672km St. Bruno to Rimouski
Our circuit around the world ends in St. Bruno but the next morning, after Michael has gone to work, we carry on as if nothing has changed at all.
We eat our breakfast of cereal and fruit, lug our bags downstairs and load them on the bikes like we’ve done a thousand times before. I take a moment to examine the fraying bag that sits across my back two panniers, the one that has held our sleeping mats for months now. I wonder how it’s ever held out this long. This one bag, more than anything else we’re carrying, really looks like it’s gone around the world. Maybe it will stay intact just a little longer.
My thoughts are broken by Andrew handing me some sunscreen. We make the last checks of our bikes and gear, drop in a few cubes of ice from Michael’s freezer into our water bottles, give each other a kiss and head out under a surprisingly intense September sun.
Our loop is already completed but we’re continuing to cycle because, just like a runaway truck going down a steep hill, a strong sense of momentum pushes us onwards. We have been continually moving forward for 3 years now and it’s so incredibly hard to even contemplate putting on the brakes. More than anything we need time: time to digest all those special places and kilometres riding in our wake and time to consider what will come next.
It’s the last point that occupies our thoughts more than anything. That morning I said to Andrew, completely out of the blue and not really knowing why I said it at all, “What if we don’t come home from our trip to Germany? What if we move to Holland?” He smiled. We both smiled. The idea spoke to us. But was it too crazy?
All the way through the farmlands of Quebec, over countless plates of poutine, ice cream cones and while camping behind the tall fields of corn that line the road, we talk about Holland. It’s bike friendly Not too cold. The different culture will feed our hunger for new adventures. And by the time we’ve arrived in Quebec City, to the warm welcome of future world cyclists Louis and Lysanne, we’ve almost convinced ourselves it’s a good idea.
That night, a crash in confidence comes. Will we get jobs? What if it all goes wrong? Despite plenty of adventure with Louis and Lysanne, two incredibly jolly people who fill our normally tranquil rest days with marvellous hikes and bike rides, we wake up two days in a row at 5am. Our minds are full of doubt and we are so anxious we cannot sleep. We debate and dispute and then we reach the same conclusion: the worst case scenario is not so bad at all. Even if we go and don’t find jobs, we can always come home and we’ll have the few months of experience in Holland as something learned and perhaps even enjoyed. And, with a little luck and determination, we might arrive at something even better. This is how we decide that we will go to Holland – a possibility we hadn’t even considered before last week.
As we leave Quebec City, we stop in to see Pierre of Museo Velo (quite possibly the world’s most interesting bicycle shop – an homage to the bicycle more than merely a place to buy a bike) and Pierre congratulates us by doing a trackstand on his penny farthing in front of our bikes. He makes us smile.
Now on our way over the steep hills that line the banks of the St. Lawrence, we know our cycling days are truly numbered. There are people to see and things to pack before we go so cycling all the way home is out of the question. Just a few more miles, we say, but along with Old Man Time, the weather is turning against us too. ‘Turn right for South America now or continue at your peril!” the wind seems to whisper as it whips around our ears.
One night is particularly frigid. It’s so cold that we wear two layers of clothes to bed, including our socks and we both refuse to get out of the tent the next morning. No promise of coffee is enough to pull us out of our sleeping bags before 8am and even then ice falls into our hands when we finally unzip the door. It’s a sure sign that winter is coming.
We spend our last days in a kind of beautiful mourning. With every breath we inhale deeply and feel that wonderful rush of fresh air moving through our lungs in a way that it only does when you are on a bicycle. When we stop, we take extra time to soak in the beauty of the icy blue Saint Lawrence River flowing just beneath our feet. And on the last morning we watch a small sliver of pink sunlight spread out in a thin line along the horizon, the only bit of colour that helps to distinguish between the dawn colours of the water and the sky.
Tonight we will go to the train station and put our bikes in a box. And I will have a lump in my throat but I will pretend not to care that this has been the last day of our trip because it is the only way I know to get through this moment without crying. And Andrew will have tears in his eyes because he knows that our next long trip could be many months away and it has been so special for both of us. And at 2am the train will arrive and our bikes will go into the baggage car and we will take our seats. It will be late and we will be tired but we will not sleep. Memories of countries past and challenges ahead will float through our minds, keeping us awake as the train carries us and our bicycles through a dark Canadian night.