Following two fantastic days with our host Mimi, we finally pieced together a blueprint for a route, with the amazing help and input of Mimi’s brother and the additional plus of a place organized for us to stay the following night after Mimi called upon some friends of hers further down the river. We couldn’t believe the incredible kindness of these people who had never even met us previously: we stay with couchsurfer Felix, who calls his mother Mimi and with whom we stay for 2 nights, who in turn calls friends of hers for us also. Everyone has gone out of their way to help us any way they can, way beyond basic kindness- indeed, putting themselves out in order to ensure we’re well fed, comfortable, that we have places to stay and know the best possible routes to follow to each destination. There really are some incredible people out there- with big hearts.
We left Montreal in the glorious sunshine, re-joining the Route Verte 1 and enjoying the flat, smooth cycle path that lead us out of the city. As time has gone by, we’ve become more accustomed to the little ‘quirks’ of Route Verte- and in spite of the (numerous) occasions when we reach junctions and a lack of signs has left us bewildered, we’ve gradually learnt to interpret other small hints, signs- look for the wider shoulder, the far-off painted bike sign on the road, watch for other cyclists, or that distant tiny green ‘route verte’ sign a mile down the road… even when you have the official maps for the cycle route, they’re frustratingly insufficient with a lack of road names or clear indications as to when the route inexplicably ‘stops’ or changes direction at will. But slowly, we’re learning to find our way.
The ride out of Montreal was simple and fun, and left me feeling exhilarated and energized once more- I think the plaguing knowledge, in the back of my mind, that the end date is near is just making me all the more determined to appreciate the time we have left. I just don’t want it to end.
We arrived at Parc National d’Oka for the night and booked in. I was knocked for six when I got charged the $28 for the campsite (which I expected, having called earlier that day to confirm the price) and then an additional $5.50 apiece for ‘entry into the park’. Over $40 for a bare basics campsite with no water or electric. Steep. (And funnily enough, they didn’t mention that when I called. I wonder why..)
Then the park warden gave us a warning-
“We have a serious raccoon issue here, so please don’t leave any food in your tent overnight, at all.”
After explaining our situation (where exactly CAN we leave food?!) they finally arranged for us to have a locker for the night, a 15minute walk away from the tent. Not ideal- but, at least, a safer alternative than bringing our food in with us.
We were cooking dinner when we first realized just how serious an issue the raccoons really were. Attracted by the smell of our dinner, 4 of them suddenly appeared and decided to come right up to the picnic table where we were sat in order to seek out food. Theo, fascinated by these tiny furry creatures, then gave chase around the camp- with us frantically calling him back (with their sharp claws and vicious bite, they can be dangerous creatures!) but, it seems, it did the job and from then on, they at least kept a respectable distance- of sorts- watching us from afar with hungry, unblinking eyes. Eventually, they skulked away in the undergrowth, fading into the forest.
That night we went to bed in the tent, with all our food safely locked up 15minutes away.
Around 11pm, I’m still not quite asleep and there’s a movement along my side of the tent. I suddenly sit bolt upright as something very definitive pushes against my head through the thin nylon. There’s rustling and squeaking, and then the sound of the tarp we have fixed over our bikes being moved. I shake Matt awake with the urgent whisper-
“Matt!! MATT! Raccoons. There’s raccoons outside. I think they’re going in the trailer!”
Bleary-eyed, Matt grabs a torch and peeks outside. Yep, that’s them. Scrambling around under the tarp- goodness knows how many of them- and pulling out all our belongings as they go. As I sit there and listen to them raiding our belongings- even though I logically know they are far more afraid of us than we are of them- I can’t help but feel a tad intimidated. There’s an army of them out there, ravaging through my things, tearing through them. I feel like we’re being attacked- and in the dark, in the middle of the woods, with no-one else around, I’m suddenly lacking in any confidence to deal with them. My heart is pounding, even though part of me knows it’s irrational.
Pulling on a top, Matt goes out to try and chase them off. It seems we weren’t anal enough about emptying our bags- they’ve sourced a couple of the individually wrapped dark chocolates Matt had forgotten were hidden in the depths of his pannier (and, in the process, they’ve pulled out his multitool and Theo’s nappies in order to get to them, discarding them at will on the floor) and get this- they’ve gone for the tomato ketchup sachets too. Matt ends up chucking the tomato ketchup as far as he can from the tent and- unwilling to lose his precious chocolates- decides to adopt the ‘bearproof’ principle and manages to suspend the bag of chocolates from a tree branch a safe distance from our tent. And even though I had cleaned out Theo’s trailer, it apparently wasn’t enough- they’ve found crumbs from leftover pretzels hidden there too.
But in fact, it’s not so much the food we’re overly concerned about- we’ve certainly locked away anything of worth- but in their mission, they don’t care what they pull out and chuck out of the way. If they decide to pull our bike tools or clothes into the woods behind them, the chances are, we’ll never see them again! And there’s just the basic, innate, protective principle of wanting to look after your belongings- of not waning to feel violated by greedy creatures who will stop at nothing in order to satisfy their hunger!
Mission accomplished (i.e. having done just enough to get them to scurry off to the next camp), Matt returns to the tent. We can’t sleep, though. We lie there listening to the silence of the woods, jumping at every small rustle, wondering if they’re returning.
And then they do.
This time, they come right into the tent- into the front ‘porch area’, right by our heads. The scratching and squeaking, the tiny paws probing at us from the other side of the tent door brings a scream right up into my throat but somehow I silence it, not wanting to frighten Theo, who is already wide-eyed with a look of uncertainty that could easily go either way at a moment’s notice. I jokingly tease Theo about those ‘naughty raccoons!’ and he gleefully joins in the banter, his laughter diffusing the tension somewhat. Gingerly, Matt unzips the top of the door. And then quickly, he grabs the rubber mallet we use to hammer in our tent pegs and lashes out, trying to shoo away the ravaging raccoons, grabbing a stick from the ground at the same time and whipping it around, samurai style, as the squeaks increase and they flee under the gaps at the base of the outer door.
“What on earth did they want? I packed away everything else! There’s nothing in those panniers! Is it the toiletries bag, or something?” I probed Matt.
He looks out and discovers the culprit. And can you believe it? It’s my herbal tea bags.
Those lil blighters must have been real hungry if their dinner is going to be comprised of pretzel crumbs, dark chocolate, ketchup and tea bags. I almost feel sorry for them. Almost.
After throwing the tea bags some distance away also, there’s silence- for good this time. Perhaps Matt’s hammer-and-stick attack scared them off. Or they’ve simply discovered that raspberry tea and ketchup really isn’t that great a dinner option. However, it takes us a while to resettle an excited Theo and for the remainder of the night, I’m tossing and turning, waking at regular intervals, jumping involuntarily if so much as a breeze causes the tent to brush against me. And in my dreams, all I see are those bandit-style black-rimmed eyes, glowing in the dark, watching me, mocking me.
The suspended chocolates survived, however. One up to us.
Miles today: 36.97
Total miles to date: 3,064