July 3, 2014
Often have I looked covetously at the straight lines and gentle grades of the rail lines and dreamed about cycling along them instead of the winding, hilly roads. Today my yearning was answered. I spent the majority of the day on the Prescott-Russell trail, which takes you from Ottawa to the Quebec border. With finely crushed gravel, it’s a little slower than pavement but without a car in sight, worth every bit of the extra energy required. Cycling behind farmers’ fields and through forests took me back to cycling the Erie Canal a few years ago. It’s a little like exploring places through the back door or alley as the towns and villages are not oriented towards your path. The difference between the canal and the rail trail is that there are still little villages located along the canal which was not the case today. With the advent of the automobile, passenger travel by train died and slowly the villages dedicated to rail disappeared or developed towards the highway. For example, I passed a natural springs resort that at one time had three hotels and attending infrastructure. Today only open fields remained and a marker of a different time. All to say, I actually found the rail trail kind of lonesome, haunted by people and place no more.
As I’m heading towards Quebec, my lack of French occupies me more. It’s not just a matter of not knowing the language but being another anglophone who doesn’t speak French. In the history of English French relations in Canada, English ruled the day so I’m particularly conscious of the privilege of not needing to learn French even in an officially bilingual country. I’ll admit to finding it rather embarrassing. And it got me thinking about my self presentation again. Early in the trip I realized I needed to preface my answer to where I’m from with “I’m from Ontario but I currently live in Boston.” Just to say Boston made people curious about why an American would be cycling across Canada. A combination of pride and inferiority-complex makes Canadians very interested in US interactions with Canada. Traveling through Quebec, I wonder whether it would be to my benefit not to correct peoples’ assumptions about my origins. You can’t really hold it against an American for not knowing French. Quebec may turn out to be a great opportunity to contemplate privilege, guilt, and so on.
Road Report: ~116km
The Prescott-Russell trail does not enter Ottawa yet but is a great way to get to Quebec. At the border, get off the trail even is it looks like it keeps on going to Riguad. It becomes a bone rattler only fit for an ATV and some sturdy mountain bikes. The rest of the trail is generally good but probably too soft for road bikes.