Given the aforementioned issues I was having with my left knee, I thought it best to ease into the next leg of my trip slowly. I had heard rumours that Kouchibouguac National Park was a gorgeous place to camp, so I headed 25km down the road to spend the day and night there. Friends of mine from Oromocto came up to visit for the day, and Richard, the man with a million bikes, came down with his wife for a visit. The weather was perfect, and the beach was gorgeous. I couldn’t have asked for better conditions to relax in.
It’s probably best not to rely on the weather, as a perfectly mild cloudless and starry midnight sky can quickly become a miserable near-freezing rainy morning, and that’s exactly what happened. Fortunately, the weather was bad enough that I completely forgot that I was supposed to have a hangover from the amount of rum I had the previous evening, and clearing the gear took next to no time, even if my hands were practically numb. I guess I’ve gotten used to that (lack of) feeling.
One of the things I’ve come to love about touring is setting up my kitchen in places where it clearly doesn’t belong. After moving off the beach, I went over to the outdoor concession stand to find a bit of shelter for breakfast. Luckily, the campground wasn’t officially open until the weekend, and so I unpacked my home into wherever it would fit. Even a small awning can feel like a thatched roof in the right circumstances, a public toilet like a master washroom.
I left the park and headed to Miramichi, not sure at that point whether I would stay there for the evening or go further. I met more bike tourists: a couple from Gaspe. They were nine days into their tour, and I believe they were heading to South America. The difficulty I had in communicating with them was just a taste of things to come as I headed towards Quebec.
As I hung out in Miramichi thinking about what the rest of my day would look like, I remembered that my mom had friends here, and so I reached out. They graciously offered to take me in for the evening, and, reminding myself that I was going to ease into things slowly, I gratefully accepted. I had to insist that I didn’t need to be driven as far as Campbellton the next day!
The road to Bathurst was generally uneventful. The wind was not helping me out a bit as I went up and down long but mild grades, and the clouds constantly looked as though they were going to unleash their fury. However, as I continue on my journey, and all of my memories become hazy, and all of their details nestle themselves deep within my subconscious, resurfacing only at the most unexpected times, I will remember this day. It’s not because the wind subsided; it’s not because the clouds parted; and it’s definitely not because the road flattened out. It’s because I saw a moose. A beautiful, ugly moose. FINALLY.
With every stop I’ve made, the plan has generally been the same: arrive in town, find Tim Horton’s, and talk to people. Bathurst was a hoot. I arrived in the “town centre” with no sense of the city’s structure. The locals I did manage to talk to were quite friendly, but as the weather left much to be desired, they were few and far between. Plus, no Tim’s. Now what? After exploring the grounds of the local college looking for a place to set up for the evening, I was tired and frustrated. I decided I’d worry about where I was going to sleep later, and I went to see a movie.
I finished the movie and realized that no one had miraculously solved my living situation for me while I was gone, so I started to lower my standards of what constituted an ideal camping spot. Bare minimum: shelter from rain. Ideal: continental breakfast. With a tip from a guy at the theatre that “no one cares where you put your tent,” I went behind a local high school (it was the was weekend, luckily) and found as covered a location as I dared while still being discreet. Success.
Unfortunately, early morning weekend construction proved to be my alarm clock, and I feared the worst as the cars started rolling in around me. Talk about feeling vulnerable. I sheepishly started putting away my tent and hoped that no one would give me too much trouble. Instead, they gave me coffee! What a great start to the day.
Feeling pumped and a bit hyper, I headed off to Campbellton, about 100km away. The distances were slowly increasing, but the body was cooperating, and I felt strong. This stretch was not much different than the last save for less hills, but I was following the coast for the most part, and every time I got a glimpse of Chaleur Bay, I could see the complex terrain of the Gaspesie peninsula steadily increasing in size and detail. Quebec! Anticipation grew within me, and my pace quickened.
I stopped to talk to a hitchhiker named Mario. He had just finished spending 4 days in Gaspé on a fast, drinking nothing but Birch water. We exchanged travel stories, and I left feeling awesome about life on the road and the serendipity of things.
I eventually stopped just outside Campbellton, at Sugarloaf Provincial Park. The park was open, meaning that stealth camping was either going to be very difficult or impossible. Turns out, I didn’t have to worry, as the wonderful ladies working there offered me a campsite for free, along with several Red Bulls. Feeling pretty luxurious, I hopped into the public shower and into bed.
The border between NB and Quebec follows a river near the coast, and my journey the next day did the same. For some 20km, the road lazily meandered along the south side of the water, clearly in no hurry to cross it. I was getting pretty excited, as this part of the trip was THE reason that I decided to go north through NB, and so as the weather warmed up, my spirits rose, and when at last I came to the crossing, I was in the best of moods, eager for serpentine routes through deep green valleys.
Boulevard Perron, which follows a river through the peninsula as far as Amqui, was one of the prettiest parts of my trip so far. The river sparkled in sunlight, and the endless hills that rose to meet me were alive with infinite shades of green.
(oops…missed the river in that one)
I arrived in Amqui, which at that point was my destination for the day, but I didn’t feel tired. As I sat at McDonald’s (another source of free WiFi), an idea grew within me: what if I crossed the entire peninsula in one day? I had read about it being done on crazyguyonabike.com, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how awesome it would be do traverse a significant chunk of land in a single stretch. So, as the sun lowered into the distant hills, I downed a couple of large cokes and hoped for the best as I prepared myself for a bit of night riding.
Finishing the peninsula in a day meant altering my route slightly, branching off the primary 132 highway onto Route du Lac Malcolm in order to hit the St Lawrence more directly. Unfortunately for me, this road was not nearly as kind to cyclists, and as the visibility decreased, the hills increased, until I found myself navigating blindly on a shoulderless and bumpy road. All I knew was that if I kept going forward, I’d eventually be done, as long as I didn’t bonk. Thankfully, the wind had completely disappeared, and I could hear any car approaching from at least 1km away.
At one point, I took a wrong turn down one of the many intersecting side roads. Don’t do this. It took ever-worsening terrain and the appearance of several reflective critter eyes on the side of the road to realize that I was completely disoriented.
After what seemed like an eternity, the road sharply descended, and I knew that I was nearly there. I stopped. I could hear something, something big, but with it being so dark, I had to stare into the darkness for a long time before I could make out what it was. I was among wind turbines! My imagination was running wild at the thought of their towering mechanical presence and the insistent but calming beat of their rotating props. They rose above me into the cloudless yet starless sky creating imposing silhouettes in the last remnants of twilight. I was the furtive explorer in this land of soulless metallic giants.
After trying to converse with a gal from Rimouski whose trip home was interrupted by car problems near where I turned back on to the 132, I set up camp next to the St Lawrence in Baie-des-Sables. 160km! I felt good. I could just barely make out the glow of lights on the other side of the gulf, and in the morning, I couldn’t even see the coast.
Stormy weather throughout the night had me skeptical about the upcoming ride, but 75km seem nearly inconsequential compared to what I’d done the previous day, so I hopped to it. Rain was intermittent throughout the day. Ho-hum touring, I suppose. Boring, yet manageable conditions. It was hard to appreciate the surroundings much, as visibility was quite limited. I had a connection through warmshowers.org in Le Bic, just outside Rimouski, and the thought of a shower after three days of tenting compelled me.
Emma and Benjamin were fantastic hosts. Emma had many of her own touring stories to share, and I was happy to meet two fellow rock climbers who told me about the area. We made Pad Thai and they made sure I was completely stuffed. Definitely experienced tourists in this house.
As I looked at the next leg of my trip to Quebec City, I contemplated whether to make it in two or three days. Clearly, two days was the more challenging option, but I knew that conditions were expected to worsen in the following days, and so I opted to push myself even further: 285km in two days.
Riding along the St Lawrence was as easy as riding triple digit days gets. The ground was so flat, I thought of the prairies, and I was blessed with a rare tail wind. Things were kind of a blur during these two days. Every municipality was named after a saint, and every one of them had a gorgeous church that could be seen from quite a distance. Consistency.
As day one ended, I approached Kamouraska, one of Quebec’s top sport climbing destinations, and I was very tempted to stop and camp: the land was beautiful and the conditions were exceptional considering the forecast. However, I knew that the weather was going to worsen, and that if I stopped there, the next day would have been far too long, so I continued, convincing myself that there would be many opportunities for good camping along the river. As it started to get dark, I was offered a place to stay by a fellow (motor)cyclist. I accepted, thinking of the forecast, though it was bittersweet, because my heart was set on camping.
The next morning validated my concern. Rain. Lots of it. I was off to an early start with the thought of seeing my good friend in Quebec City to motivate me. The rain ended up being less intense than I expected, and the wind less of a hinderance, but construction work and road limitations made the early parts of this leg frustrating. I got it done, though, and now I’m waiting out this storm in Saint-Romuald in a very comfortable guest room. After 8 days of riding and nearly 800km, I need a break!
I seemed to have solved my more serious aches and pains. The rest and trigger point massage work that I did on my IT band has amazingly removed all symptoms, but I’m trying not to get over-confident with things. Numbness is no longer an issue, now that I’ve played with my seat height and angle enough. I could probably tell you with precision down the millimeter exactly where on my seat my sit bones connect. Finally, I’m a fully functioning man again. Ladies.
I don’t know whether or not I’m mentally capable of dealing with powerful winds like the ones I experienced when first entering NB. I haven’t seen any of sort since, and I’m not keen to experience them again anytime soon.
My journey gets quite a bit more social as I enter central Canada, with frequent stops and many good friends to visit. I’m really looking forward to it, because I know that the pendulum swings both ways, and northern Ontario and the prairies will be quite remote. With just over 2500km under my belt, I’m starting to feel like I’ve really accomplished something big here: approximately 1/3 of the 2nd largest largest country in the world, though you wouldn’t know it looking at a map.
I’m homeless and loving it. Welcome to my world. A bientôt!