Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Montreal-Quebec-Nova Scotia Day 13. "The best-laid plans of mice and men …

Alas, my beautiful plans for a hard core ride in Nova Scotia have evaporated on account of my hurting knee. I spent an uneasy night, now and then with a pang of pain, and in the morning I got in the internet and read about bicycling injuries. The mechanics of pedaling are such, that if your seat is too low, by as little as half an inch, the down stroke (the power stroke) may cause an uneven pull in the muscles of the outside of the leg in contrast to the muscles inside. This puts stress on the tendons that tie to the knee cap (or patella). The patella is pulled subtly off-kilter and forces through the patello-femoral joint increase, causing diffuse pain around the knee-cap (what in the vernacular is called anterior knee pain). The cure is RICE or repose, icing, compression, and elevation.

I had been riding reasonably high, but still moved the seat up by half an inch and went for a trial run to the Chute Montmorency, a rather imposing waterfall about 20 km away. At times it seemed that I could actually pedal OK, but from time to time the stab of pain would come back, to remind me not be cocky about it. On the way back I noticed I was favoring the other leg to provide the power, which is a recipe for hurting the good leg.

I could have rested for a couple of days and see how much I could improve by then, but if I kept up stressing the knee I could pay for it in the form of serious damage that would haunt me for years to come. So, with great disappointment I have decided to cut my loses, stop the trip (I had never done so before!), and go back home to nurse my wounds.

So this is the end of this blog, since I don’t have the heart to chronicle a retreat. I just hope that prudence today will allow me to continue adventuring for many years to come. I leave you with a quote from Pablo Cohelo: “If you think that adventure is dangerous, I suggest you try routine. Routine is deadly!”


Monday, July 21, 2014

Montreal-Quebec-Nova Scotia Day 12. Around Québec City

I had a grand day playing tourist. To begin with I had to figure out a way of getting from Laval University to downtown without having to pedal upward all the time. It would have been a lot easier if I had a decent map, but with what little I had I cut north, to a small creek, rightly thinking that all small rivers lead to the big river. Good luck was with me, and after zig-zagging a bit I found a bicycle path that took me all the way to the wharves, and from there to the “low city”, which was the original location of the settlement founded by Samuel de Champlain in the 1608. This low part of the city is on a narrow bar formed at the foot of the cliff, and is now occupied by all sorts of quaint shops arranged around the original church and its small plaza. I decided to park my bike in this part of the town, and after wandering through the lively streets I worked my way on foot up the cliff to Vieux Québec.

Vieux Québec is a citadel atop a very steep cliff, surrounded by ramparts where cannons made it impregnable (until the British scaled the cliffs about a mile downstream and defeated the French army in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham on September 13, 1759). The old city is dominated by a castle-like resort that looks very ancient but is probably no more than 80 years old, and by the original buildings of Université Laval, which grew from the Seminar de Québec, established in 1663. The university is the oldest higher education institution in Canada. I wandered happily among the old buildings, window shopping and enjoying the very European feeling of the old city.

Another unique attraction of the old city is the Promenade des Governors, which is a broad walking path that hangs off the cliff and connects the old city with the old fort and the Plains on Abraham to the west. Besides being a favorite path of joggers and tourists, it is probably the best place to admire the St. Lawrence River as it widens downstream from the city.

Thoroughly relaxed after my promenade through the city I took to my bike, and went all around the city and up the southern shore of the river. Hundreds of people were there, happily bicycling along (a few couples and families, but also lots and lots of singles), or roller blading. At the very end of the bicycling path there is a small park with many young trees, which has been taken over by the reading society. Mostly older couples bring their folding chairs, get under the shade of one of the young trees, and read to their hearts’ content, enjoying the view of the river and the gentle breeze. I was energized to do the same thing, pulled out my Kindle, and promptly dozed off.

To get back in the afternoon I had to bike all the way back to the “low city”, and from there followed my original trek back to the university following the biking path. Truly, seeing Québec by bike is a great way to discover dozens of small parks and gardens. It is a lovely city with many attractive suburbs. The only thing is that cursed ridge. I huffed and puffed pushing my bicycle up the slope, but finally made it to the top. I was getting ready to mount on my bike, swinging my right leg over the sit as I pushed with my left leg, when a sharp pain stabbed my left knee. Rats! I am going to have to be very careful with that knee, because I still have 20 days to go! 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Montreal-Quebec-Nova Scotia Day 11. Lévis to Quebec (40 km)

I stayed the night at Lévis, across the river from Quebec, and today in the morning I did the crossing using the ferry. Once I got to the Quebec side I stopped at the booth of a line of river cruises, and asked them if it was possible to take a boat from Quebec to Rivier-du-Loup, a ride I was planning to do next Wednesday. The girl looked at me with big eyes and told me "Mais non, monsieur, ca se tres loin d’ici." "Far away?", asked I. "How far?" And she pulled out a map and showed me that the distance from Quebec to Riviere-du-Loup is the same as the distance from Montreal to Quebec! And I was planning to cover that distance in one day. Ha!

It was time to put my thinking cap on, and figure out a way out of my silly mistake. Fortunately my wanderings took me to La Gare de Quebec, where all the long-distance buses come in. Right away I went in, asked, and was assured that on Wednesday I will be able to take a bus to Riviere-du-Loup, so I won't have to bust my knees trying to get there on time to take the train to Halifax.

I then stopped at the port, to look at the channel locks (esclusas in Spanish that allow boats to come in and out of the marina into the river, and just by chance got to visit the Marie Clarie, a 1920’s schooner (goleta in Spanish; a two mast sailboat, where the main sail goes in the back mast. The schooner has been lovingly renovated, and a lively girl in the costume of a ship’s boy gave me a great summary of its history, first as a fishing vessel, then as a cargo vessel, and finally as a pleasure cruiser. A very cool piece of history.

For the rest of the day I wandered along the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River, not wholly committed to enter the City of Quebec. The simple reason for this is that Quebec occupies the top of a long ridge, and it is hard work pushing the loaded bike up those steep slopes. Finally I did it, but only to ride away from “uptown” to the campus of Laval University, where I will make my abode for the next three nights. I have now clocked a total distance of 500 km from the time I first got on the bike in Montreal!

At Laval University I am staying in one of the dorm rooms, which is nicely appointed with TV, mini-fridge, and its own bathroom. I did the shopping thing, and I cooked my own dinner, but I had to use my own cooking camping utensils, because the kitchens do not have any common use pots and pans. Dinner was actually quite yummy (poached salmon with herb rice, accompanied with red wine), but it was too much of a hazzle and I may do the fast food thing for the next couple of days.

Tomorrow I will be a plain tourist. I am going to go down to the river with the bike, follow it north to the base of the cliff atop which is the historic center, park the bike, and proceed from there on foot. I am going to try to give my left knee a break (I have bought a knee brace as well) while enjoying this beautiful city.    

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Montreal-Quebec-Nova Scotia Day 10. Dosquet to Lévis (70 km)

Another perfect bicycling day, which unfortunately means there is not much to say. After leaving Dosquet the bike path starts following several urban parks, where lots and lots of folks were using the opportunity for doing some Saturday morning exercise. Approaching the St. Lawrence River I had to cross the Parc des Chutes-de-la-Chaudiere, which if I remember correctly is where the first hydroelectric plant was built in the province of Quebec. Since then the Quebecois have been busy little bees building other hydroelectric projects, and today the province is the main power producer of Canada. The Chutes-de-la-Chaudiere themselves are some pretty waterfalls, which the tourist can admire from the middle of an imposing hanging bridge.

The next leg of the trip gets a little tricky, due to poor signalization of the Route Vert. However, “preguntando se llega a Roma” and by asking I soon took the right path and eventually made it to the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. This is an extremely posh area, with small villas built by the shore of the river. In the distance across the river, the beautiful city of Quebec tempts the traveler to cross the river, but for today I will stay on the south shore since I am not expected in the city until tomorrow.

My left knee is definitely hurting by now. I seem to recover just fine overnight, and am good for about six hours the following day, but anything more than that is asking for trouble. I am not a fan of creams, for I don’t think they penetrate the impermeable skin, but I may make an exception tomorrow when I get to the city, even if it only for the placebo effect.

Montreal-Quebec-Nova Scotia Day 9. Victoriaville to Dosquet (70 km)

A glorious day and a beautiful bike path! I was not in a hurry because I am one day ahead of myself, so I biked slowly, taking in the sun, the gentle breeze, and the green all around me. The Route Vert 1 is built on what used to be the train tracks (the tracks have been pulled out and the route filled with road base, so it is flat and smooth), so the ride is uncomplicated and pleasant. Unfortunately that doesn’t give me much to talk about, so today’s entry is a very short one.

I made my way to Dosquet around 4 pm, and to my great delight I found that the town has an Auberge where I could spend the night. My host is an older gentleman, who has restored a beautiful mansion as a hostel. It has been a labor of love, and I rejoiced on the chance to spend the night in such genteel surroundings.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Montreal-Quebec-Nova Scotia Day 8. Saint-Guillaume to Victoriaville (100 km)

As planned I woke up early, with the idea of getting an early start. I was pretty sure I was the only one in the hostel, so there was no problem going across the corridor to the shower on my skimpies, carrying in a small bundle my towel, soap, and riding shorts. No sooner had I stepped out of my room when I froze as I heard the “click” of my bedroom door. Oh no, the key was in the pocket of my shorts inside the room! Trying to remain calm I went ahead and took a shower, thinking furiously about what to do. Thank God I had my riding shorts with me, though on someone of my body shape they are nothing I would want to impose on anyone else. As soon as I was “dressed” I started looking for something I could use to jimmy the door open. What I needed was something stiff, like a credit card, but my wallet was also inside the room. I looked throughout the hostel and found a piece of cardboard and some plastic coffee stir sticks, but after a quarter hour I had to give up for they were not stiff enough.

It was 6:30 am, so it was not like I could go out into the town to look for a locksmith (besides, I was feeling vulnerable and would not want to parade myself through the town in my riding shorts, and with no shoes or shirt. What if I had to wait until 3 pm for the bar to open?! I had to put all my hopes on the cleaning lady, although I had no idea at what time she might come. For all I knew she liked to sleep in and would not show up until noon or 2 pm. So I opened the door of the hostel, hoping a neighbor would see it and would feel like investigating, and I sat on a chair by the door, intent on grabbing at any opportunity that might come my way.

Fortunately the cleaning lady was an early riser, and her car pulled in at about 8 am. She must have been quite startled when she saw a half naked portly man happily crying “Ah madame, je suis tres hereaux de vous voir! But she rallied herself and in no time grabbed the master key and let me into my room. Once I was properly clad she fixed me a cup of coffee and we had a nice chat (of which I got about half of what was being said, because she was using Quebecois French). She was one more of the very friendly Canadians I have met during this trip, and I am deeply grateful that thanks to her I was able to hit the road by 9:30.

It was a pretty ride first to Drummondville and then to Victoriaville, through the same agricultural country of the day before. It was long, though, so by the time I arrived to Victoriaville I was pretty tired. Counting both days my “little detour” took me about 180 km, but from here to Quebec City should be only 110 km, which I felt I could easily cover I two leisurely days. Wait … two days? Today is Thursday, so I would be arriving to Quebec City on Saturday. Rats! I am not scheduled to get there until Sunday, so now I have to find a way to burn one day in between. Ay, ay, ay!

Montreal-Quebec-Nova Scotia Day 7. Berthierville to Saint-Guillaume (80 km)

There I was, squeezing myself between the highway traffic and the grass, when I realized that riding this way was no fun. That was all that a little devil whispering in my ear needed to do his work, and without knowing how I found myself crossing the river and headed south for Route Vert 1, 100 km away. I once again went through the Iles de Berthier, took a ferry across the last channel of the river, and started a long, long way across beautiful agricultural land.

I was quite satisfied with my decision, but I had not planned for this departure from the route, and I had no maps whatsoever of the area I was crossing. All I knew is that eventually I wanted to join the Route Vert 1 in Victoriaville, but I figured that I could ask my way there. Unfortunately this is sparsely populated country, so it was not easy to find someone to ask, so I ended getting lost and making 30 km more than strictly necessary.

Finally I got to the small town of Saint-Guillaume, a quaint ag community in the middle of nowhere. I stopped in the little park in front of the church, and a friendly native asked me where I was coming from and where I was headed to. He shook his head when I told him I was going to Victoriaville, and he told me I had another 50 or 60 km to go. A little discouraged I asked if there was a camping place nearby, and he told me that the nearest was in Drumondville, 30 km away. Seeing my face of disappointment he told me I could pass the night at the municipal hostel, and could enjoy the best meal ever at Café Favori.

So I went a couple of blocks, stopped at a grand old mansion with the sign Auberge in the front, and arranged to spend the night there. The auberge also functions as the local bar, and is only open from 3 pm to midnight. I was to have the run of the hostel itself, and was asked to close the door behind me after I left, and that the lady that does the cleaning would show up sometime during the day. Cool!

Dinner at Café Favori was great. The menu of the day included soup, a main course of quiche, coleslaw, and mashed potatoes, and a big peace of cake with dates as dessert. Not much to do here, so I will go to bed early, and will try to get an early start to reach Victoriaville in time for lunch.