Bike Trips: Gaspé Peninsula:
July, 1992


Roger Kenner
Montreal, Qc,
Canada 2002

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Day 4: Mont St. Pierre to Grande Vallée

Saturday, July 25, 1992

Getting Started

I awoke at my now usual 06:00 and went straight for breakfast, thus avoiding what I was sure would become enormous crowds once everyone woke up. Many latecomers had parked their campers along the beach road, and there were tents all over the beach.

I was packed up and ready to go by 9:00. I had hoped to catch some hang gliding, but I guess it was still too early. I did not want to hang around though. My destination for the day was Grande Vallée, some 62km away. Again, my decision was set by the availability of campgrounds. I toyed in my mind trying for the next campground, over 100km away. As it turned out, I need not have worried about it. The day was to have some suprises in store for me. A glance at the map showed me that the road curved inland after Rivière-La-Madeleine. This usually meant some hill climbing. If I had only known...

(La Carthèque Map: 1992)
Day 4: Mont St. Pierre to Manche d'Epée
 

As I set off, rounding the cove and leaving Mont. St. Pierre behind, the road remained pretty much the same as it had been the day before: Flat and wide, built up over the water, and at the foot of massive cliffs.

My first stop, an hour later at 10:00, was half­way between Anse Pleuruese [Weeping Cove] and Gros Morne [Big Knoll]. I had travelled about 17km. The sky was clear. The weather was warm. The wind was still at my back and the road flat. All seemed perfect.

I stopped again at another "halte routière", just a few minutes down the road, to climb out once again onto the rocks by the sea. I was on my way again at 10:30.

The Road Changes

As I approached Manche d'Epée [Sword Strait], I came upon yet another small promontory where the road would climb up over the ridge and descend down the other side, or so I thought. As the road climbed through town, I was totally unprepared for what was coming. The hill just kept going, and got steeper and steeper. Leaving town, the road turned inland, away from the coast, and started even more serious climbing. I could not see very far down the road at any time, so I had no idea how high I was going to have to climb. It just kept going up and up and up. I had not been psychologically prepared for this hill, nor had I paced myself properly. By the time I reached the top I was huffing and puffing like an old steam engine. I could see far out over the ocean, the whitecaps on the sea of blue glisten­ing like diamonds in the night. It took me five minutes to regain my breath, then I went on.


(La Carthèque Map: 1992)
Day 4: Manche d'Epée to Grande Vallée
 

The road never came back down. In fact, I had seen the end of the nice, flat road along the water's edge. The road continued now along the crest of the high plateau for several miles, until it reached Cap-de-la-Madeleine. As I went along, the forest gave away to open country and farmer's fields. I was entering a pretty heavily populated region.

At Cap-de-la-Madeleine is a famous lighthouse, perched high on the promontory, overlooking the Madeleine River where it joins the sea at the foot of the cliffs far below. The view was an absolutely breathtaking.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
The Light at Riviere La MadeleineDetail
 

Far below the cliff, a quite large river snaked its way out into the ocean. The ocean beach made its usual giant crescent along the inside of the cove. The river followed the crescent around on the inside, the beach becoming a sandbar in the shape of a sickle and perhaps fifty feet wide. The river con­tinued, hidden from the ocean by the beach, until it was almost out past the point. Out across the valley, perched on the opposite hill, was the town of Rivière-la-Madeleine.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
The Sandbar at Riviere La Madelenie
 

It was 11:30 and I had stopped at roadside rest area by the lighthouse to rest and have a tanker of water and a small snack. For all of my huffing and puffing coming up the last hill, I had still managed to cover 18km in the last hour.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992 (enlargement))
The road to come: Looking East
 

This was all to change though. I could see in the distance how the road, once it dropped back down to the sea (wasting all my hard-won potential energy) and went through the town of Rivière-la-Madeleine, would climbed up and over the inland mountains along a long, steep grade. I studied this grade in disbelief through my binoculars. There could be no mis­take. It was indeed was my road! I could see that I was in form some serious climbing. At least this time, though, unlike earlier at Manche d'Epée, would be mentally prepared for it. How bad could it be? After all, I only had 18km left to go to my destination of Grande Vallée.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992 (enlargement))
The mountains east
 

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992 (enlargement))
The grade
I took it easy as I approached the hill, trying to conserve my energy and pace myself. It became quite clear when the real hill had begun though. Earlier hills had looked impressive from a distance, but seemed nearly flat once one was upon them. This one did not look flat once I got to it. It still looked like it was going straight up. I was in my granny gear, huffing and puffing again. I did a few hundred meters up before I came to a roadside rest area, where I was thankful to take a rest. The view back was great. I took some pictures and chatted with some tourists, coming the other way. They had no words of encouragement. They said they had been dropping like a stone for several minutes (in their car.)


Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Looking back on La Madeleine, during climb
 

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992 (enlargement))
La Madeleine Light: Detail, looking back
 

Back to the grind, I inched up the hill, stopping every hundred meters to catch my breath. I came upon a sign for the trucks going the other way. It warned of a 13% grade ahead for the next 1km. I guess I had climbed that. But the climbing went on. The road turned away from the ocean, heading inland, up, up, up and over a pass. And then up some more over the next one. I was back into heavily forested countryside. It was the climb from Hell!

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
The View from the topDetail
 

Looking at the geological map, one can see that mountains of the Gaspé are the tail end of the same chain that forms the Appalachian Mountains in the U.S. They hit the peninsula at an angle, which is why the inland mountains had seemed to get ever closer. The cliffs I had been passing under for the last day were not related. They were from even earlier mountains, some of the oldest sedimentary rocks in the world. Now, however, I was in these Appalachian type mountains and, I guess, crossing over the spine of the mountain range. And there was no way around it.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
What the road went around
So I continued. I would ride a hundred metres at a shot, and then rest. Then I would go another 100 metres. I used the roadside distance markers as a guide. Sometimes I would think I was at the top, only to see an even bigger hill behind. I'm sure glad I had had a few days to get used to cycling. If I had hit hills like these on the first day, I would never have had the guts to continue. It turned out that this would be the worst climb of the trip, and it took a lot out of me. Each successive climb, though not as long or high, took an ever greater effort. I must have started burning off some deep, hidden store of emergency energy.

Once I got to the real top, I could once again see the ocean, far in the distance. It seemed like I was like looking down on it from an airplane. The far shore of the gulf, which I had lost a couple of days ago, was visible again, although it was now over 100km away. I rested and finished off the last of my water before descending. I had consumed four litres of water in less than a couple of hours!

The ride down was quite a thrill. For what seemed like nearly half an hour my heavily-loaded truck of a bicyle sped down the mountainside going around curve after curve. I barely touched the pedals, but was leaning on my breaks nearly all the time. Suddenly I was swept back out over the ocean, high up upon a towering cliff. I could see back to Cap-de-la-Madeleine, where I had been two hours earlier. It seemed so close. I could why they had not built the road down by the seaside, where sheer cliffs met blue ocean water. There did not appear to be any shallows.

And then I continued down some more. I had always wondered what it would be like to ride a bike down the side of a mountain. It was as thrilling as I had expected, though I'm not sure it was worth the price I had I paid for it.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Coming into Grande Vallee
 

Grande Vallée

Rounding another corner, I could suddenly see the town of Grande-Vallée [Big Valley] at the foot of the mountain. Fate was cruel. When I got to the bottom of the hill I was back at the level of the sea. The road curved around the back of the cove and crossed over the river where it met the beach. Then, at the entrance to town, I was greeted by one last short, but very steep hill, a hill I barely had the strength left to get up. I was afraid for a minute that I was going to have to walk the heavy bike up.

It was 14:30 when I came into Grande-Vallée. It had taken me two and a half hours to go 18km, for a speed of about 7km per hour, or a little faster than one walks. My earlier good travelling time gave me a daily distance of 53km in 5h30, 4h30 of which had been spent riding, for an average speed of 12km per hour.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992 (enlargement))
Grande Vallee: Detail
 

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period Document)
Grande Vallée: Campground
The campground was a welcome sight: Camping au Soleil Couchant [Setting Sun Campground: It was so named for the beautiful view west of the sun setting over the water]. The campground was a bit past the main part of town, up on a rocky knoll by the beach. I managed to get a site only 100 feet from the surf, and yet sheltered from the wind by the hill and the trees. I was lucky for most of the campground was quite open to the constant wind. The campground facilities were in a brand new clubhouse.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Period photo: taken in 1992)
Camping at Grande Vallee
 

As I was checking the clubhouse out, I noticed a corner covered with sheets of paper hanging from ceiling to floor, and inscribed with intricate little lines a few millimetres apart. I could not understand the writing. The whole thing looked like someone was disecting the radio spectrum or something such thing.


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

Once settled I headed back into town for some supper. Grande Vallée was a pretty boring town. There wasn't very much to explore. Crossing the historic wooden bridge was about the only attraction.

As I rode to the west end of town, and back down off the hill to the cove, I saw a couple of cyclists just coming down off the mountain, so I waved to them. They waved back. I was on my way to find supper in the town's only restaurant. I cannot remember what I had.

Click on photo to enlarge
(Image from old postcard)
Grande Vallee, from the air
 

When I got back to the campsite, I found that the same couple I had waved to had now installed them­selves just across from me. They had covered their bikes with plastic sheets, had put up their space age tent, and were huddled over a small, portable stove cooking supper. I went over and talked with them for a short while, discovering that they were a young couple from Quebec City. We compared notes on the horrific climb of the afternoon.

Leaving the couple, I took a walk down along the beach. Well, it was sort of a beach. The bedrock consisted of layers of shale, turned completely on their side and running paral­lel to the beach. One walked on edges of the layers. Some layers eroded faster than oth­ers, so the effect was a series of little walls running all along the beach and stretching out into the surf. As the tide came in, it would wash over one wall, then a few minutes later over the next, and so on.

Following my beach walk, it still being too early to retire, I decided to take another walk around the campground. I walked across the road and spent a few minutes looking through the magazines in a tiny grocery store, then headed back.

At the clubhouse I saw a young Chinese girl sitting over in the corner working where all the papers were hanging. I could not resist the temptation of asking what all of the stuff was. I naturally addressed her in French and was surprised to learn that she did not speak any French at all. We switched to English. It was a thrill speaking English again! She told me she was a graduate student from Memorial University in Newfoundland and was doing her master's thesis . She was originally from Beijing, China and had only been in Canada for a year. She was spending the Summer measuring those very same shale layers I had been playing on at the beach. She was measuring the width of each layer, and doing so for miles up and down the beach. Her thesis was on "The Discontinuity of Sandstone Banks in Devonian Era Sea Bottoms". At Grande Vallée was, apparently, one of the few places in the world where such conditions existed. I asked her how she could manage to live in a town where no one spoke English and she admitted being quite lonely. Her thesis advisor had set her up in a little camper trailer and she communicated with everyone through sign language. We talked for a good couple of hours.

When I returned, at last to my tent, it was soothing to drop off to sleep to the rhythm of the pounding surf barely ten metres away.

Daily Report

The day's progress is reccounted above. [See the Kilometrage Study for more details]

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Prepared by Roger Kenner
January, 2002