not only had I not had breakfast this time, I hadn’t even packed up my camp! It was only about 30 seconds of panic, quickly cured by my noticing that it was still very dark, but it was really startling.
The next morning I was wide awake before 5:00 AM and was ready to go. Not wanting to wake others with the sounds of my putting my camp away, I took my blackberry to the washroom and plugged it in and let it recharge while I waited for it to be a reasonable hour. Time passed quickly, and as others woke up, I started to put my things away. This time, however, I had to carefully pack. While others would be taking all their things out of their bins and carrying them back on a train in luggage, I was only taking part of it along on the bike. The remainder would be sent back on a truck instead of my bike. So I divided my things into two bins. One bin would hold everything I intended to bring to Quebec City and the other would be sent home. Tent, some laundry, dishes and the red dress from day 3 went into the Toronto-bound bin. The second bin held two compression sacks wrapped inside waterproof bags. One contained a few day’s worth of clothes. The second held my sleeping bag and pillow. In addition to that I had a small sack that held all of my snacks, a few tools, and my iPod and Blackberry. Finally, I had a backpack with my toiletries, maps of my route, and a bluetooth keyboard for the iPod which I had intended to use to write these entries but which turned quite flaky and was hardly usable.
Once I was packed, I went to breakfast and ended up having breakfast with some of the folks responsible for marking the route ahead and learned of a new twist that had just come up. A bit of construction would add a rather annoying detour. After getting that update, I was glad to have the opportunity to thank them for the great work they did. After all – though I carried maps with me on the trip, I can’t think of any time I actually needed to look at them. I just followed the coloured markings on the pavement – often accompanied by cheering Road Safety volunteers at various turns.
Day 6 is the only day we have a really hard and fast timeline as we needed to be in Lachine to gather as a group and ride in single-file along the Lachine canal to Old Montreal where we were to meet our police escort. And because the police pushed our schedule back a bit, we ended up leaving 30 minutes earlier than usual with an abbreviated bit of stretching.
And then we were off. If on Day 5 I felt as if I had used the previous days to warm up for the ride, this was even more true today. I felt stronger than ever and kept up a good pace – averaging about 26 km/hr – not too bad with a bike that weighed well over 40 lbs. The mood was overwhelmingly positive and in about a half an hour we reached the Quebec border. Many of us stopped to get photos with the border sign (mine didn’t come out well enough to share, sadly) before moving on.
And here is the first of what will likely be many comments on cycling in Quebec: It is immediately evident upon crossing the border that you’re in a province with a completely different attitude toward cyclists. Not long after the border we found ourselves on a bike lane that after a few kilometres became physically separated. At one point we had to cross a busy highway. To do this, we were directed to a bridge accessible by biking up a ramp in the shape of a corkscrew, over the bridge, and down another corkscrew at the other side. No hauling a bike up the stairs was necessary. This velotopia went on for quite some time until the detour was reached. At that point, the path was closed for highway construction and we were directed onto a rough gravel track – one that was too rough for most folks to ride on and so we ended up pushing our bikes through something of a desolate wasteland for about 3 kilometres. Eventually, though, we made it through and spent a bit longer on some country roads before ending up at lunch.
Lunch was not my usual leisurely experience. This time, as we were on a tight timeline we were given pre-made boxed lunches with sandwiches and chips. I ate mine quickly and got back on the road.
The post-lunch trip seemed longer than usual – particularly those through the outer Montreal suburbs. Still, they were beautiful parts of town and so while it took a while, the scenery was lovely. My favourite part of this stage, though, was passing a group of 3-4 boys of about 10-12 years old. They all wanted high fives as we passed, and as we gave them they shouted out “You’re doing a great job! You can make it!” There was something especially sweet about their being there to welcome us – without even a parent’s bringing them there. Eventually, though, we arrived at Lachine where we were met by Scotiabank staff (one of our major sponsors) with chilled fruit cups, freezies and good wishes. After enjoying a snack, it was time to move on. We headed down the canal in single-file with our next destination the Old Port.
As we rolled into the city, en masse, we encountered an odd sight. After 30 minutes of riding close together calling out every potential obstacle to those behind us: “Oncoming bike! Pothole! Slowing!” we heard a new obstacle being announced: “BRIDE!” There, in this deserted street in an industrial area of the city was a bride and photographer in the middle of the road. Not missing a beat the photographer motioned for us to stream on both sides of her as he got photos of her surrounded by identically dressed cyclists.
After a relatively short wait in the old port, all of us were in and we were told that the police were ready for us. We headed in, just as a gentle rain started to fall – four of us abreast headed for Rue Berri. Last year I found the arrival very emotional – it was hard not to be teary as we rolled in. But this year, I thought I would be immune to it. I was an old hand at this – and not only that, this wasn’t even my final destination. What a fool I was. I didn’t even make it to the end point – all I had to do was hear the loud music playing in the distance where I knew we’d arrive and see the cheering crowd and I was as teary as I’d been last year. The arrival is such a beautiful culmination of a wonderful experience. Hugs and congratulations were exchanged between riders, crew, and those who were waiting to see us arrive. And as the music played, the street filled with more and more riders and crew.
After the initial celebration the music stopped and announcements started. The co-chairs and others congratulated us not only on having cycled the whole way from Toronto to Montreal but for another amazing feat: together we had raised $1.237 million for the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation.
As everyone else headed to the trucks to put their bikes on and gather their things from their bins, I headed over as well. I found my bins, and loaded everything I was taking on to my bike, said my goodbyes and then realized that while I had my couchsurfing host’s address, I hadn’t bothered to figure out just how I was going to get there. Fortunately for me I had charged my blackberry that morning and google maps gave me a suggestion as to how to get there. After a little confusion, I found my way to the Jacques Cartier bridge – a busy crossing from Montreal to Longueuil. Fortunately, though, there’s a bike path that leads to the bridge, and then right up over the bridge. Unfortunately, though, it’s a bit of a hill. And so I got my first taste of what climbing a hill with my bike would be like fully loaded and now weighing somewhere over 70 lbs. Surprisingly, though, it was far easier than I expected. The handling was only slightly different, and the pedaling not so difficult. The only noticeable change was that I did go a bit slower. Where I’d been averaging 26 KM/hr earlier in the day, I was now managing about 20-22.
The Montreal area is fantastic for cycling. It is filled with physically separated lanes, paths, and simple and safe ways to get just about anywhere. However, the challenge was to integrate that with google maps. Google maps does a great job of directing you from street to street. But it doesn’t do the best job of telling you how to get on a physically separated path that doesn’t follow a road. Directions are more like “Turn right *towards* (street name)” or simply “Turn left”. Eventually, though, after a bit of trial and error, I did find my way to my host’s house – a lovely home in the old section of Longueuil. Unfortunately, though, she wasn’t home from work yet. A friendly note instructed me, however, to make myself comfortable in the garden. And so I wheeled my loaded bike into the back yard and sat down – still only slightly more than half way from my goal with many adventures still ahead.