BMW day 11: Presque Isle to Moosehead Lake ME

June 18th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

It turned out that the weather report was depressingly correct again, and rain was coming soon.  I was feeling some pressure because I needed to locate a Notary Public in town, and I wanted to get that job done before the rain came in.  Around 8:30 I was finally able to find a law office in town where a notary was available, and so I zipped out while the other guys were still packing.  I got my documents signed and notarized, dropped them in a FedEx box, and finally was free of that business obligation.  So, back to motorcycling.

Now here’s the other part about working from the road.  You can’t really enjoy the travel if you mentally carry around your work worries with you.  I’ve had a lot of practice at this, so believe me when I say that one minute after I dropped the package in the FedEx box, I was thinking about nothing but our day of adventure ahead.  Compartmentalizing your work is a skill that full-time travelers must learn, if they are to have any fun at all.

It wasn’t yet raining as I went back to the motel, but the toes of my boots got soaked anyway from the puddles on the ground left by overnight showers.  So another lesson learned:  wear the overboots whenever the road is wet.  Or, as I’ve decided to do, invest in a good pair of motorcycle boots that are waterproof.

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Our route for the day was completely undetermined.  Steve hadn’t done much research on travels in the US.  He kind of regarded the trip as being more or less over with by the time we left Quebec.  But we had at least three days of travel remaining before we landed back in Vermont, and we needed to plan some sort of interesting route, or we’d just end up on the paved highways covering miles for the sake of covering miles.

We did some checking and were disappointed to find that virtually all of northern Maine is closed to motorcycles.  The roads up in the forests are all privately owned, by land conservation groups, paper and timber companies, and various others.  So the roads are all private too, and they are not exactly speedways. This was a major blow:  the most exciting roads were off-limits.

At first our route was just pavement, so it didn’t matter.  And it was raining again, so we weren’t eager to hit slippery dirt yet anyway.

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Even at our lunch stop, the rain continued.  But by the time we got to East Millinocket, things had cleared up and the lure of dirt riding was too much for Steve. If I had remembered my pledge to go wherever he led us, Eric and I might have allegedly possibly could have followed him along a 50 mile ride of hell.

Let’s just say that there are very good reasons why motorcycles are not allowed on certain roads.  There is no street bike or hog that could ride the road we theoretically might have ridden.  Harley riders, don’t take that as a challenge, it’s just a fact that might save your bike. Imagine water crossings with two-foot deep ditches, potholes with potholes in them, and sections so riddled with bone-jarring bumps that it would be more comfortable to just ride a mechanical bull in a 1980s romantic comedy.  Remember my sore shoulder?  If we had ridden that road—and I’m not saying we did—it would have been the least sore part of my entire body.

We ended our day in a nice state park called Lily Bay, near Moosehead Lake, ME.  The sites were wooded and lovely, the rangers were super friendly, and so were the mosquitoes.  You’re not supposed to feed the wildlife, but in this case, it’s hard to avoid without 100% DEET on your body.  I slapped one mosquito flat while we were checking in at the gate and without looking up the ranger said, “Thank you.”  One down, 75 billion to go.

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This was again the sort of place where we immediately slathered ourselves with DEET before we did anything else.  Fortunately, it worked.  We set up camp and set out for the town of Moosehead Lake (maybe 10 miles away) for dinner.  A light rain shower started again on our way to town, so we stopped and threw on the rainsuits again, but after dinner things cleared up to give us a nice evening ride back to the campsite.

Or so I thought.  Along the way back Steve took a detour up yet another dirt road, which turned out to be not much more than a road, but then he zigged again and found something really challenging.  I was in the third position, and feeling pretty tired.  I didn’t want to go down these roads so late in the day, and within just a few hundred feet the road got so technical that I was beginning to worry about crashing again.  But I couldn’t raise the other guys on the intercom because their batteries had run out, and I couldn’t catch up to them.  So after the second or third near-crash in a puddle or while avoiding a massive rock or fallen log, I just stopped.

They spotted me, waved, and I just shrugged.  So they came back, and we got back to the paved road, and headed toward camp again … when Steve spotted a sign indicating the route to a famous B-52 crash site.  We had read about this earlier.  Apparently the B-52 crash site is only 0.3 miles from the road.  Steve asked if I wanted to go see it, and I said, “Sure, we’ve got time before the sun sets.”

Little did any of us know that the crash site was not 0.3 miles from the paved road, but rather 0.3 miles from a dirt ATV trail off the paved road.  That dirt trail wound into the woods for literally miles, forking into separate trails periodically, and seemingly without end.  Once every mile or so we’d see another “B-52″ sign but no other indications of how much further it might be.

This wasn’t what I was expecting and I wanted to turn back, but I was so tired that even catching up to the other guys on this potholed loose gravel road was too much of a challenge for me.  So I followed, hoping eventually we’d find the B-52.

We never did find that crash site, but I made one of my own.  At one of the forks Steve stopped for a conference, and I said, “Forget it, I want to go back.”  The other guys were agreeable to that.  The fork in the trail formed a nice triangle that made for an easy turn-around, but right then my brain just suddenly forgot how to ride a motorcycle and instead of staying on the road I just helplessly watched as the motorcycle, seemingly under its own control, went off the road, across a ditch, and crashed gently into a stand of saplings.  I was on the bike and theoretically the operator, but for those few moments I could not remember even how to apply the brake.

Fortunately, the crash was soft and the bike jammed between a few trees so it was left standing upright.  I was so disgusted and upset that I just got off the bike and stomped off while Steve and Eric retrieved it.  I yelled to Steve, “I’m just too tired to keep riding!” and he said, “I can see that now.  We’re going back.”  It was 7:30 pm.

The crash did no damage other than to break the other front turn signal.  Eric made me feel better when he said, “That’s OK, they are supposed to be replaced in pairs anyway,” which is a mechanic joke.  The nice thing about riding with these guys was that when I did have an incident they just jumped in and helped, and didn’t make me feel worse about it.  But I did feel pretty awful and I was exhausted.  Plus, the score was now embarrassingly lopsided, Rich 4, Steve 2, Eric 0.

The campground bathrooms at Lily Bay are not close to the camp sites.  We had a pit toilet nearby, but for actual running water I had to hop on the bike one last time that evening around 7:45 pm and ride 1.2 miles to the shower house.  You can believe that I was extremely careful for that last ride.  I had pushed beyond my personal limits on this day, with about 200 miles of riding spread over 12 hours, at least 50 of which was tough dirt (theoretically), and the last thing I wanted was to crash again somewhere in the campground in the final mile.  I survived this final ride, said goodnight to the mosquitoes, and retired to my tent.

BMW day 10: Through New Brunswick and into the USA

June 17th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

When we woke in Carleton-sur-Mer it was another gorgeous day, but things were a little different now because we knew we were about to end our trip in Canada. After 9 days of touring Quebec I could easily have stayed another week to continue to explore, perhaps down into the maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.

I bet if I had really tried to twist the arms of Steve and Eric I could have convinced them to go further south into the maritimes, but I was the guy who had a deadline. An important business transaction needed to be done, and I had to be in the United States to do it. People were waiting for me to get off my bike and sign papers, and my first chance to do that would be in Maine. So instead of dreaming up grand tours from the map, we headed east back toward home.

But first we took one last quick tour around Carleton-sur-Mer, stopping at a cafe in town for a leisurely breakfast and coffee, and then up into the mountains above town to a church set on the peak 555 meters above our campsite, near yet another wind turbine farm.

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We lingered for a few minutes, taking in the view, and then turned the bikes downhill back to the coastal road and east to New Brunswick.

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The road through New Brunswick is not very exciting. Basically it cuts the corner of the top of the province in the shortest possible way, directly from the last stretch of coastline on Gaspé to Limestone, ME. We had received an offer via an Internet forum from a guy in New Brunswick who would take us on a more “interesting” path through the province, but with my looming deadline to get back into the USA, we had to pass on that. Our only stops in New Brunswick were to get gas (and a bunch of Canadian candy bars as treats for my ladies back home), and lunch.

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Crossing the border in Limestone ME would have been a non-event if I hadn’t gotten selected for a random search. This added a few minutes to the crossing, just filling out an I-9 form and having an agent take a perfunctory peek at the contents of my panniers. Nope, no alcohol, tobacco, firearms, merchandise, or contraband in there—unless you count a stash of 7 Canadian candy bars. Eric had a tough moment when the agent asked him where he was going. He didn’t know, so he just said, “I’m following those guys.”

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Not far down the road we found the former Loring Air Force Base. Like other abandoned bases in the northeast (Plattsburgh, Pease, Brunswick), there’s an attempt to convert it to a “business park,” but in this case not much is happening. Most of the buildings, including this massive hangar (of which only about 1/3 is shown in the picture) are slowly deteriorating. If you need indoor space to store a really huge RV, or perhaps 200 or 300 of them, I can recommend a spot in far northeast Maine.

We rode the motorcycles down the long taxiways to see everything. It’s not every day you can ride your motorcycle down the taxiways of a formerly secure military facility. The runways are so long that even at 60 MPH it takes a couple of minutes to get to the other end.

We ended up, as planned, in Presque Isle, ME. The weather was threatening again, so we holed up in a local motel—not a nice place, but cheap—and I started in on my business tasks. Now here’s an example of “working from the road,” for those of you who want to see the real gore involved. I had researched copy shop, UPS Store, and office supply locations previously while in Canada, so I knew there was a Staples in town. I rode over there, and using the store’s wifi I emailed my documents (seven of them) to the store’s print shop. They printed them out for me (about $2), and then I rode over to the nearest FedEx drop box (also previously researched) to get an overnight envelope. I put all of that in a plastic zip bag because the rain was starting up again, and rode back to the motel.

At the motel I wrestled for about an hour with Bank of America, trying to arrange a wire transfer. They wouldn’t do it over the phone, and there are no branches in Maine. I couldn’t do it on the mobile app, either. So I got onto the website and immediately ran afoul of security protocols, which required me to verify my identity with username, password, my business credit card number, and then a 6-digit security code sent to my phone. Then I had to set up the wire transfer recipient, which required another security code. With various website SNAFUs and re-tries, this took quite a while. Eventually I was able to break through the security cordon and order my wire transfer. I wasn’t done, but it was a good start.  Tomorrow I have to find a Notary Public.

After that ordeal, we decided that a walk to town for dinner would be good idea, and we scored by finding Governor’s restaurant. After many days of mediocre meals, this was a real treat. It turned out that we’d arrived on a special day when they were discounting lobster rolls to $5.55. If you’re not familiar with lobster rolls, suffice to say that they are awesome and normally run about $13-15. So Steve and I, being lobster fans, ordered two each.

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Since it was apparently gluttony night for the motorcycle boys, I also got a real American milkshake to make up for the disappointing one I’d had in Quebec. The waitress comped it because they didn’t have the flavor I wanted. Two thumbs up for Governor’s! We waddled back up the hill to our hotel, stuffed with lobster. Maybe it wasn’t so bad to be back in the USA after all…

BMW day 9: Chic-Chocs, and Murdochville revisited

June 16th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

By this point in the trip it was obvious to me that when you’re on a motorcycle, a change in weather can make an amazing difference.  The weather prediction right on target when we woke up in Carleton-sur-Mer: dry, clear, pleasant temps in the 60s and low 70s, perfect for riding.  So it was a no-brainer to stay here another day and do some inland riding back to the Chic Choc Mountains.

Since we were going to be out all day and probably far out of range of restaurants, we made our first stopped the local Subway, to grab some sandwiches.  The ride first backtracked east along the coast to New Richmond, before heading up Rt 299.

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It’s funny how the ride gets better in the sunshine.  The road to New Richmond was the same one we came in on, but now I noticed sparkling blue water to my right, round green hills to my left, quaint farmhouses, and attractive beaches covered with colorful stones.  Where was all this stuff yesterday?

Our route up Rt 299 followed the Cascapedia River as we wound up the road into the interior of the Gaspé Peninsula, eventually rising to about 660 meters elevation.  At that point we reached a sort of “continental divide” and the waters started to run north instead of south.

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You can cross the peninsula on this road in about 2.5 – 3 hours.  We didn’t go quite all the way, but turned around at Gîte Mont-Albert, an inn/resort up in the mountains.  Just a couple of miles back I noticed a sign for “Chutes” (waterfall) and called the guys on the intercom.  A short walk into the forest put at the ideal lunch stop, and amazingly, up here in the mountains in June, there we absolutely no biting insects to be found.  Guess they were on vacation.

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Although Steve caught my in this photo without a smile, trust me, I loved this spot.  We picked out a nice spot on the rocks and soaked up a bit of sun while eating lunch.  I could have chilled out there for hours.  This was one of those peak “vacation moments” when everything was exactly right: perfect air, no bugs, great scenery, the sound of the water falling, nobody else around, and no schedule.

Now here’s where it gets weird.  We had some extra time to kill on the way back, and Steve wanted to take a side trip down a dirt road (of course) which led east and eventually (44 km later) ended up in Murdochville.  Remembering my promise to agree to ride wherever he suggested, I followed along.  But I was thinking that this was a pointless trip, since there wasn’t anything to see in Murdochville.  We were just there three days ago, in pouring rain.

Well, I was sort of right but mostly wrong. The dirt road wasn’t anything exciting, just another dirt road. But at the end, we found several interesting diversions in Murdochville.  First, Steve & Eric had to go explore a giant tailings pile leftover from the copper mining operations.

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Then, we easily found the access road that led up to some of the local wind turbines.  They were spectacular.  Even though you can see that the blades come nowhere near the ground, when you stand beneath them and the huge blade comes swooping down with a giant whoosh, it’s hard not to involuntarily flinch or duck.

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So it was strange to be back here.  One tourist visit would normally be enough to this town, but we went twice.  And I’m glad we did.

All that dirt road (88 km round-trip) meant all the cleaning we got from the rain was undone.  I hung about 1/4 mile back from the other guys because I got tired of breathing dust from their bikes.  But when when a logging truck passed there was no hope at all of avoiding the dust.  At one point two of them passed us and it was a virtual white-out.  We had to just pull over and wait a couple of minutes for visibility to return.

Once we reached Rt 299 again, we were on pavement, and conditions couldn’t be better.  I led the group all the way down, winding through the turns along the river at about 55 MPH, for two hours.  There was little traffic on Rt 299, so most of the time we owned the road.  I know that last stretch of road made me feel like staying in the area for another week.

Tonight we are back to camping.  Carleton has a nice public campground on the bay, located far out on a narrow spit of land.  It’s so low in elevation that a tide of four feet would probably flood the place, but I gather there’s not much tide here.  The campground has nice sites, good wifi, good shower houses, and was $25 for a tent site.  We grabbed two sites, and I had one of them to myself.

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After setting up camp, we rode back to town to grab dinner at a restaurant overlooking the bay.  (Everything overlooks the bay here, so that’s not as unique as it might seem.)  Next door was a dairy bar with an ad for poutine ice cream, but even Steve wouldn’t dare try that.  I had a disappointing “milkshake,” because I forgot that in Quebec milkshakes are mostly milk.  I also got a bad-news phone call from my business partner about contractual dispute with a vendor who was being a major PITA.  But nothing was going to ruin this day … and I slept in my tent that night with the satisfaction of having had a wonderful adventure.

BMW day 8: Perce to Carleton-sur-Mer in more rain

June 15th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

We woke up hoping for a break in the weather, but found the same steady rain we’d seen the night before.  That was depressing.  There wasn’t really any point in jumping on the bikes under those conditions, so we hung back in motel for a couple of hours to see if a change was coming.  Eventually we had to concede that no improvement could be expected and so we donned the gear once again and resolved press on in the grim conditions.  Steve even put on his matching yellow rainsuit, which he had resisted before.  At least now we had learned a few tricks to stay drier than before.  In my case: remember to put the overboots on before you go out in the rain.

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It was the same story as the day before: gusty winds again, cold rain, fog … Steve led us around a tour of Perce (trying to find an interesting road he saw on the map) but all we ended up doing was going in circles.  We drove up the 17% grade again to get a photo of Perce rock, and then started down the coast in search of better weather.  Now we were heading southwest, driving toward the approaching sunshine.

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The front tire on the Dakar was fairly worn when we started this trip, but usable.  In the rain and gusty winds, it was a different story.  I didn’t like the way the bike was handling.  Steve offered to swap bikes with me, because he has more experience, but I hate to pass off my problems on someone else, so I said I’d stick with it.  The bike felt so squirrely that I eventually didn’t feel safe going over 45 MPH, which was going to make a long and unpleasant ride even longer, so Steve asked again, and then on the third suggetion I finally agreed to try his bike instead.  The difference was surprising.   The Dakar has a taller suspension, larger front wheel, is slower at turning, and constantly felt like it was going to be blown over in the gusts.  The GS, which is otherwise identical, felt much more secure and I had no trouble going 55-60 MPH with it.

day8 mapI’m sure we passed a lot of great scenery on that ride.  We certainly covered a lot of the peninsula.  But as with the day prior, we didn’t really appreciate it much under the conditions.

We eventually stopped in St-Godefroi at a tiny roadside restaurant, really just to dry off a little.  My shoulder was hurting, my right foot was soaked (the overboot had a small leak somewhere), and gloves were saturated with water.  I squeezed out about a cup of water from them.  (The heated handgrips were the only reason my hands weren’t freezing.)

Once again we got the pitying look from the restaurant staff. Good thing they  were empty when we arrived, otherwise I wouldn’t blame them for throwing us out.  We were damp even inside the yellow rainsuits, and we squinched and dripped water with every step.  I dropped my gloves on the electric heater in a vain attempt to dry them out, and we left puddles on the vinyl chairs and table.  Steve had poutine again, which I think was his third or fourth of the trip.  I don’t know how a human being can survive on that stuff.

Since the winds had died down, after lunch Steve and I switched back to our regular bikes.  We continued onward without much hope of further improvement.  This ride was becoming an endurance run, just something to be survived.  As we got along the south shore of the peninsula, I noticed that the towns were getting more populous and interesting, with occasional “grand” houses and buildings with intriguing architecture, but it still wasn’t touring weather and we pressed on in the drizzle. We passed on some potential side trips because they’d take us up slick dirt roads and in the fog and rain we couldn’t see much anyway.

Finally around 2:30 pm the rain tapered off. Half an hour later the skies had lifted enough that we felt safe to stop and peel off the rainsuits. This felt wonderful, even with the gray scudded skies above that threatened to soak us again.  I didn’t care—I just wanted to unburden myself.  After wearing all the layers and rainsuit, riding in just motorcycle pants, jacket, and long underwear felt like riding naked. Eric unfortunately discovered a leak in his suit which wet his pants so much that he thought he’d be colder allowing it to dry in the breeze, so he kept his suit on.

At at 3:00 pm, we pulled into Carleton-sur-Mer just as a new shower was getting started.  We stopped at what was probably the most expensive place in town but also a great choice, the Motel Baie-Bleu. It was my turn to sleep on the floor.

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During the routine unpacking that afternoon, I found dampness inside one of my dry bags, which I think was condensation, and a leak in another plastic bag that was in the pannier.  No serious damage, but everything had to come out and be aired out.  We’ve discovered that in serious extended rain, nothing is truly waterproof.  Also, one of my two drybags has started to show signs of wearing through at a few points, mostly where the iPad case rubs against it.  I had purchased lightweight drybags and that has turned out to be a mistake.  They don’t have the durability or abrasion resistance needed for a long trip like this.  Also, the plastic hooks on my bungee cargo net are slowly melting from proximity with the muffler.

That evening we took a walk around town, visited the tiny harbor, and had a glamorous dinner at Subway.  It wasn’t high concept entertainment, but at this point it was about what we expected and it was all fine.  We see blue skies on the horizon and the low pressure system that has been responsible for this rain is moved off the coast of New Brunswick.  That means we should be in fine weather tomorrow, so we are considering staying here another night to do a large inland run back to the Chic Choc Mountains (on paved roads).  This will be about 200 miles roundtrip, with camping—finally!—at the end of the day.  We’ll make a decision in the morning.

BMW day 7: Gaspé to Perce in the rain

June 14th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

We woke to find terrible weather.  Fog, rain, wind, chilly temperatures—it was everything I’d expected from the weather forecast but was hoping wouldn’t happen.

Back at home in Vermont we weren’t getting any sympathy.  They’d been having rain for days, and what we were getting was just the fringe of a much larger storm.  But on the other hand, the folks back at home weren’t facing a motorcycle ride around the tip of a peninsula and the edge of the North Atlantic.

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It was also a shame to leave the comfy Motel Adams.  It had free wifi, free breakfast, free “buy one get one free” drink coupons (which we used the previous night in the bar) and nice rooms.  But after breakfast we suited up in full gear (rainsuits again) for an attempt at touring Forillon National Park.  The road follows the coast north and around in a loop back to Gaspé, about 70 miles or so in total, and on a nice day I’m sure it’s a great ride.

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It wasn’t a nice day.

Probably the less said about that ride, the better.  We survived, and I think we saw a lighthouse or something through our fogged visors, but overall the best part was coming back to Gaspé, opening up the motel room, and drying off.  I had made a serious mistake in forgetting to put on my waterproof overboots for the first five miles of the ride, and by the time I felt the moisture wicking into my socks it was too late.  So even with the overboots on I had soaking wet feet.

Since it was time for a conference, we headed to the Tim Horton’s (next door, of course) and in there we decided to continue forward to Perce.  There was really nothing else to be done about it.  The weather was going to last at least another day.

By the way, a blog comment came in yesterday asking about how we were doing with French.  I mentioned a couple of times in earlier entries that our combined French was pathetic.  However, I kept trying.  In the Tim Horton’s I asked one of the counter staff (using my college-trained Parisian accent) for “sucre s’il vous plaît” and I got the same response that I got every time I spoke French in Quebec: a blank look.  So I said in my best Amerricun accent “SUGAR” and she said to me, “Oh, sucre.”  I swear her pronunciation sounded exactly like mine, at least to my ears.

This happened so often that I was tempted to give up on French entirely, but I didn’t, and toward the end of our time in French-speaking Canada, I actually managed to have a pidgin-French conversation with a woman at a campground who spoke no English.  This, to me, was a major success.

Back to the ride:  it sucked.  Gusty winds, constant rain, very chilly.  Even with rainsuits, condensation and small drips eventually dampen everything.  The visibility was poor, the gusts of wind nearly blew me off the road at one point, and to top it off, the last down grade to Perce was 17% with curves and broken pavement, in fog.  In short, it was terrifying.  I was glad to get into Perce after a couple of hours of riding, and find a motel.  When I stomped into the motel office with my dripping suit, matted hair, and clunky (leaking) overboots, I got a pitying look from the desk clerk.

After hanging everything to dry and turning up the heat in the room, we went out for a walk to find dinner.  We got seafood in honor of being at the “turnaround point” of our Gaspé tour.  After traveling northeast for so long, we will now begin to head back southwest.  At this point there was not much between us and Europe except the fierce grey ocean, which was covered in stormy waves cresting on the rocks offshore.  We walked to the small town dock in the light rain, and saw a seal looking back at us—our second large mammal sighting of the trip.  Perce Rock, the iconic attraction of this town, was magnificent but forbidding when it was shrouded in fog.

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We came back to our room to find it like a sauna.  All the wet clothes had released their moisture into the room, to the point that it frosted my glasses with fog.  We had to leave the door open for an hour to vent out all the humidity.

We would all rather be camping tonight, but there’s little chance of that for a while. The weather report suggested a slight chance of improvement tomorrow, but as long as there is rain we are going to stick with motels so we can dry out our stuff at the end of the day.

Steve was “floor man” tonight.  Eric laid down on his bed to do something with his phone and fell asleep fully dressed at 8:00 pm. I guess all this rainy riding took it out of us today.  But hopefully this is the low point, and tomorrow the weather will be better.

BMW day 6: Madeleine-Centre to Murdochville and Gaspé

June 13th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

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.)

Putting on rain suits

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

A bit of mud

Hosing off the 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.

 

 

BMW day 5: Matane to Madeleine-Centre, QC

June 12th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

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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BMW day 4: Baie Comeau – Matane by ferry

June 11th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

I woke up feeling much better about life than the night before, but still wasn’t sure about the seven hour trip up to Manic 5.  Technically I was off the hook because Steve had already conceded it, but I knew if I changed my mind in the morning Eric would probably agree and we could still do it.  It was a stunningly beautiful day with almost perfect riding weather, so I had some guilt about leading the campaign to drop Manic 5.

We broke camp and rode to the local Tim Horton’s (a Canadian institution much like Dunkin Donuts but as prevalent as Starbucks) to discuss our options again, over breakfast.  While eating, I tried to read the local papers in French and gradually gleaned that there had been a major prison escape near Quebec City, where three dangerous felons were picked up by a helicopter right from the prison yard.  Steve suggested that escaped felons like to hide in the woods, and that we’d better be on the lookout …

I mentioned to Steve that because I had declined to go to Manic 5 I wouldn’t object to any future rides he suggested.  This was my way of throwing him a bone for the disappointment, but even as I said it I realized what a terrifying commitment I had just made.  Who knew what he had in mind?  My total dirt bike experience amounted to a single ride of about 30 miles two years prior.  But the words came out of my mouth and I couldn’t take it back.  I could only hope for him to take it easy on us, which was—if you know my brother—a foolish thing to wish for.

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We finally decided to stay around Baie Comeau and try some local rides that looked interesting, and then (as a compromise) take a short trip up Rt 389, which leads to Manic 5, but stop at a point 23 km up at Manic 2.  Manic 2 is smaller but still impressive, and again the tour wouldn’t start until June 24 so we’d just be looking at the outside.

We had thought we’d change our ferry reservation to take the 2 pm boat from Gadbout but it was already booked solid and couldn’t squeeze in three motorcycles.  So we opted to stick with the evening ferry from Baie Comeau, which meant we had a full day to kill.  While we were in wifi range at Tim Horton’s I booked a hotel in Matane for the night, since the ferry wouldn’t get us in until 10:30 and rain was a possibility in the morning.

While exploring points south of town in Baie Comeau, we found an intriguing unnamed road through a bog that seemed to go nowhere.  No signs, no houses or businesses, just a strip of dirt heading off towards a forest.  This was the kind of thing we were looking for, so off we went.

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Rich rides sandy road

Gradually the road declined to a rutted single-lane of sand, and we had a few tough moments.  Eric and I got through one nasty spot with great effort and some luck, but Steve crashed there.  It was about 150 miles from “where Rich dropped the bike,” so we’re even.

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After picking up Steve’s bike, the road eventually declined into a track through a forest, which got tougher and tougher to ride.  I stopped and pulled up a satellite image on my phone and it looked like the trail was going to peter out somewhere, but we plowed on ahead anyway, amidst a growing crowd of interested mosquitoes.

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Eventually, however, the trail did end and then we had another challenge to get the bikes turned around on a loose slope the width of a hiking path. Perhaps the best thing I can saw about this part was that we encountered several off-road challenges that increased our confidence in the bikes and taught us a little about handling them. Nobody dropped anything in the forest, so it was a success.

Our second exploration never went off pavement, but we found a beautiful point by a nature preserve where the road ended.  There was a little wooden pavilion there, so we stopped for lunch, explored the beach (found some strange gray/blue clay that never seemed to dry out) and talked about great trips we’d had in the past.  It was just perfect weather for hanging out.  No bugs here, and for the entire hour or so we saw only one car.

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Well, after lunch it was time to loop back up to Baie Comeau and ride Rt 389 up to Manic 2.  And once again Quebec surprised me.  The road was amazing on this sunny day: smooth pavement, lots of sweeping curves, no traffic, and great scenery of lakes and rivers all along.  No flattish boringness here—this was the sort of ride that motorcyclists live for.  So now I really felt bad about skipping the big trip to Manic 5, but it was too late by this time to make the full trip.

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At Manic 2 we found a great view from a bridge downstream.  As with Manic 5, there were no tours before June 24, so we turned around there and tried some side dirt roads just to see where they went.  They went forever, dotted with vacation homes alongside each one of the many lakes in this area. After nearly an hour of wandering we realized we could ride dirt all day and never find the end, but it was time to start heading back to Baie Comeau for dinner and the ferry.

Back in town, we chilled out for the afternoon at local pub.  Pizza, beers for the other two guys (I’m not a beer drinker nor do I drink much soda, so I had a lot of iced tea on this trip), and more talk.  Eric mentioned how it takes a few days to get into the trip and we all agreed, but sitting here in the sun on the patio at a far away pub, with little time pressure, we were really feeling the relaxation.

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After dinner we still had a lot of time to kill, so —what else?— we got ice cream, and then headed to the ferry dock early.  Our ship, the MV Camille-Marcoux,  came in at 7:20, we boarded at 7:45, and by 8:00 pm we were slowly gliding through dead calm waters out of the harbor and across 62 km of open water at the entrance to the Gulf of St Lawrence.  I say “Gulf” because now we were well beyond the river and seaway, and deep into salt water leading to the Atlantic Ocean.

Baie-Comeau to Matane ferry

Inside the ferry we were given yellow nylon ropes to “tie down” the bikes.  These were a bit of insurance against tipping over, but wouldn’t do much in heavy seas.  Fortunately we saw no waves taller than our own wake as we cruised the water for two hours and twenty minutes.  The ship was roomy enough that it was like being on a budget cruise.  Most of the passengers snagged reclining chairs in the front of the ship and fell asleep watching some movie in French, but it was nice enough on deck that we spent most of our time up top, watching the sun set.

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At 10:30 we rode off the ship in the dark, our first ride in the dark.  I hadn’t ridden an motorcycle in the dark since 1986, so it was a bit weird at first.  The hotel I’d booked at dinner the night before was only a quarter mile from the dock, so it wasn’t long before we were settled at hotel, sucking up the free wifi, and doing the usual pre-bedtime motel routine.

Part of my packing plan was to bring shirts and underwear that would be easy to wash in the bathroom sink with a little liquid soap (polyester and silk fabrics are great for this; no need to get special “travel underwear”).  But I couldn’t pack a lot of clothes so it was already time to do a quick laundry and hang things up to dry in the shower.  That process took all of five minutes, perfect by bachelor travel standards.

At this point there was no question that a storm was going to hit us tomorrow.  We looked at the radar but really there was nothing to be done about it.  Our wet-weather gear would be tested, but the trip had to continue.  Meanwhile, back to bed.  It was my turn to sleep on the floor, and I finally got in my sleeping bag around 11:30 pm, wondering (as I did every night) what the next day would bring.

BMW day 3: Saguenay to Baie Comeau, QC

June 10th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

Despite the loudness of the birds in the forest, it was a good first night in the tent.  I realized that even though the tent was less comfortable than a hotel room, I liked it better overall.  I like being camped in my own little space, with my lamp and sleeping bag and a good book on the Kindle.  The birds finally got quiet at some point late in the night, and it was very peaceful when we all emerged from the tents around 6 a.m.

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Being that it was still fairly buggy, the trick after my Clif bar breakfast was to take a shower at the bathhouse and get back in motorcycle gear before the black flies descended.  I didn’t want to oil up with DEET again right after washing all that stinky stuff off.   I managed this feat and we had everything packed up and ready to hit the road by 8 a.m.  As we passed out the campground gate (which was still locked) we found the office hadn’t yet opened, so we made a note to call later to pay for our night’s stay.  It really was off-season here.

Our location was alongside the river and near the highway, but not near any restaurants at all.  Unless we backtracked to Saguenay, the nearest meal would be in Tadoussac, 72 miles along the “Route Fjord” (Rt 172).  It was a chilly but clear morning and I didn’t mind the winding ride past the big rocky outcrops at all, covering miles until we could stop for a real breakfast.
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This turned out to be at a cute Victorian house converted into “Cafe Boheme,” as seen above.  The breakfast was massive and good.  I sent a photo of it to Eleanor and she wrote back, “I won’t worry about your meals anymore.”  (But little did we know that the quality of meals was destined to go generally downward after this.)  We met some visitors from Montreal who told us about an upcoming music festival in Tadoussac, which explained why trucks were unloading pallets of beer at the church across the street.

In his constant quest to find dirt to ride on, Steve led us through a few side trips around the town, including some sand dunes overlooking the St Lawrence.  I had never ridden in sand before, and found it was pretty much like you’d expect: tricky. I was pleased that I managed to keep the bike upright through this little adventure, but also humbled because I knew it was probably just the beginning of the tough riding we’d do—and last night’s bike drop was still fresh in my mind.  We were, as Steve would point out, only “72 miles from where Rich dropped the bike.”

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The weather wasn’t warming up after Tadoussac, so we stopped off to add some layers by a waterfall that we discovered while paralleling the north shore of the St. Lawrence.  Clothing layering is the key to comfortable riding, so we all packed a very flexible arrangement of clothes to meet all the weather we might encounter.  For the coldest possible situation I had many layers: a full set of polypropylene long underwear, heavy socks, long sleeve shirt, a lightweight Primaloft jacket, wind/dust/rain liner, armored motorcycle jacket and pants, neck warmer, gloves, and a full BMW rain suit in bright yellow.   Today I was fine without the long underwear but I definitely needed the Primaloft jacket and wind liner under my motorcycle jacket, as a cool breeze blew down from the north.

Weather was on our minds this day.  There wasn’t much to distract us between Tadoussac and Baie Comeau, and the reports I was getting on the phone told us that the nice weather would disappear by Friday, just when we planned to be touring Gaspé.

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Since there were few detours, we covered the distance to Baie Comeau by 3:00 pm.  The rest of the afternoon was blown wandering around town trying to find the ferry dock (which we missed initially because of a road construction detour), and the campground.  Steve thought he had all the key points pegged in his GPS but the coordinates stored there brought us to a Hyundai dealership.  We tried Google Maps and it sent us on another wild goose chase.  A paper map also had the campground in the wrong place. Finally we just followed a road sign and got there with no problem, which just shows that low tech is sometimes best.

Before heading to the campground, we dropped in on the ferry dock to reserve a ride across the Seaway to Matane, QC for the next day.  The choice was either the 2:00 pm ferry from Godbout, a tiny outpost 60 km further northeast, or an 8:00 pm ferry from Baie Comeau.  We had to weigh this carefully, since Steve’s plan for the next day was a huge ride up to Manic 5 and back. We booked the 8:00 ferry for the next day, and headed to the campground to set up for the night.

Manic 5 is an enormous hydroelectric dam on the Manicouagan River, which is a sought-after destination by many adventure riders.  The trip is 221 km each way (136 miles from our campground), and the average speed is about 40 MPH. At the dam’s location we would find a little motel, a restaurant, a gas station, and not much else—and then we’d have to run around and come all the way back to Baie Comeau. That’s a total of seven hours of riding time round-trip.

We had already over 700 miles in three days, and I was tired and not particularly psyched to face seven hours of riding in one day to see a dam.  Once again I was envisioning a fairly flat and uninteresting ride through Quebec wilderness—based on the dull ride up to Baie Comeau.  I had been willing to do the long ride in order to take a tour of the interior of the dam, but it turned out that dam tours didn’t start until June 24 (that “off season” thing had bit us again), and this took a lot of the incentive out for me.

Steve didn’t care about the tour, and in fact didn’t even know there was one.  He just wanted the ride.  It seemed early in the trip for a rebellion, but I was really tired at that point and said I would rather just wait in Baie Comeau for them to come back.  We debated it for a while, and finally that evening over dinner at some forgettable restaurant in town Steve “took one for the team” and said we could skip it.  But he was bummed out about it.

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Back at the camp we were not entirely happy either.  The campground wouldn’t let us pitch three tents on one site, and charged us CDN$66 for two sites, which was nearly what we would have paid for a hotel room in town.  It was one of those places kind of like a KOA: a bit self-important, pricey, a curious mixture of “camping” and Motel 6, staffed gate with electronic keycards, and lock-down at 9 p.m.  The tent sites were strange too, comprised of little clearings in a forest with recent grass sod. The black flies were fairly friendly, so it was another DEET night for all of us.

The electricity in the tent camping loop was turned off so I couldn’t recharge my stuff, but I got a quick charge during dinner (I learned to look for booths with obvious power outlets nearby), and later discovered that the campground bathroom had power too.  So I plugged the iPhone and helmet intercom in while I showered, and hoped that after a good night’s sleep I’d have a better perspective on the day ahead.

BMW day 2: Beaupre to Saguenay, QC

June 9th, 2014 by Rich Luhr

When we started planning this trip a year ago, one of the tips we got was to ride along the north shore of the St Lawrence River, heading east from Quebec City, so that’s how our first day went.  The tip was good: this quickly became much more scenic riding than we had seen before, starting through the villages in the Beaupre area, and then up and down mountains along the St Lawrence.  These mountains are not very tall, peaking out around 780 meters, but I was surprised that they were there at all.  I had expected a flat river valley, and instead we were getting views and many 8-9% grades, with a few reach 12-15%.

We’d roll up the mountains and back down to river level, then up again.  At the higher points we got clear views of the St Lawrence and already it was obvious how the river had widened into the St Lawrence Seaway.  It was as wide as Lake Champlain in no time, so I began to understand why there are no bridges crossing the water north of Quebec City.

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This choice to follow the north side of the river had other repercussions.  Mainly, we’d have to find another way to cross the river again eventually to get to Gaspé.  But also, it opened up the possibility of some side trips further into northern Quebec, which added to the temptation to make the trip very long. Those choices would come later; for now, we had open road along the river and all the scenery we could handle.

We had left the condo without breakfast, so after an hour or two of riding we stopped in Baie St Paul to find something. I should explain at this point that my brother’s views on food and my own don’t align very well.  He is perfectly happy skipping breakfast, eating a egg-muffin-sausage things at McDonald’s or Tim Horton’s when he can, subsisting entirely on chicken wings for weeks at a time, etc.  Having been ruined by Eleanor’s cooking and culinary tastes, I like variety and my mood is somewhat affected by what I eat.  Plus, I’m allergic to certain food additives, so when eating out I tend to lean toward vegetarian cuisine, which can be hard to find in remote areas.

This is not the first time we’ve traveled together, so I knew what to expect and figured that the best way to get along would be to supplement my bag with a few snacks.  I packed 14 Clif bars to fill in the gaps between meals, because I like them and they are incredibly durable even after being stuffed in a pack for days.  I also brought a dozen or so flavored drink mix packets and a 1-liter Nalgene bottle, so I’d always have something to drink even if the local water tasted like moldy frogs.  I hate getting out on the road without breakfast, so this bit of gear saved my day quite a few times, including this day, because we ended up at McDonald’s in Baie St Paul.

Baie St Paul, QC 2

In the parking lot Steve adjusted the drive chain on his bike again, to remove some tightness. He had thought it was too loose that morning before we started, but it turned out he was fooled somewhat by the fact that the bike had no weight on it.  He also was a little worried about the chain lube, which didn’t seem to be holding up.  This would turn out to be an issue for most of the trip.

day2 map

Turning northwest at the small town of St Simeon we picked up Rt 170 toward Saguenay.  This side trip was the first of several that I didn’t expect much from, but again I was surprised at the beauty of the terrain.  The Saguenay River sits not in a valley but rather in a mountainous area with lakes, lofty crags of rock and gorgeous forested hills.

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It even has a fjord, “The Fjord of Saguenay” at Petit-Saguenay, which we motored to (a small 3 km detour off the main route). I was becoming more impressed by this area of Quebec by the hour.

I was also surprised by the fact that there was cell service everywhere, when I had expected to be completely out of touch.  This was a bit disappointing, since it made the areas seem less “remote” than I would have liked to pretend, and also because my phone was filling up with emails that I didn’t want to see.  So I ignored the emails and took advantage of the cell coverage to send Eleanor a few pictures from the area.  You really can’t capture the Fjord of Saguenay in a single photo, even a panorama, so it’s one of those experiences best had in person, but I tried to convey it to Eleanor anyway.

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At this point we were all starting to feel like we were on vacation, at last.  No worries, no hurries, let’s just find a nice lunch spot in  L’Anse-Saint-Jean by the harbor and try a lox sandwich with gigantic bowls of coffee.  Then rode over to check out a covered bridge, and then down a dirt road to get a better view of some waterfalls (“chutes”) near the border of the Parc national du Saguenay.

Further down the road we tried the main entrance to the national park and discovered that camping wasn’t scheduled to open until next week!  Things start late up here in northern Quebec, and the camping/tourist season kicks off in late June.  We were definitely in the “off season,” a fact we were destined to re-discover numerous times.  Fortunately, the very kind agent at the gate helped us by calling ahead and verifying we could go to a commercial campground (Parc Aventures Cap Jeseux), even after hours.  This took a lengthy phone call in French, so we were grateful for her help.  This was also a scene to be repeated several times: clueless Americans with pathetic command of French, saved by patient local bi-linguals.

At this point it was getting late in the day.  We had to stop and throw on another layer as dinnertime approached.  In Saguenay we finally reached the first bridge crossing the river, so we grabbed a little dinner to go, and headed southeast on Rt 172 toward St Fulgence to the campground our friendly gate agent had located for us.

This turned out to be the biggest adventure of the day. The entrance road was dirt, long and wavy like a Möbius strip. At the end of a long day, with dusk approaching it was a small challenge for me to navigate through the loose rocks and steep grades (easily 20% in some places), but it was also great fun.  The gate at the campground was locked, which we expected since we’d been told the campground office would be closed when we arrived, but we just rode around it and headed to the rustic (“camping sauvage”) area to settle in.

Not so easy, as it turned out.  First we couldn’t find the “sauvage” area in the maze of narrow roads and trails in this immense forested area.  Then, we discovered that the black flies in this area were absolutely nightmarish.  The campsites were just small clearings in the forest for tents, and to reach them we would have to run the gauntlet of black flies to get to them and set up our tents.  The clouds of bugs were so bad that we had to keep our helmets on for protection, while stopped to have a conference about what to do.

We tried wandering around a little to find a less buggy area, and in the process of making a U-turn on a slight grade, I lost my footing and dropped the bike.

Rich's first drop

Let me explain “dropping the bike” for those of you who haven’t ridden motorcycles.  First of all, you don’t want to do this, but it happens, especially to dirt riders.  The Dakar is a little tall for me, so when stopped I can only touch the ground with the balls of my feet, and consequently I have to be careful about maneuvering from a stop.  When the ground is uneven, or when turning around using my feet on a slope, it’s easy to lose grip and then 600 pounds of top-heavy motorcycle start to lean.  When that happens, you’re done.  It’s going down.

A minor drop on dirt like this doesn’t hurt the bike, but my Nikon and iPad were in the pannier on the bottom side.  The iPad sustained a nice dent on the keyboard case but otherwise everything survived fine.  The Nikon is tough as nails … as you’ll see in later blog entries.  I also was uninjured because it’s easy and instinctive to get out of the way as the bike is headed down.

With the luggage on the rack, we can’t lift the bikes solo, so every time we had a drop, it took at least two people to get the bike back up. Being solo we’d have to unload all the luggage and then lift it using a special technique that you can see me demonstrating here.

This began a small tradition where Steve referred to all places as “XX feet from where Rich dropped the bike.”  We eventually found the RV camping area (dirt sites with occasional water spigots and 15 amp power outlets) and it was much less buggy, so we picked a spot (all the sites were empty), slapped on a coating of DEET, and set up camp.

Dinner with the bugs was uneventful.  The DEET worked pretty well, so our only real problem was an aggressive squirrel that I had to shoo away a few times.  My dinner got smashed when the bike fell, but even smashed pasta tastes fine. Steve had his first poutine of the trip.  (Poutine: French fries and cheese curds, covered with gravy, beloved by Quebecers)  The usual nightly routine began (checking maps, charging devices, etc.) and we briefly discussed the possibility of a campfire, but instead we took a walk to find some strange alternate accommodations available in the campground, the “Dome” and the “Spheres” and the “Tree Houses.”

The Spheres

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That evening I brought up the point that we’d already traveled 500 miles and we were only two days out.  Turns out that Steve planned for two weeks but never really concerned himself with the total mileage.  At this point I estimated we might exceed 2,000 miles on the trip, which was sort of off-putting because I’d just spent 40 hours driving 2,000 miles from Tucson to Jackson Center, OH, and another 600 or so miles after that to Vermont.  And that’s a lot of miles to sit on the slightly uncomfortable seats of a BMW F650GS.

But hey, we were committed, so there wasn’t any point in griping about it.  We were all ready to accept whatever was coming. It was the spirit of the trip.

That night the forest came alive with birds calling, so many and so loudly that it felt like we were sleeping in a bird aviary for the first few hours.  I actually had to put in my earplugs to get past their chatter and screech … and then got a few hours of sleep before dawn hit the tent fabric at 4:00 a.m.

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