Keith Snyder
Door always open.

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Biking Brossard

The Adirondack, Amtrak's New-York-to-Montréal train, does not have bike racks. I was told bike racks. I tell this to the man. The man and I are standing in a baggage car with a few pieces of luggage in it. It is otherwise a bare, rusty-looking cavern. I've never stood in a baggage car before, and I do not feel masculine doing it holding a bicycle with yellow pogies on the handlebars and complaining that there are no bike racks.

A taped, bike-sized box with a drawing of a bike printed on it leans against one iron wall.

You're supposed to break it down and box it, the man says. You're supposed to take it to the baggage counter.

I called two days ago, I say, and asked them what I was supposed to do, just to make sure, because the website says you can just roll it to the baggage car.

You're supposed to break it down and box it.

I called and they told me to roll it here.

(Exasperation with Them, but no surprise.) Well--lean it against this luggage. Turn it around so the gears don't--

Of course, because I rolled it to the baggage car like I wasn't supposed to, the man made me wait for all the other passengers to find their seats before helping the troublemaker. So rather than find a seat with a little tray-table and an A/C outlet, I sit facing a mother and her 11-year old daughter in one of those two-seats-facing-two-seats arrangements and don't get any work done.

The train ride was actually less unpleasant than it sounds, even considering that not a single toilet in any car had blue flushing liquid in it, and without that, nothing actually evacuates the bowl. So by the time we reached Montreal, let's just say they were full up, and the women on the train were wearing smiles that looked a little forced.

But the Hudson River Valley is beautiful when the leaves are changing, and it turned out the mother and daughter live on a tri-hull sailboat with a Huskie named Xena and are gearing up for a trip to Iceland. One can have worse seatmates.

I decided on Montréal for this one-man writers' retreat because I like it, round trip on the train costs $130, I found a hotel for $34/night in a suburb 10 miles out, and bringing the bike means there are no taxicab or bus fares and I get to have fun and exercise in between bouts of locking myself in my room and issuing sparks of genius from my smoking fingertips.

Well in advance of departure, I looked for bikes and bike paths in Montreal, on the Internet, and found something that said the Champlain Bridge had bike paths. But I couldn't quite tell whether it was the same Champlain Bridge that lies between the Montreal train station and my hotel in Brossard.

The thought you just had? About what I might be foreshadowing?The one that starts with "Uh oh...?" Way ahead of you. That's the same thought I was thinking while I rode around and around the area near the Champlain Bridge terminus (Montréal side) in the dark, alternately laughing, wondering where I was going to end up spending the night, and estimating how long my bladder could hold out.

Around and around... because the Yahoo Maps printout doesn't show bike paths. It doesn't even show bridge names or island names. It's all just "Turn Left on QC10, 2.6 miles."

Around and around... because even though I see the car lanes on the QC10, and there's no bike path running next to them, I'd feel like even more of an idiot if I gave up and it turned out later I was 12 yards from it the whole time.

Which, as it turned out, wasn't a bad thought. One random turn more, and--hey, what's a broken yellow line doing in the middle of this--

--bike path!

Where this bike path goes, I have no idea. Might go to Fiji. But zoom, in the dark, freshly charged TurboCat lighting up the path, freshly-batteried red blinkies flashing near my butt, and whoosh. Bike path.

So it meanders this way, and it jinks that way, and sometimes I'm not sure I'm still on it, and hey--road signs! Ile Notre Dame, THAT way.

That might be the island I want to go to, which spawns a second bridge that lands near my destination, or it might not. But since Yahoo Maps doesn't show island names, and the alternative is not to go to any Ile at all... zoom we go.

I'm not sure which water is the St. Lawrence and which is something else, but I suspect it's all the St. Lawrence. It's a clear night, and the path sometimes runs along the river's edge. Can't quite tell whether I'm island-hopping, but I think I might be. It's a nice night. I'm guessing 40 F., which is cold enough that the tights, tunic, and jacket are comfortable, and the pogies aren't too awfully warm, but far enough above freezing that I can crack the jacket zipper and let the breeze in.

When there's a breeze, that is. I stop a lot because the path signage is inconsistent and confusing. I have no idea which way I'm supposed to be going sometimes, and other times I'm not sure I'm still even on the path, or whether I've turned around and I'm heading for Albany. But hey, there's the yellow line again, and around this way, and back up that way, and then hit this map kiosk with the TurboCat beam and frown at it for a few minutes... yes, I'm going the right way, just hang a left, then curve southeast along whatever Ile this is, fork right... wait, where's the path... ah, it's a switchback, and here's the river!

And here's a closed gate!

With a padlock on it. And a sign. I don't read French, but I know what "15 novembre" means, and I know today is October 25.


Well, I may never make it to my hotel, but there are a couple of Andy Gumps sitting here in the dark next to this empty guardsman's shack or whatever it is, so at least the bladder issue can be addressed. No way in hell I'd actually pee IN these Andy Gumps--not only is the where-do-I-put-my-feet issue complicated in the dark, but I'm not leaving my laptop out on my bike while... well, let me just quote a gun instructor I once had: "There's nothing in the world more useless than a man standing with his face to a wall and his penis in his gun hand." But the presence of these two plastic johns still makes this a place for urination--but no sooner do I wheel the bike over and turn off the blinkies than I hear a clink behind me, and there's a 40ish guy in a jacket coming through the gate and locking it behind him.

Is there another way across?

No, he says.

If you were me, I say, and you wanted to get to Brossard on a bike, what would you do?

He sweeps a hand vaguely upriver and names another bridge, 15 kilometers away. Take you longer to detour than just to wait here, he says.

Since I have no intention of waiting until November 15, I change the wording of the question.

He repeats the same answer. Take you longer to detour than just to wait.

I stand and think, but that doesn't help. It rarely does.

Wait for what? I finally ask.

He points. Boat coming through.

It's a drawbridge. It's not closed for the season. It's closed so a boat can pass by. It closed 30 seconds before I came around the switchback. What the sign says is that it's open UNTIL 15 novembre.

The dim white shape I finally recognize as a boat is the QUEBECOIS, out of somewhere north, full of something in bulk--wheat, ore--possibly bound for Toronto. The entire center section of the bridge has been hoisted straight up like a levitating playing card--I can see it now that I understand what I'm looking at in the dark--and the QUEBECOIS is inching toward it. Until it stops inching and just sits there. As do I and another bicyclist who's arrived.

The gateman takes a call from the control room, which is across the river and has blue windows. Something wrong with the boat, maybe something with its balance. Whatever, they lower the bridge section and he unlocks the gate, and the other bicyclist and I pedal slowly behind him as he walks across and unlocks the other side, and then whoosh-zoom, into the dark again, thinking how awful a death it is to be crushed by the bridge gears, as the gateman told me happened to one of two old ladies out walking last year, on another bridge. No gate.

Is there a gate now? I asked him. He snorted and nodded.

So whoosh. I think I'm headed toward Brossard because the gateman pointed in its general direction--and then there's a leg-pumping uphill, and then a braking descent on the other side of the overpass, and directly above this set of very clever metal baffles that forces you to slow down instead of zooming out onto the street after the downhill, there are more road signs--and one says BROSSARD. Sometimes God smiles.

Then there's an interlude while I get directions from a guy walking his dog. The high point is when he says turn onto Boulevard Rome, and I say turn left? and he says you can only turn left, there's a river. So he sets me off toward a particular highway service road that will take me to another road that will take me where I'm going, but when I get to the service road--there's the bike path again! God smiles.

So zoom.

The bike path doesn't actually lead to the door of my hotel, but it passes within, say, three stones' throws of it. I amuse the clerk, walking in out of the dark with a bicycle and a reservation.

Train station to hotel: 2.5 hours. Should get it down to one hour when I figure out the bike paths.

Tomorrow starts the real writing. For now, the big trauma is that there are no napkins in my room, so I'm eating my takeout calzone with Kleenex.

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