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Eastern Canada, Aug. 2017.  4000 Km

It was time to attend 2 more geology conferences, but unofficially it was time to go cycling again. The first conference was in Singapore, an interlude en-route to Toronto via Shanghai. I like Singapore, but it I chose not to unpack my bike and only be a pedestrian on this visit. The simplest route to Toronto was via Asia and traveling via Shanghai resulted in a mid afternoon arrival time in Toronto. My conference destination was Quebec City, some 800 Km away in seemingly scary French Canada, so I would have to cross Toronto and I chose not to attempt this by bicycle while suffering jet-lag. From the airport I caught the UP express to the downtown VIA rail station and then a VIA rail train to Belleville, a nothing town some 150 Km east from Toronto where I found a motel and unfolded my bike ready to start cycling next day.

It was difficult to navigate southwards next morning as I felt like I was going the wrong way, due to my sudden change of hemispheres, and I was glad to have a compass to help me navigate. I found secondary roads to avoid excessive traffic and reached Kingston in the afternoon where I was able to get a Virgin sim card for my phone, but it was not so easy to find accommodation on a saturday night. Next day I tried to find quiet roads eastwards but became lost as the roads signs were confusing. Using google Maps on my phone quickly solved the problem and i continued eastwards along the St. Lawrence river. Next day I planned to stay in Cornwall, but I arrived there early and the town was unpleasant so I continued on although I would have to travel 180 Km overall to reach Montreal. The roads were flat and the wind gentle and it was a great day cycling, except that the traffic in Quebec was unfriendly and several selfish motorists tried to force me to ride on the occasional silly bicycle paths which only went to local schools and were of no use to me. Next day was wet, so I stayed in Montreal and rode only some local circuits and also planned how to cross the river next day. Montreal is well known for traffic congestion and confusion and I had wanted to avoid it, but now I had to go downtown to cross the river on the only bridge available to cyclists. Despite there being many bicycle paths, there were no signs on them and I had trouble reaching downtown, even with guidance from other cyclists. I was trying to find the northern bridge, but without signs and with road closures for repairs I was soon hopelessly confused and frustrated. I eventually found the bridge entrance and lifted my bike across the road closure. But soon it became clear that I was on some sort of freeway system with no way to turn back, at least there was a shoulder to ride on. I continued and reached the bridge where the shoulder ended and the traffic was angry and honked me, but how did they expect that to solve the problem? The bridge had lane control signals and as i approached the signals above right lane, which I was in, suddenly changed from open to closed. I think the security people had seen me and closed the lane to get traffic out from behind me! Across the bridge I eventually found a safe exit to escape the freeway, half expecting to be met by a police car. I had actually crossed the river on the main Interstate freeway bridge on which bicycles are not permitted, not something I recommend! It still took me another 3 hours to find my way across the sprawling suburbs to some more pleasant quiet cycling roads.

That night while checking possible routes I noticed a town called Asbestos and the name alone was enough to make it my next destination. It had been an asbestos mine until recently and was closed only in about 2012, but I found an interesting hands-on mineral collection in the local library. The paranoia about asbestos back in Australia would not have permitted such a museum display! After another rainy day when I retreated to a local Gite (B&B), I decided not to try and cross the St. Lawrence river at Trois Rivieres as there seemed to be no bicycle access to the only bridge. Instead, I detoured further into the hills for a great ride to Thetford Mines, another asbestos mining town until very recently. After checking out the museum I continued eastwards enjoying a warm sunny day. I was now only 80 Km from Quebec an easy morning ride, but the bicycle crossing over the river was very narrow with 2 way bicycle and pedestrian traffic and someone had to stop each time to allow passing. There was a great bike path along the river into downtown Quebec, followed by an amazingly steep climb up the cliff through the historic city centre, which was jammed full of tourists. I soon found the conference centre, planning to register ready for tomorrow, but the conference had unexpectedly started on Sunday so I joined in immediately with no time to change out of my lycra cycling clothes. Many of the participants had seen me at previous conferences and so were not too surprised. That evening I met up with my kind cycling hosts in a suburb near the university, where I stayed during the conference.

Route map for the western segment
western route Toronto to Quebec city and back

After 4 days at the conference it was time to continue cycling and the plan was to go east to Nova Scotia. To avoid going through Trump's USA I would first go north along the east shore of the gulf of St Lawrence. My hosts had a cottage in Metise and invited me to stay there en route so I decided to take an even more northerly route. After a late start it was time to attack the nasty bridge crossing over the river again. After crossing the bridge, I checked my compass and it was no longer on my handlebars! I remembered hearing a tinkle sound when hitting the bumps on the bridge crossing and realised that my compass was now somewhere in the river. I would have to complete my tour without a compass. I had to travel some 10 Km through the suburbs and noticed that there were signs for the "route Verte" bicycle route. I followed these in places, but sometimes the route just vanished, to reappear some distance later and there were also confusing detours so I gave up and used the roads. There was a strong tailwind so I was riding fast and having fun and by mid afternoon I found a fromagerie (cheese factory and sales) with cookies for a snack. As I drank my coffee a local cyclist arrived and I tried to speak to him, admitting I could not speak french. He immediately walked off, perhaps he did not speak english, but he was unprepared to try and be friendly. He was an exception, most people were pleasant even though I could not speak much french. At a small town I got help from the tourist office to find accommodation before continuing onwards next day. It was pleasant cycling with almost no hills, but the road was inland from the coast so it was not very scenic. By late afternoon there were rain showers causing me concern and I found a small motel for the night. Next morning the sun returned and it was great cycling to Rimouski where there were cycleways along the very pleasant seashore for some 10 Km. Just north of town I noticed a submarine in a dry dock and I remembered seeing a TV documentary about relocating this submarine to a tourist dock. I spent a while looking at it and walking around. The entry fee to go into the submarine was a bit excessive, but there were numerous large interesting rocks they had used to make a breakwater and I spent some time examining the many different rocks. By mid afternoon I had reached the cottage in Metise and relaxed on the coastal deck in the sunshine as the tide eased into the bay. It was a very pleasant stop and well worth the detour to visit Metise and Rimouski.

Sunday morning was sunny as I set off south-eastwards towards the Atlantic coast at Campbellton. The route crossed the end of the Appalachian mountains so it was hilly, but not difficult, and mostly uphill to reach Amqui. From there it was a wonderful ride adjacent to the Matapedia river and mostly downhill to Campbellton, but there were almost no services. Late in the day I needed a rest and stopped at the sole cantina i had seen all day. It was real busy but everyone was patient and a little curious about the lone cyclist. After a great cycling day of 195 Km I found a hostel in Campbellton where the time had advanced an hour and I was even later than i thought. I followed the coastline to Bathurst next day in the vain hope of finding some nice fresh fish. Instead I found a smelter complex, looking rather tired. It had smelted ore from the nearby mines but was now being closed. Next day I again followed the coast to Miramichi, which was a pleasant cycling day but rather long (almost 200 Km) and I did not find a motel until 7pm. I circled west of Miramichi because of bridge closures and continued through the forests, at first on a busy main road until I found a turnoff to a more pleasant secondary road and arrived in Shediac to meet my friend Jim late in the afternoon. It was time for a cycling break and I spent a few days being a tourist with Jim and learned about the acadians who descended from early french immigrants and now inhabit much of New Brunswick. Unlike some of the Quebec french, the acadian french frequently also speak english  and I enjoyed the mix of cultures.

Route map for the eastern segment
eastern route segment. Quebec to nova scotia

But I am not good at being a tourist and after a few days I felt the need to get cycling again. I emailed a colleague at Acadia university in Wolfville to arrange a meeting but he replied that he was in Australia at a conference! However, he would return in 4 days, so I set off on a cool, windy and damp day towards Nova Scotia. Because of the unpleasant weather I contemplated stopping, but as the drizzle cleared up my mood improved and I found pleasant coastal scenery which made up for the grey sky. I found a delightful B&B in Wallace and next day I traveled south on roads which were marked as the cycling Blue route, but as usual, there was no indication where this route would take me. There was quite a climb to cross and a strong headwind all the way to Truro, where I had to deal with heavy traffic on narrow roads. Truro is a complicated town to navigate and not a place I like, but it was a necessary overnight stopover. I decided to try and see the tidal bore on the nearby Shubenacadie river and a website stated it would be at 1pm, so I rode  a long detour in the morning and reached the viewing site at the bridge at midday, apparently just a few minutes after the bore had passed through. It seems you cannot trust the tourist advice on the internet! I continued west towards Windsor on route 236. I had ridden this route before and was aware that it was hilly and lacked services and it was no different this time. It was just a necessary transit rather than an interesting cycle route. Next day was wet, but I only had to travel 40 Km to reach Wolfville so I stopped and sheltered whenever it rained. Wolfville is a very lively university town and I found accommodation and shelter from more rain in the extensive commercial area several Km further west. There are many interesting local roads in this farming area and I amused myself cycling in the local hills the following day until Cliff returned from Australia. Next day we took a local bus service to reach Digby. The 3 buses we used had front mounted bicycle racks to carry my bike, which was very convenient.

I now had only about 2 weeks to return to Toronto so I had to use some public transport, the first being a ferry across the Bay of Fundy to Saint John, a pleasant 2 hour journey but sadly bicycles are not free on this ferry, although not too expensive. Crossing Saint John is a nightmare, as I knew from a previous cycle trip here, and once again I became lost when I followed bicycle routes which did not explain where they are heading. After ignoring various road closures (it was sunday) and getting confused at freeway intersections I eventually reached the north-eastern suburbs for a late lunch stop. There were few accommodation options on my north-easterly route and I either had to do a long ride to Sussex or a very short ride only. It was 2:30pm when I left and the sun was shining and the cycling was great so I decided on the long trip to Sussex. The route was hilly and hard to navigate on the backroads but it was pleasant cycling and it was 7pm when I eventually reached Sussex to search for accommodation. I found an Inn but the parking area was full, which concerned me. I spoke to some motor-cyclists as I stopped and they told me there was a hot air balloon festival here. This is my worst nightmare when touring as I never make accommodation bookings ahead. But I was in luck, a room was available. The restaurant was real busy, but I did not care as it had been a great day cycling. There is a national park on the coast south-east from Sussex so I detoured to pass through it. The road was quite hilly and persistently uphill until almost at the coast so I was glad to reach Alma for a rest. The national park entrance is not normally free, but it was in 2017 as part of the Canadian 150 year celebrations. After a night stop along the coast I reached Moncton next day and returned to meet Jim in Shediac.

I took the train from Moncton to Montreal next night and had to pay extra for the bicycle, check-in baggage is not free on VIA rail. Now I was back in the downtown centre of Montreal, the traffic nightmare I did not need. But there was another cyclist on the train and he lived here, so he guided me through a maze of bicycle routes and narrow alleys to cross both islands to the northern mainland. I simply wanted to be out of the suburbs but it was quite a long way to escape the heavy traffic and reach Lachute for the night. It was a great sunny scenic ride along the Ottawa river to Ottawa earlier than expected next day and I decided to continue rather than stay in Ottawa. I had to avoid the main freeway to Toronto and simply kept riding westwards. But the road ended unexpectedly and as  I stopped to consult my maps a local motorist offered guidance. I decided to head to Arnprior, but the only direct route was on the freeway, which I used for 20 Km. There was a wide shoulder and I felt safe but the noise from the constant stream of traffic was unpleasant and I was glad to eventually find an alternative route. It was a great 200 Km day. I was now in the "highlands" region with many lakes and I planned a low traffic route to Toronto, but it was saturday and everyone had planned their weekend using the same roads so there was continual traffic to deal with. There were great scenic lakeside roads to enjoy in the sunshine, but few towns. Eventually I located a B&B for the night in a settlement too small to even be called a village. After 2 long riding days I enjoyed a less strenuous ride to Haliburton next day, a surprisingly cute town, even though most of the restaurants were closed on sundays. I thought I was now within easy reach of Toronto, but I had misjudged the extent of the broad farmland plains and the heavy traffic and it was a long and sometimes stressful ride to reach Newmarket, a sprawling monster of a town with angry motorists who hated sharing the roads with my bicycle as I crossed the city centre to find a motel. From here the traffic was bound to be heavy, but google maps showed a bicycle route! This was merely a low traffic road which had a narrow shoulder, but wider than other roads, and I reached the Toronto suburban area without incident. My route avoided the need to cross the city centre but I still had to travel some 15 Km to  reach the airport and I had to fight with the traffic and play leapfrog with the city buses. My plan to stay at a motel on the airport perimeter was a problem as most hotels were full, but the 5th hotel I tried had a room for me to recover and contemplate my journey before my departure next day back to Darwin via Shanghai and Singapore.

It had been a pleasant bicycle tour, although much of the cycling was on flat riverside or coastal roads and I normally like cycling in the mountains. There were many cycle routes, particularly in Quebec, but they are difficult to follow without maps because there are no destination signs. And I do not recommend cycling in Toronto or Montreal, there are far more pleasant country roads to explore.