Ever since rounding the end of the Gaspé Peninsula, the whole nature of this trip has made a dramatic shift. For starters, we've left summer behind and entered the fall season. Leaves are turning color and there is a marked chill in the air at both ends of the day. The cool air is easily traced to the St. Lawrence Seaway, as the temperature drops as soon as the wind shifts off the water. It's still possible to get warm sunny periods, but it no longer lasts all day. I find myself donning, shedding and donning again various layers of clothes. And we've traded our afternoon ice cream stops for soup.
The landscape is definitely the most rugged we've seen yet. And so is the cycling! The famed hills have lived up to their reputation and more. We've come to expect that every time we leave a town we'll be climbing back into the hills, and when the next town approaches we'll be screaming back down toward the water. Today we knew we were approaching The Big Hill. Everyone's been telling us about it. Even the construction workers commented on what was coming our way. Interestingly enough, it wasn't the steepest we've seen. But it was definitely the longest. Five miles straight up, and four miles down. It was Big.
All that wild terrain does come with a benefit – wide sweeping views. The scenery from up in the hills is worth the climb. And we make frequent stops for photos.
Did I mention the wind? We now take it as a given that it will be windy. But we've detected a pattern. Mornings, the wind seems to be less of a factor. Some days it's been out of the SW and we are somewhat sheltered by the hills. (At least there is one benefit to the hills!). So no more lolligaging in the mornings. It's worth getting an early start and taking advantage of any reprieve from the wind. We'd rather face the morning chill than a headwind. And by mid-day that's exactly what will develop. Without exception, the wind shifts to the West, whipping up whitecaps on the Seaway and heading straight for us.
The tougher conditions have definitely had an effect on our psyches. We've readily cut back on our daily mileage, to compensate for the more tiring cycling. Doing 40 miles feels equal to 60 miles “before.” And it takes us as long. That adjustment was a no-brainer. It's knowing that we will get up to do battle each day that seems to be gnawing at us. Morning brings the same questions each day: How strong will the wind be? How difficult will the hills be? It's not as carefree as it was.
Lest I paint too grim of a picture, I must add that each day has its bright moments which easily overshadow the trials. We are in a stretch with an abundance of lighthouses, and I'm determined to see each one. I was particularly interested in the Pointe-a-la-Renommée lighthouse, which is also the site of the first maritime radio station in North America. Rich was not pleased about the 2k side trip, which we'd decided to walk without our bikes on a hilly gravel road. When a road sign informed us it was actually 4k, I was really on thin ice. Fortunately, we were able to flag down a nice couple from New Jersey who graciously drove us the remainder of the way to the lighthouse and back. We all greatly enjoyed the unique vantage point where we could see the amazing lens at eye level, as well as the picturesque structures.
Today's lighthouse, Cap-Madeline, turned out to be almost an exact match for the logo on our cycling jerseys! And it had the added advantage of a homey cafe in the assistant lightkeeper's house.
The end is in sight. The end of the hills that is. We have it on good authority that we should be through this tough patch after two more days of cycling. And just knowing that we have successfully conquered The Big Hill is a big boost to our outlook. And perhaps one day we will think this was the best part of the trip.