Woke up to rain this morning- went back to sleep. On the road around 1:30pm, later than expected. Break problems just outside of Magog. Nice guy named Robert from Lac St. Jean fixed my breaks on the spot even though they were nearly closing. Cost $25, a sacrifice I was willing to make in order to not have my breaks stuck to my wheel for the remainder of this trip.
I made the first bad call on directions. Sarena made the second. Lost in Magog, twice, first day of the trip. Realizing it's important to not just blindly follow each other no matter how confidently we say we know where we're going. Probably a good life lesson too come to think of it. The problem with taking a wrong turn on a bike is that it can put you hours off course. Stopped for the night just outside Georgeville. The road between Magog and here was stunning. Deer bounding through the fields at dusk, mist weaving its way through the trees, wide shoulders, rolling hills, old manor houses with stone fences and old guard quarters long abandoned.
We camped out in a field on the property of a lovely gentleman who runs a small restaurant out of his house. I was willing to just find a corner of the field far from the house and hide the tent, but Sarena suggested we'd feel better if we just knocked on the door and asked the guy. And sure enough, had we followed my instinct we would have missed the opportunity to meet the kind man who owned the land. He was cooking alone in the kitchen and had just two guests at the restaurant that night. It was obvious that he was the chef, server and host. And his hospitable nature become immediately obvious less than a minute after knocking on his back door as he was inviting us to sleep in the extra room in his house and telling us to come back later for leftovers. After filling our water bottles and insisting that it was the first night of our trip and we'd really prefer to sleep outside and eat the food we'd brought with us, he smiled a warm smile and his kind eyes bid us 'bonne nuit'.
We retreated to our tent for cold sandwiches and cheese curds, wondering what was the appropriate way to accept or decline such immense generosity should the opportunity present itself later in the trip, which it would.
Snuggled down in my sleeping bag now, hoping the rain lets up a bit tomorrow, although the clear construction glasses we bought at the hardware store in Sherbrooke are working wonders for keeping the mud out of my eyes. However, the border will be crossed tomorrow come rain or shine.
Spent the majority of the day entertaining myself by mooing at the cows and neighing at the horses, they always look up or come running- gets me every time. Sarena convinced me to take a detour following a sign for "poisson fumé." Turns out the little salmon smoking business was run by an anglo couple. She also works as a nurse in Sherbrooke. It seemed impossible that after riding for a day and a half Sherbrooke was still close enough for a daily commute. Learned that this lady, Arlene was her name, has a brother who lives in Acme Alberta, just an hour away from Huxley, the tiny hamlet of a town I grew up in. Considering the amount of family I have in the area, I'm sure her brother knows an uncle or second cousin twice removed, making the two of us, standing there on this little farm in rural Québec, distanced by no more than 4 or 5 degrees of separation.
Song stuck in my head today: 'Butterfly' by Mason Jennings, must look up all the lyrics to this as I can only seem to remember the first two sentences of the chorus. Tried to sing other songs but there are too many butterflies flitting about my face to stay distracted for very long.
Came to the small town of Derby and stopped for an ice cream. Turns out dairy makes you fart and spit, the former being very difficult while seated on a bike. That's the last ice cream for this trip.
Realizing we didn't have any plans further than crossing the border, we stopped in at the Village Bike Shop in Derby to ask for advice and directions. Finding the bike shop was more difficult than might be expected in a town with only 3 intersections. Apparently Derby-ites are not big into biking as we had to ask 3 people before getting confident directions to the shop.
On the advice of the guy at the bike shop we took highway 105 to Island Pond. 20 miles (32.2km) went by like a breeze. We were warned however, about McGabe Hill a 3 mile long slow ascent. There's something about the anticipation of such a hill that makes you hold your breath around each corner. But the hill we expected never came. There were hills no doubt, but all were modest in comparison to those we faced this morning. Felt pretty fucking invincible to have not even noticed the hill that everyone warned us about.
It was a little windy today but overall very agreeable. I'm amazed at how far our legs have taken us. I can honestly say there was no point today where I wished I wasn't on a bike- I'm loving this. There's something so grounding about having nothing to do but peddle all day. When warning us about the elusive McGabe Hill, the guy at the bike shop in Derby said "it's not too bad though, you just put it in a low gear and keep peddling." Indeed. It's all you can do and no amount of worrying will change that.
Arrived in Island Pond, found a campsite nestled in the woods beside the lake. Decided against asking for permission this time as it was not obvious who, if anyone, would have owned these woods. Bought two beers at the liquor store, was ID'd for the first time in years, and sat by the lake to enjoy the reward of our efforts. Discovered we could make a swarm of mosquitos dance by blowing on the top of our empty beer bottles. Must research this phenomena. Went out for a nice supper at the Pond Side pub, returned to our makeshift campsite to watch the stars in the clear night sky and are now lying down to the sound of a slow moving train chugging along in the distance.
Woke up at 4:45am to a choir of a million different song birds this morning. Wide awake, yet certain Serena would not be impressed by my sudden early bird tendencies, I went for a walk into the sleepy town of Island Pond. Ted's market was just opening, so I went in to use the bathroom and eavesdrop on the local men shooting the shit while waiting around for the coffee to be ready. The plaid, leathery australian cowboy hats and north east American drawl made me smile.
Around an hour later, after convincing Sarena to get up and packing up the tent, we found ourselves back at Ted's drinking hot tea with a map of Vermont spread out over the picnic table discussing our options for which route to take today. An off duty cop buying two extra large coffees and a predictable box of donuts advised us to take the 114 back, "less hilly, awful nice road, take ya right back to Canada." Not sure we wanted to go as far east as the 114 would have taken us, we thanked him and continued to weigh our options. Next on the scene was Gervais, an unexpectedly Québecois man who grew up in La Patrie, the tiny town where I lived last summer. Gervais, as with the guy from the bike shop yesterday, suggested we take the Holland Loop road. So saying "merci" and considering that we were now 2 for 1 in favour of the Holland Loop we got on the road.
Found McGabe Hill. Turns out we weren't as invincible as we'd previously thought. However, still conquered it feeling pretty good about ourselves.
Waved to a group of 4 men in their 50's riding in the opposite direction, decked out in matching red spandex. Continued to trudge along at half their pace. Passed through the agricultural region of northern Vermont. Looks like it's fertilizer season as the sickening stench of manure spread over a large surface area proliferated the air. Impossible to breath in enough oxygen going up hills. Began to better understand the environmental arguments for not eating industrially raised beef.
Reached the intersection for Ayer's Cliff, our intended destination for tonight, at 11:30am. Feeling on top of our game we chose to turn right instead of left and go 20 km further to Coaticook. Day 3 seems to be the magic day. I felt incredibly strong, as if I could have kept on riding right over to the maritimes and across to Cape Breton Island, where I'll soon be moving for the summer.
Shortly after arriving in Coaticook, we heard a friendly "hey" and looked over to see our red spandex friends from earlier that morning sitting in the shade, eating ice cream (amateur move!) and waving us over. As we got to talking to this group of men from small town Vermont, we discovered we had a surprising amount in common with them. One of the guy's sons had done the outdoor leadership course at Capillano University in Seachelt BC, just across the sound from Squamish where I lived and went to school for the past 4 years. Another guy had spent some time in Alaska, so he and Sarena had lots to talk about. Another of them had spent the summer of '78 in Edson Alberta, after getting stuck on a bike trip, falling in love and ending up at the 'Welcome Farm', although I'm not sure about the chronological order of those events. I've never been to Edson, but I can only imagine it was similar to my WWOOFing experience in La Patrie. They were doing a 'day ride' today, just 160km, more than half our total trip in one day, no big deal.
Now, you must understand that Coaticook is known for two things: ice cream and the Gorge. After descending an extremely steep hill we arrived at the info centre only to discover that it would cost $8 each to see the acclaimed river gorge. So rolling our eyes and shrugging our shoulders we proceded up the hill again anticipating the delicious ice cream that surely awaited us at the top (we'd already forgotten the unfortunate effects of the ice cream from the day before). We arrived at the top, panting for air, only to discover that the famous ice cream factory we'd heard so much about was, as with the Gorge, at the bottom of the hill. Unwilling to climb the hill a second time, we reluctantly settled for a popsicle from the dépanneur and continued to ride around in search of a sneaky spot to pitch our tent.
Not 10 minutes later we heard a distant "allo!" from a guy on his bike on the other side of the road. Sebastian, we learned, was an unemployed aspiring musician with a soft spot for weary travellers like us. We asked him if he knew of any places we could hide our tent and he said he had lots of friends with land he could call. He invited us for dinner, which we couldn't refuse as our only other option was some left over trail mix and two day old cheese curds. We cooked a delicious curry together, talked about his life in Coaticook, Quebec and learning new languages. He called some friends who said we were more than welcome to camp out in their backyard. Feeling full of hope, fresh vegetables and steamed fiddle heads we got on our bikes again only to discover a tack had punctured a hole in Sarena's tire. Oh misfortune! Over the past 3 days, of all the things that could put a hole in a tire, a tiny tack, lying wrong side up on the ground is what did it. After a couple hours of frustration and malfunctioning gas station air pumps, Sarena macgyvered her tire with a patch kit and got it back to fully functioning condition like a super hero.
When we arrived at the little yellow house on Ste. Anne street, we were warmly greeted by Francois and his wife Claudia who insisted that we sleep in their basement instead of outside. Exhausted and incapable of refusing their generous offer, we agreed. So curled up on a futon mattress on the floor, with the warmth of the wood burning stove on our faces and the generosity of strangers in our hearts, we fell asleep.
Awoke to light rain, but undaunted knowing that Sherbrooke lay just 30km away. We were on the road by 9am with shouts of "merci" to our new friends and assurance from them that their basement door is always unlocked if we ever need a place to stay in Coaticook. And we rode. We finished off strong and in good spirits. Our last stop was at our favorite café, La Brûlerie de Café de Sherbrooke for a hot coffee and some time to reflect on our adventures from the past 4 days. We'd ridden 232 kms in 4 days and although ready for a hot shower, we were already scheming about future trips along the West Coast, across Canada, maybe the Cabot Trail this summer. With a better idea of our physical capabilities and an entirely new section of MEC opened up to us, the possibilities seem endless.
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