Monday, August 30, 2010

Welcome to the family, welcome to the Maritimes

Tell me, does this sound kind of crazy: on the other side of the country, I arrived in Madran (New Brunswick) on the front porch of an Aunt that I've never met before with a guy that I picked up along the side of the highway. From there, we spent the next few day driving around town, drinking Tim Hortons (cus that's what you do here: you drink coffee at Timmy's), and getting to know the family that I never really knew existed. Well, I always knew they were out there, I just didn't know their names or how many of them there were or how awesome and fun they could be :) I believe meeting my Auntie Rita and all my wacky cousins (and second cousins and their friends and pets and animals) was the perfect introduction of Maritime living. We're finally out of Quebec after nearly three weeks of travel, and Dave has departed from the triad to hop on a train to get back to Edmonton for work.

"We do things differently over here" says my Auntie Rita to me on the morning of our second day. "Rules? Ha! They're made to be broken!" And it's true; the folks here seem to have a general, oh how do you say, lack of concern for the law. They just do their own thing, and if it happens to be against a law or two, well so be it. Another thing I noticed right away was that they put family first, always. So after a lifetime of separation and three months on the road, you can bet that it felt pretty good to be at long last welcomed in to the east coast side of the Wray family.

On Saturday night my cousin Mike and his wife Sylvie threw a shindig and we all wound up over there til two or three in the morning. The kids (hopped up on sugar) ran around the yard and played washers (a unique Maritime game, something like horseshoes). Toby and I told stories of our adventures through the country while we roasted hot dogs and marsh mellows round the fire in the backyard. Later the guitars were pulled out, songs were sung, and a few beers consumed. I pulled out the phone round midnight (only 8:00pm Pacific) and dialed up a couple of family members from the West coast and passed the receiver round the fire. This was the first time some of them talked, person to person, ever. It's a long way from one coast to the other, and not too many people in my family have made the journey. I feel a certain sense of fullness now though, a feeling like I'm somehow more aware of who I am now that I'm here.

Staying with Rita, I took my first shower in over a week. I slept in a bed for the first time in over two weeks. I drove in a car for the first time in over a month. Auntie Rita drove us around (Tim Horton's cups in hand) sightseeing around Bathurst. We checked out the lovely Papineau falls, downtown Bathurst, and stopped in at the Poissonnarie to buy some fresh lobster. I can't really say that I actually enjoyed the crustacean, but it was definitely an experience. There's a strong Acadian heritage around here-Rita's husband Hector is Acadian. The power line posts are painted with the blue, red and white of the Acadian flag and folks converse in French as fluently as the chat in English. There's so much signage written in French, there's moments that I forget that we're not in Quebec anymore.

Yesterday we hopped in an old school bus, rode up the Nipisiguit river, and spent the afternoon tubing down. Eleven of us in total, we cruised down lackadaisically, holding hands and laughing as our big black tubes bumped up against each other and flew through the rapids. Toby and Mike, being the daredevils that they are, decided to climb the bridge and leap off of it. We cheered and jeered them on, applauding as they came up gasping and exhilarated.

We had planned on having a big family supper at Rita's place that night, but didn't find ourselves back in Madran until nearly 10:00pm. So we made grilled cheese and fried up leftover pasta, and spend a while enjoying the warm evening on the porch with my cousin Darcy, his wife Wendy, and their awesome kids Brandon and Sabrina. Tired from all the sun but happy to have our bellies full, we chatted about our day on the water, summer camp and clamming until it was time for bed.

So now we're off! Down the coast, and onward to PEI.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Montreal and Quebec City (mid August)

Well, this is posted a bit later than I would have like, but whatever. Finding time to write, ride and eat has been a bit of a challenge these past few weeks. We've established a strong (but rather unorthodox) tradition of doing handstands to warm up in the morning, getting better and better each day :)

Biking in Quebec was a treat! Besides running into an angry Québécois who shouted profanities and hit Toby upside the head as he passed by on his bike, everyone we've met here has been friendly and kind...even though I don't know what they're saying most of the time. Sigh, Mrs Doubie (my high school french teacher) would not be impressed with me right now. Out of the three of us, Toby speaks the best francais. Dave was basically useless, and I wasn't much better. I could order a coffee just the way I liked it, and ask for poutine. But that was about it.

La Route Verte, an interconnecting web of bike paths criss crossing the country, was the primary avenue for our exploration. We saw a lot of countryside, small towns, and views of the Saint Lawrence. Sometimes the bike path would cut away from the highway, following smaller roads and often leading us down gravel trails that soared up and down hillsides or along marshy inlets. Besides rural Quebec in general and Gaspasie in particular (where we found ourselves camped under a lighthouse and watching an unbelievable sunset with wondrous eyes) the two most brilliant and amazing places we visited were Montreal and Quebec City.

In Montreal we stayed at the place of a friend (Jessica) of a guy (JP) that Toby cycled with on the Pacific Coast two summers ago. The three of us reveled in the delights of having an indoor space to chill out in. We spent a formidable portion of our time in the city listening to records, drinking Maudite (beer), and lounging around on the sofas with the cats. Jessica had decorated her place with a mish mash of stuff she'd found in thrift stores and picked up on the side of the road for free. I totally dug it :)

Grilling up cheesy sandwiches and toasting each other with wine glasses of chocolate soy milk, I thought that life couldn't get any better. But then, we left the apartment and discovered how awesome the city was. Bang, pow! Amazing place! We watched fireworks from a bridge top, rode around like maniacs on our bikes (because that's the way city folk ride-like crazy people), and ate smoked meat. We listened to an outstanding organ performance in the Basilica, devoured overflowing bowls of pho in Chinatown, and explored paths and city parks on our bikes. I really liked the mix of new and old buildings, the number of bike paths and bikers (go Bixi go!), as well as the the wicked graffiti and stylishly painted apartments.

One night we met up with my high school friend Austin, who'd been living in Montreal since he moved out east to go to uni. It was a rainy Sunday, and we showed up at the Mad Hatter soaking wet with rain and smelling kind of funky. Austin (who was sensibly dressed, arriving via public transit waiting out from of the pub with an umbrella in hand) recognized us immediately and we spent the night drinking pitchers of beer, playing pool and Foosball, and re-telling stories from our youth. Dave ordered a pizza delivered to the bar, Austin ordered a couple of neon coloured test tube shooters, and at one point Toby decided it would be a good idea to do a handstand on the pool table. We left on our bikes, braving the rain and the dark and cruised around the city in search of poutine, eventually winding back up at Jessica's apartment where we polished off a bottle of wine and a bag of grapes (tossing them into each others mouths, leaping and diving to catch the plump green fruits) before passed out in the wee hours of the morning watching Bio dome on VHS.

In Quebec City (well, people here just say Quebec, but I always say Quebec City because I find it confusing otherwise) we stayed with couchsurfers. Our hosts Clair, Jean Sebastian, and Antoine were really chill folks, making us pancakes and giving us the low down on the city. Oh, and they had a newly acquired Super Nintento, on which we squandered many hours playing Mario and battling velocoraptors in Jurassic Park. Good times :)

Old Quebec was amazing. I mean, I'm from the West: if there's a building older than a century it's pretty much a historical landmark. So to visit a place where most everything is a few hundred years old was just a little bit mind blowing. We locked up our bike and explored by foot; wandering through the windy cobblestone streets, stopping in at chocolatiers and soaking up sounds of fiddlers playing in the street for coins. We explored the excavation at Chateau Frontenac, wandered around the enormous walls of the citadel, and gawked at the magnificence of the churches. We spent the better portion of an evening chilling out on top of some ancient fortification (with cannons everywhere!), watching the world go by below us and the sun set above us. One night we watched a Cirque du Soleil performance under a bridge, and it didn't cost a cent! Dancers soared across wire over our heads, romped through the crowd on the backs of stilt animals, and performed incredible acts of contortion. It was mind blowing. Then we ate ice cream, which was pretty good as well.

In a moment of blondness, I dropped my camera on the ground with the lens open. It kind of created a fishbowl affect, and all my pictures looked like they were from a skate video or through the eyes of a drunkard. So I splurged and bought a new one (hot pink this time!), vowing to be more careful in the future.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Another short post, sorry folks. I'm in Chandler, on the southern coast of Gaspésie! This past week has been a blast-riding up and down hwy 132 with soaring cliffs on one side and blue blue ocean on the other. Riding with the boys, there are plenty of laughs on the roads. We lackadaisically cruise down the street with no hands, singing old jazz hits at the top of our lungs and hurling apples at each other from time to time. Amazed, the three of us watch seagulls dive bomb into the sea for fish, eye up seals bobbing up and down in the little bays, and nap at the base of waterfalls. Outstanding lighthouses, beautifully painted seaside homes, and friendly folks pop up wherever we go.

And the food! Only in Québec. Ice cream parlors and little casse croutes are everywhere; I can`t get enough of the poutine :) Finally, my dream of eating potatoes whenever and wherever I want has come true.

I'll be in New Brunswick in less than a week. Until then, I'll be enjoying the coast and the company of my fellow cycling companions. Oh, and I slept in a kids playground last night; the sound of crashing waves lulling me to sleep. Fearful that I would wake to a small child flying down the slide and into my tent, I woke early to enjoy the sunrise over Tété d'Indian.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Where in the world is Meaghan?


Ok, so the short answer is that I'm in Quebec. I'm cycling with Toby and Dave, and we're rocking out the Gaspe Peninsula. This was totally not on my route plan (haha, as if I had a route plan to begin with!) but Toby kind of convinced me that it would be awesome and it was too much fun cycling with them to part ways so soon. Sooooo, here I am :) everytime I see a tanker cruising along the waters of the Saint Lawrence, I'm hit with the sudden realization that I'm actually IN Quebec. It's just crazy to think that I'm on the Atlantic, not the Pacific anymore.

We cruised through Montreal, Trois Rivieres, Quebec City, and then started to make our way up the Saint Lawrence River. We took a couple of ferries, climbed a few massive hills, camped at an airport and wound up sipping beer on the sandy beach in spectacular Tadoussac. Dave dropped his video camera in the fjord, I dropped my camera on the cement, and The water has gotten saltier (and colder!), the scenery more astounding, and the English language less frequently used. I would write more, but the librarian here in Saint Anne des Monts wants me out of here now. Apparently blogging isn't a good enough reason to hog the only computer in the town. As soon as our laundry is done, we're heading out to chase the crashing waves and setting sun.

Shepards Pie a la Velotramp

A scrumptously filling dinner, suitable for backpackers and pedalers of all sorts!


Part one-the base:
lentils (substitute with sidekicks if preferred)
Texturized Vegetable Protein (TVP)
curry powder

Part two-the midsection:
one medium onion
1/2 green pepper
one small zucchini
five cloves of garlic
other seasonal veggies as available
one-two tablespoons of olive oil
pinch of oregono
dash of salt and pepper

Part three-the top
one package of instant mash potatoes (preferably garlic flavoured)
four fresh green onions
2 heaping tablespoons of cream cheese

Part four-the accoutrements
one large avacado
tex mex seasoning


1. 1-2 hours prior to meal, soak lentils in thermos to aid in water absorption and cooking time
2. purchase cheap malt beer from local cornerstore (unless you don`t live in Quebec, in which case you might have to walk further than a block to buy a beer)
3. Prepare WhisperLight for meal. Be careful not to light your hair on fire.
4. Boil lentils in water for 10 minutes. While lentils are boiling, chop veggies using the underside of your bowl or a large boulder as a cutting board.
5. Remove lentils from heat and let sit. Toss veggies in a pot with oil and a little water and bring to boil. Add spices and stir as necessary.
6. Once veggies are done, switch back to first pot and heat up the lentils again. Add TVP and curry powder to the mix.
7. In a third pot, bring water to a roaring boil forinstant mash potatoes. Remove pot from heat,
stir in potatoes until smooth and creamy. Toss in finely chopped green onion and cream cheese and fluff with a spork.
8. Now that it`s all cooked, begin to layer the pie in individual bowls. First, scoop out the lentils and then smooth. Next, heap out the veggies. Finally, add the creamy mash potatoes.
9. Top with thinly sliced avacado and a generous sprinkle of tex mex spice.

Bon Appetit!

(I would add a photo, but this computer is lame and doesn`t have a place for my USB cord. I also apologise for any spelling errors-the spell check is in French and thus it highlights nearly all my words as incorrect, so I can`t really use it)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Capital City

We arrived in Ottawa at sunset last Tuesday with nowhere to stay and no idea of how to navigate the city. My broken disc break was strapped to my front fork with a ziptie, and Dave's back rack was precariously attached to the frame of his bike with zipties as well. Our socks and shoes were soggy from the downpours that we found ourselves caught in earlier, but our spirits soared as we finally arrived in Capital City.

I was a bit disappointed that my facebook status update reading Meaghan is seeking accommodation for three cycling nomads in Ottawa yielded no responses, but I guess that's the way the cookie crumbles...356 friends? psh, my foot. So after debating the pros and cons of hoboing it up in a city park for the night, we called up the Comfort Inn and booked a room. We figured that if we consumed enough calories at the continental breakfast, the extra dough that we splurged on the room wouldn't be so significant.

Like I said, we arrived late in Capital City. The first thing we did was check out the Parliament buildings, which were all lit up and crowded with tourists from around the globe. The second priority was to get something to eat. We wandered into a pizza place downtown, looking a tad bit out of place in our cycling spandex and sweaty cycling shirts. The third thing we needed to do was have celebrate our arrival in the nation's capital by having a beer. We had one at the restaurant, but it was a pretty pricey place so we figured that we would just go to a Lick Bo (LCBO-the Ontario Liquor store) and pick up something to drink. Then we remembered that the stores close at 9:00pm, and it was already quarter past 10. Damn. But then, we remembered where we were: bordering the great province of Quebec! Just a short bike ride over the bridge to Gatineau separated us from the couche tarde, where we could find cool beer and wine at reasonable prices.

So we hopped on our bike and kicked it out to Quebec to escape Ontario's archaic liquor laws. Mwah hahahahaha! The green and yellow couche tard sign lit up in the darkness of the evening. We were hassled by a drunk french bum on the steps of the corner store, who kept asking me for "check, check?". I shock my head and uttered "Je ne comrands" or something like that and eventually he changed it to "change, change?" and I realized what he wanted. As we left, Toby handed him some coins and the fellow laughed at us as we bungeed a case of beer on the back of Toby's bike and pedaled back over the bridge to our hotel room. We consumed the beverages in the air conditioned comfort of our cozy room, staying up late to watch weird made for TV movies and Star Trek.

The next day we cruised around the city, took some cheesy photos in front of Parliament, checked out the Pop Life exhibit at the Art Gallery, and did a tour of the legislative buildings. Interesting factoid: some dudes who carved the stone in one of the foyers wanted to sign their names to receive credit for their work, but were not permitted because the building belong to the public and not anyone individual. So, these carvers snuck in one night, just before the room was complete, and carved their faces in the heads marking north, south, east, and west. Pretty crafty, eh? I thought so anyways. That night we sat on the lawns of Legislature and watched MosAika: a musical light show about Canadian history and culture. We dug it; the trains rocked!
The following morning we checked out of the hotel, our pockets full of muffins and apples from the continental breakfast. We rode back over the bridge and into Quebec, this time to stay. I hate to admit, but I my français is pretty much non-existent. Although I hope that some of my old high school French lessons will return to me, I'm still doubtful that I will be able to communicate much more than my desire to use the restroom. But who knows? I might surprise myself.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"this is delicious mulch"

-Dave, contemplating the taste and texture of a Cliff bar

Newsflash: I have now been on the road over two months and cycled over 5500km, although I've lost my bike computer, so that total is not exactly accurate. Annnnnnd, I only have two flat tires to show for it all (I won't mention the host of other bike problems I've had though). Things are lookin' pretty good; if I keep it up I'll be in Newfoundland by September with a few shillings left in my pocket.

This past week has been a blast. Cycling with Toby and his buddy Dave has been a hilarious adventure of good eats, random stealth camping, and ridiculous commentary. Sometimes I wonder what this journey would be like if I was pedaling alone. Then I realize that one could never know the infinite possibilities that travel and life experience presents to us, and I give up contemplating the unknowable.

So a run down on our route and camp spots: we left T dot amidst long weekend traffic on Friday afternoon. It sucked; the entire experience of leaving the city reminded me of why I like small towns so much better than chaotic city life. I longed for the days of riding Northern Ontario when we only had to stay on the pavement to know we were following the right route. We tried to stay off the main roads, instead opting for the zigzagging Waterfront Path, which leads all the way into Montreal. Unfortunately, this route was poorly marked and also pretty off course at times. But, by the end of our first day out of Toronto we ended up somewhere around Pickering, camping in a meadow overlooking the shores of Lake Ontario and watching in awe and amazement as the red red moon rise over a nuclear power plant.

The next night we continued to pedal down the Waterfront Trail, finding ourselves frustrated at times by the poor condition of the trail and the lack of signage. We stopped in the historic town of Port Hope to buy mangoes, bananas, avocados and tortillas. All staples of our diet. For those of you who grew up in the 90s, you might remember Port Hope as the town in Degrassi Jr. High that Wheels runs off to in search of his deadbeat dad. Dave got a couple flats on his skinny tires, I lost my bike computer, and we wound up camping at a boat launch somewhere around Lakeport. We cooked a simple meal of veggie curry and TVP (texturized veggie protein-highly recommended) with lentil and passed a bottle of whisky around the little fire we built on the rocky shore of the lake. Toby pointed out constellations to Dave and I after the radiant colours of the sunset disappeared from the horizon and the night sky unfolded above.

Hmmm, then we ate an awesome meal at a little diner in Colborne. I remember this because the waitress kept giving me top ups on my coffee, and the three of us used up all of their power outlets to charge up our electronics. Dave is taking a bunch of video footage, hoping to edit it and create a film that has nothing to do with this trip. We rode through the beautiful Prince Edward County, stopping at a garage/bake sale to pick up some delectables. Instead of the five minute stop that I had envisioned, we wound up staying for over an hour and being treated to a BBQ spectacular, with juice and coleslaw to boot. We chilled out with the ladies round their picnic table under their swamp willows, savouring the shade, the food, and the conversation.

That night we pedaled right through the golden hour, stopping to camp in an abandoned crab apple orchard near a coal power plant, again cooking dinner on the shore of Lake Ontario by the light of the stars and our headlamps. You should see, or rather taste the incredible meals we've been cooking! That night we made a Neapolitan wonder: a triforce of steamed veggies, spiced lentils, and a warmed up prepackaged Indian curry dish with TVP added for extra protein. Ooooh, and pudding for dessert!

The following day we rode through Kingston, stopping to admire the grand construction of the penitentiary and eat hot dogs in on the ledge of a fountain by the waterfront. The buildings are getting older around here; more and more brick construction and cobbled streets are appearing as we move further east. After Kingston we headed north, sticking to the secondary roads and stopping to swim when we got the chance. I experimented with alternate methods of drying my laundry, and found that hanging my undies on the back of my BC flag worked rather well. We camped on a hill overlooking the town of Westport, and woke up to find thunderclouds lurking above us and enormous millipedes in our shoes.

Then came OTTAWA! Ahhhhhhhh, so exciting! We spent the day dodging flash rainstorms and thinking about the glories of witnessing Parliament with our own eyes. Plagued with mechanical difficulties, we didn't arrive in the city until sunset. The three of us rode in along the Ottawa River pathway, soaking up views of the gently flowing water, lush greenery, and balancing rocks along the shoreline. It was a surreal experience-riding up past the locks and towering brick buildings, on the the front lawn of Parliament just as the sun was fading. Really, I am proud to be a Canadian.