Copyright (c) 1997 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.
Chapter 46 - Sep 22 to Oct 11, 1997 St Croix, QU to Cazenovia, NY 29,156 KM (18,077 MI) cumulative
I watched Brian's back hunch ever lower, his head shake back and forth sure signs he was in absoulte frustrated despair. It was our second day riding from Quebec to Montreal, our 5th overall along the south shore of the St. Lawrence and we once again faced howling, gusting headwinds. Winds so strong we quite literally stopped in our tracks with each torturing 60 mph gust. We began to wonder, can we make it to Montreal in 4 days? Not at a mere 50 km per day. We tried to enjoy the scenery, but when you're simply concentrating on making one more turn of the pedals, maintaining a death grip on the handle bars to keep from swerving into an oncoming car's path it's nearly impossible. Buildings clustered around town centers provided a brief shelter, just long enough to take a deep breath and head on. It was not fun. Brian kept saying, "If we get a tail wind I want to ride 100 miles. I just want to get this over with."
The wind gods hearing our plea finally gave us a break. A cold front came through and the winds at long last shifted to out of the north, northwest. We roared along at an average speed of 15 mph, flying past Trois Rivieres, Sorel, and Tracy right to the outskirts of Montreal before we decided we'd had enough. So we've learned, the winds along the St. Lawrence usually come from the west and southwest except when an Artic cold front comes through. Then, for one oh so brief day winds will be from the north. If you're on a bike trying to head west you'd better take advantage of the cold fronts as you may not see another tailwind for a long, long time.
Montreal city is located on one of the many islands in the St. Lawrence about 3/4 the distance between the mouth of the river and Lake Ontario. It's history roughly parallels that of Quebec city with two notable exceptions: it was founded in 1642 and it was actually occupied by rebel American colonial soldiers under Benedict Arnold for about a year, 1775 to 1776. The position of the island is just downstream of the Lachine rapids which, in early years, were the final, impassible obstruction preventing ships from moving further inland. Consequently from its early days the town was an important shipping port giving the most inland access. 1600 km inland in fact. Not long after the town was established and the various battles between English and French then English and American were resolved the town decided to construct a canal to circumvent the rapids. This would greatly expand the navigable range of the river and would allow Canada to compete for shipping commerce that may have been grabbed by the newly constructed Erie canal. The locks around the canal were expanded several times and were in constant use until 1961. At this time the new St. Lawrence seaway, a canal and lock system extending all the way to the Great Lakes, took over the job.
Because of its position as one of North America's, and Canada's most, important shipping ports the city has grown significantly larger and faster that Quebec. It's population of over 3,000,000 is spead out over the low rolling hills both north and south of the river. The large central park covering Mont Real, designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead incidentally, is completely surrounded by city on all sides. Jacques Cartier, the first European to set foot in this area would be shocked. Basically it's a major city with the same urban sprawl that surrounds all major cities.
Unfortunatly this has also meant that the city has not been able to retain quite as much old world charm as Quebec. There is an old town section with its narrow, winding streets and 18th century buildings. However, the old fortified walls were torn down long ago and over the years buildings from every imaginable stylistic period have infiltrated. There's Victorian standing next to Greek revival with a 20th century glass box across the street. It's not as large or homogeneous as Quebec's old town. The walking tour of downtown is quite interesting. It not only gives information about the date and architecture style of a building it gives a short discussion of the building's relavance in the city's history. It took us a full day just to complete the tour.
Montreal is home to several museums that we thought we'd try. Two were the Canadian Center for Architecture (CCA) and the McCord Museum of Quebec History. Both proved to be far different from anything we had anticipated. In the CCA we had hoped to see displays showing different types of architectural and landscaping features along with dates, places or origin, etc. Instead the entire museum was dedicated to temporary exhibits. At this time the exhibit was all about the design styles used by the Disney studios to generate a feeling of comfort in their theme parks, hotels, and new stores. Similarly with the McCord museum we had expected to find a detailed recreation of the hitory of Quebec province and the city of Montreal. But, it too was filled with temporary exhibits one on the Indian peoples, another on some local political cartoonist, and the third on some of the techniques used by a film studio to research and create costumes and scenery for a made-for-TV series called Marie Volant. It was set in the 18th century around the time of the British takeover of Quebec so they had to do quite a bit of study on the 18th century. using the McCord's archives. That was it. There was no more. We were a bit disappointed, I must admit.
Perhaps the best site to visit in Montreal, especially for anyone who has even a slight interest in gardening, are the botanical gardens. These gardens happen to be the third largest in the world, London's and Berlin's being larger, and they truly are awesome. Laid out across over a hundred hectares in an elongated polygonal shape there's more than enough room for green houses, gardens, and even groves of trees. You enter at one corner to find large flower gardens filled with annuals and perenials lining the sidewalks and a huge fountain as the centerpiece. From there you can explore the insectarium with its large display of beetles, butterflys, moths, termites, and other creepy, crawly creatures from around the world. There's even a working bee hive where, with some careful looking, you can find the queen bee identified by a small splotch of white paint on her back. She's busy making more little bees to keep the museum visitors entertained.
Beyond the insect house we found fantastic rose gardens. Not just your typical rectangular gardens having little character. These gardens gracefully followed along the curving sidewalk with accents of trellises, small fountains, and statues giving the gardens a formal yet haphazard feeling. The rose lined sidewalk takes you directly to the arboretum. At the rear end of the park it takes up the largest amount of space. There is sufficient room for not just one specimen of each tree but whole groves. There are samples of different varieties of maples, oaks, ashes, birches, and evergreens of all types. All are carefully spaced to show off the special features of that particular tree yet to appear somewhat like a carefully manicured forest. The grass is meticulously mowed under each and every tree. There is also a "tree house" back in the aboretum. A small building with displays describing how trees work, propogate, and grow from starting as a tiny seed to the towering staturesque of some of earth's largest living creatures. A few good words for the lumbering industry are implanted here and there as the lumber industry sponsored the tree house. Oh well.
The Japanese and Chinese gardens are major spots not to be missed by the tourist, or tour bus for that matter. Both the Japanese and Chinese gardens feature rock studed fountains with water flowing into large reflection ponds having the typical shelter structures surrounding the ponds. Landscaping for the Japanese was subdued and tranquil while the Chinese gardens were more vibrant, rugged. The Japanese garden had a modernized version of a Japanese tea house. Its simplified lines gave it an understated elegance. It housed one of those Zen gardens consisting of small pebbles surrounding large boulders. The pebbles are raked in series of straight lines and curves that outlined the large boulders. The effect was to represent islands in a vast ocean. Two appropriately placed benches allowed visitors to sit and meditate while observing the garden. The tea house, along with the tree house and one of the many green houses, also was home to several magnificant, in miniature, bonsai trees. Ages ranged from 15 to 250 years. They were a gift from Japan to the city of Montreal, a sort of a symbol of friendship, making Montreal's the largest collection of Bonsai trees outside of Japan.
We happened to be lucky enough to have visited the Chinese gardens during their annual Chinese lantern festival. Silk lanterns in various shapes ranging from animals to boxes and globes strung up about 5 ft high and spaced about 7 ft apart lined each sidewalk. There were also large, lifesize lamps of tigers, a fisherman in the pond being taunted by fish and birds, a peacock, a Budha or two, and two fantastic dragons poised out in the middle of the pond. As part of the festival, musicians were invited in to perform traditional Chinese music, with a modern twist I suppose, on some of the mose unusual looking instruments. The Chinese garden is probably one of the most unique we've ever seen.
Oddly, sitting next to the Chinese garden was the Alpine garden. Made to look like the rugged top of some Rocky mountain peak it contained all sorts of those tiny, ground hugging plants one finds on those mountain peaks. It's mainly a lot of mosses, lichens, and tiny flowery ground covers. But there can also be spectacular arrays of color in the right season. Having spent many a hike up on the tops of Alpine mountains we felt the garden was all too familiar.
Another area we found most interesting were th vegetable gardens. Rarely does one find sections of a botanical garden dedicated solely to displyaing different fruits, vegetables, and grains. Yet here were aver 5 hectares for just that. There were the common varieties we see every day in the produce section of our groceries. In addition there were more exotic plants from all parts of the globe, some even coming from tropical environments which we were surprised could grow in this northern climate. I assume they are seeded in the greenhouses first and plnated outside only after the weather warms. Each plant was accompanied with a sign giving its name, place of origin, and cullinary use.
Other items of interesting these magnificant gardens were the 9, count them, 9 green houses filled with everything from tropical to desert plants, a children's garden where kids from the city get to come grow their own veges each year, and severaal experimental gardens where I assume they have their own crossbreeding program. We spent an entire day covering as much ground as possible and went away feeling as though we could have used another 1/2 day just to do some easy meandering. I think if I were a resident of Montreal I would have a season pass. Then, whenever I wanted to make some garden modifications I would check out the plants and trees at the botanical gardens. There'd be lots of hints, tips, dos and don'ts readily available at one spot.
Our 5th day at Montreal the rains came in from the north bringing cold, cold wet weather. We had planned to head on down the road, but looking out our hotel window at sheets of water pummeling the cement around the pool pursuaded us to do otherwise. So we headed into town via the bus, metro route we'd grown to know so well over the previous few days, and spent the day exploring underground Montreal. Linked to the metro system, Montreal has mile after mile of underground passages connecting large indoor, underground shopping malls. There are hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, office buildings, and the expansive food courts all connected underground. If you happened to live in one of the appartments or condos attached to a metro and worked in an office also so positioned you could quite literally spend an entire winter day out of your home yet entirely indoors. The only thing we did not spot during our explorations was a large food market. But I'm sure there's one in there somewhere. There's nothing really that interesting, novel, unique, or fun to do in this shopping district except shop and it simply looks like any other indoor mall anywhere in North America. But, it did make for a good way to pass a wet rainy afternoon.
The rain we were experiencing was actually due to the first of a set of back-to-back cold fronts marchng down from that Artic north. The second one came late the following day. So even though we had decided to ride, we were lucky enough not to be hit with continual sheets of cold water all day. Just the last hour found us getting soaked. After that we had a pleasant warming trend as a long awaited Indian summer seemed to envelope the northern New York area. Unfortunatly we did have to continue to contend with those westerly winds. Even as we turned south after reaching Lake Ontario the winds seemed to also turn south. In the entire month since leaving PEI we had perhaps at most 2 or 3 days of tailwinds. The rest were mosty headwinds, occasional side winds with a frontal component, and maybe a day or two of almost no wind. If anyone ever asks about riding along the St. Lawrence we'll be very quick to say you must go west to east. Don't even try east to west.
Northern New York's roads proved to be such a pleasant, unexpected surprise. All other times I've ridden NY roads I've usually found zero shoulder and rough, rough pavement. When I was young and nine years ago during our first cross country and even this past summer were all the same, difficult unpleasant roads. But not in the far north parts of the state. The roads were smooth, wide, with shoulders that sometimes exceeded the width of the roadway itself. Many looked brand new, perhaps having been rebuilt just this year. It felt like biker's heaven. Considering what we had expected, riding in north New York was fantastic. Except for the headwonds, of course. We endured headwinds for a final 4 days along the St. Lawrence and then south along Ontario Lake.
But, the last two days gave us a change, a relief, a rest, a TAILWIND. We turned east to take the eastern road around Oneida Lake, avoiding what we thought would be high traffic in the Syracuse area. This turn, slight turn, gave us just the direction difference we needed and the day happened to have howling westerly winds, again. We sailed so fast I couldn't stp myself from exclaiming "wheeeeee" as we roared along. It was wonderful. The hills were aglow with the yellows, golds, oranges, reds, and maroons as the fall colors were almost reaching their peak brilliance. The roads were the usual wide, smooth, and gently rolling. Drivers, courteous, which was entirely unexpected. Our previous encounters with NY drivers 9 years ago were not entirely all that enjoyable. Now, such a change has prevailed. We pulled into Verona Beach State Park after having stormed through 40 miles feeling enough pep to take on the easy 3 mile nature hike. Oh what a difference a tailwind can make.
"I've got a mule, her name is Sal" "fifteen miles on the Erie canal" "She's a good ole worker and a good ole pal" "fifteen miles on the Erie canal" "We've hauled some barges in our day" "filled with lumber, coal, and hay" "and we know every inch of the way" "from Albany to Buffalo"
"Low bridge, everybody down" "Low bridge cause we're coming to a town" "You always know your neighbor" "You always know your pal" "If you"ve ever navigated the Erie canal"
"Git up there Sal. We've passed that lock" "fifteen miles on the Erie canal" "And we'll make Rome for six O'clock" "fifteen miles on the Erie canal" "Just one more trip and back we'll go" "through the rain and sleet and snow" "and we know every inch of the way" "from Albany to Buffalo"
When growing up I spent many an evening around a Girl Scout campfire belting out this song at the top of my lungs along with some 20 other woefully out-of-tune girls. I never knew the origins of the song. In fact, I always assumed all Girl Scouts across the country would sing it. How naive. The Erie canal i a New York egacy, a very important one at that. Before the canal was built boat traffic traveled up and down small rivers connecting Albany to Bufallo. Size of the crafts and cargo were limited by the accessibility of the river and the weight the men could portage across the few gaps. It was a long, slow, difficult path which kept western NY in a state of virtual wilderness for a long time. The US couldn use the St. Lawrence passage without incurring large duty fees from England. So a shorter passage was sought.
Digging for the canal started on July 4, 1817 just outside on Rome NY amid a small cheering crowd, cannon fire, and dignitary speeches. The construction started in what would later become the middle of the canal only because there was a long 72 miles, from the Seneca River to Utica, that was flat. Thus at least at start there were no locks to build. But, it would be quite a while before they had a canal that went anywhere much less reach their final objective, Albany to Bufallo. In that first year only 18 miles were completed. The next, 98 miles. The entire canal was finally finished 8 years later. From that point on the face of western NY and even further west beyond the Great Lakes changed forever. A wilderness was tamed and settled.
The Erie canal saw its last packet boat many, many years ago. It was replaced by the New York barge canal that, due to the advantage of steam and deisel boats, could use the lakes. It fell into disrepair. When I was growing up in Cazenovia my friend, Ruth, and I often would ride down the hill into Chittenango and then ride the old, abandoned tow path for as far towards Syracuse as we could go. Back then it was not in good condition and we rarely, if ever, saw anyone else along the path. All that has now changed. Much of the eold path, from Rome to Syracuse and then further west of Syracuse towards Bufallo, have been restored and converted to a multiuse hike/bike trail. As we find with all tow path or rail/trail conversions, this was a wonderful flat and quite ride with no worries about cars. Just a few dogs.
We rode my old route backwards, from Chittenango up the hill to Cazenovia. As we climbed we were treated to better and better views of the surrounding hillsides. Our timing for finishing the summer's ride could not have been more perfect as the trees were just reaching their peak color. There are places around the world that may clai to have beautiful fall colors, the Rocky mountains with their golden aspen covered hillsides for one. But nowhere, absolutely nowhere have Iever found fall colors that come close to matching what you can find in the northeast New England region. The different sugars in the hardwood trees creat colors ranging in all shaddes of yellow, gold, orange, red, and maroon. The hillsides were ablaze with a montage of colors. Old Chittenango Falls State Park, where I spent many a evening or afternoon picnic with my family, provided us with grand vistas not only across the falls and nearby valleys but even just in our small campsite whereseveral trees were in full glorious color. With each passing breeze a flurry of gold woudl flutter around us and the layer of leaves on the ground grows a bit deeper. Brian was amazed. In all those years he visited family in Massachusets he never got to see the fall colors.
Our last day on the bikes was a day to remember. We easily pedaled the 4 miles into town where I rpoceeded to take a stroll down memory lane. A stop at the old house, a walk through town, a visit with an old High School teacher, lunch at an old favorite spot, visits with long time friends. So much has changed yet so much is the same. As I mentioned to Brian one of the advantages of growing up in a small eastern town is when you return home things always look familiar. Having grown up in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla he will find little that is familiar when we visit this winter. I would not want to move back to Cazenovia, but it sure was fun visiting. All too soon our visit and out summer riding came to an end. My father drove up in the VW and we all headed south back to Virginia. Now starts our first winter living in the van.
Note: Thanks to the effort and generosity of the creator of the Garfield commic strip we are pleased to announce the return of our scapegoat .. er I mean mascot, Nermil. Following his loss in Guatemala City I contacted Paws, Inc, the company that handles the Garfield products. I was having difficulty locating a new Nermil. These nice folks did not just tell me where to find one, they actually had one availabl to send. He arrived in June and spent the summer living with my parents, eating, sleeping, tearing through the house. He's grown and gotten a bit fatter. But, he still thinks he's the world's cutest kitten. We want to thank Paws, Inc for returning our much missed Nermil.
Appendix A - Route
Rt 132 from Montreal to US border
Rt 37 to Morristown, Rt 12 to Fishers Landing, Rt 180 to Rt 3 to Pulaski, Rt 13 around Oneida Lake to Verona, Erie Canal towpath to Chittenango, Rt 13 to Cazenovia
Appendix B - Campsites and hotels
Motel La Place in Gentilly ($), Auberge Chez Philip in Contrecoeur ($), Motel la Barre near Montreal 6 nights ($), Motel Beajues in Salaberry de Valleyfield ($)
New York Motel in Massena ($), Ogdensburg KOA ($), Elms Motel in Alexandria Bay ($), Wescott Beach State Park ($), Selkirk Beach State Park near Pulaski ($), Verona State Beach 2 nights ($), Chittenango Falls state park ($)
($) indicates fee camping
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.