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

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.

untitled-137

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.

Perce Rock view 1

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.

I’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.

untitled-140

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

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.

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.

untitled-134

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.

untitled-138

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

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.

untitled-130

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.

untitled-133

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.

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

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.)

untitled-91

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.)

untitled-93

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.

untitled-96

untitled-100

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.

20140612 5150IMG_4436

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.

20140612 5155IMG_4441

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.

untitled-10920140612 5156IMG_4442

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.
untitled-112

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.

untitled-120

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.

untitled-123

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.

BMW Canada-47

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):

BMW day 4: Baie Comeau – Matane by ferry

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.

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.

untitled-56

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.

untitled-60

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.

20140611 5138IMG_4413

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.

untitled-64

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.

untitled-71

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.

BMW Canada-24-2

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.

untitled-84

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.