Empty Days

Thursday, September 02, 2004


Right now I don't really feel like detailing all the little things that happened during the trip but I'll just note some of the more memorable ones. The most interesting effect was that I found myself talking to lots of people - I felt so open and so free, and the people in small places were also much more friendly and curious than I am used to in the city. Outside of Montreal there are practically no immigrants - it's real Quebec people, who have a sense of community and of being in their rightful place. They are not very multicultural and don't travel very far, so to them strangers and travellers are a curiosity still. People approached me while I was having my coffee break in gas stations and just chatted with me - because I looked like such a beatnik with my bizarre low-tech equipment and easy going attitude. It was a surprising experience - I thought I would want to avoid people, but the exact opposite happened.

The more interesting chats were with older blue-collar guys - they are frequently philosophically minded and have an opinion about everything. Women never approached me, it was always men - and I don't think this was due to me being a female. I think it's rather the fact that men are more outgoing and I was very outgoing myself. If I were a guy with the same attitude they'd still talk to me in exactly the same way, I think. Basically, I was doing a guy thing with my solo camping trip - that's what they recognized, that sort of self-reliance which is typically masculine most of the time. It is this kind of attitude that makes one think for oneself - so they chatted with me from the same pespective. It then occured to me that I should actually act more like they do - approach people who seem interesting and talk to them without hesitation. I am not used to this because of my life in the city, but this is exactly the thing I feel like doing and on that trip I tried to act on my desires more because it made me feel free. Finally I saw a guy who was obviously doing a very big biking tour (he was French from the Alps and was doing a tour of Quebec this summer, he looked like a mountaneer), a bit in my own style but more serious, and I talked to him. It was a good idea because he told me interesting stuff about his life. Pity we didn't have more time, as I would have liked to listen to some more of his experiences.


On the way back I met a solo guy in a rustic camping (a free location - the only one along the whole trail) - it was the rainy day and I didn't bike very far so I stopped there and saw there was already somebody there. The guy was nice, a Quebecquer who works in a bread-making factory in Montreal, we continued together on the next day and camped in an abandonned private lot marked "for sale". But he had different ideas about what he wanted from his trip and it got on my nerves in the end - he's not really a cyclist but loves camping, so he was mostly looking for very specific camping conditions on this trip which made looking for a free place rather difficult (for instance he refused to take a shower when we had a chance and instead kept looking for a suitable river to bath in and do his laundry, and when we didn't find one got all sour and upset - that kind of thing). On the second day he seemed to develop a bit of a crash on me, which didn't improve things from my perspective, plus I found that travelling with a companion was very limiting - I didn't have the freedom to talk to other people and he didn't seem inclined to talk to anybody in any case. So at some point I just felt it was enough and asked him to go camp alone. Of course he was offended but I think I made the right decision - it's no use complicating things further out of politeness when there is a strong feeling that it's somehow bothersome.

The impression I got from him is that he's just a lonely guy with a pretty unhappy personal life and thus essentially always looking for a lucky meeting with a woman - I am pretty sure he considered me from that perspective, which is fine, but it wasn't my cup of tea from the go. He was very impressed with my "stealth camping" all alone - for some reason he thought it very unsual. Maybe it is unusual - I will have to travel some more to see if there are other solo girls doing the same thing out there, but I am pretty sure it's not that rare nowdays.

I felt a bit guilty that I dumped him that way because he was actually a perfectly nice fellow, but then I thought that it was for the best - false hopes are not a good idea, and we were about to start getting on each other nerves anyway. My conclusion is: solo travel is the best way, companions must be very temporary and very undemanding and self-sufficient. I started chatting to people again right after I got rid of this nice guy. Heh.


Actually this made me think about how I relate to sex - for me it always complicates things beyond measure. In a sense I could very well have occasional sex but I don't like this activity all that much, and the emotional element that puts in the necessary spice is the very one that complicates things in the end. Basically, I can very well bypass sex for the sake of a really worthwhile human relationship - to which sex would be a side-kick and not the other way around. Therefore it makes no sense for me to bang away with whoever if the guy can't be a real friend - only a boyfriend. Quite a few girls like sex a lot and the concept of a boyfriend is the one they're really concerned about. I am not like that - too bad for the guys I happen to meet, they have no chance with me, because I don't make friends easily and I am rarely directly attracted to a guy, therefore I am never looking for a mere boyfriend.

I know this is unusual and people get upset and nonplussed about this. But I have to stand my ground - because that's what I prefer, and screw all those "standard" behaviors everybody is supposed to live by.

Actually the type of relationship I would be most comfortable with is examplified in the book-adapted-to-film called "Out of Africa" - by Karen Blix, a Dutch woman (who wrote under the masculine pseudonym of Isaak Dinsen). The difference between a self-reliant woman and other women is exactly the same as the difference between men and women: because self-reliance is traditionally a masculine attitude. It also means - freedom. None of this excludes love and sex however - but it excludes all those classical demands on another's freedom and possessiveness ("oh, but he's *my* boyfriend! - "oh, but she's *mine*!" - blah, I say).


On my fourth day, that is Friday August 27th, I woke up to find that my rear tyre was torn and some air has leeked out of the tube. It was somewhat gray and threatening rain, so I packed up and biked to the nearest covered rest-stop on the trail (they have some all along) where I changed both the tyre and the tube (I had a spare one that was a bit long to sit comfortably inside the tyre). It didn't take as long as I thought it would but it made me lose some time.

I pomped the tyre with my hand-pomp but of course it wasn't optimal because I can't put in that much air pressure. Then I biked into a town with a gas station and proceeded to put some air into the newly changed tube. I went to the nearby grocery shop and upon my return found that the tyre had exploded off the wheel - either I haven't adjusted the tube properly in the first place or I just put in too much air to begin with. So I had to patch the other tube that I took out during the first repair - it had two punctures. I was able to patch it very nicely in both places but still the whole unpacking and repacking of the bike to liberate the rear-wheel took some time (as my bike bags were makeshift and were bound to the rack with ropes and stuff). All this happened already after I took some time sitting in a cafe eating a bagel - thinking that I was all set to go.

The town was called Lac Nominingue.

So basically when I was done it was already late afternoon and there was no chance I could bike all the way to the end of trail that day - this is why it took one day longer for me to go than to return, not to mention the fact that I really took my time exploring small towns on the way in previous days.

So I biked on some more and then went to camp in a splendidly isolated location on the trail called "observation post for the swamps": in fact it wasn't a swamp but rather a beautiful wild lake which is where I saw a beaver make his way in the water - there were a lot of mosquitos too but the trail was high above the lake with a splendid view of the mountains, and thus a gorgeous sunset and no less gorgeous sunrise the next morning. And so on Saturday I took it really easy and spent some time at the lake and then finally got to Mont Laurier, the big regional town.

The good thing is that workers at the gas station and nearby grocery store were very concerned with my biking repairs and offered help all the time - both moral and technical, they figured I wouldn't be able to do it on my own (heh, wrong again). This event also gave me a chance to learn how not to make stupid mistakes when changing a tube and inflating a tyre in field conditions rather than at home (where everything is dry and comfortable and you have all your concentration) - all in all I wasn't at all upset but rather greatful for all these difficulties. Plus I was pretty worn out from previous days of biking and some bad nights I had spent in stealth camping - as I said, I was initially somewhat paranoid about the whole idea of sleeping in lots marked "private" all over the place (not to mention animal sounds at night: when you're not used to it, you can't have a sound night's sleep - something I became comfortable with only a few nights later, with habit).

Btw, the travelling companion guy I met later showed me some things I didn't know how to do: he explained to me how to make a fire with really wet wood (it was raining that day) and he also gave me confidence that making a fire in a private terrain was not such a big deal - so when I separated from him and went camping alone I chose a big clover field to have a view of the starry skies at night and I made a fire at the edge of the field - it was very visible but nobody came to check and there were no people in sight in any case. In the morning I threw away ashes and charcoals into the bushes and covered the burned spot with green grass - there was no way of telling I had made a fire there, I was amazed. It's also true that the night happened to be very wet because of all the mildew in the field, but it didn't bother me that much in my synthetic sleeping bag. Another thing I found cool is that camp-fire smoke completely eliminates mosquitoes.


Of course there were other little things that happened - like the fact that I kept looking for a mirror to put on my bike so I could go off the trail on the roads, but in the end I had visited 5 or 6 bike-shops in different towns and not one of the current models they had was suitable for my type of handlebar. Finally, in some hunter's outdoors shop in L'Annonciation I found a match with the help of a very energetic and fun service guy with a big imagination who managed to fix a motorbike mirror to my handlebars, with some major tinkering and a lot of jokes. It was a memorable experience because it's not every day that you encounter such amusing characters.

All in all I found Quebec people very nice - at least they were all nice to me, I can't know how they are with others. In L'Annonciation a woman came up to me to talk, she said she was of mixed indian heritage and she looked very poor (on welfare) and worn out. But we had a good chat - I think she was lonely and appreciated the fact that I was willing to listen to her woes.


Speaking of women who came up to talk to me - the only other one who did that was in the touristy center of Mont-Tremblant: I can't possibly describe just how touristy and upper-middle-class this place looks. I went all the way up there for a good cup of coffee and of course I looked totally bizarre there with my garbage bike loaded with garbage equipment and my very own person looking so very much out of money - it might as well have been in downtown Paris, I would not have looked more out of place. One woman there who looked like an upper-class tourist was so intrigued by my sight that she came up with a mixture of timidity and envy, not really sure how to communicate with me. In the end she asked about the weather, if I thought it would rain (as if I were any expert - but she thought I might be with my radical outdoors style) - but I could see that she was lonely in that place and envious of my total freedom. There was also a tinge of admiration in her eyes - she was in her late 30's, I think, very much a career woman.

Actually quite a few of those herded moneyed tourists glanced at me with secret longing and real envy while I was sitting at the terrasse of the cafe there, having my coffee before the long day - I could well understand why: doing the standard touristy thing is the most dreadful thing on earth, you have no liberty and are emprisonned in your own "high-standards-of-living". To them I examplified total liberty - and that's exactly how I felt myself: all that wealth around just didn't stick to me.

I particularly remember one young japanese student with hip bleached hair, all alone and clearly bored to death, who passed and gave me a look of pure desperation - poor guy, probably was dragged here by his parents or something like that.

Poor poor wealthy people! - that's what I kept thinking while observing this horrid commercial place.


What else? That's enough for now - I'll write more as I keep thinking about the trip.

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