Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Waiting out the rain

Sleeping soundly through the night, we woke before the sun knowing a huge storm was coming through, both of us wanting to find some form of shelter. The weather report was calling for up to 3 inches of rainfall, so getting a room for the day was possible. We rode 40 minutes into the town of Poultney, VT that sits in the southern part of the state, almost touching the New York border. We cruised through the three block downtown strip as well as riding through the unique and hippy campus of Green Mountain College. Just before the 8am bell rang, students were walking barefoot through campus, coming from their college dorms and on their way to class. If only we had the ability to rewind in life. My rewind would take me to a college similar to this.

Following the crowds, we ate breakfast at a small diner that held only 4 tables and a long counter. Just as our food arrived, so did the rain. After a quick meal and back on our bikes, we rode to the information center a few blocks away to discover the only hotel in town was ten miles away and the bed and breakfast was way above our budget. We heard of a cafe new to town called The Station. It had an awning for our bikes and warmth inside. As soon as we walked in we were instantly welcomed by the young 32 year old owner named Josh. Asking if we could hang out most of the day, he gladly opened his cafe and even offered for us to throw our sleeping pads on the ground for the night after he closed up shop. Amazing generosity!

Spending so much time in the cafe catching up on emails and the blog (my apologies for the lack of recent updates......I have no excuses) and old National Geographic's, I went to the back and spent a good hour or two catching Josh up on dishes. He was running this cafe solo and pulling 14 hour days on a regular basis. Absolute dedication, but like he said, he loves what he does so it doesn't feel like work. Ryan put himself to work, fixed a framed painting on the wall, washed windows, swept, etc. It was a win win. Josh even made us a special dinner of homemade fettuccine that was delicious. He is quite the chef and baker. What luck to meet this guy!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

South through Vermont - Writing

A smooth day of riding in a valley, constantly pulling up and pushing down our Smartwool arms and legs to modulate our temperatures, we reached the top of the highest climb of the day just as the sun was setting. As we were pulling over to refuel at the top, Ryan's rear shifter cable snapped. Oh no! No cable means three gears, one gear in each of our three front rings. Reading a bicycle blog back in early 2010, Ryan somehow remembered a trick for the off chance of a cable snapping. How he can keep these tidbits in his mind is beyond me, but he did and therefore found a rather thick twig to jam in the derailleur for the ideal three gears. This trick made our downhill and flat section much more enjoyable.

We crossed our route in Rochester taken back in July, making our first true circle yet. What a difference from being at that exact spot a few months ago. Back in the July, the temperatures were so hot we could barely eat, consuming ice cream on a daily basis and relying on cones and sundaes as a main caloric intake. I remember stopping at this T in the road with high hopes of a shower to rid of the sticky sweat. Later that day we actually had two showers, one in the chilly river water 20 miles down the road and again that evening at the warmshowers home of Wally and Barbara (the people we had heard about all the way down in Southern Mexico and randomly stayed with months later). We have ridden many miles since we were last at this crossing and these few months feel like a lifetime ago, yet seem to have gone by with a blink of the eye. Time is rather irrelevant in our lives these days as we rarely have anywhere we must be, just waking with the sun and riding our bikes until we are tired. My stomach drops as I think of "have to's", realizing how important it is to appreciate every second we have left. How many times in life will we have this freedom? To travel wherever we choose without a destination or time frame? I wouldn't trade our motto of "No destination, no agenda, no timeline" for anything. I feel so relaxed and at ease just letting the day take its course.

We found a quiet camp spot down a closed walking trail just outside the town of Rochester, making for an easy ride to the same delicious place we visited for breakfast months ago. Once again we were not disappointed and oddly enough, Ryan remembered a bike shop in this small town where they happily let him in to use their tools to fix the cable. What luck to have this happen just outside of a town that we knew for sure there was a bike shop. It's all about the little things that make the greatest difference.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Burlington - Montpelier, VT - Writing

Taking beautiful back roads from St. Albans to Burlington made for a spectacular hilly ride. Trying to follow a crappy map and the posted bike route signs provided along the way, we did get a bit lost and unfortunately had to ride the last five miles into Burlington on route 7, a road highly recommended to stay away from on bicycle. No shoulder, honking cars and busy, not very fun. Ryan and I have been hearing such wonderful things about Burlington, often being compared to Boulder, CO. Maybe our expectations were a bit high from all of the positive comments, but we did not fall in love with Burlington like we imagined. The outskirts were a touch rough and right as we rode into town a guy on way too many drugs was looking at himself in the mirror, dancing to his reflection, laughing hysterically before turning to yell at an older woman walking by and then yelling at us. Well, hello Burlington!

We found our way to Church Street, the main drag in town filled with restaurants, coffee shop and specialty shops. It was unique but again, a lot of people on drugs and plenty of street kids. I guess it was just different than anticipated and to be honest, I couldn't wait to get out. We ended up spending the day in town, enjoying the coffee shop, book store and riding along Lake Champlain, which was absolutely gorgeous. There is a bike path that runs along the lake that is filled with sailboats and the Adirondacks are enormous and beautiful on the other side. I can definitely see why people like this town, it was just not what we expected and filled with too many oddballs for my liking. We used warmshowers and ended up staying the night with three great people in their mid-20's. The three of them definitely raised the bar for Burlington as a whole as obviously it attracts great people. Again, it's all about who we meet along the way that seem to make the biggest difference.

Wanting to check out Montpelier, Vermont's capital and home to only 8,000 or so people. We took advice from Noah (the guy we stayed with in Burlington) and road south out of Burlington, taking back roads that were less busy and very hilly, at times even having to push our bikes because the roads were unridable in sections. Although a pretty route, we turned our way to find the paved roads, which brought us through Richmond where we hit up a bakery called On The Rise. Yummy. For unknown reasons we were both whooped and did not want to ride the 25 miles needed to get into Montpelier. Back in July while riding the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, we met a couple from Montpelier traveling by car. Ray had cycle toured in the past, an instant conversation starter and before long he handed over his business card and offered their home if we were to find ourselves in Montpelier. Great people and we had talked about them from then on and excited to have the chance to spend a bit more time with them in Montpelier. It was a Friday when we contacted them last minute and they kindly opened their home to us but could only offer outdoor space for our tent because they had friends visiting over the weekend as well.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Northern Vermont - Writing

Crossing back into the United States through Richford, Vermont was a piece of cake. The guard checking passports looked like he might give us a tough time, but thankfully looks can be deceiving and we easily passed through. We have had some interesting border crossing encounters, the most memorable was probably back in October 2010 when leaving the EU through Greece into Turkey. And by memorable, in no way do I mean the guards were tough or assholes, we were just doing wrong and got caught. At the time, we thought we were taking the easiest exit point from the EU, but instead ended up getting caught overstaying our visa by four months and receiving an obscene fine to re-enter the EU within five years. Looks like we will not be making any trips back to the Schengen Region until after October 2015! The officer gave us our fine and my jaw dropped. I asked if we had to pay on the spot and he apprehensively told us we could pay now or (pause) pay when re-entering Europe. I smiled, thanked him with a wave and told him we would see him in 2015 before scurrying toward the boat to catch our ride across to Turkey. We landed in Asia where the Turkish official then opened our passports to find our passports with no exit stamp from the EU! In our rush to leave the massive fine behind we neglected to double check our passports. We shrugged our shoulders for our lack of Turkish, played stupid and the guy waved off a hand with the gruff simple words, "Ah, the Greeks!" Like he was shoeing them off and gave our passports a hard 90 day stamp and let us through.

The other tough entry into a country was our own when we flew back into the US from Costa Rica to Minnesota, going through customs in Denver. The security officer was a younger woman, probably in the mid 30's and she drilled us with questions. "What were you doing out of the country? Where do you live? Do you have a job? How do you afford to travel without work?" I was a bit nervous being questioned but Ryan easily laughed it off knowing she had no choice but to allow us entry. Phew. Lastly, our other odd crossing was when we were leaving the United States and heading to Ontario. A border patrol made us open our bags and searched everything with gloves like he was looking for drugs. I mean, delivering by bicycle has to be one of the slowest methods of drug trafficking possible. Again, not a worry in the world, just another odd encounter and unexpected.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Quebec - Pictures

Big Land.  Big Sign

The Nordik Express - Our home for 36 hours

We cruised along the lonely, roadless Quebec coast 

Remnants of the once thriving cod fishery

One remote island church

The boardwalk town of Harrington Harbour

Off the boat where the road begins... Natashquan

Lisa did alot of this

...and this!

One of the nicest "stealth" camp spots on the coast

Small towns dotted the north coast of the St. Lawrence

New Friends

More new friends

Entering the old city of Quebec

One of the prettiest cities anywhere

Poutine!!  French fries and gravy smothered with smokey, grilled meats!

The Grande Prix bike race through the city

Great rail-to-trail bike paths of southern Quebec

Passing through nice and flat farmlands

Even more new friends!

Fellow cyclist Tom on his tour of the maritimes

Away we go

Bike path from Quebec City all the way into Vermont

Leaving Quebec City, we more or less followed a bike path heading southwest that led all the way to Vermont. What a great use for a defunct railroad. Instead of just being unused, these old railways convert perfectly to bike and walking paths. They are graded for easy travel, connect small towns, are safe from traffic and generally run through forest and farmland. One of the biggest deterrents that keep people from getting exercise is a lack of places to safely do so. There are thousands of miles of unused tracks all over North America and they do not cost that much to convert. Pull up the tracks, lay down crushed gravel and the basics are covered.
Running into Tom just outside of Quebec on the bike path, the three of us were able to ride together for most of the afternoon. Just before we left that morning, we checked Environment Canada (a weather website that gives the most up to date Canadian reports) and saw the radar blowing in a rather large storm. A quick jump on warmshowers and we sent off an email to the one couple who offered their home in Plessisville. Not being able to check email throughout the day, we decided to turn into town for wifi while Tom continued on the bike path to make miles. Tom was very unsure of warmshowers not wanting to give it try. Maybe because he is traveling solo, I am not sure. Maybe Ryan and I are just lucky, but we have met the most wonderful people using this website service.

We rode into Plessisville and were looking at the posted map outside the information center in hopes of finding a free wifi zone. The sky was getting dark with ominous clouds overhead. Time to get moving or hopefully crossing our fingers had worked and the sole warmshowers couple had returned our email and we would have a place to stay dry for the night. As we were orienting ourselves, a guy rode up on his bicycle to ask if we needed help. We explained that we were looking for wifi and he offered us his home to check our email and a place to get out of the rain that was about to set in. Thank you kind stranger! We followed him the short distance to his home and rode up to a porch of children swarming an older lady that looked to be the grandma. Awesome. He introduced us to his wife and children and before long we were invited for dinner, showers and a place to stay as our warmshowers hope did not respond. Lucky for us as the storm spawned a few tornados close by! Oddly enough, Jerome and Marie-Helen actually knew these other couple from warmshowers, which of course got a huge laugh. Small, small world. They have three children, 7, 6 and 4. Yikes! Talk about a busy household, but the kids are very well behaved and Jerome and Marie-Helen seem to have a wonderful life together with their children.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On to Quebec City

Back in New Brunswick we met a woman who highly recommended a German bakery in the quaint town of Kamouraska. Although at the time we had no idea what she was talking about, the bakery became highly anticipated as we made our way up the St. Lawrence. German's know how to bake and the thought of pretzel bread danced in our heads. A rough day on the road, surprise, surprise because of the nasty wind that has been a constant in our faces. We happily arrived in Kamouraska and the first local we accosted to ask directions from knew just what we were looking for. Pulling up, there were no cars, no people and a Ferme (closed) sign posted hanging from the wood gate of the 100+ year home. Darn. Out of luck again. We sadly rode our bikes to the wharf and cooked a bean and rice meal as the mosquitoes swarmed our heads.

The mosquitoes! Out of nowhere, mosquitoes started attacking us every chance they had, keeping us on our bikes and moving to Quebec City. The little critters were in full force! Ryan soon realized that they came out roughly where the fresh water began in the St. Lawrence. Mosquitoes mean quick set-ups and take downs for the tent, and lucky for us, that is now a reality. Once we stop, we first throw on all of our clothes so that the mosquitoes can't get us, put a head net on and I go find a rock to pound the stakes in while Ryan scouts for the best available flat spot to spend the next 12 hours.
Staying 30 kilometers or so northeast of Levis to catch the ferry to Quebec, we ran out of daylight without a camp spot in sight. We turned our tail lights on and rode the fairly quiet highway in hopes of any hidden place to call home for the night. Tempted to pitch the tent behind the fire station, we flagged down a guy riding by on his bicycle. He said we probably should not stay behind the station but we could follow him and tent in his backyard. Well, you know how this goes... We rode downhill to the river and he had water front property with a well maintained garden and yard for our tent. Yippee! More kindness from a stranger at just the opportune time. John went inside and quickly came back out to offer his shower, living room to lounge in and kitchen to cook. We hung out with him and his girlfriend and when bed time arrived, we were offered a bed. Thank you kind strangers! We spent the evening talking of travel and watching the news coverage of the attempted shooting of the newly elected Minister of Quebec. This was all in French, which meant John translated, taking full advantage of google translate. What a nightmare for Quebec.

The next morning we were up early and on the road looking for a breakfast spot. Absolutely nothing. This I cannot understand. 30k outside of a major city and not a restaurant in sight. We rode to Levis on empty stomachs (we skipped dinner the night before as well) and were absolutely starved by the time we arrived. We plowed through a few sandwiches before taking yet another boat to the old town of Quebec. What a way to enter a city. The ferry dropped us off amongst cafes and on a cobble stone street, just outside the walls. Quebec City definitely sits at the top of our favorites. It is very European, just much cleaner.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Godbout to Matane - Riding the south side of the St. Lawrence

The 2 1/2 hour ferry ride from Godbout to Matane was smooth sailing and rather pleasant. We paid on board during the crossing, $8.75/person and the bikes were free, and had to show our ticket as we exited the boat. We arrived in Matane around 4:30pm and headed directly to Walmart in hopes of finding new stakes. The day we dried all of our gear out in Havre-St. Pierre, we forgot our bag of tent stakes when they were put out in the sun at the last minuted to dry. Ryan has had to improvise the past few nights, from using sticks to big heavy rocks. Nevertheless, we have sufficed, but not going on a hunt each night is preferable.

We are not big Walmart shoppers, so this was almost a first for us. Holy cow are things cheap. The store closed at 5pm (what? On a Saturday??? Who does that?), so we quickly grabbed a few items (crackers, peanut butter and chocolate) and no stakes before the store closed. No luck. Hitting Subway on our way out of town, we unfortunately had to ride directly into the sun at 6pm. These moments feel so unsafe and we can't wait to get off the road as overtaking drivers have a harder time seeing us. Heading west in the evening or heading east in the morning are risky... The south side of the St. Lawrence river is much flatter than the north, making for easy riding, minus the wind in our face, but nothing new there.

Mantane is a very developed town with farms and houses sprawled west. No luck finding camping. Much of the road is fenced off with barbed wire or private property signs nailed to the trees. We rode until the sun set, pulling on our down jackets because the temperature quickly dropped with the sun. There were not any clusters of trees on any public land. This is when stealth camping becomes tricky, but something always works out, right? That is exactly what we said as the dark set in and we couldn't find a home. Off to the left was a steep gravel road. Unsure of what it led to, it couldn't have been any more difficult up there to find a space than along route 132. Up we went and rode along the road for a few kilometers. Again, nothing. We even desperately searched along the railroad tracks for a small spot, the there was only a trail encased with tall grass on either side. Ugh! What are we going to do? When we first got up the hill, we saw a man standing on the porch of his small trailer home. Unlucky for him, since he was the only one outside, we waved him down and gestured with our hands if there was a place to camp. Nope. Not the most desirable spot to be in, we decided we would have to camp on private property and be out bright and early. This is something we do not like to do and have very rarely done. Just as we were getting back on our bikes, he called to us in French and jogged down his driveway at us. He gestured for us to follow him and said we could camp on his property. Thank you kind stranger! I am not sure if he thought we didn't have a tent, but he made the universal sign for sleeping by resting his head on his hand and pointed for us to stay in his tiny tear drop trailer that holds only a bed for two. It was absolutely perfect! He ran an extension cord from his home for a bit of inside light, offered us coffee, a beer and food. We declined on all offers, but he gave us pre-packaged sweet cakes that we have only heard about in Quebec. Yummy. If you are ever offered sweet cake, eat it. It is delicious.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Natashquan - Godbout, blueberries, blueberries, and more blueberries

Riding west from Natashquan, the winds were strong in our face making for slow miles, but the roads were very flat, weaving along the water. It was a beautiful ride. Although we fought with the wind for the first day or two, it was not too bad because we were happy to simply be on the bikes. With that said, it was a bit trying by day three. One stretch of road outside of Havre-St. Pierre, we were averaging 4mph through the taiga, flat areas of land with few trees to block any wind. Every few mile markers, we would swap places in front to take the brunt of the gusts, giving one another a break. Of course Ryan was taking the majority of the unpleasant riding, letting me come in close to block as much of the wind as possible. Thank you kind husband:-) I thoroughly embrace and appreciate his mentality, which is if he makes me comfortable and happy, chances are we will continue doing something he loves. Perfect! The strong winds blew us all over the road, making it especially tough in sections of road without a shoulder combined with the trucks using the highway. This occurred on and off all the way through to Godbout. Intense wind, no shoulder and massive trucks made it at times a bit scary and frustrating, but nevertheless, we made it safe and sound.

Ryan's 39th birthday was celebrated on the 29th of August and was spent riding into extremely gusty wind. After sleeping off the highway behind high shrubbery, we woke bright and early at 5:15am to start riding when the winds would be calmest during the first part of the day. With the crack of daylight, we were on the road by and unfortunately the winds were already blowing. Riding from west of Mingan to Long Point, we covered 36 miles (60k) in 6 1/2 hours. Yikes! Talk about a tough day. We stopped at a delicious restaurant for their Hot Chicken special, a pulled chicken sandwich smothered in gravy and topped with peas, a dollop of coleslaw on the side and a large helping of fries. This came with a bowl of soup as an appetizer, coffee and chocolate cake for dessert. Happy birthday, Ryan! It was quite delicious and our tab was even picked up by the random woman who helped us order because the waitress could not speak English and our only French are spoken in two sentences. "I do not speak French. Do you speak English?" I would try and write this is French, but I haven't the faintest idea how. Regardless, I know my pronunciation is incorrect, so spelling it out is not the way it comes out of my mouth. The random act of kindness was extremely appreciated and definitely brought smiles to our faces.

Tired with sore legs, we decided to take our first stab at hitch hiking with loaded bicycles. We stood at the edge of the gas station with our thumbs out, chilled by the winds and overcast skies. After an hour and only two stopped vehicles offering to take us 6 miles up the road, a mother and son from Montreal, travelling the coast towing a self made trailer, stopped and offered us a ride west. This was the start of the rest of the day spent with Madeleyne and Antoine. We camped together at a campground in Port Cartier (they drove us 100 miles) and chatted over wine, bread, cheese, spreads, pesto pasta and rice. It was an absolutely wonderful way to spend Ryan's birthday, and we both feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to meet these beautiful people. The greatest lesson I have learned through all of this travel is that people are people and almost all are good. I hope to carry the compassion and wisdom I have gained over these past two years in all aspects of my life in the future.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ferry ride from Blanc Sablon to Natashquan, Quebec

The ferry, or rather the cargo boat would be a better choice of words, departed Blanc Sablon at midnight, giving us time to climb the road to the east and step foot in Labrador. Labrador would definitely be a neat place to explore, but that will have to be some time in the future. Blanc Sablon is basically two towns separated by 5k, a French speaking side and an English one. Needing to find a bank machine, we rode the 5k and thankfully found one that carried our symbol from Charles Schwab. Traveling internationally can be a bit tricky with exchanging money. Before leaving Colorado, we did some research and discovered that one of Charles Schwab's accounts does not charge any ATM fees throughout the world. This has saved us quite a lot of money and as long as an ATM has a "plus" or "interlink" symbol, we get that days exchange rate and are reimbursed for any fees charged by the local bank. We rode into town for money and to load up on food for the day and a half boat ride to Natashquan.

Sitting along side the ferry terminal building tucked between two walls to stay out of the gusty winds, we cooked a delicious pasta dinner, adding the jarred moose to the sauce. The moose was absolutely delicious. It tasted similar to bison. Not chewy or grainy in the least. An entire pot full of bowtie moose pasta. Yummy.

Although the ferry did not leave until midnight, we were able to board the boat at 8pm to situate ourselves and our gear. Rather than pay the extra $40/person for a shared bedroom, we slept the two nights aboard in the common area. The seats reclined a bit and we could move the armrests up making for fairly comfortable beds. It was nice to take a day off the bikes, eating, reading and looking at the beautiful scenery go by without any effort from us for once.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Newfoundland - Pictures

Day 1 in Newfoundland - Glad we made it!

Something we learned - always, always scout the menu before hand

A place called "Wreck House" - one of the windiest places in Canada

Welcome to western Newfoundland - a whole lot of nothing

At some point every day if the sun shines, we dry our home

Stealth camping places.  Churches and graveyards

The massive tablelands, where the earths mantle pokes through

Popeye or Dopey?

Bonne Bay

Typical riding on the great northern peninsula

New friends!

Riding down the last of the light looking for a camp spot

Western Brooke Pond

Why does this guy keep following me?

'Bound for Labrador

We will be back Newfoundland!

Nova Scotia - Pictures

The ferry from PEI to Nova Scotia

Lisa watching the sunset and waiting for the water to boil

Another seaside free spot to put up the tent...  a favorite

Many people are amazed that we ride with such fat tires... this is one reason why

Mussell farming

Watch out -

- For these.

Ice cold spring water refill

One of the many beautiful climbs on the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton

Typical riding on Cape Breton

Goodbye Nova Scotia!