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Cycling Kingston - Cornwall by Pony Express

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Okay, by "bicycle express". But that was how I saw myself, galloping along the St Lawrence, a watchful eye out for the Yankees yonder across the mighty river. The dirt road is now a bicycle lane (sometimes more, sometimes less) that followed, by a stretch of the imagination, the 18th century trail that once bound Canada together.

I had just turned 65 the day before (June 22) and decided I should honor this life's stepping stone with a grueling challenge. Was I up to it?

Mostly bike-friendly

Much of Highway 2 sports a modest bike lane, though at times, it is necessary to following religiously the white line separating the cyclist from the whizzing trucks and gravel shoulder. At times, a bit nerve racking, but an experienced cyclist knows that the great feature of highway cycling is that you must be "in the moment". No heavy metal or Brahms blasting your eardrums. The old saw holds: if you are in the moment, God will be there with you.

Brockville has outdone the before and after Brockville parts of the trail, with a spectacular path which stretches untouched by inhuman wheels for miles, with the river, islands, and their sometimes comic castles or ghost mansions or just putzy cottages wedged impossibly on Petit Prince type universes.

Even where the paved shoulder peters out, the traffic is light from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. (make that 5:00 a.m., depending on your schedule for the day). You soon learn to cherish these early morning meditation sessions, when time seems to stop, until it kicks in at about 2:00 p.m., by which time you should be within sight of your destination.

Mostly people-friendly

Locals along the route are great. Yes, the Tim Hortons have put the local ma-and-pa's out of business, but they are not drive-thru. As long as you spot a local, you can have a nice chat or get reliable directions.

The Goal

The journey is the goal. But also a pilgrimage. At the farthest reach of the 1,000 Islands is Ground Zero of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Long Sault Dam, on the western outskirts of Cornwall.

Cornwall's glory days were two centuries ago, established in 1784 by United Empire Loyalist troops. It reached its zenith in the era of the railways and the canal system linking Ottawa and the St. Lawrence. It is a modest 50,000 population today, better known for its bridge to the U.S. and the St. Lawrence Seaway.

I was staying just short of Cornwall, near Morrisburg, a key location of 1812-13 war, which the locals are proud of and which has many commemorative plaques. Trying to educate the American visitors who are oblivious ("1812? Never heard of it." At best, "Ya, the British burned down the White House.")

High tech defense, high tech transport

The victory in what Canadians proudly call the War of 1812 prompted the Canadians and British to upgrade defenses, building the state-of-the-art Fort George in Kingston (1838). It, mercifully, never fired a shot, a bit like Reagan's Star Wars, though the cost was not in vain. The fort's impregnability surely helped deter the insatiable U.S. hunger for Canadian lands, making the budding empire-builders look elsewhere.

That's probably why most Americans don't even know Canada exists. If you can't beat 'em, forget 'em. We are America's best kept secret.

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