The void and the full
May 26 - June 26, 2022
My friend B. writes me a text message to tell me that my blog is interesting, but that it is "very Zen oriented, anyway". And that, "for us poor infidels, it's also nice to have the daily life of a cyclist!
My dear B., here it is.
May 26th. After spending some time with my friends at Bard University, I head north to Albany, the capital of New York State. From there, the Erie Canal begins and you can drive along it for almost 600 km to Buffalo.
The border city of Buffalo is best known for its Chicken Wings and the famous Niagara Falls, which are well worth a visit. You can admire them from above, on the American side or from the front, on the Canadian side. Lake Erie flows into Lake Ontario through the Niagara River. And the three famous waterfalls (Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls) mark a difference in altitude of 57 meters.
In Buffalo, I start using Warmshower for lodging. An app dedicated to cyclo travelers.
Members of this community come from all over the world and invite you to their homes to spend the night. In general, it's the assurance of a friendly meal, a hot shower and a comfortable space to sleep. You can also do your laundry there.
The downside? There is none. That's the beauty of it. But when you rely on the generosity of people on a trip, it's natural to want to give back. And it works! It's up to the one who will cherish the most his guest whose precarious poverty is known.
As far as I'm concerned, before enjoying a silky bed and a nice company, I spend about a week bivouacking in the nature.
My life in the open
I get up with the day. I get out of my meat bag and sit in zazen for 40 minutes (sorry B.).
Then, I prepare a strong coffee with the help of my stove and eat cereals compacted in bars with dried fruits. If I still have some food left over from the day before, so much the better. It takes me a good 30 minutes to pack up.
My bike is equipped with a USB-C connection to the front wheel dynamo. The battery of my iPhone is always 100% charged and this way, I can navigate freely on GoogleMap or Komoot, without worrying about economy.
If the day is too sunny, my phone lets me know and displays a text message that due to too high temperature, it is no longer able to perform its functions. I try to be inventive and make a sunshade for it.
I live in the open air in a small space that moves in the immensity of the world. Every inch of my dashboard must be exploited. Using bits of rope and salvaged metal parts, I attach the most useful objects: headgear, mirror, bell, speedometer, Go Pro, etc.
During the first kilometers, I find a place to fill my three water bottles. This may seem like a small detail, but many parts of the United States or Canada are poor in drinking water. Most of the time, I end up asking people in front of their houses. But I always wait for a sign from them before I cross their property line.
Often, the road is dozens of kilometers long between two towns. Getting food requires a minimum of anticipation. Unlike in France, where every village has its own bakery, fishmonger, creamery, etc., here, people shop in the hypermarkets of huge shopping centers. This is a problem for me, because I can't leave my bike parked in front of it and risk having it stolen. Then with all my bags... So for several weeks, I live essentially on the food provided by the gas stations. I lost weight - 7 kg in 2 months.
Then one day, I decide to enter a hypermarket with my loaded bike. It doesn't seem to bother anyone. Since then, my diet is more varied.
In the first weeks, the average distance covered was 80 km. Today, it is around 90 km. I'm not a little proud because I ride against the wind which goes from west to east. I pass travelers on their bikes. None of them are going in my direction. It is ignorance that led me to this situation.
At the stroke of 4 pm, I start to locate the next town that will welcome me for the night. Using my index finger and thumb, I zoom in on my phone screen to find a park or picnic area. Finding a spot requires both gumption and instinct. You have to find the balance between safety, comfort and discretion. And if there's a watering hole, even better. When it rains, it's a different matter. I'm leaning towards a baseball field because there is always a covered area and a bathroom that closes after a certain time.
In addition to the vastness of these great spaces, the Canadian and American lakes are a godsend. It is very easy to find a piece of beach to pitch your tent. But above all, it is the promise of a bath at the end of the day in very clear water. On the way out, beware of mosquitoes that work in team with horse flies and deer flies!
I make my lunch - which could be more creative. I set up my tent and set off to tie my food bag high up, about 15-20 meters from my tent. This precaution is strongly recommended by the locals to avoid the intrusion of bears, wolves, raccoons or cougars. The slightest noise is a pretext for hallucinations.
When the day falls in the night, I enclose myself and update my logbook.
Loneliness in the great outdoors
On June 6, I cross the Peace Bridge in Buffalo to reach Canada.
The plan is to reach Sault-Ste-Marie which marks the beginning of Lake Superior, passing by Manitoulin Island. The road will be long.
The first days in the country are very rainy. I fight against the wind, which according to the locals, is particularly formidable this year. The effort adds weight to the loneliness which starts to be felt.
I miss the sangha, my family, my friends. I grew up and have always lived in a community or in a shared house. The solitary life does not inspire me particularly. I like the company of people and generally avoid being alone for too long.
But here, it's a real confrontation.
This trip also marks a break in my love life. I am struggling to convert affliction into fuel.
"In moments of doubt as in moments of difficulty, come back to the present moment. These words of my father, the day of my departure, come back to me often and are a support. Only... it is not easy.
I follow roads with repetitive landscapes. That crystallizes my torments. Huge trucks cross each other on both sides of the yellow and discontinuous line that separates the lanes. Their passage is powerful and maintains me in a constant vigilance.
Sometimes, a bald eagle flies in my direction for several hundred meters. Its shadow on the ground testifies to its size. Emblem of the United States symbolizing strength and freedom, for me, it is the comforting companion in the flat moments when I find myself delivered to the deep waters. Chimeras of all kinds appear in these dark places. I cannot describe them, name them or even interpret their presence. And yet, they are familiar to me. The sun knocks me out. Sweat drips into my eyes.
In these interior entrenchments, the notions of beginning and end do not exist. Time stretches in all 8 directions.
Painful moments and moments of grace follow one another. It is alive, necessary. It is the inner journey that begins.
To extract myself from these dreamy moments, I listen to a book.
Manitoulin Island and McGregor Bay
After having traveled 550 km from Buffalo, I take a ferry that takes me to Manitoulin Island. Then I head north to Little Current. Here, a permaculture farm offers Wwoofing. It consists in working 4 hours a day, in exchange of food and lodging. I'm happy to find about ten young people there (yes, I count myself among them). The place is also part of the Warshowers community and offers one or two yurts for rent on Airbnb.
Some of them have settled there for several years. They have a job and participate in their own way to the community life. One couple has even bought an adjoining house to continue to participate in the project.
Justin and his mother Corinne run this unusual place on Heron Lake. It's beautiful. She shows me around and gives me a large tent of 5 or 6 square meters in which I settle for the duration of my stay.
And from the first evening, the atmosphere is very friendly. We share a meal around a long table in the garden. Each one cooks in turn, it is delicious every evening. During the day, we pull weeds, we drive the tractor, we cut trees, we plant tomatoes and eggplants, we make some repairs. In the evening, I am happy to find the warmth of the group. One afternoon, I propose them an initiation to the practice of zazen. Almost everyone participates, it touches me.
One of them confides to me that he was on a bicycle trip when he arrived here eight years ago... he has never left. This will not be my case. Even if I feel a twinge of sadness on the day of my departure, after 8 days spent with these wonderful people.
The Zanmai project must live on. I have to move on.
On the ferry that brought me to this island, I met a Canadian couple who offered me - after my visit to the farm - to pick me up by boat to spend a few days in their cottage located on one of the hundreds of islands in Mc Gregor Bay. An incredible place, full of memories. For the island belongs to the woman's family. She grew up here. Her father built several cottages, each more charming than the other.
So I have the right to live in one of them. The current passes, we get along wonderfully and we share all the meals. The second day, they propose me to go to give a hand to maintain the gardens of the church located on another island. It was an opportunity for me to meet the local community, composed of 70% of Americans. I was touched by their welcome and by these unforgettable moments of fraternal warmth. But as usual, we will have to leave again.