Copyright (c) 1997 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.
Chapter 45 - Sep 8 to Sep 21, 1997 Woodstock, NB to St Croix, QU Canada 28,278 KM (17,532 MI) cumulative
Throughout this summer riding season we've been absolutely amazed at how our days have been so completely devoid of meeting other long term bike tourists. We've met quite a few 1 or 2 week travelers but not one traveling for months at a time. That is until we reached the little town of Hartland, NB. We had stopped to see the one main attraction the town has to offer, the world's longest covered bridge 1282 ft in length. Taking the opportunity to grab a few groceries from the food market across the street we spotted three fully loaded bikes. Bikes as weighed down as ours indicating we'd found long term bikers at last. We proceeded to hunt down our groceries and while Brian was checking out I found the other bikers at the front of the store having a conversation with some woman sporting a huge camera around her neck. Making the bold assumption that they were just finishing a cross Canada ride, I struck up a conversation to see what I could learn of the route ahead.
There were two men, Jeff and Craig, and one woman, Liz. All were lean, fit, and had those tell tale biker's tans, spots on the backs of their hands and pale under lycra shorts. Liz continued her conversation with the camera toting woman while I pumped Jeff and Craig for information. It turns out I had guessed right, all three had come from the west coast but they weren't traveling together all the way. Craig, a musician who sometimes works the Carribean cruise ship circuit, decided to take some time off from work to take this ride. He tells us he plans to ride until either the weather gets too bad or he gets too broke. He was traveling solo until he met up with Liz and Jeff a while earlier and all three decided to spend some time riding together. Jeff and Liz are both from Denver and work at REI. Our eyes lit up when we head this as we're avid REI shoppers, about the only shopping other than food we like to do these days. They had decided to take a 3 month leave to pursue a long ride. Jeff just wanted to do a long distance ride anywhere and Liz wanted Canada because she was born in Toronto. Jeff and Liz were due to finish on Sept 28 in Boston and with plans to still ride Cape Breton in Nova Scotia they had quite a distance left to cover. Much to our surprise Craig happened to be familiar with our newsletters. In fact he kept saying, "These two are legends, at least to me". This is the second time in 2 years we've come across someone who's happened on our web site so we got to thinking maybe there are a lot more folks out there reading these newletters than we know about.
It turns out the camera carrying woman was a reporter for the local newspaper. She had been interviewing the three for an article when I happend up. When she heard about us and our recent 2 year adventure and tried to imagine our journey along with what she'd been hearing from Jeff, Liz, and Craig I think she may have been a bit overwhelmed. To have all 5 of us converge in this little grocery store in her little town at the same time may have been a bit too much of a coincidence. The conversation got more and more animated as we swapped route information, web site addresses, equipment tips. Liz told us of the European style towns ahead, each with a church so large it'd seem the entire town would be taxed to death to pay for it. We told them of construction ahead, the PEI bridge, and the Maritime museum in Halifax. We could have gone on for hours and hours with our reporter grabbing tidbits as the conversation continued. But, we were going in opposite directions and the day was passing fast. So, with lots of photos taken and addresses and phone numbers exchanged we finally had to say goodbye. Our reporter has promised to send us a copy of the article which we look forward to seeing. Surprisingly after 2 years riding bikes all over N. America this is the first time we've found ourselves in a paper.
We pulled into Edmunston, our last night in New Brunswick, fairly early in the afternoon. Since we had plenty of time to spare we thought we'd head over to the U.S. for a short shopping trip. Even though much of what a Canadian supermarket carries is very, very similar to what a US market has there are some surprising differences. For instance, Canadians rarely have more than one variety of canned chili, black olives, or tortilla chips. We can't find that butter spray we like at all. Sales taxes in Canada are absolutely sky high, usually 15% on absolutely everything except basic food items. So we thought we'd grab a few of those taxable items, as well; such as vitamins and dental floss. And, of course, Canadian beer and wine prices are astronomical since everywhere, except Quebec and Alberta, it's all government controlled, sold in government stores, and taxed up the wazoo. So Brian picked up some extra beer and I treated myself to some wine. We were well below the limit for US citizens entering Canada so we thought there'd be no problem.
HA! Being honest we told the Canadian customs officials we'd just gone to the US for a shopping trip. Out comes a form and he asks, "What did you buy?" "Oh some groceries, beer, wine, newspaper." we replied thinking we're way below our limit so there'll be no duty. He hands us this paper and directs us to the next official who takes Brian inside and starts tallying up numbers. As it turns out, even though we're not Canadian citizens, do not benefit from any of their health care system or whatever, just because we're visiting for a while and went to the US for less than 48 hours we're sort of considered to be Canadians and had to pay duty. Had we not told them we'd been in Canada for several weeks there would have been no tax. Basically this would be equivalent to a US citizen going on a Tijuana shopping trip and having to pay duty upon returning even though he was well below the US import limits. It made absolutely no sense. Brian was livid. He says, "That's it. I can't take it any more. Canadian people are nice, the drivers great, and the towns interesting. But, I just can't take their high taxes anymore." High being 15% on virtually everything except basic food items. He says, "That settles it. Next year we'll ride across the US and go up to Canada just to ride the Icefields Parkway for a few weeks. I simply will not continue to pay these ridiculous taxes."
We've met quite a few RV people from the US who've developed similar sentiments over the years. They'd love to spend more time traveling in Canada, spend more money, buy more tourist goods. But, the high taxes on all goods, the crazy liquor laws, the restrictions on having large stores closed on Sundays, the "no glass on PEI" policy, and much higher gasoline prices turn them off. Many we met on the AlCan last summer were telling us they simply loaded up with supplies and then drove continually to get through to Alaska. It's once again a sad case of a government not taking into account how taxes impact human behavoir. We did hear that one government candidate wants to see the GST gradually lowered from 7% to 5%. We say "Bravo". She's got the right idea. Oh yes, they will tell you can submit receipts and a form to get your taxes returned. But the restrictions on that are so great it's hardly worth bothering with.
Just north of Edmonston we entered perhaps the best multi use trail system we've ever encountered. Even better than the C&O tow path in Maryland. It's the 125 km long Petit Temis trail that currently goes from Edmonston to Riviere du Loup. What makes it so great is 1. it's laid out along an old rail line which makes it avoid the worst hills, 2. the surface is a perfect smooth crushed rock, and 3. the facilities along the way are fabulous. At the start there are minor rest stops spaced about 2 km which consist of at minimum a picnic table or bench with accompanying tash can and bike stand. More major rest stops will have the table covered under a sturdy shelter, perhaps a bench or two, and a pit toilet. The MAJOR stops are almost like a park with manicured lawn, flowers, drinking fountains, maybe even a restaruant nearby. It was fabulous.
Even better, this little 125 km section will eventually become part of the TransCanada trail. This trail, hoped to be finished in the year 2000, will go from coast to coast, include spurs up to Inuvik and across the cutoff between Michigan and Wisconsin, and will cross every province with the sole exception of Labrador. Labrador doesn't have any roads much less abandoned rail lines that can be made into bike trails. There'll be thousands and thousands of miles of completely separate bike path. Now here's a big insentive for us to return to Canada for a long term bike ride once again. This trail is a bike tourist's dream come true. Gosh, why can't Rails-to-Trails conservancy in the US do something similar.
The wonderful trail took us right to the outskirts of Riviere du Loup where we took a big breath, steadied our nerves, and headed back into the traffic lanes. Situated on a point on the opposite side of the bay is the municipal campground. Having a 180 deg. view of the city, great access to restaurants, a laundrymat, free showers we had to finally decide it was time for a day off. After 10 days nonstop riding we had to rest. Our nerves were frayed and tempers short, too short.
Our route took us south west along the south shores of the St. Lawrence seaway. Upon leaving Riviere du Loup we passed only tiny towns for miles and miles. Each has its own large church built from some light colored rock, perhaps granite, grouted with an even whiter limestone and topped with a silver, tin roof. They glinted and shone even under our continual overcast skies. Each 8 to 10 km of the ride I eagerly anticipated sighting that next silver cone pointing heavenward knowing another town was coming.
We needed the distraction the interesting towns provided as all 3 days riding to Quebec City were filled with headwinds. Day one, light headwinds, we made 40 miles easily. Day 2 howling, gusting headwinds, we barely managed to scrape out a mere 30 miles. Day 3, medium headwinds and we collapsed after 35 miles. Why is it no bike book mentioned predominently westerly winds? In general the weather was starting to get variable and strange. On our second day we fought those headwinds for as long as we could tolerate. Stopping at a small municipal campground we set up our tarp as a wind break. Dark clouds billowed overhead, rain started to fall, the wind increased. Suddenly it broke out into a sworling, howling, pouring storm lasting a mere 15 minutes. Brian frantically ran around trying to restake the tarp into better positions to keep the bikes and table dry. Then, just as suddenly as the winds and rains peaked, they stopped. All was quiet, not a flutter of a tree leaf. The sun came out, treating us to a spectacular sunset, and a medium weight breeze from the east blew forcing us the reshift the tarp again to act as an easterly wind break. We rejoiced thinking we'd have a tailwind in the morning. But it was not to be. Before we awoke the wind had once again shifted and we were subjected to another day of continual headwinds. It's just one of those facts of bike touring, winds and weather can be your greatest friend or enemy, all in the same day.
The day of our headwind struggle we saw a strange apparition along side the road just ahead. It was a horse pulling what appeared to be a red and blue gypsy wagon. Bertha, the light brown horse, busily munched away on a pile of hay thrown down on the street while a gray bearded man wearing a rain hat with turned down brim and well worn tan pants and shirt relaxed with a book aboard the driver's seat. The side of the wagon was painted with names such as China, USSR, Japan, USA, Canada, and Yugoslavia crossed out and replaced with Crotia and Slovenia. I had to stop to find out just what this was. David Grant his wife Kate and three sons Torcuil (1980), Eilidh (1981), and Fionn (1984) had been traveling around the world in this wagon contraption from their home in Scotland for no less than 7 years. Imagine, his youngest son at 13 years of age probably has only vague memories of life in a house living like a regular boy. Their oldest son decided he liked California and stayed behind. So now they were down to just the two boys. The horse was required to only pull the wagon. Just as the westward pioneers of the late 1800s, the parents walked. The boys, however, got to take advantage of some 20th century technology, mountain bikes. Their distance, a whopping 10 to 12 miles per day, just as those early pioneers.
Their trip has been filled with good and difficult, just as ours. Having sold a house in Scotland they had expected to live off the interest for as long as they wanted. Fluctuations in tha value of the pound, having to buy their way out of China, and other catastrophic events completely wiped out their principal much sooner than expected. A horse fell sick while traveling through Yugoslavia right when the war broke out. They had to wait for the horse to get well, return to Austria, wait for the war to end, and then go back. When going through China the Chinese allowed them to travel safely, for a while. Suddenly, without warning, they decided to close all roads to foreign travelers, something to do with some woman's conference. They were expelled and found themselves in Japan, far more expensive than their budget could handle. Their previous horse, the one just before Bertha, fell in North Dakota and died. So now, with all that, the money is essentially gone and they need to get home where David, an ecologist by trade, needs to get a job. They're headed to Halifax where they have to find free passage for themselvs, the horse, and wagon back to Scotland. As David said, "If it's not free we don't go."
Looking at their life from the perspective of a traveling adult I'd have to think their sons have had one of the most interesting childhoods one could have. However, I also have to wonder just how much they have missed. They will not have had any of the growing-up experiences other kids have had, no childhood friends, no school memories, no dates, dances, proms. Just endless moving from place to place. I could see such a life for a year or two as a great learning experience for a child. But not through their entire teen years. It just doesn't seem quite fair to impose this life upon teenagers throughout their High School years.
By the time we reached Quebec city the banks of the seaway had changed from flat plains to rolling hills with cliffs at the river's edge. Towns became progressively closer spaced and larger as we approached the town of Levis on the opposite bank from the city. We found ourselves a campground conveniently located near a city bus stop having an unparalleled view of the seaway and Ile d'Orleans. We could sit at our picnic table during dinner and watch cargo tankers make their way up and down the waterway delivering goods to ports near and far. This one may be going to Chicage, that one Montreal.
The city of Quebec was founded by 1608 Champlain on this 2 tiered river bank specifically for defensive reasons. The main town and docks were placed down near the water and a defensive works consisting of several small redoubts were planned for the upper level. Cannon placed on the top of the embankment could easily reach across the water to the other side thus preventing invading ships from anchoring. The reason for this defense was to protect the French territorial claims from British intrusion and later t Belle Vue at St Croix ($)
($) indicates fee camping
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.