Sunday, June 7, 2009

Upper Canada, ON: Green and Blue

It took us five days to get from Kingston to Montreal. The cycle gods blessed us with glorious blue skies, flat terrain, and a good tailwind. It almost made me forget about my aching Achilles.

The shore of the Great Lakes have been traded for the shore of the St Lawrence River. We did a slight diversion out of Kingston and rode the free (for bikes) ferry to Howe Island. We rode the length along the only paved route going north, passing farms and fields and incredible summer homes with perfect grass and blooming flowers.

Canada geese are everywhere along the shoreline. For my West Coast friends who are not familiar with the bird, they eat lots of grass and waddle in large groups or fly in v-formation. And their cylindrical droppings are definitely much larger than one would expect in proportion to the size of the bird. Maybe it is all that grass fiber. In any case, dodging droppings on a bike trail is a skill required by any cyclist touring in these northern regions. Pairs of adult birds are accompanied often by their young, who follow closely in line wherever the parent goes.

On bright days like we had, the contrast of the blue water, the green grass and trees, and blue skies is almost too much to absorb. Park areas line the banks of the river, inviting one to sit for a while and just take it in.

Until we came here, I never really knew the difference between the St Lawrence River and the St Lawrence Seaway. But we have seen the locks and the dams and learned of "lost villages" that were submerged when the channel was deepened in the 1950's so large ships could travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.

We spent most of one day visiting Upper Canada Village, a living historical museum where buildings were relocated prior to the flooding. The village represents life circa 1860, and has a working sawmill, grain mill, bakery, farm, and various other industries of the time. These types of museums interest us very much, since it demonstrates the true way of life for the common people of the time.

By far our favorite presentation was the bakery. We followed the smell of fresh bread from a couple hundred meters away. Inside the bakery when we arrived, they were pulling out the morning batch of 100 loaves baked in a brick oven. The baker was mixing up the afternoon batch of another 100 loaves of whole wheat bread. When I said to the baker that I could smell them from a mile away, he quipped back that he did not know he smelled that bad!

The Village sells the bread in their store, and we picked up a loaf on our way out along with some cheddar cheese made there, too. We savored the pair with dinner. Unfortunately, another one of those pesky raccoons nabbed the cheese from the bag overnight at the campground and disappeared into the woods with no trace. Hope he enjoyed it as much as we did.

We followed the trace of a couple canals abandoned when the Seaway was created. The canal banks have been transformed into wonderful dedicated bike paths. Below is a section of the St Lawrence Recreational Path along the old Cornwall Canal.

On the fifth day we crossed the Ontario-Quebec border. It was immediately like entering a new country. Road signs and overheard conversations were now in French. Most people are bilingual, but the English is often twinged with a distinct accent.

Our last stretch into Montreal followed the Lachine Canal right into the city. As we got closer, there were an exceptional number of cyclists, even for a Sunday. Many of the cyclists were wearing bibs with a race logo, or funny hats. By the time we reached the city we learned that we were enveloped in the 25th annual Tour de I'lie -- "tour of the island" -- a fun ride that circles the island of which a large part of Montreal occupies. Pretty soon we became part of the flow of the 30,000 participants. We were like trout in a stream that took us along the blocked-off streets right to the hotel in Old Montreal where we had reservatons. We checked in and lugged our bikes and gear up two flights of stairs (no elevator in the 100+ year-old builoding). We could see the constant stream of cyclists from our window down below for the next few hours. What a nice escorted entrance into Montreal!

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