Québéc, New Brunswick, Maine - Random Comments


Budget Smudget

This cycle touring trip found itself being maintained on $50-60 a day. The bed or campsite was the most consistently expensive chunk, eating up $20-30 and sometimes more. A hope had been to find some shared camping with cyclists I would meet on the way to lower that cost, but that never did materialize. Indeed, I met with no cyclists going in my direction in the first place!

Usually a good meal somewhere in the day took care of another $10-20, and a beer or beers (only an occasional thing with me) could be another $5-20, too. Another $5-15 went toward groceries every day. Fortunately, my main activities of walking around and playing the trumpet were free, as was tooling around on the bike. That was I enjoyed most anyway, not counting conversations - also free.

That was the pattern that generally played out over the two months, proving what a creature of habit I am - even in changing surroundings and circumstances. Reading, riding, (w)ritin', riffing, rapping...well, not rapping in a guidance counselor kind of way. You know what I mean.

The Handlebars Told The Story



Preparation obviously wasn't my thing. My pre-trip tuneup, instead of a logical trip to the bikeshop, consisted principally of doing errands around Seattle &aagrave; velo (on bike). In my way of thinking, I was killing two birds with one stone. (Others might just call me cheap, or frugal. Guilty.) Thus my backups weren't much outside of a spare tube, a patch kit, a multi-allen wrench and a spare brake cable - rather thin from many a cyclist's view. Perhaps I should have purchased a new-fangled foldable tire, or fenders - the thought at least crossed my mind.

Still, the road itself could provide sometimes: As proof, I picked up a spare shockcord - thrice! Each time it was not longing after I found that I needed or wanted to upgrade what I had. More providential was when I picked up a pair of pliers, using them the same day to solve a (mini) crisis! Karma? Dumb luck?

Really, though - I needed only to look at my handlebars to see the thin ice I could have been treading on with jackboots. Slippery handle pads would remind over most of the trip of the gloves I forgot back at St.-Ferriol-des-Neiges on top of a trash can lid. The beehive bell, my advanced warning system, only worked if the thumb hit it just so.

There'd be more: a headlight anchor atop the handlebar rested continually empty, for example. That was only because the light beam would just train onto my handlebar bag, anyway. That, incidentally, had slumped over with quickly rusted and stripped screws to render its transparent map display area useless. Furthermore, its spine broke in two from jostling midway through the trip.

The litany continues: With my speedomoter/odometer mysteriously DOA starting in Montréal, one hope I fervently kept throughout the journey was that the clock it contained - marvelously working and fortuitously in the right time zone - didn't soon go with it. Miraculously, it didn't... THAT would only effectively happen when I would lose it shortly after returning to Seattle instead. That's because I'm a lucky guy: such misadventure was simply not possible.

Running On Empty? - The Half-Dead iPod

Another piece of my unwitting and self-imposed challenge turned out to be my broken iPod. A one-way iPod neutering had occurred just prior to the trip, rendering it capable of being recharged at will, but never changed. Could be worse, I figured. I came to view this setback as a larger version of the song that tended to play in my head for five hours straight while riding. So, staying on that bright side, it was my great fortune that a lot of good stuff was on there - Cuban songs to learn, Aebersold backing jazz tracks, and a lot of old pop tunes I loved.

Herewith a sampling of that iPod soundtrack: "Linus & Lucy" was a song I could play 10x in a row and find fresh each time - pure genius. Maybe it was impure, I'll allow - I don't claim to understand genius. In a completely different vein I could close my eyes to three beautifully understated Billy Joel tunes - She's Always a Woman To Me, Just The Way You Are, and She's Got A Way - each viscerally and emotionally planting me back to 1979 Detroit. Similarly, some Simon & Garfunkel numbers took me back several years further.

In contrast to those relit memory lanes, there was Ellington's Far East Suite - each time freshly reminding me what I loved about jazz. Here was a work only to be heard in its entirety, just like a classical suite. Further south from Ellington's D.C., from Cuba, Eliades Ochoa's Estoy Como Nunca screamed a beautiful defiance each time I heard it. The same went for any of his repetoire, actually. Lastly in this indulgent list, the stratuspheric notes of fellow Cuban compatriot (and trumpeter) Arturo Sandoval in the middle of a nine minute rendition of Guantanamera (Los Heroes by Estrellas de Areito) made the hair on my arms stand every time, too. Perhaps my iPod wasn't broken in the least after all.

Mr. Français! Yeah, Right.

"Your French is really good!" Among many others, a cute Suisse-Francaise woman told me this, immeasurably aiding my memory; I could only smile and roll my eyes. I'd heard this so many times, at least daily, that my head should have swollen to, say, Napoleonic proportions. But in reality my French sucked, at times gaspingly so - I think they were just used to far worse. My coping, however, was admirable - THAT I'd own to. The upshot of these contrasting takes was that I generally held conversations at reasonable speed and wholly in French, but I damn well knew that I had the vocabulary of a 10-year-old and the grammar of a 5-year-old.

Accompanying me in Québéc was a grammar book which I would leaf through occasionally to remind me of this latter fact. Beyond that were numerous French-language novels and newspapers which had me grabbing my dictionary at least once a page - they reassured me of the former. It should be noted that this dictionary-referencing frequency was only because I imposed that limit. I reconciled these by having good ears and experience in using context and drift to obtain meaning, allowing me to deftly dance around forgotten constructs and words by endlessing enlarging my sentences. I was far from hopeless, in other words - so I took the compliments graciously, but held off on the back pats.

Wild and Savage Beasts

On a bike, you might figure that you'd see lot of wildlife. Of course, you're in nature! Unfortunately, however, I missed out on the grand promise of this trip's supposed big stuff: bears and moose. Never mind that there were a zillion moose signs on the road, or that just about everybody else had seen a bear. It just wasn't to be for TripTrumpet, apparently.

It wasn't like I didn't see a lot of animals - far from it! Roadkill was plenty. I was conveniently positioned for that, always holding my breath for the necessary 10-20 seconds as the next one came into view. The good news was that I probably ALSO saw the living version of all the dead things I had the pleasure of gazing upon: hedgehog, gopher, porcupine (a rather easy roadkill identification - believe me), crow, bluebird, etc. Some consolation.

What I mostly saw were insects, though. Mosquitoes always, sure. But also the infamous black flies of northeastern woodland lore. THOSE I'd only leave behind in Québéc to turn the game over to deer flies in New Brunswick. They'd turn it over to horseflies in Maine in due course. I wondered if they tagged up. Su-per.

Many times while riding I ran smack dab into a bumblebee, too. Sometimes that really "stung", but they never actually stung me in the typical fashion. I'm guessing that they had no idea that they would be in the path of an oceanliner (i.e. me on my bike), so they probably never had a chance to load up their stinger proper-like. Or maybe I crashed into their butts, or their sides - I dunno. On one occasion I almost swallowed a bee - THAT was scary, if only vengefully fair in some sense. Another time, a locust-like thing landed on my leg, making me shudder it off hurriedly in the surprise of it. Yiminy!

Saddest to see were the dozen or so butterflies lying splayed in my path over the two months. They must have just been stunned by a car, all likely soon to die as a consequence. They fluttered ever so slowly, allowing me to get superb and rare up-close looks, but at such a price. I didn't hit any of them, thank you very much - that's all I could console myself with.

A Honk and a Wave

If I didn't think about it more, I would've thought that I was quite popular, cycling those "mean" streets of Canada. Numerous hands were often hanging out of open windows, gently waving. Alas, a far more likely reason might've been on account of the heat: there probably was only a low likelihood that a car had A/C given the short Canadian summer, I'd later surmise.

Once every day or two I got a honked horn, too. Usually it was one quick beep, but sometimes I was "treated" to the rare shave-and-a-haircut. I finally decided on a self-affirming stance, taking every last one of them as friendly. Pissed-off people would more likely have a habit of laying into the horn, I figured.

Wave That Flag

Flag-waving fools, those Canadians. You'd think everyone was headed to a college football game or the Olympics were in session, what with all of the flags flying in front of houses, atop cars, and on bikes. I got the impression that stronger and underlying statements were also being made of a native French or English variety, however - the Quebecois separatist history was long and strong enough.

In Québéc, the overwhelmingly predominant Quebecois flags suffocated the not-altogether rare Canadian flag. Similarly in New Brunswick the Acadian flag (a French flag with a yellow star in the blue) was strongly evident, although on occasion there was some combination of the Canadian, New Brunswick, or even English flag in response. It seemed that everyone in New Brunswick knew precisely the English/French percentage of each town in the province, with flags roughly providing a score sheet. Moncton was generally seen as the dividing line between the two - their very own Brussels / Beirut / Jerusalem / Belfast without the shooting and bombs. Not too many flags flew there... surprisingly?

While I thought the flag craziness was a particularly Canadian thing, it turned out that I would be at least in part wrong. Maine was afloat in flags too, every last one of them the stars and stripes. I contrasted that with other states I had lived in, where one mostly saw American flags out on certain nationalist-styled days and, unavoidably, car dealerships. True enough - there is nothing as American as buying a car. A really big 'un.

Hockey

Hockey, hockey, hockey. Sure, this was the land of the ice and snow, but the NHL season lasted only 6 months, no? Not here. The coverage was detailed and daily, dominating the sports section year-round. People knew their hockey minor leagues, too, including all of the up-and-coming obscure players. Every... last... one. The puck probably dropped on each TV every night where cord plugged to wall. Indeed, when I saw a TV on in the background in many a house, restaurant, or hotel, odds were awfully good that you'd see a skater swishing by slapping a shot.

Dogs

Man's best friend some say, the biker's worst enemy say others. Let's talk the latter, shall we? I couldn't count the number of times a dog surprised me by suddenly erupting into barking from some unknown and scarily-near redoubt. Frankly, that never failed to scare the bejeezus out of me. They'd try to run out of their yard at full tilt, but (fortunately for me) would then invariably get their neck clotheslined by their leash. This would in turn instantly and viciously swing the bulk of their body straight up into the air at a frantic angle. This was not a pleasant sight by any measure, but it was only through this sudden suspension of pursuit that my heart rate would be allowed to return back to the more pleasing count of "sustainable". Although... I'd always heard that a heart attack was a quick way to go.

"The stupid bastard!", I'd mutter to myself with clenched teeth every time - didn't the damn mutt know the deal yet?!? For the offleash dog who managed to successfully give chase, however, I found myself ready to retaliate with lethal force. Each time I would think: "It's you or me, f'er!" (Hint: It wasn't going to be me.) Mentally I had a kick ready to go if it ever came down to it, but I was thankful that that never became the case for either of us. I didn't read evil into their chase as much as animal instinct, but survival would always be my instinct when it came right down to it.

One bulldog actually gave honest chase once for a ways, but the fat thing didn't really stand a chance. And this was although he caught me by surprise at the bottom of an uphill climb. More determinedly, however, a german shephard was far more close to success in his attempt. He closed in for a good while before I found that apparently I DID have a turbo gear on my bike. Pedaling like a madman apparently turned it on. Not fun.

I just don't partake in this whole master-servant thing that people are drawn to in pet ownership. Such slavish devotion, couched as some kind of real relationship among equals, should register as no more than an obvious consequence when taking into account that they are getting fed regularly and are sometimes downright pampered. In my observance, 99% of the communication between master and mutt are violent calls to "Stop!" and "NO!". Titillating stuff.

Call it what it is, I say, and admit that the draw is the feeling of being the upper hand in a relationship that is rewarded with slobbering thankfulness. I would agree to call it affection without hesitation, sure. Who, of like beastly simple mind, wouldn't feel so when a gravy train of continuous care is so willingly provided for? From the human's standpoint I would find such an unequal relationship rather empty, though. Each to their own, I guess.

As a last word on the subject, I always hope at least that the poor beast can immediately relieve himself at will - and is able to exercise freely in ample space. That would seem to be a minimum responsibility, albeit one I know to not be often adhered to. I draw a firm mental line as sheer foolishness, however, each time I see someone walking around picking up their poop. That's just flat out comic and bizarre, both. Yuk! Instead, I wonder, how about donating to wilderness preservation, allowing animals to do their own thing on their own terms? When will humans no longer anthropomorphize our furry friends? Can't we all just get along?

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