Day 3: Montréal, Québec (107.39 mi/172.83 km)

Today was a rough day.

It didn’t start out that way. On the contrary, the early omens were good. I got up, got breakfast, had everything packed, and the light rain that had been falling, stopped right as I set out. The riding was good, the weather was pleasant, and I was feeling fresh and renewed. A mile down the road, I found a gas station where I could top off my tires with some air—and the air was free, not requiring any of the quarters I carry for just this purpose. And that’s when everything took a turn.

presta valve
A Presta valve

As I was filling the back tire, the bike tipped and the valve got bent. In and of itself, this would not have been a huge problem, but a fluke made this one worse. See, I have Presta valves, which, while common on bikes, require an adaptor to use when using a pump meant for cars. This adaptor had not only helped to bend the valve, but now was wedged on so badly that I couldn’t get it off. This meant that my back tire could neither be inflated nor could I close the valve to prevent it from losing any more air. In addition, if I wanted to just install a new tube, I couldn’t get the old tube off, with the adaptor preventing me from removing the tube.

The Presta-Schrader adaptor

I stared at the bike dumbfounded. What was I going to do? I looked around as if there were anyone nearby who might be able to offer a solution. I looked up bike shops in the area. The closest ones were in Burlington, 5 miles away and they didn’t open until 10 a.m., two hours from now. And so, I went into the convenience store attached to the gas station and asked the women who worked there if there were any service stations around that might be able to help. They both recommended the Volkswagen dealership on the next block. So, I biked down to the VW dealership, introduced myself as a VW owner, and then asked for any help they could offer. The service director was sympathetic but didn’t know the answer and called an employee who would know. When he showed up he concurred that this was a bad situation and that basically there was no way to get the adaptor off.

So, I just asked for some wire cutters and cut the valve in half and removed it. I carry spare tubes for emergencies and I had two of them ready to go. I opened the first box and inside was a tube with the wrong valve type, the Schrader type that cars have—too thick to fit through the hole in the rim. I was floored. I’d just bought this from my regular bike shop and it’s totally not like them to make this kind of mistake. Fear not, I thought, I have a second spare. I opened that box to find not a new tube, but an old patched one that I’d put aside as a spare. Well, by this time I was really out of options, so I put the tube on, and filled it using an adaptor that one of the employees, Henry, happened to have on him. It worked just fine but now that I was effectively out of spares, I was anxious about flats. I can always patch a tube—the spare that I’m using is testament to that—but there’s only so many times you can do that before you should just get a new tire. I’d have to buy a tube at the first bike shop I came across.

In the end, Henry gave me the adaptor, saying that he had another one. The folks at the Shearer VW dealership were incredibly helpful and I was eventually able to get on my way.

An hour late.

And that was a problem because I knew that I had to go at least 100 miles today. Now, some of you may be wondering why I set this particular distance for today. Rest assured, it was not because I felt I needed to rack up another century. The destinations are all driven by schedule and accommodations availability. The first day, for example, I had to go 95 miles because I could either stop after 60 and fall behind on my first day or I could push on. With regard to today’s trip, I had initially planned on stopping earlier, at St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, a ride of about 75 miles. But that would’ve meant that the next day would involve a 30 mile ride to Montreal—for lunch, I guess?—then back down to St. Cyprien-de-Napierville (about 75 miles). But then, the next day would involve 80 miles of riding, 40 of which would be climbing the Adirondacks to Lake Placid. The best way to avoid that fate was to push on to Montreal today, make it all the way to Plattsburgh tomorrow, and then only have 40 miles on mountain climbing day. Plus, the terrain between Burlington and Montreal is relatively flat.

Now an hour later than I’d hoped to get underway, I finally did. I managed to get to the shore trail that ran alongside Lake Champlain. It passed the restaurant where I had dinner last night and continued out of the city. The views were striking and the overcast skies were a welcome relief after having the sun bear down on me all day yesterday.

As the trail continued, it eventually became a causeway over the lake, using an old railroad bed.

Eventually, that causeway comes to a gap, wherein a ferry must be taken to bridge the gap to the next section of the causeway.

Back on the causeway, I made my way north along Grand Isle and North Hero islands. The views along the way were lovely and even though it rained a few times, it was never heavy. This did create a challenge with the navigation.

See, among the things I lost waiting at the dealership were that hour and 20% of my phone’s battery life. Now, I have portable batteries that I can use to top it off if necessary, including an Anker battery that a friend recommended that holds a ton of power. But, when it’s raining, my phone goes in a phone bag, which is basically a heavy duty Ziploc bag, to keep it dry. When it’s in the bag, it’s not easy to charge. And what this meant was that I was not able to use the GPS as much as I would have liked for fear of depleting the battery.

But unlike yesterday, where I literally traveled on the same road—US Route 7—for 67 miles, today was going to involve a number of turns. I had handwritten directions that I’d made, but trying to read them in the rain was not much easier and a couple of times I missed a turn, once going almost a mile past where I was supposed to have turned. I was already feeling behind because of the late start and now I was wasting precious time—and leg muscles—going down roads I didn’t need to go down. At one point my ride tracker just quit and stopped tracking me altogether resulting in a straight red line across the water to the place I was now because when I rebooted the app, it had had no idea how I got from A to B.

I eventually crossed the border around 1:15. It was still kind of drizzling but at least it wasn’t too hot. I was about 50 miles into the ride at this point and had decided to follow my 2/3 rule and stop around 67 miles, which just happened to be the town of St. Anne de Sabrevois. I’d even identified the place I would stop and eat.

The miles north of the border were pleasant enough—flat expanses of farmland—but I could feel myself flagging. With the stresses of the morning and the long ride, my legs were starting to really hurt. Just get to Sabrevois, I kept saying to myself. You’ll eat in Sabrevois. But when I got to Sabrevois: rien. Nothing.

A Free Methodist church in Mountainview. Sadly, even these Methodists had no food to offer

The one place I’d identified was definitely not ouvert. I was on fumes. Surely there was another place to eat nearby, right? But there wasn’t. A lot of auto shops and stores of pièces d’auto—auto parts—but no restaurants or cafes or anything. Vraiment, les Québecois ne mangent pas? Do the Quebecois really not eat? Well, there were plenty of farm stands, but raw cucumbers weren’t what I needed at the moment.

I kept pushing on, my legs straining and just begging for reprieve and nourishment. I found my route and made my way toward St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, the town I’d originally planned on stopping in. On the way there, the bike route was detoured a few times, which always was just that much more annoying when you’re adding distance to an already long trip. Finally, I got to the bridge to go across to St. Jean. I could see from the east side of the river that St. Jean was a decent sized town—I could’ve done worse for places to stop—and surely had plenty of places to eat. As I made my way across the bridge, I began to hear bells ringing and just then, the bridge lifted up to make way for a boat. Are you kidding me? I thought. A drawbridge? Now? Of course, because I’m in a hurry, the drawbridge is up.

But as I waited, I noticed a place right near the foot of the bridge and decided that that was where I was going to eat. I pulled up in front of the La Patate Royale. Three men were hanging around out front—the cook and two friends. The cook greeted me in French too fast to understand and then switched to English next. (The Québecois always ask, “Do you speak English?” with an intonation that suggests they’re offering that as the next available option, not that they assume you’re an English speaker, which I find curious: if a tourist is generally ignorant of the native language somewhere, solid money is on that person being a native English speaker.)

front of La Patate Royale

The next words he said were, “Bicyclist’s special: the chicken sandwich.” I hadn’t had any real idea what I would order, noting that the sign out front depicted burgers and hotdogs, but as soon as he said “chicken sandwich” I enthusiastically agreed. And so I feasted on a delicious chicken sandwich with a side of fries, drank more water and just sat there for a while. After cooling off and finishing my meal, I went outside to the patio where the men were and talked with them a little bit, even getting directions since the bridge I’d crossed was under construction and that had interfered with the bike trail.

Heading out I was feeling much, much better. Rested and refueled, I found myself able to go a little faster than before. When I got to the bike trail, I was pleased to discover that it ran along the canal parallel to the Richelieu river. Riding along the trail offered some really lovely views and the level terrain made it easy going. The sun had finally come out and so the day started to heat up a little bit, but I didn’t mind; whatever makes the traveling faster.

At times the trail got quite nice and in the chi-chi parts of town, large homes were alongside the trail.

For a time, the trail even went through a shaded, wooded area:

Now, because my GPS tracker had conked out earlier without recording my last few miles thus far, I had no idea how far I still had to go. The app had recorded that the first half of my day had been 42 miles, but was that accurate? How much of that was the wrong turn? Should it have been more like 40 or 45 miles? The current tracking was telling me I’d gone 37 miles by St. Jean. Did that mean a total of 77 miles or 82 miles traveled? In my head, I kept two sets of guesses: Montreal is either 25 or 22 miles away…

And then suddenly, crossing over a highway bridge, I saw it:

Montreal! I still had a few miles to do—but it’s better when you can see the destination ahead of you. Eventually, I came to the Pont Jacques Cartier, a massive two-part bridge spanning the St. Lawrence and which offered me a splendid view of the city:

From there it was only a couple of miles to get to my downtown hotel. The front desk clerk was, as usual, surprised to hear where I’d come from. But handing me a bottle of water he welcomed me to Montreal.

Later I would check the actual distance traveled: 107.39 miles, further than I’d ever traveled in a singled day on my bike (the longest before had been 105 miles). The desk clerk also gave me a great recommendation for dinner, which was long overdue. But after burning 7,000+ calories today, I was able to eat entirely guilt free.

There are probably other things I could say, but I’m exhausted and bed—and my nightly Advil—beckons. I’ll take a look at tomorrow’s ride. If it’s not too bad, I may sleep in a little bit to rest up. I mean, even if I’m a little late, after doing 107 miles, almost anything less seems eminently doable.

Full workout info:

271.36 total miles
436.72 total kilometers
10,471 total feet climbed
18,265 total calories burned