Six days of riding, the last one cut short by rain, but all the rest, just beautiful. You’ll laugh at me, but even though it took a passport to go there, I was more than a little surprised at the foreignness of Quebec. It’s not like Ontario, nor is it at all like Alberta. Here’s how you can tell you’re in Quebec:
1. You can’t understand a cotton picking thing anyone is saying, and they often don’t understand you…even if you talk louder. That’s what probably led to my “A&W Experience.” The sign said “Un famille burgers,” (1) and then a bunch of gibberish about “the Mama, the Papa and le Gran Papa. Well, I didn’t want to be a sissy and order the Mama, so I thought I’ll order the Papa. Unbelievable! It was huge, with three patties of beef inside. What the hell can the Gran Papa possibly be like?
2. French, it’s not just a cutesy side deal; they actually speak it and write it. English is the not-so-cutesy side deal.
3. They have red signs that look just like stop signs, but say “ARRET.” I must have ridden through a thousand of those things before figuring out what they were. That’s because of number 4.
4. Quebecers cut you a lot of slack. No honking, no hand gestures, they just stop, smile, and in beautiful French say to one another, “There goes another stupid American.” But really, they’re the nicest folks, as witness the following. I had lured my fellow cyclists into an ice cream stand (big surprise), and after enjoying our treats we rode the remaining two miles to our hotel. As we were unloading in front of the hotel, a car pulled up; it was the family that had been sitting at the table next to us. The woman stuck her hand out the window and said “Special Delivery,” and handed me the water bottle I’d left back at the ice cream joint.
5. Everything sounds better in French. In the U.S. it would be a Mr. Muffler shop, but up there its “Monsieur Muffler.” At the swimming pool it doesn’t say “showers mandatory,” the sign says “Douche Obligitoire.”
6. It’s flat as a table. It’s Indiana, but without Fort Wayne. The only high spots are bridges and overpasses. The distinguishing smell was of cow manure, my god, there were manure spreaders everywhere.
7. The Pony was made in Ontario, but hey, don’t quibble, it’s the same country, but without the French business. Since the days of Massey-Harris, the brand has always been popular, so to this day, you see a lot more of the successor company Massey Ferguson tractors running around up there than down in the states. I admit, it gave me a pretty warm feeling about the place…you know, “you love the Pony, you love me.”
8. The St. Lawrence seaway is its crowning geographic distinction. A thousand views, every one trying to outdo the last. Which reminds me, on one stretch we were riding on a bike path that ran alongside some locks. One of our guys fell off his bike onto the path, and out of nowhere two pretty young women appeared who it turns out ran the particular lock we were riding by. He got so much first aid and attention from those gals that we all wished we’d fallen.
9. And finally, this is not so much a characteristic of Quebec as an observation. It’s easy to get into Quebec, but trying to get back out, with the U.S. “paranoia patrol” at the border, that’s excruciating.
For each of these summer adventures the number of fearless, old men can vary anywhere from 5 to 15. This year there were seven. Here’s a photo.
As different as Quebec is from the U.S., somethings are the same. For example, the adage “no good deed goes unpunished” applies there too. We ran into a really nice guy named Giles when we were in the Montreal area. He said he’d lead us over to the Montreal Gran Prix track, so that we could see what it’s like to do a few laps. As he led us back out of Montreal he fell, and got all scraped up. He took it in good stride though, as if to say, C’est la vie.
Then too, some things are the same the world over. On our last big day of riding, we rode into a stiff wind, the temperature crept up into the upper 80’s, but I still chose to do the optional, extra 15 miles. All the while I imagined lolling in the motel pool afterwards, cooling off and soaking my aching muscles. Turns out that our motel was essentially a truck stop, with 18 wheelers in the lot, slot machines in the breakfast room and no swimming pool. I should have known we were in trouble when we pulled into the lot, and the sign said “OTEL,” with the light burned out behind the “M.” The tour company owner probably could have said to me, the same thing I heard a mother telling her little girl on Saturday as they exited the bagel shop here, “Sometimes in life, sweetie, things don’t turn out exactly as you imagined them.” Believe me, I didn’t take it any better than that little girl did, but had someone prepared me for such occurrences starting at the age of four…well, no, I’m glad no one did.
By the way, you know you’re back in Carrboro, when you walk to the edge of the woods (as I did this Sunday) to clean out the bird house and later in the day you start itching the area up near… well…your underpants, because you picked up a half-dozen CHIGGER BITES! Argh.
(1) All spellings of French words are approximations. I’m way too old to actually start learning the language.
Don’t fret Pony lovers. I’ll get back to work on that Canadian clunker next week.
And to my fellow bikers, it was fun as usual, always good to get together, and thanks.
And to my readers, well you know, thanks for reading.