The View from the Seat of my Bicycle

At 12mph, there is plenty of time to take in one's surroundings. And traveling the lesser roads, we see far more interesting things than from a super highway. I thought it was time I shared a few of my recent favorites.

Church spires in the distance

Church spires in the distance mark the next village

Throughout our trip, we have seen many beautiful churches with a great variety of architectures. Each town has one dominating church, which reliably sits in the center of town. The one common feature of all these churches is the bell tower topped with a tall spire. Or perhaps several of them. For me, they serve as a beacon. Whenever we approach a town, all I have to do is scan the landscape, searching for the tall spire piercing the sky above the trees. Sometime I can see it from miles away, pinpointing the hub of the next village. Rather a nice way to navigate!

Speaking of architecture, I can't neglect front porches. Ever since leaving Gaspésie, we have traveled through innumerable little towns on the St. Lawrence River. The one distinguishing feature of the homes is the presence of a front porch. From the grandest old historic home to the littlest cottage, they all sport a porch trimmed with a wooden rail. Many are adorned with colorful flower baskets and gardens, and all look to be a most pleasant place to sit.

Homes with front porches

Examples of homes with front porches - including one of our host homes at top right

Often it's the little things that catch my eye. Wildflowers, lawn ornaments, whimsical mailboxes, old boats and the like are all eye candy for the slow traveler.

Colorful bicycles

Bicycles always attract my attention

Whimsical mailbox and lantern

Whimsical mailbox and lantern

Wildflowers enhance the scenery

Wildflowers enhance the scenery

An old boat becomes a bike prop

An old boat becomes a bike prop

Musical Friends

Musical Friends at the entrance to a singing camp

Not much goes unnoticed from the seat of a bicycle. It's a great view.

 

Forecasts and Fickle Weather

It seems that the weather gods are toying with us. We have four weather apps between the two of us, and none of them ever quite agree. And even if they do, the weather does not necessarily follow suit. So we plan our cycling day by day, or even hour by hour, with a wish and a prayer. When each day is spent nearly 100% outdoors, weather matters a lot!

Rich enveloped by fog

Rich enveloped by fog

Yesterday we called the shots perfectly. With rain in the forecast, it appeared that the driest conditions would be in the morning. Accordingly, we were out the door and wheels rolling before 7:00am, even having had breakfast already. “Dry” turned out to be a relative term. It wasn't raining, but we were enveloped in a thick fog that materialized into moisture as soon as we encountered it. And we couldn't see a thing! It was as if someone had dropped a curtain beyond our bikes, and all we knew was the road immediately in front of us. It was eerie and certainly eliminated all sightseeing.

Making a selection at the patisserie

Making a selection at the patisserie

Cycling turned out to be a breeze. We started off with a gradual downhill that lasted for miles and miles. And from there on it was totally flat. With a slight tailwind, we covered 40 miles and reached our destination, Rivière-du-Loup, by 11am! Turning our attention to finding some lunch, we stumbled upon the Bic Patisserie. The scent of freshly baked bread drew us inside where we were mesmerized by the offerings. Rich had a wonderful pastry with ham and cheese baked inside, and I enjoyed a fresh sandwich followed by an apple turnover. Mmmmm.

Finding our way to our nearby Warm Showers host home, we barely made it inside when the rain came down in buckets! If we had dawdled just a few minutes along the way, we would have gotten soaked. Thank you, Mother Nature!

When we went to bed, today's weather forecast looked pretty ugly. But when we got up in the morning, there seemed to be a window of opportunity in the middle of the day. We took our time before leaving, letting the wet fog dissipate, and were pleasantly surprised to find that it seemed to be brightening by then. Indeed, the skies cleared, burned off the remaining fog and it turned into a nice sunny day! Who would have guessed? Certainly not us.

Cycling continued to be flat and easy as we traveled through farmland. Dairy herds and healthy crops dominated the countryside. It was a surprise to me to encounter farms in the last few days. After the wilderness of Gaspésie, I had no idea that it would morph into an agricultural area as we ventured further down the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Rich farmland

Rich farmland

Cycling through flat farmland

Cycling through flat farmland

We've seen these shrink-wrapped hay bales everywhere. These attracted a cat!

We've seen these shrink-wrapped hay bales everywhere. These attracted a cat!

We also got our first view of land on the other side of the Seaway. It's been gradually narrowing and we wondered when the opposite banks would finally come into view – today was the day. At one point we had considered taking a ferry across to cycle the opposite side for a stretch. But we'd been told it was a lot hillier on that side. Today's view confirmed it. We felt good about staying where we were.

Our first view of land across the St. Lawrence Seaway

Our first view of land across the St. Lawrence Seaway

Flat farmland on this side, with a backdrop of hills on the other side

Flat farmland on this side, with a backdrop of hills on the other side

The towns along the way are popular resort areas and centers for artisan crafts. As such, they are attractive and tourist oriented, with more food and lodging options than we've seen up to this point. Taking a break in Kamarouska, we were enticed into a boulangerie. Loading up on treats, we sugared our way through the remainder of the day's ride. If this is a trend, it's a sweet one!

Finding a great boulangerie (bakery)

Finding a great boulangerie (bakery)

Anticipating the goodies we purchased!

Anticipating the goodies we purchased!

Who knows what tomorrow's weather will bring. I'm not even going to hazard a guess. It's likely to change again anyway. Let's just hope we play it right.

 

We Bailed!

We thought we were prepared for anything. But we were wrong. Setting out from Rimouski, which turned out to be a very bike-friendly city with a wonderful system of cycling paths, already a light rain was falling. We waved and grinned at other cyclists, united in our resistance to the conditions and considering ourselves among the hard core. We convinced ourselves that it was better than facing stiff headwinds. That it wouldn't last. And that we could make 60 miles today.

Ten miles into the ride the rain was coming down hard. The temperature dropped into the 40s, and the wind whipped away what little warmth we had. The big highway that had drained off the major traffic the day before joined our route. Semis thundered by, not only sucking us into their slipstream but dousing us with their heavy road spray.

Stopping under the awning of a gas station to wait out a particularly heavy burst of rain, I added a layer of clothing and even Rich began to shiver. We made a pact – next motel we find, we stop. Checking with the gas station attendant, we learned the bad news. The next motel was 12 miles down the road – at least an hour away for us. There was nothing to do but forge on. The good news was that he was right – as promised we found a “Resto-Motel” which would satisfy not only our need for warmth and shelter, but also conquer our hunger. We limped in on our icy feet and tried to thaw our hands to sign the registration forms.

We only made 20 miles today. But the beauty of this trip is that we have no firm schedule. No need to press on foolishly. We can bail out when we want. And so we did.

Huddling under the porch of an abandoned restaurant

Huddling under the porch of an abandoned restaurant

Drying out in our motel room

Drying out in our motel room

Living it up with a gourmet dinner and wine from the local store

Living it up with a gourmet dinner and wine from the local store

 

A Tale of Two Days

They were as different as night and day. Fortunately!

Day 1: Getting Nowhere, Slowly

Yesterday started off nicely enough. Having tired of dreary motels, we'd opted for a small B&B the night before. As we lounged in the early morning, sunshine poured in through the window, which we were happy to see again. We had a wonderful breakfast and good conversation with the innkeeper and a pleasant couple from France. Yes, it was a very good start to the day.

Breakfast at the B&B

Breakfast at the B&B

Leaving the B&B

Leaving La Maison entre Mer et Montagnes in Cap-Chat

But it all ended there. By the time we got to the end of the driveway, we were hit with the full force of a raging wind. Coming out of the West, of course. Straight at us. From the first pedal push, we were battling an enormous headwind. It was the 6th straight day in a row that we had to push into the wind, and it was the strongest of our whole trip so far, blowing up to 30mph. The whole day was spent just trying to make headway. Our normal speed of 12mph was reduced to a paltry 8mph, and many times we struggled to maintain 6mph. It's a good thing we had planned a short ride – it took us all day to finish just 40 miles.

On the positive side, it was a flat ride and the scenery was pleasant. But it was hard for us to appreciate those facts. We did have a bit of fun with the enormous Adirondack chairs we found. But always we had to return to the wind. It wore us down, and I couldn't help but think “How many more days can we keep this up?”

Molly relaxing out of the wind

Molly relaxing out of the wind

Day 2: Nirvana!

Today was the return of summer and good cycling. Although we started off with a light headwind, by noon the wind switched and turned to – get this – a tailwind! Add in sunshine, mild temperatures and flat terrain and we had a fabulous day made for cycling.

In addition, we rode through a beautiful area. Each town offered a small local road that allowed us to get off the highway. We traveled down pretty quiet streets through prosperous areas where there were homes and cottages right on the water. Many of them were large old historic buildings, still well preserved. Others were small summer homes, also well-kept. Flowers were blooming everywhere, the sun was shining on the water, and it could not have been more pleasant.

It was easy to dawdle along the way, have a picnic lunch, and stop for many photos. And it did wonders to restore our battered souls to happy touring cyclists.

The road through Metis-sur-Mer

The road through Metis-sur-Mer

Picnic lunch in Metis-sur-Mer

Picnic lunch in Metis-sur-Mer

Molly found a friend

Molly found a friend

Even the lighthouse population was favorable today, with three of them on our route!

Lighthouses

Lighthouses in Matane, Metis-sur-Mer and Rimouski

I don't know what tomorrow will bring. There's a good chance for rain. But after a day like today, we're ready for anything.

 

Equipment Failures

It seems that our legs and bikes are outlasting our electronics on this trip. Being incurable techies, we couldn't travel without a few favorite toys each: a Garmin GPS watch, smartphone and tablet. Each serves a very important purpose, and is therefore worth it's weight in our panniers. Our Garmins track our movements every day. With a quick look at our wrist we know just how far we've gone and how much we have left to do. That's important information, to either boost our spirits or bring us to reality about our progress. And after the fact, Rich can upload the data to his Nexus 10 tablet. That's the really interesting part, as it shows us a map, gives us elevations and other fun facts.

The smartphones aren't much use as phones here in Canada. We have no cell plans, although Rich can sometimes call when he has a wifi connection. Their real value is quick access to maps and GPS locators that show our actual location. Many a wrong turn has been averted by that technology. I'll also admit that we jump on wifi with them when we can find connections at restaurants.

Our tablets are the key to our evening entertainment. We use them for downloading and editing our photos, blogging, email, Facebook, Skype, checking the weather, detailed route planning and storing our Garmin data. And when we're done with all that, we have multiple books to read on the Kindle app. If we run out of reading material, we just check out more books from the library at home. Pretty handy!

We even have a solar charger that keeps our electronics running when we're camping. They are that important to us.

So Rich was pretty distraught when his tablet started to die. First it wouldn't charge back up to 100%. Then it wasn't charging at all. As the power diminished, he tried everything he could find in the forums online to fix it. But to no avail. With just 2% of battery power left, he resorted to his only remaining option – doing a factory reset. His photos were backed up online, and he managed to save some important personal documents in time. But it was with heavy hearts that we said goodbye to our precious Garmin data. I had kept daily logs of the basic mileages and times, but the data-rich records of our trip were gone.

The good news is that the reset worked – sort of. The tablet slowly came back to life, although it still only reaches 42% power. In the meantime, Rich has become very good at finger typing on his smartphone and downloaded his Kindle books to read on the minuscule screen. He can download his pictures onto my iPad and email them to himself to post on his blog. Adapting is the name of the game. Surprisingly, with using the tablet on only a very limited basis and filling in with the phone, Rich is pretty much back to full functionality.

The next to go was my Garmin. It had been showing signs of misbehavior, with decreasing battery power as time went on. Most days it died before we reached our destination. But we had Rich's for the official trip records and I could track our mileage for the majority of the day. Then one morning I turned it off during breakfast and it never came on again. Dead. It wouldn't even recharge. Kaput. It's not a critical failure, but I sure miss it. Rich tries to keep me informed, calling out miles to go every so often, but it's not the same. At least it's a lot easier to add and subtract layers of clothing now, without having to move my Garmin each time. It may be a stretch, but that is a silver lining!

It appears that it's really batteries that are failing us. The electronics themselves may be perfectly fine. We have just taxed the ability to recharge them. Good thing our bodies are doing better than that! We seem to be able to rejuvenate ourselves each night and with the addition of a rest day now and then. And our bikes have performed admirably to date. It's a pretty good outcome, really. The important parts just keep on running. Thankfully.

 

Misadventures and Happy Endings

We'd been warned that things started shutting down in Gaspésie after Labor Day. Since this is an area that is sparsely populated to begin with, that could be significant. Fortunately, that has not been a problem for us. Until now.

Yesterday's afternoon rain prompted us to begin looking for a motel earlier than usual. We'd picked out a couple of towns as potential targets for the night, but if anything came up sooner, we were prepared to take it. We had no such luck, so we were relieved to finally get to the first town where there were a few lodging options. We located them easily enough, but not one answered the door. Three appeared to be either closed for the season or shut down for good. The fourth left a note saying they'd be back at 4:30, but we were not interested in hanging around in the rain for another hour and a half. While we'd kept warm enough while cycling, traipsing up and down the main street knocking on doors had left us cold and wet.

The next target town was another nine miles down the road. We weren't too excited about getting back on our bikes again, but had no choice at that point. So we were very pleased to round the next cape after only a couple of miles and find several motels and restaurants at our disposal! Hallelujah! A tired motel room never looked so good, and a hot shower felt heavenly. Even the skies rewarded us with a beautiful sunset somewhere behind the mountains, glowing around the headland that evening.

Sunset in Mont-Saint-Pierre

Sunset in Mont-Saint-Pierre

To get an early start the next morning, we passed up a sure thing for breakfast and put our bets on finding a restaurant down the road. Our waitress at dinner had recommended one, but we arrived to find it closed. Same thing for the little convenience store. The next option was 15 miles down the road, so out came our reserves. Bagels and peanut butter. You'd be surprised how good they taste when it's the only food in town. By noon we finally found a proper breakfast at our favorite kind of place to stop – a simple homey cafe with good plain food. It was worth the extra journey.

Oh yum!  Bagels and peanut butter.

Oh yum! Bagels and peanut butter.

Despite our trials, we still took in the sights along the way. Today's lighthouse is one that I'd read about months ago, and was eager to see. It was a cold and dismal morning when we arrived, and I took refuge in the souvenir shop as long as I could to try and thaw my frosty toes. What surprises me most about the lighthouses we've see in just how small they are. But they are on such high land, that they needn't be tall in order to be high enough to be seen by the ships. This one at La Martre has been in continuous operation since 1906. Indeed it's light was rotating when we were there.

La Martre lighthouse

La Martre lighthouse

Not all sights are impressive or historic. Rich took rather a liking to this mermaid in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. He dubbed it a Purple Cow.

Rich and his mermaid

Rich and his mermaid

It seemed we were chasing that slim line of blue sky on the horizon all day. It was always just a few miles beyond our reach. The best I could do was to capture it in a calm pool when the tide was out.

Elusive blue skies

Elusive blue skies

We've been on our bicycles for five weeks now. And we've proven that we can rise above cold, rain, hunger and bad luck. We just keep on cycling, knowing it will all work out in the end.

 

What a gift!

Our Progress to Date

Progress to date: 37 days, 1630 mikes

The Gaspé Peninsula is divided into several regions. For the last few days we have been in La Haute Gaspésie, which can mean the high or the upper portion of Gaspésie. I choose to go with the high interpretation, as it clearly reflects the geography. Leaving behind the steep red cliffs, here the mountains stretch right down to the water, creating impressive forested headlands. It's a pattern that repeats all along the shoreline – huge capes that jut out into the water with semi-circular bays in between, which typically host small towns, rivers and curved beaches. With the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains as a backdrop, it presents a beauty all its own.

Headlands

Even in the mist you can see the numerous headlands

It also means hills to climb. Naturally. So imagine our surprise when the road suddenly ceased to mount each ridge, and instead was built at the base of each headland. Perched out on the edge of the steep incline, hugging the edge of the land, immediately adjacent to the water – and perfectly flat! We thought we were in heaven! And it could not have come at a better time. With a light spitting drizzle as a warning, we had just donned our rain jackets and begun cycling through a steady rain. We were so amazed and happy about the flats that the wind and rain were almost immaterial.

Views of the coastal road

Views of the coastal road

The first mileage sign told us that this wonderful road, which was also a designated bike route, would last for 7 kilometers. We were happy with that. But as soon as we passed through a town, we were granted another 8k. And another 6k after that – and so it went for the last 18 miles of our ride for the day! In fact, we followed it for yet another 25 miles today. And by that time, we were nearing the end of La Haute Gaspésie and the mountainous ridges were abating.

Not a soul had told us about this wonderful phenomenon. How could anyone have failed to mention something so significant? Regardless, we were thrilled with it. It was a happy surprise and a true gift.