Labrador Caravan

June 13, 2007
Quebec City

I visited Quebec last summer after Bus Fusion, and the return there felt like a rerun. We drove in a caravan from Montreal, Kim in front using his GPS to lead us out of Montreal and onto the highway. With a large Subaru engine, his van is far more powerful than Phils or mine, and from the start he was itching to drive faster than we could keep up. But we made it to Quebec with only a few jokes about speed, and settled in at the same campground on the south shore in

Lvis where Id spent a few nights the previous year. Last summer I got on my bike to ride down to the ferry into the city; this year we climbed into Kims van to drive down the same narrow streets, parking it at the ferry as we headed into town.

Wed left the considerable heat of Montreal behind and found a powerful wind blowing up the St. Lawrence in Quebec. Whitecaps dotted the river, and my hair was whipped into a tangled frenzy as we sat on the outside deck of the ferry taking photos of the old city and the cliffs of Lvis. All of this was familiar ground; the park on the south shore where Id roller bladed last summer, the promenade looking down on the river, the fortress high on the bluffs that provided the strategic reason for locating the city here rather than elsewhere on the river.

But visiting it with other people was nothing like last summer. Im used to traveling alone, doing what I want, indulging my own whims without having to consult with anyone else. Ive seen the old city of the Quebec, and while its a pretty place with some splendid trompe loeil piantings, it exists only for the tourists these days. Normal life for the people of Quebec has nothing to do with this pocket of cafes, restaurants, gift shops, and restored houses. My friends wanted to walk down

charming streets, while I wanted to understand what the city is like to live in. On my own I would have wandered into gift shops selling pretty but useless items; afraid of boring them or enduring the male response to women who like to shop, I didnt so much as think of suggesting it. I might might have enjoyed a bookshop, but my friends dont read French. It was fun, though, when Kim meandered into a shop selling rocks and jewelry, and we all looked at sparkling stones harvested in the mines of Quebec. And when we walked down the promenade and climbed the stairs up to the fortress, we all enjoyed staring down the river with the wind howling in our faces, stronger and stronger as we got higher and higher.

The next day I wanted to do something Id missed out on last summer, roller blade around the Plains of Abraham, a battlefield on top of the bluffs that is now a city park. I was astonished, when I passed there last year, to see that it had two separate trails around the huge lawn, each a kilometer or so in length one for walkers and runners, the other only for roller bladers. This I had to try. But Id run out of time last summer, and Id never skated there. For a year I thought about returning to Quebec to skate around that battlefield. As I got more proficient on ice, practicing on the new rink near my house in Virginia, that trail returned to my mind over and over, and I was determined to get my skates out and try it.

Like all things anticipated for so long, it was a bit of a disappointment. The sun was hot, Im not much of a roller blader, and I was still wheezing a bit from three days visiting my sister and her eight cats on my way to Bus Fusion. Everyone else glided smoothly past me, as I worked to keep going up the slight inclines. But I did cruise past a few them on the equally slight

downhills, and by my second time around I was no longer unsure of my footing on skates. Old couples strolled by and relaxed on park benches, children played soccer and flew kites on the lawn while their mothers lounged in the brilliant sun watching. Energetic men and lycra-clad women pounded around the running path, and all kinds of people rolled around with me on the skate trail. It wasnt the transcendent experience Id hoped for, but I was delighted to experience a bit of the Quebec where real people live.

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