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.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pig's head incident is absolutely surreal.

I thought you would eventually be reduced to working by the light generated by your watch face or something.

I'm glad you made out okay.


1:32 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

i LOVE this little story. i wish i were with you petey!!!

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Tim U said...

You are crazy man, sounds like you are having a blast on your way up North! Be safe and I hope to read some more great stories about your travels.
Be safe man


3:35 PM  

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