Campbellton, Canada - Polarsteps

I'm covering Quebec all at once; cycling through it felt like a continuous movement up the St. Lawrence and then across the Gaspé and I remember it more that way, all joined together, than in terms of distinct days. We hit pouring rain in the first couple of days out of Montreal; it was a hard re-entry to cycling and camping, and we took refuge in cups of gas station hot chocolate and any bits of shelter we could find (first photo-- cooking noodles outside a rest stop bathroom). When the weather cleared up, though, it really cleared up, and we had a long string of totally charmed riding days up the St. Lawrence. La Route Verte is a dream; it's scenic, often rural, and safe enough that we could relax into it and enjoy where we were without worrying too much about traffic. There are frequent rest stops along the way with potable water and clean, heated bathrooms with indoor plumbing. Wild camping was easy along it; we tented in unfenced fields, rest stops that didn't prohibit camping, and eventually, just after Rimouski, a historic church that allows campers to sleep in their vehicles in the parking lot overnight for a donation (we interpretted this a little broadly and claimed a parking spot for our not-a-vehicle and left our donation; we cleared out early in the morning just in case). We made it to Quebec City, where a friend had scored us a free work-perk hotel stay (thanks, A!!!) We stayed two nights there, on the edge of town, and wanted to spend a full day in the old town, but discovered that the Canadian Tire tires we'd put on my bike back outside of Marathon ON were fraying apart on the beads the way my old ones had been-- they were getting dangerously close to the point where the tubes could suddenly pop out. We checked around to some bike shops but couldn't find good touring tires in the right size-- they had all switched over to selling studded winters ones at this time of year-- so located a Canadian Tire that was going to be hard to bus to, decided to do a long walk to it and then hop a bus to go and walk around the old town. The tire trip ended up stealing most of the day; it was far and took us through a big industrial area, a lamentable one-day-in-Quebec-City experience. We had laundry we really needed to do too, which we hauled the whole way and then did at a laundromat on the way back to the hotel; we got back in the dark, and that was the day. We left the next morning and did the awkward thing of riding/walking the loaded bikes through very crowded streets-- we'd managed to be in a busy place on a busy weekend again-- but got to see some of the main historic sites and old cobblestone roads before hopping the little ferry across to the south side of the river and biking away from town in the early evening. That was the first night our tent got frosted over, and we had to use our breath on the tent poles the next morning to unfreeze and collapse them. Getting into cold weather in Quebec confirmed for us that we'd made good gear choices; we carried a little more to be ready for a broader range of weather, and as chilly as we were getting while setting up and making dinner in the evenings, we slept warmly and comfortably at night. While the cold made us wonder if we were coming in a little too late and if winter and the snow were going to catch us, the changing autumn leaves confirmed that after taking our slow, slow time through most of the country and Ontario specifically, we were right on time; I think we caught a really sublime moment in the year that we would have missed on the typical breakneck three-month race across Canada. Heading up the St Lawrence in golden, slanted light and watching it slowly widen was surreal; moreso when we started crossing paths with the snow goose migration, and then saw the northern lights from our camp spot the same night, and then the next day smelled the Atlantic for the first time as piles of seaweed started appearing on the shores of the river and its water turned salty. We crossed the Gaspé over two days-- the first hilly and wet, the second amazing and scenic, winding around on a road that followed rivers and hugged the sides of cliff faces. We had been in touch with a Warmshowers host just over the New Brunswick border who was going to be away but had offered the possibility of camping in her backyard-- we'd assumed this meant access to a patch of grass where we'd have to head up the road to Tim Horton's for bathroom access, and were grateful just for somewhere we could tent, but we got a message later that day saying she'd hidden a key for us so that we could let ourselves in and use the house. The touring cyclist network has been nothing but amazing; the care and trust we've been shown by people we haven't even met has totally floored us. Besides the best cycling in the country and the most gorgeous autumn, Quebec also brought the biggest disaster we've had to navigate. The day it happened, we'd checked out some wild camping possibilities up the road and were aware that we'd be passing through one county, surrounding the town of Saint-Simon, that had totally banned camping in public places (and didn't have a campground or even a motel to compensate; without a local host, there is no legal possibility of spending the night there). Knowing this, we had it in our minds all day that we were going to have to either stop short of it for the night, or get through the county before nightfall and stay on the other side. Coming up to it near the end of the day, we chose to blow past it with the little time that we had to spare. We were in the middle of town and it was getting pretty sunsetty when Kini felt something loosen suddenly on their bike; we wheeled it across the road to a picnic table outside a gas station, took the bags off, and realized in disbelief that the frame had literally snapped near the wheel; the steel was broken all the way through. Of all the things that could go wrong with a bike, this one is Exceptionally Bad. We had to quickly triage the things that were messed up in that moment, and the primary one was that we couldn't keep riding and it was about to get dark in a place where people were unambiguously not okay with campers. We managed to zip-tie the frame back together enough to walk it down the road with the gear on it, headed down a quiet side-road, and ended up finding an ATV trail that didn't look heavily used, through some woods that were almost definitely on private property, and also on a significant slope-- we hid in the woods, set up the tent very quietly off the trail, didn't eat dinner, and had a rough night of worrying about dealing with the bike frame the next morning, listening for people in the woods, and repeatedly sliding uncomfortably down to the foot of the tent and having to scootch back up again. Extremely loud highway construction started at the edge of town in the early hours of the morning, and we got up, packed up, and got ourselves back to the gas station picnic table for coffee and figuring out what to do. A note on our bike frames; we've gotten a lot of disbelief from other cyclists on the road that we're doing this on steel-framed nineties mountain bikes (bought used for cheap; Kini is a trained bike mechanic and has put nicer components on them where it counts, and has poured countless hours into building them up into the world-conquering dream machines they are now). We were deliberate about our choices; this isn't a three-month tour on Canadian roads, but an open-ended world tour. We understand 26" mountain bike wheels to be more of an international standard when it comes to replacement parts, and we chose steel specifically because it's not entirely far-fetched to find a steel welder anywhere (not the case with aluminum welding). So on a practical level we'd prepared for this happening sooner or later; we'd just imagined dealing with it on maybe a rough road between African villages, not before making it off our home continent. This was a case where Google wasn't a help in telling us where to go-- it placed the nearest welders either 13km back in Trois-Pistoles or 49km further in Rimouski, both a long way to go on a frame held together by zip-ties. We were across the street from a hardware store, and we decided to wait for it to open and then ask if they knew anyone locally. I added the French words for 'welder', 'welding', 'bike frame', and 'steel' to my vocabulary, and we went in and asked. The folks who worked there were amazing and debated among themselves about who in town would be a good enough welder to do it, called around a bit, and then sent us exactly three doors down to Guillaume's garage. And then, before noon, we had it sorted. Guillaume, who I'm pretty sure told us he hadn't welded a bike frame before, was up for giving it a shot, was really patient with my French, got a few good jokes in there, and was an absolute frame-welding pro. He pinned the breakage on a manufacturing error and sent us off with certainty that we were going to make it to Halifax without it snapping again (he was right). By mid-day we were on the road again, almost not believing that the multi-day logistical nightmare we'd been preparing for just hadn't happened. -Sara Cycling Quebec was awesome; La Route Verte extends across the entirety of Quebec. Which is simply amazing and quite the difference from being on the side of the highway. Even when there is a blessedly enormous shoulder, like on the prairies, it is just so much more enjoyable to not be around cars and let my mind wander more. We started our time in Quebec in the home of our friends in Montreal and then cycled out into the stunning fall colours. I love Montreal so much and would live there for a small stint if the opportunity presented itself. There is just so much vibrancy and life happening; it feels so European. I began to feel a little worried about the seasonal shift when we were tenting because the temperature was really dropping at night and we were waking up with frost on our tent. Would we start getting snow halfway through New Brunswick? I am adventurous but I am not into cycling or camping in the snow on a bike tour. Nah. It will probably happen but we really are trying to plan around that as much as possible. Being cold also just makes me grumpy and feel emotionally frayed; it takes so much energy to keep warm and having to do tasks, like packing up, with cold hands. It is not fun at all. And when I am feeling emotionally done it is hard to make room mentally to figure out logistics. I have never come to a point on any bike trip here I wanted to throw in the towel but I do feel consistently pretty pissed off those days. We did have the privilege of seeing the enormous snow goose flocks on the St. Lawrence; hundreds of geese taking off, landing and just being a huge conglomerate of ruckus. We also saw the Northern Lights dancing one night as we camped beside the St. Lawrence; it absolutely made up for the cold night. - Kini
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