Le Grand Ligne

Montreal, Quebec

I’ve made the commute from Montreal to my home in the Eastern Townships countless times. Most of the time, I take the easiest way on the small highways traveling from my valley in southern Quebec to the main autoroutes leading to the big city. A few times this commute has taken on a bit of an adventure when I’ve ventured into the small veins of roads leading through the mountains south, then east, and then south again to the Vallee Mississquoi. I never quite get the route right. Once, I found myself at one of the tiny Border crossings into Vermont trying to talk my way back up to Canada with no passport. It’s easy to get lost and sometimes fun to lose the way. Most of the time I’m in the car. Or should say I’m always in the car, until last weekend.

This past weekend I decided it was time to ride home. Home from Montreal. On my bike. From what I understand, the weather this November has been unheard of. I thought why not celebrate the warmish riding temps by making the commute by bike. I have to admit I was hoping for a tailwind. Or at least a cross-tailwind. I had visions of the ride being a journey-state filled with curiosity and adventure. Just me and my bike, some food, water and a bit of cash for a snickers and hot chocolate stop, and I was good to go.

I spent Tuesday through Friday in Vancouver for business (sponsors and an awesome event at the Collingwood School in North Vancouver….what an inspiring morning with the 700 students and teachers of this amazing place for learning!). I set out to fly back east around 5pm on Friday. It never fails to pain me when hopping the continent, the reality of just how long it takes to fly from one side to the other sets in. With a 1am arrival, this left me for little sleep before my ride.

The brilliant idea of printing out the map(s) for my trip came to me in the Air Canada lounge in Vancouver. Unfortunately, the result of this was no more than a big fat waste of paper. I printed out a useless map of a painfully boring route instead of the one I had planned on taking by mistake. Didn’t realize this until going through the maps en route to Montreal. Not only that, I had accidentally printed out two copies of each of the 23 (yes, twenty-three x 2 = 46 sheets of paper!) maps. Sorry, trees.

Which led me to Starbucks on Notre Dame early the next morning. With sleep in my eyes and a bird’s nest of hair after going to sleep with wet locks at 230 am, it was difficult to decipher the many roads and turns of the planned route home. How hard could it be to ride south-east of Montreal to the Northern Appalachian Mountains our home is nestled in, just north of Vermont. The real problem was getting out of Montreal.

I wanted to scream GET ME OUT OF THIS PLACE!!! after looking over the maps again and again, enlarging again and again. Just what bridge to take? How to avoid that highway? Where does this road end? The name changed, for the 5th time, on the same road??? Really???? All I wanted were the specifics in point form of just how the heck I was going to ride home. No such luck. The painful process of detailing for myself the ‘route notes’ began at the first sip of a quad americano, and ended at the last slurp of my morning jolt of caffeine.

The digging brought me to ‘map my ride’. I resorted to the good old pen and paper to map my own ride, duct taping the notes to the stem of my bike. My technique was to have a long column of paper I could fold and unfold, allowing me to constantly check where I was at.

That and the blackberry. Oh, the Blackberry, the good old blackberry. Like an old friend, it was there for me. Each time I found myself lost, unable to find any of the roads on my long list of roads and turns, left and right, I pulled out the BB and clicked into the handy GPS. Low and behold, I would see where I was. Yes, that was me, the red dot blinking on the map lit up on the small screen. Looking up, I would see the roads named neatly on the map. Enlarging the map would give me the big picture of where I was at and where I wanted to go.

Not only that, the blackberry served as my ‘get out of jail’ card. Jail being what the ride could easily become if snow were to fall or my legs simply stop turning; the card being Peter. We agreed that if I were to need to bail, all it would take would be a phone call. A simple SOS get me the F*** off this bike!! kind of call. In other words, only desperation in the form of an epic bonk or extreme weather would make me even think about making that call.

Until I got the call from Peter. From home. “Clara, I think I broke my collarbone, I think I might need to go to the hospital. How’s your ride going?” kind of call. Collarbone? What?? All I thought of was the email Peter had sent before my departure of the big city. It read something like “BE VERY CAREFUL RIDING OUT OF MONTREAL!!” in very large bold font. And there I was, in Notre-Dame-de-Something-or-Other, munching on a Snickers bar and slurping down a really bad chocolat chaud, getting this call from my Husband.


Turns out, Peter was trying to help me. While riding along a quite small highway in our region, he took out his own private Blackberry, thinking he should put it on vibrate mode in case I called in my SOS. At the same time he fiddled with the mobile device, in its plastic ziplock bag for protection against moisture, with winter gloves on (you get the picture…), a large truck approached from the other direction. Peter said the next thing he knew, the wheels of his bike were whipped up from under him and he was flat on his rear end. Or, I guess, first on his right shoulder, then on his butt.

You have to understand, Peter is not a blackberry kind of guy. No, technology and Peter do not mix. And there he was, cursing the BB for not taking the tap of his glove covered finger through the sheath of plastic, and then he was splayed on the road in extreme pain. Ouch.

“I think the Blackberry is okay” was the last thing Peter said after we agreed to meet in Frelighsberg, a town I thought to be an hour or an hour and a half ride from where I was. With already 3 + hours under my belt, I had no idea how long it would take me to get there with the head wind I had been battling since leaving the city. All I could think about was poor Peter. Poor guy! He was having so much fun riding his shiny new red Specialized SL3 Tarmac. The first new bike he had in years. He was fit, happy, healthy and strong, and now he was broken. I thought over and over, it could have been worse. Far worse. The turbulence from the truck blew his wheels from under him, but at least he was not under the truck.

An hour later, we found each other just outside Frelighsberg, soon after that we waited in the Emergency Room at the Cowansville Hospital.

And that, well, that’s just bike riding.

My ride? Long, windy and bloody boring until the last hour, but an adventure nonetheless. As for ‘Le Grand Ligne’, well, this was a road I was on…forever! It went from Grand Ligne Est, to Grande Ligne Ouest, then back to Est again. The road was not lost in translation, either. It was one long, straight and painfully flat Big Line.

Would I do it again? Probably. Only if the wind was coming from the North/West, though. And probably not after a trans-continental flight and only running and weight training for the 3 days prior. No wonder I felt so terrible.

And finally, Peter? He’s really beat up but thankfully not broken.

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