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Before Dawn

(If you are new to my blog or you haven’t read The Little Brudders of Miséricorde — Thierry, who appears below, is a bilingual Québécois mouse. He is a central character in the novel.)

“Bonne idée de ma part, n'est-ce pas?”

“Yes, Thierry. It was a good idea.”

This is the second morning we have rolled out of bed at 2:30 am and hit the road by 4:30, more than an hour before the sun rises.

“An’ we get to spend more time togedder, mon chum. ‘Cause I is — “

“— nocturnal”

We say this at the same time.


“What are we, Thierry? Six-year-olds?”


He is distracted by the sight of a low mist hanging over the fields. The moon is in the west as still as a moth on a bedroom window.

The sun behind us is not yet over the horizon but the birds are already announcing morning. The mist is thick enough to conceal crops and livestock but groves of trees on the horizon float like tall, green sailing ships.

We ride is silence for awhile. Traffic both ways is light. Soon we feel the warmth of the sun behind us. The long shadow of the bike and all its accoutrements stretches out ahead of us. If you didn’t know we were touring cyclists, you might think ours was the shadow of a one-man-band.

Several days ago, Thierry remarked that the early morning wind is, generally, a gentle breeze. It is in the afternoon that it starts to pick up. So far, we have encountered mostly crosswinds out of the north or south. But the prevailing wind comes out of the west and it can be fierce. It can add hours to your ride. Hence, the pre-dawn starts.

The sun burns off lakes of mist to reveal endless yellow fields.

“Daffodils?” Thierry asks.

“I’m pretty sure that’s canola.”

Thierry grins and winks.

“I knew dat. I were jes testin’ you Mister City Boy.”

“Uh huh.”

“So what you tink dat green field is?”

“You tell me, Thierry. You’re the one who grew up on a farm.”

“C’est vrai. But... you know... make a guess.”

“Soy beans?”

“Dats what I tink, too!”

Thierry is all bluff, sometimes, but I don’t call him on it. He is sometimes sensitive about his haphazard education.

The red-winged blackbirds have returned. We’d left them behind just after Sudbury. They seem to prefer open fields to forests. Perched on the highway sign posts, they sometimes fly above us and deliver a scolding. I can see their shadows moving ahead of ours on the road.

“Man! Give it a break!” Thierry’s hearing is more sensitive than mine and the incessant chirp-chirps annoy him. Sometimes they deliver a shrill whistle like referees calling us out-of-bounds.

“It’s their territory, Thierry. Don’t you ever mark your territory?”

“Fer sure, man. But dats for dominance an’ shit. It’s a mouse thing. Dat bird tinks it’s ma mère.”


Sometimes the train tracks parallel the Trans Canada. Sometimes they are off in the distance, their presence marked by utility poles that make me think of Spartacus and those endless crosses along The Appian Way on some dread journey to Rome. The train must be a mile long.

“Hey! I can read dat.”

He studies the bold letters on the side of a boxcar.

“It say... um...  Can-a-dian Tire.”

“Well done!”

“Oh shit!”

The shadow of a hawk appears on the pavement ahead of us. Thierry dives for cover inside the dry sack on the front rack.

“Check it out, mon chum!”

I point to where a small dark bird appears and gives chase, giving the hawk a quick peck on the back just above the tail feathers.

“Dat little bird got guts!”

“You don’t have to be big to be brave, Thierry.”

“What kinda bird were dos guys?”

“Red tail hawk, I imagine. And maybe a cowbird?”

“I like dat cowbird.”

I explain that cowbirds don’t make nests. They lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. Those birds raise their young. Long shot, but it’s possible that hawk may have unwittingly fostered the very bird that nipped its ass.

“Ah! So dey is capitalist!”

He pronounces it cow-piddle-list. I laugh.

“Yeah. I guess. In a way.”

By the time we arrive at the campsite, Thierry has been asleep for hours. I quietly set up our new tent. I left the old one with my friend, Lorna, and her partner, Barry, back in Winnipeg. Alarmingly, several of the poles were beginning to crack and duct tape was a tenuous solution.

Thierry wakes just as I am lying back on my pillow.

“Du sang! Blood!”

He points to specks of red dotting the tent.

“Mosquitoes, Thierry. They probably got crushed when I rolled up the tent this morning.”

“‘Ow come I ne’er see dat before?”

“The old tent was green. This one is yellow. Blood shows up more clearly on yellow. That’s why hospital scrubs are often green or blue. You don’t notice the blood.”

“Whose blood?”

“Mine probably. But you never know...”

Thierry squeaks. I know he’s a mouse but I’ve never heard him squeak.

“Mine!” I say. “I’m certain it’s my blood.”


I sleep but am awakened by thunder and lightning at 3 a.m. The rain continues until 7:30.

Late start.

The next day we camp beside a lovely family whose laughter and conversation keep me awake until midnight.

Another late start.

The day after, there is no need to wake early. The forecast calls for tailwinds. We cycle over a hundred kilometres to Indian Head, Saskatchewan.

Eight o’clock and the lightening and thunder starts. Then the wind. And the relentless rain.

The tent does not leak but, by midnight, it is clear the tent has been consumed by a puddle. I keep an eye on the depth which threatens to overwhelm the height of the groundsheet. Water has pooled between the tent and the footprint. Thierry bounces on it like it is a waterbed.

It is 9:30 before the rain relents sufficiently for me to make a dash to the washrooms. The entire campground has been flooded. Little rivulets feed broad puddles. Everywhere the grass has become swamp.

Thierry’s plan for predawn cycling is a good one. But sometimes... the best laid plans...

Everything we have is soaked. The sun makes an appearance in the afternoon and we spend hours cleaning and drying clothes and gear.

Maybe tomorrow...


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