Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Kennett Square to Nemaska

At 7:21 I'm taking pictures in the driveway. I've been packing and preparing for my bicycle trip throughout the day. I'm leaving tomorrow, probably before noon. This blog is going to temporarily transform into the bicycle trip blog, possibly without much 7:21 pretense.

The Plan:
My plan is to leave from Kennett Square, and connect to the East Coast Greenway, meandering all the way up through Maine. The ECGW is a work in progress. The goal is to connect all of the major cities on the east coast between Calais Maine and Key West Florida with a multi-use car-free trail. Projects like this one fill me with hope and excitement. The greenway is far from finished, and has many gaps - but cue sheets (bicycle directions) have recently been released, and that's what I'm following all the way up through Maine.

After Maine, I'm going to cross into New Brunswick at Madawaska. I'm using cue sheets which I made by scrolling around on Google Maps to get over to Quebec. Once in Quebec, I have some more cue sheets and maps and shit. I'll be traveling across Quebec toward Val D'or, where I ended my bicycle trip last June, arriving from a different route. After Val D'or, I will go to Matagami, which is at the beginning of the James Bay Road, an intensely sparse highway that was built for large trucks and equipment to get to the far reaches of northern Quebec where there are enormous hydroelectric power plants. At this point, I will be 3-4 days from towns and supplies. Time to meditate or something. There are some emergency phones, but not much else. It's plain wilderness, no people. From the James Bay Road, I will take the Route du Nord, a gravel road, the remainder of the way to a Cree village of about 700. Nemaska. There's a hotel, gas station, and some normal stuff there. Internet, electricity, stuff like that. I did a somewhat shoddy job of mapping all this out, but I believe that I'll be fine, and I can work shit out as I go.

Why Nemaska?
I discovered the existence of a place called Nemaska about a year and a half ago. I was scrolling around on Google Maps trying to see what existed if you scrolled and scrolled and scrolled as far north as roads went. Roads go a little bit further north than Nemaska - but not much. Much further, and you'll be needing a plane. After researching some of these places that are as far north as possible, I got interested in Nemaska specifically. What's it like there? I want to witness this first hand, and I want to roll into town on a bicycle. I want to experience at least a little bit of the way of life there. I want to be blown away that I actually got there on a bicycle. Consider: people have had crazier adventures, and the mileage is less than half of a trans-USA cycle trip.

The Bicycle:
I'm using my City Bike, turned Touring Bicycle. This is an 80's Diamondback mountain bicycle rebuilt from the frame up. The frame uses cheap hi-tensile tubes that are extra fat. It's a cheap frame, and plenty of snobs would love to put it down. It cost me $20 in it's original incarnation as a complete bicycle. I've ridden it as my main bicycle in Philadelphia, and Key West - and it accompanied me on my longest one-day ride ever: 120 miles. This bicycle is tested and ready. I rode it fully loaded, and the fat over-built tubes don't flex or flop one bit even with all that weight on the back. The tires absorb plenty of shock. It's strong and smooth. I am thoroughly comfortable with this bicycle, and excited to finally tour with something I believe in. If you look at bicycle touring books and websites and forums, there is a lot of talk about the bicycle and equipment that you need to tour. Take the bullshit with a grain of salt. Notable features of this version of the City Bike include high northroad handlebars with bar end shifters. I want to sit up and look where I'm going. I always use friction shifting. I want to be ultra-comfortable. Boom. I want to cover about 60ish miles per day. This setup is perfect. The wheels are new. Zac19 rims laced to very basic Shimano Parallax hubs - 8spd cassette on the rear. Don't think for a second that you need better hubs than these cheapys. I'm using 26x1.50 (37-559) Panaracer Pasela Tourguard tires. The saddle is a Brooks sprung Flyer, always with the rain cover - turned inside out so it doesn't look very sexy. I'm using Ortlieb waterproof panniers that I spent too much money on years ago, but now I still have'em. I have a Nashbar trunk bag. Let me express my love for this bicycle. Done.

I've learned from past bicycle trips how to pack way too much. I started to get the hang of packing on my Quebec odyssey last June. I sent a lot of stuff home, and acquired some cool replacement shit like my bivy sack, and a more packable sleeping bag. Living in a van taught me about a good basic camping stove. The $20 one burner Coleman propane one. It's way too big, and way to heavy, but I like cooking on it - so it's coming with me. I plan to cook a lot. You can get the 16.4oz propane cylinders anywhere. Ease of mind is a big deal for me. So, I'm bringing this (scroll down when bored):
Outdoor Research Deluxe Bivy Sack (<2lb tent!)
Lafuma 40 degree sleeping bag (<2lbs)
Backpacking air mattress, 1.5" thick (<2lbs)
XO Laptop (OLPC)
Digital Camera
Coleman 1 burner propane stove
Small cooking pot - random thrift store cheap shit
Small plastic colander - for noodle straining
Spoon - taken from Cheesecake Factory
Toothbrush, deodorant (rarely worn), TP...
Bicycle Toolz - & chain lube!
Croc knockoffs
Victory Brewing cap
Bathing suit
Boxers (4)
Wool socks (3pr)
2 sporty shirts, 1 thin wool blend shirt
Sporty shorts
Northface fleecy pullover
Winterish jacket
Winter warm hat
Mosquito netting suit
Rain pants
Rain PVC jacket - clear, shitty, bulky
Secret all-spice (spicy spices)
Chargers for electronics
Maps and cue sheets

I don't know how to describe this part, and it's the part that I want to describe the most accurately and thoroughly. I just rode my fully loaded bicycle uptown in Kennett to return a book and a CD to Hailey, who lives up there. The test ride was pure success. Everything is very secure, and the weight doesn't even approach a sketchy or unreasonable level - as I've experienced, and witnessed many times on loaded touring cycles. I've tried several times to describe my feelings about setting off, and I'm not sure I can nail it all down. There is apprehension, and a knowledge that once I'm out there I might not be in the mood to continue. I bailed out on my first two tours after one day. After getting to Montreal last June - when Nat's bicycle was stolen and I continued - I experienced similar feelings. Being all on my own gave me anxiety. It made me sad and lonely and I wanted to quit. But I was so invested, I continued. I saw beautiful things. But ultimately, I bailed out after another week. I pushed myself with too many miles, and didn't take nearly enough time to sit around doing nothing. I got to Val D'or, and my legs were whipped. My ass was killing me. I felt isolated, exhausted, and not at all ready to continue. I hopped on a bus that day, and fucked around in Burlington Vermont with friends before eventually getting a ride home with my friend's visiting girlfriend. It was a pseudo successful solo cycle stint. It taught me a lot. I learned to pack less stuff, and slow the pace to a crawl. Also: Brooks saddles.

This time it's another super grand adventure attempt. It's kinda like I'm personally incapable of biting off something that I can definitely chew. All my ideas seem to be over-blown and over-romanticized. Still, I'm a realistic person. I know how I've felt on past bicycle tours, and I can't help but think this one could make me freak out a little bit too.

All of that shit said, I'm also optimistic. I want to focus on how I want this trip to turn out. So: optimism. I love this bicycle more than any other. I have learned from past tours and tour attempts. I have learned from my experience of living in a van in Key West and being a lone soldier, fish out of water. I don't really know what else to do right now. I'm a little nervous - but I think I'm ready to smash into one hell of an adventure. I sincerely hope - and realize the possibility - that I am building this all up way too much.


stranger in a strange van said...

wow, this is awesome. i know you've been planning to take off for some time, but this seems really sudden to me. i can't wait to hear what happens. yay.

John said...


eddie spaghetti said...

yeah!!!!hit the road jack!

Anonymous said...

I just found this blog! It's cool, love the concept!!! Being from Philly myself, it's good to read your blog and recognize the street names and locations. I look forward to reading more. Thanks,