It was a quick 25km ride to the ferry the next morning which was punctuated by an encounter with Bruce, an extremely enthusiastic American/Scottish man. He came to talk to us after he came out of a local church near where we had stopped to check our map. Soon, on discovering that we'd been cycling since Scotland, he regaled us with his own story of how he studied in Edinburgh 30 odd years ago before giving us an astonishingly loud (especially for 9am) rendition of Oh Flower of Scotland sung, he says, in the same manner as he once did in a Leith pub a long time ago to applause and whisky.
Shortly thereafter, with our ears still ringing, we were on the ferry to Walpole Island. Technically it is part of Canada but also unceded territory and is home to the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa peoples of the Walpole Island First Nation. We entered into south western Ontario and we were immediately struck by the huge improvement to the roads and the better quality of driving - cars actually slowed down now and waited to overtake and overtook us slowly. That particular region of Ontario is predominantly farming and there really wasn't much in the way of places to stay or wild camp. We made it not quite as far as we'd hoped to a town called Dresden (yep) where we decided to look for a spot to pitch the tent.
Finding nothing, we resorted to phoning the local Municipal board who confirmed that there was indeed absolutely nowhere to stay although they did try and help us book an Air BnB. In the end, we pitched the tent behind the local Community Church having tried to gain permission to stay there. No one answered the phone or the front door and with lingering nervousness about camping on land in America, we waited until it got darker to pitch our tent behind the church. Later, when we told people about where we'd camped, the only response we got was "oh no one would've cared, you were totally fine". It felt nice to be somewhere where you weren't met with some level of suspicion.
We had another warmshowers host lined up for the following day the otherside of London. London, Ontario, obviously. Apparently it's a semi-regular occurance in Canada for someone to try and book a flight to London UK, get excited by the extraordinarily low price and then realise they were booking to go to London Canada.
Google had started to underestimate distances and our days usually turned out to be 10-15km longer than expected. So we rolled up to Laura and Matt's later than hoped especially after going to the wrong end of the road when we misread their address as 5224 rather than the actual 5524. That's a very long country road. We were still greeted with beer and food and had a great sleep.
The next morning Matt asked if he could ride with us to Stratford with his adorable daughter in a trailer. Laura and the rest of the family then met us in Stratford for lunch. Apparently Stratford (Canada) is where Justin Bieber is from and also where they have a Shakespeare festival every year. I know which I'd prefer. Matt and Laura had also set us up with some friends of theirs to stay with the next day - just two friends who aren't even on warmshowers but like to help people out and meet new people. Nathan and Ashley lived not too far away, but with the scorching [feels like temperature of] 44 degrees we were so glad to arrive in their air conditioning to another beer. Nathan was an endurance cyclist and has twice ridden the Paris-Brest-Paris Audax which is one of the toughest Audax rides available.
Mike has a school friend who moved to Canada a few years ago and now lives just north of where we were, in a town called Bracebridge. We'd organised to meet Scott in Barrie the following day so we could spend a good week with him and his lovely wife Alissa. We were approaching Barrie late afternoon when two things happened. A storm which would break the heat started to roll in from the west and a man on a bicycle approached us. Our little sign on the back of my bike did its job and he asked all the usual questions about our adventure. We explained that we were headed to Barrie to meet a friend. Pointing at the approaching storm he asked "do you fancy a rain break?". He was going to the shop and asked what we'd like and that we should wait out the rain at his house nearby. Never ones to turn down the opportunity of hospitality, we accepted and waited under a little pagoda in the park while he did his shopping and rode the 200m home with him.
We sat under his covered porch with a glass of red wine, carton of chocolate milk and a cheese and ham sandwich chatting about his links to Scotland while the rain fell. He said his brother remembered their early childhood in Scotland better than he did, picked up the phone and handed it over to Mike. Mike chatted away with Coulter's brother for about 10 minutes drifting deeper into a Scottish accent the longer they chatted. Somehow the conversation back in the porch meandered onto the subject of his brand new Tesla which sat in his driveway. When we started the day, we never expected to end the day sat in a Tesla doing a 0 - 100 kmph test with a man called Coulter, but there we are. And what a fantastic car it is! We'll certainly be keeping an eye on that technology when we're home.
Scott found it a little bizarre how we ended up with Coulter when he arrived to take us back to his house. It's become extremely normal with us to be completely trusting of strangers and be welcomed into their home. I hope when we tell people these tales the world becomes a little bit of a better place for everyone.
The next week was spent chilling with a beautiful, very noisy dog called Isla who couldn't be trusted to go into the back garden without barking at phantoms. I'm pretty sure she stood there and barked until something reacted to her barking, and then got incensed that the other thing existed. But look at her, who could be angry at that face:
We sadly moved on from Bracebridge and had a short day to stay with Scott's in-laws 50 km north in Huntsville before riding through Algonquin park. This part of Ontario is extremely hilly but we made it to the otherside of the park by late afternoon. We ticked a goal off our list by spotting a moose quite calming eating an afternoon snack at the side of the road.
This was the start of the heatwave that also caught out the UK and the temperatures with us was back up in the early 40s with the humidity effect added in. We'd got to Eganville just shy of where we'd aimed for at Cobden, but stopped at the local supermarket to get dinner to cook later. Here we met Stephanie and her awesome kids and they asked what we were doing. She offered us a place to camp on her farm that night, but we really wanted to escape the heat and had spied a motel advertising prices online at CA$70. We thanked her, gave her our website, and rolled up to the motel. It turns out they wanted to charge us CA$120 which was just way too far out of our budget considering motels aren't really in our budget at all especially now we're getting towards the end of the trip. While I was looking at my phone to show them the lower price advertised online, I saw Stephanie had already contacted us through our website. We said no thanks to the motel and I dropped Stephanie a reply asking if we could take her up on her offer. As we were sat outside the motel, she drove up and welcomed us back to her home. It was a 10 minute drive back the way we'd come so she'd already organised a neighbour to come and give us a lift and soon we were settling in quite nicely.
We rolled into Ottawa the day before Canada Day and stayed with Glenn, another warmshowers host, with whom we spent the next few days.
The heat on Canada Day was one of the worst we'd experienced, it was like walking through soup. When Mike bought an ice cream he ordered it with a cone - an epic mistake. It was like holding an ice cream under a blow torch. So Canada Day was mostly spent in the National Gallery of Canada, the pub and then with Glenn's friends at their house where they hosted a BBQ. That evening we went to watch the fireworks with them all down at the river and the whole day was rounded off perfectly.
The route out of Ottawa was super easy, mostly following bike paths until we joined a rail trail headed more or less directly to Montreal. This rail trail brought about one of the most terrifying insect experiences since an Asian hornet flew down Mike's top in China. I started getting dive bombed by deer fly - I could feel them hitting my head and trying to land on my body. I was pretty much getting swarmed by them until Mike sprayed with with a haze of deet.
24 hours later we were approaching the outskirts of Montreal's commuter train lines and the temperature was still up in the early 40s so we just called it a day and jumped on a train. It was just too much and we'd booked a room in student accommodation that night so had to make it. We're so glad we jumped on the train because otherwise we'd never have met Camilo. The commuter train was like the ex-Soviet trains in eastern Europe where you need to get up three very steep steps to get onto the train. He helped us on with our bikes while the train guard shouted at us to hurry up and then sat chatting with us until we got off at the same stop as him where he helped us get them off. He then helped us down the stairs off the platform.... apparently Montreal really isn't set up for disabled access! We got on with Camilo really well, such an awesome guy, so we met him the next evening for dinner and drinks with him and his girlfriend. Montreal is a super cool city and has a festival just about every week and this week was Jazz. So ended our evening walking around the festival area (which is free to attend) listening to different acts play really cool music, in a much cooler temperature, eating ice cream which didn't melt down our hands and enjoyed just being in the moment. We get a lot of moments like this on the bike when everything just comes together perfectly and it's such a joy to really enjoy that moment. Without thinking of what's coming next or what has been or what we're going home to in a few weeks. Without the horror in the news or the fear of our bank account, without the worry of people at home forgetting we existed or the job applications we're waiting to hear back on. Just living in the moment together and enjoying all of the positivity in the world and the potential we all hold in our future. It was a joy to have that without the bikes in such a beautiful city in a country we'd fallen in love with.
The heat wave broke the next day and after one more day off without excessive sweating we were back on the bikes and following Route Verte 5 north out of the city and along the north shore of the St Lawrence river. Quebec has a network of sign posted bike routes called the Route Verte and it was awesome to not have to keep checking google maps to get on our way. We hadn't planned a stop for the night because we had a tail wind and wanted to just see how far we could get. Towards late afternoon we rode past an abandoned gas station, paused to think about the potential of a wild camp then turned back to investigate. There were two buildings: one was an old restaurant and one was the gas station/auto repair shop. The restaurant was completely ransacked with lots of broken glass everywhere and the rear steps completely fallen in. The gas station was empty but still with glass and totally locked in and the repair shop's entire roof had fallen in on itself. Behind the gas station was an area of grass without much sign of misuse - no beer cans, syringes, broken glass or anything of the like so we felt pretty safe stopping there for the night and pitching the tent. We still left it until dusk to pitch the tent and generally slept pretty well. I'm still on edge a bit!
We kept following the shore of the St Lawrence River and about lunch time we reached Trois Rivieres - the last town before Quebec City and a marker of about half way between the two cities. We had been struggling to find somewhere to stay in Quebec City as the hotel prices were extortionate and no one on warmshowers were replying to our requests. These were our options:
1. If we had nowhere to stay in Quebec City we'd have to get a train back to Montreal straight away. With the train, it's not really possible to travel with a fully loaded touring bike.
2. Or hire a car from Quebec City airport and drop it off at Montreal airport and pack our bikes away somewhere along the way. But the person with the driving license needs to have a credit card in their name to hire a car. I'm on the only one with a driving license and the credit card we have is in Mike's name. Previously we've got away with it by paying for the hire car online, but this wasn't possible with the hire agents available and we would've been refused the hire car.
3. Or we get the coach, which would've needed us to box our bikes up which would take at least a day but for that we'd need to spend loads on a hotel.
4. Or we turn around at Trois Rivieres and cycle back to Montreal. We didn't have time to cycle back from Quebec City.
We paused in Trois Rivieres and calculated our options and decided that financially we couldn't afford to do accommodation in Quebec City AND public transport back so we stayed in Trois Rivieres overnight (because we'd taken so long to weigh up our options) and take option 4. Thankfully, overnight Benoit from warmshowers responded to our request and offered us a place to stay in central Quebec City for 3 nights until the morning we'd need to leave on a coach to return to Montreal airport. So awesome! So the target to reach Quebec City was back on!
Our final day riding in north America was a big one since we really wanted to get to Quebec City that night. In the end it was 146km but we made it just before a large storm poured down over the city.
The two full days we had in Quebec City were balanced between packing up the bikes, booking our coach tickets to Montreal airport and walking around one of the most picturesque cities we'd been in since Asia. It already felt like we were back in Europe and the french speaking province of Canada had been the perfect slow introduction into foreign languages again. I've got a bit more confidence speaking the basic french I know so I'm ready to give it a really good go come Friday lunchtime when we land in Marseille airport. We've got about 3,000km to go until we're back in Glasgow and about a month to do it in!