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Ottawa to Pembroke

Thursday 09 June. Ottawa. Shout out to the mechanics at Bushtuka. I had no appointment but, yesterday, they kindly squeezed me in and solved a problem with my front derailleur. Stopped by Mountain Equipment Co-op for some bear spray, just to make myself feel more secure. Also a noisemaker. So I can let them know I’m there when it comes time to camp in northern Ontario. Nobody likes being surprised.

I’ve been dumped on by rain two nights in a row but managed to dry out most of my gear in yesterday’s sunshine. Then got dumped on again last night. The rain keeps up this morning until noon so I just hunker down in my tent for the morning. I’m fairly sure that the temperatures will stay warm enough that being wet for hours on end will be uncomfortable but not... you know... hypothermia uncomfortable. I’m guessing it will hot enough, soon, that I’ll be praying for rain. But today? Just give it a break.

By afternoon the rain stops and I dry out my tent. My kind hosts, Lorraine and Bruce have gone to Montréal to visit with their daughters so I spread the tent footprint and the fly over the front railings. I spend a little time working on strategies to lighten my load and manage to shed several pounds. Don’t ask.

I get lost on the way to Perfect Books for my first bookstore appearance. Still, I arrive at 5:30, an hour early. I’d met Jim yesterday and he ushers me in with my bike. We chat and he introduces me to Chris who will be in charge of the shop until closing. I really enjoy chatting with Chris over the course of the next couple hours. He’s funny and kind; thoughtful and open.

I don’t sit behind the little table that’s been provided. Instead, I join Chris greeting customers as they come in the door. Some are keen to avoid any sort of interaction but a good number patiently listen to me describe the book. They wish me good luck. A young woman named Kristi, who is looking for a publisher for her first book, buys a copy. One guy wants to talk bikes.

8pm and Chris locks up. I’m happy to learn that he has started reading ´Little Brudders’. That’s the beauty of independent bookstores. The owners and staff are avid readers. They are supportive of authors. They know their regulars and can help them find books that reflect their tastes and interests. They build relationships. Sure, it’s a business. But a business with passionate people who serve a community rather than corporate interests. If they don’t have it on the shelves they will order it and you’ll get it for the same price that Amazon is asking. But the prosperity of that exchange stays in the community.

That’s what a book is... or ought to be. A relationship between reader and writer - and often those knowledgeable people in independent bookstores who help connect them. I’ve witnessed the, perhaps, first sale of my book in a genuine bookstore. Chris says to call back in a couple of months, he seems confident he’ll sell the other nineteen copies. Here’s hoping.

Friday 10 June Back in the saddle. Another day of mixed surfaces. Nice bike paths by the Ottawa River. Highway Route 148. Route Verte provides ways around the dangerous sections of highway. The downside is rain-softened dirt farm roads instead. About 17 kilometres east of Shawville I turn onto the PPJ cycle path. Pontiac Pacific Junction - a railway serving the now spent iron ore mine and the lumber industry.

It’s crushed stone and a little soft from the rain. But it’s away from traffic. It doesn’t offer a lot of amenities along the route (like water) but I can follow it another 80 kilometres to Pembroke. I’ve passed no cyclists today except along the shore of the Ottawa. And nobody is going either way on the PPJ. So, I’m camped next to one of two picnic tables I’ve seen in the past 20 kilometres. A place to make breakfast.

Those of you who have read “The Little Brudders of Miséricorde” may notice I am traveling the direction of Spence’s journey back in time from his 60’s in Montréal, to his middle years in Vancouver, to his youth and childhood in Victoria. If I hadn’t written that portion of the book in reverse chronology, I’d have the wind at my back instead of in my face all day today.

Saturday 11 June Nice leisurely morning. Coffee and bannock. I ride the PPJ trail until 3 pm. Sunny. Some nice scenery. Late afternoon the thunder starts. At Waltham I have to go on the highway for a bit. The wind is blowing hard and I am drenched by rain. I miss the turn to get bike on the bike trail and end up riding Route 148 for 20k into Pembroke. No shoulder on the highway but not much traffic.

I pass a big blue sign: “Welcome to Ontario - Open for Business”. I’m all for the spirit of enterprise but can’t help feeling something more uplifting would be less crass.

I’m well within my budget for the week so I check into a motel. Decide to soak in a hot bath but the water is just tolerably warm. I don’t care. It beats sheltering in a tent for another rainy night.

Do some laundry and set things out to dry. Recharge all my electronic stuff. Sort through my gear, working out more strategies to lighten the load.

One week on the road. Five days in the saddle. 360k plus whatever distance puttering around Ottawa for two days. 2 nights in campgrounds, 3 nights in a backyard, 1 night wild camping, 1 day in a motel. My first bath in a week. I confess I am a little ripe. Rain again tomorrow.

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