993km Garson to St. Bruno
The end of our round-the-world trip happens so quickly, we barely see it coming. In the logical part of our minds we know it’s getting closer. Anyone can see that on a map. But emotionally the last pedal strokes towards the point where we began feel much the same as any other day or week or month over the past three years.
Those last spins of our wheels begin slowly, interspersed with lazy lunch breaks on outcroppings of solid Canadian Shield rock and long moments of quiet reflection beside the endless lakes that look like a string of rain puddles on the vast map of Ontario. In Parry Sound, we help an old college friend rip up some truly terrible 70s shag carpeting in her new house and then it’s back on the road again, over the hundreds of small rolling hills that make up this part of Canada.
The usual preoccupations of our life – where to sleep, what to eat, how much sunscreen to put on – take up their usual chunk of time and then there are the unexpected challenges, like an attack by raccoons in Algonquin Park. Incredibly bold and undeterred by our presence, this little group of bandits surrounds our site and makes repeated charges for our food-filled panniers. It’s only when our neighbours lend us enough rope to lift our bags up into the trees that we can retire confidently to our tent.
The raccoons aren’t our only companions during this part of our journey. Rob is a funny, easy-going cyclist from Toronto who hooks up with us in Huntsville and his sense of humour shines through in the $5 sunglasses he’s wearing, held together by reams of duct tape. When we first meet, we’re a bit worried that Rob might have used the same thrifty approach when buying his bicycle but there’s relief all around when we discover his trusty steed isn’t also counting on duct tape to make the distance.
Rob brings with him bundles of energy, a positive outlook and a shared love of poutine and milkshakes. In fact, we stop for so many plates of poutine – a plate of fries covered in gravy and cheese curds – in Quebec that we dub ourselves Team Poutine. Andrew gets the nickname King Fry. Friedel becomes Queen Gravy and Rob is King Curd. This bout of silliness is just what we need to keep ourselves thinking too much about The End.
And then, just like that, it happens.
We were going to have one more night but at 3pm we are struck by a completely ridiculous burst of energy. With over 80km already pedalled that day and, by all calculations, at least 60km to Montreal, we decide to make a dash for the city. Maybe it was the hope of perfectly signed and smooth cycle paths all the way to the downtown core or maybe it was the wonderful weather or maybe it was just a desire to be there after so long on the road. We don’t really know because in hindsight it didn’t make any sense but whatever the reasons, we go for it. We just go.
All three of us are pushing at top speed, not stopping for anything. We don’t stop to eat (aside from one quick milkshake at a roadside stand). We don’t stop to refill our water bottles. We don’t stop to read the map, we just propel ourselves forward and shout questions to other cyclists when we need directions, waiting for the answer to come floating to us from a distance.
The light fades and then we lose the cycle path and Rob suggests getting the train. We tell him that’s not an option. We have to cycle those last kilometers and we think he knew that already and like a trooper he joins us in this crazy quest. We can’t retrace our steps to find out where we lost the bike path but we can follow a main road all the way into Montreal so we do. The sun sinks and soon it’s totally dark but there’s surprisingly little traffic on the roads and when we finally pull to a halt in front of a Montreal row house, where Rob’s girlfriend lives, after a massive 162km we are so shattered we can’t even think. Somewhere in the back of our heads we know we should be celebrating but at that one moment in time all we can think about is a shower and sleep.
A night on the tiles – and for us that’s one with our sleeping mats spread out on a kitchen floor – does wonders for our mental clarity and the next day we wake up with both a sense of happiness and confusion. Perhaps Robert Byron said it best when he returned to England from a trip to Afghanistan and wrote: ‘At Paddington I began to feel dazed, dazed at the prospect of coming to a stop, at the impending collision between eleven months’ momentum and the immobility of a beloved home.’
These mixed emotions stay with us as we finish out the final kilometers of our loop, for Montreal was not the true start. No, this trip began in St. Bruno, just to the south of Montreal, when Michael picked us up from the airport and took us back to his house and we set up our bikes on his front lawn and took those first few baby steps out of his driveway. Michael’s address has changed in the intervening time but as he rounds the corner of his apartment building to see us and our bikes waiting outside he shines that same broad smile and welcomes us back.
So it’s with Michael that we pop a bottle of bubbly and toast a successful trip around the globe. And it’s with Michael that we discuss what might come next. For now, it’s what we like to call our ‘encore trip’ – a retracing of the first few weeks, covering as much ground as we can between now and the end of the month. And then? For all our discussions and musings we are none the wiser. We’re leaving the future in someone else’s hands for now.