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.

 

W-A-L-K is not a Four Letter Word

12% grade. That's the answer to the question: How steep is the hill before Molly will walk her bike? I figured it out very quickly today. We knew that crossing the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula in the Forillon National Park would mean long steep hills. We stopped at the bottom for a fortifying snack before beginning our ascent. The pause was more to gather our wits than it was about needing sustenance. I gritted my way though the first big hill, surmounting it only by standing and pedaling. And breathing hard. After only a brief downhill we were soon ascending again. The road rose, increased in pitch and turned into an even steeper grade. That's the one that did me in. I set my sights on a reasonable goal up the hill, reached it and then allowed myself to succumb to gravity. Rich long ago determined that walking requires far less energy, and sticks to that philosophy. I still prefer to try and conquer each hill under pedal power, but I do have limits. I found them today. But only on one hill!

Molly walks her first hill

Molly walks her first hill

Rich pauses at the top of the hill

Rich pauses at the top of the hill

That passage through the hills also divided our day in two. We started off under calm and sunny skies as we skirted Gaspé Bay. The quiet protected waters provided pastoral views reflected in the bay. It was easy cycling which we savored, knowing what was yet to come.

Scenic view across Gaspé Bay

Scenic view across Gaspé Bay

Morning sun and clouds make an interesting view

Morning sun and clouds make an interesting view

Upon reaching the other side of the peninsula, we were greeted by the Cap-des-Rosiers lighthouse. Loving lighthouses as much as I do fishing harbors, I was thrilled by the sight. It happens to be the highest lighthouse in Canada. For us it also marked the entrance to the St. Lawrence Seaway. For two Duluthians, that has particular significance, as we live on the extreme opposite end of the seaway. One could sail from that lighthouse all the way through the Great Lakes to our home town!

Cap-des-Rosier lighthouse

Cap-des-Rosier lighthouse

The St. Lawrence Seaway also changed our day dramatically. Suddenly open to the large body of water we were slammed by the wind racing down the seaway. It brought a bitter chill off the water, and combined with the clouds that materialized, it quickly became the coldest day of cycling that we've had yet. The coastline also delivered its own set of steep repeating hills. We hadn't expected to encounter them quite so soon, and combined with the headwind we got quite a workout. It was an easy decision not to camp for the evening. We both heaved a sigh of relief when we checked into a motel, with red wind blown faces and chilled fingers and toes. Was it really just this morning we cycled on the flats in the warm sunshine?

Looking ahead, the forecast is for continued headwinds. We already know that BIG hills lay ahead. And I know I'm going to have to walk again. But I'm not going to apologize for it. That's life.

 

We made it to Gaspé!

Our Progress to Date

Progress to date: 33 days, 1466 miles

A year ago I'd never even heard of Gaspé. That all changed when Rich came up with the outrageous idea of the Grand Gaspé Cycling Tour. And today, 1466 miles later we're in Gaspé! Throughout all of our planning and certainly as we cycled through the miles, Gaspé has felt like the pinnacle of our trip. Even though we are still only 2/3 of the way done, we can't help but feel like we've made it. Just getting to Gaspé is an accomplishment in itself.

There's really little of value I can add. For now it's enough just to be here. I'll let the pictures show the lead up to Gaspé and our arrival.

Early morning fog just burning off, with the headlands of Percé in the background

Early morning fog just burning off, with the headlands of Percé in the background

Rich by the Coin-du-Banc salt marshes

Rich by the Coin-du-Banc salt marshes

I'm always happy when we find a good coffee shop!

I'm always happy when we find a good coffee shop!

Coastal view

Coastal view

Cliffs getting higher - as are the cycling hills!

Cliffs getting higher - as are the cycling hills!

Indian Head Rock

Indian Head Rock

We arrive in Gaspé!

We arrive in Gaspé!

Time to celebrate!

Time to celebrate!

 

Percé – A Jewel in Gaspésie

Percé presented us with a dilemma. It is the eastern-most point of Gaspésie situated in a valley between two high ridges, reached by steep and winding roads. I'd read about the spectacular beauty of the area and had my heart set on seeing it. Rich took stock in the advice of another long distance cyclist who sang the praises of the flatter road that bypassed it all. Fortunately, our Warm Showers host enabled us to do both!

But let me back up. For days the weather reports have been predicting rain. So far, it hadn't materialized except at night. Yesterday the threat seemed more ominous as we started out under dark clouds, so we pressed on leaving Port-Daniel early in the morning hoping to beat the raindrops. But we also encountered the beginning of the steep hills in Gaspésie, as well as a stiff headwind coming right off the water. So we had our work cut out for us. Miraculously, the skies cleared once again and we felt comfortable backing off our pace. I thought it even made the wind more tolerable (“ocean breezes” I called them), but Rich begged to differ on that point.

The payoff for the hill work was the increasingly dramatic coastline. The cliffs began to have the same reddish color we'd seen on PEI. And the views were captivating. Beaches still alternated with cliffs along the shore, and the wind whipped the water into reasonable sized waves that pounded the sand. It may not have been a calm warm day, but it had its own appeal.

Coastal View

Coastal View

View of Grande-Rivière

View of Grande-Rivière

Our host home for the night was in Cap-d'Espoir, just south of Percé. We were surprised to see the return of rural farmland on the landscape, and delighted to find the home inland on a mile of undeveloped land. We were warmly greeted by Nathalie, who also delivered the latest weather report: 90% chance of rain overnight and throughout the next day, accumulating up to 2″ of rain. Would we like to stay a second night? They were the sweetest words we ever heard!

With certain impending rain, she offered to take us into Percé to see the sights. We didn't hesitate for a moment, knowing it might be our only chance. Nathalie was poised to be an excellent tour guide, as she works in the tourism industry, and she enthusiastically showed us the best sights. The Rocher-Percé dominates the seacoast right from the town – I had not expected it to be so close and I imposing! Even in the dreary weather we could appreciate its massive size and unique structure. We walked up the steep hills near the Rocher where there are attracitve red and white buildings belonging to the university and Haritage Canada. Walking the beach and out on the wharf in the brisk air was envigorating and a nice change from cycling.

Our first view of Rocher-Percé

Our first view of Rocher-Percé

Rich and the Rocher-Percé

Rich and the Rocher-Percé

Close-up of Rocher--Percé

Close-up of Rocher--Percé

Shoreline opposite the Rocher

Shoreline opposite the Rocher

We could see Bonaventure island opposite the town, with its historic buildings. The opposite side of the island is home to over 200,000 northern gannets (cool looking white birds), but it was not the type of day for a boat ride to see them.

Although the drive into town involved some impressive hills, when Nathalie pointed out the continuation of that road going north we began to get the idea. At 13% grade for almost 2 kilometers, it would most certainly be a cycling challenge! But that was only the tip of the iceberg. She then drove us along that stretch, and it is a sight that will forever be etched in my mind! Over the summit, the road twisted and turned with sheer cliff walls on one side and plummeting straight down into the water on the other. Add to that more steep grades, alternating up and down, and I knew I would feel sheer terror trying to navigate it on my bike. I didn't know whether to be relieved that I would be spared the challenge or disappointed not to see those gorgeous views at close range.

Molly and Nathalie point out the road out of town

There's no doubt that we will be taking the bypass road tomorrow when we forge on. But thanks to Nathalie, we were still able to take in the beauty of Percé. She was right about the rain. It finally caught up with us. And we've spent a relaxing day staying dry with her warm hospitality. She's been a wealth of information and fascinating conversation, and like us appreciates lingering over a bottle of wine in the evenings. Yes, there are many jewels in Percé.

Thank you Nathalie for a great stay!

Thank you Nathalie for a great stay!

 

Vive la Difference!

In many ways we are an unlikely pair. Rich at 6'2″ towers over my 5'1″ frame, and even his bike dwarfs mine. But we have no problem cycling together, trading the lead depending in the conditions and stopping as necessary to accommodate each others' needs.

When it comes to weather, our differences truly surface. While Rich can't tolerate the heat, my capacity for handling the cold is severely limited. Now that the days are shortening, and the weather is cooling off, we look all the more incongruous traveling together. Take yesterday, for example. Clouds obscured the sun for much of the day, preventing its warming rays from raising the temperature our of the 50s. We faced a stiff headwind with a distinct chill off the Gulf of St. Lawrence. My early morning extra layers of warmth never came off. And Rich? He thought it was still mid-summer! We were both comfortable.

Variations in biking attire

Each night we plan the next day's ride in detail. More accurately, Rich plans it out with Google Maps conveniently downloaded to his tablet. That gets transcribed to turn by turn riding directions which he places in his front pack for easy reference. That becomes his bible for the day. Me, I refold my map. The first thing I do upon entering a new province is visit the tourist info center and get a new paper map. I'm a very visual person, and love that tactical reference point in my front pack. It's my reference point for the day, following our progress town by town. We each cling to our own method. But we always make it to the same destination at the end of the day.

Words vs Pictures!

Photography is a common interest of ours. We even have nearly identical cameras. But subject matters tend to vary. Rich constantly keeps a lookout for birds, craving an opportunity to either capture a new species or catch an interesting shot of a favorite fowl. Wildflowers are another passion of his. I think he documented every single flower on the Confederation Trail on PEI. For my part, I can't resist harbors. I traipse down to every wharf, pause at each inlet and look for interesting angles on the docked boats. Fishing boats have become a particular favorite of mine. It's rather nice to have two perspectives on the sights we pass.

Various views in Gaspésie

Two people. One trip. We will probably each tell the stories differently when we get back. But that's the spice of life. It's worked for 1,400 miles so far. I expect it will last for another 800 miles.

 

Honeymoon Period in Gaspésie

Our Progress to Date

Progress to date: 30 days, 1,368 miles

When we stopped at the Information Booth upon entering Quebec, the woman added us to list of visitors and asked how long we'd be there. We looked at each other and shrugged. She seemed a bit mystified, but even after she told us the mileage around the Gaspé Peninsula we still didn't know how long it would take us. We finally told her two weeks and let it go at that. We're far enough into this trip now that days are blurring together and time seems unimportant. It's a great feeling!

We also leaned a new term: Gaspésie. It refers to the whole Gaspé Peninsula. I rather like the snappy shorthand for where we are.

Like most of the other areas we've cycled through, we are following the coastal road. Many times in the past it seemed a stretch to show the road alongside the water, when there were few views along the way. And in Maine, the coastline was so ragged that we rarely got all the way out to the ocean's edge. But here in Gaspésie we have truly been right near the water for two days straight. We've gotten an eyeful of Chaleur Bay with its capes and inlets, and now it is widening out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

To the other side, the land rises into steep, forested hills. Their constant presence is a reminder of the hilly interior of the peninsula. It is a beautiful backdrop to the water scenes and the coastal towns. Along the bay there is a buffer of flat land between the water and the hills. We've been enjoying that mild terrain and the carefree cycling it has afforded us. Blessed with clear sunny days, it has made for extremely pleasant travel.

Sunny afternoon at Carleton
Rich cycling on the coast
Attractive farm
Picture Perfect View!

We had the good fortune to stay in a Warm Showers host home right on Chaleur Bay. Rising early, we caught a nice sunrise over the bay right from their yard. We were pleased to get in a few hours of cycling before the ever-present winds started up. Not only was it smooth riding, but the reflections in the calm waters were a rare treat.

Sunrise over Chandler Bay at our host home
Early morning reflections

Not all of our favorite sights involve natural beauty. Sometimes a little humor and creative spirit goes a long way to entertain a couple of weary cyclists. Such was the case in New Carlisle. There we found a vast collection of uniquely painted fire hydrants to tickle our fancy. They even had one of our dear dog, Spot! Our progress through town was severely hindered by the need for frequent photo stops, but neither of us minded.

Humorous fire hydrants in New Carlisle

Having reached the end of the bay, it would appear that we have also run out of mild terrain. We have had a few stretches of rolling hills to get us warmed up. And today we finished up with one serious climb. From the looks of the incline leading out of town in the morning, we are heading straight into the hills. Gaspésie is about to show us her true colors. The honeymoon is over. I sure hope we're ready.

 

Hidden Adventures

One of the greatest things about this trip is that we never know what interesting experience awaits us each day.

This day started out ordinary enough. In fact, I was finding it a particularly blasé ride. With a wind in our faces, a chill in the air and not much scenery to distract me, it was one of those days that felt like it's sole purpose was to get from Point A to Point B. Some days are like that. Not every mile can be spectacular.

The good news is that the sun was shining, and as it warmed the air it also thawed my attitude. And there were a few bright spots along the way, which Rich captured nicely.

River flowing into Chaleur Bay
What a field of flowers!

In our usual struggle to find food, some locals directed us to La Source restaurant up ahead in Charlo. It was a bit off the beaten track, so we were thrilled when we found it. The meal was as good as promised, but it delivered much, much more. Striking up a conversation with the owner, Guy Lavoilette, we learned that we shared common interest in Nordic skiing, including skiing the American Birkebeiner. Guy asked if we had time to come out and see the local Nordic ski venue. With an eager Yes! we were soon heading off into the woods in his van.

We soon learned that this is no ordinary ski club. While it does serve the community, it is also a world-class training center for not only Nordic skiing but also biathlon. And it soon became apparent that Guy is an active leader in the Canadian National Nordic Ski program. We were wowed by the facilities and left more than a little envious.

Guy and Rich at the Charlo XC trail map

Guy and Rich at the Charlo XC trail map

Molly in the Nordic Ski Chalet - Wow!

Molly in the Nordic Ski Chalet - Wow!

Guy and Rich at the Biathlon range

Guy and Rich at the Biathlon range

Energized by our unexpected detour, we made a final surge to the end of New Brunswick. We couldn't keep our eyes off the hills of the Gaspé Peninsula across the bay, yet our cameras could not capture how imposing they appeared. After all these days of cycling, it was exciting to cross the bridge into Quebec Province. Somehow we felt like we'd finally arrived.

View of Gaspe Peninsula
Rich crossing into Quebec
We made it to Quebec!

For a day that seemed to start out on the wrong foot, it decidedly took a turn for the better. Just when I least expected it, adventure came our way.