It’s 6.45am, and by nature, I’m not a morning person. I’m just struggling to pull myself into consciousness and grudgingly slide a sleepy eye open to acknowledge Matt and ‘shh!’ Theo, who is already bouncing over my legs with enthusiasm. I pull my sleeping bag back over my head and shiver against the cold, half dozing back off, when Matt gives me my greeting for the day.
“Your rear wheel is completely busted, by the way.”
I’m suddenly very much wide awake.
“Huh? What? What do you mean, completely busted??”
And what do you mean, ‘by the way’?! This is not a ‘by the way’ statement. ‘By the way’ is reserved for meaningless bits of information, like, ‘by the way, we’re almost out of milk’, or ‘by the way, you mum called for a chat and is gonna call you back later’. Not potentially trip-destroying pieces of information like ‘your rear wheel is busted’.
I crawl out of the tent and Matt takes me over to my bike, lifting up the rear and spinning the wheel before giving me a close-up. The rim is buckled and there are several splits around the spokes on the rim. One spoke, in particular, has such bad splits all around that it’s ready to tear apart from the rim altogether. In fact, I’m very much surprised it hasn’t already. A second spoke is heading in the same direction.
“It’s Route Verte-itis,” Matt says grimly, without even a hint of a smile.
I think back on the past few weeks since we’ve started cycling on the Route Verte cycle network here in Quebec. I think of the chewed up, cracked shoulders of the roads, the rocky, bumpy gravel tracks. I remember the ‘rumble-strip’ section from Waterloo to Granby and the debris-strewn aftermath of the storm that has throw my bike around any which way without due care or concern. Yep, that’ll do it.
“So, how bad is this?” I don’t think I want to hear the answer.
“You’re gonna need a new wheel. One bad bump and that spoke will tear through the rim and the whole wheel will just collapse. The buckle is pretty bad too. No wonder you’ve been going so slowly the past few days- the brake pad is catching everytime the wheel turns.”
Why is it only MY bike that seems to be on the receiving end of this flat-line emergencies?!
As I survey the rest of our belongings as we begin packing up, it becomes all-too-clear just how sorry-looking a sight we’re becoming. Almost everything is worn and threadbare, falling apart at the seams. It’s like our gear is packing up and giving in- it’s had enough, it knows the end is near and can’t be bothered holding it together anymore. In spite of myself, I form a mental checklist of things that are, well, ‘on their last legs’, to put it kindly.
- The Chariot– several issues.
- No longer waterproof, water is seeping through the fabric and creating huge puddles by Theo’s feet.
- The outer cover is torn in several places, particularly around the frame.
- The Velcro that holds the waterproof cover back/out of place is gone. We have to use the washing line and pegs to hold it in place.
- Big holes in the floor by Theo’s feet are getting wider by the day.
- The wheels are almost completely worn. We fully expect to see the blue strip from under the rubber any day now.
- Deeply ingrained dirt, stains and grease combined with the musty dampness from the rain that is starting to create small patches of mold, give it a generally filthy, unkept, unloved appearance. And a less than fresh smell.
- Our clothes– I’ve torn my Craghoppers trousers (badly) from my chain and they’re covered with oil. I’ve already sewn up 2 holes in my cycling shorts and now the lycra is so stretched and worn, they’re taking on the appearance of a past-it swimming costume and will shortly be completely see-through (that’ll give the motorists something to look at though eh?!) My cycling top is covered in stains that don’t seem to wash out and has generally changed from a bright white to an off-yellow colour. I’m missing socks, I don’t have a single item of underwear without holes in and my sports bra is barely hooking together with the one bent clip that remains. All my merino wool clothing has shrunk from washing and my waterproofs are, well, no longer waterproof. Theo has outgrown every single pair of trousers and they’re now swinging merrily about his ankles. Everything is faded, stained and permanently creased.
- The tent– patches of mold on the floor, no longer effectively waterproof, musty damp smell. We’ve gradually lost more and more pegs and now have to fix one of the guy ropes with whatever suitable-sized twig we can find at the campsite.
- Cooking stuff– all our non-stick pans are badly scratched and have immovable burnt patches inside and out. The base of the griddle pan has buckled and now won’t sit flat on the stove. All the forks are bent and we’re missing a knife. The stove is caked in black carbon that flakes off every time you gingerly pull it from the bag and doesn’t sit flat any more. We’re basically out of gas in our lighter, so Matt is narrowly escaping burning his fingers when forced to light the stove at extra-close range. All the canvas bags holding the cooking stuff are covered in mold.
- Kayak bags– no longer waterproof, ripped and torn. The one holding the sleeping bags on Matt’s bike is completely split down the middle and currently held together with duct tape. Our sleeping bags end up wet as a result.
- Panniers– Matt lost the waterproof cover for his (today) and the covers for mine are ripped and not doing their job. I’ve managed to ruin our paper driving licences and water-log most of our paper memorabilia as a result. They’re beginning to fray and tear at the edges.
- Woven plastic laundry bags– we used these originally to put our panniers in to put on the flight. They completely fell apart, ripped to shreds. We’ve had to chuck them.
- Air mattresses– both have holes in now, so you inevitably end up laid on the ground about 30minutes after lying down on them. In fact, when you open the valve in the morning to collapse them, they actually suck in air.
- Our shoes– I can hardly bear to put mine on now, they smell so bad. Matt’s are even worse, and have started to come away at the sole.
- Tarp– the one that lives under the tent is completely covered in stains and mysterious-looking black patches. Speckled. It’s almost continuously damp, so perhaps this isn’t a surprise. It’s probably rotting.
- Drinks bottles– Theo has successfully chewed the top of every single bottle. When you drink, you’re struggling to suck water through the gnawed mess of plastic. We’ve managed to misplace two along the way and the remaining ones leak, so you end up with water on your face when you drink.
- Electronics– both our phones are now broken. I don’t even have the energy to vent that one.
We’re a bit of a mess, really.
We’re at a campsite on the outskirts of Chambly with no bike shops around, so I don’t have much choice. I re-load my bike and tentatively climb back on, cycling with extra care and attention as we head along the canal towards Montreal. My heart leaps into my mouth every time I hit an unexpected bump in the road and I’m scared of kerbs. Not a fun ride.
However, the weather was beautiful and the Chambly canal wonderfully maintained. We cycled along an island situated inbetween the canal and the Richelieu River, which is lovely and flat, really well-kept and smooth. There are beautiful flowers in flowerboxes by the locks and some gorgeous houses lining the quiet road. We stopped for breakfast and watched as a yacht was leveraged up in a lock, and had a large group of touring cyclists pass us by. An American group of around 25 riders, all on their light road bikes with no gear to speak of- they were on an arranged tour with a support bus to carry their gear, with all their meals cooked for them, their route planned for them, their B&Bs and motels booked. I started to feel a pang of envy, looking at the speed and ease with which they were riding past. And then two stopped by us and I overheard one guy comment-
“I just heard someone speak in French!”
“Well, we are in Quebec I suppose…” his companion replied.
I struggled to stop my jaw from dropping. We’re right in the middle of Quebec- they must have been riding here for at least a few days. And this is the first time they’ve heard a word of French? Really?? Suddenly, the jealousy has evaporated. Their ‘tour’ is pure cycling, riding past. It seems they’re not having much opportunity to actually experience the places they’re going through- or to talk to anyone outside their immediate group. I think I prefer my version of a cycling tour- in spite of the language barrier issues.
We rode into Montreal over the Pont Jacques Cartier Bridge and were rewarded with some incredible views of the city laid out before us- skyscrapers and warehouses along the waterfront, the La Ronde fairground with it’s huge rollercoasters and rides, the Montreal Biosphere- a quirky monumental museum dedicated to the environment that had me craning my neck to get a better look as we cycled past. I was immediately caught up in the bustle and buzz of the city, the fast pace, the noise, the energy. The cycle path alongside the bridge- lined either side by tall fences- was actually incredibly safe, in spite of my reservations, and I was glad we had opted for this over the ferry. Even if the sheer height of the bridge made me feel a tad quesy. At least there was plenty to distract my attention as we rode in!
Entering Montreal itself, we found ourselves immediately engulfed and ‘swallowed’ by the city. My tourist status no doubt shone like a beacon as we paused at every intersection, unsure of which way to turn. We lost the cycle path almost immediately and found ourselves cycling on the sidewalk the wrong way up one-way streets (fortunately there were many others doing the same, so I think it’s generally accepted as being ok…) with no clear idea of where we were supposed to head- or the best way to get there. Not long into the city, however, we stumbled across a bike shop and decided now was as good a time as any to venture inside and enquire about my sorry-looking wheel.
I wheeled my bike in and in a mixture of French and English, managed to indicate what I thought the problem was. The guy- a stout, middle-aged balding fellow with heavy bushy eyebrows- promptly lifted my bike up into a stand in the repair area and begun to investigate.
“Ah non!” he began to exclaim heatedly, “Non, non, non! This bad, this very bad!” He began to flap his arms about in a slightly scary, wild manner- “This wheel, it dead! C’est un gâchis ! Gone! It is no more!”- his passion made me want to giggle and reminded me strongly of the French and Italianmen of Europe- “You see? You see? Cela est de la merde! C’est fini! This bad!”
Even though I knew this already, and was in fact the one who insinuated that I thought the wheel would need replacing, I was immediately on my guard. I don’t seem to be able to shake the suspicion when a retailer of any description tells me that something of mine is beyond repair and I ‘have’ to buy a new one…!
He gave me two options- a cheaper wheel and rim which he claimed ‘would do’ but with the weight I was carrying, ‘not for long’. Or a slightly higher-end wheel which he was confidant ‘would last and last!’. Matt and I umm-ed and ahh-ed for quite a while- by nature, we are ‘researchers’ when it comes to purchasing anything- we get on the internet, we look all over the place, we read reviews and recommendations and make an informed decision, rather than an impulsive one. But this wasn’t really going to be an option for us- that wheel was very much on its way out, and we couldn’t afford the time to research and await delivery of a new one.
I took a big gulp and agreed to the ‘higher end’ rim. 10minutes later, and it was up and running- and my pocket was significantly lighter after paying out for the privilege.
After that, we headed generally ‘north’, weaving along busy highways before finally stumbling upon a bike path that lead us almost the entire way to our host for the night- Mimi, who was actually the mother of Felix, the couchsurfer we had stayed with in Farnham on the night of the storm. When he realized we were heading into Montreal, he called up his mum and asked if she might be interested in having us- and lucky for us, she accepted!
Having rushed and weaved through the city, we decided to hold off returning to the road until we had the chance to explore Montreal- and asked if we might be able to stay 2 nights. Although after our unexpected costs from replacing the bike wheel, we were now significantly over-budget and would have to seek out a ‘free’ day in the city as an alternative- never easy…
For the time being, however, we had a comfy bed for the night, a lovely (&very English!) cottage pie for tea and a glass of wine to wash it down with. Thank-you to our lovely host Mimi!
Total miles to date: