- by David A. Robinson

Chapter One

St. Eustache, Québec, May 2
Yesterday it rained so much I got soaked and chilled to the bone. But the nature path bike-route took me through lush dewy forest, magical, water up so high everywhere. Across slippery wet boardwalk bridges over swollen rushing thralls of river water, almost up to the bridge. There have been so many "A Vendre" signs on the riverfront homes, on front yards through the Ottawa valley area, in Ontario, and over here on 344 Est, and I swear some of the real estate signs, with the faces of the agents in full colour, they're not even smiling. "It's rough out there..." "High water everywhere..."
Trucks are making regular runs, loading up the rotten remains of houses. One lower driveway garage now looks just like a boathouse. But it's Québec, and all these places are really pretty, and it's pretty sad. There are detours. Guys working on big ruts, erosion through the roads. Back in Toronto the waterfront bike path was under water in four places.
And now, here in Grenville to laChute, it's pouring. I'd camped on the Ottawa river in a closed down municipal waterfront park and it velorained hard all night. Now here I was pulling into laChute -- do you spell it LaChute? (ed.: no, Dave, it's Lachute! But I let your spelling stand) -- and, lo and behold, the eighty year old Hotel Laurentien appears with its proud storefront doors. Two stars; welfare residents on the third floor. Gambling machines on the main floor. The smell of cigarettes and beer still present everywhere. Dominique helps me get my soaking, heavy beast of a recumbent bike and trailer, my ten foot long train, into the party room, and I grab all the bags to take upstairs and hang wet sleeping bags and tarps and clothes everywhere, while on the flat screen TV in the immaculately clean perfect room, another heartbreaking horror is unfolding on Newsworld. It's going to be even worse later. It's not a good night for sleeping. But the stuff is drying. I'm dry and clean now.
Next day, heading on towards Montréal, I pedal through Oka. I see a big soccer game going on in a field much hidden by trees, and it's men, women, girls, and boys all playing in one game. I see it and it gives me a charge. In Oka, I buy brandy in one of those Québec alcohol outlets and the young guy teaches me how to say "it's been a long time" in French, about the brandy, but now I forget. He tells me my French is not the worst he's heard; I feel good.
­­ I get to St. Eustache. St. Eustache, medium sized town or little city, where last time I bailed, taking a motel because it's so built up now along the road to Montréal that it's hard to find hiding places to camp. I cross a bridge. It's exciting because for the first time I can feel the pulsing energy of Montréal start pulling the bike forward. I see a red lit up store sign "VELO"... these guys will know where stuff is, I figure, so I get into the left turning lane, stop, get the trailer scraping on the curb of the traffic island, get to the store, lean the rig, go in, it's your typical exotic carbon fiber obsession type of outfit, and there's a massive coffee machine in the centre of it all, gleaming chrome, complicated, bigger than an organ. Marc, the young guy at the desk, says, after I stumble in French, about motels, "Non, très cher, camping, est a Montréal" and he says "look what you need, you can sleep 'ere. I mean not in de shop but out der, ders trees. I think de boss will say it's okay. I'll ask 'im.' Sylvain, in the back shop, working on a bike, while a breath taking type of beautiful young woman waits, and Sylvain, bald, glasses, about 40, smiles, they're laughing at me already, they want to know how far I've come. "I don't know," I say. "No, 'ow far today?" " I still don't know. " No computer, no map, just...
Anyway so I get to camp on the yard beside the store, back from, but beside the mild steady traffic. Neighbours are out with kids and grand-kids. There's a fence, big maple trees. I'm kind of in a small woods. Motorcycles and cars rev up and squeal. I cook my dinner, using some brandy and the toasted spicy chick peas that my cousin David had given me for the road. "La vie sur la route" as I later tell Marc, as he's fixing the timing on his Ford Fiesta in behind the store after work. He lives upstairs. I had gone across the boulevard with my art kit, after dinner, and done a coloured pencil sketch of the store, with the big red "VELO" sign prominent. I present the piece to Marc. He is touched and surprised. I sign on the back and write that I'm from "Baie Géorgien."
Next door neighbour Marc drops by, with special anti-rusting lubes for first Marc's electricals and lines and stuff I don't know, it's cars. I say " oh, just today I saw this ultimate drag race, on the internet, with like, the BMW, and the Porsche, and all these famous cars, and there was a Ford Fiesta! I swear". He is calm in his response, "I know man, I'm going to it tomorrow" . And I guess this is already some kind of thing people are doing, drag racing their stock cars, and that's why he's putting on a new timing belt and has the camshafts all exposed and he's pulling the torque wrench, and he's made his own angled metal piece to notch into the cam's end point to set them in unison or something, and I'm sketching his dog Peggy, an entrancingly beautiful white and black long-legged husky of some sort. It's a pretty busy corner. There's a traffic light, the kind that bends way over horizontal, and we're right near the bridge. There's a picnic table on the gravel, and lots of old tires and wheels in the back. Marc is going to go soon, to meet up with "a wild and free girl" he says. I'm enjoying this warm, sweet, urban evening with plenty of streetlights, being with other people, drinking brandy, talking with the two Marcs.
Tomorrow morning, I'll be getting some coffee from that Buick of an espresso machine, maybe check the actual pressure in my tires. I'll raise my Americano to Bob tomorrow morning, because he'll turn 76. I have to find those sketches. Lynda has the only copies. So many logistics to work out. But tomorrow I will also ride down the whole length of St. Urbain, on my way through the hallowed city.
Last night at the Hotel Laurentien, Gérard, the short pot-bellied man who works there, tells me "I come for one night, stay for nine months!" He sings "Hallelujah!" so loud, standing on a beer box, clowning around at the bar "Oh, pajamas!" he belts out in the same Cohen melody, and laughs hard. Good times, at the welfare hotel, and at the slick bike store. I feel fine, but it's the end of the world.

Dave Robinson is a retired Bluewater teacher and avid cyclist. This year's journey will take him from his home in Kimberley to Nova Scotia. You can follow his journey with


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