BMW day 6: Madeleine-Centre to Murdochville and Gaspé
We packed up the bikes this morning under a rapidly-graying sky. We knew the rain was coming, but decided to go for an inland sortie on dirt roads anyway. Rain was always an inevitability on this trip, and we were prepared for it. There was no point in sitting around in hotels or avoiding the interesting mountain roads, waiting for sunny skies.
The plan was to try a long dirt road that meandered to the approximate center of the peninsula, a small town called Murdochville. Steve had identified a some points of possible interest, including copper mines, a ski area with lots of rideable trails around it, and a wind farm. As we had already discovered at several points on this trip, there’s never a guarantee of what you’ll actually find.
As we turned inland I was hoping for the same warm-up we got the day before, but instead the temperatures dipped a little, and we had to stop to put on more layers after a few miles. Around that time Steve called me on the intercom to ask about fuel status. Since I was tracking miles on my bike’s odometer, and these bikes don’t have fuel gauges, I was the unofficial fuel gauge. I figured we had used up about half of our typical 200-mile fuel range at that point, so although it would have been a good idea to get fuel before heading into the boonies, we should have had enough to go to about 80 miles round-trip to Murdochville and back.
But I had forgotten about all the dirt trails we rode the day before. That sort of high-RPM mountain riding really cuts the fuel economy. After perhaps 30 miles of fairly dull dirt road travel, my bike’s yellow “low fuel” indicator lit up. That’s the only warning you get on these machines that you’re now into the reserve fuel range and have about 50-60 miles of range left.
This was worrisome but we were fairly sure there was fuel in Murdochville. If there weren’t, we might have to take emergency measures, perhaps consolidating the remaining fuel from the three bikes into two that could go get a gallon back at the coast. That would be really boring and kill half our day. When planning this trip, Eric and I both suggested that we might carry 1-liter emergency fuel bottles but Steve pointed out that at no time on the trip would we be out of range of fuel stations, so we dropped the idea. Now, rattling forward on this uninteresting road with lots of time to think, I was wondering if that was a mistake.
Fortunately we weren’t far from Murdochville. Less than 10 miles later we hit paved road, leading just a short distance to town. We were literally “out of the woods,” —and the rain started. Steve called a halt so that Eric and I could struggle into our one-piece rainsuits for the first time on this trip. (Steve’s regular suit was rainproof enough to handle a light shower like this one.)
I was actually kind of excited to try out the rainsuits on the road for real. Up to now I had only test-fitted the suit in my house in dry Arizona. The first thing I learned is that it’s not easy getting into the suit by the side of the road, at least without having had much practice. Fortunately they are designed with large zippers on the legs and body so that you can slip it over your boots and jacket without taking anything off.
We had put Rain-X on the visors earlier, which worked great at keeping the rain drops out of our vision as long as we were traveling above 40 MPH. It was still was hard to see below 40 MPH, which presents a conundrum when cycling, because in the rain slower would be safer if you could actually see.
The first thing we saw in Murdochville, other than gloomy low clouds and mist, was the gas station. This alone made the town a success for us. We pulled in under the gas station canopy, filled up, and then sat down inside at a small table to confer. This gas station had a nice little corner with a coffee & hot chocolate maker, some maps, and chairs.
It might be hard to appreciate how awkward all this was with four layers of clothing, boots, and a rainsuit. Not only did I feel like a kid who is overbundled in clothing in winter, but every step and movement left drips of water in my wake. I won’t even get into the contortions required to use the bathroom. At this point I was less excited by my rainsuit. Now it was starting to feel like a combination of a scuba drysuit and a suit of armor. But at least I was dry on the inside, until I started sweating while sitting in the gas station.
We considered several off-road routes around the area, and finally wandered off behind Steve to “try to find some things.” I wasn’t exactly sure where we were heading but at this point in the trip both Eric and I were accustomed to just following. This time we were mostly stymied: all the dirt tracks we tried got overly technical (imagine riding down a steep slope over loose rocks and dirt in the rain), or they just didn’t go anywhere. This meant several “exciting” U-turns on single-track trails. Add in the slope, the uneven ground, and you’ve got a formula for another bike drop, so we were very careful.
We took a tour around the paved downtown and over by the mothballed open-pit copper mines, but didn’t see much of interest. Honestly, sometimes it was hard to see anything at all. An attempt to find the road up to the wind turbines (which were barely visible in the cloud layer) failed as well. Finally, we headed out of town to try to find an abandoned airport, and somehow we missed that too. This was turning out to be a big bust.
We finally tried a dirt route around a small lake, which was marked as a “1 km” loop by signs. What the heck, let’s try the lake loop, it’s short. Well, no, it wasn’t. I don’t know what the “1 km” signs referred to, but this loop was easily several miles of very rough road with deep ruts and occasional water crossings and big puddles. That actually made it fun.
I was in the lead, toward the end of this loop, when we encountered the last mud puddle. All seemed well, I was riding through the puddle on a little ridge of mud, when suddenly I found myself lying on the ground. BAM! It was that fast. I jumped up from the bike (which was still running), trying to figure out what had just happened, while the other two guys rolled up to help.
This time it wasn’t just a drop. I had crashed. The front right turn signal of the bike was snapped off and smashed to bits, the brake pedal was pretzeled, and of course everything on the bike was re-smeared with mud. While Steve and Eric were lifting the bike and assessing the damage, I realized my left shoulder was hurting. Apparently when the bike went down, I kept my grip on the handlebars for a moment and the left one was yanked hard. I was probably lucky not to have a more serious shoulder injury. A separated shoulder might have left me unable to ride out, and would have put us in a difficult position to recover the bike.
Protective gear. I have to say, the stuff works. My head bumped the ground but I didn’t even feel it thanks to my helmet. My right hip hit hard, but there’s a strategically-placed piece of foam padding there in my motorcycle pants, which took up the shock and left me with nothing more than a slight soreness for a few minutes. My right shoulder also hit hard, but the rainsuit is made of tough stuff and didn’t even scuff on the ground.
I think this is the moment Steve was waiting for. He broke out his toolkit and, with Eric, commenced our first “field repair.” The turn signal was trash, so it got removed entirely. The brake pedal took some careful bending, but eventually ended up looking almost like new. There wasn’t anything to be done about the “beauty marks” I’d added to some of the plastic parts.
After that episode we decided we’d done enough off-road. It was only a few hundred feet to the asphalt highway that led 50 miles to Gaspé. There wasn’t much rain but it was cold and damp, and my shoulder was still painful. Between those things, I didn’t really notice the ride much. I was just sort of gritting my teeth and getting through it, but I remember that it was a nice winding road that crossed many streams. Around here salmon is an important industry, and most of the rivers have signs indicating that they are “Riviere Saumon,” meaning that salmon spawn in them. All of the rivers are clear, wild, and beautiful.
In Gaspé I was still feeling a bit off. All I wanted was to find a warm dry place to get out of the gear. The town was smaller than I expected and our options for a hot drink and a motel were few, but with a little searching we discovered the Motel Adams, which turned out to be a great choice, and settled in.
A check of the weather at this point showed things were going to get worse. But it was just great to settle be somewhere indoors and change into normal clothes for a while. Overall, our spirits were still high. Nobody was moaning about the weather; we were just having a good time regardless.
I had noticed a small car wash around the corner, so we rode there and rinsed the mud off all three bikes.
The rest of the evening was unremarkable. We had a forgettable dinner (pizza) at a nearby place, and I made some calls while pacing around the parking lot (the rain had stopped for a while). Otherwise there was not much to do but wait and see what the next morning’s weather report had to say.
Eric was “floor man” this evening, so I had the comfort of a hotel mattress to look forward to, rather than my Thermarest camping mattress. My thought as I went to sleep was that I hoped my shoulder wouldn’t stiffen up overnight.