Hawkesbury to Levis

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June 24th 2018
Published: June 24th 2018
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Hawkesbury to Levis

The rain came and went all night long. It would wake me up when it got loud and I would wonder vaguely whether it would stop by morning or if I

would ride anyway. At dawn it wasn't raining, but it certainly looked like it might. I got while the gettin' was good and pedaled

down the hill to the bridge over the Ottawa. I expected there would be some kind of Bienvenu to Quebec sign that I could take a selfie

beside, but there was nothing like that that I could see, so I just took some pictures from the bridge and of the route sign. In Quebec,

cyclists are only allowed to ride on 3 digit highways. There is also an extensive bike route network called the route vert. This consists

of dedicated trails, both paved and unpaved, and special bike lanes attached to 3 digit highways. I planned to use the route vert as

much as possible so long as it did not take me too far away from highways on which Michele had to drive. I took highway 344 which runs

right along side the river, or rather, beside the beautiful houses along the river. I noticed a subtle shift in

the architecture: roofs were steeper, sometimes with a little ski jump curve over the porch; the old, old houses had little if any eave

overhang on the gable ends; also, cut stone as a building material was very much in evidence. This tertiary highway was smooth and flat, with

paved shoulders wider than most of those on highway 17 in Ontario. In places the road ran right beside the Ottawa and it was interesting to

see the myriad of water fowl and also to appreciate the sheer size and flow of the river, and to imagine all the history that had gone on

around it. Every turn brought something new to look at: I saw a turtle, so old that she had moss on her back, laying her eggs in the gravel

on the verge; saw the place that ice fishing huts go to spend the summer; I saw an old man collecting dandelion leaves - he said he boils

them and then fries them with garlic and it is good for his diabetes; I saw horses wearing masks that had little mesh windows over their

eyes to keep the flies out. I rolled through little villages with outdoor bistros, and boulangeries and boucheries and depanieurs and every

where ice cream stands. The oh- so french voice of Edith Piaf singing La Vie en Rose drifted to my ears out of an open window. I arrived

at Oka and as I made the climb up the hills beyond, the rain that had been threatening all day began to fall. Michele had just passed me, so I

texted her and she waited for me to catch up at Saint Eustach. We had agreed that neither of us wanted to negotiate Montreal and cross

the St. Lawrence by ourselves. We would drive together and that would be one part of Canada that I would not bike. So we loaded Allen

on the carrier and I drove while Michele navigated. It started to pour and the clouds blotted out all but the increasing size and busyness of

the freeways we were hurtling down. Michele would yell at me to change lanes or take this or that ramp and I would do my best to drive like

a Quebecois -crazy, assertive and tailgating. At one point a huge jet appeared out of the low clouds, horrifyingly close on its final ap

proach to the airport. I spared it the shortest of glances as I white-knuckled it down freeways that were just feeders to bigger freeways. We hurtled

between concrete walls with cars and trucks all around us in the blinding rain without a clue of where we were. By some miracle we found ourselves

acsending the approach to the bridges over the St. Lawrence and the Lachine canal. What those look like, I do not know, for the clouds and

rain had reduced visibility to nothing. We made it over in one piece and drove through a first nations reservation where it seemed all that

was for sale was cheap smokes, smoke shop after smoke shop, many of them with drive-thru service, all claiming "le meilleurs prix". Then came

Chateauguay and pulled in to grab a coffee and settle our nerves. We decided to drive a bit farther to see if the rain would stop, but it just

got heavier, so we decided to treat ourselves to another night in a motel. And that is what we did in a trucker's motel just outside Napierville.

The next day the rain had stopped so I rode south through flat farm country on highway 22l and then east on 202. I passed over an arm of Lake

Champlain before coming to a larger piece of it at Venise-en-Quebec. The community seems to be a chi-chi cottage place: with lots of expensive looking

homes, with BMWs and Mercedes parked in front and gates to the boat launches with Prive or Defense de Passer signs. South from here on the

lake, America is within spitting distance, but our goal was Bedford, just to the east. Bedford is the place Michele's great great grandfather

William and wife Rachel first settled in when they left Wales in the 1840s. The first trace of her family that we found was in the form of a bed

and breakfast called the Maison Coslett-Saunders (Saunders was an owner after the Cosletts). The gracious and friendly host of this B and B, Monique Villeneuve, welcomed us

into her home and was excited to meet Michele and to learn of her connection to this historic house. We showed her a photo of the Coslett family taken sometime pre 1900 and

tried to match up likely places in the house where it might have been taken. Monique and her husband had bought the house

a few years before and were always interested in finding out more of its history. We promised we would come back and stay there sometime in the

future. Next we went to the protestant cemetery, and looked about. Michele found them first- a whole section of Cosletts and also Alcombracks (Her great

grandmother's maiden name). Michele is not given to sentimentality, but she found herself unexpectedly moved to be surrounded by headstones bearing

the Coslett name. She said she felt close to her father there, and we lingered a while, unwilling to let go of this connection to the past. But the road

was calling and we set off once more. Michele went ahead and found a campground just south of Farnham.

The campground was fine, but no one spoke English. We, with our high school french, could stitch a sentence together, albeit with incorrect pronunciation,

gender and conjugation. Understanding the high speed stream of speech that issued from the mouths of Quebecois we met was another thing all to-

gether. We were like deer caught in the headlights. Standing there slack mouthed and panic stricken, unable even to speak the phrases we had so

carefully crafted and practised, announcing our extreme desolation that we were unable to speak French very well. It was so frustrating and we both

felt downright stupid. One time a man asked me something and when I said 'Je parle le Francais en peu seulement' he said 'Sorry', to which I replied,

'Oh, no, no it is no problem,' in a Maurice Chevalier accent, as if that would somehow make it comprehensible. We ran into this situation in three campgrounds

in a row: Farnham, Drummondville and Lyster. People were there to have their own fun and they did not waste any time trying to communicate with a

couple of dumb anglos. Michele is naturally garulous, and taking away her ability to talk to people is like cutting off her hands. I noticed she

was becoming morose and even a little bitter, like she was being shunned by the people surrounding us in the campgrounds each night. Of course, in reality, they

were just as unilingual as us, there were just more of them.

The cycling on this part of the trip was the high point, for I was able to stick almost exclusively to Quebec's famous Route Vert. The converted railbeds were sometimes paved,

sometimes hardpacked with a coarse grit that was almost as hard as pavement. The trees had been allowed to grow up close to the trail

and most times it was like riding through a leafy tunnel. The forests were generally maple, and Michele noted it would be like riding through fire

in the autumn when the leaves changed. Every few kilometres there were rest stops with picnic tables, privies and shelters. I can only wish that

the rest of country could be as enlightened as Quebec when it comes to cycling routes. Even the Quebec drivers, so aggressive when it comes to other cars,

were incredibly respectful and attentive to cyclists sharing their roads.

I arrived on the south side of the Pont de Quebec before Michele and I was able to text her some suggestions as to how to negotiate the area without going across the

bridge or getting sucked onto a freeway. She handled it like a pro and drove under the two great bridges and onto route 132 on which we would travel

down the St. Lawrence. I rode through the little neighbourhoods at the waters edge in Levis and looked across at Quebec City, at the cliffs below the plains

of Abraham, the Citadel and the Chateau Frontenac. A Canada Steamship freighter plowed its way upstream and I wondered if I would see it in Thunder Bay some

day. Michele had found us a campsite at Fort de la Martiniere. It was a small campground, well kept and high up with a beautiful view of the river and Ile d'Orleans.

Best of all, a neighbour camper named Doris, a resident of Quebec city, came over and made friends with Michele. They were able to communicate with each other,

each with their imperfect command of the other's language, but more important, with the universal language of friendship. Michele was giddy with relief.

Next up: Mike almost gets run down by a Moose, we meet the almost ridiculously friendly people of New Brunswick and we reconnect with old pals from Dryden.


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