If you have never fallen in love with a city, Montréal is the city which will steal your heart. Gard and I looked at this city with eyes so full of admiration, that coming back to a dirty, ruined, unfriendly Toronto was not what we were looking forward to. Montréal’s a North American city with a touch of European that makes it stand out from the "Americanization" of the world we live in. I guess Minnie’s comment is very appropriate: "The seaweed is always greener, in somebody else's lake." Perhaps by living there my opinions would’ve changed.
In Montréal I had the chance to meet two of the original Capital of Nasty readers: the brilliant Pina Virelli and the amazing biologist. H., with which I share the same passion of horror "literature".
They took their time to introduce me to the city, show me points of highlight, and basically made me feel welcome. Although I did not seen or hear anyone discuss about the separatism wave that is going through the province, I have to admit that I was treated fairly well by just about everyone. As Hugh said, we should all migrate to Montréal and make it the Capital of Canada.
My trip was a little different from what Gard and Hugh experienced. First of all I did not ride all the way back as they did but had to basically struggle back.
My bike is a piece of shyte. It certainly looks good but it is as good as a FIAT. For those that don't know, FIATs are Italian cars which look good and break fast. I heard various variations of the meaning of the word FIAT which means Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, although I like the "fix it again Tony" better. In my case it was "fix it again Hugh", since poor Hugh had to stop every 15 minutes to retune my spokes or do some touching up before the bike fell apart completely (a la Blues Brothers).
My back tire was acting funny after we left Montreal, and Hugh kindly kept on fixing the spokes, and helping me re-align the wheel. Unfortunately in the middle of the beautiful Quebec countryside I had a flat. Then another shortly after repairing the first. Then my tire gave up completely cracking nicely on the side. We were a good90km from Montreal at that point. Although Gard did not want us to split, I suggested it would've been better if they had gone ahead while I worked my way back. We bid farewell and as I walked with bike on one side (I kicked it for a bit) and back sack on my shoulder, I watched Gard and Hugh peddle away in the distance.
I walked hoping while sticking my thumb out hoping for a ride. I walked for a good four hours under the burning sun, but no one stopped. Taking my shirt off was not a good idea, since now my chest tan includes a white line around my neck from my necklace, and two white stripes going down my chest. My girlfriend has yet to stop laughing.
I stopped in every little town to see if anyone could give me a hand fixing the tire, or if I could buy a tire anywhere. Everyone just looked at me and felt sorry since Toronto was indeed far away, especially by bike. And I was walking. I kept on hearing "Bonne chance" which means "good luck" and like Gard put it "good luck in finding a bike store". I stopped at several of the flea markets in the various towns hoping to find any parts good enough for my bike, but faith wanted it so that none of the wheels would fit into mine. Everyone that I talked to gave me an understanding look and said "Bonne chance".
I kept on walking. I had left my friends at 1PM, and it was now6PM and I was still walking in the middle of nowhere under the scorching sun. It was so hot that the when I reached the only lonely tree by the side of the road, I sat there and enjoyed the shadow. This also allowed my brain to cool down and me to reason.
I saw this woman working outside of her house. The only house I had encountered after a while. I asked her for help, and since I speak a very poor French, we both had a hard time communicating. She brought me in her house, gave me a big glass of icy water and called the train station so that I could speak with someone in English. The man at the station said there was a train that I could get, only problem was that the next train was in half an hour, the station 17 miles away. The woman in the meantime had pulled out her car and offered to drive me there. I thanked her and accepted.
At the train station of Couteau, the train conductor refused to accept my bikes because it was not in a box and therefore against government regulations. He suggested that I'd go either to Cornwall or Dorval and get the train there. The man at the station tried to make the conductor reason, but it was no use. Him, the woman that gave me the ride and myself watched the train leave and I felt a little helpless. The man at the train station said he was sorry and said "Bonne chance"
Since Highway 20 was not too far away, the woman drove me to a truck stop, and I asked several truckers if I could get a ride to Kingston or Cornwall, explaining my situation. Unfortunately everyone was going to Montréal.
The woman had to go back home at this point, so I thanked her very much, and she said to me "Bonne chance" (I wanted to strangle her but I decided against it). I pulled out my black pen, and on some cardboard that I found on the side of the road wrote "Cornwall, OUEST,WEST" and sat by the Highway.
A strange Quebecer stopped and said he was going to Lancaster, which was relatively close to Cornwell and he would've given me a ride there. I accepted. As we are driving he asked me if I liked hash and wanted to spend the night in a motel with him. I kindly declined explaining that I was on medication because I was sick. Fortunately he left me at the exit where he was going and I found myself in Lancaster: one gas station, one Dairy Queen, one motel, four houses.
I asked the man at the gas station where I could fix my bike around there. “There is old mister Bullion in that white and gray house over there that fixes bikes as an hobby. I'm sure he'll be glad to help you out”. I thanked him and went there. Ol' Mr. Bullion had had an heart attack a few hours earlier and had died, his son told me.
I kept on walking.
I was on the old Highway 2, with the St. Lawrence river on one side, beautiful scenery on the other and 21 Kilometres to go, according to the sign. I estimated four hours of walking and decided to go for it. As cars flew by I kept on hitching a ride with no luck. A car flew by and a bunch of kids spat at me. Fortunately the wind threw it back in their faces. Another car threw garbage at me.
Since the sun was setting, I decided to stop and enjoy it. It was the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen, and if this whole adventure had a purpose, I thought at the time that that was it.
An unfortunate effect of the sun going down was that it went pitch black. I couldn't even see my hands, nor where I was going. Mosquitoes on the other hand saw me perfectly and I had a few squadrons flying around me as I walked past their airport: a swamp.
Tired of walking, unable to see anything, a desire to grab my bike and make it a permanent part of the swamp, and my backpack getting heavier and heavier. I thought that was it, I'm going to die here on the side of Highway 2, and tomorrow they'll find my body full of mosquito bites. Not a way to go.
In the darkness ahead of me I made out the blue glow of a television emitting from the only house there. I quickly went there and knocked. A man came out with a worried look on his face. I apologized for the time and asked him if he could call me a cab so that I could reach Cornwall. The man looked at me, looked at my bike, then invited me inside. I was greeted by his wife and two hunting dogs who decided I tasted as good as dog food.
The woman offered me something to drink, and the man said that a cab would've been too expensive. I explained my situation, and the man after thinking a bit told me to hold on. He came back dressed and said he would grab his truck and drive me to Cornwall. I thanked everyone and apologized again for the intrusion.
We talked for a while on the truck while driving. The ride took a good half hour, and I was just thinking how long it would've taken me to walk. The man laughed when I told him this and said he was glad I had stopped at his house.
He took me to the station, pointed out a good restaurant where to eat. I asked him if I could buy him a coffee or something or if I could repay him in some way.
"Don't worry about. I think it was God that made our path cross, and doing a good deed comes back to you one way or another".
I decided it was probably wise to keep my mouth shut regarding my beliefs about God and science.
At the station I was told I had missed the 8 o'clock train. It was 10:32 PM at that point. The man allowed me to lock the bike in their storage room so that I did not have to carry it around. Apparentely the man at the train station of Couteau had told him that I might arrive there. I thanked him and went to the restaurant.
I must've really looked terrible, because the waitress asked me what happened since "you look terrible!". I explained what happened. “Oh you poor thing, well, you better get some rest tonight." "Are there any motels close by?" I dared to ask. “Oh yes" she said "on the other side of town. But the cabs are all out of service by this time, you know, Cornwall is not exactly a big city".
"Oh no, I've been walking all day.."
"Well, just eat for now, we'll worry about it later".
As I finished eating, a man walked in the restaurant, by this time empty, me the only customer, and the cook in the back cursing about someone leaving the Ginger Ale open.
"This is my ex-husband" the waitress informed me. "I told him your story and he is going to take you over the rest-home he runs, since he has an empty room".
I was very surprised, and I thanked them both. The waitress got a good tip =)
The man brought me over to the rest-home, and gave me a beautiful room. I washed up, trying to get the grease off my hands and legs with no luck. My body hacking, I quickly fell asleep, a sleep with no dreams.
The next morning he asked me how I was feeling and gave me a good breakfast. I wanted to decline, feeling a little embarrassed, but he insisted since I was his "guest". After breakfast and some chitchatting, he brought me to the station.
I thanked him, and asked if I could repay him in some way, he answered: "God is watching over us, and you must've a good guarding angel protecting you". If God was trying to point out that he existed, I think that I got the idea at that point.
I walked into the station, my body not responding too well, my muscles screaming in pain. I took my bike apart and pack it in the box provided by the station attendant, and bought a ticket for Toronto. I wanted to go to Kingston and meet Gard and Hugh, but I felt as if a steam roller had parked itself on my body.
I usually am never able to sleep on trains. This time I slept like a rock all the way to my destination. Once home, my bed never felt so soft and comfortable. It's true when they say that "there is no place like home".
You could say I've learned many things: If you are nice and polite, everyone (or almost) you encounter will try to help you, especially if you have a nice looking bike that can get you nowhere fast and breakdown even faster. It's not a jungle out there if you know how to avoid the tigers.
You can travel quite a distance if you have a broken bicycle, faster than if you have one that works.
Most of all God is watching over me, or at least one of his angels. I think I'll have to do a little revision on my beliefs, and as Bob Allisat pointed out "maybe God and science can stand side by side at times".
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