Zut Alors, What Have I Gotten Into Now
Deke Talbot wrote this article about ACC’s Gaspe Tour.
Thursday, August 11, 2022
Temperature: 68° F
Wind Speed/Direction: SE 7 mph
Today I awoke to feelings of inadequacy. I had long since committed to the bike tour of the Gaspésie in Quebec, paid the full deposit, and had trained well all summer, but the doubts had wormed back in. I supposed I could blame Nancy.
My wife and I had literally not traveled at all for three years, Even in the year before the pandemic, we were occupied by my pending retirement and closing our office, and we had our daughter’s wedding to plan. As Covid took hold and things shut down, we half-planned for an Ireland trip when travel opened up again. But as the saying goes, life happens when you are making other plans, and we stumbled upon two intriguing possibilities out of the blue, targeting needs that we didn’t know we had.
After college, Nancy had spent three years in France doing postgraduate work and making good friends along the way, but her future was here and she said goodbye to all that, assuming that her memories would fade along with the slides she had stored in her attic. But as we grow older, we realize that our long-suspended friendships still have value and deserve to be refreshed. She went on a social-media site in France and was able to find one of her old friends who was in touch with another, and this led to regular correspondence and sharing of photos and videos, and small presents to wish each other “Bonne Anniversaire”.
Meanwhile, I was doodling through a website for a cycling tour group that I had used four years earlier in a trip in Newfoundland, my last adventure before our self-imposed shutdown. This tour group promoted camping in remote areas, but trucked all our gear, bridging the gap between bike packing on the one hand and riding between B&B’s and restaurants on the other. The tour director was offering a trip to Quebec before he scaled back his trip options; if I was serious, I could drive there. Like Newfoundland, this was a place I had never been, with a chance to immerse myself into the scenery and culture at a pace making it possible.
I wasn’t serious, not at first. The early spring weather wasn’t conducive to the joys of biking. But at one point I talked to Nancy about her French connection, and she expressed a desire to visit her friends there. When I asked if I should consider going with her, she divined that I was asking out of politeness, and said no, she would be fine on her own. She knew me better than I knew myself, that I wouldn’t consider the Quebec trip if I had left her home and she would be stuck trying to occupy herself while I rolled around the countryside for ten days. Suddenly, Quebec was a real possibility.
Over the past several days, I watched Nancy pack with care and precision for a four-week stay, taking great pains to keep the luggage size and weight below Air France’s stringent requirements for carry-ons. On the day before yesterday, I drove her 200 miles to Portland, and yesterday morning, dropped her off at the bus station for her trip to the airport, then drove the 200 miles back home, simulating the 400-mile trip I’ll need to take to Quebec over two days. But then my doubts struck me. Nancy had already crossed the Rubicon, but two days out of the saddle and a long car trip made me feel like a toad. Then last night I read a journal of a former rider in the Quebec tour. He told of monstrous hills, howling headwinds the whole way, cold nights and broiling days (except for the days when it rained). He was no shrinking violet; a participant of sportif races and bike tours throughout Europe, and at least 10 years younger than me to boot. Was he just torturing me to amuse himself? I had to get back in the saddle. I knew what Theodore Roosevelt meant when he said “Black care rarely sits behind the rider who goes fast enough”.
Rick, my regular training buddy, knows well enough when I’m in that mood. Today I jumped into the lead and stayed there. Although I wanted to pace myself easily over the 35-mile course, I found myself pushing up the rolling hills and into the headwind, nudging above a 15 mph average while Rick held back and just stayed in sight. He knew that if he took the lead I wouldn’t like it and would push the pace all the harder. Although he assured me that everyone, including me, will travel at a much slower pace in the tour, I can’t help thinking that a little speed now will give me a cushion against the longer distances and steeper hills to come.
So now with this cushion between myself and insanity, I can tackle the organization of the gear spread promiscuously over the floor in our den.
Saturday, August 13, 2022
Temperature: 75° F
Wind Speed/Direction: NE 3 mph
Today I had scheduled a 40-mile ride, matching the average daily distance during the tour, with a sustainable pace to match, hopefully taking at least 3 hours to do it. But lures, snares and distractions are everywhere.
As I drove to my starting point at Lund’s Corner, I passed a cyclist traveling North about a mile and a half from the point where I would be starting. I expected to drive ahead, park, put on my shoes and then join him; from my vantage point he looked to be riding a long way at a moderate pace, a perfect foil to keep me from going too fast. However, I couldn’t judge his actual pace as I drove by, and I had barely parked and taken out my bike when he pedaled by, calling out a greeting as he went. I hurriedly put on my shoes, loaded my water bottle and my gear, after checking to see which direction he went at the corner. I started about a mile behind, on a road with no turnoffs for 10 miles, fully expecting to catch up. The hook had been well set; the unknown rider had no idea, but he was playing me.
By the time I reached Dennysville, 10 miles in 37 minutes, I knew the gig was up. On every open stretch I strained my eyes for the orange speck of his fluorescent vest, but could see nothing. Now I was coming to the intersection of Route 1 and several side roads, with no chance to see where the rider had gone. Or was he behind me? Had he pulled into the boat landing at Patrick Lake to take a leisurely mid-ride swim? I was now only a quarter of the way through my ride and already gassed, and two big hills, Conant Hill and Cooper Hill, looming ahead. But first, there was a fairly flat stretch for me to see if I could hold pace through 1 hour, then 20 miles, always another teaser to goad me along. One marker led to another.
Both Conant Hill and Cooper Hill were fairly long but manageable 6% grades, so I slogged along to check how I was doing at the top, followed by fast descents to keep my average speed up. When I stopped my watch at the finish I had averaged 15.5 miles, or 25 kilometers, per hour (I would have to adjust to the metric system in Canada). I was a good 20 minutes ahead of my fastest planned pace on the course. No discipline, but more cushioning! Twenty-plus minutes of extra credit to redeem on the Quebec tour.
Meanwhile, my mysterious friend, who really was on a tour, had emerged from his pleasant dip in Patrick Lake, eaten an energy bar, and was just awakening from a nap on the beach.
I have three more rides planned before traveling to Quebec, a circuit of the Park Loop Road and up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia on Monday, a ride with Rick on Wednesday, and a final ride in Lubec on Friday. I’ve already decided that I’ll do my Friday ride on my 33-pound steel hybrid, Ol’ Bessie, with my touring bike properly cleaned and packed away for the tour. Maybe Ol’ Bessie will allow me to trim my sails a bit.
Monday, August 15, 2022
Temperature: 68° F
Wind Speed/Direction: SE 3 mph
I had set my alarm for 7 a.m. for traveling to Acadia, but when I awoke in a brainstorm at 5:30 I decided to stay awake, eat an early breakfast, and head out for an early start. I was certain the single road to the park would be clogged with traffic, and the best plan was to start the ride before the heat of the day caught up with us.
There is a small problem with mid-August, though. When I left home at 7:00 there was still a chill in the air, enough for me to turn on the heat in my van. But the sun was bright, and within a half hour I had turned off the heat and was thinking of transitioning to the air conditioner. I do fight turning on the AC, because I feel that it would be cheating summer out of its due, and summer is short enough here without cooling a room to a temperature that in January we would consider unbearably cold. Better for me to bask in the heat when it’s free.
When I arrived at the park entrance in Hull’s Cove, the day was perfect and warm. The parking lot was almost full, as I expected. I also expected to encounter a steady stream of cyclists all along the Park Loop Road, but as I headed out I was the lone cyclist and even the car traffic was light. The course began with a long, gradual climb to an overlook of Bar Harbor, followed by a long descent through a dappled forest, where the joy of the open road made up for the lack of company. Only occasionally did I encounter a knot of traffic or parked cars, especially near The Precipice, a 500-foot high rockface to my right which is a major attraction for thrill-seekers. I paused for a moment to realize that I would soon be climbing a hill three times as high, if nowhere near as abrupt. After cruising around the shoreline for several miles, it was time to head uphill through the middle of the island, past the Jordan Pond House, onward to Cadillac.
20 miles into my ride I still hadn’t seen a single cyclist. Finally, on the flanks of Cadillac shortly before the access road, a lone cyclist passed me. My ego was spared because he looked lean and extraordinarily fit. But it took another bump when I greeted him and said he was the first cyclist I had seen. His reply, a bit broken, sounded like “fifth time through”. Was he just finishing his fifth circuit of the Park Loop that day, wrapping up a tidy 100-miler? No chance of finding out more, as I was steeling myself for the Cadillac climb. I felt a little better when I came upon and passed another cyclist who looked a bit more human.
I had done Cadillac Mountain once before, on an October afternoon aboard Ol’ Bessie, after only a short warmup. On that day, I had managed to stay in my middle chainring, although staying in my biggest cog in the rear, but today since I only had two rings on my road bike, I shifted into the smaller one. My act of machismo was to avoid going into the three biggest cogs in the rear. After a short pitch at the entrance of the access road, the slope smoothed out to a fairly steady 6%, and if the slope ramped up a bit on the turns, it was soon over. There is no question in my mind that riding switchbacks is easier than riding a straight ramp, where you can see the whole damned mountain ahead of you. That is what makes Day’s Hill so miserable, even if it is only a third of the Cadillac climb; not only a 10% slope, but you can see every damned inch of it from the bottom. I fear that Quebec is more like Day’s Hill, writ large. The only thing to do is put your head down and grind.
The ride back down, twisting past overlooks of Bar Harbor and Frenchman’s Bay, was exhilarating, although I was constantly braking to keep my speed below 25 mph the whole way. It gives a whole new appreciation for those pro riders who handle similar descents at twice the speed or more. When I finally made my way back to Hull’s Cove, my Garmin reported that I had climbed a total of over 3,500 feet, equivalent to the elevation I’ll have to handle on the toughest ride in Quebec, on a 46-mile day.
But that’s with riding day after day, not alternate days like I’m doing now. That will just have to take care of itself. I have no interest in feeling stressed and overtrained going into this thing.
Wednesday, August 17, 2022
Temperature: 63° F
Wind Speed/Direction: N 10 mph
Yesterday, on my scheduled day off, I saw a text from Rick warning me that today was forecast to have an inch of rain and strong wind, and would I want to join him on a ride then to avoid it. I replied that I could get ready to ride then, but I had seen the message too late, Rick had already gone. I texted back that I was still committed to ride today, rain or not, the tour was on a fixed schedule and we couldn’t avoid bad weather. I’d be better off just getting used to it.
I passed on exercise yesterday but not work, so I went in back of the house, cleaned out some fallen branches, and ran the trimmer over ground that was too rocky to mow. The constant leaning over and walking over uneven ground made my back and feet hurt, so when the trimmer ran out of string I gassed it back up and replaced the string in the spool, but didn’t go back out. I felt completely worn and foggy-headed, wanting only to take a nap.
Today I still felt a bit sore, but hoped the ride would loosen me up, as indeed it did. When I arrived in Columbia Falls, Rick came out dressed like a fisherman in foul-weather gear; Gore-Tex from top to bottom with shoe covers. I had a Gore-Tex top and a poncho, but kept my legs bare. Covering my legs is one of my bugbears, I can’t feel them moving. In my younger running days I made a point of running barelegged down to 25° F if there was no wind or precipitation, although I never attempted the stunt that one of my running friends did when he exposed his legs for a 7-miler in -10° F conditions and then suffered blisters and chapped skin at his leisure.
Although we faced steady rain and a headwind on the way out, I was able to maintain enough pace to stay comfortably warm without much effort, reassuring me that I was ready to ride in the stuff, if not taking down and trying to pack a soaking-wet tent. The wind had its way with us across the open barrens, but on the return we could coast along at over 20 mph and feel no wind whatsoever. My billowing poncho acted as a spinnaker, but by then my shoes were soaked and we wasted no time getting back. At the end, though, I felt refreshed and energized, so different from the achy anomie I felt yesterday afternoon.
This afternoon, according to the schedule I wrote up for myself, it was time to make a final inventory of my two largest bags for the tour. Nancy and I had purchased packing cubes to help organize our packing, and I had the decision of how to use mine. There are two ways to go about it. One way is to use each cube to pack what I planned to wear on any particular day, on the concept that I would only open one bag per day. The alternative is to pack each cube by subject-matter; one for bike clothing, one for street clothing, et cetera. I decided for the second option, because many of my items deserved to be kept together in a common theme; first-aid kit, toiletries, rain gear, food packs. Since I might need access to several cubes on any given day, I might as well treat my clothing the same way.
For now, I have to hold up on topping off my bags until after my final local ride of Friday. Even though I can ride a different bike and use different shoes, I still just have one pair of sunglasses and one road-repair bag that I can’t pack away. As long as I still need to prepare my list of lists, one of them has to be my list of loose items, which I can only check off and pack away on my last night here.
As the days in my to-do list continue to shorten, my list of projects becomes longer and more detailed. Like the increase in traffic accompanying the addition of lanes in a superhighway, I manage to fill the space available to document the jobs I have left to do.
Friday, August 19, 2022
Temperature: 72° F
Wind Speed/Direction: WSW 7 mph
As I collect my last items to pack for my trip, I am seeing the merits of having a bag of “loosies”.
After taking my last home ride today, I hoped to be able to pack every last item in its designated subject-matter bag before hauling the oversized duffels into my car. Loading the duffels, which probably total about 100 pounds, under my bike is no small matter, and I couldn’t put it off until tomorrow morning. Preparing for every eventuality dictated the size of my duffels, and I can’t imagine the skill needed to pack for an unsupported trip, but that is a story for another day. With all my duffels tightly packed away and with an overnight and breakfast in prospect before I leave, I find myself unable to squirrel the last items before I go.
This makes the bag of stray items such an appealing option. Those last-minute items like my razor and the tour brochure can be tossed in, along with those wish-list items that I can take to the start and then leave behind if I can find no room in the duffels. In the two nights I will spend in motels before the tour begins, I can conduct my final sorting and organization.
My ride today aboard Ol’ Bessie was enjoyable, and at a pace not that much quicker than tour pace, but with the added weight my Garmin was reporting that I was in Zone 4 much of the time, threshold pace, if it can be believed. My pulse monitor is on my wrist, certainly not as accurate as a chest strap, and my workout pulse rates are all over the map. Too often it reports that I am going at nearly 100% of maximum. I remember 100% maximum from my youth, in track interval workouts, and I’m not gasping for breath or seeing red spots in front of my eyes. Maybe, just maybe, the “100%” is the expected maximum pulse rate of a normal, meaning sedentary, 73-year old, ignoring those who choose fitness over going to bed atop our past achievements. But just as possible, the watch is picking up movements of the wrist and is producing a false pulse rate.
All of this is moot and of no importance to the test to come. Everything will boil down to the endurance to maintain a steady effort, day after day. Time to put it to the proof.
Saturday, August 20, 2022
Temperature: 24° C
Wind Speed/Direction: 9 km/h SW
I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly my trip had gone. After driving 230 miles I was entering Edmundston, New Brunswick, my stop for the day, by 3:00 P.M., at least by our time zone. New Brunswick is on Atlantic Time, one hour ahead, but I’m leaving my watch where it is. Tomorrow I’ll be in Quebec, back in the Eastern Time zone, where I’ll be staying for the duration of the tour, even though the eastern edge of the Gaspé is further east than practically all of New Brunswick. But my pleasure of being ahead of schedule didn’t last once I entered the city.
I had carefully plotted out my route to the hotel on Google Earth. From the main street, just off Trans-Canada 2, turn right onto l’École-Cormier, quickly turn right toward Rue Melvin-Lorden, turn left onto Rue Melvin-Lorden, you are there.
Rue Melvin-Lorden is a double dead-end street. On one end is a pulp mill, the other a police station. Neither looked promising for an overnight stay.
Completely befuddled, I drove back out onto the main street, crossed a bridge that I had just gone over the other way, and the hotel was immediately on my right. Thanks, Google Earth.
I had listened to Babbel and Coffee Break French for nearly three months in preparation for my first encounter with the locals. I was just North of Madawaska, certainly in the most Francophone part of the province. At the reception desk, I had my greeting all prepared: “Bonjour, j’habite dans l’état de Maine et je veux parler Français, mais parlez très lentement, comme on parle à un petit enfant”, but the manager interrupted me in English before I could get out “J’habite”. As is so often the case with motel proprietors, he was Indian, and English was definitely his choice.
He pointed me to the second floor, where I lugged my oversized bags up the steps and gratefully dropped them in the room, which reminded me of Van Gogh’s room in Arles, save for the TV, microwave and refrigerator in the corner behind the door. Maybe Vincent decided not to include his appliances in his painting.
Still feeling residual soreness from the trip, I took out my bike for a 14-mile ride. The first mile was a steep uphill, for Edmundston is in a deep valley cut by the Madawaska River, but it flattened out after that. From the heights, I tried to send a picture to Nancy on WhatsApp, but I was out of WiFi range, or Maine cell towers, or both; I wouldn’t be in contact with Nancy until I returned to Maine. Halfway through the ride, as I turned and walked my bike across the road, a rotating pedal cut into my left calf, causing a shallow but temporarily bloody gash which I quickly covered with a bandage. The bleeding stopped but would promised to sting ferociously when I washed it.
After washing up, I crossed the street to Tim Horton’s, the classic Canadian fast-food joint, only to find that it had closed at 4 P.M. A Dairy Queen and an Irving convenience store were nearby, where I demolished a 20-dollar bill for a double cheeseburger, fries, a Pepsi and a large Kit Kat bar. Canadian money is so attractive, with its holographic bars and elegant scrollwork, but it must cost more to produce than whatever it can buy.
It was a good-sized Kit Kat bar, though, and I only ate half of it. Time to turn in, after marveling that as far as I had traveled today, I was probably only 3 miles from the Maine border.
Dimanche, 21 Août 2022
Temperature: 22° C
Vitesse de vent/Direction: Sud 8 Km/h
Sleep came fitfully last night, next to the traffic and the steady pings of the pedestrian crossing signal, but I awoke early and had breakfast at Tim Horton’s by 7:30 (8:30 local time). The server complemented me on my French, but I ended up with a hash brown instead of the blueberry muffin I thought I had ordered. N’importe.
I was more than halfway to my destination, so I knew it was way too early for me to head out, especially since the clock would move back an hour as soon as I crossed the border into Quebec. I turned on the TV and watched a PBS show about the Buddha’s renunciation in the face of a world full of suffering, a fine prescription for what I was about to undertake, then headed North.
As soon as I passed into Quebec, the bilingual signs ended and they were totalement in French. When I turned on the radio to immerse myself in the local music, though, half the songs were in English.
The interior of the western Gaspé is open farmland, with barns and silos perched on the massive, rolling hills. My stomach sank as I descended into the deep valleys, but the uphills didn’t seem to be as sickening as they appeared from a distance. It is an easy delusion to estimate the hills in a car.
All went well until I neared the intersections on the North end of the peninsula, where I needed to take Route 132 Est to my destination. I was aware of a chicane where I would have to make a few quick turns to find the road that would skirt the shores of the St. Lawrence, but I lost track of how many turns I had made, and my phone GPS wasn’t working. I stopped at a gas station to ask a woman outside the directions to Ste. Anne-des-Monts. I was able to make myself understood in French, and she pointed me the right way; I would have to turn left, follow Route 132 Ouest for a short while until I came to the intersection of Route 132 Est. I proceeded for several kilometers until I saw a sign for Route 132 Est, the arrow pointing the other way! I turned around, headed toward Amqui, a village I had heard of but knew wasn’t directly on my route. After seeing several road signs giving the distance to Amqui but no mention of Ste. Anne-des-Monts, I stopped and looked at my road map. To my horror, I saw that there were TWO Routes 132 Est, diverging from each other, the one I was on heading Southeast, and the one I wanted located to the North and running due East. So that’s why I’m not seeing the Bay of St. Lawrence! The woman at the gas station hadn’t misunderstood my French after all. The highway department couldn’t have used a different route number to keep me from wandering to Campbellton, New Brunswick?
Fortunately, I saw a secondary road which led me North to the correct Route 132 Est, where I saw the great Bay for the first time. Before long, I was entering Ste. Anne-des-Monts and at the hotel. As soon as I parked and went to check in, I met Gary and Ed, the tour organizers, and got answers to some of my questions I had about the morning to come. After going to my room and showering off the nervous sweat I had produced during my Route 132 adventure, I took a short ride to make sure that my derailleurs were working properly, and went out to eat. The menu signs were all in French, no English and no apologies, and when I was paying for a soft-serve ice cream and couldn’t understand something the server was saying, she had to ask a customer who knew English to translate for her. I had thought the staff in touristy towns like this would speak English, at least if you tried to speak French, but in this pandemic-induced labor shortage, one must hire people willing to work, never mind whether they are bilingual.
A long day, and I haven’t even started yet. Let’s get on with it.
Lundi, 22 Août 2022
Temperature: 22° C
Vitesse de vent/Direction: Sud-Ouest 9 Km/h
Mot pour le Jour: “Voyageur”
On this opening day of the tour, Gary held a meeting in the basement of the hotel, where we met the other participants. Everyone introduced himself and herself, almost all with stories about bike tours in remote corners of the globe, far removed from my exploration in every corner of Washington County. There were 23 present, down from the original list of 25 who had signed up. A husband-and-wife team from South Carolina were just leaving their driveway when the wife complained of cold symptoms; she took a Covid test, and it was positive. Gary related his sad story of having his carbon-frame bicycle stolen from a campsite less than a week earlier, on the next-to-last day of his previous tour. He also alerted us that there were serious problems with the truck they had rented to haul our gear, no way to tell how soon the truck would arrive at our first campsite. Not an auspicious beginning!
After picking up some groceries and putting them in a bin left by the tour organizers for that purpose, I rolled out onto the course, heading inland. Near the start was a 7% hill that I had scouted the evening before, but it didn’t continue far, and was followed by a long downhill. The whole course today seemed to be short, punchy uphills followed by long downhills, threading along the rivers which cut a gap through the Chic-Choc mountains. Since we started at sea level, and there seemed to be more downhill than uphill, I felt as if we were going below sea level. I followed a couple on a tandem bike who disappeared from view on the long downhills. After several miles where I passed a few riders, I saw them pull out of a viewing site, and caught up. I expected to leave them behind on the next climb, but this couple, Dave and Priska, had brilliantly mastered the art of tandem riding, David as the “Captain” and Priska as the “stoker”, maintaining perfect rhythm as they spun easily past and disappeared again on the next downhill. A tandem bicycle, rather than a double kayak, is the true “divorce machine”, but this couple had perfect suplesse, the equivalent of finishing each other’s sentences.
Just before arriving at our campsite, I passed the Gite Mont-Albert, a luxury hotel with a two-star restaurant in the middle of the remote Parc Gaspesie, en route to our more humble accommodations. Gary and Ed were waiting with the van, carrying what they hoped were the bags which held our camping gear so we could set up our tents. The crippled truck was holding the rest of the bags, still in the shop back at Ste. Anne-des-Monts waiting for repairs. Gary said he would have to check on the truck as well as check on the riders still on the road before coming back with more gear, and this mattered because none of my bags had made the first trip. I had no tent, no food, and no clothes except those on my back. Maybe I could practice a little Buddhist renunciation in the meantime. After about two hours of sitting and chatting with some other homeless riders, we saw a white glint among the trees, and the truck had arrived! I eagerly grabbed my gear and set up my tent, grateful that it hadn’t rained during my long wait. And rain it did, hard, as I sat down for a boil-in-bag shrimp Thai pad dinner and an oatmeal cookie.
At 7 P.M., under a small shelter, Gary gathered us to lay out plans for the next day. We’re going to have to load our gear on the truck early tomorrow so that Ron, this season’s assistant to Gary and Ed, can make an appointment at a garage for repairs. As it turned out, the truck couldn’t be repaired back in Ste. Anne-des-Monts, because the truck cab was too high to put it on the lifts. The steering is so far out of alignment that the original tires had been shredded, and new tires had been put on with the hope that they would last until the repairs could be done in New Richmond, at the end of tomorrow’s long ride. Either the truck makes it that far and gets fixed, or we are toast.
Ron is this year’s temporary hire to help Gary and his longtime deputy, Ed. Ron will drive the truck as well as supply the muscle that Gary and Ed don’t have; Gary shares my slight build and history of Crohn’s Disease, while Ed is crippled and bent over with a severe case of sciatica. Ron is also a storyteller and a skilled campfire builder, and even started a fire in the wet tonight, although he couldn’t draw anyone else out to sit with him. He is also providing us with a Quebec-slang word of the day; tonight’s word was “voyageur”. We will be tested at the end of the tour to see how many words we can remember.
We’re 26 miles out, in a remote campground, rain pelting on the tent. I was dry until I heard a thump outside and had to scramble in the rain and mud to rescue my bike, which had fallen on its side when its rain cover became over-weighted with water. And if I need to go to the bathroom (and why not, since the rain provides a strong suggestion), I have 120 meters to walk in the dark.
Nothing to recommend this day except the ride itself.
Mardi, 23 Août 2022
Temperature: 20° C
Vitesse de vent/Direction: Sud-Ouest 12 Km/h
Mot pour le Jour: “Buffoon”
A primitive camper has the deepest appreciation for indoor plumbing. During the night, predictably, I had the uncontrollable urge to go to the bathroom. The rain had let up, but was still landing on the tent. When I finally, reluctantly, surrendered to the forces of nature and crawled out of my shelter, I found that the rain had stopped and the stars were out, the only rain dripping off the trees. But soon, the next wave of rain began and continued into the morning.
You haven’t really been camping until you have set up and broken camp in constant drizzle. Gravel is everywhere. The great relief today was having everything packed and ready to load on the truck. The heavy work was done, nothing to do except ride for 66 miles.
The rain held off for the first part of the ride, including one challenging hill which topped off at the altitude of 533 meters, which is the highest point of our tour, but as I would find out, nowhere near the hardest of our climbs. This high point was followed by an exhilarating downhill, into the Cascapedia River valley, where at about 23 miles we stopped at a cantina run by members of the Mi’kmaq nation for a bit of refreshment, and to connect names to faces for some of our group. But as soon as we left that establishment we were beset by high humidity and mosquitoes. Although the road stayed flat to downhill along the Cascapedia River, it began to rain, and with the headwind I was soon soaked. It became a mission just to get to the campsite.
When I arrived at the site and began to pitch my tent, I had a mini-crisis. The ends of my shock-corded support poles were so clogged with dirt that they wouldn’t slide into the corner pins to hold them in place. Trying to dig the dirt out with a pointed object only pushed it in more firmly. Peter, from Belfast, Maine came to my rescue. He dug out my Swiss Army knife which had a corkscrew, which worked nicely into the ends of the support poles, and then I could pull the dirt out. Peter did allow, however, that the corkscrew may not be suitable for opening wine bottles. But who knew? You learn so much from being in a pinch.
These two days of rain have made such a mess that I had to do laundry after taking a shower at another far distant washroom. By the time I had done all my devoirs, it was past 10:30 and tomorrow another long day, with an early start.
One small victory; at the grocery stop near the campground, wet as I was, I expected to be frozen by the air conditioning, but the Canadians are more prudent about turning their buildings into walk-in freezers in the summer, and I was able to warm myself by the portable heater which was keeping the roast chickens nice and toasty.
Mercredi, 24 Août 2022
Temperature: 23° C
Vitesse de vent/Direction: Sud-Ouest 10 Km/h
Mot pour le Jour: “Tourtière”
At last, the rain has stopped and this morning, the sun peeked out. Our gear is still sodden, and needed to be packed up wet, but we had the prospect of drying it out at our next campsite.
Today was the longest ride of our tour, 70 miles, but with a predominant tailwind it was pleasant, with only a couple of modest but not soul-sucking hills. We traveled East along the shores of the Bay of Chaleur, passing through several villages, none of the remote river valleys we saw yesterday. In the latter stages of today’s ride I could see two members of our tour, Gail and Jen, and with the tailwind assist I tried to catch up. It took me far longer than I expected. When I finally did catch up I saw that Jen had an e-bike, but Gail’s bike looked sleek and non-battery powered, yet Gail was the one pushing ahead. I rode with them to camp, and only then did Gail say she was riding an e-bike as well. They both complemented me for being so strong, a great boost to an ego that stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the old body that is carrying it around.
The camp in Pabos was a welcome change from our accommodations the previous two nights. We have a broad swath of lawn, like a town green, and soon the area looked like a tent city. No matter where we hammered in our tent stakes, there were no flinty rocks to frustrate us. A far cry from the remote scattered sites and the constant probing for places to drive in our tent stakes we knew from the nights before. The supply truck was parked close by, as were the toilets and showers, a welcome relief after the long, dark walks I couldn’t adjust for. With no rain, we could now gather around a campfire before turning in, and I was glad for my folding camp chair which I had brought, not being sure whether Gary had extra chairs in his inventory. As it turned out, he was short of chairs. In this, his final organized tour, Gary is just trying to keep his equipment functioning to the end.
As Ron carefully built up his campfire, tepee-style, adding pieces to the pyramid before other balancing sticks would crumble into the coals, I remarked that he could build log cabins as they were burning down. We listened to his tall stories about growing up in Newfoundland while adding some stories of our own, well past dark; as we are in the far eastern edge of the Eastern Time Zone, it is pitch dark before 8:00 P.M. Reflecting in the light of the fire, we almost felt the comforts of home, after what we had endured before.
Jeudi, 25 Août 2022
Temperature: 20° C
Vitesse de vent/Direction: Sud-Ouest 4 Km/h
Mot pour le Jour: “Tigidou”
Finally, after our two longest days of riding, we had a short day, only 30 miles to Percé. I didn’t really know how much the last two days had taken out of me, pushing to get to camp to pick a good spot to pitch the tent and try to relax. Today I was in the last group to leave, being reluctant to abandon our comfortable surroundings, and fascinated by a gigantic land yacht parked next to our tents. I paced out its length as 53 feet, took a couple of pictures, and then shoved off. I’m finding it harder and harder to break camp every morning only to set it back up that afternoon. At least tomorrow we can stay put in Percé and not do the chore that seems to take me so long. I’m not traveling light, that’s for sure.
For much of the ride I stayed with Gail, Jen, Cathy and another tandem couple, Mohrgan and Yemima, not as ridiculously strong as Dave and Priska but competent enough. About six miles into our ride we came upon a beautiful sand beach to our right, across from railroad tracks and down a steep bank, which looked inaccessible until Cathy spied a flight of steps to the beach. Naturally it invited us to all to wade in the water. Removing my bike shoes and stripping down to my bike shorts. I felt the incredibly soft, fine sand, waded in the water, and kept wading out. If my friend Michael Carter were here, he would definitely go in, whatever the temperature; better a moment of pain than a lifetime of regret for roads not taken. The waves kept lapping over my knees, my waist, my navel, so I jumped in and swam a bit, which seemed to impress the group, none of whom followed me. The water in the Bay of Chaleur, true to its name, was quite agreeable, at least in the high 60’s, and the sting of the salt made me feel warm after I got out. Then I had to air-dry while wiping the sand off my feet, but what would I use for that? My biking shirt, not a chance. Then I saw, on the rocks at the bottom of the stairs, some dry briefs and socks, with no owner in sight. Was the owner a latter-day Reginald Perrin, shedding his clothing along with all trappings of his former life, before entering the water and reincarnating himself? In any case, reminding myself to wash my feet especially well that night, I rubbed the sand off my feet with the briefs and put on my socks and shoes, then shook the sand off the briefs and carefully returned them to their rock.
The chill of the swim was a delayed reaction, descending after I began riding again and a sea breeze kicked up, making a headwind. Sometimes the sun peeked out, and I stopped to warm up, but I was feeling no circulation in my hands, and they felt cold even though they weren’t. As a result, it took me longer than it should to make camp, and setting up my tent was a slow process. When I arrived in Percé, I felt more tired than I have during the whole tour, even after days when I rode more than twice as far. Something is catching up with me. Many thanks that tomorrow is an “activity day” in this very touristy town, which means that I have to do some very touristy things.
Our camp tonight is right on the water, with a view of Rocher Percé, an iconic monolith with a sea cave completely through it. I rode on into town to look at the restaurants, shops and inns, reminding me of Bar Harbor and other legendary tourist traps. Out of curiosity, I rode through to the other side of town, and took a look at Percé Hill, which gave me a heart-stopping moment. The front section looks like Day’s Hill, but after a brief leveling-off the road curves and disappears behind the trees, only to reappear sickeningly higher up. The only word to describe it is…SAVAGE!
Vendredi, 26 Août 2022
Temperature: 21° C
Vitesse de vent/Direction: Est 3 Km/h
Pas de Mot pour le Jour Aujourd’hui (Rob had the day off)
When I awoke today, I felt rejuvenated, a least for a little while. Although Gary said that one option was to stay at camp and read, I knew that I’d never come by this place again and I had better do some exploring. Everyone else was moving about, including Gary, who was planning a short ride over a hill that was even steeper than the monster I saw yesterday. Most of our group planned to walk to the village, out to the pier, for a boat ride to L’Île de St. Bonaventure to hike and visit the giant Northern Gannet rookery, so I decided to join them. First, we walked over a mile to the center of Percé to make the first boat trip of the day. The boat took us close by Rocher Percé and then followed the Southeast side of L’Île de St. Bonventure, where the sheer cliffs hosted a multitude of nesting Northern Gannets, as well as a group of gray seals on the rocks below. We then debarked and began a hike through the center of the island to the point where the birds were most closely bunched, where the rocks were on a fairly level area instead of the narrow shelves on the steep cliffs where many of the birds had to rest. As we approached the far cliffs, the raucous calls of the birds grew louder and louder. By the time I reached this point, my feet were becoming more and more uncomfortable, I was overheated from wearing too many layers (expecting the boat ride to be cold), and I was thirsty, having long before downed the energy drink I brought with me. I happily bought a cold $5.00 bottle of PowerAde at the cantina overlooking the gannet colony, and downed it with an Italian sandwich despite the smell of the birds and their fishy excretions. After my footsore hike back across the island, pausing only to look at the abandoned homes of the last families to live on the island after it was turned into a national park, I consumed another cold, overpriced energy drink at the snack bar beside the boat landing.
After we returned to Percé, with my thirst fresh in mind, I had to go grocery shopping for some bottles of juice which weighed down my backpack on the mile-plus walk back to camp, as Gary and his crew were not trucking our groceries to camp today. When I got to camp, I was knackered again. Gary had planned a meeting in town at a pub, but after 7-plus miles of walking I wasn’t in the mood. That changed when Gary and Ed offered to drive us in. We found a good restaurant with some beer, and after dinner we hopped over to a pub where most of our group had gathered, and I had another beer. We had rejected Gary’s original pub, because it offered no dining, but he was able to track us down. By this time it was raining heavily again, and since Ed had the van there to take us to camp, we all took advantage.
It seems that we have had about as much rain during this tour as we have had all summer at Bog Lake. Half of our group opted to take rooms in motels in the village, but so far I’ve been willing to rough it. Let’s see how long that lasts.
Samedi, 27 Août 2022
Temperature: 18° C
Vitesse de vent/Direction: Ouest 4 Km/h
Mot pour le Jour: “Bobette”
After last night’s rain, this morning dawned bright and sunny. As I cleared out my tent and spread everything out to dry, I discovered that one corner inside the tent was wet; not the tent’s fault, but mine. Each of the corners of the rain fly had a velcro strip to attached to the shock-cord supports, but I had neglected to use them. Now there was a small gap that the rain fly hadn’t covered, and a few items were soaked. Some lessons I have to relearn.
Since I had to leave many items out to dry before I could pack them, I was among the last to leave camp and face the monster hill on the other side of town. I have had the yips about this mountain for two days now, wearing myself out imagining I was climbing it. As a result, I had little energy left for the real thing. In truth, I was more concerned about being locked into my cleated pedals (and falling sideways) than about having to walk. I crawled up the steepest section but ran out of gas, was able to unclip without mishap, and walked until I found a side road where I could easily clip in again. After cresting that hill, none of the others posed a problem. I just shifted lower than I needed to end the day relatively fresh. After the last two days of being in a bit of a dip, it was a pleasant change.
But not without mishap. I fell three times, all when clipped into my pedals and coming to a full stop. The first two falls came early in the ride, when I rode on a beach path that Gary had included in the day’s route directions. He didn’t know that winter storms had washed out several sections of the paved path and left soft sand and debris everywhere. Trying to ride through soft sand was a big fail and I became stuck, but at least the falls were soft. At the end of the ride I met the manager of the campground, who pointed me in the direction to go. As I slowed to talk to him, I unclipped my left pedal but then leaned too far to the right. Now I’m sporting some road rashes to show everyone what a good time I’m having.
Our campsite at Halimand Beach is the prettiest we have seen on the trip. It overlooks a lagoon which looks like a lake, and the water was dead calm when we arrived. Across the lagoon on one side is a three-section iron-truss railroad bridge (apparently abandoned, some of our group crossed it on the way to camp) and on the other side, a dense little settlement which may be the town of Gaspé. Shortly after I had set up my tent (and took a picture for posterity), Mohrgan and Yemima asked if they could pitch their tent between mine and the water. I didn’t own the shorefront, so how could I refuse? If I had really wanted the waterfront, I could have planted my tent there. I’m sure, though, that many a homeowner with water views, which they lost when someone else built a mansion in front of them, muttered, “Okay then, but if there is a just God, you’ll get the storm surge”.
A shower tonight. I skipped last night out of fatigue and drink. There’s a DJ barking out at a party across the water for a group of young Ultimate Frisbee players, but sleep came easily. I’m starting to feel human again.
Dimanche, 28 Août 2022
Temperature: 22° C
Vitesse de vent/Direction: Ouest 13 Km/h
Mot pour le Jour: “Toque”
Well, that human feeling didn’t last long. The day started out well enough, on an attractive bike path into the village of Gaspé, but after our grocery stop I saw members of our group cross back over a bridge we had already crossed (not on the route that Gary had written up for us) and I decided to follow them, only to discover that I was off course and all alone. I turned around and struggled to get directions in French, got on the right road (that cursed Route 132 again, is that the only Route number they have here?) only to find, a few kilometers later, a blocked road and a nearly 15-kilometer detour. Nothing is lonelier than feeling lost, without a viable phone, in a foreign country. I pictured myself using my precious credit card to get a motel room, then calling Gary and Ed to let them know where I was. Then I saw the Atlantic Canada Cycling van whizzing by, but was unable to get their attention. Finally I caught up with Gary and Ed at an intersection, and they helped guide me through a couple of tricky spots until I knew I was on the right track. After a few miles of good riding, I caught up to several members of our group, but troubles didn’t leave me alone. Just before camp, I encountered a steep wall, got locked into my pedals, ground to a full stop and fell awkwardly on my side. I was bloodied and my hip was sore, and after falling had to walk up the hills because I couldn’t clip back in both pedals under control. Tom from Iowa rolled past me in his enviable retro bike with full fenders, a 28-tooth chainring and a monster 44-tooth cog in the rear, a gear ratio which left me drooling. At camp, I was at the end of my rope, barely able to pitch my tent, but Rosemary gave me some good tips about keeping one foot unclipped while climbing a troublesome hill. I was beginning to feel lonesome and missing Nancy, comparing myself to other members of the group. Hal and Rosemary, Randy and Marybeth, Mohrgan and Yemima, Dave and Priska, Jen and Gail, Bill and Christine, Glenn and Theresa had each other, and many others were friends from the velo club in the Toronto area or from Gary’s club in Halifax. Ute, who was taking turns with her husband on a bike adventure while the other tended to their house, offered to help me link up to What’sApp once we are back in WiFi range.
The deepest pit came when I inflated my air mattress and it began to leak. Trying to sleep on a deflated mattress with my aching hips? But it was only a slightly unscrewed valve cover that I tightened and the mattress was fine.
Maybe, just maybe, I’ll smarten upon a bit. 3 Aleve tonight and a good night’s sleep will help. May I ride, or walk, as the case may be. Can I keep the rubber side down from now on?
Lundi, 29 Août 2022
Temperature: 23° C
Vitesse de vent/Direction: Ouest 10 Km/h
Mot pour le Jour: “Clabbardage”
Today, relatively speaking, was the recovery day I should have taken in Percé. The ride itself was advertised as 21 miles. Just out of the campground was a punchy 16% grade, which before the tour I would have done with aplomb, but I was so gun-shy after my falls yesterday that I attempted it with one pedal unclipped, and lost momentum halfway up when my shoe slipped off the pedal. At least I could quickly put my foot down. The rest of the ride went well enough, nothing more than 8 1/2% grades to deal with, although I was lacking in energy. I concluded that I’m not eating enough and my body reserves have gotten drained.
Near the end of the ride I missed the turn toward the campground and had a look at the first hill we face tomorrow, tomorrow being billed as the hardest and hilliest of the tour. I no longer fear having to walk, I just want to avoid riding to a halt while locked in the pedals. I showed my cleats to Gary, who filed them a bit in hopes it would help with the release, but they are really worn and hairy and need to be replaced.
Peter from Belfast and I were the first to the campground, well ahead of the support vehicles in the tour. In fact, we showed up at the grocery store before the tour bins arrived, and I struggled in French to explain to the tour manager that I was afraid my bag would be stolen if I just left it out. He agreed to store it in a back cooler until the bins arrived. Once I pitched my tent I took an hour-long nap, during which the rest of our group arrived. Peter and I are far from being the strongest riders, but the others, veteran tour riders, took detours and visited attractions along the way. That would have been nice, but I am finding my limits.
Tonight we had our pot-luck supper, commandeering picnic tables and putting them together. I dug out my checkered picnic tablecloth and clips to put on one of the tables, glad I had found a use for it. The pot luck is designed for a point near the end of the tour, when people are cleaning out their coolers. It was a motley assortment of chowders, salads, couscous, canapés and pies. Gary fears pot luck because of his intestinal issues, he says that everything gets digested at a different rate. I didn’t care, I just wanted to erase my calorie deficit.
Tom reminded me to keep snacking on the road, to keep my blood sugar up. Good advice, if I carry enough to make it work. I have a tendency to skimp on lunch to sharpen my hunger at suppertime, not the best plan given the number of calories we are burning.
Mardi, 30 Août 2022
Temperature: 19° C
Vitesse de vent/Direction: Sud-Ouest 2 Km/h
Mot pour le Jour: “Zut”
Sometimes adventures happen to you despite your best efforts, and when that happens, turn and go with it.
During the night, I dreamed I was in the old Registry of Deeds office, after hours, and Carlene Holmes, Register of Probate, was banging furiously on the door to get in. For some reason, I knew that I could neither leave the office nor let her in. As I awoke, the banging resolved itself into a pouring thunderstorm. Fortunately, I had secured the velcro fasteners on the tent, and it held fast. Unfortunately, I desperately needed to go to the bathroom. I threw on my poncho, crawled outside the tent, and relieved myself on my hands and knees, reminding myself that next time, if there is a next time, to heed Paul’s advice and bring along a pee container. The day was off to a great start.
Today was advertised as the hardest and hilliest of the tour. By downshifting well in advance, I was able to climb the monster hill I saw yesterday, as well as the long, grinding hill to today’s highest point. But 24 miles into the ride, on another hill as I was downshifting, my chain dropped and I keeled over again. I had just caught up to Tom, who noticed that my derailleur was bent, no doubt due to the many knocks my bike had taken. The shifters would no longer work properly, so any attempt to continue would make the problem worse. I backtracked down the hill to a picnic area at the bottom, where Tom told me the support truck had stopped. The truck had left, but Hal and Rosemary were still there, and as I coasted to a stop, my saddle came off. My bike was disintegrating before my eyes. Hal called Gary and Ed, who were running the sag wagon, and after they picked me up and loaded my bike, we rode to the campground. Ron, with the supply truck, was supposed to be there, but was nowhere in sight. Ron, with his good ol’ boy persona, reverse baseball cap and Nova Scotia accent, reminds me of Ricky on “Trailer Park Boys”, and Gary and Ed, struggling to manage the logistics of gear and riders scattered throughout the hills, muttered amongst themselves. They headed back along the course doing double duty, first to make sure that none of the other riders needed aid (unlike me) and second, to track Ron down. We finally spotted the truck in a fishing village beside a seafood cantina. Gary and Ed transferred my bike to the truck and I rode back with Ron.
When I settled in at camp and saw the laundry facilities close at hand, I knew it was time for me to do a final wash. I was mixing my used clothing with the clean, instead of stuffing them in a space-wasting laundry bag. The washers and dryers had coin slots only for Loonies (the Canadian dollar coin) and quarters; two Loonies and three quarters apiece. My neck wallet was sagging with the weight of Twonies (the two-dollar coin) but was short on Loonies and quarters. Morgan generously gave me 7 quarters, and refused any of my overweight Twonies in return.
I had the chance to reflect on the nature of Canadian cash transactions. I had brought with me a roll of $20.00 Canadian bills, but for most of the tour I had saved them and used my credit card instead. Now, with a cash surplus, I was trying to use them up. But every interaction in a grocery store left me with large reductions in value and serious additions in weight, as Loonies and Twonies replaced whisper-light paper bills. The Canadian healthcare system and its Treasury Department must be conspiring to improve their citizens’ body-core strength by making them lug all that change around. On Quebec’s hills, carrying all that coinage was a distinct disadvantage, and I found myself dumping my extra change in side pockets of my bags to be rid of it. Could Mohrgan, in his generosity, be thinking the same? But I digress.
By now everyone in the group knows about my falls and is becoming almost too solicitous. Dave adjusted my derailleur, fit on a new saddle, and put on flat pedals, which I will ride tomorrow with my hiking boots. I’ll save my clip-ins for the final day, when we are out of the mountains.
I have no ego left to defend.
Mercredi, 31 Août 2022
Temperature: 23° C
Vitesse de vent/Direction: Sud 25 Km/h
Pas de Mot pour le Jour, l’examen ce soir.
Today was our last day in the mountains before joining the coastal route back to Ste. Anne-des-Monts. It also promised to introduce us to the headwinds which the mouth of the St. Lawrence are famous for. And here I was, trying to mate my hiking boots to a pair of flat pedals. My memories of this adventure hinged on how well I could cope at the finish. Would it be fondness or failure?
Directly out of the campground we entered the settlement of Grande-Vallée, where we would be making our final grocery stop for dinner tonight. After breakfast tomorrow, we head for Ste. Anne, onward to soft beds, close-by showers and toilets, and kitchens we don’t share with anyone else. But first, we had the matter of three good-sized hills to climb from sea level to over 300 meters up. I carefully studied and committed to memory the course profile to determine where the worst incline and the summit would be, checking my odometer frequently to prepare for the worst. But by staying in my lowest gears and not stressing myself, I found myself descending into a deep canyon and knew that the big hills were behind me. The problem then became the gusty sidewinds, which made the descending sketchy, and I feathered and then squeezed on the brakes all the way down. The downhill turned out to be more stressful than the ups, and I found it hard to believe how much climbing we had done so slowly and patiently.
The uphills had helped stabilize my boots on the pedals, but once I headed down I found that I couldn’t keep my feet on them. At the bottom of the big hill I sped past the right turn onto a secondary road we were supposed to take by the water, and I had to backtrack a kilometer to regain it. This secondary road soon merged back onto Route 132, and we began a long trek with steep hillsides to our left and the St. Lawrence to our right. I should note in passing that the main road, which had been Route 132 Est along the Bay of Chaleur into Percé, had changed somewhere between Percé and Gaspé into Route 132 Ouest. The wind was picking up, a sidewind to my left that was so strong I felt I had to lean into traffic just to stay upright. Sometimes the mountains would shelter us from the wind; at other times, as we turned corners, it funneled directly into our faces. The road continued along its sinuous course, exposing us to the blast in nearly every direction. For most of this period I was alone, but Jen caught up to me about 25 miles in and we rode together, more or less, although unable to shelter from the wind. On these level sections, my boots kept slipping off the pedals more and more frequently as I became more fatigued. Finally, we entered the destination village and turned into the campground. Finding my way to the truck, I grabbed my tent bag to pitch my tent, in haste as the weather looked threatening. Just as I slipped my support poles into the tent sleeves, it began to sprinkle, so I hurriedly erected it, threw the rain fly over the top, fastened it in place, pounded down the stakes, and crawled inside just before the rain began in earnest. I inflated my air mattress and lay down, listening to the rain pelting from above. When the rain paused a bit, I headed over to a shelter next to the toilets, where a small group had gathered and I could scrounge some lunch. The rain then picked up more fiercely than before. My clothing bag, along with many others, was buried under two layers of tarps, with lakes of water pooling in the depressions between the bags. I had no notion where my clothing bag was. Finally, during another break in the rain, Dave and I lifted the tarps in search of our bags, and after I found mine, I went to the toilet and changed into dry clothes. Throughout the afternoon, more riders straggled in, many having been caught out in the worst of the downpours.
During one of the breaks in the rain, I remembered that my phone was still attached to its holder on my bike, and I hadn’t covered my bike with a tarp. With trepidation I went and retrieved it, dried it off, turned it on briefly, then switched it off, thinking it was OK. I would later have my doubts.
The rain relented in the late afternoon and we had our cooler-clearing supper tonight, where Ron gave us our quiz on the words of the day. I could only remember five of them, despite having written them down. Cathy was the winner, her prize was a bottle of wine and an ACC jersey. After supper, I knew that I will have some food to take home. Tomorrow is our last push to get there. As is true of so many travels, my trip to Quebec began long before I got here, and is ending before I leave. From now on it’s a bike ride and a long drive to return to the familiar.
Jeudi, 1 Septembre 2022
Temperature: 20° C
Vitesse de vent/Direction: Sud-Ouest 22 Km/h
I awoke this morning secure in the knowledge that I wouldn’t need to sleep in a dirty sleeping bag, or break down and reassemble my tent, for a very long time. I have to give thanks to my tent, though, for it sheltered me through many a rainy night. I’ll be deeply grateful to get in a bed off the ground that I don’t need to inflate, with a bathroom just a few steps away. And no more ground-in wet dirt and gravel!
The wind didn’t seem bad in our sheltered campground, but as soon as the ride began, we could feel it. I did feel the extra power now that Gary had re-installed my clip-in pedals, somewhat reluctantly, knowing my recent history. I could tell, though, that the hills today would be much shorter and tamer, with a maximum grade of just over 8%, nothing to worry about.
As I rolled out of the campground into the open, I pulled out my phone to take pictures of the beautiful hills now in view. Although I could hear a buzz when I turned the phone on, nothing else happened, and the phone stayed black. Had some moisture from the rain slowly, insidiously, worked its way inside and fried the electronics? All day I regretted not being able to take the most spectacular pictures of the mountains and the sea I had yet seen, as well as wondering if I had lost all the pictures I had taken. Would this narrative be my only record?
The course curved along the shore with the mountains off my left shoulder, a beautiful sight. The wind was strong and predominantly a headwind, but not as gusty as yesterday, so the force didn’t bother me as I tapped along. But what did bother me was the cold whipping off the water, and I was grateful for the bib shorts and one top underlayer I had under my bike shirt, while wishing I had more. I finished at my car relatively relaxed, just in time for the sun to break out and warm us lucky few who had finished the tour.
As I was entering the campground I met Peter driving out. Peter, the fellow Mainer, had just tested positive for Covid the night before, and had to ride in the sag wagon all day today. At the site where the cars were parked, I saw the truck with our gear spread on the ground, which I quickly picked up and loaded in my car. There was no mass gathering at the campsite, so different from the bus ride Gary had offered to the Newfoundland tour members in St. Anthony at the end of that ride, giving people the chance to commune for a few hours before landing in Deer Lake. We had made our ceremonial goodbyes the night before, now we were just trickling in and leaving. I did get a chance to say goodbye to Dave, Priska and Tom, the only riders I saw there before I left.
I was lucky to have arrived early, because the back half of the day was dedicated to traveling as far as I could get on the way home. After grabbing lunch in Ste. Anne, I set my odometer to zero, filled my tank, and set out, with the goal of making it to Houlton. But without GPS, I was to have some more chaos en route. At the South end of the Gaspé, I encountered some confusing signage near the intersection of Canada Route 85 and Route 232, the route I had followed southerly through the interior of the peninsula. With a phone I believed to be dead, and no aid but a AAA map of the entire eastern U.S. and Canada with far too little detail to be of much use, I stayed on Route 232 much longer than I should have, ending up near the Maine-Quebec border at a point where there were no crossings anywhere. I had no choice but to head back North to regain the intersection to Route 85, swearing all the way, costing me at least an hour. By the time I crossed the New Brunswick border into Houlton, I had driven more than 350 miles and it was well past 9:00 P.M. After wolfing down a double cheeseburger and fries, I found a motel room and prepared for a night of luxury, what was left of it, after calling my daughter Ally from the motel phone to let her know where I was, having gone incommunicado for such a period. I asked her to contact Nancy, who must be wondering why she hadn’t heard from me for so long.
Tomorrow, I won’t be heading directly home. I need to shoot down the interstate to leave my bike at Pat’s, so it can get some well-deserved TLC after its rough and bumpy ride.
Friday, September 2, 2022
Temperature: 71° F
Wind speed/Direction: SW 8 mph
My morning began on a good note. Last night I plugged in my phone with the faint hope that my problem was only a drained battery, and that turned out to be the case. It chirped on as if to say, “Why were you ignoring me?”
After making short work of breakfast at the motel, I drove directly South on I-95, which only took about an hour and a half, and presented my travel-worn bike to Scott at the bike shop. Before I had left, my shoe cleats had already been changed out, and by the time I got home there was a message on my answering machine that my bike was fixed and ready to pick up. Scott confirmed that my old saddle was toast; the nose of the saddle was broken. But for all the insults my bike had suffered, it has survived rather well.
Time to take inventory of my losses and lessons:
- My only confirmed loss was a pair of glasses which I somehow dropped on L’Île de St. Bonaventure, near Percé, where I was overdressed and carrying my backpack. Somehow while removing extra layers I must have dropped them without noticing. A high-risk item to be sure, since I normally wear them only for driving and distant viewing.
- The temporary loss of use of my phone. The only real loss was that I have no pictures from the final days of the ride, which had the most impressive vistas of the St. Lawrence on one side and the mountains on the other.
- The aforesaid wounds to my bike, now fixed. The monetary cost is trivial, but when I needed to take the sag wagon I missed riding about 18 miles of the tour.
- My wounds. My stationary falls produced no measurable pain or distress. I have some impressive-looking bruises on my left hip and buttock and a reddened left eye, but feel no discomfort. The only scar that hasn’t fully healed yet is the one resulting from the bike pedal scraping my left leg while I was walking the bike, not riding, and it happened in Edmundston before the tour. I keep it clean and bandaged and it doesn’t hurt, but I will have it looked after.
- My Olympic Dopp kit. Although not as spacious as my regular Dopp kit, I took this memento from the 1972 U.S. Olympic Track & Field team’s visit to Bowdoin College before traveling to Munich. This 50-year old relic was to be my calling card if anyone noticed and asked about it. But after being jostled about for a couple of days, zipped and unzipped, a few of the zipper teeth fell out, it could no longer be closed, and the contents needed to be transferred to other bags. Maybe 50 years is a bit too long to use it as a shaving-kit. It came home with me, only as something to look at now.
- Never drive in Quebec again without a working GPS! My internal navigation software isn’t what it used to be.
Successes and failures? The packing cubes were the biggest hit. With the labeling, it was easy to find what I needed, and to put items back where they belonged. Before the tour, I made a list of which cubes were in each bag, but this was more organization than I needed, and the cubes just got tossed in either of the two bags not carrying my camping gear. Those two bags were interchangeable. It was a good idea for me to keep all my tent materials in one distinctive bag, since this was the first bag I picked up at each campground to set up camp. But this successful concept will probably get little future use from me, since I’m unlikely to join any more long tours where I need to camp and decamp every day through rain and dirt.
This afternoon I hosed down my tent, tarp and bags to give some Quebec dirt a new home on my front lawn. I still have some ground-in dirt on my knees which my shower isn’t washing away. I was on my knees so many times putting my tent up and taking it down.
And maybe that means something, for Quebec is part of me now.