Saturday, September 29, 2007

Crossing the Chic Chocs

I’m typing in my soggy little pup tent somewhere in the Chic Choc mountains of the Gaspe Peninsula. It’s 8:01 pm and I’ve been in this tent since mid-afternoon, burrowed in my heavy down sleeping bag, watching the silhouettes of slugs ooze across the outer tent wall.

I’m wearing two pairs of socks, long underwear bottoms, ski pants, a long-sleeve polypro shirt, a windbreaker, a thick fleece and a wool hat with ear flaps. I’m not cold, but I’m not exactly warm either.

Since I started writing this post, I’ve sneezed three times.

Overall though, I’m doing OK. I’ve got two jars of peanut butter, most of a whole wheat bread loaf, half a block of Mozzarella cheese, a full water bottle and a Snickers bar, which I’m saving for later.


Considering the weather, I covered some pretty good ground today.

Until yesterday, I hadn’t decided whether to continue cycling around the Gaspe peninsula on the coast road or cut through the Chic Chocs on Route 299, a 150 km stretch of highway that passes through the heart of the Parc De Conservation De La Gaspesie.

I made my decision at about 10 pm last night in the town of St. Anne Des Monts, in a bar where I couldn’t seem to figure out how to order only one beer at a time.

I was sitting between two absolutely gorgeous French Canadian girls, one tall and slim like a yoga instructor with short blond hair and a Lonely Planet guide to the Patagonian Andes in the backseat of her car, the other with dark-hair and twinkly, mischievous eyes who was wearing a satiny white blouse and giggled as she tried teaching me French verbs.

After several rounds of Labatt Bleu the brown-haired girl sighed and put her hand on my arm.

“Ah – I am so excited,” she purred. “Tomorrow I go to Quebec City to see my boyfriend! It’s been a whole month.”

“Marie is lucky,” she continued, reaching behind my back to poke the willowy blond in the shoulder. “Her boyfriend lives right here in St. Anne Des Monts!”

And then they got up and wiggled onto the dance floor, leaving me sitting across from a scraggly, thick-bearded man with a long ponytail.

“I work in the park,” he told me. “In the interpretation center.”

“That’s about 40 minutes up Highway 299, right?” I asked.

“Yes, almost at the top of the pass.”

“Any chance you could give me a ride as far as the interpretation center tomorrow?”

“No problem,” he said. “Be ready to leave at 9.”


I spent a fitful night throwing cats off the futon in the over-heated apartment where I was couchsurfing and woke up with a stuffy nose to steady rain on the window glass.

“Maybe the weather will be better in the park,” said the bearded man, whose name I can’t remember.

And it was better – marginally.

The rain had slowed to a drizzle. White mists rose from the hillsides to mingle with low-lying gray banks of cloud. I strapped my pack to the back of my bike and started pedaling uphill.

Once in a while I was passed by convoys of pick-up trucks hauling ATV trailers and little shacks, like ice-fishing shanties, with stove pipes and tar-paper roofs – hunters bringing camp to the mountains.

Mostly though, I had the road to myself. It was a peaceful ride – looming mountains wrapped in wispy clouds, streams and beaver-dams at the roadside, fall color all around.

Someday, I’d like to come back and explore the Chic Chocs. There are herds of caribou in the high-country, salmon in the rivers, and little cabins with wood-stoves at the trailheads. Today, though, I just wanted to get some distance under my belt while the weather held.

In three weeks I need to be back home, and Halifax is still a long ways away.

There isn’t much more to tell.

I crested the pass about noon and flew down, down, down, singing “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash at the top of my lungs as my tires whizzed over the wet asphalt. Then the road flattened out and followed a river, one of the most beautiful trout streams I’ve ever seen, all smooth dark currents and rocky rapids. Green canoes were tied up at intervals along the river bank, but I didn’t see a single fisherman.

About 3 it started to rain. I wheeled my bike off the road and under some pines, sat down on my helmet and tried to wait it out. I got sleepy, tucked my head under my arm and tried to nap, but water kept dripping onto my face whenever the wind blew.

This is ridiculous, I thought. Might as well make camp.

So I did.

And here I am.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Matane, Quebec

75 km into a brutal headwind and driving rain. With each pedal stroke on the uphills it feels like someone is driving a knitting needle into the left side of my right knee.

If it wasn't for and the wonderful hospitality I've received twice in the last three days, I might be on a bus back to Montreal. As is, I'm showered, full of beef stew and typing on wireless in a cozy attic apartment here in Matane.

Tomorrow I hope to make it to St. Anne Des Monts.

And to remind myself why I'm doing this trip, here's a photo of that magical sunrise the whales woke me up for:


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rimouski, Quebec

I've crossed to the south shore of the St. Lawrence and am typing in the Brulerie cafe in downtown Rimouski, making the most of a balky wireless connection before heading out along the Gaspe peninsula.

I'm trying to decide whether or not to circle the whole Gaspe or cross over the Chic Choc mountains and go straight down to New Brunswick. I want to have time for both Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia - and winter is fast approaching!

A new edition of Tales From the Road just went live at, where I'm now co-editor.

Check it out by clicking here.

While you're at it, be sure to subscribe to BraveNewTraveler - it's free and takes only a minute. Click on the orange "RSS Feed" button in the top right corner of the screen.

To borrow the farewell salutation of Annie, a Quebec native I met last night:

Full Sun!

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Whales at Dawn

This morning I awoke to the sound of whales coming up for air, a stones throw from my tent on the North shore of the St. Lawrence. I was camping with blogger Eva Holland and we unzipped the door flap to see a spectacular sunrise, with whales rising like smooth black mountains from the sea.

After breaking camp we rolled into the town of Les Bergeronnes for brunch at the Monde et Mer cafe. I fired up my trusty little Powerbook and saw my feature article on Luang Prabang on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle travel section.

To top it off, this morning the official announcement was made: I'm now co-editor of I'm stoked to make BNT the best travel magazine on the web, and am looking for contributors! If you like to travel and like to write, check out the submission guidelines and shoot me an e-mail.

By the way, the Monde et Mer campground just east of Les Bergeronnes, Quebec is one of the coolest spots I've ever camped.


Friday, September 21, 2007

This Sunday - 9/23

If you`re in California, pick up a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle and check out the travel section.

If you`re not in California, go to


I`m on Isle Aux Coudres now, about 100 km NE of Quebec City. Beautiful blue sky days, fall colors on the mountainsides.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fueled by Poutine

My traditional bike riding diet of bananas, Snickers bars and peanut butter sandwiches has been supplemented by poutine, a Quebec delicacy of golden potato fries in a bath of warm brown gravy, topped with globs of chewy white cheese. For about an hour after I eat a dish of poutine I can't ride very fast at all, but for the next 5 hours - zoom! - it's like rocket fuel.

Here's a photo of a roadside poutine shack, or Casse Croute:

And here's the stuff itself...yummmmm....


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

New Tales From the Road

I know I say it just about every week. But seriously - some of the best travel stories I've found yet are in the latest edition of Tales From the Road.

If you're somewhere warm, pour yourself a cold one. If you're somewhere cold, throw a log on the fire.

Wherever you are, enjoy the stories!


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Montreal to Trois Rivieres

Somewhere between Montreal and Trois Riviere, I came upon a pig’s head lying in the road. I couldn’t tell it was a pig’s head until I was almost on top of it. The road was straight, with corn fields on either side, and from far away I saw an object up ahead. I pedaled closer, growing more and more curious, until…Gah! A pig’s head!

The pig’s skin had been stripped off, leaving purplish flesh drying red in the sun. The jaw hung open, teeth fixed in a grimacing grin.


A few kilometers on, an approaching car pulled over and honked. The driver – a beefy man wearing blue suspenders – leaned out and shouted something in rich Quebecois. “No Francais,” I shouted back, smiling apologetically and shaking my hand in front of my mouth in the universal gesture of non-comprehension.

The man didn’t care if I spoke French or not. Clearly, he was intent on telling me something. I crossed the road and went to his window. “No Francais, I repeated. “Je suis American.”

“Le Boer! Le Boer!” The man’s face was red as a cranberry. “Le Boer!”



I understood.

“Ah, Oui!” I yelled happily, pointing down the road. “It’s back that way. Not too far.”

Seemingly satisfied, the man pulled a U-turn and sped off the same way he had come - in the opposite direction of the pig’s head. Utterly mystified, I checked the map and pressed on for the next village.


It’s been a lonely first two days of riding. I had assumed that most French Canadians were like those I encountered in Montreal – native speakers of French, but perfectly capable in English as well. Turns out I was wrong. Out here, I might as well be speaking Japanese. I say Bonjour and Merci in gas stations and grocery stores, but aside from the man who may have lost his pig’s head, that’s been the extent of my human interaction thus far.


Last night I found a great campsite just as it was starting to get dark. Rt. 138 along the north shore of the St. Lawrence seaway is pretty heavily settled, so I turned off on a side road that crossed through potato farms and cornfields, aiming for a line of trees at the top of a small rise. The tree-belt separated two fields and the nearest houses were a few hundred yards away. Perfect. I didn’t even set up the tent, and stayed up reading by headlamp for a few hours after dark.

The campsite where I’m typing right now did not come so easily. I left Trois Riviere at dusk and stepped hard on the pedals, trying to get beyond the sprawl and into open country before dark. Rain clouds had threatened all afternoon and a few drops splashed off my jacket as I raced sea-going container ships up-river. The light was pretty well gone by the time I found a side road, and the first spot I tried was too exposed.

Another kilometer on were some raised railroad tracks and, just beyond, a tiny village. A dirt path ran down the side of the railway into some fields. On impulse, perhaps drawn by some latent railroad romanticism, I turned off.

After a few hundred yards the track passed along the edge of a cornfield. It was pretty dark and the wind was blowing hard. The slope leading up to the tracks was thick with scrub brush – no room for a sleeping bag, let along a tent. I dug into my pack, pulled out my little blue dry-bag and reached for my headlamp.

It wasn’t there. Oh shit.

I fumbled through my things – cell phone, cell charger, med kit, notepad, pen, Powerbar - maybe for some reason I had stashed the headlamp in another bag. Frustrated, I started tossing gear out onto the ground, then realized that without a headlamp, I’d might never find everything again. Besides, I always pack my headlamp in my little blue dry bag. I jumped up and down and swore for a little while. By now it was pitch dark.

For a few minutes I stood there in the cornfield, trying to figure out my next move. Then, in the distance, a white light appeared, moving fast in my direction. The train whistle blew and the engine zoomed on by, the boxcars following, clunkety clank, clunkety clank.

What was I thinking. There was no way I could get any sleep by the train tracks. Jack Kerouac was full of shit. I strapped my packs on my bike in the dark and went back to the paved road.

Past the village the road forked. I went right. It turned to gravel. I kept going. There were trees up ahead, black against a near-black sky. No houses. I parked my bike and plunged into the darkness.

Water. Shit! My foot was soaked. Try the other side. Shit! More water. But not so much…just a muddy trickle really…I pushed on into the woods, branches and thorns clawing at my face and arms.

The woods were boggy, but there were some dry patches too. I dug out my cell phone, flipped it open and shined its dim light into the forest. Ferns, vines, fallen logs…and an open space that might just fit a tent. Good enough for me.

Back at the road, I folded up my bike, took a wild jump over the stream and clambered into the brush. The handlebars and spokes were catching on branches, but I just pushed through, too pissed off about losing my headlamp to care. Finding the open space, I set down the bike and crashed back to the road to get my pack.

At this point my cell phone died.

There was no moon.

Back into the black woods, pack slung over my shoulder, blindly fighting through the branches and vines, slogging through squelching pockets of mud. I couldn’t see my own hand in front of my face, let alone a little clearing with a bicycle. There was only one thing to do.

I opened my pack, dug out my trusty little Powerbook laptop and pressed the power button. It fired up with the happy little TaDa sound of a Mac computer. The blue light illuminated the darkness.

What the heck was I doing here, fumbling through the woods of rural Quebec with an open laptop, searching for my bicycle? What would I say if an irate landowner came along and discovered me?

“Don’t mind me, sir. I’m just a travel writer!”

Up ahead, the spokes of my bike gleamed metallic in the night. Somehow, I got my tent up and made a cozy nest inside. Not five minutes after I burrowed into my sleeping bag, it started to pour.

And that’s where I am now, in my tent, in a boggy wood somewhere outside Trois Riviere, typing this story while rain beats against the tent fly.

Truth be told, I couldn’t be more happy.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Backcountry Fly-Fishing in Yellowstone

My narrative travel guide about fly-fishing the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park is featured in the inaugural issue of Traverse, a new online magazine published by Matador Travel.

Here's an excerpt:

Fly-fishing can be an art, but my tactics are industrial. I've only got one leader, the thin piece of monofilament to which the fly is tied. That's not enough line to allow for changing patterns, and with camp still five miles up-trail, there's no time to bother about fancy casts. Instead, when the trail curves close to the river I set my pack against a dry pine log, change leather hiking boots for rubber water shoes and pick my way to the middle of the stream.

There's no one to help if I slip or turn an ankle, so I move carefully across the riverbed, concentrating on each cold braid of current. All I hear and sense and smell and feel is water and air and the dull musical growl of river rocks tumbling downriver in summer snowmelt from the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. I'm utterly content and totally alone.


This issue of Traverse Magazine also contains articles on the Burning Man festival and the band Balkan Beatbox. It's available for free at the following link:

Traverse Magazine

Here's the direct link to my article:

Backcountry Fly-Fishing

Read Traverse, and if you like the articles, please subscribe! It's free!

Off on my bike...Montreal to Halifax!

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Best Thing I've Read in Months....

Josh Kearns just completed a home-stay in a remote farming community in the Northern Indian province of Ladakh. His impassioned and inspired essay, entitled "Learning From Ladakh", is hands down the best thing I've read in months, a sweeping critique of economic globalization coupled with a reasoned analysis of how best to approach the great issues of our age. Read it.

Here's the link:

Learning From Ladakh


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Traveling Fools: New Tales From the Road

This week's round-up has some of the best stories I've found so far - pour yourself a tall glass of ice tea and settle in for some vicarious adventure.

Tales from the Road


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Scott's Fish

When a big fish is on the line, landing it becomes the most important thing in the world. This is why I found myself swimming facedown in Long Island Sound the other day, kicking with my feet, holding a throbbing fishing rod aloft and hoping to make it across the channel before my lungs gave out. Let me explain.

Scott had given up.

Scott is my 14 year old cousin, a great kid, usually cheerful as can be, but now he sat glumly on the breakwater, his fishing pole abandoned on the rock behind him. At 6 am Scott had been the most energetic of my five cousins, all of whom woke up at dawn to come fishing. He barely stopped casting long enough to eat a breakfast donut. But that was over two hours ago, in which time we had landed exactly zero fish.

The five of us had fished all the way out to the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater. Here's a satellite photo of the Fenwick side of the Connecticut river mouth. The breakwater we were fishing from forms the left side of the channel.

View Larger Map

Now, I need to describe the layout of the rocks around the lighthouse. Picture a cane with a curved handle, shaped like an upside down “J”. Most of the breakwater runs in a straight line out from the beach – the shaft of the cane. The lighthouse sits on a concrete platform at the very end of the breakwater – the topmost part of the cane. The curve of the cane is a little trail of rock that extends from the far side of the lighthouse platform opposite the main part of the breakwater, forming a pocket of sheltered water about 30 feet wide at the base of the lighthouse – the space between the curve and the shaft of the cane. You can see the lighthouse and breakwater in the satellite photo below.

View Larger Map

Still with me? OK! On to the story.

While Scott sat on the rock behind me, I made a cast from the breakwater that landed off the rocks at the far side of the lighthouse. I was using a jointed plug that wiggled through the water like a wounded baitfish, irresistible to any big bluefish cruising the waters of the river mouth. Sure enough, a big blue made a pass at the plug during the retrieve, and a shot of adrenaline coursed through my veins.

“Cast off that point,” I told Scott. “There’s a fish in there with your name on it.”

He jumped to his feet, the spark back in his eyes, and made a perfect cast that splashed down just past the end of the rocks. One heartbeat, two, three – then BOOM! The bluefish slammed his lure like an exploding depth charge and took off for Plum Island.

Scott had set the drag with just the right amount of tension, but this was a big fish and it took a lot of line before he could begin reeling it in. The fish was way out in open water, and made a run around the back of the lighthouse. The line wrapped around the point and began chafing on the rocks.

“Make it turn! Make it turn!” I shouted.

“I can’t stop it!” Scott yelled.

This was a problem. If Scott kept reeling, the line would break against the rocks. Even if he ran up to the lighthouse the angle would only become more acute and the fish would break off for sure.

We were not going to lose this fish. There was only one thing to do, and no time to waste.

“Give me the rod,” I told Scott as I stripped off my pants and shirt. “Run over to the end of the point and wait for me there.”

I needed to free the line from the rocks and get a clear angle for Scott to land the fish. The only way to do that was to bring the rod across the still water, and the only way to do that was by swimming. I jumped into the Sound, held the rod up high and started kicking, reeling up slack as I went. A couple of minutes later I had closed the gap. Miraculously, the fish was still on. I handed the rod up to Scott, who swung the line clear of the rocks and started reeling like mad.

It took another 15 minutes to land the fish, and when Scott finally pulled it onto the rocks the hook was barely attached to its jaw. It was so heavy we took turns carrying it down the breakwater and back to the house.

(Photos by Ari Kessler

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Matt Gross Interview at BNT!

My interview with Matt Gross, the Frugal Traveler for the New York Times, is now up at

Here's the link:

Matt Gross Interview

I'm in Queens now, staying with my cousin Pete on the way home from a wonderful wedding in D.C.

Day before yesterday I was drinking champagne on a rooftop overlooking the White House, last night I drank a martini from a 5th Avenue rooftop, looking up at the Empire State building.

Life is hard.

Many, many stories to come!