- by David A. Robinson (catch up with chapters I, and II and III )
As I write these words, my trip is halfway complete. I'm supposed to be in Halifax in 27 more days, boarding a train back to Toronto. So much has swept past my view; new parts of the world which I've never seen before. So many waterfalls, and I'm filling my bottles every day right from the roadside. Unearthly cliffs of black "mudstone", as my geologist neighbouring campers describe the shale - like mountains that rise straight out and up, from a bright blue sea right on the left of the road. So many perfectly beautiful little villages, and towns full of people who care so deeply about how their yard looks, how neatly appointed the house's details are, and all the weeds are whacked, grass cut, driveways sealed. I have seen more people, really, than I can count on both hands, in their yards, Bike trip ch 4squatting, kneeling, bent over their grass, extracting weeds. Scenes I'm not used to.

But, before anything else gets discussed, I have to talk about the Quebecois and their current love affair with old-style music. Now, twice before I've ridden out the South shore on the way to the Maritimes and for sure I've stepped inside a hundred bistros, cafés, bars, diners; I have never heard the radios and the house music sounding like this. What do I hear? Patsy Cline, George Jones, Mel Torme, Blue Moon, Moon River, Buddy, Louis, Doris... it's all nostalgia. 50's, even the 40's. Everywhere I go. In Lévis, passing through a cube- building new developed neighbourhood, offices, and office furniture stores, I go into a restaurant for soup and it's all fine jazz. The waiter agrees that it makes the atmosphere special. But he's already spiffed up with a bow tie, and pin stripe pants. And this is in a rather bleak, boxy industrial zone. What is going on with the old fashioned music? My guess; it's a response to the crazy, scary out -of-control times we're living in right now. Out here on the South shore, I think people want to largely ignore the tumour that sits in Quebecthe White House. They long for a distraction, a diversion that takes them (and me) to a different place. I was discussing this with Joanie, the bartender at a motel in Matane just the other night. She nodded that yes, this music is definitely the fashion now. Although, she had harsh, shouty metal playing, in English no less, and she quickly offered to change it. It was okay; how many chances do I get to follow the lyrics of a metal band? Almost never.
Dave-submarineBut, to go back to where we were in Chapter lll; I was working my way up the Marie- Victorin, town to town, looking for a bike store, or a shoe store. I looked at the strange cartoon limbs turning my pedals around and around. My cream coloured canvas topsider slip-ons really threw me. My feet were like two giant white ovals; like big buttons on a black TV remote. And it wasn't just the aesthetics that were getting to me. My feet were starting to hurt. The Topsiders had to go, the sooner the better.
Pulling into the town of Gentilly, I found a store called "CoutureSportXtreme", and the "treme" part of the colourful sign was done to look like droplets of, uh, passionate perspiration, maybe? I go in, hoping this will be where my feet find happiness and I ask the young woman in my French if she has feet only for cycling. She looks surprised. She has a pretty face, pony tail, hanging down. I like the way she talks, and she says "Ah! Les souliers"... Oh yeah. Souliers. Not pieds. Anyway, there are walls full of sport shoes. No pure cycling shoe, but, let's see if there are any stiff soled ones suitable for cycling...yes. The Merrell and the Salomon. Is there an "onze"? She wiggles as she walks into the stock room searching. No Merrell in size eleven. It's down to the Salomon, and..."ah, oui, monsieur, l'onze!". So I get the shoes. I've needed new cycling shoes for a long time. These aren't expensive. They're super comfortable, have no cleats, and feel great as I use them on the flip side of my pedals which are a plain platform style. How divinely chosen, also, because just one week later I would be so thankful for the solid walking traction of these shoes as I pushed and walked my rig up the mountain sides of "Haute Gaspésie". I got my Gentilly Lace-Ups, and I'm on the flip side for good now. That's what I like.

Moving on. Up to places like Montmagny. In the morning, at the park, Guillaume (the second Guillaume, as I explain to him about the Guillaume in St. Eustache) arrives with a truck to work on the washroom. I am in the very back picnic shelter, making coffee, practicing harmonica in the morning warmth. "Mr. Bojangles", and a new favourite "Can't Hurry Love". Guillaume hears me, I guess.Bike trip ch4 After a while he walks down towards me, paintbrush in hand, he looks sort of like a skinny ZZ Top and he says " ah, monsieur, the bathroom is now ready for you!". He has just installed a new toilet and sink and is repainting. I am apparently going to be customer zero, and he is proud. We chat, and I show him my little colour sketch of his work site. Guillaume gives me two bottles of water because the sink taps are not yet hooked up. He plugs my phone into a special outlet that's usually locked. We laugh about stuff.

Going back again to that last chapter though; I had mentioned that the guys on Ste. Catherine at the bar talked about my legs. It's another funny thing about the Quebecois; once you get to the Ottawa River valley, and meet up with the Franco Ontarians, and all the French east of there, they so often mention "ah, des legs". It may be a grandmother, sitting on her front porch as I pedal past; " oh, you must have de good legs, no?" Or just any number of random gas station customers (I frequent gas stations a lot in Québec, for many good reasons-- one, every gas station is a bar) " Oh, you make le voyage with de bike, you must have the legs, eh?" Everyone here gets right to the point. It's the legs. It's physical. They understand. They're the ones crouched over their front lawn. They're the ones gardening so meticulously. Making the landscape come alive by slaving over it so faithfully.
I've ridden all over English Canada, out west and up north, and nobody mentions your legs, or says "leg" unless it's chicken legs they're talking about. Western Canadians say "stay safe" or " you must be a bit nuts, eh?" I like the French, and their focus on the body. At any lonely country crossroads around here, you might see a full sized carved or cast crucifixion statue. In Ste-Félicité, there's a wooden carved fisherman, his catch hanging in one hand, gazing out at the sea. Bike trip 4His other hand, clenched, has fallen off the body. I found it sitting right beside his boot, set at the base. Nobody has stolen the fisherman's hand. Lots of respect for these things out here.

There's so much more to tell. I'm starting to think thoughts in French. I'll probably never master it but, it makes such a difference to try. And their English is like my French. Together we communicate just fine. In one village yesterday I had a lobster club sandwich. The old woman who presided over the place said " We add an egg, you will see why we call it délicieuese," and it was. As I was finishing my sandwich, a party of three blind customers came in. One needed a walker, probably for cerebral palsy. Another was a beautiful red haired woman. They arrived with a man who brought some music equipment to set up. The three at their table were joking with the old woman, who was fairly extremely bent with scoliosis which did not stop her good cheer. The musician man went straight over to the hummingbird feeders by the window, and he smiled at the hummy while he clipped his fingernails. What was he getting ready to play? Probably something old. Probably something that feels like a time that some of us remember fondly, if vaguely. Nostalgia is a salve for these grating alarming days. The French here on the Gaspésie seem to have unconsciously opted to go back in time. I'm with them. At least for now.

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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