Friday, August 18, 2006

What I Did This Summer

Biking 450 miles from Central Vermont to Montreal (and back) is fantastic. You should do it. However, if you decide to, here are a few bits of advice:

(Pre-Bike Trip Advice)
Bike the Blue Ridge Parkway for a couple of days on your way up to Vermont if you happen to get stranded in Wytheville, VA and towed to Roanoke on a Saturday after all the mechanics have left and won't be back until Monday.
Get your hair cut by the Vietnamese barber on Williamson in Roanoke. He's open on Sundays, charges $10, and cuts hair like Edward Scissorhands. Really. (Also, if you tell him you want your hair to look like Armando's from the Mexican restaurant, it'll be short enough to fit under your bike helmet and be much cooler (temperaturewise) - but it'll be spikey on top, which is fun. Even if you don't remember until later that you have no hair gel and no room for hair gel in your bike bag so it'll really only be spikey that first day. For ten minutes. Before you put your bike helmet on to ride back to the hotel.)
Believe the mechanics who think they might be able to find out what's wrong with your car and get you on the road by Thursday.
Go right ahead and rent a car and drive yourself the rest of the way to Vermont on Saturday. It'll save you the cost of hotel rooms and you won't have to put off your bike trip to Canada by almost a week AND you won't miss your nephew's first birthday. (Alternatively - if you don't take the advice about the rental car and you do take the advice about biking the parkway - DO wear sunscreen because then you'll be able to ignore some of the advice once you get to Montreal. Keep reading and you'll see.)

(Actual During The Bike Trip Advice)
Bike with your Very Best Girlfriend. She rocks.
Talk to her after breakfast and before actually getting on the road. (Especially if that amount of time is a long time because you haven't gotten your poop in a group.) VBGF's rock in general, but take it from me, they're a leetle grumpy at that particular time of day.

Get a good map before you go.
Assume a map obtained at a bicycle shop, written by cyclists, for cyclists qualifies as 'good' or even that it will be remotely helpful. (On the other hand - DO get this 'cyclist-specific' map if you are the type of person who doesn't want to be bogged down by pesky details like names of cross streets or beside-the-point information like, say - that the bridge you have to take is CLOSED and the ferry that runs only runs NEXT MONTH. In fact, if you are the type of minimalist person who would want to make do with such a map, shoot me an email and I can hook you up, baby!)

Follow the cycle shop's advice to enter Canada at "quaint" crossing stations.
Be put off by the fact that what appears to be a tiny, stone outhouse in a corn field that smells overwhelmingly of cow poo is in fact the 'crossing station'.

And Do:
Get so excited about your very first border crossing that you make the tiny, wizened, old, French-speaking man stamp your passports even though he is irritated beyond belief at having to do so.
Get freaked out and run off the road just because there is a GINORMOUS, cow-manure spreading machine, driven by 10-year olds heading directly for you. (Instead, hold your ground - and your breath - and the boys will wave as they pass you with INCHES to spare.)

Also don't (this one is VERY important) - DON'T:
Pass up the first 'restaurant' you see just because it doesn't look anything like a restaurant. I promise you it may be the only food source in ALL OF CANADA - or at least the only one until Sabrevois which is 400 km from the border even though the well-meaning locals on the island in the middle of Lake Champlain just before the border will assure you that there are many, many amenities (like places to exchange money, pee, and get food - some food, any food) 'right as you go into Canada'.

Believe any well-meaning locals.
About anything.
Especially if you ask them "How far is ...?" and they look at you as you straddle your bike and then they proceed to tell you how long it takes them to drive it in their car and then they try to convert that into how long it would take THEM to bike it.

Do - by ALL means DO:
Bike the extra kilometer out of the way in Sabrevois to the 'restaurant' at the marina (even if it takes you 15 minutes to figure out whether or not the restaurant is open because (besides being in French and consisting entirely of abbreviations) the weathered sign at the crossroads doesn't list hours of operation or even days, it lists MONTHS of operation. Hint: it's Canada - and it's a restaurant at a marina. If it's warm enough for you to be pedaling, then chances are, you are there in a month warm enough for boating, which means that it is well worth your while to hie thee hither to the only food source short of your final destination of the day which appears to be
more than twenty miles away on your cyclist-specific map.
Burst into exhausted, low-blood-sugar-fueled tears of relief when the nice little man and his wife who own the marina restaurant assure you that it is less than 10 km (not even 6.2 miles!!!) to your destination, no matter what your shitty (er, I mean cyclist-specific) map says.

Order this amazing Canadian comfort food from the nice little man and his wife who speak French AND English, take Canadian AND American money, don't get offended when you ask them twelve times if they are SURE of the distance (and they are not only sure but also RIGHT!) and who, incidentally, are completely wigged out by American girls who burst into tears.
Be surprised (if you ignore my earlier advice about not bursting into tears) when the nice little man tries very, very hard to convince you to let him (and his wife if you don't trust him!) drive you by truck (that one right there in the parking lot) or by boat (that one right there at the dock) those last, little 10km even if you have stopped crying and pigged out on the yummy poutine and feel quite up to returning to the fray with renewed vigga (<--that last part being my beloved Grandpa Jack's phrase.) Do: Stay here. It is on the bike path, it's incredibly affordable, and is run by a wonderfully nice woman named Madame Boutine (which is NOT to be confused with poutine even though they rhyme and are both Canadian and comforting!) Really - Auberge Harris is a perfect cyclists' hotel.
Get in a HUGE fight with your VBGF within sight of Montreal (even if the fight is about the fact that you can SEE Montreal, but due to the shitty (er, I mean, cyclist-specific) map, you can't for the life of either of you figure out how to GET there.)
Also, don't:
(VBGF-like) Pretend to bike off forever but really just turn the corner out of sight and throw your water bottles at a wall. (They bust open and you have no water to drink and it doesn't get you into Montreal.)
And don't:
(Me-like) Cry for an hour trying to figure out how you're going to get back to the States all by yourself. (It makes your eyes swell shut and gives you a blinding headache and still doesn't get you into Montreal.)

Make up with your VBGF (if you ignore the earlier advice about skipping the fight altogether)and then (this is key) toss out the shitty, cyclist-specific 'map', listen to the advice of a friendly local cyclist*, and when you finally arrive in beautiful, incredible, fantastic Montreal - stay here. It costs a ridiculous amount of money but it's the perfect place to celebrate your birthday. With your best friend. With whom you don't ever, ever want to fight again.
(*N.B.: 'local cyclists' are altogether different from 'well meaning locals'. A local cyclist is not a person who tells you they just love to bike and do it all the time. A local cyclist is a person actually on a bike who claims to have just this moment come from the very place you wish to get to.)

Do (and I never imagined I'd have to give such weird advice as this, but...):
Watch out for odd, Canadian men named Rene on the Metro. If you ignore my earlier advice about the sunscreen then by this point in your trip you'll have had to put up with twelve million and two coments about your peeling sunburn (which people in Canada have apparently never in their whole lives seen). And if you're not careful, a very weird dude will reach over and peel skin off of your back while all of his very, very drunk friends laugh - and THEN he will chat at you and tell you he's a dermatologist and he will crowd onto the same Metro car as you and he might even sit on your lap to the next stop. Um, all I'm really trying to say here is - wear sunscreen in Roanoke.

Go sightseeing around the old town and port of Montreal. Soak up some of the culture. Practice reading the signs. They're in French but often have pictures accompanying them.
Wonder why the security guard roars up from out of nowhere and pulls a little Dukes of Hazzard fishtail stop on his side of the fence if it takes you too long to figure out what the signs at the port say in French. (Hint: The signs say "STAY OUT. NO PICTURES. NO LOITERING. NO TOURISTS. YOU MUST HAVE ID BADGES AND HARD HATS. BIO HAZARD. TRESPASSERS SHOT ON SIGHT. " Those little pictures are fine and all but they don't give you a very clear picture of exactly how touchy Canadian officials are if you don't manage to decipher all of it quick enough and happen to stand with your bike looking at their port for too long - and there's not much point in today's tense atmosphere of trying to explain that if you don't have room in your tiny, little, bike pack for hair gel and panties then you are not likely to be toting around a bomb. Just smile and thank the nice Canadian official and move along. And don't even THINK about asking why there is a bio-hazard warning when the guide a mile away said they only shipped 'cereal' from this port.)

Try to leave Montreal. Ever. Because as hard as it is to find your way into, Montreal is even harder to get out of, what with random policemen detouring you off the only bridge fit for sane cyclists and directing you over to the one miles and miles down the road that is even more miles up in the air so that you have to pedal for an hour uphill and then clamp down on your brakes to slow down to a mere 50 mph on the downside while trying not to get vertigo from seeing the St. Lawrence whooshing by thousands and thousands of feet below you.

Stay at Auberge Harris on the way back too, if you can. It's really that nice of a stop.
Pick the hottest day on record in New England to ride 72.3 miles from Auberge Harris, out of Canada, down through upstate New York (yeah, that sounded weird to me too, sorry), and back to Burlington, Vermont. I know, I know - you're going to say (as did I), "but how am I supposed to know when I start out and it's 70 degrees that in one short week it could top 100 degrees?" I have no answer for you on that one.
However, to make up for it-
Stop here on the last leg. It is air conditioned; they'll watch your bikes for you; and they give out free samples at the end of the tour!

(Final Bits Of Advice, Post Bike Ride)
*I hope this advice will not apply to very many of you but...
Love your little sister and thank her profusely for letting you stay in her home while she is frantically busy trying to pack up her whole house so she can rent it to a family of six who are moving to Vermont from Oklahoma in 10 short days.
Look too closely at your little sister - who works a more-than-full-time job with the county child/family services, and who has a one year old, and whose husband has been in France (i.e. not here helping pack the house) for the past two months - and definitely
Notice that said little sister has not packed a THING.
Kill her for breaking that promise about fixing the airconditioning in the Subaru you are taking off her hands and driving 20 hours back to the SOUTH in 100 degree heat.
(Especially if you have ignored that advice about not noticing that your sister has become a complete zombie and NOT PACKED or arranged for movers or anything) - Drop the Subaru off (after 20 hours of sweating and cursing) at home and turn around and fly immediately BACK TO VERMONT with your godmother to spend the weekend packing and cleaning like mad things.
Fly back home in time to hear about the first day of school and throw a big family party for Mayhem's 12th birthday.

(Completely Bonus Advice only for those who have wacky 12 year olds)
A bike is great - and Mayhem loves the new one we gave him. But this is the present that really brought down the house and will be remembered in family lore.



Deb R said...

I hope I don't sound snarky when I say I truly and sincerely hope I never ever need most of that advice. :-) But it was fun to read it!

Anonymous said...

#1 - It was 72.7 miles - maybe you missed the 0.4 miles while I was riding around in a daze trying not to fall off my bike in the middle of NY prior to the Coke and M&M's on the HOTTEST DAY ON RECORD - the day that you just got stronger and stronger!

#2 - I wasn't out of sight - you just didn't look in my direction! :) [She's right about the throwing the water bottles - it sucks when you get thirsty.]

#3 - It's okay to talk to me after breakfast so long as we are moving - "you got to move it, move it" (sung to same tune of the lemur from Madagascar).

#4 - Definitely take some food (any food other than Power bars if you're sick of them) with you while you're biking, especially when you're biking into another country that you know almost nothing about. Granted, I should know more about Canada - but, be honest with yourself, if you don't know, then go prepared - otherwise you might want to start gnawing on your arm or somebody else's arm (which might not be all that bad but still...).

#5 - Be prepared to learn much about yourself and whomever you have the pleasure of biking with (yes, yes, I know - I ended the sentence with a preposition).

#6 - Have fun and be sure to bike with the most excellent bike partner (and more) ever! Oh wait, I want to bike with her. Find your own most excellent bike partner - we have a whole world to bike around.

vbgf said...

I just have to say that Lilymane rocks the house when it comes to biking with somebody for a week. She is the bomb-diggity even.

She can handle the post-breakfast stress and find her way around Longueil to Montreal and even around Montreal to Longueil. When I finally gave up on the map and was willing to bike an extra 10 miles to just keep moving, she deciphered everything! It was amazing.

I have to say that she's the best biking partner EVER!

You should be so lucky.