Gaspé Bicycle Tour with Atlantic Canada
– Henry Currie

Henry Currie Gaspe Bicycle Tour
The Gaspe Bicycle Tour was Henry Currie’s first ACC bicycle trip. This is his write-up of his tour experiences.  

Gaspé Bicycle Tour with Atlantic Canada– Henry Currie

Background

This bicycle tour took place from 24 August to 2 September 2019. It was organised & managed by Atlantic Canada Cycling (ACC) based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. . This touring company have been running cycling tours since 1987 in the Maritime Provinces of Canada – Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island & Québec. Their tours usually run from late June until early September, lasting from 8 to 10 days. The distance each day varied from 45 kms to 115 kms. To keep costs down, all cyclists are encouraged to use the campsites along the route. There are also options to book hotels, motels or B&B’s if the weather gets really bad. On this Gaspé tour, all of the campsites except one were on or close to the coast. I stayed on campsites for all 9 nights of the tour.

Logistics

I had quite a few dilemmas to sort out before even considering to take part. These were :-

  1. Do I bring my own bicycle or do I hire a bicycle?
  2. Where will I hire a bicycle in Canada?
  3. How do I get myself & the bicycle to the start point of the tour?
  4. What essential cycling accessories do I need to bring with me?
  5. Can I fit everything I need for the tour into two pannier bags?
  6. Where can I leave my suitcase when I go on the tour?

I was able to find a bicycle hire company in Québec City called Cyclo Services who were able to answer all my queries in providing & equipping a suitable bicycle for a two week hire. They are located at 289 rue St Paul in Old Québec.

I stayed at the hotel Le St Paul located at 227 rue St Paul in Old Québec. The hotel proved to be ideally situated for collecting the bicycle & returning it later. I was able to leave my suitcase & some clothes there before the cycle tour in their luggage store room.

Tour

 This tour followed an anti-clockwise loop around the Gaspé Peninsula, known locally as the Gaspésie. It’s the furthest east part of southern Québec, situated between the southern shore of the St Lawrence River & the Baie des Chaleurs. Starting at Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, we stayed at the Parc Gaspésie, New Richmond, Pabos, Percé, Gaspé, Forillon National Park, Rivière au Renard, Grande Vallée & Mont St Pierre to return to Sainte-Anne-des-Monts 10 days later. The tour length was around 750 kms – a long tour.       

Tuesday August 20 2019

I left home at 4.15am to drive to my sister’s house in Belfast where I was leaving my car for the duration of my trip. She took me to the bus station where I got the 5.30am “translink” bus to Dublin airport. I arrived at the airport at 7.30am. There was a large queue at check in for my Montréal flight, which gave me plenty of time to get all my documents ready when I finally got to the check-in desk. I went straight to the departure gate, where I had enough time to get a coffee & muffin. An apple completed my breakfast. I had a quick toilet visit before boarding my flight, which left on time at 10.15am. My flight arrived in Montréal at 11.45am local time, again on time. I was off the flight & through immigration fairly quickly. I had 3 hours to spare before my onward flight to Québec city, so I relaxed with a Tim Hortons coffee & a beignet in the airport lounge. I called my sister to say that everything was going well & I would get to Québec by 5pm. I passed the time speaking to a Canadian lady who lived in the far north west of the country. She was flying back to British Colombia after having driven from BC to Montréal to leave a car there for her daughter! My flight to Québec was slightly late, but it landed on time at 4.15pm. I took a taxi to the hotel Le St Paul in Old Québec. As I left in the taxi, the driver insisted that I spoke to him in French & he would reply to me in English! That was a laugh & it passed the time so quickly as well!

I arrived at my hotel at 5pm. The check-in was quick & efficient with bilingual staff members assisting me. My room on the third floor was clean & tidy but oddly shaped. The décor was so dull – a shame really – given the gorgeous exterior of the building. There was however, a nice view across to the port of Québec. I unpacked my suitcase, showered & changed into shorts, t-shirt & sandals. It was warm, 25 Celsius. I checked over the Canada guide book I’d brought with me for sights to explore in vieux Québec nearby. I took a gentle stroll around & had a quick meal in the Buffet de l’Antiquaire further along rue St Paul. Nothing special, but a reasonably priced meal in a touristy area. Darkness fell around 7.45pm that evening. I returned to the hotel shortly after that. I felt tired now with the jet-lag kicking in, so I went to bed around 9.45pm & was asleep by 10pm.

 

Wednesday August 21 2019

I slept well in the room with the air conditioning working all night. It was quiet & efficient. I woke at 7.30am, shaved, washed & went for breakfast at 8am. Breakfast was served in the hotel’s restaurant – Le Veravin. A nice ambience here, despite the meagre breakfast that was available as part of my room rate. I had two crêpes with maple syrup, a few small pieces of fruit & some coffee. This really didn’t fill me up at all. I spoke to two US couples from Maine who had driven to Québec.

I left the hotel around 9.30am to explore the old town of Québec. I knew from the weather forecast that to-day was going to be rainy, so I had intended to visit two museums & stay indoors. I climbed up the Côte de la Canoterie behind my hotel to the upper town. The Château Frontenac became visible as I turned a corner on rue des Remparts. What a sight it is, so graceful & commanding on the cliff top. I stopped at the place d’Armes to take photos – it’s so photogenic here & a focal point for tourists. I watched with amusement, the various street entertainers performing here – some have amazing skills at juggling. I got a coffee & muffin from the Starbucks at the side of the château & sat on a bench on the Terrasse Dufferin to take in the views across the St Lawrence River to Lévis.

After my snack, I decided to get to one of the museums I had in mind to visit. As it was raining now, I quickly moved on to the musée de l’Amérique francophone, situated not far from the place d’Armes. This musée tells the story of how the French settlements were established in North America. I found it interesting, but the exhibits rather overstated the French conquest of Canada. The musée is located alongside a church & admission includes entry to it as well. I toured the entire building with an American couple who, like me, felt the whole French-Canadian success story was very biased.

I descended to the lower town via the escalier casse-cou (breakneck steps), next I strolled along the rue du Petit Champlain. It was still raining so I moved on quickly to the musée de la civilisation to get back indoors. I would explore this street in more detail another time. Entry including that to the special exhibitions, cost 22$CAN – quite expensive I thought, but I was going to take my time around all the galleries – given the rain outside. The musée has won awards for both its architecture & exhibitions. I certainly enjoyed all of it, especially the collection of old household items people had donated to the musée. It brought back memories of my childhood in the 70’s.

On leaving the musée, I strolled back to rue St Paul. The rain had stopped now, but it still felt damp & humid. I went to a small café, La Dominicaine, set alongside all the antique & craft shops here. Some lovely window displays in these shops. I had a large “bol” of coffee. To pass the time, I spoke to the owner, a Dominican woman. We had a great conversation about cycling in French.

I returned to my hotel about 6.30pm. I decided to have a little nap, so I lay on the bed. When I got up again, I decided to have my evening meal at the hotel’s restaurant – Le Veravin rather than go out again. My meal of pork chops, potatoes & salad was tasty, but nothing special. I had a beer as well. I chatted with the American family sitting alongside me who had driven here from New England. It was their first time in Québec.

The reception staff had informed me earlier in the day that there was to be a firework’s display on the St Lawrence River not far from the Lévis ferry terminal. I decided to go as this was not far away from the hotel. When I got there, the atmosphere was terrific with a line dancing group on a raised stage with laser lighting entertaining the audience. I stood to watch, finding it amusing that the crowd joined in singing the songs sung in French, but miming those in English. The fireworks began at 10pm, lasting for about 15 minutes. A barge had been set up in the middle of the river to set off the fireworks. I’m sure virtually all of Québec & Lévis could see the display. Afterwards I strolled back to hotel St Paul & was in bed by 11pm.

 

Thursday August 22 2019.

Again, I slept well, rising at 7.15am. I turned on the TV for the news as I showered & dressed & then went down for breakfast at 8am. I had a tiny bowl of cereal, a muffin & small pieces of fruit – too little again – for breakfast. After breakfast, I went back up to my room to sort out all the bicycle accessories I needed to bring with me to the bicycle hire shop nearby. I got everything that I’d asked for on the bicycle. I’d listed all these things in prior e-mails to the hire company – wider tyres with deep treads, triple chain ring, larger rear cassette, new saddle & longer brake pads. This was really good service & greatly appreciated by me during my cycling tour. I signed the hire forms, spoke to some of the staff for a while, then left to return to the hotel to collect my things before setting out on a cycle ride along the cycle path known as the corridor du littoral.

The corridor du littoral is a busy cycle path which runs from the south of Québec city near Ste Foy to Montmorency Falls north of the city. It meanders through the old port area & is completely car free. One of the reasons I wanted to ride it was to see how close I could get to the train station without having to cycle on trafficked roads. It was interesting to see the measures taken to protect cyclists on the approach to road & pedestrian junctions. It was a cloudy day with some sunny intervals, but not too windy despite the proximity to the St Lawrence River. I cycled almost to the end of the path where I found a café 47. I stopped for lunch here, having a chicken salad & coffee. There was a viewing tower at the waterfront, so I ascended it to take in the view along the river.

Lunch over, I cycled to the end of the path where I met a local cyclist Martin. I had a great chat in French with him about cycling. He invited me to cycle back to Québec city with him. We chatted all the way back to the old port area where Martin left me to cycle on another path to return home. Before leaving, he admitted that he was an English teacher & could speak fluent English! I had struggled a bit trying to respond to him at times in French, so on knowing this, I was playfully going to hit him! I cycled on to Montmorency Falls which was 16 kilometres on from where I’d stopped & said goodbye to Martin. Cycling is the best way to visit the falls as one can “park” here for free!

The area around Montmorency falls is forested on one side & bare faced rock cliff on the other. One can use a wooden stepped walkway to reach the top, there are viewing points along the way too. I didn’t have the time to do this as it was already late afternoon when I got there. I walked around the lagoon towards the falls taking photos as I went. It was warm, 24 Celsius, so the misty spray from the waterfall was most welcome as I reached the viewing platform in front of the falls. I would suggest a 4-hour visit to be the average time to explore this attraction fully.

I took lots of photos & got some other tourists to take pictures of me with my camera & mobile phone. The falls here are actually higher than those at Niagara. However, Niagara has a greater volume of water falling. On returning, I went into the visitor centre where I had parked my bicycle alongside, to take a look around at the pictures on the walls showing scenes from times past. I bought a bottle of Fanta there as I was thirsty & ate an energy bar. Outside I found a tap to refill my water bottle before retracing my route back to vieux Québec.

I returned to hotel St Paul after 6pm. At the reception I arranged to leave the bike in a storage room overnight. I went to my room for a quick nap – I was tired after all the cycling in the heat. I’d seen a pizza parlour not far from the cycle hire shop, so I decided to try it for a seafood pizza. The owner was a Mexican man who spoke Spanish, French & English. We had a great conversation about football. I was very impressed with his knowledge of English premier league teams… & the pizza he made for me was delicious too.

 

Friday August 23 2019

I slept soundly in my room & woke at 7.15am. After having a shower & getting dressed, I went for breakfast at 8am. This time I had two crêpes, some cereal & fruit with coffee. I didn’t linger long over breakfast as I’d lots to do for packing. I needed to be checked out of the hotel by 11am. I’d packed my tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat & spare bike clothing into one of my pannier bags before going to bed last night which helped a bit. The rest of my belongings were folded & packed carefully into my other pannier & the rucksack that I’d brought with me. I left out my shoes, trousers, clean shirt & guide book. These were put into my suitcase to be kept at the hotel until my return on 5 September.

I took my suitcase down to reception first, letting the receptionist know that I would collect it in two weeks’ time. The hotel had a storage room for left luggage which I’d read about on Trip Advisor. Next I brought down my pannier bags & rucksack. These were left in the storage room as well. I explained to the receptionist that I was going out for the day around Québec city. I would return around 5pm to prepare for my ride to the train station at Ste Foy. 

When tidying things in my room I’d come across some tourist literature showing the various bus tours which were available around Québec City. I decided to do the “old city” tour at 10.30am. The receptionist booked it for me. I paid using my credit card 42$CAN – guided tours are not cheap in Québec City ! The receptionist then told that the bus would pick me up outside the hotel. 

The bus arrived on time. I showed my receipt to the driver who welcomed me on board. All the other 20 passengers were from the cruise ship docked in the old port. The driver, a French-Canadian who spoke faultless English, delivered a humorous commentary on the various buildings & sights as he drove around the city. We stopped at Battlefields Park for an opportunity to look around & take pictures. I chatted to the driver about the history of Canada during the stop. Battlefields Park, at first seems quite an empty space in the city but contains many historical sites to visit including La Citadelle an old fortress built to defend the city. Looking across the park, I spotted the observatory (l’Observatoire), probably the ugliest building in Québec city.

I got off the bus around 12.30pm. This time I strolled round the city walls. The Porte St Louis being the prettiest of the gateways into the city that I passed. It was rather cloudy but warm 23 Celsius. The Terrasse Dufferin was my next stop where I got a coffee & sat on a bench admiring the view across the river to Lévis. Afterwards, I descended the escalier casse-cou & strolled among the small shops & cafés at the bottom. I had a late lunch at café casse cou of poutine – it really does fill me up – then continued my stroll around the harbour area. The large cruise ship was still there. I stopped to sit on a bench seat to relax, where I met a couple from Toronto & had a great conversation about Québec with them. Like me, it was their first time here. Shortly, I would be returning to the hotel to begin my bike tour. I was actually quite nervous at the prospect of going into the unknown.

I returned to the hotel at 5pm, quickly changing into my cycling clothing. I checked over my bicycle & all my equipment. I put my travel tickets in one of the panniers’ top pockets, so I could find things when needed later on. I left the hotel at 5.30pm, making my way across the street onto the corridor du littoral. Cycling on a bicycle laden with two panniers weighing 6kg each & a rucksack on my back meant that I had to be careful when riding through narrow sections of the cycle path & around other cyclists. At around 6.15pm I reached the café 47 where I stopped for a coffee & an energy bar. I’d to forego an evening meal as I wanted to get to the train station before nightfall around 7.30pm. As I ate the energy bar, I spotted the large cruise ship I’d seen earlier making its way down the St Lawrence – a magnificent sight. I checked the route on my phone before leaving to make sure that I could find the easiest route to the station. It was less than 3 kms away. I crossed the main road & ascended a surprisingly steep hill. Approaching a staggered crossroads I stopped to take a rest. I spoke to a couple out for an evening walk who were interested in my bike tour. I eventually arrived at the train station at 7.15pm. The train was not due until 10.50pm, so I had time to spare. I left my bicycle at the entrance, taking off the pannier bags.

I entered the train station to be met by the cleaner – the VIA rail staff had not arrived yet ! As this station is a minor one, it’s only open three times a week – something I’m not used to back home. The station is small with a waiting area for about 30 people, toilets & some vending machines. To pass the time, I rang family members back home, only afterwards remembering the 5 hour time difference. It was after midnight back home.

The VIA staff arrived at about 8pm. I wanted to make sure that they were aware that I was travelling with a bicycle & to get it booked on straight away. However, both staff members were very unco-operative, arguing that as Amqui was an un-manned station my bicycle could not be returned to me – I would have to get off at Mont Joli, 70 kms away ! I countered this by saying that I was willing to retrieve the bicycle from the guards van myself. After pleading with them to let me go to Amqui, they said they would speak to the VIA staff on the train & let me know if I could get off at Amqui as planned. I had the ACC staff waiting for me there, so I e-mailed Gary Conrod to tell him of my dilemma. He replied to me saying to be firm with them as they aren’t used to bicycle tourists on trains.

Thankfully they relented & allowed me to travel with the bicycle to Amqui. I paid the fare 26.50$CAN. By this stage it was almost 10.30pm. The station waiting room was full of American tourists heading to Halifax, who had sleeping berths booked. The train arrived on time at 10.45pm. All of the passengers who didn’t have berths booked were asked to get to their seats now. I wheeled my bicycle through to the platform, taking off the lights, bottle & computer. A VIA rail employee then loaded it into the guards van. I noted where it was as I wanted to make sure I got there quickly on arrival at Amqui.

Saturday 24 August 2019

I was shown to my seat by a female VIA rail staff member, who confirmed to me that I would be getting off at Amqui. The train left just after 11.00pm with all the other passengers getting to their sleeping berths. The train moved along the platform to allow them to access the sleeping cars. My seat was reasonably comfortable with a pull-out leg rest which helped me to achieve a better sleeping position. The train carriage was really old-fashioned – I felt I was back in the 1950’s on this journey. The train was slow, with several lengthy stops to allow freight trains to pass. The regular sounding of the train’s horn didn’t allow me to get a good sleep – I slept fitfully. At around 5.15am I checked the train’s location on my phone, it had just passed Mont Joli. I reckoned the train would arrive at Amqui in the next half hour or so. However, there was a long delay of almost an hour waiting for a freight train to pass before the train eventually arrived at Amqui at 7am – 2 hours late!

I gathered all my belongings & got off the train as quickly as possible. There were only a few others getting off here. Getting my bicycle was my priority now. The VIA staff, who had been made aware of it being in the guard’s van, quickly got it & handed it down to me. Gary Conrod & Ed Kelly were at the station waiting for me – that was great! They had both slept in the car overnight. I greeted both with a handshake & a friendly “bonjour”. Gary loaded my bicycle into the rear of the car, Ed took care of my luggage. We all got into the car & left Amqui en route to Ste-Anne-des-Monts which was 150 kms away as quickly as possible. Gary explained that all the other cyclists should be there now. Their breakfast was to be served from 8am at the motel. It was looking like a nice sunny day with 24 Celsius being forecast.

I had a great conversation with both Gary & Ed on the road to the tour start point at motel Manoir sur Mer. We talked mostly about cycling. I described my previous bike tours around parts of France & trips to the Tour de France – something Gary wants to do sometime soon! Along the way, I spotted a café called casse-faim (hunger-break) which amused me. Thankfully, the traffic was light. We arrived at the motel around 8.45am. Gary, Ed & I made our way inside to the restaurant area where the others were all having breakfast. Gary did the introductions & I acknowledged all the others. There were 14 cyclists in total including me. Their ages ranged from around 50 to 78 – yes there was a lady of 78 years of age on this tour!

I quickly ordered my breakfast, remembering to speak in French. I had crêpes with maple syrup & a fruit salad. The waitress poured me coffee as well. It was delicious & just what I needed as I was so hungry after my long journey here. After breakfast, Gary gave the tour introduction talk to everyone, mostly about transporting our luggage & support along each day’s ride. Everyone had an opportunity to ask questions. We were each given a booklet with all the essential details for the day’s ride – places to stop along the route, the selected shop to buy groceries & a profile of the days ride. Ed gave all of us luggage tags for each of our bags, no matter what size. Soon we were all ready to prepare for our first day’s tour. This was from Ste-Anne-des-Monts to the Parc Gaspésie, a distance of 43 kms.

Outside of the motel, we all left our tagged luggage on the ACC groundsheet. I had remembered to put my grocery bag in the pocket of my cycling shirt. I’d also refilled my bottle & put an energy gel in my cycle bag which was attached to the bicycle just behind the handlebar. I checked over everything on the bicycle, asking Gary to adjust the cable on the front derailleur, allowing the third chain ring to engage smoothly.  We had all been advised to buy food at the chosen supermarket before leaving Ste-Anne-des-Monts as our destination at Parc Gaspésie was in a wilderness area.

I left the motel alone. Each cyclist can decide whether they want to cycle as a group or as they please. It was a lovely sunny day, albeit with quite a wind blowing in from the coast. The road was flat though with very little traffic. I cycled into the centre of town following the directions given by Gary, which I’d placed on top of my bar bag. Each cyclist was given written directions showing the distance travelled & where to turn etc along the route. I found the supermarket after 3 kms. Some of the other cyclists were already there. I bought all the things I needed for dinners & breakfasts. After paying for my groceries, I put them in my shopping bag & left them in the large ACC grocery bin that Ed had left close to the supermarket exit.

I studied the directions given for the route before leaving. I turned left & was immediately on route 299 to New Richmond. I crossed a busy road, passing a Tim Horton’s café on my right. I was tempted to go in & get a coffee, but I’d had a big breakfast, so off I went up the hill & out of Ste-Anne-des-Monts. I was still on my own, but could see others in the tour group ahead of me. It was warm now, 24 Celsius, I could feel it on my back. Looking around on hearing laughter, I saw a family group enjoying their outdoor swimming pool. I really did feel so carefree at this point. Cycling in Canada, with all my needs taken care of – it can’t get better than this!

Route 299 goes southbound to New Richmond on the coast. A sign post just outside Sainte-Anne-des-Monts gave the distance as 143 kms. Thankfully, I wasn’t going THAT far today. The road ahead climbed steadily for the next 12 kms to peak at Cap Seize. I wondered at the name. Seize is the French word for sixteen. Glancing down at my bike computer as I reached the summit, I noticed that I’d covered 16 kms since my ride began at Ste-Anne-des-Monts! Perhaps that explains the name – although I’m not totally sure. From Cap Seize, there was a wonderful descent for the next kilometre or so that saw me reach almost 75 kph. However, it wasn’t to last & soon I was climbing steadily again. The gradient wasn’t too steep, probably no more than 6% max. But the forest & mountain scenery was getting more spectacular the further along route 299 I went. So much so, that I actually went about 1.5 kms past the entrance to the campsite. Jason had spotted me & went on up the road to alert me. I had covered about 45kms.

I turned round & cycled back down to the entrance to the camp site in Parc Gaspésie. Most of the others had already arrived there, so we all chatted together at the side of the road. Jason had gone to the site office to get our pitches sorted out. As I wheeled my bicycle up the stony path through the campsite, I realised how different campsites in Canada are to those in Europe. Back home, a campsite is seen as an adventure playground for everyone young & old. The facilities often include restaurants & cinemas. However, in Canada they are much more basic. This one was very basic with no kids’ playground or swimming pool. On the other hand, the location was so scenic, nestling in a forest of pine trees with a mountain backdrop. There was also a beautiful lake to explore as well.

Once the location of all the pitches was sorted out, it was up to us all to get our tents erected. I collected my luggage & set about putting up my 1-man tent. This tent, incredibly weighs only 2 kgs, including the storage bag. I struggled to put it up due to the hard, stony ground which I had to push the tent pegs into. I borrowed a mallet from Duncan & Alison with whom I was sharing the pitch. Thankfully with this I was able to get my tent up. I took out my sleeping bag, sleeping mat & my night clothes, putting these in the tent. I left out my beanie hat as well. I put my water bottle in the tent also, figuring that it might be useful if my mouth got dry during the night. Next, I got changed out of my cycling clothes into sandals, shorts & t-shirt. It still fell quite warm in the forest. I checked over my bicycle which was propped up against a tree. I’d left my cycle helmet, mitts, glasses & bike computer on it. I took my light off, putting it into my pocket to use later. Duncan & Alison meanwhile worked so well as a team to get their tent up & all their belongings into it. Their tent, nicknamed the Taj Mahal, was enormous, cavernous even, compared to all the others.

I decided to take a stroll around the campsite & surrounding area to explore it, remembering to bring my camera & phone with me. I came across the lake with trees around the edge, which reflected beautifully in the water. I took some photos of the scenery. Only now do I wish I had taken more photos, as the scenery everywhere was gorgeous against the cloudless sky. I met Duncan & Alison as I was walking back to our pitch. They were going to the Parc Gaspésie interpretative centre across the road from the campsite. I decided to go along with them. This building tells the visitor about the geology of the Parc in great detail. There’s even a short quiz to see how much you’ve learnt!  

On returning to the campsite, I was starting to feel really hungry. I’d had no lunch, only an energy bar at the end of my ride. I collected my shopping bag which had been brought to the site. Gary showed me the method of storing groceries that they have used for countless years. Each cyclist is given a milk crate sized storage bin for their groceries, plus space in one ice cooler for fridge items. All these containers were stored neatly in the ACC truck. I put away all my groceries, then went to get showered.

When I got back from my shower, it had cooled somewhat, so I put on my fleece coat & long trousers. I was grateful that I had warm clothing with me. The fleece was the last thing that I’d packed. I noticed from my pitch that most of the others were now making meals in the campsite shelter where Gary, Ed & Jason had set up all the cooking items, stoves, pots, pans, plates & cutlery. They even had a range of condiments to enhance meals. As this was my first time with ACC, I wanted to see how the others used the cooking facilities – they all had toured & camped with ACC before. I was surprised by the range of meals being prepared & cooked from stir fries to steaks. I made a ham, cheese & pickle sandwich together with fruit & biscuits. This seemed such a simple meal in comparison with the others. I ate my meal – I was able to make a coffee with it – seated under the shelter. By the time I was finished it was getting dark. Sunset was at 7.20pm.  

I smelt smoke & looked round to see that the ACC staff had lit a fire in one of the fire pits close by. I decided to go over & enjoyed chatting to the others who had gathered round. It was pitch dark, the only light now coming from the fire. I felt a sense of great comfort from that. Gary had set some folding chairs out, which we all sat on. It was great to chat to Gary, Ed, Jason, Michael, Andrew & Charles. Finally, at 10.30pm we all went to bed. Thankfully, I had my bicycle torch with me to find my way back to my tent. It was really dark & the terrain was uneven with tree roots & stones, so I had to tread carefully along the way. I changed into my night clothes, which were my winter tights & a t-shirt. I put socks on as it now felt really cold. I did this outside, as there was no-one around to see me, thankfully! I got into my tent, zipping down the cover behind me. Finally, I got into my sleeping bag & zipped it up. Somehow my tent felt so small & cramped. I realised now how well organised I needed to be to ensure I knew where all my gear was each time I stayed on a campsite.

Sunday 25 August 2019

I woke at 7am. I’d slept reasonably well, only having to get up once for a sly pee in the forest at 4am or so – it was still dark then. I made my way across to the campsite shelter where all the others with the exception of Charles & Michael, were already having breakfast. I got my cereal, milk, some fruit & made a cup of coffee. It was a lovely sunny morning after a rather chilly night. The temperature was 3 Celsius at daybreak, I believe. I really enjoy my Weetabix at home, but out in the open air, it tasted even better. I drank the rest of my coffee chatting to the others, who wanted to leave the campsite before 8am. I didn’t want to rush to leave as I needed to make sure that I had everything all packed away properly. I returned to my tent, dismantled everything & carefully packed it into a pannier bag – making sure that all the tent poles & pegs were counted too. As the tour progressed, I got much more efficient with packing up all my gear.

At 9am, I departed the campsite. It was looking like a warm day again, around 22 Celsius max today. However, I knew that this would be a long day in the saddle. The route was 115 kms long, ending at New Richmond on the coast. There was also the matter of getting over the large hill of the Parc Gaspésie. Each evening Gary handed out a booklet giving the essential details of the next day’s route. This enabled all of the group to ask questions & prepare fully for the next day’s ride. Gary also gave out a distance point to point summary of the route for us to follow.

I was in great spirits as I left the campsite. Well fed & relaxed, I set off up the hill. At first, it was not too steep & I had no problem keeping a good pace. But then I hit the steeper 9% gradient, which saw me in the third chain ring & out of my saddle. I made it to the top – the elevation reading was 577 metres. Then the descent began, I was quickly back in the big chain ring, hitting 70 kph at one point. This was bliss on a bicycle especially as there was little or no traffic on the road – it was Sunday after all. Jason passed me on the initial downhill – I just wished I could have been drafted by his truck!

Eventually after 35 kms, I found the relais café indicated on Gary’s notes. It was just after 11am when I parked my bicycle at the side of the café. I took some photos as the scenery around was beautiful, especially against the clear blue sky. I had some soup, biscuits & a coffee, served to me by a First Nations lady who refused to speak to me in French. I enquired why. She told me that she felt that way because of the French conquest of Eastern Canada & their treatment of indigenous peoples. Anyway, she was polite, we chatted about my bike tour & the Gaspésie in general. Before leaving, I asked her to take some photos of me inside & outside the café.  

I left the café, cycling back down route 299 where soon I came across the Cascapédia River to my right. I followed this river almost the whole way to New Richmond. There was very little traffic on the road, so I was able to keep off the hard shoulder, which in places was stony & poorly surfaced.  I stopped after another 40 kms at a laneway to a maple syrup factory. I took an energy gel to revitalise me. I was tired from a combination of the long ride & the heat. It was a cloudless day. I got back on my bicycle, riding southbound towards New Richmond. The landscape was flatter now, with small farms visible on both sides of the valley. However, I soon reached a few small hills which I found tough to climb given that I had covered 100 kms already. On the last descent I reached the junction with route 132. Waiting there were a group of other touring cyclists including Gary, taking a break. I stopped to join them, drinking the remaining energy drink in my bottle.

We cycled together as a group into New Richmond, stopping at the ICA grocery store to get food items. I bought fresh fruit, orange juice & milk. I spotted Gatorade, so I bought two bottles. This would prove handy to fill my water bottle tomorrow. I had the opportunity to buy some pastries & a coffee in the café near the supermarket exit. As it was sunny & warm, I sat outside on a picnic table with other cyclists. I even took off my cycle shirt & replaced it with a sleeveless one. I had covered 115kms – a long ride indeed in warm conditions. I reached the campsite, Pointe Taylor, on the coast along with several other cyclists shortly after. It was a relief to get there – just the minor issue of getting my tent up now.

I collected all my bags from where the ACC truck had deposited them. Jason had written the pitch numbers we had on the noticeboard at the back of the truck, so I went off to find one. Andrew had almost completed putting his tent up when I decided to share the pitch with him. At each camp site a maximum of two tents can be erected on each pitch. I dropped my gear & got out the tent bag. Again, this site was stony, so I struggled to push the tent pegs into the ground. Luckily, Michael had a hammer which helped me enormously. After setting up my tent, I collected my wash kit & towel to find the washroom for a shower. I did this each day – it was good to get into a routine. The washroom was clean, well maintained, even having a hair dryer in the men’s room.

On returning to my pitch, having changed into t-shirt & shorts, I left my towel to dry on the line left by a previous camper – nice one that. I took out my night clothes, putting these into my tent along with my sleeping bag & mat. The sun was beginning to get low on the horizon, it was just after 6pm, as I made my way to the campsite shelter to make my dinner. Again, I made a sandwich, using up the rest of the bread. I had some biscuits & fresh coffee. Most of the others had already eaten when I got there, so I sat & chatted with Ralph & Marta at the picnic table. They were experienced touring cyclists, having done several ACC tours in the recent past.

Duncan & Alison then suggested a walk to the shoreline. I went along with them, remembering to bring my camera with me. We crossed the campsite, walked through a small field, over a stream & there was the Baie des Chaleurs – warmth bay. The sea was very calm, there was hardly a ripple in the water. The setting sun had the landscape in silhouette – I took some photos – it was so beautiful & serene. Across the bay lay the province of New Brunswick. The only truly bi-lingual province in Canada I believe. The beach here was a mixture of sand & silt, not very nice to look at. We returned to the campsite in complete darkness at 7.30pm. I would have got another hour of daylight back home…

As usual, Jason had lit a fire close to the camp site shelter. I went back to my tent, put on warm clothing & returned to the shelter. I remembered to bring my torch with me.  We all had a great chat, with Gary giving out his third route information booklet & point to point details for tomorrow’s ride. This was to be the longest one of our tour – 122 kms. By now, I’d noticed how cool it became at night here. Once the sun had gone down, the temperature fell rapidly. I was so glad I’d heeded the advice of previous tourers’ in bringing warm clothes. I never needed warm clothing on any of my European tours as the night temperatures were rarely below 16 Celsius. That’s Canada for you.

I collected my night clothes, toothbrush & toothpaste to make my way back to the washroom. I quickly changed, brushed my teeth & returned to my tent. I was getting more organised now – having all my cycle clothing set on the picnic table ready for the morning. As no rain was forecast, I left it there. Last of all, I got into my tent, zipped down the flysheet & got into my sleeping bag. It was warmer than last night in the Gaspésie forest, so I didn’t need my beanie hat. It was 10.45pm when I went to sleep.

 

Henry Currie Gaspe Cycle Tour

 

Monday August 26 2019

I woke at 6.45am, unzipped the flysheet to be greeted by warm sunshine. Andrew was busy dismantling his tent, having had his breakfast at 6.00am! I got out of my tent, walked to the campsite shelter were most of the others were having breakfast. I came to the conclusion that this tour group with the exception of Charles & Michael, left very early each morning – often by 7.30am. I suppose this shouldn’t have bothered me, but it meant that I left site each morning on my own. I did meet the others along the way & joined them to cycle the route.

I had my usual breakfast of cereal, fruit & biscuits, washed down with coffee. I spoke to Randy briefly, before he left with Ralph, Marta & Jean around 8.00am. On finishing breakfast, I studied the route booklet, noting the distance to the likely stops along the way. I got into my bike clothing. I alternated my shorts & shirts each day. I packed up all my gear into the two pannier bags & my rucksack. These were then left at the ACC truck to be transported to the next campsite.

I left the campsite at 9.00am, turning right onto the road out of New Richmond. There was light cloud & some hazy sunshine, it felt warm. After a few kilometres I joined the main road, route 132 which encircles all of the Gaspésie. This section is very busy with a large volume of trucks. I was aware that I needed to be more careful here. I made good progress along this route. It was wider & had a well surfaced shoulder. I caught up with Ralph, Marta, Randy & Jean along the way, joining them. At 11.00am, after covering 25kms, we all went into a café for a break. We had to cross the busy road, so we dismounted & walked across. The wind was light, there was now some bright sunshine, so we sat outside having our coffees. Ed came along in the car, taking a few photos of us, before leaving to catch up with the others.

We left the café, crossing the road once more, to continue cycling along route 132. The route was mostly flat. We passed a number of small settlements, one at Paspébiac where old bicycles had been brightly painted, with flowers placed in baskets on them – very pretty indeed. On we went, stopping briefly at Port Daniel, to see the wooden cross erected to mark the landing point of Jacques Cartier in 1534. We continued on to Pabos, where on approaching it, there was a large culvert being constructed under the road. We were diverted around it, at one point almost losing our way, but finding our next campsite after a few kilometres. This site called camping du Parc du bourg de Pabos was large. We reached it at about 4pm after covering 122 kms. I was feeling really tired at this point. At the campsite reception, Jean suggested that we book a table at the nearby restaurant recommended by Gary on his tour booklet. This was duly booked for 6.30pm. There would be six of us dining there tonight.

The roads on this site were very stony, so I wheeled my bicycle round to the tent zone. Why are these always the furthest away from the site entrance? Jason had set out all the baggage beside the ACC truck. I noticed that there was no campsite shelter here & rain was forecast for tomorrow. After picking up my bags, I checked the noticeboard for the pitch numbers, or letters as it was on this site. I’d passed Randy setting up in pitch K, so I decided to join him. I set my gear down, taking out my tent bag & surveyed the pitch. There was not a blade of grass anywhere to be see – just stones, albeit small. It turned out to be a real struggle to erect my tent securely, I actually bent one of the tent pegs when hammering it into the ground. The ground was level though. I blew up my sleeping mat, put my sleeping bag on top & lay down on it. I was surprised that I didn’t feel the stones at all – a good sign that I would sleep comfortably tonight.

I got showered, changing into trousers & a shirt, remembering that I was going to a restaurant tonight. The washroom was at the other end of the site. It was the most basic of all the places I used during my stays on campsites in Canada. However, the room was clean & tidy. Showers were free. On returning, I checked the time. It was 6.15pm. I gathered my phone, camera & wallet, before making my way to the restaurant just off the site. I was ravenous, really looking forward to a good meal. I hadn’t far to walk from the site entrance, meeting the others there. The restaurant building looked a strange mixture of masonry (stone) & wood. 

Standing at the reception together, we were welcomed, “en français” of course, & shown to our table for 6. The waitress, on realising that only I spoke French, reverted to English for all of us. She handed out the menus, describing the specials on offer tonight. The menu items looked delicious, so many lovely seafood meals to choose from. I decided to have the three-course special deal where one choice from a limited selection of starters, entrées & desserts could be chosen. I had vegetable soup, cod cakes with green beans & a salad, finishing with maple syrup pie. The waitress offered us coffee to round off our meal, which was lovely. The total cost for me was 42$CAN – not bad.

We left the restaurant in darkness, returning to our campsite. It felt chilly now, so I decided to join the others at the fire pit beside the ACC truck. Gary had, as usual, put out folding chairs. I took one & drew it close to the flames. This certainly warmed me up. Gary gave out the next days’ tour information booklet & point to point route guide. Shortly after Gary suggested that we visit the son et lumière (sound & light show), being played in the forest. This was a magical, fantasy display of strobe / laser lighting & soft music in the forest. We all walked slowly around, taking in the atmosphere of it all. Afterwards, we all went back to sit around the fire pit for a good chat. I left to go to bed at 10.30pm. I changed quickly into my night clothes which I’d left on my sleeping bag. I had my beanie hat handy in case the night got really cold. I zipped up my sleeping bag, checked the time – 10.50pm – & settled down to sleep.

Tuesday August 27 2019

I woke at 6.45am. It was rather dull outside, with thick grey cloud. I knew it was going to rain to-day, but not exactly when. I had my usual breakfast of cereal & fruit with coffee. Some cyclists were leaving the site by 7.00am. I noted that they all had their rain gear on. I returned to my pitch after visiting the washroom, where I changed into my bike clothing. Just as I began to pack, I could feel the first drops of rain! As fast as I could, I packed away my tent, sleeping bag & sleeping mat. Then I packed all my gear into the pannier bags under the shelter of trees. I’d left out my hi-viz jacket & clear glasses for to-days ride. I took my packed bags to the ACC truck & left the site around 9.00am.

It was raining steadily now, making it really miserable as I left to cycle along the coastal path. I crossed a pedestrian bridge, eventually finding route 132, the road to Percé at Chandler. This route was busy with many trucks & cars, the spray from the trucks meant I needed to keep well away on the shoulder. After 20 kms or so, I came to the grocery stop at the IGA supermarket in Grande Rivière. I needed to top up my breakfast & dinner items, so I went inside to buy them. I asked if the store had a café, alas, no they didn’t. After buying my groceries & putting them in the large ACC grocery bin, I left the store. I ate a banana & an energy bar. On finishing these, I spotted Ed in the car park, so I went over for a chat. The rain was easing now, but there was quite a headwind blowing.

Leaving Ed, I cycled on towards Percé, passing several viewing points along the way. This route running along the coast is quite exposed in places. The constant headwind made my progress slower, but the route was flat. I arrived at the campsite, côte surprise, around 12.30pm. I’d spotted Ed’s car as I came down the hill into Percé. The rocher Percé loomed large just off the coastline, with the île Bonaventure beside it. This island is a bird sanctuary, boat trips run regularly to it from a small jetty in Percé. Jason had not yet arrived with the ACC truck, so I decided to cycle into Percé to get some lunch & have a good look around. I would come back later to put up my tent on site.

Percé is very touristy, with many small gift shops, restaurants & cafés, lining both sides of the main street. I noted it was rather expensive too. I had lunch in a small café, actually a bakery, the boulangerie le Fournand. It’s easily spotted with its wooden exterior painted in yellow & blue. The outside terrace had small tables between planters filled with flowers – very pretty. A croque monsieur & a coffee cost me 7.50$CAN! The waitress was very friendly though, Australian, but working in Canada throughout the summer. I’d spoken to her in French, which she responded to me. She thought I was from the Netherlands though!

After my lunch, I strolled down the main street to the tourist office. I enquired about the boat trip to the île Bonaventure – it costs 38$CAN – expensive, I thought. I left the tourist office, crossed the street & strolled down the new boardwalk constructed along the seafront. It was a cool day, 18 Celsius max, with a moderate breeze. After all the rain I wasn’t surprised, but I could see that it was going to brighten up later. I took lots of photos as the scenery, especially of the rocher Percé, which was so pretty. I was able to view it even better from one of the lookout towers along the seafront. These are wooden structures, where one climbs flights of stairs to a viewing platform at the top. At the end of the boardwalk I checked my watch, it was now 3.30pm, so I decided to return to the campsite to get my tent up.

I cycled back up the hill & retrieved all my bags from the ACC truck. This campsite was different to all the others as there were open pitches around the site, but no enclosed ones. I took out my tent from its bag. It was still wet, so I decided to lay it out on the ground to dry. There was a good on-shore breeze & the campsite was on a hill up from the coast. I made sure all the tent components didn’t blow away by pegging them down. Randy was beside me, having just erected his tent. I took out all my gear from the pannier bags, sorting out all the items that needed washed. There was a laundry room on site. A wash was 2$CAN & the tumble dryer was 2$CAN, so Randy & I decided to pool out dirty clothes & share costs. We got the 8 quarters required for the machines from the site reception. Gary even had some detergent for washing clothes, although we could have bought some on site. All our dirty clothes were put in the washer & I started the wash. I noted the length of time it took before I left the laundry room.

All my tent components were dry now, including my sleeping bag. I was worried about it being wet as I had to roll it up on one of the picnic tables earlier in the rain. Thankfully, it was fully dry now. The tent was easy to put up as the pegs were pushed into grass. I’d set my tent up in such a way that it sloped slightly downwards on the terrain. I found that when I could do this I slept more comfortably. After erecting the tent, I went over to the laundry room to check on my wash. Randy was putting all our clothing into the dryer now. I left the laundry room & went to have a shower. I got into a routine where once I’d set up my tent & sorted out all my clothing, I would take a shower. On this site the showers were free. On some sites there was a charge either 75 cent or 1 dollar for a four-minute shower.

After my shower, I went over to where the ACC truck was – it was the nerve centre of the tour. Gary had packed so much useful equipment & tools in it to benefit us cyclists. There was even a charging station for phones, laptops, cameras etc. It really was a godsend during the entire tour. As per usual, Jason had lit the fire pit closest to the truck. I needed to put away all the groceries that I’d bought earlier, then make my dinner of chicken curry & rice. Having noted what the others had done, I was now confident to do my own thing. I finished my meal & washed up. I then had coffee & some biscuits to round things off.

I noticed that the sun was now shining. The lady in the tourist office that I visited earlier had told me that the rocher Percé changed colour when the sun shone on it. I glanced around to see that the rock had changed from brown to a golden colour as the sunlight reflected off the cliff. My camera was close to hand, enabling me to get some stunning photos. I took some with my camera phone to send to friends at home. As I turned around after taking photos of the rock, a local man Jacques Joubert, approached me. We greeted with a bonjour, so we began a conversation in French. Once, he understood that I was from N. Ireland, he was eager to tell me of the memorial to the wreck of the Carrick in 1847. A ship that left Ireland at the height of the great famine. We had a great conversation – he spoke slowly so I’d understand him better – he even gave me written directions to the memorial. I promised him that I would visit it on Friday when I rode to Cap des Rosiers. Afterwards he was invited by Gary to take the souvenir photo of our touring group in front of the rocher Percé.

It began to get dark shortly after 7.00pm, so I changed into warmer clothing & made my way up to the fire pit. Gary gave out his tour information booklet & point to point route details as usual. I noted that tomorrow’s ride began with a steep climb of 17%. There were also quite a few good places to see along the route. It looked to be a great day’s riding for all of us.

At the fire pit, Alison brought out marshmallows that she had bought earlier. We each took one to toast at the fire on cocktail sticks, lightly cooked they tasted like caramel, delicious! We chatted among ourselves. It was great to get to know some of the other guys, especially Charles & Michael. I left to change into my night clothes around 10.30pm, not forgetting to do my teeth. It was a very mild night, 14 Celsius, as I finally got into my tent around 11pm.

Wednesday August 28 2019

I awoke to brilliant sunshine at 6.45am. It was feeling warm already. I was told that the temperature today may reach 26 Celsius. I had my breakfast, finishing with a coffee, then changed into my bike clothing in the washroom. I had got very efficient at packing away all my gear now. Soon everything was ready to be taken to the ACC truck for transportation to the next campsite. I checked over my bicycle & left the campsite at 8.30am. A big challenge awaited however.

After cycling through Percé, I turned left around a bend & looked up towards the huge hill out of the town. I braced myself for a really tough climb. I kept my head down, as I knew this would help me to keep going up the ascent. I had dropped to my second smallest gear, trying to keep out of the “granny” gear, if possible. However, it was not to be. I climbed on as the ascent became even steeper. I began to zig-zag on the road, I knew that I would not make the top – I unclipped. I wheeled the bicycle to close to the top as the gradient lessened before getting back on, cresting the top & then enjoying the meandering descent around a scenic headland – lovely views. I wished that I could have stopped for some photos, but “speed for free” dictated otherwise.

A little further on at another steep climb, I came across roadworks where the road surface had been scarified, before the final course of bitmac is laid. This is where a machine rolls over the road surface forming ridges in it to help it bind to the wearing course bitmac laid over it. However, it makes bicycle riding very difficult as the tyres can be drawn into a ridge & change course. I decided to get off my bicycle & wheel it to the top, again. Just over the top, the ridged surface ended. I was looking down at a 15% descent. I got back on my bicycle, deciding to see what speed I could attain on this descent as I could see clearly the road ahead. There was no traffic around as well. I got up to 75kph – it felt great, exhilarating even. The road continued at a lesser gradient, where I caught up with Ralph, Marta, Randy & Jean. Together we cycled as a group, it feels safer this way.

Further along the route we stopped at the Indian Head viewpoint. There is a small café here, but it was not open when we passed. The views from the headland were breath-taking, as it was such a beautiful sunny day. I read the information boards around the site which described why the headland was called Indian Head. It’s quite a sad tale. I took another energy gel before we eventually moved on.

Soon we reached a golf club where we saw an ambulance attending to a cyclist. One of our group Jenny, had been bitten by a dog as she rode past the owner’s house on her bicycle. Her friend Jan had immediately phoned 911 for medical assistance when she saw Jenny’s injury. The ambulance came quickly, arriving a few minutes before we did. Thankfully, Jenny’s injury was not bad. She was able to continue her bike ride with Jan. We decided to stop at the golf club for some refreshments, as it was such a beautiful day. I ordered a beer in the clubhouse, taking it outside to drink in the warm sunshine. The view across the course was stunning in its greenery.

We all enjoyed our break, eventually getting back on our bicycles to leave. However, Ralph’s rear tyre had developed a puncture. We assisted him in getting this fixed before continuing our ride. It was really warm now, probably 25 or 26 Celsius – perfect for where we were heading next, Haldimand beach. We turned right at the sign on route 132 for the beach & rode 7 kms until we reached it. The small car park at the beach was full. There were lots of people enjoying themselves all along the sandy beach. There was a small café which served snacks, drinks & ice cream. I got an ice cream & followed the others to eat it at one of the many picnic tables situated along the boardwalk which ran the length of the beach. It did feel hot now as there was very little on-shore wind. I took in the view, across from the beach I could see the cliffs of Forillon National Park which we would cycle through on tomorrow’s route.

We left the beach, cycling through the forest on several bike paths before reaching the town of Gaspé, where we crossed the bridge over the estuary. There was a busy left turn to negotiate before we got to the ICA supermarket – this was our food stop. I didn’t need any groceries as I’d decided to use this evening to visit a restaurant. I was hungry though, so I bought a sandwich & drink to fill me up. The others did get some groceries. Ed as usual, had the ACC grocery bin in place.

We decided to have a look around, before heading to the campsite about 3 kms away outside Gaspé. There was a memorial to the “berceau du Canada” (birthplace of Canada), which was designed like a three masted ship. The memorial is dedicated to the first permanent settlement of Europeans in Canada at Gaspé. Further along the promenade, I came across examples of a tepee & other First Nations artefacts. The guide, who spoke excellent English, described the early history of the town of Gaspé in great detail for me – it was fascinating to hear.

The others had left before me, so I continued on my own to the campsite. There was a busy junction to cross, before the road turned left & up a hill. The campsite was on the right as I began to descend the hill. I’d spotted several of the other cyclists putting up their tents, so I slowed & turned right into the campsite. This site had a pretty setting on the coast, but was the most basic of all the sites I stayed on in the Gaspésie.

I got off my bicycle, wheeling it over the rough path to where the ACC truck was parked. I checked the notice board for the pitch numbers, before collecting my bags. The pitches were grassy, so it was easy to erect the tent. I shared the pitch with Jan, who had already got her tent up. After I had this done, I washed & changed. I then approached Gary as this was to be our restaurant night, I wanted to know if a specific restaurant had been booked. Gary told me that it seemed there would be only two of us going to a restaurant, as all the others had bought food & would be cooking on site. In the end, only I went to a restaurant. Ed left me at the Bise Brise in the centre of Gaspé.

I’d read about this restaurant on Trip Advisor – some great reviews – so I was looking forward to a pleasant evening meal here. Ed left me at the restaurant entrance at 7.00pm & told me I would be picked up at 8.30pm in the same place. There was already a queue of around 12 people outside waiting for a table. I got lucky when the waitress, on seeing me standing alone, ushered me in. She explained that if I didn’t mind, I could be seated in the bar area. I was happy with that. Often when I’m alone in a restaurant, it’s best to be seated at the bar where I can chat to the bar staff. A waitress offered me the menu choices as I ordered a beer at the counter. The bar area was packed with both locals & tourists, speaking in French & English. It made for a great atmosphere. I ordered the poutine crevette (shrimp poutine), which was delicious. A slice of lime cheesecake rounded off my meal. I chatted to the bar staff in a mixture of French & English, they were all so friendly, making me feel welcome, despite being on my own. I’d just finished my beer when I glanced at my phone to check the time. It was 8.25pm. Just enough time to pay & leave. I‘d had a memorable evening with good company here.

Ed picked me up at the pre-determined spot at 8.30pm. Before returning to the campsite, we stopped at a service station for some firewood. Ed asked in his basic French, “bois s’il vous plaît”, but the server seemed not to understand. He asked again, she shrugged her shoulders. I decided to ask her myself in French, which she understood, saying that Ed had not stated firewood was what he wanted. I could have argued with her that it should have been obvious what Ed was looking for, but didn’t. Some French speaking Canadians can be so annoying when dealing with Anglophones. Anyway, we got the firewood & returned to site. It was really dark when we got back, so I returned to my tent to retrieve my cycle light. The usual guys were round the fire pit, so I joined them for a chat & some warmth. At 10.30pm, I left to get changed into my night clothes & yes, remembered to wash my teeth. I got into my sleeping bag, checked the time, it was 11.05pm. I turned off my light & was soon asleep.

Thursday August 29 2019 

I woke at 7.00am. Thankfully, I hadn’t been disturbed by the traffic on the road beside the campsite, unlike some of the others. I got up, had my breakfast & chatted to the others there. All the talk was about the expected heavy rain & stormy conditions forecast for later that day. I packed my bags, carefully putting away all my tent items & left everything back with the ACC truck. I glanced around to see that Andrew & Michael were about to leave, so I tagged along with them. Just as he left the site, Michael’s handlebar broke! He told us to go on as he would ask Gary to help do a quick repair. Andrew & I cycled on down the hill, over the bridge & round to the other side of the bay where a keen headwind greeted us. We both dug in. I find when dealing with headwinds the best solution is to get into a good rhythm when turning the pedals. We kept a steady pace, turning right at the sign for Forillon National Park. This kept us going along the coast, where we soon passed Fort Penouille – an old WW2 gun look out station. I’d seen pictures of it beforehand, so I didn’t visit. Andrew & I just stopped briefly to take a quick snack.

Just as we were leaving, some of the others appeared, so we all cycled together along the Forillon Peninsula to where the grocery stop was. I needed some things, so I was glad to be able to buy these now, figuring that tonight would be an evening to stay under cover on site, given the weather forecast. The shop assistant confirmed to me that there was a storm coming, but wasn’t sure exactly when. I left hoping that it wasn’t coming until the evening when I would have my tent up, with all my gear inside it.

Shortly after we all arrived at the entrance to Forillon National Park. The Park Ranger on duty confirmed to us that our entry fees had been paid by ACC. I asked for a site map, always useful for planning what to see when visiting. The Ranger gave us each a map & explained about the park trails. Forillon NP is not an overly large park, so getting around it on a bicycle was the perfect way to explore it. We decided to stay together, riding along the coastal route to where the Cap Gaspé trail began. Some of the group decided to hike along the 3km trail, but I decided to just have a look around, taking some pictures. I cycled back past the old “general store” of Hyman & Sons & the Dolbil Roberts house, dating from the 1920’s – two lovely old wooden buildings beautifully restored. The rolling hills here reminded me of the Ardennes in Belgium. I soon reached the exit to the park & turned right onto route 132 towards Cap des Rosiers. It had begun to rain lightly now & felt cooler too.  I was now riding up a steep ascent over the hills which cross the Peninsula with thrilling descents afterwards, tempered a bit by the wet road. I’d met Randy at the top of the first hill. He was going to the campsite with me. The others who had left him behind, where going to a motel tonight in Cap des Rosiers.

After descending the second hill, Randy & I came to the right turn for camping Bon Ami. We made our way along the track to the campsite where we wheeled our bicycles over a very steep climb, eventually arriving at the campsite. Jason was already there with the ACC truck, so I collected my bags & checked which pitches were available. Jason told me that only five cyclists were staying on this site tonight – Duncan, Alison, Charles, Randy & me. We could all have a pitch each, but I decided to share with Randy anyway. The rest had booked into a motel nearby. The rain had stopped briefly, so Randy & I put up our tents quickly. We had just finished this when at 3.00pm, it began to rain heavily. I got all my kit stored neatly in the vestibule area of my tent, blowing up the sleeping mat, then getting into my sleeping bag for a light sleep.

There is a lovely cosy feeling about being in a sleeping bag under canvas, listening to the rain falling on the tent. I soon drifted into a sleep, awaking around 5pm. The rain was still falling albeit lightly now, so I decided to get up & explore the site. I spotted the campsite shelter, an enclosed building, through the trees in front of me. I walked over to it, finding the ACC team along with Charles, drying out clothing strung around a large wood burning stove. The heat from the stove was lovely, the rain outside had made for rather cool conditions, so I was thankful for this. I needed to get showered & into warmer clothing. The showers were in the building opposite the shelter. I returned to my tent, getting my wash kit & warm clothing to change into after having my shower.

I returned to the campsite shelter, where by now all the windows were covered in condensation from the moisture generated by the wet clothing. I had a fleece that needed drying after helping Charles to erect his tent in the wet, so I hung it over the line Gary had put up across the shelter. Duncan & Alison where there now as well after erecting their tent, bringing even more wet clothing inside to be dried out. I heated soup on the stove, making a sandwich to go with it, then joined Randy to eat my meal. Afterwards I made a cup of coffee, having a few biscuits with it. Randy & I chatted together for a while, until I looked outside to find darkness falling at 6.45pm. Gary, Duncan & Michael passed the time playing a board game I’d never seen before. It was so cosy inside the shelter – we were able to close over the sliding door at the entrance to retain the heat. I was glad to stay inside as the rain began to intensify again, it looked likely to rain all night long. Other campers on site had begun to come into the shelter for the warmth as well. I spoke to a young French couple, now living in Québec who had a huge dog with them. The dog was so well behaved, falling asleep under the table, making no noise.

Eventually everyone began to leave around 10.30pm. I’d still got my wash kit with me, so I went straight to the washroom to brush my teeth. I had to return again though with my night clothes to get changed. The rain was still falling as I clambered into my tent. I had to blow up my sleeping mat again, inside the tent. It had deflated a bit after my earlier rest. After getting into my sleeping bag, I glanced at the time on my phone, it was 11.15pm. The sound of the rain on my flysheet helped me to get to sleep again.

Friday August 30 2019

I woke at 6.45am to bright skies & sunshine, although it did feel rather cool & damp. The campsite was so peaceful with birds singing in the trees. I got up, walked to the shelter where I had my breakfast. Somehow the Weetabix packet had been taken from my grocery bin, so I improvised with cereal bars, biscuits & fruit. I think I’d left the packet on the picnic table the previous day & someone had thrown it away – my bad. Anyway, I made a note to get cereal at the grocery stop today. As I sat at the table, Jason approached me to say that the coastal views at the bottom of the site were spectacular. After breakfast, I grabbed my camera & walked the 400 metres to the end of the site. Wow – what a view came into sight. The early morning sun was highlighting the mist just drifting over the conifer trees – very atmospheric. I took lots of photos, before returning uphill to my tent.

I then remembered that today I would be visiting the “Carrick” memorial to those who perished in the shipwreck on 28 April 1847 near Cap des Rosiers. This was what I’d discussed with the French-Canadian couple at Percé a few days earlier. I packed all my bags, leaving them with the ACC truck. I left the site on my own at 9am. Although it was bright, some mist patches remained, so I used my cycle light on reaching route 132 where I turned right towards Cap des Rosiers. Shortly after I found the sign indicating the memorial site at the entrance to a small car park. I dismounted my bicycle & walked the 1100 metres to the actual shipwreck location. When I got there, the mist made for quite a sombre mood, as I viewed the stone memorial & plaques commemorating those whose lives were lost. I was overcome with emotion, with my eyes welling up with tears. I took some pictures with my camera, then I asked a couple standing by to take photos of me at the memorial. Afterwards I rang the ship’s bell (recovered from the wreck) seven times. Anyone who has been on a ferry crossing will know that this is an international distress signal. I left the memorial reflecting on that event over 170 years ago which has left an Irish presence in the Gaspésie to this present day.

On returning to my bicycle, I cycled the short distance to the Cap des Rosiers lighthouse – the tallest in Canada at 37 metres. I stopped to take some photos, finding that my camera battery was running low. I was going to explore the lighthouse, but found the entry fee of 5$CAN a bit pricey, so I left. I rode on to l’Anse du Griffon where I spotted a delightful café. I stopped, went inside & had a great conversation with the owner in French & English. She explained to me that she had Irish ancestry & many people around here had Irish surnames like Cavanagh & O’Connor for example. I ordered a coffee & muffin, deciding to eat it at the picnic table outside. No sooner had I sat down, when a middle-aged couple sat on the bench opposite. The man, who was originally from Belfast, had emigrated to Canada as a young adult, chatted to me about being an English speaker in the Gaspésie. I was fascinated by his account, but envious of his multi-lingual lifestyle.

I left the couple & the pretty café to cycle on towards the next campsite. Today’s ride was the shortest of the tour at 35 kms, so I was able to make many stops. I stopped again at the designated grocery store in Rivière au Renard. This evening was to be our “picnic social”, where every cyclist was invited to make a meal to share with the others. I bought all the ingredients required to make a tasty spaghetti Bolognese – a dish I enjoy making at home. After putting my groceries in the ACC grocery bin, I had a sandwich & coffee in the supermarket’s café. It seemed to be well used by locals judging by all the tables set out. There aren’t many cafés in this village as I was to find out. It’s a small coastal village with a harbour full of fishing boats. There was still some mist around as I cycled to it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any pictures as my camera battery had died.

Leaving Rivière au Renard southbound by route 197, I cycled 5 kms inland to the campsite – camping des appalaches. This was a large campsite, possibly the largest I stayed on in Canada. At the reception, I was directed to the tent zone, which was a huge, flat, grassy field. On the way there I stopped off to collect my bags from the ACC truck. Jason informed me that there were no pitch numbers, I could set up where I liked. I walked into the field, there was some wind coming from the west. I decided to erect the tent at the side of the field close by a hedge, where I would gain wind protection. The tent was set up quickly as the tent pegs could be pushed into the grass. Next, I got showered & changed. There was a 75 cents charge for a four-minute shower, thankfully I had 3 quarter coins for this.

Once everyone had arrived, set up their tents & showered, we all began to make our evening meals for the “picnic”. Gary, Ed & Jason had set out all the stoves, cookware & cutlery on two picnic tables to assist us. I retrieved all the ingredients I needed to make my meal, whilst others took it in turn to cook. It was interesting to discover what was being cooked & eventually trying it! I cooked my spaghetti Bolognese along with Charles who was making a chicken & pepper stir fry with plenty of vegetables. Ed & Jason made their special seafood chowder, which I’m told has been enjoyed by so many cyclists on previous tours. After cooking, everyone set out their meals or offered around a piece to taste. I enjoyed Charles’ dish & the lovely seafood pasta that Alison had made. The wine flowed freely as well…

As nightfall approached, Jason got the fire pit lit & we all sat round chatting. It was a clear evening which meant that I soon needed to get into my warmer clothing. After changing, I returned to the warmth of the fire, where Alison had once again brought out marshmallows to toast. We enjoyed these, continuing to chat until about 10.30pm. I retrieved my night clothes & wash kit, then strolled over to the washrooms to get changed & brush my teeth. I returned to my tent, being careful not to flash my cycle light onto the tents of others. I got into my sleeping bag & was soon asleep.

Saturday August 31 2019

I awoke at 6.45am on hearing the others making breakfast nearby. It was a sunny morning, but felt cool with the wind. It was also the last day of summer. This was to be the toughest day of the entire tour with over 1100 metres of climbing along today’s route! I made my breakfast, got changed into my cycling gear & left all my packed kit back at the ACC truck. Randy was leaving with me, but I needed to use the bathroom before departure, so he went on. I would catch him up later.

I left the campsite, turning right for Rivière au Renard. After 5 kms, I went straight onto route 132 towards Sainte-Anne des-Monts. It was still 174 kms away! Shortly after that the climbing began. There were three large ascents in total on today’s route of around 65 kms. Each one was lung-busting for me. Often, I had to stop, but did get to the top each time eventually. The descents were exhilarating, but over too quickly for my liking! The first ascent was not too bad, although I did stop & rest at the summit. There was a nice view of the coast through the trees here. The second & largest hill had me gasping (Gaspésie remember!). It seemed to go on forever, as each time I turned around a bend I expected to see the summit.  Eventually I got there & really enjoyed the relatively long descent, past a lagoon, which lead me back to the coast & the view of a small cove.

I decided to rest for a while at the cove before ascending the next hill. I ate an energy bar & took in the view along the coast, taking pictures with my camera. Back on my bicycle again, I crawled on up the hill & got over it, on the descent the coast came back into view again. What a headwind I met here (45kmh), it almost blew me back up the hill again. I cycled on into the village of Cloridorme battling against the wind. This is a pretty village set along the coast with brightly coloured wooden seats on the seaward side. There was also a lovely memorial to a local man who had taken part in the D-Day landings during WW2 here as well.

I stopped for lunch here at the suggested grocery stop, buying a sandwich, some biscuits & orange juice. The grocery stores in these remote parts of Canada act like meeting places for locals. At the entrances, many posters & notices are displayed, giving all sorts of information from announcing births to offering services by tradesmen. In the store I had also spotted Gatorade for sale, I knew that it had worked well for me before as an energy drink, so I bought a pack of four to put in the ACC grocery bin. Once I got outside, I joined some of the other cyclists sitting on the brightly coloured seats to enjoy my lunch. It was a bright sunny day, but felt really cool due to the strength of the wind – which unfortunately I had to ride into for the rest of today’s route.

After I finished my lunch & had taken photos of the scenery, I crossed the road to get back on my bicycle. A local man approached me, telling me that it was so windy today that no fishing boats were out at sea. Cloridorme is a good place to see them, one of the reasons the wooden seats are set out facing the sea. The wind was also whipping up dust in the car parks & along the road. I made sure that I had my cycle glasses on to prevent dust getting into my eyes before I set off on my bicycle.

I left Cloridorme, ascending another hill, thankfully not too steep, before arriving in Petite Vallée. I cycled on through this small settlement to the town of Grande Vallée. There were some lovely views from time to time between the trees, but it was hard to enjoy them as I was constantly struggling with the wind.  At last as I cycled down a slight descent, I found the campsite, camping du soleil couchant, on my right. I’ll admit that it was a big relief to get here. Those Gaspé hills had sucked all the energy out of me. I had been so drained from today’s cycle ride that I’d used up the last of my energy bars. I still had some gels though, which I would need for tomorrow.

 This was another large campsite. Indeed, it had a swimming pool, with a children’s playground alongside. I stopped at reception to enquire if ACC were already on site. They weren’t sure, but directed me to the tent zone at the back of the site facing the coast. I found Jason’s truck as the coast came into view. I collected my bags, checking for the pitch numbers available. As I went to find a pitch, I could see some of the others struggling with the wind to erect their tents. I did find the same thing, but as my tent is so small, I coped well to erect it. Thankfully, the pitches were all on grass, making it easier. I put out my night clothing, got my wash kit & went to the washroom on site to shower. Next, I changed into warmer clothing as the brisk wind was still blowing.

I wanted to explore the coastline running along the back of the campsite before sunset, as it had looked quite stunning as I had approached it earlier on arrival. There wasn’t really a beach here, rather a stony or pebbly strand, intersected with lines of weathered rocks. Some of the rocks had unusual patterns, which I took pictures of. There was plenty of driftwood washed up on the strand which might prove useful to us later on at the fire pit.

I was feeling hungry now, so I walked back along the beach to the campsite. I had stored the rest of my spaghetti Bolognese in one of the ACC coolers, so I retrieved it. I quickly heated this up in a pot on an ACC stove. When I was ready to eat it, Charles offered me some red wine to accompany my meal. I really enjoyed this meal as I was so ravenous after today’s tough ride. As always, I washed my dirty dishes afterwards. All of the touring group did this to help Gary, Ed & Jason.

Darkness fell shortly after 7pm. Jason lit the wood in the fire pit. Gary set out the folding chairs, which we all sat on. He then asked us all about today’s ride. We all agreed that it had been tough in the strong headwind, but was worth it in the end. Everyone had enjoyed the wonderful scenery along the route as well. Gary gave out the tour booklet for tomorrows ride – another tough one! I winced when looking at the route profile. After this we all sat huddled round the fire pit chatting. I found Charles’ recollection of his time in the army when he had to plunge into icy water thought provoking. At 10.15pm we all left for our tents. As usual, I needed to go back to the washroom to change into my night clothes & brush my teeth. It was still windy as I zipped down my tent & got into my sleeping bag. In a way, the wind noise around my tent did help to get me to sleep.

Sunday September 1 2019

Again, I woke at 6.45am. I unzipped my tent to be met with sunshine, though it felt cool. The wind had lessened a bit as well. I had my breakfast of cornflakes, some biscuits & fruit, washed down with strong coffee. Some of the others had left the site shortly after 7am. This was another day of riding over the Gaspé hills – three hills in fact over the first 30 kms of today’s route. After finishing breakfast, I packed up all my bags to leave them with the ACC truck. I left the site around 9am, turned right & cycled down through Grande Vallée. There were lots of silhouettes of country dancers attached to telegraph poles as I entered the village. There had been a country & western music festival here recently, which must have attracted a wide audience. I continued through the village, over the small river.

Shortly after the first climb began. I settled myself into a good rhythm turning the pedals & braced myself for more pain. The headwind didn’t help of course. The climb seemed to go on forever. Each time I rounded a bend, I thought I was near the top but wasn’t. The best thing to do in this case is to look sideways to avoid seeing the extent of the hill. In reality, that’s so hard to do! I stopped at the top, where there was a viewpoint, but I didn’t go over to it.  Instead, I took an energy gel & put on my cycling gilet – another layer to give me some protection from the wind. I descended into the valley & around a sharp bend, only to see the road rise up again in front of me.  In a way that knocked the stuffing out of me. Again, I got into a good pedalling rhythm for this next climb, the headwind was really making this a struggle for me. This really felt like hell on earth, something akin to the Paris – Roubaix cycle race held in Northern France each April. I was so tired & out of breath that I was forced to stop on the climb. I could go no further. Eventually I got back on my bicycle to reach the summit, which thankfully turned out to be not that far on as the gradient lessened. I decided not to stop at the top this time, hoping that I could produce a head of steam on the descent to enable me to make some progress on the third & final climb. However, this was a technical descent. I needed all my cycling skills to maintain a high speed & not drift too far into the centre of the road. I had to remember that I wasn’t on closed roads here, like I had been on some cycle sportives I’d done in Europe. It does make a big difference to what you can do on the road. This brought me into the small hamlet of Sainte Madeleine de la Rivière. Here brightly coloured wooden houses were scattered along the small headland. I stopped to take some photos, as it looked so peaceful & surprisingly Nordic.

Having stopped here at the beginning of the third climb, I was hoping to make good progress after a rest, only for the gradient to steepen & my bicycle speed to slow to a crawl once more. Just have to keep turning the wheels to grind up this hill, I thought. The headwind was still my no. 1 enemy. I vowed to keep going. In the end this was the shortest climb. The descent brought me into the hamlet of Manche d’Épée. As I left this hamlet & rounded the headland, I faced the headwind directly along the coastline. There was no shelter anywhere. I was right beside the coast, with a cliff on one side & the choppy sea on the other. My saving grace was that the route was now flat for the rest of today’s ride. A local rider passed me going the other way. With a tailwind, he was easily travelling at 50kph! He glanced over to me, raised his arm, as I grunted a greeting in French back to him. How I wished I could have been going his way. I knew that I had to just get my head down & keep cycling.

Eventually I came to the Gros Morne rock about 8 kms past Manche d’Épée. This was another pretty hamlet along the route. I stopped briefly here to take photos & get some shelter from the wind – it was really making things difficult. I took an energy gel as I was feeling totally drained – it was still only mid-morning! The wooden shelter I took refuge in contained some interesting information of the 19th century founders. They came here to fish, farm & quarry local stone. Back on the bicycle, I cycled the next 15 kms to Saint Maxime, another small settlement.

As I rode further along, I spotted a small café here, which seemed popular due to the number of cars parked nearby. I stopped & looked at the time it was 12.45pm. Time for a good hearty lunch, I thought. Time to get out of the wind as well. I entered the café & looked around. There were many people sitting in the dining room adjacent, either eating their meals or waiting on them. I guessed that I needed to order mine at the bar counter, then wait there. I went back out & looked over the menu printed on the café wall. The poutine choices looked really tasty. There was even a choice of three portion sizes. I knew how filling this dish can be so I ordered a medium poutine italienne. The waitress asked me for immediate payment, then explained that the receipt had my order number on it. She would call it out to me when it was ready. As the dining room was now full, I indicated to her that I would like to eat my meal at the bar along with some of the motor bikers. She didn’t seem to mind that at all.

I picked up a newspaper on the bar counter, in French of course, to read while my meal was being prepared. I read the usual news stories from Québec & further afield – another mass shooting in the USA was reported. This time in Texas. My meal came quicker than I’d anticipated. The waitress set it down in front of me, saying bon appétit (enjoy your meal). I thanked her, asking for a chilled drink to accompany my meal. I was hungry, again those Gaspé hills had drained me of all my energy. I enjoyed the poutine immensely. The portion was just the right size to fill me up. On finishing I used the toilet – always a good thing to remember to do in remote areas.

I had left my bicycle at the side of the café in the shelter of the wind so I returned to it. There was a picnic table alongside where I sat down to take in the scenery. I took some photos. It was a lovely sunny day, though the temperature was only 16 Celsius – the coolest day of my tour. I was still cycling in shorts, but was using arm warmers & a gilet to keep the rest of me warm. As I wandered around to admire the coastal scenery, I spotted a car with the words in Breton on the rear – I’ve cycled round Brittany, a province of France, many times before. As I took a picture, the car owner got out & approached me. I explained that I was on a 10-day cycling tour around the Gaspésie. He was genuinely interested, probably having seen the other cyclists earlier, so we had a great chat in French. The guy told me he was a teacher originally from St Malo in Brittany – hence the car sticker. He was surprised by my knowledge of French. I had to admit that I’d been to France on many occasions in the past, especially Brittany.

I needed to get moving as I’d noticed a number of the other cyclists pass by me. I got back on my bicycle to face the headwind yet again.  I thought I would be able to catch up with them, but unfortunately, I didn’t. I cycled out of Saint Maxime, rounding the next headland to get to Mont St Pierre, finding it after another 7 kms. This small settlement is situated in a crescent shaped bay, typical of the area. I was looking for the left turn to the campsite, which from Gary’s directions I should have found by now given the distance recorded on my bike computer. I stopped & went into the small grocery store here to ask for directions. Thankfully, I hadn’t passed the turn, it was 100 metres further on.

I found it & turned left. What a difference this made for me. No longer was I struggling with the headwind, I’d found some shelter in the valley leading to the campsite. After another 3 kms, I found the campsite, camping municipal, on the left & turned in towards the reception. At reception, I asked had the ACC truck arrived & was told it had. The lady gave me a map showing the campground, which proved useful to me as this site was heavily wooded, with the pitches being between the trees. I felt a real sense of “end of summer” walking through the site with my bicycle. There were very few other campers on this site.

I soon found Jason’s truck & retrieved my bags. I checked for the pitch numbers we had been given. On this site with so few, I think I could have pitched anywhere. However, when I did find a pitch with Randy, I had the most difficult time of all to get my tent up on the stony ground. Eventually I had to borrow a hammer to get the tent pegs into the ground. I hoped afterwards that none would come loose & the tent collapse. As usual, I went to the washroom & had a shower (75c). It was really cool in the woods, so I changed into warm clothing, even putting on my fleece coat. However I was soon to find out that the real problem was flies – swarms of them! I could feel them in my hair, on my arms & on my legs too.

I remembered that this would be my last night camping & my last evening meal on a campsite – it was quite nostalgic. I had a quick walk round the site, it’s nestled in a valley. I made a mental note to use up most of the remaining food in my container, just leaving the cereal, some biscuits & fruit for tomorrow’s breakfast. I had my last evening meal of chicken & pasta, sitting under the camp shelter with Ralph & Marta. Everyone seemed quite subdued as our tour was coming to an end. Gary beckoned everyone as usual, giving out the final tour booklet & point to point directions. We would officially finish back at the motel Manoir sur Mer where we first met up at in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. However, all the cyclists except me, would then ride back to the O’Petit des Monts campsite outside the town to retrieve their vehicles. I was asked to wait at the motel where Ed would collect me.

By this stage, it was getting dark – just after 7pm. Jason had lit wood in the fire pit. Gary & Ed set out all the folding chairs round.  We all sat chatting about our adventures, after Gary had asked us to tell him about our thoughts of his Gaspé cycle tour. Alison had bought more marshmallows, which she gave to everyone to toast.  Eventually at 10.30pm, we all went to bed. I changed into my night clothes, almost forgetting to do my teeth – it was to be my last night camping. I returned to my tent, got into my sleeping bag & zipped it down. I settled down to sleep at 11.05pm.

Monday September 2 2019

I woke at 7am. It was surprisingly quiet in the woods, with so few people staying on this campsite. Randy was already packed & ready to leave as I got out of my tent to get my breakfast. I used up all the remaining food that I had, except for an energy gel. Next, I got into my cycling gear, packed up my bags for the last time on this tour & left them back with the ACC truck.

I left the site at 8.45am, turning right onto the road & then cycling the 3kms back to Mont St Pierre. It was lovely to have a relative tailwind here, but I knew it would not last! At Mont St Pierre I turned left onto route 132 once more. Today’s route was more undulating than hilly along the coast. There was still the headwind to contend with, but the climbs were smaller. Thankfully, towards the top of the largest climb was a café, which I reached at 10.15am. Nice timing for a coffee stop. The café at Cap au Renard, called Brûlerie Comptoir Mont-Café, ground its own coffees & served snacks as well. The patron made & sold on these coffees. She also exhibited her artwork, of which examples were hung all around the interior of the café. I got chatting to her. She was originally from Toulouse in France, but had been attracted by the wild, rugged beauty of the Gaspésie some years ago. She described herself as an artisan. The café latte she prepared for me was delicious.

I left the café behind, re-joined route 132 heading for my final destination at Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. I was cycling along the coast over a number of small hills. At around 5km before the end of the route, I found a road to the right which took me off the main road into Sainte-Anne. It was a relief to get off the main highway as it was busy with large trucks, vans & cars. It was a holiday Monday after all. The weather was changing too. Dark rain clouds rolled in over the horizon towards me but the wind began to lessen though.

I rode into Sainte-Anne-des-Monts with a mixture of elation & sadness in my heart. I felt elated to have finished the tour, but sadness as I would soon be leaving all the others. I reached the motel Manoir sur Mer shortly after midday, dismounted my bicycle & took a rest. Some of the other cyclists passed me, each bidding me farewell. They had to ride on to the campsite outside the town, about 2.5 kms further on. As I waited at the motel, I realised I should use this time to find somewhere to eat. I cycled back into Sainte-Anne, turning right towards the supermarket we had all used on our first day here. However it were closed! I’d forgotten that today was Labour Day (1ST Monday in September). Looking around, I spotted that the Tim Horton’s café was open not far away. I got a sandwich & coffee. Using the free Wi-Fi, I managed to check my messages & send a few on. I’d almost forgotten about e-mails on my travels around this remote part of Canada!

I returned to the motel at 1pm, remembering that Ed was to pick me up from here. I didn’t see him around when I arrived & hoped he had not gone back along the route to find me. Just as the first raindrops started to fall, Ed appeared! I loaded my bicycle into his car & he took me back to the campsite where all the others were. By the time Ed had driven to the rear of the campsite where I saw the ACC truck, all of the others seemingly, had already gone. I was a bit disappointed with this, as I’d hoped to have a quick chat with all of them, before they left. However, Charles was still there, changing out of his cycling clothes, having loaded everything into his car. He was driving back to Ottawa. I chatted to him, shook his hand & embraced him – what a guy he is. A real trooper!

Gary, Ed & Jason were keen to get on the road back to Halifax as soon as possible – it’s a long drive – around 780 kms. Gary reckoned on 8.5 hours driving without counting stops to get there. They were hoping to be back before midnight if possible. However, today was a public holiday, so they expected more traffic. Soon Jason & Gary had finished clearing everything out of the ACC truck. We were ready to go. Michael was coming back with us as well as he resides in Halifax. We left Sainte-Anne at 2pm as the rain began to fall steadily. I would be going back with them as far as Amqui.

It was an uneventful journey back there, save for a large combine harvester which left a long line of traffic crawling behind it. We arrived in Amqui, shortly after 4pm, with the rain still falling. It made for a rather solemn end to my trip, as I bade farewell to Gary, Ed, Jason & Michael. Gary had checked for hotels in Amqui shortly before we got there, telling me that the Selectôtel hotel seemed the best value. This is where I left the ACC team. I retrieved my bicycle from Ed’s car, then my bags. Before he left, I checked that I hadn’t left anything behind in his car.

The hotel, at first glance, looked rather bland, but the interior at the reception was bright, modern & tidy. The receptionist spoke to me in rapid French, explaining the procedure for meals & check out. I was staying here for two days to fit into the train schedule to return to Québec City. I paid for my room at check-in. Any other costs & services would be paid for on my departure.

My room was at the back of the hotel in a separate building – room 343. Thankfully, this was well away from the noise of the main road & the railway line. I wheeled my bicycle round to the entrance. As my room was on the ground floor, I was able to bring the bicycle into the room in the evenings for security. There was a wide river adjacent to the rooms which gave the hotel’s location a rural feel. After opening the door, my first impressions of the room were good. It was clean & tidy, but rather old fashioned – I didn’t mind that though. I got showered, changed into some warmer clothing, put on my high-viz raincoat & went out to explore Amqui. There was still light rain falling.

Amqui, a smallish town set in the Matapédia river valley, roughly half way between the north & south coasts of the Gaspé Peninsula. Farming, fishing & forestry seem to be the main occupations here. Other than its beautiful location, there is little else to see for a tourist here. I found all the usual places for eating in Amqui of course – I used the subway restaurant for my evening meal. As darkness fell, I strolled back to the hotel. Thankfully by this time the rain had stopped, but it did feel rather cool. In the reception area I picked up some tourist information, including a good map of the local area. I had planned to explore around the lac Matapédia tomorrow on my bicycle.

Back in my room, I realised that I needed some grocery items for tonight & tomorrow’s lunch. I used my phone to find the location of the nearest supermarket, which was 3 kms away. I made a mental note of what to buy & used my bicycle to get there & back – so handy that! Tea & coffee always tastes so much nicer with milk & biscuits for me. I also bought bread, cooked ham & fruit to make lunches. Afterwards, I settled down to watch TV. The weather forecast told me that tomorrow was to be sunny & warm, with a max temp of 21 Celsius. Great, I thought. I switched the TV off & turned into bed around 10.45pm.

Tuesday September 3 2019

I awoke at 7.30am after a great night’s sleep. It felt wonderful to be sleeping on a mattress after so many nights camping! I got dressed, then pulled the curtains back to reveal bright sunshine outside. It was looking like a nice day. I walked round to the hotel reception & was directed into the restaurant where I could sit where I wanted. It was brightly lit with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, reflecting in the numerous mirrors on the walls. The walls themselves were painted bright red. There were only a few others there, early September brings to an end the tourist season here. No-one was speaking in English, not that I really cared about that. A rather surly waitress gave me a menu card, then asked what I’d like to drink. Coffee would suffice for me, I told her. I ordered crêpes with fruit – it was tasty, but not really enough for me. I do like a hearty breakfast when I stay at a hotel. I got a refill of coffee as I pondered over where to go cycling today.

I returned to my room & made sandwiches for my lunch. I took some fruit with me as well as filling up my drink bottle. Eventually, I put on my cycling gear – I was still using shorts, although I did bring arm warmers & a gilet as the morning was cool. I headed north out of Amqui in the direction of Sayabec on route 132. The traffic was light, along with the wind, so it was a pleasant journey to the village of Val-Brillant where I stopped to look around & take photos. There is a small campsite here which I had considered using during my time in Amqui. On looking around it, I’m glad that I didn’t as its right beside the railway line. Trains rumble past during the night. Behind the village, the lac Matapedia looked stunning, with the blue sky reflecting in the water – so peaceful too. I cycled on towards Sayabec, stopping just outside the village in a layby where I ate my sandwiches. I took some photos from the top of the lookout tower of the lac Matapedia. Sayabec was only a kilometre further on from this layby. It’s a tiny village, with a huge church, which dominates the area. There was nothing else really to see here – disappointing.

After consulting my map, I decided to turn off route 132 & head towards St Paule, which should take me part of the way around the lake. I hoped to discover more of its beauty. Unfortunately for me after about 8 kms or so the road became a gravel track. I turned back towards Sayabec. On reaching route 132, I turned left & headed back to Amqui. I was in no rush, so I stopped off for a delicious home-made lemon ice cream. Expensive, but so refreshing! Shortly after I spotted the Tim Horton’s café, so I stopped, crossed the road & parked my bicycle. Outside, enjoying the sunshine were many motor bikers. I went inside to order a large coffee, sat down at a table & connected with their wi-fi. I spoke to my sister & some friends – I was aware of the 5-hour time difference. I spent about two hours in the café, as it was around 5.30pm when I got up to leave.

I got back on my bicycle to return to the hotel. It was still sunny & reasonably warm. On cycling along the main street, I came across men selling noisettes along the road. These are locally grown hazelnuts & selling them at the roadside is a long-held tradition here in September. Back at the hotel, I brought my bicycle into the room, showered & changed. I’d decided to try the hotel’s restaurant for tonight’s evening meal after the receptionist had given me a 10% restaurant discount voucher to use on arrival yesterday.

The restaurant, like at breakfast time, was not busy. A young waitress greeted me, letting me choose where to sit. She promptly gave me the menu & took my drink order. Strangely, she gave me the menu in English, although I spoke to her in French- perhaps she thought I would struggle to understand the meal descriptions in French…I ordered a seafood pizza & had a slice of cheesecake for dessert. The meal was sufficient, but not remarkable for me. I passed the time by chatting to the young waitress, who was keen to practise her English with me. She had spent last summer during her study break in New England learning English. Her English was surprisingly good, better than my French, although heavily accented in the American way.

I paid for my meal, getting a 10% discount using the voucher. On returning to my room, I decided to go back to the Maxi supermarket to get some food gifts for friends at home. I quickly changed into my cycling gear, put on my front cycle light & rode across town to the supermarket. It was open until 10pmm, thankfully. I got what I wanted & returned to the hotel. I watched TV for a while before going to bed at 10.45pm. I’d seen the weather forecast, which gave heavy rain all day tomorrow…

Wednesday September 4 2019

I woke at 7.30am. Got dressed & went over to the restaurant for breakfast. The same waitress greeted me as for yesterday’s breakfast, though she wasn’t just so surly this time. She brought me coffee straight away, then took my order. I had cereal, yoghurt & muffins, which were a bit more substantial than yesterday’s crêpes. I got a coffee refill into the bargain as well. During my breakfast I pondered over where I was going to go to-day, as heavy rain was imminent. I didn’t want my pannier bags to get soaked through, as it would be so hard to dry all my clothing inside. I returned to my room. I had to be out of the room by mid-day. It was now 9.30am. The rain began to fall shortly after 10am, lightly at first, then heavier & more persistent. It didn’t bode well for me. I showered, shaved, and then changed into my “winter” cycling gear. I put my high-viz jacket in the back pocket of my cycling coat. Next, I loaded everything on my bicycle, wheeling it round to reception where I placed my room key on the counter. The receptionist was not there, so I just went on out, without a goodbye. A rather underwhelming feel.

Outside, sheltering under the hotel’s canopy, the rain was relentless. I took out the town plan that the receptionist had given me yesterday to see if there was anywhere near by that I could go into. The tourist office, located at the train station, looked my best bet. It was 700 metres away. However, when I got there, it was shut for the season. The tourist season had ended on September 3! Even the train station was locked up as well – strange. I was getting wetter & colder. I pulled my bicycle under the train station canopy, where there was a wooden picnic table, putting on my fleece. I sat down & ate my lunch, with the sandwiches I’d made before leaving the hotel. It was miserable, with a cool wind blowing around me. There were lots of large logging trucks heading through Amqui southbound. The temperature was 16 Celsius, but it felt more like 6 to me.

I really needed to get inside somewhere to stay warm. I left the train station & cycled to the Tim Horton’s café which was about 1.5 kms away. The spray from the large trucks passing me was like taking a shower at the roadside. I arrived completed soaked through. I parked my bicycle in a sheltered spot where I could keep an eye on it from within the café – my important documents where in the pannier bags after all. I ordered a coffee & went to the bathroom to quickly dry myself, before returning to the counter to receive my coffee. I took my time, checking e-mails & phoning round family members. I really wanted to spend as long as I could here, as looking out the window the rain just kept falling. It wasn’t a day for the outdoors.

Eventually at 7.30pm, after having consumed three coffees, I had to leave! I went again to the bathroom, then left the café. It was dark, but thankfully the rain had stopped. I got back on my bicycle & rode to the subway restaurant in Amqui, where I ordered a large sub for my evening meal. I had a soft drink with it as I didn’t want any more coffee! Again, I took my time. There were only a few customers there, so I read news items on my phone whilst consuming my meal. Halfway through, I glanced outside to see that a torrential downpour had started – my bicycle was getting drenched. I asked the restaurant server could I bring it in to prevent my pannier bags getting soaked through. He let me do this, even holding the door open to allow me passage. I kept looking outside to see when the rain would lessen – it was so heavy that the traffic had stalled on the road through Amqui. Thankfully, at 9.30pm it did stop.

I left the subway restaurant & wheeled my bicycle along the footway to the train station. As I approached it, I could see the interior lights on – someone must be here I thought. When I got there, I tried to open the front door, but it was locked. I looked through the window to see no one there. This is very strange I thought. I left my bicycle at the front of the station & walked round to the rear facing the platform. There was a door there which was open. I went inside. It was like being in a village train station from the 1950’s – very quaint. There was a booking office & three or four rows of wooden bench seats with information boards along the back wall. I glanced at the time it was almost 10pm. I was alone in this station, there was no heating on & my train was not due until midnight. I brought my bicycle round to the rear & took off the pannier bags, water bottle, bike computer & light. Nothing more for it but to wait for the train. I put on my fleece to keep warm. It was ghostly quiet in the waiting room. Around 11pm another passenger came into the waiting area, but ignored me as she had headphones on. The waiting went on…

Thursday September 5 2019

Eventually at 1.30am the train did arrive. I moved quickly getting out of the waiting room to find a VIA staff member to have my bicycle loaded in the guard’s van. Thankfully, the van was not far away. I retrieved my pannier bags & rucksack, then boarded the train. A female VIA steward then checked my ticket, escorting me to my seat. She confirmed to me that I would be getting off at Ste Foy. I sat down, put my pannier bags on the overhead rack, leaving my rucksack on the empty seat beside me. The train was leaving the station as I settled down to get some sleep. This time I did manage to get a reasonable sleep.

I awoke at 6.45am. It was daylight. This train was supposed to have arrived at 6.15am, so it was half an hour late. The train was passing through rolling pastureland. I checked on my phone for its location – the train was not far from Ste Foy & would soon be crossing over the St Lawrence River. I checked that my camera was fully charged before putting it & the charger back into my rucksack. The train arrived at Ste Foy at 7am – about 45 minutes late. However, it had made up some time at it arrived at Amqui already 90 minutes late.

I gathered my pannier bags from the overhead rack, grabbed my rucksack, then headed for the exit. There were lots of people getting off here, so the VIA staff were busy unloading their luggage onto the platform. I waited for a while, then asked a VIA porter for my bicycle. Eventually, he brought it out to my relief. Next, I went into the station building & paid the bicycle fare (Amqui is unmanned, so I couldn’t pay there). I wheeled the bicycle through the station, retrieving all my baggage. The pannier bags were loaded back onto the bicycle. I took out a cereal bar & a banana from my rucksack. I also refilled my water bottle. I ate these before leaving the station. Looking around, it was a bright sunny day, not cold either. I had hoped to spend today walking around Quebec City as this was to be my last day in Canada.

At 7.20am, I left the train station & cycled back through Ste Foy to re-join the corridor du littoral cycle path back to hotel Le St Paul in vieux Québec. I took my time, as there were lots of cycle commuters using the path at this time. As it was such a beautiful sunny morning, I was constantly looking around me, I actually went past my hotel! However, I wasn’t far past & soon I was back there. I dismounted from my bicycle & propped it up against the wall. The time was just after 8am. I entered the hotel & greeted the receptionist, who smiled after recognising me. I needed a quick wash, so she let me use the staff bathroom adjacent to the luggage store room. It was great to get freshened up & into clean clothes. Afterwards, I informed the receptionist of my plans for today before cleaning my bicycle outside the hotel.

I walked the bicycle along the footway back to Cyclo Services where I had hired it two weeks earlier. I could have used the bicycle for a further three hours as my hire didn’t finish until mid-day. The staff there were pleased to see me, asking me all about my tour. I was able to show them some stunning photos on my phone of the Gaspésie scenery – which certainly impressed them. After they examined the bicycle, I got back my 10$CAN deposit. We chatted for a while, before I left to explore the city for the last time.

I walked up the steep Côte de la Canoterie, behind hotel St Paul which leads to the place d’Armes. There were plenty of tourists around already on the Terrasse Dufferin. I got a coffee from Starbucks nearby & sat down on a bench seat to take in the atmosphere. Today was to be quite warm – max. temp 20 Celsius, but more importantly dry. I relaxed & drank my coffee slowly, taking more photos of the views around the place d’Armes – it has so many stunning views. I decided to move on to explore the city walls & gates, which I had seen briefly on my bus tour. The Porte St Louis (St Louis gate), is not far from the place d’Armes along the rue St Louis. I strolled up, taking photos of both sides of the street. Soon I was there at the gateway. This gateway forms one of four original entrances to the walled city of the 18th century, built by the French to defend the city from English attacks. St Louis gate is probably the prettiest of the gateways with its two turreted towers at either side of the entrance. I walked up the steps to the top of the city walls. I believe that you can walk all the way round. The view over the city is nice here, looking around I could see the Citadelle close by.

I walked over to explore it, there are great views across the St Lawrence River to Lévis from here. I returned to the place d’Armes & down into the lower town to rue du Petit Champlain, where I took the time to study all the small shops & restaurants / cafés here. I was getting hungry & knew that I needed to have a big meal now as I was travelling to the airport in the early evening when I may not get the chance of another meal. I went back to the Buffet de L’Antiquaire & ordered a poutine, along with a beer. The café was busy, so I sat up at the bar counter to eat my meal. Afterwards I ordered a coffee, spending my time chatting to the staff in French & English – there was a great atmosphere here. They even gave me a free coffee refill. I looked at my phone to check the time (I didn’t bring a watch with me on this trip). It was getting close to 4pm. Time to get back to the hotel to pack everything up. The hotel was only a few minutes further along rue St Paul.

After packing everything, I asked the receptionist to book a taxi to the airport for me. I needed to be there around 5pm to check in for my flight to Montréal, which was departing at 6.30pm. The taxi came a bit late at 4.45pm, but did get to the airport at 5.10pm. I paid the driver the standard 35$CAN fare plus a 5$CAN tip. I had less than 10$CAN in my pocket – just enough for a coffee & muffin in the airport. I checked my suitcase in with minimum fuss, there was no queue. Security likewise was swift too. I was through to the waiting lounge at 5.45pm. Here I was able to buy the aforementioned coffee. As I sat down to have my snack, the PA system announced a 15-minute delay for my flight – not too bad I thought. However, there was soon a further announcement giving a 30-minute delay. Now I was worried as this meant I would need to get to my boarding gate at Montréal airport as quickly as possible to avoid missing my international flight to Dublin.

A young Canadian-Indian man sat down beside me after hearing me speak on the phone to my sister. His girlfriend was Irish – he recognised the nuances of my accent! We had a great conversation, until he had to leave for his flight to Calgary. Shortly, the PA system announced that all passengers for Montréal go to the gate where a further announcement with a departure time would be given. I immediately got up, went to the gate & asked an Air Canada steward how soon this would be as I had an onward connection to Dublin. He assured me that it wouldn’t be long. Thankfully it wasn’t, & I was soon boarding the small airplane to Montréal. There were only about 20 people on board, all the other passengers, I assumed, were French speakers as the safety announcement was in French only.

The small airplane was quickly in the air, leaving at 7.30pm. We landed at 8.20pm. I was off the airplane as quick as I could to get through Montréal airport to my gate. I got there just in time as the last passengers were boarding the Air Canada flight to Dublin. I showed my boarding pass to the stewardess who quickly checked it & ushered me on. My flight was leaving on time at 9pm. I got to my seat very relieved indeed as I sat down to await take-off.

This flight would have been a routine one for me, but for the fact there were so many problems with the in-flight information screens & the heat of the cabin. I was so tired, just wanting to sleep after my meal, so the lack of having a film to watch did not bother me. However I couldn’t sleep due to the heat in the aircraft cabin – it was stifling! Passengers beside me were seated in sleeveless t-shirts! I got up to speak to one the stewards at the front of the airplane to ask for the heat to be turned down. After half an hour, I realised that this had not been done. I then went to the steward at the rear of the airplane, only this time I put my request in French. She looked at the cabin monitor, the temperature was 26.5 Celsius! She immediately took action to lower the heating. I was amazed. I’d read somewhere that French speaking passengers’ feelings on Air Canada flights were taken more seriously than those of Anglophones! I got back to my seat, getting a reasonable four hours sleep before the PA announcement telling of our arrival shortly at Dublin airport. The airplane landed at 8.30am on time.

I got off the airplane, went through immigration & picked up my suitcase. I opened it to check the contents, something I do on all flights with a connection – nothing was missing. I left the airport at 9.15am to get the 9.35am bus back to Belfast. As I waited at the bus stop, I reflected on what an outstanding trip this had been for me. Québec really is a wonderful place to visit for people of all ages. Cycling around the Gaspésie proved to be the ideal way for me to explore it. As the locals in Québec said to me “Le Québec – comme nulle part ailleurs! (Québec – like nowhere else!).       

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