Saturday, June 25, 2016

Slow Rolling with Adele - 4-days in Canada

Photo credit; Adele
Just like last year's solo Quebec Orchard and Vineyard Tour I proposed that my friend, Adele, and I begin our journey aboard a commuter bus and leave our cars at home. Easy peasy! 


Stopping at the Enosbrugh Falls depot (converted to museum) to refill our water supply.
By 8 am we were pedaling, sailing with a tailwind, heading north on the Misissquoi Valley rail trail a direct route to save time rather than roll on preferred paved farm country roads. We had to ride 50+ miles on our first day - a stretch for both of us - to arrive at our first accommodation.

Heading to Sutton and beyond on Quebec's bike route - Route Verte #4.
After an iced coffee and lunch break in Richford's town park, where we consumed Adele's homemade risotto and side of sauteed green beans, (little did I know this would set the tone for the gastronomic feasts to come!) we crossed the border into Canada.

Chocolate store treasures.
In touristy Sutton, we checked in with Information, picked up more maps, discovered a chocolate shop, ate their homemade ice cream (I tried chestnut - yum!) and generally cruised the main drag. We planned to stay in Sutton on the 3rd night, so any time spent in the village was considered research for later - or so we told ourselves.

Adele wanders into a clothing store while I stay with the bikes.
This is what I love about traveling with Adele. She likes to explore, I like to explore, and we both like to eat! Adele is older than I am and no longer relishes camping. I love to pick out routes (bring on the maps!) and she loves to research indoor accommodation. Both of us could care less about how fast we ride or miles traveled, so our pairing is exceptional. 

Adele doesn't mind if I stop to photograph adorable red and white cows.

After a long day first day, propelled by wind, and two odd meet-ups with Sutton's friendly and super helpful information lady (on the street in Lake Brome and shortly after in the local liquor store) we rolled into Auberge Lac Brome around 5 pm. Views of the lake were exceptional. It was a grand residence with quirky details: room hovered at 85F and had to contact front desk to locate controls, shower lacked adequate soap, I locked myself inside bathroom for a moment until I figured out handle mechanism. The list goes on, however, we began to laugh because the included 4 course meal was exceptional (our picks): local duck, fois gras, venison, roasted veggies, egads! We didn't mind that salt and pepper weren't set on table or that we had to summon the waiter for dessert spoons...for creme brulee.

Having come this way many years ago, I recalled having to surmount the hill in the distance,
yet promised Adele it was much easier than it looked. Photo credit: Adele
Fortified with a 2-course breakfast, we retrieved our bikes from the hotel's basement and set out on another sunny day. With a shorter distance planned for day 2, we followed Route Verte #1 on a graveled section beneath power lines, along rolling country dirt roads and steep paved ascents.

Adele summits the hill in the previous photo.
Adele is much faster on descents, while I tend to climb much better with lower gears. We would often leapfrog each other and sometimes we walked a particularly gnarly pitch together.

Before attacking the graveled path section through Mont Orford we veered into Les Serres Simard gardens, planning to ask directions to an eatery. However, we were easily captivated by the sculptures and, as it turns out, the head gardener was also an artist.

Elaborate chairs and table sculpture.

Garden carts using bicycle wheels! In the distance, a mechanical merry-go-round constructed from tractor wheels and seats.

A personal favorite: metal sunflower.

It seemed that everywhere we looked, we discovered a new treasure. But of course, there were greenhouses full of flowers and one reserved for gargantuan tomatoes - plants towered 8 feet high - their organic produce sold on premises.

Upon leaving, with directions to a nearby cafe, Adele notices upper window ingeniously pivots for ventilation.

I could resist snapping this photo in restroom.
We detour to Eastman and eat delightful cafe salads while relaxing on a terrace overlooking a stream. Good food equals good cycling!

We head back on course and begin climbing the route around Mont Orford Park. We were both a bit leery, alerted to an early black fly season, but fortunately a few pesky gnats were all that we encountered.

Adele seemed worried over the rough surface - her skinny tires are more of an effort - but she was a trooper and we circled the park, stopped for a brief break at the Information/Ranger station, then bypassed the remainder of Route Verte's snaking, seeming needless miles, in favor of a direct route into Magog.

Simon prepares a lovely meal. Adele displays Ceviche. a favorite course, served on La Maison de Ville's front porch.
At La Maison de Ville in downton Magog, the proprietor welcomed us with open arms. He stowed our bikes safely inside his basement and showed us around his comfortable home then left us to settle in. I relaxed in a common room, devouring magazines, strolled onto the second story porch, and concentrated on our maps, checking out the next day's route. We were expecting heavy rain and I contemplated several alternate roads that might lessen mileage.

La Maison de Ville, Magog.
Adele and I were treated to another first rate 4-course meal, by now we were spoiled of course, but we were beginning to understand this was typical fine dining in Canada, one of the truly unique reasons we both love visiting the Quebec region. Not only is French spoken, most people easily switch between their native language and English, but in all aspects, Quebec, Canada feels and is truly a foreign country. This culture is remarkably only 100 miles from our home in Burlington, VT, one of the reasons Adele and I often visit our northern neighbors.

During our evening and relaxing morning, I never set foot outside to explore town. I was completely comfortable, lounging and reading while Adele explored the city. I had visited Magog twice before. It's a lovely little city on Lake Memphremagog's northern shore.

Simon, preparing breakfast.

Adele's early morning stroll to visit the waterfront.

Adele photographs the tour boat on Lake Memphremagog.

Late morning we set off south along the western side of Lake Memphremagog, eventually detouring a mile onto a peninsula to visit Saint-Benoit-du-Lac Abbey.



A farm on the mile detour to the abbey with Mount Sutton on the skyline.

Since discovering the place was mentioned in Louise Penney's murder mystery series (a favorite of mine) plus the monks make blue cheese and chocolate, and we could attend a service and listen to singing, well, the abbey was a must-see stop on our itinerary.

In accordance with a house of worship, we pulled skirts over our shorts, and went inside.

Photo credit: Adele.
As we walked the silent corridor, detecting voices and song emanating from the far end, we quickly realized we'd misjudged the mass time, and slipped into an empty pew. All the monks sang the mass, with a choir director leading an inner circle of 8 monks, obviously elevated to special status. The monks did not chant, like the Gregorian chants I love to listen to on CD, but rather sang each part of the mass, accompanied by a black-robed monk playing an organ located along the side of the church.

Afterwards, we visited the gift shop, buying cheese and chocolate, to support the monastery.

"Hang in There!" mug on table at Bolton Center refuge, as if meant
especially for our journey. Photo credit: Adele.
Rain fell in sheets, just as we departed. We took turns, putting on rain gear, and in my case, my first foray touring in a poncho in place of traditional pants and jacket.

Wind whipped sideways, often a hindrance, sometimes a tailwind. We kept our spirits up and in a few miles took a break at a crossroads in Bolton Center beneath a funky, possibly private, shelter. We munched on Adele's energy cookies. The spot was constructed atop broken concrete, with recycled building material, plants, a mannequin propped along one pole, costume jewelry, etc. Surely, this place had an interesting story, but as the conditions were nasty, we soon set off, enduring the next miles.

We traveled on paved back roads with little shoulder, often rough, but had we kept going we would've retraced a route ridden two days ago, so we stuck with a plan to try a dirt road that might cut several miles off our itinerary and possibly arrive in Sutton at our B&B earlier. Or so we hoped!

Spreading wet gear out in our room to dry.
As soon as we veered off the paved highway, dirt Stagecoach Road climbed steeply for a mile and never let up. We walked the whole incline, the mud and mess reduced us to laughter. The wind picked up, my poncho flapped, and my bare legs were wet, but we pressed on. In hindsight, I wished we'd stayed on the pavement, because even with extra miles, I felt we could've made better time and bypassed steeper hills. However, we kept at it, but clearly Adele was slowing down. I began to chill down, refusing to put on tights, my only warm leg wear, so I kept pedaling, waiting atop each hill. By 4 pm, Adele called the B&B owner to let her know we'd be late, and fortunately the kind lady offered to pick us up. We agreed to meet on the road, so Adele and I kept moving to stay warm, adjusted our route due to possible bridge construction (hard to discern the French sign) and met wonderful Linda on an ungodly series of steep, muddy hills. She helped put our filthy bikes on her rack, she'd placed towels on her seats (good plan!) for our muddy legs, and cranked the heat on in her car (thank you Linda!). Blessings come in many ways.

Adele and I enjoy the red beer and pub food at A L"Abordage - a break from the fancy 4 course meals.
It was the best fish & chips! We loved the beer so much that we split a second glass.

After a pot of herbed tea, showers, and lovely conversation with Linda and Jay at Vert Le Mont B&B Adele and I braved more showers and walked to a recommended brasserie (micro-brewery), À L'Abordage.  

On the 4th morning, the skies were clearing, and after we consumed our 2 course breakfast, Adele also set up Linda with Vermont marketing ideas and connections, we hosed, re-oiled, and wiped our bikes, then set off with a fresh outlook.

Vert Le Mont B&B, Sutton.

Today promised headwinds, but sunshine overshadows minor inconveniences.

My husband and I have seen this odd building under construction over the past several years.
Photo credit: Adele.
Before heading west to visit Domaine du Pinnacle and their free cider tastings, Adele had to investigate a monstrous residence with colossal Greek statues. She suspected the statues were constructed with cement, but indeed they were amazingly carved in marble. We'd heard the owner is an egg farmer, and we hoofed it up the dirt road beside it to find massive buildings behind. I felt like we were trespassing, but Adele's curiosity and outgoing nature often opens doors. She went inside one of the buildings and emerged a few minutes later. It turns out it's not open to the public, but she did have a nice chat with a worker. 

Back roads around the Sutton region are beautiful and often challenging.

As I wait for Adele, I admire the farms and expansive views. I would like to return to this part of Canada in the near future.


Annie scores ice cider. Photo credit: Adele.
I love ice cider, which my family would consider an understatement, so the free tasting at Domaine Pinnacle was an immediate attraction. Of course, I couldn't resist bringing home 4 bottles, 3 different kinds of ice cider. Fortunately, I'd planned ahead this time around, replacing flimsy hooks on my panniers with a sturdier type, plus added a cargo net on my rear rack. Adele had brought an unused trunk bag with her, which I offered to carry home. Between panniers and rear attachments, it was easy to distribute additional weight.

We weren't' sampling ice cider in this photo, but this image sets the tone for our trip.

Selfies outside Domaine Pinnacle tasting room.

Fish tacos and salads, plus Adele enjoys cappuccino.
We stopped for a bistro lunch in Frelighsburg on a terrace. The river was raging nearby, a testament to the volume of rain that fell the previous day.

We crossed the border, reluctantly, back into Vermont. I know we'd both like to stay in Canada and enjoy a few more days of riding, but we needed to turn south directly into a headwind, which never let up. We ended our journey to meet up with the bus with only 15 minutes to spare. Intense sun and consistent wind took their toll. I was tired for two days afterward.

Adele and I have tentative plans for an Autumn tour with our new bicycles, a source of constant conversation on our trip. Adele's bike has already arrived. I can't wait to continue our travels together.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Another Narrow Escape

Image credit: JToons from ClipartOf

I was cruising down a hill on the bike path, late for work again, when I momentarily veered out of control onto a narrow strip of wet grass. In a moment of panic, I pictured myself slipping sideways, dumping the bike, or the more likely scenario, considering my speed: barreling off the dewy lawn into a pampas-grassed gully!

However, in that split second I managed to squeeze the rear brake, slightly, and gain enough control to steer the bike back onto asphalt, avoiding an accident altogether, and I continued on my way, breaking out in an adrenaline sweat. Phew!

Once again, the bike gods were on my side.

I always find it amusing - after the fact of course - how often I experience these narrow misses, yet somehow my bike handling skills (or luck) kick in, avoiding another potential incident.

That these instances occur, of course, is another story altogether. Riding on a segregated bike path means I subconsciously let my guard down and I am easily distracted: by daisies growing beside the path (have to pick some on the way home), by geese flying (wonder where they're headed?), by a rabbit (where is his burrow, I know it's around here somewhere). Sometimes the situation dictates I concentrate a bit harder (how would I construct those cool panniers I saw the other day)... and my thoughts wander down paths of their own.

It's great to have that clarity of mind all cyclists and runners experience, yet knowing when it's safe to explore these thoughts requires even greater skill. With one eye on the road. Or path.

You get the picture.

Monday, June 13, 2016

New Rubber for the Ross

I had to commute on the Trek Antelope for nearly a week, post Canadian tour, before I got around to minor repairs on my Ross Mt. Saint Helens commuter bike. I fixed a rear flat tire and fitted new Panaracer Pasela rubber - gumwalls are visible again! And as one thing led to another: polishing rims, flossing degreaser between freewheel cogs, wiping derailleur, (with the rear wheel removed some parts are easier to clean!) I finally took this mountain beauty out for a spin. It was then that I realized how much I'd missed tooling around on my girly bike - the Trek is faster, more suited to loaded touring, but I definitely prefer the Ross's upright posture.

Yeah, I suspect the Clementine is gonna rock my bike world!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Older Bikes vs. New - Pre-ordering a Rivendell Clementine

I ordered a Rivendell Clementine! Photo credit: Rivendell Bicycles

As a couple we are pretty low-key when it comes to bikes. We ride older, functional, and sturdy mountain bikes that pre-date shocks, appreciating that era of bike simplicity - not a conscious choice per se, but it just happens to be the type of bikes my husband and I toured on in the 1980s and 1990s, and we've kept them going ever since. We are comfortable adjusting cantilever brakes, replacing cables, threading through thumbshifters, wiping chains and rims, and pedaling with toe clips. Aluminum Blackburn racks have held up well and are still going strong. We like wider rims that accommodate 1.5-2" tires and value their sturdy stance on bike path, sidewalks, dirt trails, and debris strewn roadsides.

My husband is comfortable with his current stable of bikes: a 1992 Bridgestone MB-3 and a 1986 MB-2, whereas I've thought long and hard about whether my current Trek 830 Antelope will be my go-to choice as I get older. In recent years I've appreciated the upright step-through style of my commuter Ross Mt. Saint Helens which has seriously made me  consider this bike style as a primary option for my later years. I've pondered a marriage between the two styles (and best qualities of both) in The Ideal Bicycle a process that further helped me define what I wanted. Always on the lookout for an older bicycle, the awakening came when I realized I couldn't acquire an older step-through frame in a large enough size. It was shortly after this revelation that I began following Rivendell's fleet of Mixtes with more interest; Betty Foy and Cheviot. However, I would not compromise what I really wanted, only to settle for their mixte's high step-over height (not to mention I couldn't swallow spending what I consider an exorbitant amount of money these models fetch).

Over the past year, I've pondered what I love about older bikes vs. newer bikes.

Older bikes advantages:
  • sturdy frame
  • frame clearance for 26" tires and fenders
  • inexpensive
  • Schraeder rims (in my opinion, a better alternative to finicky Presta valves)
  • Often come with thumb shifters
Newer bikes advantages:
  • adjustable stem bolts to easier swap out handle bars to fine tune bike fit
  • updated V- or disc brakes for quicker stopping power
  • Shiny new paint!
  • In most cases, a lighter weight frame
  • a frame size that might fit
I was heartened to find options available to Europeans yet saddened to learn I couldn't easily test ride any of the bikes! It was around this time that I'd followed Rivendell's Clementine model and feedback from the first round of pre-orders. It was all positive. And continues to be. So, the timing and pre-order savings means a bike will be delivered to my house this July (they say). In a size that will fit me, the low gear gearing I desire, in a pretty blue color. Unfortunately, for this round of orders the Clementine has been rebranded as Clem-L, only available in mustard or blue. So no orange Clementine. However, it's a small price to pay for the more important features. I am hoping this will be a wonderful touring bicycle. This is the first new bicycle I've purchased in 30 years - about time, eh?

As an aside, Velouria at Lovely Bicycle! has a Clementine in her possession. I am eagerly awaiting her feedback, which I suspect we'll hear before my bicycle arrives.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Slow Rolling Through Canada, Just North of the VT Border - Preview


Packing light and doing it right. Two women who know how to tour, eat well, and laugh...and endure soggy dirt roads (well almost!) to arrive at a B&B. When the going is tough, it's the there's-no-shame-in-walking bike tour. Adele and Annie know how to have a good time!