Empty Days

Wednesday, August 11, 2004



Small-time travels.

I clicked through some online maps and it turns out I biked a respectable 40 miles (65km) on that round trip that took me 7 hours practically non-stop. With that I did get lost a couple of times, so it is possible that if I had a speedometer on my bike it would register some more pedaling still.

What it means is that doing about 60 miles a day is just not a big deal unless the terrain is quite hilly in which case it is better to forget about mileage altogether and just manage your best without dropping dead.

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I remember I biked from Berlin to a museum-town in the suburbs (Potsdam) - I had borrowed a gearless bike and it was still a wonderful ride despite the mountain I had to go over because the road went through the forrest - the famous Grunwald park they have there. According to this antiquated document, "the distance from Berlin to Potsdam is eighteen miles", and as far as I remember I got there in three hours, having stopped for sight-seeing on the way. I couldn't go back by bike because I then spent the rest of the day up to sunset touring the gentil castle's park on the bike even though bicycles are forbidden there (but it was november and there were few tourists, while that park itself is huge with many pavillions) so I just took the subway back to Berlin and did some night-riding in the city. Berlin is a very good town for biking and a lot of people use bikes for transportation, it's a natural thing to do.

*

Two summers ago I did the tour of the Montreal island in two full days. I live roughly in the middle of the island and I used to go up to the western-most point a lot, which is about 35km (that is 70km round-trip). The eastern-most point is somewhat farther away, that would be at least 45km. But I get these measurements from the standard road-map and of course I took round-about ways instead of the high-speed thruways that cross the city east-west. So I suspect I put in some more mileage than if I were driving a car. The only way to do a complete tour of the city in one single day would be to start very early in the morning, to pedal like mad with a maximum of one half-hour stop, and then you may expect to get to your point of departure slightly after dark - a minimum of 12 hours of biking, and very high-speed too. I read somewhere that the geographical circumference of the island is 277km. That likely includes all those creases in the coast-line, so let us say it's 250km in reality. The problem of course is that it's still a city and you have to stop at various traffic lights and other typically urban obstacles, so these 250km will feel very different from the same distance on a country road. You will lose a lot of time with these, no matter how hard you bike.

So I did it in two days and it took me about 10 hours per day because I was leasurely about it, sleeping in the park midway or stretching by the river when I felt too tired and relaxing in a cafe once I got back to central island after dark. I can't know how much mileage I put in exactly but probably something like 100-125km (65-75 miles) per day because I travelled at the very edge of the island as much as possible.

Outside of that I've never done any serious biking because I mostly hate going to suburbs as I get lost there and don't like the landscape at all. This is why the thought of having to cross all these suburbs to get out of the metropolitan area makes me wince in disgust - it's like the outer circles of hell, the way I see it (factories, warehouses, thruways... and endless residential areas).

Here is what I read on some website and I sure can sympathize:
From Montreal to Wells, Maine

Sunday, August 7 - From Chambly to Frelighsburg, Quebec (81.4 km, 4.3 h)
At noon, on a gray Sunday, we were pedaling southward on the cool bicycle trail along the Canal du Richelieu. To avoid crossing the boring suburbs, we cheated a bit on the starting point: we begged friends to drop us in Chambly, some 25 km east of Montreal. After some 20 km, we reached the end of the trail in St-Jean-sur-le-Richelieu and we switched to Route 133, the main road going up the Richelieu River. That was arguably the worse part of the trip. We were running upwind in the flat countryside, crossing endless corn and soya fields, squeezed on the side of a narrow, shoulderless road by the fast and noisy traffic. We should have cut through the small village of St-Alexandre to avoid that horrible corridor; it certainly couldn't have been worse. In Pike River, we finally took quiet Route 202 and moved on through Bedford, then past Stanbridge East. We headed south on route 237 and reached the first stop, the Chutes Hunter Campground, just a few kilometers before Frelighsburg, where there were lots of available sites. In August, there is little need for reservations if you leave on a Sunday, while everybody else is going back home.
I can picture all that quite clearly - the landscape south of Montreal up to the US frontier is so boring it's even hard to bear when going by car, let alone by bike, you just wish it were over already. Not to mention the southern suburbs, which stretch for miles on end and are all the same. As to the shoulderless narrow roads - you bet. The map shows that these guys made themselves suffer needlessly as they could indeed have taken a much less hectic road and got to their destination faster too.





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