Toronto, Brockville, Montreal, Burlington, Ticonderoga, Albany, Boston, New London – towns and cities just black dots on a meandering red line that would take me to the Atlantic. I’m writing almost a year after leaving for Ameria, due to an intense decline in enthusiasm. I lost my camera in LA –appropriate after the city swallowed my wallet at the beginning of my journey.
Over the next five days, I followed the meandering red line along the shores of Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence River, putting faces to names as I encountered each black dot.
To tell you the truth, the trip from Toronto into Montreal was fairly average. The official route, nestled on the shores of one of the great lakes, would have been quite stunning except for the swarms of midges that’d get annihilated as I stormed through them. In my eyes, nose, and mouth – not to mention the generations of no-see-ems that I’d shake off my shirt and shorts after a few hours’ ride. In the end, I resorted to a minor highway that paralleled the bike route. It was fairly easy riding, with only undulating hills.
Brockville is a quaint sort of town on the St Lawrence River (kind of upper Lake Ontario) which would have provided a pleasant and uneventful stay were it not for an encounter with a particularly persistent raccoon. I camped in the municipal park that’s named after the river along which it lies, and during the night, while I napped, nearly nodding, suddenly there came a plodding, as of some one gently robbing, robbing at my tent door.
A raccoon knew there was food in my backpack and it was a persistent dude. I tried everything to shoo it away: I yelled at it, banged my helmet on the ground, and when that didn’t work I threw my helmet at it; I sprayed water at it; I threw some food as a sacrificial offering. Each time, it would scamper away and hover at the tree line, before returning to my bag when I was nearly napping… evermore.
With it approaching summer and my sleeping bag suited to camping in below freezing temperatures, I was sleeping in my briefs. Well, let’s just say that anyone wandering through St Lawrence Park in Brockville, ON on that Spring evening may or may not have seen a near-naked man outside his tent hurling the contents of his bag and abuse most foul at a raccoon on the edge of the tree line.
A succession of flats over a 48 hour period led me to the conclusion that my tyres were stuffed, but the meager selection at the bike shop in the town of Cornwall was scandalously overpriced, so I caught a train into Montreal.
All the way up until Quebec, there had been a noticeable effort at bilingual signage, growing more prevalent as I approached the border of the French-speaking province. However, on entering Quebec, the signs became solely monolingual, and I was to find out that the Quebecois are, dare I say it, more parochial and nationalistic than the French themselves. Indeed, a 1995 referendum asking the Quebecois whether they wanted national sovereignty was defeated only 50.5% to 49.5%.
At a shamelessly hipster party in Montreal, I met a future cycling buddy who was to accompany me as far Boston. Laurence was going to a dance class in the middle of the forest in Massachusetts (this seemed like something of a banality to her) and wanted to cycle there, but she didn’t want to do it alone. Her mum gave us a lift to the border with New York State where the combination of Laurence’s flimsy-sounding reason for travelling and foreign (not American) accent immediately aroused the suspicion of America’s border force.
Why would someone from Montreal want to move to America? Montreal is a hotbed for socialist activists. The students (all of them – not just the stinky ones) at the University of Montreal had just concluded successful strike action against the administration.
In any case, we cycled over a bridge into Vermont where a really rather nice cycle route took us south via a series of islands in Lake Champlain. From the outset, it became fairly clear that we wouldn’t be making it all the way to Boston under our own steam, as Laurence had neither the legs nor the granny gear to climb all day.
An artificial bike peninsular took us into the hometown of famed cantankerous trouble-maker, Bernie Sanders and we checked in to camp at the city’s public park, before some decent tacos which came at double the price of the West Coast. Waking at a fairly leisurely hour, we rolled into town to figure our next move over breakfast in Burlington. We decided on Albany, the capital of New York (which is even more stupid than Sacramento being the capital of Cali, but I’m done arguing over this).
We left the rather lovely town and headed for Button Bay State Park, which must have the highest per capita mosquito density in the contiguous United States. Camping in barmy weather and rising early the next day to a stinking hot morning, our tour continued for a about 20 miles on country lanes squeezed between Vermont’s dairy industry and the shores of Lake Champlain. A Google Alert sang out on connecting to free gas station WiFi as we paused for refreshments. It said a thunderstorm warning had been issued for Shoreham, VT and the surrounding areas. This was fairly significant, as the gas station outside which we happened to be standing was in Shoreham, VT and there were only bougie guesthouses in the surrounding areas.
Any notion of camping was nixed, and we headed for the town of Ticonderoga, NY to find some bricks and mortar in which to sleep. On the way, the storm absolutely drenched us before passing over; the ferry across Lake Champlain was a sick joke: shelter only for the skipper. Nevertheless, we’d had enough riding for the day so we found a motel before continuing our journey south to Albany, albeit alongside a different waterway in Lake George.
The terrain was undulating, but Laurence had begun to find her touring legs and we managed to make our ambitious target of Moreau Lake State Park, 90km away, which broke the record for highest per capita mosquito density in the contiguous United States. The next day, we had breakfast at a hipster coffee joint in Saratoga Springs. I don’t think a town can be more bourgeois than Saratoga Springs – I think it’s the abundance natural springs and elegant bullshit that surrounds them. Then we booked it to Albany because our Greyhound left in the evening and we wanted to make sure we had adequate time to deal with whatever fiasco was sure to greet us at the bus depot. It turned out that our bus had been switched, and the new one didn’t have bike racks – so we had to take the bikes apart and box them up before the bus came.
To make it worse, the attendant at the counter kept on making it out as if we were causing him an enormous hassle instead of the other way around. At one point he muttered, quite audibly, “Gonna make me start drinking again…” Imagine what sort of a relapse he’d have if he was faced with an actual problem – nothing short of opiates probably.
Anyway, we got to Boston in the early hours of the morning and reassembled our bikes in South Station. Needless to say, Laurence was unreasonably tolerant of my foul mood. We experienced Boston together for a day before we bid each other a sad farewell: her, to go dancing in the Massachusetts forest, and me to continue along the Atlantic coast through New England.
I had vague plans for some lodgings in Providence, RI with a friend from Australia. Sarah studies, and works at a design school in the city. However, the weather turned sour and in Boston it started to pour. It poured as I caught the train out of South Station to Canton to cut down on cycling time in the rain, and it poured as I cycled south past Foxboro into Rhode Island. It poured as my tyre blew on the outskirts of East Providence, and it poured as I patched it up under a tree beside the road. The prospect of finding WiFi to contact Sarah in a minor squall seemed hard and I was of weak spirit, so I stopped at the first accommodation that crossed my path, got fleeced, but also got a good night’s sleep and a Top 5 shower. Smiles and cries.
The next morning, I met up with Sarah at her school, Rhode Island School of Design, one of the better design schools in the… well, world. She hooked me up with a house to myself – I was very confused. An entire house to myself. It had a bed and bathroom and kitchen and everything. Apparently it belonged to a Japanese professor who worked at Brown Uni, which is also a big deal – lots of red brick. There’s a palpable whiff of old money around the whole city; I’ve never been made to feel more inferior by buildings than in Providence.
The Rhode Island State House was the most spectacular building I saw in the country, and that state is tiny. What and odd part of the world.
New London and its ferry to Long Island was my final stop before I returned to the state of New York to meet up with close friend and good man, Kip Elder. It was an unremarkable ride, save for the town of Mystic, where I regret not pausing longer. It had a drawbridge and was decidedly quaint.