|Forillon to Gaspe|
I took a break on the way in to visit Fort Peninsule, an old war battery from dating from the Second World War, when Gaspé was a fortified harbour. It was a very interesting museum. Hidden in the cliffs above the harbour were underground concret bunkers housing huge cannons. I was to later see that these bunkers were totally invisible from the ocean side.
|Guns at Fort Peninsule|
The museum opened up a corner of Canadian history I had never imagined. Although quite near, the St. Lawrence was a major battlefield of World War II. German U-boats sank 22 allied ships in the Gulf, just off the coast from many of the small towns I had went through. The shoreline and harbours were the scene of pitched artillery battles between shore batteries and offshore U-boats. The long coastline was virtually impossible to defend against the random landings of German commando squads.
|Gun Emplacement at Fort Peninsule||Corridors at Fort Peninsule|
|Pillbox at Fort Peninsule|
The Gaspé batteries themselves were never attacked. Three such hidden forts established a crossfire over the narrow, long bay that would have been suicide for any enemy vessel. A long sandbar closed off the mile-wide approach to a channel barely two hundred feet wide, a channel closed in wartime by a steel submarine net.
|Sandy Beach Sand Bar|
|Sandy Beach Sand Bar (Detail)|
|Closeup: Note end of sandbar and buoy|
|Gaspé Harbour from Fort Peninsule|
|Closeup: Cruise ship in harbour|
On my way after about an hour, I continued on inland. It seemed like I would never reach the head of the bay. I was fully 9km further inland, past where I had seen the downtown buildings of Gaspé on the opposite shore, before I finally saw the road drop down from the cliffside to cross what was left of the bay. At this point, it was mostly tidal marsh. There were a few empty mud channels (It was low tide.) in amongst the vast expanse of bullrushes and other watery plants. The highway dropped down onto a causeway leading across the marshes to the cliffs of the other side.
The going just got worse and worse. The smallest upgrade was torture. I began to have doubts about whether I could go on to my secondary destination of Percé. Gaspé had been my primary destination because it was the rail head. The train that I would take back to Mont Joli started out in Gaspé. Percé, with the famous Percé Rock that featured in all the tourist brochures, was another 70km further along.
It was 13:00 when I finally climbed over last ridge and raced down into the town of Gaspé itself, not a town really, but actually a small city. When I spied a waiting train sitting at the station, I knew that my decision was made. It was time to pack it in. I knew that the Gaspé train only ran twice a week so, fearing that it was about to leave, I raced to the station. It turned out, though, that the train was parked until 15:00 the next day.
|Gaspé: Rail Head|
My train awaits
I had to climb back up quite a serious hill along the way I had come into town in order to find the campground. Once my My tent set up and I had gotten lunch at the small campground restuarant, I headed back on into town.
|Gaspé: Shopping Centre on Hill|
Before leaving the shopping centre, I decided to stock up on some cash. I felt somewhat helpless standing in front of the banking machine and noting that there were numbers only on the keypad, no letters. I only knew my password as a "word". It took me a moment before I guessed that the number/letter combination probably mimicked that of telephones, so I had to walk over to the pay phone to figure out my password. It's amazing how the slightest things can defeat one.
From the water's edge, it was impossible to see to the end of the sandbar. The beach seemed to stretch on endlessly until it disappeared from view. Behind the beach was marshland and beach grasses. I locked my bike to a log, packed some gear into my pack, and started hiking.
|Sandy Beach, from shore|
On and on and on I walked. Soon, looking back, I could no longer see where my bike was parked, or even the road I had come down. I reached a point where a serious decision had to be made. The grassy interior of the sandbar vanished and the beach of one side met the beach of the other. Clearly, this area was under water except at low tide. I even had to take my shoes off and wade through some areas in water almost a foot deep. Off in the distance, I could see that the high knoll of the grass started up again. I was still far from the end. What worried me was that I did not know which way the tide was going. Was it coming in or going out? If it was coming in, this section could be under serious water within an hour or so.
|Sandy Beach: Mind the tide!|
|The Dissappearing Gap at Sandy Beach|
Screwing up my courage, or casting worry to the wind, whichever, I continued on. Soon I could put my shoes back on and trudged along on the dry sand. As I neared the end, I encountered thousands of birds, mostly seagulls. The grassy interior was clearly their nesting area and my presence was making them very nervous. As hundreds of them flew up into the air over my head and they all shrieked, I began to get even more nervous (I was still worrying about the tide, looking for any sign of its direction.)
|Looking towards Ocean from Sandy Beach|
When I finally reached the end, I felt I could nearly touch the north side, where I had been earlier that morning. I could almost read the writing on the sides of the trucks passing on the road, high up on the cliff. The far side, where I had started walking was lost in the distance. I could not even see the other end of the low sandbar. It was strange how the sandbar was so visible from the highlands, and yet nearly invisible from the level of the water. I could see how ships could get into trouble. The old concrete and iron works from the war era were still visible, the machinery for opening and closing the heavy, steel submarine net. Interestingly, I knew from the morning that I was only a few hundred feet from the Fort Peninsule battery, but I could see no trace of it, it was so well hidden.
|Bouy at end: Looking towards Ft. Peninsule|
|Sandy Beach: Looking back towards land|
|Sandy Beach: Chain emplacement at end|
Once at the channel, it was clear that the tide was going out as the water had a visible current heading seaward. And sure enough, when working my way back, I did not have to take off my shoes and wade through the low section. It was now dry.
|Sandy Beach: Near Shore|
The sun was nearly setting by the time I finally got all the way back to my bike. I hardly felt like I had the energy to climb back over the ups and downs that had gotten me there, so I walked the bike along the fairly level railway roadbed until I had passed the most serious hills.
|Gaspé: Harbour & Bridge|
|Gaspé: Shopping Centre at Downtown||Gaspé: Restaurant|
It was pitch black by the time I headed back up the steep hill out of town and towards my campground. The campground, which had been empty when I had left it in the afternoon was now teeming with tents and campers, all strewn out in the open field with no markers between the sites. I had a pretty good time finding my own tent.
As I lay there in my tent, looking out the flap at the stars, I felt kind of sad that this phase of my trip was coming to an end. I had been 8 days living on the road with my bicycle, more than double my previous experience in riding to Quebec City over 3 days in 1990. I felt good about what I had accomplished, but was sad that I could not go on to Percé.
[On to Day 9]