Bike Trips: Gaspé Peninsula:
July, 1992


Roger Kenner
Montreal, Qc,
Canada 2002

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Day 1: Mont Joli to Matane

Wednesday, July 22, 1992

Awakening at Trois Pistoles

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Awakening at Trois Pistoles
The vista was incredibly beautiful when I awoke the next morning at 7:00. I was right at the edge of a glorious deep blue sea and the salt air and cry of the gull were every­where. The sky, too, was a magnificent, cloudless blue. Off in the distance, perhaps twenty or thirty miles away at this point, could be seen the misty blue shapes of mountains on the far shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The brisk air made me feel quite good, and the day promised to warm up soon.


Click on photo to enlarge
(Taken on Revisit: 1998)
The Halte at Trois PistolesThe Estuary at Triois Pistoles
 

The small country truckstop across the road catered mostly to local truckers and fishermen. Despite the 100% French speaking character of this region, people seemed more willing to cater to the English than back in cosmopolitan Montreal. All the signs and the menu, for example, were fully bilingual. It didn't take long to notice the accent though. I found I had to really put my ear in gear in order just to understand what was being said to me. Besides the language, other I noticed other peculiarities of the Gaspésiens. A simple thing like pancakes is an illustration. I can't explain how they are different, but all my pan­cakes for the next week would share this strange, indescribable character.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Taken on Revisit: 1998)
The Halte at Trois PistolesBreakfast at Trois Pistoles
 

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(Restaurant Placemat: 1992)
Gaspé Tour: Mileage
On my breakfast
placemat

Getting to the Staging Area

Finishing up, I headed on down the road by about 8:30. I was still about an hour from Mont Joli when, all of a sudden, at St. Flavie, all reference to Mont Joli simply vanished! Just as I was afraid I had missed the town, I came upon a tourist information centre. There I was able to obtain a much more detailed map of the Gaspé region. Mont Joli, it turned out, was five kilome­tres inland, following a long hill up from the waterfront at St. Flavie. At the crossroads in St. Flavie, both the road forward the road and to the right were labelled Route 132 east. It was most confusing. Route 132 makes a big loop around the entire Gaspé shoreline, ending up back at that very same point.

I turned to the right and headed on up the hill. Once at the lofty viewpoint of Mont Joli, the view out over the entire gulf was even more spectacular than it had been at seaside.

The plan was to locate a secure place to leave the car for the week or so I would be gone. I had in mind some sort of private parking garage, but as I drove about the little town of Mont Joli, I could find nothing that looked promising.

Finally, I decided to stop in at the local police station, figuring they surely would know of a garage. I met there the mayor of the town, a certain Gilles Thibeault. When I explained what I planned to do, he promptly offered me a parking place right in the police station parking lot. Such was a sign of how much more relaxed and friendly these small town, country folk were, compared with those of us in the city. I figured the police station parking lot would be a pretty secure location for my unattended van. (Though the offer was free, I ended up leaving the mayor a $20 contribution to the city when I picked up the car.)


Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Parking the Van
 

It was time to pulled my bike and all the gear out of the van and to start loading it up. Though I had bought some new equipment, I was still far too heavy (the good, ligh­weight gear being just too expensive). In the front paniers I had a good supply of high energy, munchy food, for I had learned from my research of the need to eat constantly while cycling down the highway. There were also two litres of water, a backup to the two water bottles mounted on the bike itself. (On later climbs, I was often to find myself running out of water. Three litres could easily be consumed in an hour of hill climbing.) On top of the front paniers was the bedroll holding my sleeping back and tent. In addition, a small handlebar bag held my binoculars, maps, and other small articles of constant need. With all this weight on the front, the bike was to handle like a Mack truck with no power steering. It would take me some time to get used to planning my turns carefully. In the rear saddlebags were changes of clothes and rain gear. Everything was packed in double garbage bags so as to stay dry in case of rain. On top of my rear carrier was my tarpaulin, to serve as a second cover over the tent; my air mattress and pump (I conceded the extra weight in exchange for the com­fort of a good night's sleep); and a waterproof box, holding cameras, papers, and other items that absolutely could not get wet. All in all the baggage must have weighed nearly as much as I did! I would certainly learn to regret this as I started climbing serious hills. Other professionals that passed me by carried much lighter equipment loads. I took consolation at least in the fact that I had a better bike than before, with the "granny gear" for hill climbing.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Packing up the Bike
 

Starting Out

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Original Map Used on Trip: (Quebec Tourism Map: 1992)
Day 1 Map
Starting out on the tiny streets of Mont Joli, I felt unsteady enough on this fully-loaded bicycle, but getting back on the main highway and flying headlong back down the long 4km drop to the coastline was even more terrifying. The heavy bike picked up speed very fast, was sluggish at the controls, and took far to long to stop. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get the feel of it. (I did, after a few more minutes.)


Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Starting out at Ste. Flavie
 

Back once again in Ste. Flavie, at the crossroads of Route 132 in all directions, I stopped to re-arrange some things on the bike that had proven ill-balanced. A big sign pointed the direc­tion east, reading: "Gaspé, Percé". I must admit to suffering a real crisis of will at this point, as I watched the road stretching on down the coastline as far as I could see, to the faint blue mountains far in the distance. I suddenly felt quite alone and vulnerable. Was I really up to this? The pause was short. I ground up my nerve, mounted the wobbly truck, and guided it on down the highway towards the east. I can say it was about 11:00 when I truly got on my way.

(La Carthèque Map: 1992)
Day 1: Mont Joli to Matane - A
 

On My Way

The early stretch of road was mercifully quite flat, and there was a strong tailwind pushing me along. (A wind, I would learn, that was quite constant along this coast. It was to be with me nearly all the way. Woe be to those who attempt the trip in the opposite direction.)

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Looking to Sea early on: Metis sur Mer
 

My first short rest was at noon, at the town of Métis-sur-Mer [Métis-on-the-sea]. I adjusted my seat height and tanked up with water. A good litre and a half was already gone. The day was getting quite warm by then. I felt good that I had made great time, nearly 22km, in the first hour.

At Métis-sur-Mer, the coastline, for the second time in just a few miles, turned inland to form a vast cove. I would get used to these coves, each about 20km wide. A rocky point would jut out into the sea. Turning the corner, one would be able to see all the way across the bay to a similar distant point, many miles ahead.

Hidden in among the sea of French along this coast, I found the tiny English hamlet of Metis Beach. There were hardly any signs to identify it as English, but the tell-tale white, clap­board protestant church was a giveaway.

Once on my way again, after a couple of minutes, I made the mistake of leaving the busy main road for the quiet residential streets of Metis Beach. I would not make this mistake again. While the hills on the main highway were fairly evenly graded, not so on the tiny village streets. At the far end of the cove, as I approached the point, I had to climb straight up this mother of a hill to regain the main highway.

At 12:45, barely another six kilometres further along the road from my last stop, I stopped at Baie des Sables [Sandy Bay] for lunch. I had been looking for a restuarant in which to get a light lunch. This one, a seafood restuarant called Le Matelot, high on the hill overlooking the sea, was a little too fancy. I would have preferred a simple sandwich, but the couple of greasy roadside casses-croutes I had passed looked more prone to indi­gestion than sustenence. I did not figure that an upset stomach would aid my cycling. As it was, the seafood place offered my old stand-by, spaghetti. And it was great spaghetti, and the serving was enormous, and it sure was hard to exercise the self-control of only eating a small part of it.

(La Carthèque Map: 1992)
Day 1: Mont Joli to Matane - B
 

I continued my trek along the coast half an hour later, at 13:15 and completed the 15km to the next town of St. Ulric by 14:00.

The landscape along this section was most interesting. Looking to the left (land­ward), one could imagine one's self driving along any country farm road close to Montreal. There were barns, silos, farmhouses, and pastures filled with dairy cattle. How incongruous the view to the right (seaward), where the ocean waves (still fairly gentle, as it was the gulf) were lapping at the rocks. It was low tide. I am sure that at high tide the water must have reached right up to the road itself.

The farms on the left inhabited a narrow, lowland shelf about a quarter-mile wide. Directly behind rose an escarpment a couple of hundred feet high, the top lined with trees. White water mountain streams would cascade down towards the sea, cross under the road, and be lost in the sand of the beach.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Matane: Looking west at the road travelled
 

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(City of Matane: 1992)
Matane Brochure
An hour past St. Ulric, I reached Matane, my goal for the first day. From 10:30 to 15:00, over 4.5 hours I had ridden 3 3/4 hours. I had had a strong tailwind all the way. My total distance was 63km, which gave me an average speed of about 17km per hour.

Evening in Matane

I had a hard time finding the campground: Camping de la Rivière Matane [Matane River Campround]. It was about 3km behind the town, and upriver. A sign pointed to a shortcut via Boulevard Industriel. It was hardly an interesting view, moving along between factories and paper mills and sharing the road with dumptrucks. I finally negotiated a detour along a gravel road. When reaching the river at last, I faced my final obstacle, a massive hill to climb. Huffing and puffing straight up this hill, a 10% grade at least, I was dismayed only to have to come right back down the far side. There, at the bottom of the hill, was the entrance to the campground.


Click on photo to enlarge
(Campround Guide)
Map of Matane
 

The tent was set up by 16:00 and I set off to explore the town and get supper. With most of the heavy gear was off the bike, I suddenly felt so strong riding it. I discovered a footpath that bypassed the awful hill I had climbed. It hugged a cliff above the rushing waters of Matane River. At places I had to climb over rocks walking the bike, but at least the way was flat. I resolved to come out that same way the next day, but was worried about negotiat­ing the rocky cliff with a fully loaded bike. I had awful visions of my bike and all my gear falling into the rough waters, which would have effectively ended my bike trip.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)/Period Document
Camping at Matane
 

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period Document)
Matane: Campground Map
 

The local weather was strange. The radio had promised sunny and clear weather until Friday. Indeed, my day had started off like that. As the afternoon progressed though, I began to notice an ever greater build-up of distant clouds out over the ocean. They gradually drew closer and closer, and grew blacker and blacker, with the high, white tops characteristic of major thunderstorms. By the time I was setting up my tent, the sky was gray and overcast. Heading into town, I was caught in some light rain. A few minutes later, I had to take refuge in a Tim Horton's Doughnut shop as the skies let loose with thunderous rain and high winds. Then, just as suddenly, the sky was clear again, for a glorious sunset. Around 7:00, though, the bottom would fall out of the temperature. From shirtsleeve weather, I would suddenly find myself freezing even though I was bundled in sweater and jacket. I was to discover this to be a daily ritual. Listening more closely to the weather on the radio, I noticed they would say, "Sunny and clear, but local weather conditions apply along the Gaspé coast

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)/Period Postcard
Arrival at Matane: The LighthouseThe Famous Lighthouse at Matane
 

Exploring Matane was interesting. By Gaspé standards, it was a pretty big town, the metropolis of the area. There was lots of industry, as the town was the rail head, the end of the line. It was also the last ferry connection along the coast to the North Shore, now nearly 70km away and barely visible. Besides passenger and car ferries, there was a rail ferry to Baie Comeau. I spend a good while exploring the docks and the ferry wharf.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
The passenger ferry at Port of Matane
 

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
The rail ferry at Port of Matane
 

I understand that Matane is famous for its salmon fishing festival, as Atlantic salmon come to climb the Matane River. There was a nice park along the river, but I never got a chance to explore it.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Looking upriver at Matane
 

In the hour I had left before the stores closed, I explored what would prove to be my last shopping center. Some last minute gear had to be purchased from Canadian Tire (Would you believe a simple nozzle for my air mattress pump had nearly defeated me. I would have had to spend the night sleeping on the ground.) I had my supper at Tim Horton's, two hots soups, bread, coffee, and doughnuts.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Matane: Looking east at the road to come
 

As the sun went down, along with the temperature, I hurried back to the campground, negotiating the rocky cliff-path above the rapids in the near dark. I was certainly glad to snuggle into my warm sleeping bag, after pumping up the mattress with my newly bought nozzle. (I can't believe I lost that nozzle twice this Summer!). I had brought my portable radio with me, so listened for about an hour to the local Gaspésien radio, featur­ing songs and artists I had never heard of before. I, of course, was listening for a weather report, something hard to come by in these regions. I guess I fell asleep around 22:00.

Daily Report

My daily progress has been described above. [See the Kilometrage Study for more details]

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Prepared by Roger Kenner
January, 2002