July is passing rather quickly. I'm amazed that it’s already been three weeks since I left the White Mountains for an early arrival at the border with a warm welcome into Canada. There were a few expected queries and a chat with a jovial gent who expected my visit to be the usual week or two. “Do you have family here?”
While I crossed over at 9ish, my expected arrival time in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford was 2pm, so I enjoyed a rest stop along the Trans-Canada Highway. I mention this for a focus on rest – no petrol station, no french fry aroma – simply, a restroom and an enormous tree-filled park where people of all ages were walking, chatting, and picnicking; some with checkered tablecloths neatly placed. I’ve arrived.
The main road into my neighborhood runs along the Riviere Becancour, and I paused to ask a teenage boy if the little park was public. “I don’t speak much English”, is all he had to say. So, here I am in a village of 1100 people in the Arthabaska region of Quebec province, a valley just south of the Saint Lawrence River between Montreal and Quebec City. I chose this location for a number of reasons – a lovely Airbnb, French language immersion, and bike and pedestrian friendliness – yet easy access to a wider region that’s new to me.
Beyond escaping the USA, this trip is serving many purposes: an attempt at speaking French again; experiencing life in a small village in a rural area, then a small city; and finding time to write as I stay in place indoors for much longer periods than usual. In reality, I’m evaluating life options for 2023 as I kick tires for a six-and-six lifestyle of seasonal homesteading with continued world travel.
Alors, qu'est-ce que j'ai fait?
I’ve been living in a loft bedroom in a very peaceful setting with Anna, who is soon to be 76. Her home, “L’ensoleillee” is an ecological house with a gorgeous natural garden and wooded backyard. She also could not be a kinder and more patient person who works hard caring for the space inside and out, serves an astounding breakfast, and has been coaching me along with my Frenglish on a daily basis. It has been a very restful, joyful and productive stay.
Two days after arrival, my friend Scott from PA was here. At this point, I had no idea what was what, but we had long chats (in English), rode bikes, found some local delicacies, and then he moved on with his whirlwind tour of Canada. I then began exploring; first by simply biking along the river with views of the cranberry farms. This route landed me in the village of Notre Dame de Lourdes where I was flooded with childhood memories.
Early on, I fell into a daily pattern of either walking by the river or biking to new locations, studying French, perhaps writing a bit, and slowly discovering places I wanted to explore or return to as time rapidly passes by. I chose to bike to the village of Lemieux in honor of a dear friend, and drove to Princeville for food to discover the Route Verte 1 passing through. This was a great find and I biked to the small city of Victoriaville (population 50k) a few times before visiting by car to enjoy the museums and the Parc Mont Arthabaska.
I’m not sure if my French has improved in the past three weeks but I am moving ahead with daily studying, reading signs, short magazine articles, and menus! I’m also writing more and pondering a new angle for the infamous retreat proposals. Tomorrow, I head just 97km east to Levis, a city of 150,000 along the Saint Lawrence River.
The White Mountain State
It was an odd time in Whitefield, New Hampshire as I was in self-imposed stress mode, the cycling was immensely difficult, and the townspeople were not very friendly. I'm guessing transience has much to do with the lack of a warm welcome. My state can be confirmed as I was at the Dairy Bar eating a giant pistachio ice cream cone on the first day (it was Gifford's and it was fantastic!). My insanity was based on the control imposed upon me to cross the Canadian border and the inability to act prior to 72 hours! Thankfully, the wonderful library is open 3 days per week and all documents were in hand el pronto.
Dave, the artist, hostel owner and cyclist is a dear person though I wish I'd asked his story as I wonder why he lives here. Since I stayed a week, he was my main social contact but he was not forthcoming with his story. For the most part, folks from Canada, Massachusetts and New Hampshire came through for a night or two to hike, but it definitely wasn't a true hostel community.
When Dave told me he drives to cycle with groups, I knew I was in trouble as he was a racer for 25 years. For three days, I rode each "spoke" from the square until I'd hit a vertical wall that I just could not manage. Wicked hill riding! On the final day, I finally succumbed to driving a few miles to the lovely Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge to connect to the 20+ mile Rail Trail. Unfortunately, it was heavy gravel in a few miles so I returned to the blacktop. One last push!
A strange week all the way around as I had just left the sweet-smell and mellow feeling of Vermont, and was ready to roll into Canada. Yes, I did get across the border with no Covid testing or vehicle search! Merci.
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover