BMW day 5: Matane to Madeleine-Centre, QC

When I woke at 7:00 I found that the laundry I had hung out the night before was not dry, so I strapped it on the bike atop one of the drybags that hold my other stuff.  Between 60 MPH wind and sunshine, this usually works well.  I should have expected the clothes wouldn’t dry overnight.  I had forgotten that we were now in a humid coastal climate.  (I’m used to Arizona, where you can leave anything wet out and it will desiccate promptly. Nothing rots in Arizona, it mummifies.)

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Quick pack, checkout, then off to the nearby Tim Horton’s again for trip planning.  In Canada there’s a Tim Horton’s in every town with more than one stoplight, and going there is a good excuse to add a donut to breakfast.  The phone said the weather forecast was slightly improved, and we would probably escape the rain today (Thursday) but definitely have a rain day on Friday.  So it was our last chance for great weather. We intended to make the most of it.

We stopped at smoked fish store near hotel to pick up some smoked peppered mackerel and a jar of pickled mussels, then started off along the northern shore of the Gaspé peninsula.  At last we were truly riding the Gaspé!  (First of course, we had to pass the other Tim Hortons in Matane, just about a mile from the first one.)

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The coastal ride is very pleasant.  It’s basically a string of small towns, with the Gulf to the north and hills or mountains to the south.  The towns are all quaint in their own ways, and the road never goes far from the shore so you’ve always got a view of the water.  Red lighthouses can be seen at a few points.

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The only problem with this ride was the cold wind blowing off the Gulf of St Lawrence.  I was a little hunched over at first, unconsciously responding to the chill.  We added layers and I was still thinking about digging out the neck warmer Eleanor had made.

This area has endorsed wind power in a big way. Shortly after leaving Matane we began to spot wind turbines atop the ridges just inland of the coastal road.  We also saw huge single blades of wind turbines being trucked by. Quebec north of the St. Lawrence has massive hydroelectric power, and Gaspé has apparently decided to join the game by tapping their own natural resource, the wind.  I know some people think they ruin the view of mountain ridges, but when I see those huge white blades slowly sweeping through the air, I think they look majestic and I think of the air pollution they are offsetting.  Too many times I’ve been in national parks where the visibility has been reduced by smog blowing in hundreds of miles from cities that rely on coal for their energy.  At least with wind turbines we can still see the mountains.

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Along the north shore of Gaspé development is sparse, and so are the opportunities for lunch stops.  We finally stopped at a typical little roadside shack (actually a permanently fixed trailer with an enclosed patio and picnic tables out back), which like many of these places was advertising “Frites Maison,” which means home-made French fries.)  We got three thick hamburgers and ate them out at the picnic table.  On this trip we often ate outside even on cool days when other people stayed in.  Being so heavily layered for cycling we’d get hot sitting indoors, and taking off all the gear was just a chore.

In this case we had a bit of a surprise coming.  Right after lunch we took a right turn toward the interior to find a dirt loop, and found that just a quarter mile from the shore it was easily 10-15 degrees warmer.  After a mile Steve led us left onto a dirt trail that went steeply up into the forest and we began to climb into the Chic Choc Mountains for the first time.  Now I was no longer cold but actually starting to think about dropping a layer.

I didn’t have a chance right away, because this trail quickly grabbed our attention.  It narrowed to about 5 feet wide, and continued to climb steeply up over loose rocks and dirt.  There was no time to think about it, we just kept riding up, and I was amazed at how easily the Dakar with its knobby tires climbed like a mule.  When it started to slew in the rocks or get caught in a rut, a slight twist of the throttle would drive it into line again.  This is what these bikes were made to do, and it gave me a great feeling of confidence to actually drive it up a mountainside trail.

This was when we discovered the massive network of ATV/snowmobile trails all over the interior of Gaspé.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  The major dirt roads are numbered like highways, and minor trails have numbers and/or names.  They go everywhere, and you can pick up a map of the full system at many places (gas stations, some stores, tourist bureaus, etc.)  Looking at the map it seems that there are more “off-road” trails than there are actual roads.  The routes have signposts at intersections, and just a single route can meander for fifty miles or more.  We could have spent weeks exploring them all.The only tricky part we discovered was that some of the smaller trails get pretty technical and narrow.  We tried a couple that eventually were just too difficult for motorcycles, with huge exposed tree roots and loose FBRs (Big Rocks).  Still, even a few dead-ends that forced us to make tricky U-turns in a forest were a small price to pay for the other great trails.

Following one of the more open sections, we came up a large mudhole.  Steve and Eric skirted it widely, but I tried to follow existing ruts (a mistake) and inevitably I crashed … in the mud.  The water was about four inches deep, and my Nikon and iPad were once again in the pannier that disappeared into the mud.

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So we did the usual routine, all three of us tugging on the bike (while standing in mud ourselves) to pull it up and assess the damage.  Fortunately, being soft mud there was no damage except for a lot of mud souvenirs.  Remember the clean laundry I strapped to the top of my dry bags?  Yeah. But the Nikon and the iPad were fine, again.

After this episode I moved the iPad to one of the top drybags. I left the Nikon where it was (wrapped in plastic) because I used it a lot and I couldn’t quickly access it if it was in a drybag.

This trail turned out to be worth the effort.  It ended up at a spectacular overlook and paraglider launch site.

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Looks like Hawaii in the photo, doesn’t it?  Near the center is the tiny snack bar where we had lunch.  Hard to believe that it was so much colder down below.  Up in the mountains it was a balmy 75 degrees or so.  Eric took a break while we were up there.  Meanwhile I assessed my personal mud situation (not pretty) and dropped a layer of clothing.  There was nothing to do about the mud on my exterior layer.
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We crossed that mud pond again on the way out, but this time we all drove right through the middle of it and it was much easier.  The bikes were well mucked up by now, but at least nobody took a swim.

A few minutes later while making a U-turn on a hill, Steve caught a wheel in a rut and dropped his bike.  That made the score 2-2.  (Yeah, you better believe I’m keeping score. We’re brothers.)

After picking up his bike, we threw the bikes into 1st gear and engine-braked all the way back down to the Gulf.  About halfway down we spotted a black bear cub by the side of the road.  That was our first major wildlife sighting.

For the rest of the afternoon we continued up the coastal road, just taking in the scenery.  We tried a few other side trips up into the mountains but nothing worked out as well as the first route.  That’s OK, the road was good, there was no significant traffic, and we occasionally found something odd like a pair of partially sunken ships anchored and awaiting salvage just a few feet from the roadway.

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We wrapped up the day early, in Madeleine-Centre at Hotel/Motel du Rocher et Chalets.  Again, being off-season there appeared to be no other guests, but the restaurant was open and they were glad to put us in a “chalet” (which I would call a cabin in the US) for about $70.  These chalets were right on the Gulf of St Lawrence, and we were able to ride the bikes on the grass right up to the back porch to unload our stuff.  There turned out to be no hot water in the first chalet (it was still winterized) so we got moved to a pair of chalets further down the row, and that way I scored my own place for the night.

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With a last sunny afternoon, I took the opportunity to wash my laundry (again) and lay it out in the sun to dry.  Steve and Eric got some snacks in town. The bugs were (mostly) not biting, so we hung out on the porch for a couple of hours, talking, eating the smoked seafood we’d bought that morning in Matane, and watching the tide go out.  It was a gorgeous evening.

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We chose a motel for this evening instead of camping because the weather report said the rain would arrive overnight, and we didn’t want to be stuck with wet tents in the morning.  At this point we figured we’d probably continue to stay in motels through the weekend, and avoid dirt roads.  On Friday we’d have to break out all the warm stuff and the rain suits, for the ride to Gaspé.

Once again I found that this tiny town on the north coast of a barely populated peninsula has awesome cellular service.  I was getting four bars while sitting on the porch, and sending Eleanor iPhone pictures like the one above.  But this ready availability of cellular means we were using more data than I had hoped. We’ve been doing map searches, restaurant searches, hotel reservations, weather checks, and running a tracking app so that my family can see where we are. I bought 100 mb of data for $25 from Verizon and got a message during dinner that I had burned it up, so they dinged me for another $25.   I’m going to start connecting to free motel/restaurant wifi from now on, like Steve and Eric have been doing, to save bandwidth on the remainder of the trip.

Today’s route (not including dirt side trips):

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