Monday, August 9, 2010

Bridges

When you live on an island, even a large island like Montreal, and when you ride a scooter like the Vespa LX150, and when many of the bridges are either linked to limited access highways, or are huge imposing sky-high engineering wonders, you eventually wonder how you're going to get off the island.

You know it's more or less inevitable. But to do it, you have to commit to it.  For most of Montreal's bridges, the design of the bridge approach requires that you make a major commitment to the bridge.  Once you're on the approach, there's no turning back.  So it's not like exploring a new neighborhood, or a new route downtown, where you can always abandon the experience, stop, turn left, turn right, pull over, turn around, head back to the familiar, put off the adventure.

The bridges to the South Shore are those that require the greatest commitment.  Whether it's the Victoria, the Jacques Cartier, the Champlain, the Mercier, or the Hippolyte-Lafontaine bridge-tunnel, when you commit to the approach, you can't even see the bridge.  The very nature of Montreal's demographics, the sprawling South Shore suburbs, means that traffic on all those bridges is intense and that the posted speed limits are at best guidelines.

So the prospect of committing to one of those bridges is a little intimidating.

I was thinking that I would first commit to the Victoria.  But the bridge deck is a metal grid because it's a lift bridge.  The little Charlevoix bridge that I take to cross the Lachine Canal daily, and the slightly longer Gauron bridge that crosses the canal at Ville St-Pierre, have a metal grid decks that I practice on.  The grid makes the bike squirm and worm its way along. Even at 20 km/h it's an experience that's unsettling.  Committing to the Victoria at 50 or 60 km/h (perhaps even faster?) will require quite a bit of nerve.  I'm not there yet.

Last Friday I had a work-related social obligation on the South Shore, in Longueuil, way to the east, just east of the Hippolyte-Lafontaine Bridge Tunnel.  The obvious choice was the Jacques-Cartier Bridge.  It's a huge bridge that manages the challenge of the St-Lawrence Seaway like the Champlain Bridge does, by rising to a ridiculous height.  Six lanes of impatient drivers, more or less ignoring the speed limit.  I have to say I was a little apprehensive.

The bumper-to-bumper traffic on the mile-long approach allowed me to filter up at a slow rate of speed.  I got behind a guy on a Harley and his female riding companion who was on a large Burgman scoot.

The traffic picked up the pace briskly as soon as the ascent started in earnest, quickly reaching 70-80km/h.  Fortunately the Vespa LX150 can handle that challenge with power to spare.  The actual crossing was over so fast, I barely had time to enjoy the spectacular view from the top.

And there I was, cruising along Marie-Victorin boulevard, headed east along the south shore of the mighty St-Lawrence river.  I was elated.  A challenge faced squarely, mastered and conquered.  I felt that I had broken the bonds of the island.  I felt that I had opened a door to the entire continent.

Suddenly, the prospect of riding my scoot to the seashore in Ogunquit seems all the more attainable.

Wow! What can I say?  It's not skydiving or bungee jumping, I know, but for me, it was a real rush.

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The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.