part I - WHERE'S THAT CONFOUNDED BRIDGE?
This was where I ended up spending that Thursday night in early September 2011 - in a lorry weighing station at St Grégoire, not too far from Trois Rivières by the way in case you are interested, which I'm sure that you are. I wasn't alone when I arrived here either, but then it was about 00:15. Everyone soon cleared off and left me to it, which was nice of them.
I didn't have time to erect the bed but it didn't matter too much as I have made an exciting discovery. The driver's seat in the Dodge folds back almost flat and it's huge, just like the driver's seat in the Opel Omega that I had when I was doing my chauffeur bit in Brussels all that time ago (is it really nine years since they handed me my hat?).
So comfy was I in fact that I would probably be deep in the arms of Morpheus even now if it hadn't been for those blasted strimmer men waking me up at blasted 07:30 in the blasted morning cutting the blasted grass at the side of the blasted road.
Have you noticed the magnetic signs on the door of the Dodge by the way? Vehicle advertising is the key to everything as you must know by now if you have been closely following my adventures.
Now that I am awake, first task was to extract the two tarpaulins that I had bought from Home Depot yesterday. Tarpaulins are good because they have holes on them and if you run some string from front to back of both sides of your vehicle, on the inside of course, and your string has been threaded through the holes in the tarpaulins, you have some very effective and very cheap curtains. I bet you didn't know that.
Another thing that is useful to know is that if you buy a 4-metre by 2-metre tarpaulin and cut it in half down the long way so that you have two tarpaulins of 4-metre by 1-metre, the curtains are pretty-much made-to-measure.
Second task of course was to find some coffee. Time to hit the road, Jack, or maybe Jacques, seeing as how we are in Québec. Having done all the chores yesterday, today is the first day of my holiday and there is plenty to do.
Pulling out of the truck stop, I find myself behind a van that belongs to a door and window supplier. And you will be delighted to know that a "showroom" in Québecois is not a salon d'exposition but a salle de montre. How about that?
The Lady Who Lives In The SatNav is having a really good moan when I turn off the road that she wants me to follow. She keeps on insisting that I make legal u-turns to get back onto track. I really am surprised that, being a Canadian, she has not been programmed to recognise Tim Horton's Coffee Stops. They should really take these into account.
But I have made an exciting discovery here. With the Gents' toilet, or bathroom as it is called in North America, being occupied, I was obliged to use the disabled one. And in here there is a big sink with hot and cold running water, decent air driers and all kinds of equipment such as that. If all of Tim Horton's are similarly equipped, I reckon that for the price of a $1:39 mug of coffee each morning, I have solved the personal hygene question.
And that reminds me. Do you know what C and F stand for on taps here in Québec? Not chaud and froid of course, but cold and freezing.
With a mug of coffee safely installed in the mug-holder I drove for a mile or two before coming to a stop, somewhat naughtily, on the hard shoulder of the freeway.
Yes, this is why I've come here to Trois Rivières right now. Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that I've been trying to take a photograph of the famous bridge here for the last ten or so years. I couldn't find a place to stop in 2001 and the south bank is quite hopeless for decent shots. My best shot of it to date was the one on Wednesday when I flew over it on my way in to Montreal .
The photo from this spot will do for now though. Meantime, I'll cross over the St Lawrence to the north bank. I hope that things will be better from there.
Taking close-up photographs from a moving vehicle isn't always successful and indeed in this case it rather leaves something to be desired. That's a shame because I was hoping to see something about the way it was constructed. However, I did manage to resolve this problem in 2012 when I was driving over the big bridge at Québec, and most unexpectedly too.
Back to this photo though, and from what I can see, the bridge is of latticework girder construction and held together with rivets. A pretty much standard construction. At least it looks well-maintained, which is more than can be said for many of its contemporaries.
I was right about the possibility of there being a better spot on the far bank of the river from which to see the bridge. Coming off the slip road and heading into town, there's a large park and leisure area. Just there would seem to be a good place to try
And what has happened to this tree then? It's all rotted and eaten away. Might it be an elm tree? If it is an elm, as if I would know anyway, it might have Dutch Elm disease; there's quite a bit of that about here.
On the other hand, did Hurricane Irene pass by here the other day? With the tree being already in a weakened condition, it wouldn't take too much to blow it over. I'm impressed though that it managed to miss all of the street furniture as it fell.
Down at the end of the track, and there's still no decent place to take a good photograph of the bridge. This is the best that I can do from here, even though there is half a forest in the way. If this doesn't work out I shall have to go to into the town of Trois Rivières to see what I can find there.
And while I was here musing over the bridge I heard a noise that sounded very much like a helicopter going past. But what it actually was was a lorry going over the bridge. The noise it was making reminded me of a very old Foden diesel and so that made me wonder if they still make two-stroke diesels these days. That's exactly what it sounded like to me - an old Foden two-stroke diesel.
Ahhh - hang on a minute. Where's that path going over there? Ohh yes,this is much more like it. Clambering through the undergrowth I finally manage to reach the bank of the St Lawrence. Yes, this is the view that I have been seeking.
It's not only the bridge that's gorgeous. There is also the smell. And I don't mean the smell of the paper mills, which is pretty strong from here, but the smell of the sea ... or, rather, the river. It really does make me realise what I have been missing since I was along the St Lawrence a year ago.
On the way back to the Dodge - blimey - yes, another marching woman. We are definitely back in Canada now. And also even more surprisingly, just to show that there is no discrimination between the sexes, I've also just seen a marching man. I don't recall seeing one of those before. This is a totally new phenomenon to me. I shall have to keep my eyes peeled for more examples of this.
From here I decide to go and visit the town of Trois Rivières. I've been past it a couple of times and the impression that I have of it is one of an industrial city smelling of wood pulp. Not a very agreeable one at all.
In a departure from tradition, I would like to say a big "hello" to readers from my journey in 2012 along the Chemin du Roy. We came by here in the spring of 2012, in a snowstorm in fact, and we followed the route of 2011 for several hundred kilometres.
What I shall be doing therefore is to merge these two reports of those several hundred kilometres to make one stream of continuous reading of the route of the Chemin du Roy until our trails split again at Les Escoumins. You will be able to tell which photograph was taken when, by looking at the copyright notice in the top left-hand corner.
So moving the clock forward just a little to my arrival here the end of April 2012, I happened to glance at the time and ... blimey! 14:30! No wonder my stomach thinks that my throat has been cut. It's gone half-past two!
While I'm sitting here eating my butty in a snowstorm one of these double-articulated trailers, the type that I photographed in Newfoundland in 2010 goes past and stops at the lights in front of me and I can't reach the camera to photograph it. That's not all either - next minute a blasted snowplough drives past. That's looking ominous, I'll tell you that.
Before I leave here and catch up with those of you on the 2011 visit, I need to go for a quick Gypsy's (it was a mistake to go for that coffee in Louiseville), and I did recall from my visit here in 2011 that there were a couple of gentlemen's rest rooms in the park. But would you believe that as well - they are all flaming well closed. I'm used to finding tourist attractions closed when I turn up, but finding the public lavatories closed, that is really taking the p155. Or maybe it isn't.
Anyway, not to worry. Round the corner is the local Walmart and that's as good a place as any. But before I leave the little park here, let me recount a little story about my visit here in 2013, for the excitement has by no means finished.
It was a Saturday right at the very beginning of September and I'd been for a nosey around the town. But by now going dark and I was hungry, so I came here to cook some food.
I wasn't on my own for very long, though. A couple of the Province of Quebec's finest came over to ask me if I was OK but it was of course really to find out what I was up to. We had a chat for a little while and then they toddled off, leaving me to get on with my meal.
And so on with the plot. We're back in 2012 and I've been to the beichstuhl in the Walmart down the road. However, it's very easy for me to be led into temptation and I come out with a pair of those black trousers that I like to wear because they wash easily, and also a pile of CDs from the sale. There's Leonard Cohen's Songs of Love and Hate, The Best of Woodstock including the absolutely fantastic live version of "Going Home" by 10 Years After, and, even more exciting, a copy of Trespass by Genesis and when was the last time saw a copy of that?
As an aside, I always seem to end up choosing a track that stands out, usually for no particular reason, during one of my voyages and it becomes the theme tune of the journey. On the trip in the spring of 2012 that honour fell to White Mountain from Trespass.
Once all of that was sorted out, those of us from 2012 catch up with those of us from 2011 and we set off down the road towards the town.
Of course, it isn't too long before I'm side-tracked. About half a mile, I reckon. Still on the lookout for the perfect photo of the bridge, I notice a sign leading down to a launching ramp. And doesn't this come up trumps?
The St Lawrence has until comparatively recent times been the lifeline of the riverside communities, but it has also been a major barrier to communications between the banks. Strangely enough, there's much less of an issue in winter because passage over the ice is comparatively straightforward. It's in the other three seasons that difficulties are encountered and it is something of a surprise to learn that the first reliable ferry service was not initiated until as recently as 1853.
A bridge was first proposed back in the 19th Century with a campaign led by none other than the Bishop of Québec, but nothing ever came of this. During the years of the Great Depression, the idea of the bridge was reborn as a way of finding work for the local unemployed and for revitalising the local economy, bearing in mind the fact that the steel could be made locally. There was even talk at one certain moment of a tunnel, but nothing ever came of any of this.
After World War II the idea of a bridge became something of a political weapon and eventually a committee waa created to look into matters. It reported back in 1954 that a budget of $12,500,000 would be required to construct an adequate bridge. In 1956, an organisation was set up to oversee the construction and to collect the tolls, even though the Government was a long way from authorising the project.
In 1962, authorisation was finally agreed with a Government guarantee of … errr … $30,000,000, and work began in 1964. The Province of Québec became obliged not only to take over the Government's financial obligations but to add a further $20,000,000 to the project (overrruns, as you can see, are not a new phenomenon) and the Pont Laviolette, to give it its official name, was completed in September 1967, opening for traffic on 20th December of that year.
Its total length is 2707 metres and its maximum height is 106.6 metres although the deck reaches a mere 54.8 metres above the river. I'm told that on average, more than 20 vehicles per minute cross the bridge.
The construction of the bridge was not without tragedy. On the 8th of September 1965 there was an explosion on the site and 12 construction workers were killed in the blast.
I mentioned earlier by the way that an organisation was created in order to collect the tolls on the bridge. I don't know what happened to that because there was no-one there to ask me for any money when I went over and by the state of things, there had been no-one up there for a while.