On July 1, 2018, we started the prelude to our one-year travel by bike: 240 KM in 4 days from Aylmer to Montreal's airport. We were quite eager to begin our travels but could not have chosen a worse time to leave home. At the time, a major heat wave was the biggest story in the news with temperature records being broken across much of central Canada. Public safety advisories compelled people to stay indoors and avoid strenuous activities. We thought we had a strategy to live bike through it: getting up at sunrise to ride during the cooler hours of the day. It proved to be easier said than done, especially when a 11-year old boy is involved.
On departure day, our alarm clocks rang at 5AM announcing the beginning of our year of adventure. After a couple hours of preparation and a few yawns, we finally hopped on our bikes, leaving behind the house of our friends that housed us since we sold and vacated our house.
With all the work involved in selling and emptying our house and finalizing a ton of small administrative tasks related to our project, we didn’t find the time to test drive our bikes much. As such, this was the first time we all rode our bikes fully loaded. After only a few pedal strokes, we already knew we had too much stuff. Over the past few days, we worked hard to reduce our charge, but additional purges would inevitably be necessary in the days to come.
Since our route passed in front of our respective offices, we thought it proper to bid farewell to our workplace. We both enjoy our careers. We have meaningful, yet challenging duties and we enjoy working with our amazing colleagues. As such, leaving all of it behind felt a bit bitter sweet and, to be honest, we didn’t expect to feel this way.
Our task, as we continued to pedal East, was to find breakfast. That day being Canada day meant that our options were limited, and we ended up in a McDonalds restaurant in Gatineau. Free Wi-Fi, 1$ iced coffee and cheap breakfast sandwiches was all we needed. The air conditioning was probably set to “Absolute Zero”, way too cold for comfort. However, given that the temperature outside had already passed the 30°C mark, it was still weirdly welcome.
The cycling path out of Gatineau is quite beautiful. We followed Quebec’s “Route Verte”, an amazing initiative that links existing bike paths, small roads as well as larger roads with wide paved shoulders to form a 5300 km network of long distance cycle routes in the province. Yan and Maxime had taken this route 13 years ago. With the recent construction of a nearby highway, traffic on road 148, which makes for a good portion of the Route Verte here, has subsided dramatically, making the ride even better.
The day was brutally hot and, around noon, we all felt the need to escape the heat. By any means necessary. Once again, we found a McDonalds with cheap cold beverages, Wi-Fi and air conditioning. We’ll spend a couple of hours there, doing a bit of research, playing games and resting. When cycling in the heat, McDonalds and its various other competitors, are surprising oases of cheap calories and refreshments. This is just one of the many things that would be terrible choices in normal conditions but that makes total sense while bike touring.
After a long afternoon being kept cool by cold drinks and air conditioning, we had no choice but to get back on our bikes toward Plaisance National Park to test the “Bienvenue Cyclistes” campsites, meant to welcome cycle tourists without reservation at a decent price. . As you reach Thurso, the Route Verte brings you in the Park itself which means cyclists have to pay to access the paths (cyclist who do not intend to visit the park should opt to stay on road 148). While truly beautiful, the whole place is infested with black flies at this time or year. Hundreds of them were buzzing around us in places, making the ride particularly unpleasant. Even considering our stay in the park, we would have been better off on road 148 until the campsite.
Just 5 kilometers before reaching the campground, Maxime started experiencing terrible heat cramps. He probably sweated way too much electrolytes while cycling under the sun. About 2 or 3 kilometers from the campsites, he succumbed to a series of very painful cramps and had to lie down, in pain, on a small patch of grass next to the cycling path, with clouds of blood-thirsty horse flies hovering around. He couldn’t move and stayed there for a good hour. Yan and Ivan did their best to support him and considered calling 911 more than once. Eventually, Maxime felt better, and all headed to the campsite for a good night rest.
On July 2, based on the lesson learned from the previous day, we bought loads of Gatorade, which we typically have sneered at before, to avoid heat exhaustion and dehydration. Our aim was Grenville sur la Rouge. With a relatively early start, we got there slightly after lunch. The Halte-Camping de la Chute des Sept Soeurs is a wonderful small campground next to the tumultuous Rouge River. After doing the laundry and setting up the tent, Maxime and Ivan spent a good chunk of the afternoon swimming in the river. The place is popular with locals, many brought beer and picnics, others some sort of floatation devices to run the rapids.
As the afternoon lazily gave way to the evening, a gigantic black cloud appeared on the horizon prompting Ivan and Maxime to run back to the tent to help Yan secure everything as much as possible before the downpour. The rain was intense but short. The clothes that were drying on the clothesline were now completely soaked once again. On the positive side, the temperature dropped significantly promising a very comfortable night.
On July 3, we decided early on to go slowly and to spend the night in a motel in Vaudreuil, not far from Montreal, for a good night sleep before our flight to Nantes, France. The day went surprisingly well. Everyone tried different strategy to cope with the sun and the heat. Maxime and Yan covered their head and part of their face with a wet towel, the image of which made Yan giggle all the way along. A couple of hours after an early lunch, a woman passed us in her car and invited us to her house for refreshments and a dip in the river from her backyard. She and her husband took us in as if we were long-time friends.
We later took the ferry from Oka to Hudson and continued our way to Vaudreuil. Our last night in Canada was spent eating pizza and watching TV, in a real bed with the buzzing noise of the air conditioner as soundtrack for our dreams.
On July 4, we found the way to Montreal airport to be surprisingly easy, much to Yan’s relief. However, dismantling the bikes, making 12 paniers fit in our limited check -in and carry-on luggage allowance was quite an ordeal. At the check-in desk, we realized that one bag was too heavy which resulted in another round of shuffling, squashing and squeezing things. All the bags cooperated and all zips dutifully obliged. A few hours later, we were finally on the airplane trying to get a few hours of sleep before the start of our European journey!