The popular bike path in Montreal is along the Lachine Canal. I find the prettiest stretch lies west of the Atwater Market, heading out to Lachine. My favourite time is during the week in the morning--or early evening when the sun slants through the trees and the water in the canal gleams tourmaline.
At other times you have to navigate the congestion at the Atwater Market; the in-line skaters hypnotized by the line down the center of the path; the moms and dads who've decided to teach their darling child how to stay upright (on the most busy cycling thoroughfare in the city); the clumps of friends who want to talk while they cycle and obstruct the path.
Uh-uh. On weekends and on sunny days the path by the canal is way too crazy for me.
I wait for cloudy days. I cycle weekday mornings.
I prefer the path that follows the St. Lawrence River. It curves past poplars with figure skater skirt leaves flipping in the breeze. Now, in mid-June, there's a luscious scent of sun-warmed cassis. I don't know where it comes from. There are no black currant bushes. The path swoops toward the river--a broad stretch of blue, grey, or brown water depending on the sky, the wind, the weather.
I pass the regulars who are out walking when I cycle.
A woman in a sleeveless, crimson dress to her ankles. I wonder if she washes the dress in the evening. (Because if it were me, wearing the same dress to walk every day, it would smell.)
A woman in baggy white shorts with her hair piled on her head like she's going to a ball. I've seen her since I started cycling on this path in 2003.
There used to be a man who walked tilted to one side. He's disappeared this year. I saw him in Verdun, in LaSalle, in Lachine--kilometers apart, always at that tilt. What can have happened that he doesn't walk anymore?
An exercise gang of new moms with prams follow a commandant who shouts orders. Twist to the right! Knees up! She barks so loudly that out in the river a heron flies off.
Today the man with the lizard strolls by the path. The lizard is grey with a ridged back. The man wears it draped down his chest with its head curled behind his neck. Clingy. Even the tail hugs his waist. Reptiles like body warmth.
I cycle, I cycle. Pump my legs, soak up some Vitamin D.
I always forget that when the ride is really smooth, there's probably a strong wind behind me. Ie cycling on the way back will be hard. The reverse is true too, but somehow that never consoles me when I'm panting into the wind.
Here's where I rest. The frill of water in the distance is the beginning of the Lachine Rapids. The trees aren't the other side of the river, but an island... Île aux Chèvres.
Some days I can hardly credit my good fortune to live in a city the size of Montreal (3 million people?) and have access to such a refreshing green space.