After reading through my posts for this tour, a couple of things become clear. First, we really needed a vacation. After a stressful 14 months dealing with not only the pandemic, but also the stress and sadness of losing Sonia's parents, this tour was so necessary to remind and reassure us that we could rekindle the sense of adventure a bicycle tour brings.
But on a related note, it was simply too short. We were happy to have a day off after Day 8, but normally, our return home would have been only the midway point of a tour, and while it's always nice to come home, I think both of us would gladly have continued on indefinitely. And indeed, we are planning for an even longer-than-usual tour once the world opens up again. If Sonia and I have learned anything from our experience together, and from the last year in particular, it is that life is too short to "wait until retirement."
This morning, I read through my blog entries for the 2019 tour, and it is clear that the 2021 tour, while really lovely, just doesn't compare. Quebec is an astonishingly beautiful province, and even though it has one of the best bicycling networks in North America, exploring it by bicycle is much more challenging than Europe, and simply not as pleasant. For sure, one part of this is that we are from here, so it seems less exotic; but another but part is the infrastructure (both cycling and railway), the greater distances between towns, and the fewer accommodation options. On our European tours, we have been able to change plans on a whim, which, in my opinion, really adds to the "make your own adventure" feel of the trip. In Quebec, while we did not book anything in advance, we were more or less confined to a fixed route. I shouldn't blame it all on the province, though. Stronger, braver cyclists willing to stealth camp or endure more dubious lodgings would probably have the time of their lives.
But I also don't want to make it sound like we didn't enjoy the trip. We absolutely had an amazing time—by far the best of the three tours we have done in North America. Touring in the spring is the best. We started just as the leaves were coming in, many of the flowering trees were in full bloom, the sound of migrating songbirds was a constant soundtrack, the air was clean and fresh, and the sense of renewed optimism was palpable throughout the trip. The landscapes were truly breathtaking; we crossed what seemed like hundreds of bridges over waterways large and small; with a few exceptions, the bike paths we travelled on were extremely well maintained; we encountered some lovely people; we camped successfully for the first time in years; we challenged ourselves physically; and we returned home mentally refreshed, with nary a thought of work to disturb us.
A couple of highlights: the 75-kilometre stretch from Rivière-à-Pierre to Quebec City is exceedingly beautiful, especially the northern section. If you want to feel like you're in the middle of nowhere on a bike, this is a pretty good spot for it. And the 150-kilometre stretch between Quebec City and Richmond—with the exception of a few stretches where the bike path runs parallel to Route 116—is unfailingly lovely and at times, an absolute delight. I would do either sections again in a heartbeat.
Other observations: the camping was not an unmitigated success, but nor was it disastrous. I'm not sure we will want to go on a tour where this was the only sleeping option, but I could see us doing it again on a similar kind of trip. The gear (NEMO Aurora 2-person tent and NEMO lightweight inflatable sleeping pads) worked very well. But setting up camp after a long day of riding turned out to be a little more work than our middle-aged bodies prefer. One thing we did enjoy was having the Crux Lite camping stove available to make tea. I think that this will become part of our regular touring kit, even in Europe. The stove weighs almost nothing, and a single fuel canister (which are readily available everywhere), for the purposes of making tea at least, would probably last weeks.
And so we turn our attention to planning the next trip, which will take place in the spring of 2022 with any luck.