A more adventurous cycling tour! – pt VII

October 27, 2016

Wednesday 25th May

What a luxury, sleeping in a proper bed. And then having a reasonably leisurely breakfast at a cafe (the Moose Muck!) before heading off. Only 60 miles to cover today, although we are heading into the White Mountains National Forest. Mountains. Hm.

Heading towards those there mountains.

Heading towards those there mountains.

Read the rest of this entry »


A more adventurous cycling tour! – pt VI

October 11, 2016

Tuesday 24th May

Early morning.

Early morning.

Everything is starting to hurt. Sleeping on a wooden platform has after all that hard work yesterday means I feel pretty much like an inflexible log. I suppose getting everything back down the hill to the road will help me loosen up.


Ah yes, the path down…

The path is the stream. I had forgotten about that. All my limbs ache.

The path is the stream. I had forgotten about that. All my limbs ache.

Luckily, our bikes are were they left them. Although I suppose the chance of them getting stolen was minimal. We left them in the middle of a forest in rural Canada half way up a stream. Just before it got dark. So I guess luck had nothing to do with it.

The fox cubs look on with amusement as we cart out bags down the hill.

The fox cubs look on with amusement as we cart out bags down the hill.

Once we had carried the bags back down to the bikes, we then of course had to carry everything else down to the nearest road. Which turned out to look more like a ski piste than a road. But at least it was cycle-able on our bikes. Although I was pretty paranoid about blowing a tire.

All in all, a slower start than we would have liked given we had another 60 miles to cover today. South over the border and into the U S of A! But first, breakfast! Except, there’s no sign of any cafes in Notre-Dame-des-Bois. We sit and admire the  funky church (they all have metal roofs over here – very bling) ; unhappily ponder the uphill slog back out of the village; eat a handful of trail mix, and then get ready to set off.

Looks like it is going to be another sunny day

Looks like it is going to be another sunny day

Turns out the route wasn’t quite as bad as it looked. Once the initial uphill had been done, we had miles of reasonable flat (with some good downhills) through the forest. Felt like the road was never-ending at times. Sadly, these back roads in Canada appear to be mainly unpaved, and so skidding (given all the weight on the pannier rack) was a worry. I dread to think what our stopping distance would have been if we had gone full pelt down some of the hills!

Miles and miles of this!

Miles and miles of this!

and a photo with me in it!

and a photo with me in it!

We reached Chatierville around noon and had some lunch. I think I was treated to some authentic North American cuisine: the stodgyiest pizza I have ever eaten. I was pretty hungry though. And gave it plenty of time to digest before tackling the hill up to the border crossing.

Which has to rank as one of the hardest things I have done. I guess I’m not super fit, but the combination of the steep hill, midday heat, no shelter, no option to stop and avoid the midday sun (as we needed to make it to Colbrook by sunset) and all the luggage was tough. I had to stop a couple of times to let my heart rate slow down.

Got there in the end though.

Yes, I think I'll spend a little while resting here.

Yes, I think I’ll spend a little while resting here.

The view back down into Chatierville and Quebec

The view back down into Chatierville and Quebec

While the hardest part of getting out of Canada was getting up a steep hill, getting into America was a little tricky. It doesn’t look like this border crossing gets much traffic. Or any traffic. It took about half an hour for them to ok my passport and during that time, apart from the two Homeland Security guys, we didn’t see anybody else. I guess they don’t get much in the way of non-American or non-Canadians crossing. Especially on bicycle. And they seemed a little confused by my answer of when I would be leaving the United States (in three days time, but then I’ll be flying back to the US again, in order to then get a flight back home). Eventually they charged me $10 or so to staple a piece of paper into my passport. Time to hit the road again!

And into America. New Hampshire to be precise.

"Live free or die" - I guess we're no longer in Canada then.

“Live free or die” – I guess we’re no longer in Canada then.

Cycling in this corner of New Hampshire is pretty great – it’s mostly all gently downhill from the Canadian border, and there’s literally no traffic. Hours (and hours) later, we reach a trading post!

Very quaint. I wonder if they do ice cream?

Very quaint. I wonder if they do ice cream?

Eek!

Eek!

Apparently we're getting close to town.

Apparently we’re getting close to town.

 

Colbrook. And I’m knackered.

Yup. this place should hopefully have beer. No need to go any further.

Yup. this place should hopefully have beer. No need to go any further.

Boy am I glad to finally get a shower (as there weren’t any at Mt Megantic). Two days worth of sweat, dust and suncream. Lovely.

View from outside the motel. That box of a building is the pub.

View from outside the motel. That box of a building is the pub.

Venturing outside after a wash and a rest, and we go for a walk around the town before food (and beer!)

This place is pretty remote.

This place is pretty remote.

Ok, I suggest we stay here. And drink beer, eat food, and have more beer.

Ok, I suggest we stay here. And drink beer, eat food, and have more beer.


A more adventurous cycling tour! – pt V

September 14, 2016

Monday 23rd May

Up early!

Up early!

This morning, we needed to decide if we were going to head to Mont-Megantic National Park, or b-line back across the Canadian-America border. Camping in the park was on our original plan, but I had realise that it was another 70+mile to get to the park from last night’s camping spot, and then tomorrow would be yet another 70+mile ride to get to Colebrook. Whereas, if we went straight to Colebrook today, it would only be 60miles.

Hey little fellow. Good morning to you too!

Hey little fellow. Good morning to you too


We decided to postpone the decision until after morning coffee in a nearby town.

Maybe deciding to cycle another 70 miles will be easier after some coffee.

Maybe deciding to cycle another 70 miles will be easier after some coffee.

As expected, after several coffees, I decided that we should go for the long option. Sure, I’m a little worried my knee might give up. But what was the point of all that exercise if not to allow me to make potentially bad decisions? Onwards!

No Micha, we can't tkae a detour to Fromagerie La Station. Yes, it does sound good, but we have to head off in the opposite direction.

No Micha, we can’t take a detour to Fromagerie La Station. Yes, it does sound good, but we have to head off in the opposite direction.

Very quickly, my chief concern turned away from my knee, and to making sure I was drinking enough water. I’m really not used to doing so much exercise in 30degree heat, and we simply don’t have the luxury of seeking shade during the middle of the day! Onwards!

I forget which river this is. But doesn't it look nice.

I forget which river this is. But doesn’t it look nice.

We were managing to just about go fast enough that we’d pass through a town or village every hour or so, and I took every opportunity to refill my water bottles. After reaching Cookshire-Eaton, the route basically was: cycle east for a long long time and don’t stop until you reach Notre-Dame-des-Bois.

One of the rare times in which I end up ahead and have to wait for Micha. Usually it's the other way around.

One of the rare times in which I end up ahead and have to wait for Micha. Usually it’s the other way around.

More road!

More road!

Sadly this involved quite a lot of up hill. Then a little downhill. And then more uphill. Not least the road up into the last town. Yuck, that was a slog and a half.

I disliked this town, for no reason other than that last uphill.

I disliked this town, for no reason other than that last uphill.

The good news was that we got to the town in the early evening, which should give us enough time to get to the National Park before sunset! It’s going to be a bit of an effort, as I’m feeling really tired by now, but still, we can do it, we can do it!

The light is starting to fade fast

The light is starting to fade fast

Just as we’re starting to relax, as WE ARE ALMOST THERE, we hit a final hurdle. The campsites are in the middle of the forest, and the trail there is, well, more of a trail than a road.

This might be fun on a mountain bike, but not on a heavily loaded touring bike!

This might be fun on a mountain bike, but not on a heavily loaded touring bike!

Time to give up all pretense that we're cycling up this

Time to give up all pretense that we’re cycling up this

After a while, the trail got so hard going that we decided it would be faster to unload the bikes and just carry our bags up to the campsite. Probably a good move, as the sun was starting to set and we were knackered.

However, it was all worth it, as we say a litter of fox cubs!

Awwwww. So cuuuuute

Awwwww. So cuuuuute

In the end, we get the tent up just as it’s getting dark. Cook some food on the stove, and drink some whisky while watching the stars. It’s an incredibly clear sky. Sadly, I’m far too tired to stay up late stargazing. Maybe later in the trip!


A more adventurous cycling tour! – pt IV

July 7, 2016

Sunday 22nd May

“Is it time to get up now?” asks Micha. This seems unlikely, as it is still pitch black in the tent. “Let me check,… no, it’s only quarter past 2.” Sigh. Not much sleep was had.

On the plus side, it did mean we were up early and had packed up and left by 7:30am. Possibly a new record? But we did have a long way to go today, as we wanted to make up for the time lost yesterday.

A barn. Exciting huh.

A barn. Exciting huh.


Off on the open road

Off on the open road

We make pretty good time and reach Saint-Cesaire for some coffee and tea.

Contemplating the road ahead

Contemplating the road ahead

Next stop is Granby! Only 23km and then we can have a proper brunch!

I guess I should go this way then?

I guess I should go this way then?

As the morning progresses, the weather gets nicer and nicer. The clouds slowly give way to a nice blue sky. And better yet, we manage to find a cycle path heading in the right direction! I think this is the path we were meant to be on yesterday! This is much nicer than cycling down the hard shoulder of a duel carriageway.

Micha basks in the sun

Micha basks in the sun

We reach Granby by 11am and stop for brunch. I go for the brioche and fruit. With a generous serving of maple syrup. We are in Canada after all.

Finally, time for a proper breakfast!

Finally, time for a proper breakfast!

Quebec seems to have a lot of nice churches, and a lot of chunky motortricycles.

Quebec seems to have a lot of nice churches, and a lot of chunky motor-tricycles.

We headed off, continuing along the cycle path, and were surprised to find a turtle crossing the road. Quite a big fella too!

I was told to expect moose, not turtle.

I was told to expect moose, not turtle.

Taking a break, sitting by the lake.

Taking a break, sitting by the lake.

That was pretty much the highlight of the afternoon, as the rest of the time was spent cycling a long way in more or less a straight line to Ayer’s Cliff via Magog.

And the road goes on. And on. Up and down. And on. No traffic though!

And the road goes on. And on. Up and down. And on. No traffic though!

Still going strong!

Still going strong!

Mile and miles of cycling through the forest.

Mile and miles of cycling through the forest.

As we get close to the campsite, we stumble across a pub (diner?). The local stuff appears to be called Moosehead!

A well deserved pint of beer, sitting in the shade.

A well deserved pint of beer, sitting in the shade.

We get to the campsite in good time. Over 70 miles in one day! That’s a lot lot longer than anything I’ve done before. I wonder how my legs will feel tomorrow. Hmmm.

Time to rest those legs!

Time to rest those legs!

 

 

 


A more adventurous cycling tour! – pt III

June 25, 2016

Saturday 21st May

After two days of recovering from VSS, it’s time to get up very early in the morning and fly to Montreal. Luckily, the luggage doesn’t get lost en route (losing the tent and all our camping gear would spell disaster!) and we arrive in Montreal on time. The only hiccup is that Micha manages to lose his notes on where to find things and how to get to the bike shop in the airport. Luckily, Montreal is a wonderfully nice city with free public wifi. Not for the first time, I pay myself on the back for sorting out a new smart phone for this trip. We decide to split up: I’ll stay and watch over our bags while taking down some notes on our route, campsites, etc, and Micha will run around for a bit and try to find some camping gas (which for obvious reasons, we couldn’t take with us on the plane).

Somehow, all this is going to fit on the back of our two bikes. Honest.

Somehow, all this is going to fit on the back of our two bikes. Honest.


Montreal seems pretty nice. I’m amused how the metro signs use a similar design and font to the Paris underground.

Quebec feels slightly surreal. I really don't know much French. Je voudrais un grande beir s'il vou plait.

Quebec feels slightly surreal. I really don’t know much French. Je voudrais un grande beir s’il vou plait?

Micha eventually returns empty-handed. No camping gas. Oh well. No point getting stressed. It’s lunchtime… let’s go find something for lunch. Oh, we appear to be in a Chinese district? Well, I guess we’ll go for a Chinese for lunch. Sure.

Je voudrais une bière, s'il vous plait

Je voudrais une bière, s’il vous plait

Ok, now that we’ve taken care of that, time to pick up the bikes and find some camping gas. The bike hire shop is really friendly, although getting everything sorted takes a while (packing panniers efficiently is always a bit slow!). We’re ready a little after 2pm and head off to the camping shop.

Urrghh. Cycling through city centre traffic isn’t much fun. I guess that’s one thing the Hebrides have going for them! The traffic is made worse by having all the luggage on the back of the bikes, and made even worse by me being pretty out of practice with cycling shoes (which clip on to the pedals). All the starting and stopping is a nightmare.

We get to the camping shop, put the bikes down, and I go to find out where I put my wallet… oh shit. Cue 20 minutes packing and repacking both pannier bags in the hope that it will magically appear.

Luckily, my “of course, it will be back in the bike shop” reasoning turned out to be true. I’d simply left my wallet in the pair of trousers I wasn’t taking, which we had left in the empty bags in the bike shop.

I guess that didn’t waste too much time? It’s now around half past three and time to head off.

We haven't started yet, and we're already an hour and a half behind schedule!

We haven’t started yet, and we’re already an hour and a half behind schedule!

Our first leg is Montreal to a campsite just south of Marieville. We straight away make a bad choice with directions, opting to go south rather than north. Our reasoning was that we had already just cycled down that way to the camping shop, and were eager to avoid retracing out steps. Plus, the Parc Jean-Drapeau looked nice! Much nicer than cycling through traffic.

The downside was we ended up taking a somewhat convoluted route. Really we should have just taken the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Instead, we end up getting held up by a vertical lift bridge.

Hurry up! We don't know where we're going, or exactly how far it is to our campsite, or how long it will take. And we're already behind schedule and we don't want to be stranded out in the dark.

Hurry up! We don’t know where we’re going, or exactly how far it is to our campsite, or how long it will take. And we’re already behind schedule and we don’t want to be stranded out in the dark.

One the plus side we did see lots of bird life on the islands. The red-winged blackbirds are pretty nice.

We eventually get across to the other side of the river, but are then faced with an even harder challenge: how to actually get out of the city easily. There’s a bike path around somewhere, but we’re not sure where. And the route instructions we printed off are not so helpful. Plus, we’re already no longer on the original route. I seem to remember this happening a couple of times last time I went camping with Micha. But that time was on Orkney, and there are only two or three roads on the entire island. Not something you can say about North American cities. We eventually find a road that will take us to Chambly, although sadly it’s pretty busy. Lots of stopping and starting, and being stuck behind a bus (never a fun situation when you’re on a bike).

A gentler way to travel

A gentler way to travel

After crossing over the Richelieu River we make an attempt to move on to a quieter road, but after cycling south for a mile or so, we find that our efforts to get off the dual carriageway would end up with us on a Highway. Lets not do that. Turn around, head back onto Route 112 and head east to Marieville.  Some food at a diner, then cycle out of town to find our campsite, arriving just as the sun is setting.

Now that is a pretty kickass tricycle.

Now that is a pretty kickass tricycle.

Time to get some sleep

Time to get some sleep


A more adventurous cycling tour! – pt II

June 9, 2016

VSS is pretty much the usual blur. Writing this two week’s after the conference, I can’t really remember much, so lets hope that nobody was presenting a major breakthrough. The conference was a success though, as I managed to set up a few potential collaborations with new people. I suspect I’m perhaps a little bit too keen on collaborating with people, but it’s my favourite element of academia so I might as well make the most of it!

Those seagulls having nothing on the Aberdonian birds.

Those seagulls having nothing on the Aberdonian birds.


Paul is getting in to the Floridian way of things with an incredibly bright t-shirt.

Paul is getting in to the Floridian way of things with an incredibly bright t-shirt.

Also to be considered a success: I managed to get through the whole conference with no hangovers! I am clearly slowly getting wiser.

I still have some nice cocktails though! (and Mexican food)

I still have some nice cocktails though! (and Mexican food)

My mood was soured one day as I received a job rejection, but the next evening there were cookies.

These will clearly help me reach peek physical fitness before my cycling tour.

These will clearly help me reach peek physical fitness before my cycling tour.

So many cookies.

Anyway, I only had three...

Anyway, I only had three…

So everything is alright again.

Club VSS was its usual monstrous nonsense.

Sadly, the alternative actively was karaoke. Which didn't sound like my cup of tea either.

Sadly, the alternative actively was karaoke. Which didn’t sound like my cup of tea either.

And onwards, to Ohio! A day and a half to recover from VSS, meet up with a post doc who I met at VSS (the two of us are planning a little joint project), stock up on supplies, pack, before heading to Montreal!

The *university* football stadium. Crazy

The *university* football stadium. Crazy

Moz, how come we never picked up something like this for previous trips? I was very tempted to buy it!

Moz, how come we never picked up something like this for previous trips? I was very tempted to buy it!

Vital supplies!

Vital supplies!


A more adventurous cycling tour! – pt I

May 21, 2016

Friday 6th May

I’m currently a little bored and tired half way through my trans-Atlantic flight. I’ve already watched Guardians of the Galaxy on a really small screen (probably better than A Force Awakens?) and thought I could put my time to good use my making a start on this year’s travel blog.

Packing for this year's VSS is turning out to be harder than usual. The tent takes up half the suitcase!

Packing for this year’s VSS is turning out to be harder than usual. The tent takes up half the suitcase!


So the bad news: Moz is unavailable for cycling and camping around the Hebrides this year. He’s being all grown up and is getting married this summer (congratulations!). You know, I’ll miss the guy. I suppose I’ll just have to hope he doesn’t disappear completely into adulthood with mortgage, wife, family, etc. Maybe he will be free next summer and we can return to the Outer Hebrides and do that ride from Bara to the Butt of Lewis?

I'll miss this guy

I’ll miss this guy

Luckily, I have a plan B: Micha! He successfully stepped in the year before last when Moz was busy, and we explored Orkney (although only the main island).

Meet Micha! You may remember him from previous adventures such as Orkney 2014.

Meet Micha! You may remember him from previous adventures such as Orkney 2014.

The two of us have come up with an elaborate plan based on me being in the US in May for a conference: we will tour Canada and America! Ok, admittedly, we’re only going to be tackling a very very small part of America, and an even smaller part of Canada but still, I’m feeling a little apprehensive. You see, the beauty of cycling around the Scottish islands, rather than the mainland, is that the islands don’t have so many of those hills called “mountains.” Sure, Skye has the Cullins, but Moz and I have been avoiding Skye! And while Harris can be pretty hilly, it ain’t all that bad – we managed from Northton to Tarbert on our first trip. It wasn’t exactly what ‘d call fun, but we made it. And the had a nice pub meal. But 2016’s trip is going to involve cycling on a whole other continent.

Recovering after cycling to Tarbert, 2012

Recovering after cycling to Tarbert, 2012

With this in mind, I decided to start training. I should probably say “training” though, as I’m not entirely convinced I’ve done enough. It turns out, Aberdeenshire over winter doesn’t make for best cycling country, and going out in the wind, rain, snow, hail, more and wind doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. At all. And sitting on an exercise bike in the gym is really boring. The whole joy of cycling for me is watching the countryside scroll past, enjoying the fresh air, and having an adventure. Going to the stuffy gym just isn’t all that much fun.

I needed to do something though as, to cut to the chase, Micha is a lot fitter than Moz. Cycling with Moz is great, as when I get to the top of the hill, I get a nice rest to admire the view while i wait for him to catch up.

Micha is somewhat faster up the hills than Moz :(

Micha is somewhat faster up the hills than Moz😦

Cycling with Micha was the other way round. Here’s hoping that was just due to his marathon training, and he’s a lot less fit this year. I don’t want to be letting the team down! But even if he is going slower this year, we’re still planning on going at least twice as far as previous trips. So I decided I better start getting some regular exercise. It turned out that my solution to this was to start going salsa dancing three times a week. Which was certainly a lot of fun, but we’ll just have to wait and see how effective it is. I did also see a personal trainer at the gym for a few sessions, did some weights and have some exercises to keep working on. And hey, he agreed that salsa dancing for three hours in an evening counted as good exercise.

Landing at JFK is always something of an anti-climax. The plane tents to sit for half an hour before rolling up to gate. And then there’s the fun queue to get into the country. By the time I’m out of the airport, I’m too busy trying to not fall asleep to be excited.

I'm sure New York is usually busier than this.

I’m sure New York is usually busier than this.

Oh course, the excitement returns once I get off the subway and out onto the street. Although by the time I walk to the hotel, it’s close to midnight (5am GMT!) and I’m ready to pass out.

I wonder why donut pubs haven't caught on in Scotland yet? You'd think there would be a market.

I wonder why donut pubs haven’t caught on in Scotland yet? You’d think there would be a market.

Saturday 7th May

I always notice the loneliness of traveling alone most over breakfast. There’s nobody to make plans with! So I’ll write more blog. I’ve made it to the Grey Dog, which is a pretty nice cafe near NYU. And hey, the waitress even gave me a free refill of coffee.

Time for breakfast!

Time for breakfast!

I suppose I don't really need friends with I have coffee and cookie?

I suppose I don’t really need friends with I have coffee and cookie?

The plan for today is to meet Hannah (a friend and co-author from Edinburgh who has been lucky enough to get a six month sabbatical at CUNY) and go see some jazz. As that isn’t until this evening, I have the rest of the day free. New York is feeling very Scottish weather-wise, which is a first for me (I’ve been here three times before, always in May, and it’s been hot and sunny). But it’s dry, so good weather for wandering about (ie, not too hot!). I decide to head down to the south of Manhattan.

I guess they're called skyscrapers for a reason then.

I guess they’re called skyscrapers for a reason then.

I suppose I head right then?

I suppose I head right then?

In the evening I head off to the Jazz Gallery with Hannah, although we first swing by some swanky bar for a cocktail🙂 The gig is really cool – Rafiq Bhatia appears to be doing that 90s era King Crimson/Portishead head jazz fusion thing I always thought would be great fun to play in a band. I’ll have to keep a look out to see what he does next!

Monday 9th May

Yesterday afternoon I went to play Go at one of the New York Go meetups. Its held in some sort of cool games room basement bar. Complete with jazz bands rehearsing throughout the afternoon.

This place feels very American.

This place feels very American.

I get a couple of games, and somehow manage to win both of them! That makes it Aberdeen 2 – 0 New York!

My first opponent. I'm hoping we'll keep in touch and play on Dragon Go Server.

My first opponent. I’m hoping we’ll keep in touch and play on Dragon Go Server.

Action shot! Look at all that concentration!

Action shot! Look at all that concentration!

Last night I met up with the Prof that I”m visiting, and had a great discussion of various research ideas, before going for a nice meal at a fancy Mexican place. I think I may have eaten too many churros. I feel that American food is quickly undoing all the exercise I did before this trip.

Monday afternoon and I met up with Hannah again, this time to talk over work ideas. Then I headed off to a salsa night at the Taj Lounge. Which was amazing! A normal Monday night in Manhattan turns out to be easily on a par with (or better) the best night I’ve seen in Scotland. There’s a live band, playing two sets, and it’s pretty much all non-stop salsa music. I stayed for about five hours before deciding it was time to go to sleep.

This place was super cool.

This place was super cool.

Wednesday 11th May

Today is my last day in New York. For lunch, I met up with Bård Edlund, who I know from musical collaborations via the internet. (There are various tracks around that we worked on together). In the evening I went to another New York Go club, and had another two games. It’s now 3-1 to Scotland!

I wish the Aberdeen club was this busy. We're getting there, but slowly!

I wish the Aberdeen club was this busy. We’re getting there, but slowly!

Next stop – Florida and the chaos that is VSS!