Wednesday, June 18, 2014

When Ignorance is an Asset......

I had one of those "OMG, what have I done?" moments last Friday. I was in the middle of the bush in Northern Quebec, totally isolated, covered in mosquitos, biking uphill, in the pouring rain. My husband, whom I had dragged along, was having chest pains and all I could think of was, "How did I get us into this mess?"

Let me put this in context. I have always wanted to bike "Le P'tit Train du Nord," the linear park that runs from St Jerome (just north of Montreal) to Mont Laurier, about 200kms further north. We have biked sections of it before about 10 years ago and found it very manageable - mostly flat (it is an old train line) with delightful inns and cafes along the trail - what's not to love?

Well, ignorance for one thing!! I took the 25kms per half day, we had biked back then, multiplied it by 8 and decided that we could do 50kms a day for four days, staying at various inns along the way and having a tour company transport our baggage. It sounded so simple on paper. What I hadn't taken into account were:

Starting out in St Jerome

1. The weather - well, what's a little rain. Well, sometimes it's a lot of rain and sometimes it rains all day and how do you finish your allotted mileage soaked to the skin, exhausted?

2. The grade - Le Petit Train Du Nord was obviously the little train that could. Gone were the nice flat tracts we used to bike further south. The first leg of the journey was a gradual uphill climb for 40kms.

3. The insects - that idyllic picnic that we often had after biking a few kilometres out into the country was reversed, we were now lunch for the several thousand mosquitos that swarmed us whenever we tried to stop.

4. The math - the distances between inns did not always divide into 50 manageable kilometres. In fact the first inn was almost 60 kilometres away.

5. The amenities - gone were the quaint inns and delightful cafes of the middle part of the trail. The stretch from Mont Laurier to Nominique did not have a single refuge spot anywhere on the trail. Luckily one of the other biking enthusiasts had pointed out a small community just off the trail, as we were riding up to the starting point on the bus.

Mont Laurier and the start of the trail

With 20kms to go, we were fortunately able to turn off the trail into this small, isolated community of 1 convenience store, 1 chip wagon (it's a Quebec thing) and 1 bar-resto that served food indoors, out of the rain and the mosquitos. It's at moments like these that I can fully understand Blanche's words, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." It was now 3:00pm. We had been up since 6:00am with nothing but toast and tea for breakfast and we were soaked to the skin. An emaciated, grilled cheese sandwich never tasted so good!!

After this pit stop, however, we knew that we could not do the next 20kms (which were btw, downhill, however, we didn't know that, since our trail map had disintegrated in the rain!!) We reviewed Plan B. Mercifully, we had a phone connection and could call the inn, where we were staying that night, to see if a taxi could come and pick us up, bikes and all and take us to the inn. "But, of course!!" (The French make it seem so simple.) Now it did cost $50.00, but at that point, I would have paid thousands just to get out of the rain.

Auberge Chez Ignace in the sun

After a hot shower and some commiseration with the other guests at the inn, who had managed the full 60kms (they were younger and/or fitter), we could pat ourselves on our aching backs for even doing the 40kms that we had actually done, under those miserable conditions, at our age and in our not-so-fit physical shape!!

When was ignorance an asset? Well, I would never have left Toronto, if I had known what to expect. But then, I would never have had the opportunity to see what we could really do, when pressed and it amazed both of us!!

More tomorrow, which in literature, is always a better day!!

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