Information about the world of cycling, including bicycle touring


Historic Quebec City and the St. Lawrence River.

Roger makes an attempt to be artistic on his ID tag.

Roger attempts to be artistic on his ID tag.

The Kennebec River near Bingham, Maine.

The Kennebec River near Bingham, Maine.

Fergus Cookley climbs a big hill near Jackman, Maine.

Fergus Cookley climbs a big hill
near Jackman, Maine.

Roger at the border

Roger reaches the Maine-Quebec border.

Quebec's longest covered bridge crosses the Rivere Chaudiere near Beauceville.

Quebec's longest covered bridge crosses
the Rivere Chaudiere near Beauceville.

The Chateau Frontenac, left, dominates the skyline of Quebec City.

The Chateau Frontenac, left, dominates
the skyline of Quebec City.

Another view of lower Quebec City.

Another view of Lower Quebec City.

The Notre-Dame Basilique-Cathédrale in the upper part of Quebec City.

The Notre-Dame Basilique-Cathédrale
in the upper part of Quebec City.

The beating of retreat at the Citadelle.

The beating of retreat at the Citadelle.

The church of Ste.-Familie on the Ile d'Orleans.

The church of Ste-Famile
on the Ile d'Orleans.

 

SUMMARY: MOOSA, formerly operated by Can-Am Wheelers, has been taken over by In Motion Sports. The route changes from year to year, but it normally includes a trip into the province of Quebec. Former ride organizers Steve and Mimi Bell used to warn you to try to get up to Maine the day before the ride begins. Heed their warning! It is tricky and expensive to get a flight to Bangor or Portland, so you may be better off flying to Boston and taking a bus to Maine. You should also be in shape for this ride because there are lots of climbs in Maine. The ride becomes much easier shortly after crossing the Canadian border. You don't have to speak French fluently to get along in Quebec, but people do appreciate it if you at least make an attempt to speak a few phrases in French.

RIDE WEB SITE:http://www.canamwheelers.com/

MOOSA: 1999

This article appeared in the Times-News of Burlington, N.C., in September 1999

The Maine Original Outstanding Super Adventure was living up to its name. It would be another 3½ weeks before the cycling trip from Skowhegan, Maine, to Quebec City would begin. Trip organizers had accepted my application, and shipping my bike to Skowhegan would be a breeze.

Getting me there would be another story.

Several days of calling travel agents and scanning Web sites for the best airfare from Raleigh, N.C., to Bangor, Maine, the closest airport to Skowhegan, got me nothing but frustration. The cheapest available round trip was $452. Trip organizers also suggested flying to Boston and taking a bus to Bangor to save money. Neither option would have gotten me there in time.

I finally threw my hands up in the air and called Mimi Bell, one of the trip's organizers. I had one advantage in dealing with Mimi. She's originally from Jerseyville, Ill., only about 15 miles from Brighton, Ill., the small town where I grew up.

Mimi suggested that I fly to Boston and rent a car to take to Bangor to meet the shuttle that would take the cyclists to Skowhegan.

"Half of the adventure is getting here," she said.

No truer words were ever said.

The adventure begins

The 1999 version of Maine's Original Outstanding Super Adventure (If the acronym MOOSA makes you think of moose, that's intended, though we didn't see any.) began July 25 in Skowhegan. After three days and 200 miles, the 146 cyclists ended up in Levis, Quebec, just across the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City.

The adventure began July 24, the day I traveled from Burlington to Skowhegan. After only two hours of sleep because of work and last-minute packing, I drove to Raleigh-Durham International Airport to catch the 7:30 a.m. flight to Boston.

New England drivers lived up to their reputation on U.S. 1 and Interstate 95 between Boston and Portsmouth, N.H., but at least they kept moving, until they got to the Maine border. I-95 becomes a four-lane toll road from the border to Portland. Combine that with hundreds of tourists, and you have the recipe for 40 miles of gridlock.

I was supposed to be in Bangor by 4 p.m. for the shuttle to Skowhegan, but I was a half-hour late. I called MOOSA director Steve Bell, Mimi's husband, who suggested I use a commercial shuttle service. The idea of paying $50 for a ride from Bangor to Skowhegan wasn't my idea of a good time, and I called him back. By then, he determined two other MOOSA riders from Tennessee had also missed the shuttle because their airline lost their bags, and a van had to come pick us up.

It was a bit after 9 p.m. when we finally got to Skowhegan. At least they saved us some lasagna and cake from the welcoming meal. After gulping down the food and putting my bicycle together, it was time to determine where I would sleep, in the Skowhegan Community Center gymnasium with dozens of other snoring folks or in my own tent. The gym sounded tempting because it would save me the hassle of putting up my tent in the dark, but the gym was stuffy.

I put up the tent.

Time for a nap

Clouds greeted the cyclists Sunday, the first full day of the tour. I hit the road by 7 a.m., and it didn't take me long to realize I was in for a long day. About four miles into the ride, we encountered the first hill. It was a relatively small hill for Maine, but it whipped me. I stopped for a few moments to catch my breath before finishing it.

I found a roadside rest area with picnic tables, a well and rustic outhouses. I intended to stay just long enough to drink some water, but a massive wave of sleep rolled over me. A picnic table bench served as my bed for at least 15 minutes, maybe longer.

"Were you the guy I saw sleeping on the picnic table?" a MOOSA rider asked me days later.

"Maybe," I replied.

US 201 between Skowhegan and the Canadian border takes a beating from Maine's brutal winters. That also means cyclists take a beating. I noticed my rear tire was skidding more than it should during a climb outside Bingham. The rough pavement had pinched the innertube, and it was losing air. I put in a new innertube and was on my way.

A few miles later, Mimi greeted us at the first cookie stop of the trip, a roadway rest stop along the Kennebec River. The cookies and bananas tasted pretty darn good at that stage, and the view of the river was even better.

Just as I was ready to leave, along came a familiar face. I had met Barb two years ago on a week-long trip from Toronto to Montreal. She remembered me, but she wasn't sure from what ride.

"Did you do the Finger Lakes tour last year?" Barb asked.

"No," I replied. "You met me on the BiQue Ride two years ago."

The one thing I forgot to ask Barb was her last name. On trips like this, cyclists tend to remember first names, but they often forget to pick up last names and addresses for future correspondence.

Barb spent much of the morning riding with Terri Anderson of Hanford, Calif., and Fergus Cookley and Ruthmary Macpherson, both of the Canadian province of New Brunswick. They caught up with me at a restaurant near Caratunk just as a rainstorm passed through the area. When the rains stopped, we took off for the hardest part of the ride. I knew the hills were coming when I saw the Appalachian Trail crossing near West Forks and we parted ways with the Kennebec River. We climbed and climbed and climbed, until we were four miles from Jackman, our destination the night. We basked in the long downhill that took us into town.

"That's a tough day of cycling for anyone," MOOSA rider Rich Giroux of Raleigh said.

Bonjour, Quebec!

Monday started with a four-mile ride to breakfast. I wasn't thrilled about climbing a steep hill on an empty stomach. I was even less thrilled with the fried potatoes, scrambled eggs and pancakes. I was downright angry when I found out we had to pay $8.50 for it.

A few miles into the ride, I finally found the key to making it up the big hills. I simply had to look down at the pavement and set some goals.

"You can make it to the pothole. You can make it to the edge of the driveway. You can make it to the flowers. You can make it to the soda bottle on the side of the road," I told myself.

Finally, the Canadian border was in sight.

"Bonjour," I said at the customs station, trying to be the politically correct visitor to the French-speaking province of Quebec.

"Hello," the crossing guard said, knowing full-well I was an English-speaking American. "Are you with the bicycle group?"

"Yes."

"Are you carrying a concealed weapon?"

"No."

"Have a good visit. Goodbye."

US 201 turns into Quebec 173, and it was a relief to get out of Maine. The grades were gentler, and I had a sudden burst of energy. I even started singing the Canadian national anthem, "O Canada." Thank God no one was listening.

For last half of the day, our route paralleled the Riviere Chaudiere. Shortly after we passed the longest wooden covered bridge in Quebec near Beauceville, the headwinds hit us hard. The disadvantage of being a cyclist with a body suited to being an offensive lineman is that riders tend to fall in behind you. I do all the work. They reap the benefits of a wind block.

They also reaped all the benefits of my headwind training in Illinois.

"You're pretty strong in the wind," one cyclist said. "We appreciate you letting us ride behind you."

'A sense of rootedness'

The valley of the Riviere Chaudiere is a special place. Lush, neatly groomed farms stop just short of the river. Short trees provide a buffer between the river and the farms without blocking the view. Most communities in Quebec are named after saints, and the Roman Catholic church that shares the town's name is usually the tallest building in town.

"That river valley was as pretty as anyplace I've ever seen," Rich said about the route for Tuesday.

Rich's grandfather lived in nearby East Broughton, and traveling in or near towns like St.-Joseph-de-Beauce, Vallee-Jonction, Ste.-Marie, Scott and Ste.-Henedine meant something more to him than just pretty scenery.

"I felt a sense of rootedness," he said.

He even found a small grocery in St.-Joseph-de-Beauce that bears the Giroux name.

The beauty of a cycling trip is that you can eat as much as you want because you're going to burn it out. There are some hard-core cyclists who eat to ride. I ride to eat!

I had a maple-swirl ice cream cone in Scott and a lunch of pogos, which tasted like corn dogs to me, in Ste.-Claire. But nothing would quite compare with the four-course meal at the Restaurant du Escalier in Levis.

From the outside, the restaurant didn't seem exceptionally special. The outdoor deck was dotted with umbrellas plastered with Molson and Budweiser logos. Rich and I, along with two other MOOSA riders, were given seats on the outdoor deck, and we changed our minds when we took in the view of Quebec City and the St. Lawrence River.

Our waiter took the time to translate the French names of all the main courses for into English. He even apologized for his English skills. We assured him his mastery of English, and restaurant's mastery of fine dining, were far better than our mastery of French.

Because of the weakness of the Canadian dollar, the meal and two drinks cost the equivalent of $26 in American currency.

'Mr. Tourist Man'

Wednesday was a day of rest, at least as far as cycling was concerned. My intent was to soak in as much of Quebec City's history as I possibly could.

Quebec City is the only walled city in North America north of Mexico, and the easiest way to breech the wall today is the funicular, which uses water to lift and lower the two cars over the wall.

A street juggler entertained tourists in an open-air amphitheater. I walked toward the performance, half paying attention to the show, half soaking in the atmosphere.

"Hey, Mr. Tourist Man, wake up and pay attention to the show."

I had no idea that I was Mr. Tourist Man until the juggler walked toward me and started pulling up my socks.

"Here in Quebec, we tuck in our shirts," he said as he proceeded to tuck in my shirt.

"Come out here, Mr. Tourist Man. Hold this fishing pole," he said.

My role was to move the fishing pole up and down to lead the audience in a chant intended to help a woman carry a canister to his feet so he could juggle it. My first cast was a little too strong, and the reel fell off.

"You're not supposed to break it, Mr. Tourist Man. Fix it," the juggler said.

The reel snapped right back on, and the performance continued. I created enough karma in the audience that the woman was able to the put the canister on the juggler's feet and that he was able to juggle. I got out of there as quickly as I could.

To complete my tour of Quebec City I climbed more than 300 stairs to the Citadelle, a star-shaped fort built by the British in the 1800s. A French-Canadian battalion continues the tradition of the beating of retreat. It was quite a full day, and I was ready to change back into Mr. Cycling Man.

Tooling around

Thursday and Friday were days in which MOOSA riders could ride routes ranging from 18 to 100 miles. I chose the Chute-Montmorency and the Ile d'Orleans on Thursday and a winery tour in Friday.

Chute-Montmorency, located about 9 miles north of Quebec City, is a waterfall 50 percent taller than Niagara Falls, although not nearly as wide. The Ile d'Orleans is a large island in the St. Lawrence River that features lots of small towns and farms.

Getting to the Ile d'Orleans by bike is tricky. The roadway is too narrow for bikes and cars, so that leaves you with a 4-foot sidewalk about 6 inches above the pavement.

"A lot of people ride across it, but I walk across it because it's too scary," Mimi said.

Falling 100 feet into the St. Lawrence River didn't scare me. Falling 6 inches into traffic did. It was time to walk.

I ran into Terri Anderson, Fergus Cookley and Ruthmary Macpherson after crossing the bridge, we got a taste of the Ile d'Orleans. We found a blueberry stand less than two miles in our trip around the island. Two miles later, in Ste.-Petronille, we feasted on homemade rum-raisin ice cream. Eight miles later, homegrown sweet corn proved too tempting. Another eight or so miles later, I dined on an asparagus and cheese waffle in a former flour mill built in 1720.

We got so caught up into the food that it was 5:30 p.m. before we got out of St.-Jean, with its lovely namesake church and cemetery with the graves of sailors who had cruised the St. Lawrence. That was a major problem because our map indicted we still 36 miles from Quebec City.

We cut 9 miles by taking a country road that provided a great view of the Laurentide Mountains. Then we road as fast as we could. We managed to get to our restaurant at dusk.

The winery tour should have been uneventful, but it wasn't.

Terri, Fergus and Ruthmary were my cycling partners again, and things were going well until I heard air coming out of my front wheel. We had barely gone 20 yards after I fixed my flat when we heard a loud pop. Fergus had the flat tire this time. He put in a new tube, but the tube pushed through a hole in the tire. BOOM! Another flat.

Ruthmary's French skills came in handy. She went to a farmhouse and persuaded them to borrow their phone for us to call Steve Bell to bring him a new tire.

We managed to get a few miles of cycling in when we hit the winery and sampled its strawberry-raspberry wine. We wanted to get a bottle to take back to the campground, but no one had a bike bag big enough to handle it.

"Why can't they bring a van out here to pick up whatever we buy?" Terri asked.

We were down to the final 10 miles of the trip. I wanted to get back into camp quickly so we could have once last fling in Quebec City. I was feeling strong, and so was Fergus. We took off up a long hill, leaving Terri and Ruthmary behind.

"You guys took off like rockets," Terri said.

"It was the testosterone kicking in," I quipped.

As we ended our ride, 2,000 cyclists were beginning their ride from Levis to Metane. That ride promised more beautiful valleys, more beautiful churches, more fine restaurants and lots of whales playing in the St. Lawrence River.