Day 71: Linwood to Sherbrooke (93.5 km)
So, that was awful. In fact, that was a strong contender for the hardest, cruellest day of the whole trip. You wonder why you get out of bed sometimes, don’t you?
It rained all night. Loud, battering rain and gusting wind blew my tent around like a skiff in a storm. Despite having my earplugs in I was awaken throughout the night by the combination of frightful dreams and the weather pounding of my little green home.
By breakfast time the tent was sodden and any shuffling inside caused water to seep in. Sipping my coffee in the tent porch, it did not appear to actually be raining but the air was so thick with moisture that it was hard to tell. I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss packing up a wet tent.
I wound out of the campground under a gloomy sky. The wind shook the trees wildly. I stopped to take a photo of the drizzly ocean front but the water fogged up my lens immediately and the camera couldn’t focus. Only a few more pedal strokes down the road and a violent gust of wind blasted Monty a meter into the road. We would need to be careful.
We joined the main highway. The wind, which was supposed to be pushing us south, appeared to have changed direction. A strong, cold crosswind slowed our progress to a miserable crawl. Trucks rumbled by with an engine roar and a spray of cold water.
Turning off the highway onto quieter roads, my mood did not improve much. The wind now should have been at my back but it seemed to twist and turn in the air, punching violently in all directions. The rain, a slow, steady drizzle, continued relentlessly. The sky was a melancholy grey. I tried to remain upbeat by singing to myself. It did not work. I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss cycling in cold, wind and rain.
Eventually I pulled into a community playground and hid under a small shelter. I remember my mother’s wise words: “Do whatever you need to do to not be miserable.” I called a B&B. They were full.
I spied the colourful shapes of the playground, knowing that a climbing frame makes an excellent place to hang a tent. It was still raining but the rain is finer than it was when my tent got soaked. I contemplated whether my tent would get drier in thin rain given that it is currently sodden. I then contemplated what my life has become that I am sat in a deserted playground contemplating whether things can dry out in the rain.
My stomach growled. So I ate the usual fare of avocado, crackers and apple. And then quickly polished off the rest of my M&Ms. I was now getting cold. I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss having to wolf down lunch before the hypothermia sets in.
I looked up the distance to the campground. 37km. That’s not too far in sunshine. But it is a mission in the cold, wet and wind. Now there is just the road, the rain, me and my demons. The demons are yelling “give in!” But how? Where? I can’t give in you stupid demons because I’m alone in the middle of nowhere.
I stick in my headphones to block out the irrational demons and pedal off. I pass a cheese factory, a Christmas tree farm, and a fish hatchery. The rest of the time I just pass mundane tree, ordinary house, and average side road.
I approach a car that is pulled up, indicators flashing. At first it looks like the man is hustling a large tree into the side door. As I cycle past I notice a body: fresh, new trainers and a large denim-clad rear lying on the ground. I wonder if the body is alive for it looks to be in the recovery position. My instinct is to stop but then I remember I am alone. Why wouldn’t you flag down a car if your friend (?) was medically compromised and lying on the ground? Why would you put on your indicator lights if you were hiding a dead body?
I reached the 7,500 kilometre mark on my bicycle odometer. I brake to stop for a celebratory snack, bash into a rock hidden in the earth and tumble from my bike in slow motion, bruising my bum as I fall.
Finally I arrive into the town of Sherbrooke. It looks like a nice town. Monty and I pull up outside the grocery store. Hmm. The door won’t open. I try again. I try a different door. I check the opening hours, I see people inside. Then a woman inside comes to the door: “We’ve only just turned the cash registers on from the power cut. We’ll be open again in 30 minutes.”
I pedal to the campsite. Thankfully it has stopped raining but the wind is kicking up a storm. I am greeted friendlily enough but then directed to what appears to be the windiest spot on the whole campsite. I tie a length of rope to a tree for a washing line and am struggling with my tent when an old gentleman walks over with a strawberry icecream cone and the air of someone with too much time on their hands.
“Where’d you bike from?”
Oh no, not now. My tent is impersonating a wind sock, twisting and flapping as it is caught in the ferocious teeth of the wind.
“Where you from? Oh England. I have an uncle in Manchester.”
The story of his uncle is lost in the wind as the flapping crash of the tent drowns out his words. I want to yell: “I’m cold, I’m hungry, my socks are soaked, my tent is soaked and I just want to dry this thing out so I can go back town and buy my own bodyweight in whisky and chocolate. In short I DON’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU.”
I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss “the conversation” (ie the exact same questions asked about my bike trip multiple times per day).
As I wrote this a woman came to my tent:
“Hello? Are you sleeping? Hello? You there with the bicycle.”
I unzip my tent flap.
“I thought you might be cold so I bought you a hot drink.” Hands over cup. “It’s hot chocolate.”
Faith in life is restored.
Addendum to the addendum:
I drank half the delicious hot chocolate, adding in some Baileys that I had purchased on my return trip to town. But then I go for another sip and the cup slips from my hand, throwing delicious Irish cream flavoured hot chocolate goodness over my shoes and camping mat.
Today is the cruellest day.