I made a huge mistake. Those were the words running through my head most of this morning as I decided to make the long leap from Ottawa to Montreal. The distance was estimated to be around 220 km and there was a band of active weather approaching. This was not a winning combination.
I left the comfort of the Andrews at a reasonable time and under good conditions. You’d never guess that, at that exact moment, Montreal was being pummelled with thunderstorms. It was slow going through the city centre, but there were no surprises there. This is the way it is in most major cities. Ottawa was teeming with tourists (myself included). After snapping some customary photos at Parliament and passing the Byward Market, I connected to the bike path on Sussex Drive, past a long line of embassies and JT’s house. Again no sign of Justin. The path wound its way to the wealthy Rockcliffe neighbourhood. I stayed on the quiet Georges Étienne Cartier “Highway”, a quiet route along the Ottawa River. It was fast moving for me with hardly any vehicular traffic. The day was starting out well.
Unfortunately that route came to an end after nearly 10 km. I then hopped on Highway 34 (St. Joseph Boulevard) which passed through the eastern Ottawa suburb of Orleans. There wasn’t much to see here except for the usual cluster of suburban shops and restaurants. I was starting to wonder if my body would survive these roads. They were full of horizontal cracks, vertical cracks, and big craters. Bump after bump after bump. They were in the running for Canada’s worst roads.
After emerging from Orleans, the route improved. I hopped on Old Montreal Road, a quiet back country road that must have been part of a former highway. It linked up with Highway 17 (don’t worry, not the 417). I stayed on Highway 17 for most of the day. This was mainly for time efficiency and cutting out some extra kilometres. I read about other routes that followed the river, but I was on a mission. This highway had very little remarkable about it except that it was in the right direction and full of traffic. My progress was halted by a flat tire just after noon. I was not making good time and I was worried that I wouldn’t make my destination. I found a small splinter in the front tire. After removing it and replacing the tire, I pressed on and pressed on hard, stopping only for snacks and hydration. At least the wind was on my side and I could make up lost time.
I paused in Hawkesbury for a customary Tim Hortons sandwich and chocolate milk combination. I was now at least halfway to Montreal and feeling more confident that I would actually get there in daylight. I sat next to an outspoken local with a German accent. She didn’t hesitate to start chatting with me and then proceed to squeeze my thighs. When you’re 80 years old, I guess you can get away with these things… She told me all sorts of stories about living in Germany during the war around Nazis, her life in Canada, and her children. I could barely get a word in, but I got the sense that she doesn’t get much company and I was happy to provide half-an-hour of chatting time. When the stories and questions started to repeat, I knew it was time to go. Margot wished me a good life and I just hope that she can remember that we had a conversation.
Highway 17 finally came to an end and transformed into a multi-lane, 400 series highway to Montreal. This was not the route for me, nor are cyclists allowed on the highway. I diverted to Highway 342, a seemingly forgotten highway. Initially there were very few cars and I could see why. At first, the road looked like someone had accidentally spilled asphalt and called the outcome the road. There were no markings or shoulder. The surface was full of cracks and holes and holes that had been filled in and holes that had been filled in and filled in again. You get the idea. I should have taken a picture of the road surface in some sections. It would have rivalled the surface of the moon. I’m sorry Ottawa – you’ve been dethroned from Canada’s worst roads. There were some saving graces – the road was quieter than highway 17 and it started to become more interesting as I wound through small Québécois villages.
I paused for sustenance about 60 km outside of Montreal. Watching the horizon, the clouds turned that menacing dark grey. I was certain that a thunderstorm would roll through in the next hour or two. I raced along the same highway which became progressively busier and more aggressive. I tried to connect with a short stretch of Highway 20, but saw that bicycles were forbidden. I would need to find another way onto the Montreal Island. Frustratingly I backtracked and did a huge loop to get only 500 meters past the point where bicycles were forbidden.
I crossed my first bridge to Île Perrot on the west side of Montreal. At this point, there was signage for the La Route Verte, an extensive network of bike paths in Quebec. Alex and I have some experience with one of the routes through the Eastern townships on a trip from Quebec to Montreal last year. I followed route 5, which easily carried me across the island and onto Montreal Island. I passed from the cute, historic village of Ste. Anne-de-Bellevue to the quiet, tree-line streets of Beaconsfield to busy, airport district in Dorval to the Lachine Canal. There were some navigation problems in Dorval requiring a secret underground passage at a train station, but, the route was, otherwise well marked and paved. I was impressed with the amount of time and effort that Montreal has dedicated to its cycling culture.
The final stretch of over 15 km along the canal was stunning, especially as sunset was approaching. If I hadn’t seen the downtown towers, I wouldn’t have know I was in a city at all. The only downside of this route was the number of bugs that would slap your face as you pass along the canal. The path weaves between the north and south shores. I crossed at Atwater and found myself next to an evening market. One of the things that always strikes me about Montreal is how much life it has, at any time of the day.
My friend, Daniel, lives around McGill University, which is perched at the base of Mont Royal. Google placed me on a very unusual, busy route to end up at Daniel’s apartment. He is one of the first – quite possibly the first – friend I made when I moved to Vancouver. We had a lot of things in common – most importantly, a common appreciation for the Golden Girls, including solving our problems over cheesecake. He even managed to secure me a signed and personalized Betty White photo. When I pulled at sunset, Daniel greeted me a bottle of chocolate milk (he’s clearing been reading my blog). After decontamination, we headed down the street to his favourite go-to restaurant, Universel. I stocked up on pasta and anything that Daniel wouldn’t eat. I’m earning my reputation as human garbage disposal. I’m afraid I was too exhausted to be good company, but I’m planning on taking a rest day here tomorrow.
Start time: 08:43
Finish time: 19:48
Riding time: 8 hours, 14 minutes
Distance: 209.31 km
Total distance: 5514.72 km
Elevation gain: 647 meters
Total elevation: 25,775 meters
Average speed: 25.4 km per hour
Number of flies consumed: 3