The Bicycle Chronicles by Charlie Gregory
Chapter Three On The Road
When I started out in the bike world my knowledge of bicycles was limited to those I had owned and ridden over the previous two decades or so. Julia and I road bikes in country settings, for fitness and entertainment. While living on Settlers Line overlooking Rice Lake (year 2000s) my habit was to take a bike in the truck to a flatter area north of our farm house as the farm was situated in a location that we were unable to ride on due to the steep hills. I would drive the truck down the hill on the Base Line then turn right at the bottom of the hill on the road below the Blinkhorn property where Base Line becomes Nelson Road. Then I would park the truck under the Osprey nest that never fails to attract its share of birds each spring. From this less hilly vantage point I would push the pedals on the Norco Katmandu now heading north and after a couple of hundred yards driving through a flat flood zone bordered by rock strewn fallow fields I would make a left onto Allandale Road past the neat antique sign on the Morgan spread below the Walkers Mansion then keep pedalling as the road curved against the natural bend of the Indian River into Lang Village. At Lang Road I would make a slight right where it runs into Lang Pioneer Village and Museum and turns into North Lang road watching as it veers right and becomes Hopes Mill Road at the single lane bridge at the old Kingdon house then past our old stone house owned by Professor Gist across from Hopes Mill sawmill and the former Hopes Mill Conservation Area then up a difficult gravelly rise then eventually a left turn onto River Road that follows the Indian River as it meanders along a pine and cedar tree shaded gravel roadway, past the rotting cedar with the big bees nest inside. A mile or so up River Road joins David Fife line the road named after the person who had Red Fife Wheat named after them, this road would pass the other side of the Indian River after crossing a small bridge where a out of the way Go Kart track was in various stages of demise, across from the Kart Track the water lapped up to the roads edge and at times folk would drive their vehicles into the shallow rock strewn river bed and wash them! It was a few years before this practice was stopped by the local conservationists. The gravel road was difficult to ride on. There is some recollection that I was on a bit of a fitness curve in those days and I found that bike riding suited me. This would be my routine work out two or three times a week, by the end of the season I was able to make it up to Highway 7 and back to the Osprey nest with out too much pain afterwards.
Nogies Creek, Gods Country
When the children, Cassidy and Jade were younger we would carry them on carriers attached to the back of our bikes up to when they were five years old or so. At one point (year 1995) we lived in Gods Country by Nogies Creek having found a rural property on 50 acres that backed onto thousands of acres of Crown Land. It was Divine. We had experienced a taste of rural life over the years but not to the degree that total privacy provided. As well as enjoying the bliss of living on the land we took a serious news block out for a one year period of time. I forget how this came about, no doubt swayed by some idea found in New Age thinking, perhaps from our reading course, at the time the Celestial Prophecies by James Redford had some influence on us. We were oblivious to all news and that particular penance if you will created a huge improvement in our spiritual being. Our studies were basically of East Indian orientation with at first a large dose of Paramahansa Yogananda and then we majored in Sai Baba’s teachings, they were heady times. How Sai Baba presented himself to me is an entire other story.
A steep driveway led up to our retreat, the land changed dramatically from the road to where the home and barn were located. There was a gradual rise in the earth of fourty or fifty feet from the road to the land the buildings were located on. A flat spot of land about twenty acres in all, then at the back there was a natural pond and then a forest of mixed trees that led to thick woods. Going down that roadway towards the street called Tully Road we kept the bicycle brakes on as to avoid picking up too much speed. The little road would wander by patio light festooned simple one story seasonal cottages. Around the bend at Nogies Cree it then passed a wood frame ramshackle home that my mom would call ‘Kentucky’ then we would go left and turn south on Bass Lake Road towards Highway 36, past the reclusive Count and Countesses shambles of a property where a hundred cats were said to live. There was a small resort where we parked the boat and then we would cross the highway and go East on Highway 36 past Pirates Cove Bait, Boat Rentals and Variety towards a country road named Mill Road.
The kids safely on the back of the bikes our legs just warming up, Julia was riding an expensive for the day Raleigh Explorer all terrain bike that would not quit, my Norco Katmandu never received any service, it was built so well. Heading south on Mill Road for about a mile we passed tidy rural properties on one and two acre lots, at the end of the road there was a five or ten acre estate with a huge mature shaded home, a holdover from the 30s or 40s, there was a low stone and wrought iron fence around the property, I would always remark that no one was ever there! It fronted on Pigeon Lake and made everything else along the lake shore look mediocre in comparison. These trips were taken through the week in the evenings after dinner, we would get home, exhausted before dark, by that summers end we were fit enough to ride the bikes with the kids on the back in their seats right up our driveway.
As a boy I recall dad bringing me a used fat tire Schwinn type bike when I was eight or so. Neighbourhood kids, Buddy Walford and Teddy Leopold were far better at repairing bikes than I was, for some reason us Gregorys had soft hands we were not particularly mechanical by nature. Frequently I tell this to folks who find it a surprise as I learned how to get dirty and not worry about it while working on bikes beginning in 2009. Earlier in life, when it was necessary to fix a brake line or replace a starter or generator on a car I managed to learn the skills required though I must admit I did not then nor now understand much more than the rudimentary turning of the bolts. In my tenth year two shiny red bicycles showed up at our house on Victoria Boulevard in the area of Toronto called Mount Dennis. Toronto was split up into sections, it still is just most of us old folks aren’t around to call our areas by their given names anymore. South from us on Weston Road the area is called the Stockyards further south there is the Junction while north from us on that same Weston Road it is called Weston, there is Swansea, High Park, Roncesvalles, Etobicoke, Rexdale, Rosedale, Lawrence Park, Forest Hill and plenty of other areas in that big city.
Getting back to those two shiny bikes. It was the Eatons of Canada Company that delivered the bikes for Alex and I in one of their big dark blue delivery trucks. Funny thing all I can remember about them two bikes is that they were always broke, either the gears stopped working or the brake pads didn’t work or the chain was falling off each bike. They never made it to the next year and boy I believe my dad was pretty pissed off about that.
East Coast Caravan
In the fall of 2002, I packed my Ford Ranger pickup truck, turned it into a sleeping caravan by adding a raised bunk to sleep on in three quarters of the back section. Supplies were kept to the right along with a blue medical urine jug. Along the way I purchased a short wave radio to pick up stations around the world, I still have that radio, a Grundig. My destination was Cape Breton. A few years earlier as a family we had cruised through it much to quickly and I wanted a better feel for the place, in the off season, away from the tourists who crowd the roads, motels and restaurants in the summer, I wanted to see Cape Breton without them getting in my hair. As part of the project I kept good notes and took many photos which turned into a book of sorts after the journey, a book I have just found after many years in a shelf. The photos I have were printed on a home printer and they have begun to fade as many photos tend to do using that process… I may have been using a 35mm camera on this trip having had the film developed, then scanned into a computer then larger images would have been printed. I have had a lot of cameras over the years so in this regard I may be mistaken.
That first day I managed to drive over 800 km, stopping for a bike ride at Ivy Lea on the famous Thousand Islands Parkway an area I was familiar with from vacations and some work related matters. There was a very strong west blowing wind that hampered my riding efforts, spoiled from being able to ride in near perfect conditions I did not go far. There were other riders that day struggling as well with the conditions, a light yet driving rain convinced me to pack up and throw the Norco back on top of the truck cap and secure the bungees. Kayakers were having difficulty getting out of their craft on the St Lawrence River as the wind pounded them as well. The two men I watched were in tremendous condition yet they were no match for the wind as it plowed their craft into the rocks, my purpose was to observe, and if needed to lend a hand I would be able to do so.
Years earlier when Cassidy was a newborn we had rented an architect designed cottage on one of the islands out from Ivy Lea. Jack Hamilton and his family visited us from Thunder Bay where he was stationed as Head of Train Wrecks for the CP rail, he and his wife Darlene Julias sister had two children Danny was Christines age around 11 and Jenny would have been a toddler which made for some good company for Christine. Our boat was primarily for fishing but we had a tow rope and a big colourful tube to pull the kids around on. For some reason Big Jack was not in favour of Danny getting in this tube, eventually he relented and acted as the spotter in the boat it was all very good. That night I remember having this incredibly tender Roast Beef dinner, I don’t think it was an expensive cut, a Rump Roast, a large one, with all the trimmings. It was nice to share time with Jack and Darlene and their children. The fishing was not very good, middle of summer, I did not know the spots to go to, however the sturdy comfortable boat took us all over the Thousand Islands, gawking at the rich places, sneaking into Alexandria Bay to buy liquor, this was pre 911, bet you can’t do that any longer, one very interesting entrepreneurial enterprise was seen out in the middle of the big river…Some young kids had turned a house boat/barge into a floating hot dog wagon, they called it The Dog Haus, boats would pull up to it, rope off and a pretty tanned girl in a bikini and kerchief would come take your order..Only In America!
Back to the Cape Breton Trip…the green Ford Ranger pulled into a Quebec Highway tourist rest stop for the night, I was exhausted, I hopped into the back of the truck and had a good nap, 800 km is a long ride. A couple of young travelers pitched a tent behind the washroom/vending machine facility, nobody bothered them. I was already seeing a more loose society, a friendlier place than Ontario in my opinion. Once I got off the major highways every little town I drove through had a rest station with picnic tables, a welcoming sign, an out house and I thought this great to be welcome somewhere. There are a lot of small villages on the St Lawrence River. Near Riviere du Loup the truck acted up, it would not start, the CAA guy came and gave the starter a smack with a hammer, I followed him to a reputable garage in Ilse V’erte where of all things they were closing for lunch, before closing they advised me to go pick up a new starter about 15 miles back in Riviere Du Loup at an auto parts shop that was also closing for lunch, in broken English the owner of the shop told me that’s how it was. I drove back and that new starter was waiting for me on the doorstep of the shop, the shop was closed, Ford Ranger was written on the box.
I had to wait my turn for the mechanic to service the truck, install the new starter so I took the Norco off the camper top and told them to go ahead when they had time as I was going for a bike ride. The great thing about this trip is that there were no time obligations nor were there any specific destinations, I was just out for a trip, and experience, living in my truck that had been outfitted as a camper, this self sufficiency was at times a hassle and the temptation to eat meals out was always there but I knew myself well enough to know that I could have some rules and stick to them. My legs were weary after all the driving, I found myself on a flat road leading to the St Lawrence river, when I got to the river two older men in their early 70s were fishing with long bamboo poles, no reels, attached to the pole was a length of heavy nylon fishing line, attached to the nylon was a gang hook, attached to this gang hook were a half dozen small wiggly red worms about a half inch long, finally there was a four or five inch length of line that held a good size triangle shaped lead weight. The fisherman would set the line over the raised platform into the water and within minutes a squirming smelt like fish would be brought up to the deck where it was taken off the hook and then tossed into a five gallon bucket with the other fish already there rolled on their side gulping for air. The hooks would be re wormed and the man would again set the line into the water, I noticed that the tide was out. There was a natural rhythm to what they were doing and I wondered if I would have these same chances later in life to enjoy my days in this same fashion. A little ways further up from the fishing pier I stopped to read the signage at a Habitat Wildlife station, I learned that snow geese migrated in this area in the spring when hundreds of thousands of them would come here from the far north to winter, this time of year they had all returned to their traditional homes. Over to the right of this small building there was a privately operated barge service that would take you over to the other side of the river for $6. It looked as if about six to ten cars could travel on the barge in one direction. What was on the other side a few miles away, I will never know, more small villages, lives that were intertwined with the fishing industry, craftsmen, weavers, bakers, brick layers, auto mechanics.
Heading back towards town, it was a scant mile or so down the same road the bike came to a halt at a small main street where a dozen shops shared the road. Besides a couple of hair salons there was a funeral home, a deppanier which is a grocery store, an Eglise which is a church, an Ecole which is a school, the General Goods store caught my eye as it reminded me of the shop in the classic Canadian film Mon Oncle Antoine. There were two full windows separated by the entranceway. Each window was displaying items for sale, in the left window the display included a light coloured, perhaps Oak roll top desk as well as a ornate floor lamp and a well made ladder back chair in the same tone as the desk, heavy thick curtains in a deep green set the stage for the display as did a round colourful braided rug. The right window was set up with kitchen items, a set of modern European style chrome table and chairs and an array of kettles also in shiny chrome in various sizes, the same green curtains were used as a backdrop, instead of carpet a piece of vinyl separated the wooden floor to give the impression of a kitchen. The shop was quiet and I assumed it too was closed for lunch. There was a small sign that said Ferme/Closed in both lanquages a tiny cat lurked behind the thin curtain. I watched the noon time bustle on the street which really was not very bustling, a few shopkeepers and clerical types were seen leaving the Café with packed lunches in paper sacks and beverages in take out cups. As usual the shop keepers were well dressed, having been to Quebec on many other trips I had always observed the degree of style that our francophone neighbours have in comparison to what some might think our more casual approach to daily dress.
When I got back to the garage around 2PM on highway #132 at Isle V’erte the truck was waiting for me in the parking area. One of the mechanics helped me load the bike onto the top of the truck. I paid the bill, left a small tip for the mechanic and shook their hands then continued the journey. I was not far from the Gaspesie region and there was plenty of sun light hours to enjoy the river side road, the small towns along the way.
That drive to Gaspe` is as spectacular as the road to Tofino Bristish Columbia. Although it was the end of the season there were still a lot of tourists in Gaspe`, visitors and the like. I only stayed long enough to observe the scene as I was intent on making up for lost time and drove until quite dark before pulling over for a sleep. In the morning I passed through Campbellton, New Brunswick and headed towards Fredericton and points beyond including Bathurst a logging centre and mill town that I had stayed for some time back in the year 1969. After seeing the shuttered Gloucester Hotel in Bathurst my memories of the town were diminished, upon seeing many closed shops on the main street I could not help but recollect the busy place it had been in the summer of 1969. I proceeded on towards Nova Scotia, cutting through odd named towns like Nigadoo and Buctouche, Beresford along The Bay of Chaleur…a long rough washboard like bumpy patch of road south of Bathurst had an adverse affect on the Ford Ranger, I lost most of my brake pressure, I pulled over and could see a leak coming from one of the back lines, I still had pretty good front brakes, so I carried on, just at a slower pace. There was little traffic on the road, in fact at times I was the only person on them. I decided to carry on past Sackville New Brusnswick as long as I was comfortable, I had figured out how to stop the truck and kept far back from any other traffic in order to avoid an accident. By night fall, I had entered into Nova Scotia and had found a small municipal park on the outskirts of Pugwash to camp in overnight, a sing at the entrance warned visitors to keep their food and garbage in their vehicle as bears roamed the area. As it was near dark when I pulled in I hurriedly cooked some fresh provisions purchased in a local store and had a rest, worried of course about the outcome of this latest mechanical set back.
Early the next day I set out again driving cautiously stopping for gas in Wallace where I ran into a character who operated the local gas station, he advised me to forget the idea of moving east and getting a job, he said, “the only people here who work are either working in the fish plants or catching the fish, she’s closed up, everyone has moved away from the area, abandoned it, why, I can’t even sell half the properties I own round here, and they’re going for a good price, gall darn!” He did me a favour this man did, he had an appointment for 8:30 to have an alignment done on his car at the Tatamagouche U A P store up the road a ways. He called there and told them I was coming and would they help me out. I felt better knowing there was a garage that was able to look at the broken Ford. When I got to the garage at opening time, exactly 8:30 a man wearing glasses waved me right in onto a hoist, raised it up after I took the Norco down from the cap roof. Within minutes the mechanic Gaeton had figured out what to do, I was correct a brake line had snapped from the bumpy road and the rust on the line just near the back left wheel. It was not an enormous job, with parts the cost would be between one and two hundred dollars. I said see you later and I went for a spin on the bike passing by big homes then homes on big lots with very tidy long white trailers, then another big wooden home another trailer, a brick house with nice fencing on a one acre lot, most of the homes having piles of unstacked fire wood stacked on the lawn, some split some still in lengths, ready for the cold winter ahead.
I parked the Norco bicycle out front of a cute place called the Chowder House that had blue and white table cloths and a tall dessert display case full of pies, they served breakfast and I was hungry. Characters could be heard chatting back and forth from table to table, yakking about neighbours one conversation went like this, an older woman sitting at a two seater table was asked how her husband Orville was making out after his fall, she said, “he’s home now, he got out of the hospital on Saturday night, heeee’s some tiiiiired, what a pain in the arse he is, wish he’d stayed in the hospital another few days! I was some worried wedder he would make it or not but I thinks he’s going to be OK.” The woman she was telling this to, nodded and told the other lady she would pray to Jesus for a speedy recovery for him. “Suuuurre, thanks a bunch we could use dem prayers, ya can never get enough prayers.”
I never got the bike down off that truck again on the trip. In Cape Breton I was amazed at the glorious scenery, at one point while driving uphill on the famous Cabot Trail roadway not far from Cape North two full size moose ran along side the truck at one point, they turned their heads and looked in the window then headed back into the thick growth. I would have been a gonner if they had come onto the road. My idea was to mix with local folk which I did, I watched a rich man pull his fancy sail boat out of the water at the town dock in Baddeck, I spoke for some time with one man who ran an oyster farm in a bay near Ingonish, I met fishermen and fisherwoman who were cleaning fish and throwing the heads to the hundreds of squaking gulls flying above, an attractive woman named Monique wearing a white headscarf in her jet black hair who worked on the boats posed for me to the heckling of her ship mates. The sea and sky were indeterminable they wore a colour of blue like I had never seen before, there was a calmness to it. I proudly slept one night on the beach at Cape North where it is said John Cabot discovered Canada. .………………………………………………………………………………………Excerpts of the Cape Breton portion of this story were taken from a previously unpublished photo essay/journal titled ‘A Fall Journey’…as mentioned, I could not be sure which camera I was shooting with until I rewrote the part about the girl with the white kerchief in her hair, and I could for just one moment recall holding that big imposing Canon SLR camera..I kept an exact account of the monies spent on that trip of nine days. In total I put 5,279 km on the green truck. Cash output not including the repairs was only $620.15 of which $392.85 was for fuel. There was not a drink had the entire trip, costs were kept down as well because I prepared almost every meal on the camp stove. I knew it was time to come home when I awoke near Baddeck one morning and the windshield was iced up. From time to time I long to return to the East Coast