There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in — Leonard Cohen
The feeling that this trip might not go as planned stuck with me as I drove, white-knuckled, down the highway towards the snow-covered Green Mountains. The roads were obscured by wet ice and slush, and I could feel the car sway in the wind. I originally thought it would be nice to head up into the hills for the weekend to get some early season gravel grinding in. Usually, our spring is wet and windy in Quebec, but this was not typical spring weather. Earlier that week, I had made a blanket call to friends to see if anyone wanted to join me. There were no takers. They had obviously seen the weather report that I missed or at least refused to believe.
Welcome to the Eastern Townships of Quebec: where the gravel is loose and abundant, and the landscape diverse and rolling. I was headed to the small town of Dunham, an area southeast of Montreal, close to the Vermont border, that is the gateway to the Green Mountains. The region is known for its agriculture (specifically apple orchards), wine vineyards, and microbreweries. I booked an overnight stay at the Boho Boutique Hostel, which is conveniently located next to one of the most creative beer producers in Quebec: Brasserie Dunham. When I pulled into the parking lot, the town was tucked under a blanket of snow, maybe six inches deep. The sky was grey and billowing, the light dark and flat. As I sat in the car, the windshield wipers mixed with Leonard Cohen’s voice seeping out of the speakers, lulling me into a trance.
Everything will be fine, I reassured myself. The snow will melt, and you’ll have the roads all to yourself. After mustering up the courage to step out of the car, the gracious hosts let me check into my room early so I could throw on multiple layers and get ready for my ride. The warm room looked great: a big bed with fluffy pillows and a duvet that could swallow you whole. This wasn’t making it any easier for me to face the storm outside and hop on the bike. Maybe I should just leave it in the car, grab a couple of bottles of beer from downstairs, and spend the day dreamily in bed. But I had come too far to just sleep the weekend away.
The whole point of the trip was to explore, with no real agenda other than having fun. So, I decided to head out and see where my new Kona Rove NRB DL would take me. I threw my camera in my bag along with some locally made flatbread, sausage, and cheese. I also had a few oranges, homemade oatmeal energy cookies (recipe below!), and my beat-up Thermos full of hot chocolate. I kept things light, as I knew I wouldn’t be stopping anywhere for long in this sort of weather. I started rolling out of town just as the snow stopped. I quickly turned east to head towards Selby Lake. While the road was slick, my whip was surprisingly nimble in the snow and ice. I reached the top of the hill, watching my heavy breath drift across the road over the snow banks. It was cold, but the view was so beautiful that it took my mind off of the frigid temperatures. I giddily glided down into the valley below, past frosted apple orchards and classic wooden barns. I thought I saw a crack of blue sky, and the sun even shyly poked its head out for a brief moment.
This was my first real ride on gravel and in the big hills with the Rove. It was blowing my mind how comfortable and confident it was. The descents felt exciting, but controlled and smooth. The climbs were effortless, even while down in the drop bars. And the 650b WTB Horizon tires were really the star of the show. They were both supple and forgiving. I had no problem gliding through the slush, rolling over the choppy ground, and hopping out of ruts. They were deceivingly smooth and gripped the ice like a tiger all at the same time.
I turned down a few more country roads and started to climb up a large hill known as Pinnacle. It’s a decent climb on a good day, and the adrenalin that had built up from the excitement of the ride was starting to dwindle. I jumped off the bike to warm up my feet a little and grab some snacks. I walked down the road a bit to see if I could see any signs of wildlife in the bush. There wasn’t much to see, other than the imaginary fluffy bunny shapes appearing in the clouds above. I realized that I couldn’t make it all the way to Sutton and back at this rate (which would have been about an 80km loop in total), and I started to think that I should have brought a Kona Wozo fatbike instead. I checked my location on Google maps. If I backtracked a bit, I could still cut across some nice terrain and be back in time for an early happy hour at the pub.
After munching on a bit more sausage and cheese and a few more sips of warm hot chocolate, I set off in higher spirits. Then, magically, as if the beer gods had heard me, the sun fully broke out, and the sky started to clear into a brilliant blue. Things were looking up, or so I thought. With the warming light also came slushier and softer conditions. Potholes started to fill with water, and mud started to gather on my bike. The brisk northern wind was still cold, and the mixture of water and mud started to freeze to the frame, drive train, my legs, and my cycling shoes. I started to miss the earlier roads hardened with ice and snow, but it was still amazing just to be out riding in the country in the sun, and I was enjoying every minute.
I was almost back to Dunham with warming thoughts of the pub when my drive train froze—literally. I came to a halt immediately. I looked down and the build-up of ice and mud had become so thick that it fused my chain to the chain ring and derailleurs. My crank just wasn’t moving. I tried to chip the ice away, but it was solid and wouldn’t budge. I looked at the map: only 3km to go. I would have to hike the rest of the way into town. To be honest, it wasn’t such a bad time to go on a bit of a stroll to warm up my frozen toes. The sun shining down was pure bliss, and it was the first time in a while that I was actually feeling warm. I strode down the tree framed lane, past old horse barns and Victorian mansions. A few old men passed me walking up towards their farms and gave me funny looks, but they waved and smiled nonetheless. “Une autre semaine!”, one of them yelled. Did he mean another week of snow or only another week until spring arrived?
Finally, I could see the two church spires looming over the town below. I looked at my phone and had made it just in time: it was beer o’clock! I slid down the hill and pulled up to the century-old coach house where my warm room and dry clothes awaited. But first, I needed to celebrate my return. I popped into the brasserie, sided up to the long wooden bar, and ordered a refreshing Dunham Saison, along with an order of crispy fries and a side of homemade beer mayo—a Belgian favorite. The golden hour was shining its beautiful light through the foggy windows, and I was soaking it all in. I began to understand what my fellow Montrealer Leonard Cohen meant when he sang, “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Cracks are essential for the light to shine through the darkness. You have to push through a little bit of the madness and hardship in order to get the reward.
Chewy Oatmeal Energy Cookies
Here’s one my favorite recipes for energy cookies that are better than those hard to eat bars – perfect for those cold rides out on gravel!
Prep Time | Cook Time: 15 minutes | 9 minutes
Servings 18 cookies
Calories 207 kcal
• 2/3 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
• 1 cup dark brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon molasses
• 1 large egg
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• a pinch of ground ginger
• 1 tablespoon of cricket powder
• 1 tsp each of ground flax, ground pumpkin seed, hemp seed
• 1 3/4 cup rolled oats
• 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
- Preheat your oven to 375ºF. Prepare baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a large bowl cream the butter until smooth with a hand mixer. Butter that’s been out of the fridge for about half an hour works best for this recipe. If it’s too soft and the cookies will spread too much.
- Add the brown sugar and continue mixing on high speed until the butter is mixed in well.
- Add the molasses, egg, and vanilla, and mix until smooth. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure everything is combined.
- Add the flour, baking powder and baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, flax, pumpkin seed, hemp seed, oats and cranberries.
- Mix on low speed just until the flour disappears and everything is well combined.
- Roll the dough into balls just larger than a tablespoon. Press each ball down onto the baking sheets to form a cookie shape, leaving enough room between the cookies for them to spread slightly.
- Bake at 375ºF for about 9 minutes or until the cookies just lose their shine on top. Let them cool on the pans until almost completely cool, and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Store the cookies in an airtight container, or a Ziploc bag on the trail.