September 10th, 2008

The view from up here


Friday morning, I awoke on a strange couch with the scent of coffee brewing and the sounds of a dog coming from the next room. I was still dressed in my clothes from the day before. This could only mean one thing. Adventure was afoot.

Thursday night, I had driven up to Chateau Pondscumme to meetup with my online associate, fellow biker skum, and all-around nice guy Fredneck (Ferdeneque in Québécois). He offered to let me sleep on his couch so as to get us both a nice headstart on our way to St. Alphonse de Rodriguez (the most hispanic sounding French saint I'd ever heard of). Our first destination was brunch with the lovely Jessamyn on the occasion of her 40th birthday. We went to a lovely dining establishment (Patrick's, I think) on the main drag in Randolph, VT, where Fredneck and I enjoyed some damn fine eggs and other assorted breakfastings. As I was leaving Jess' place, she snapped a heroic photo of me in my Aerostich suit. That was probably the most refreshed and well-rested I'd look all weekend. Cuz we hit the road again at around 11 and had some Canadia to be gettin' to.

Our route took us up roads like VT-12 and VT-100, and through something vaguely insane called "Smuggler's Notch" (link doesn't quite do it justice; doesn't show how twisty the road is, but shows the contours alright). If you've ever seen the edge of a knife blade or a sword under an electron microscope, well, the Notch is like riding between the microserrations on the tip of a katana. And while you're doing it, there are huge rock faces on either side of you, trees everywhere, and no sightlines of any distance. You're dancing blindly like a madman on that knife edge, and the urge is strong to just lose it completely and let insane, maniacal laughter explode within your helmet. But you need to check that urge; the road requires 100% of your attention. Or more. I don't remember. I kind of blacked out. It was like going inside the monolith at the end of 2001. By the time I was through to the other side, I wasn't sure who I was, what I'd just done, or if I was even the same person as I was when I went in. These questions mean nothing to the Notch. It just sits there, silently, in judgement of all those who would dare approach.

Once on the other side, we weren't quite in Canadia, but it certainly felt as if we'd left the past and our troubles behind. We stopped in a little town called Enosburg Falls to fill up on gas before the border crossing. We met some fellow Denizens of Doom at the gas station there and chatted for awhile, did the pee break thing, hydrated, and the rest. Then it was time for the border run.

Before I take our narrative into the harsh Canadjun wilderness, there's something you should know about me. Despite having lived in the Northeastern United States for the past, oh say, half of my life, I've never been to Canadia. Despite the fact that I love Canadjun bands like Rush, I Mother Earth, Our Lady Peace, and so on, I've never made the pilgrimage. Canadjun comedians and TV shows, too. So when this "Canadian Assault" thing came around, naturally I jumped at the chance. "Get thee to Canada already!"

So I was clearly very excited to be entering Canadia for the first time. I've only ever been to another country by air, never by road. Would I have to answer Canadjun trivia to gain entry to the country? Let's see, PM is Harper, I know all the words to every Rush song, I've seen Canadian Bacon at least twice, I should be all set. We rolled up to the border right behind the faster guys who'd left us behind shortly after leaving the gas station. The border guard asked the lead rider a few questions, then waved them all through. We rolled up and she asked us: "You with them?" We nodded in the affirmative, and she made like to wave us through but then stopped mid-gesture. She asked us our nationality and whether we had any weapons, then waved us through. And I was in Canada. At last. I pumped my fist in the air and started singing the national anthem (not the Royal Canadjun Kilted Yaksmen Anthem, sadly; in my excitement, I forgot). I may have even done a handstand on my handlebars. I don't really remember. I took a deep breath and filled my lungs with rugged Canadjun air. Good thing, too, because that would be the last time I'd want to do that all weekend.

See, I was laboring under a misapprehension. Several, really. I'd thought that Quebec was all pine forests and fur trappers. But really, it's really straight. And flat. And long. Endless rows of corn and the stench of manure is everywhere.When I asked folks about this, I said, "I thought that was only Saskatchewan and Manitoba (notice how I name-drop obscure Canadjun provinces like a native!); you know, the prairie provinces?" Universally, the answer I got was, "Oh, they're like that too, but moreso." Word-for-word, I got this exact answer from more than one person. No foolin'!

Fredneck and I wandered through the cornfields towards the Sorel-Tracy ferry. Along the way, the "fast" guys who'd left us in the dust at the gas station and again at the border came up behind us. I'd chosen to ride with Fredneck because neither of us was really interested in breaking any speed laws (my bike doesn't go that fast anyway), and we spent much of our time waving other riders past as we enjoyed the countryside and our slow-and-steady pace. Not fast, but not a lot of stops and no dicking about while at those stops. So we took the signed detour around the bridge closure while the other group went off in search of another bridge (which was also closed). We pulled up to the traffic entering the Sorel ferry and after we'd doffed our gear to enjoy the rest while we waited for the next boat, Fred speculated on whether they'd beaten us to the last ferry or if we were indeed ahead of them. "If we get to the camp before them, I am going to laugh. I'm not going to let them hear the end of it," he said (or words to that effect). We waited and waited for the next boat, and they never showed up. Soon enough, it was our turn to get on board and we pulled our bikes right to the front of the ferry and waited for the loading to finish. The St. Lawrence was beautiful (despite the industrial buildup on either side, and the tremendous number of barges), a really sweeping river. The fabled northwest passage. You had to wonder what it was like to the first explorers. No motorcycles, and certainly no ferry. "China's got to be around here somewhere. Oh hey, brown peoples. I thought they're supposed to be yellow. Hey, are those arrows? *thunk*"

We docked on the other side of the river, having successfully avoided Montreal traffic, and had only about 40 miles left to go to the campsite. Our bikes slid like razors the rest of the way up into the soft underbelly of Quebec, racing the sunset to make camp before dark. We pulled into the campsite amidst a sprinkle of rain to find we had indeed beaten the "fast" guys there. Seems like one of their group had an electrical problem which slowed them down considerable. Bummer. I checked in with some folks and asked about places to set up my tent. They told me any place would be fine, but to check by the beach. I didn't find a satisfactory place by the beach (on a slope, and ants everywhere), but I did find a little picnic pavilion where the tables had all been stacked on one side. I set my tent up next to it, threw on the rain fly, and then walked back to get my bike. While I was under the parking structure, the sky opened up (good thing I put the rain fly up first). Since I got the ok to just use the pavilion, when I got to the other side of the campsite, I just picked my tent up and moved it under the roof there. I found a light switch and a power outlet; bonus! I had quite a nice setup; room for my tent and my bike under the roof, and power to boot. Now all I needed was to apply for citizenship and look for a job. Totally sweet digs, and way better than bunking in the main building. This was the first DoD event where I haven't needed earplugs (indeed, it was nice waking up to the sound of rain on Saturday). I unpacked and got settled.

By the time I walked back to the main building, more folks had shown up. I got some food (hadn't eaten since brunch) and chatted a bit. Mainly, I just sat there and soaked up (and probably seemed antisocial, but I was tired). The group with bike trouble showed up, all on bikes (no trailering necessary!). We ate, we drank, we shot the shit. My buddy Mongo Lloyd was there, and we talked a bit about the fucked up state of politics in the US. Then we talked about the upcoming rugged Canadjun elections. And the secret Mongo had been looking to ship to the CA was revealed; he'd shipped up his electronic drum kit and there was to be a Saturday night jam session. Awe. some.

Finally, inertia gave way and I shuffled off to bed. At nearly four hundred miles, this was probably my longest motorcycling day ever. And the weekend had only just started. Tomorrow was Saturday, and it promised rain, drums, Montreal, Tim Hortons, rain, and rocking the fuck out. But that will have to wait til the next entry.
  • Current Music
    Our Lady Peace - Under Zenith