Excuse the typos. Written on an iPad in a tent.
The rain pounded against my kitchen window as I buckled the last of my gear into my bright red panniers. Sarah scampered on to my porch, escaping the deluge to help me load my bags into the car. Pulling freshly baked brownies out of the oven for the 9 hour drive to the Gaspe Peninsula, I locked the rain swollen door behind me.
Three people, three bikes, plus gear sat comfortably inside Sarah's Honda Fit. What was less comfortable was carefully (slowly) guiding the hydro planing vehicle for 9 hours with no more than 100' visibility at any point. There was no waiting it out. The radar blanketed us from Southern Maine to Quebec. The thing about driving 55 mph that people sometimes forget: you still get there in the end. As for three stomach churning accidents we passed along the way? Well... We just drove even slower.
Leaving the country was a piece of cake, but the stretch of I-95 past Millinocket was unexpected. The interstate was closed for construction and a detour led us through gently rutted roads where flashing signs warned us of imminent danger: "Caution, share the road - Horse and buggy ahead"! Riding into Houlton at last, Chris topped off the tank with America's subsidized oil and we prepared our passports. A surly border patrol officer questioned us with the usual: where are you going, are you carrying firearms, etc.
Crossing the border, the roads became smoother but the skies were darker. No civilization to be found. Angie (Chris's GPS) confirmed as much. She tried in vain to lead us astray, offering directions on highways whose names were "unpaved" and "dirt road". We are highly unprepared for our trip. We forgot to research such useful items as the hotel and bus station address or if we need to be prepared to deal with bears. We are just competent enough not to follow this said GPS and to use a real life atlas. Even if we weren't traveling internationally, cell service is not exactly an option. (C'mon AT&T).
We presumed that we would find English speakers. This is somewhat true. The scenery feels like Maine but everyone around us is chattering away in French. We relied on the kindness of strangers all morning to find the bus stop (the Esso gas station in New Richmond), where to buy bike boxes (the next town over), and where to park the car for a week for free. We were a spectacle of spandex and bike wheels strewn across the parking lot as we scrambled to prep our bikes for the 4 hour bus ride and debated whether or not to bring that extra shirt. Ultimately the extra shirt was tossed in the car. The boxes secured with metallic silver duct tape. We were ready.
Day 1 cont.
Turns out, we were not ready. At all.
The bus pulled to a stop on a plot of grass on the side of the road which overlooked the ocean: the bus stop. We unloaded our gear while the bus driver, clearly in no hurry, paused for a few minutes to ask us about what must appear to be a hair-brained idea for a vacation. Little did we know - it was a little crazy. Unloading our bikes from their respective boxes, we began to reassemble them, piecing together wheels and racks. Until I noticed that something was missing... My front axle, it turns out, was in Portland on the front porch, right where we left it when we were scrambling to dissemble and load the bikes on the car. Now what?
Stranded on the side of the road, exhausted and confused, we wondered: 1) where to find a spare bike axle, and 2) how to ask for it in French. Wandering into the Auberge across the way, we met Gil, the English-speaking owner of the youth hostel. Gil grinned when we explained our dilemma, and led us into the basement. Low and behold, 15 miles from town and stuck in the mountains, we came upon a basement full of bikes in various states of disrepair and their corresponding parts. Digging through piles of greasy pieces we found a promising looking axle and sighed in relief when, magically, it fit perfectly.
Now we are ready!
Cinching our bags into place, we stepped onto our pedals to begin the long awaited trip. Our bikes were cumbersome and off-balance. Every movement, each breeze from a passing car, each intake of breath felt like my bike would topple over, bringing me with it. Turns out, this is pretty hard. Now I understand why people use bike trailers.
Rounding the first bend, wobbly but determined, we encountered our first (of many) hills. Never mind the weight of our gear - these are no ordinary hills. These hills are three times as long as Fox + Walnut St (in Portland) and steeper. Yellow warning signs depicting trucks flying down steep hills with grades marked at 15% took on a whole new meaning. It meant we would tackle a terrifying brake frying downhill or a dreadfully exhausting uphill so steep that we had to push our bikes the 1/2 mile to the top.
Even though we were wrong about our assumptions (that things would only be a little hard) we are still smiling. As it turns out, we were right about two things: 1) That we are in one of the most dramatic and beautiful places on the Eastern seaboard; and 2) The 3 dreadfully heavy beers in my pannier (which I resisted chucking over the side of the guardrail just an hour earlier) tasted AMAZING while we enjoyed them from the rocky cliffs of Forillon National Park.