It was 06:00 when we awakened in our quiet room at the B&B, the fresh air and morning light streaming in through the tiny window. We were so comfortable in our snug, warm bed that we resisted getting up until 06:30. While our hosts were getting breakfast together, I went outside to retrieve my bicycle from the shed and began loading it up with gear taken from the car. When Sheryl came out, I led her on a morning walk over to the 'pasarelle' below the falls. When we returned, she took some photos.
We finally settled in for breakfast about 07:00. The innkeepers had prepared a fancy breakfast of eggs, potatoes and toast. It was so tasty and professionally laid served that we could easily have been in a fine restaurant. Once we had been served, our hosts down with us around the dining room table, a huge wooden table set in a brightly extension to the back of the house, lit by many large windows. We chatted about all sorts of things. I was amazed when the lady of the house, whom I had seen as stand-off-ish the night before, also joined us for conversation. We explained that, although I would be leaving early, Sheryl would be staying on into the late morning. The gentleman promised her a look at the used books he had out in the shed. We felt, from the way he spoke, that these would be free, but he later charged her.
I set out at 08:00, following a big send-off kiss in the parking lot. I climbed my way back up the hill to the main street, nearly deserted at that hour, and quickly coasted down the hill to the base, where the main street meets Route 132. The Frasier Street crossing is high atop a bluff, about two stories in elevation. I stopped there to take a photo of the cove, with the white church on the point of Cacouna showing in the distance, before descending the rest of the way down to Route 132.
Along the wide arc that Route 132 makes through the lowlands and tidal flats of the cove is the roadside business district of Riviere-du-Loup, lined with gas stations sporting in-house depanneurs. I stopped into one of these to pick up some food for the day, some ice for my little cooler, and a detailed map of the road ahead.
Soon I had crossed over the Highway 20 freeway, which skirts the city along the riverfront lowlands, and then I crossed over the mouth of the river that descends from the falls. Looking back westward and down the bay on this clear day, I could see the distant mountains of the North Shore, far across the wide St. Lawrence estuary. There was a short, but abrupt, climb back up from the lowlands onto the ridge of Cacouna. I was not yet fully out in the country, but the density of houses had become light.
[It was still in the region of the Bas St. Laurent where the geography consisted of a series of long, rocky ridges running almost parallel with the river. Between each ridge would be a lowland. Riviere-du-Loup occupied two of these long ridges, with a part of the city in the trough between. The bay then crept in along the lowland of the outermost ridge, until it met the river mouth. Cacouna was on the next ridge, whose beginning was almost even with where the city’s ridges had stopped. As I rode along the high ground, therefore, I would have a steep descent on either side, one to the river and the other to the inland lowlands.]
Not too much further along, I came upon a roadside stop and a sign indicating a 'belvedere' on the far side of the ridge. I leaned my bike up against the wooden railing in front of the two or three parked cars, trusting that no one would bother it, and I hiked up the wooden stairs to the wooden observation platform on the river side of the ridge. Here I was treated to a panoramic view of the Saint-Lawrence, in its early morning breezeless calm. It is unfortunate that the photos I would take ended up being over-exposed. It was 08:45.
The road through Cacouna was narrow and followed the top of the ridge. There was not much traffic for the freeway still paralleled the route along the inland plain below. To my right, the land descended past the farmhouses, down to the fields in the plain dividing the ridge I was on with the next, distant ridge further inland. To my right was a line of deeply wooded lots sheltering fine houses. I passed by the magnificent retreat (read: 'resort') of the Capuchin Monks: 'Centre de Priété des Capuchins'. It was enough to almost make me want to take my vows! As if in stark contrast, there was an old, English-style Anglican church a bit further on.
I reached the entrance to the town of Cacouna at 09:00. I found there an impromptu lookout from which I could look back and see the whole of Riviere-du-Loup laid out before me as it climbed up the distant hillside.
By 09:15, I had reached the centre of the old town of Cacouna. A road led off at right-angles to the left, down the steep slope of the ridge, to the reserve of the Malecite Indians at the waterfront. There also was the municipal quai. Both of these would normally have called me, but I chose not to explore in that direction this day, for I would have had to climb back up the very steep hill.
09:30 found me at the far end of town, where I came upon yet another of our 'tried-and-true' antique emporiums. On previous visits, it had been located at the beginning/end of the freeway, but this terminus had now moved further east. Although antiquing would be Sheryl's goal for the day, I could not resist a quick look-around on my own. The store had not changed too much since the last time I had seen it in 1998 (Sheryl had come by in 2002.), except that there seemed to be less stuff. Down the slope from the antique barn was the new, modern 'Port de Cacouna', where I understand that they now wanted to build a liquid natural gas facility. I did not ride down the hill.
I was on my way eastward along the road at 09:45. Once clear of the houses, my view of the river was unobstructed. I was quite high up on a ridge which sloped down evenly across the grassy fields to meet the shoreline. I stopped at 10:00, when I realized I was directly across from Tadoussac., and spent a few minutes studying the far shore through my field glasses and recognizing familiar landmarks.
Climbing over the crest of a low ridge, I could see in the valley below me the point where the new end of the Autoroute 20 freeway met Route 132. Around this intersection had grown a small, modern commercial community, made up of two large gas station complexes, depanneurs, and a restaurant. It was 10:15 when I reached the end of Hwy 20. From then on, the traffic was much heaver and much more of a bother. The narrow highway had no paved shoulders to speak of, which made riding along with the big trucks difficult. (There was a paved shoulder for a short ways, as far as the new pavement lasted, but then the shoulder, along with the new pavement, vanished.)
Coming over the gentle rise that heralded the far end of that valley, I came to the point where the old road separated from the new. Route Verte signs indicated that the old road would be the bike path, so I decided to veer off that way for welcome relief from the traffic. This older, quieter road would never be separated from the main highway by more than the width of a single property. Along both sides of the old road was a regular succession of country houses and farms. It hugged the lower edge of a small twenty-foot rise to my right.
As I reached the town line of Isle-Verte at 10:30, I could see that my side road was degenerating into little more than a rough, gravel path. I backtracked a small way and then cut through to the main road via someone's driveway (despite the sign forbidding this action).
When I topped the next rise and had a glimpse of the distant town of l'Isle Verte ahead, I turned to the right, up a side road, and climbed to the top of the small rise which paralleled the highway, in order to get a better picture. Besides the highway below, I could see the "official" bike trail espoused by La Route Verte: The rough, gravel track which was the continuation of the old road I had been on. It seemed more fitting for ATV’s than for bicycles. It was 10:40.
I reached the town itself at 10:50. Just at the west side of the river crossing on the way into town, was a small park and tourist information kiosk. I stopped for some pictures of the river and of the old mill embankments and then browsed through the information centre, where I purchased a small, local history book for $5.
Crossing the bridge, I left the highway, to ride on through l’Isle Verte along its 'rue principale', observing the many older houses from yesteryear. At the centre of town, marked by the crossroads one block at the main highway, was the stately stone church found in all these rural villages. Most of the town’s businesses were collected along the main highway, but I continued along the quieter 'rue principale' until it finally rejoined the main highway at the far end of town.
It was 11:15 as I was leaving l'Isle Verte. Looking across the Estuary to the north, I saw this big, black cloud which would merit my ongoing attention for the next few hours. The road began a long, steady climb as it climbed up to the higher elevation of the point.which marked the closure of the barely perceptible cove at the centre of which was l’Isle Verte. While climbing, I crossed over a fast-moving stream on its way down from the heights to lose itself in the estuary below. Around the crossing were with embankments for an old mill.
I paused at 12:00, when I had reached the top of the grade, to look back over the lowlands. I called Sheryl, who was currently behind me at the antique store at Cacouna . We talked until 12:10.
As I rode on, I reached the sign indicating the Trois-Pistoles town line at 12:30
On the way into town, the highway descended sharply into a sudden cops. I caught a false loop as I exited the main road just past the bridge to catch the beginning of a small side road that appeared to be the beginning of the town’s ‘rue principale’. It turned out to be nothing more than a two-block section of the old road, but far steeper than the new road in grade. I had to ride up the steep hill out of the narrow cops in wide switchbacks, taking up the whole width of the street. Thankfully, there was virtually no traffic. At the top of the hill, I rejoined the main highway once again, within sight of where I had left it.
At 12:40 I came to 'halte municipale' of Trois Pistoles, infamous in my personal history as the place where I had spent the night while driving up to Mont Joli in 1992 to begin my Gaspé ride. When I had visited the site in 1998, it had looked pretty well unchanged, but things had now begun to change. There was a new structure on the property (some sore of tourist information kiosk) and the restaurant which had been across the street, where I had eaten breakfast in 1992, was now closed.
I stopped to have some lunch. Parked and seated in the sun at a picnic bench high on the low overlook above the highway, I enjoyed some cream cheese, crackers and a taste of wine. I called my daughter on my cell and left her a message. Looking across the river with my field glasses, I could still make out the 'dunes' of Tadoussac. A nearby road sign showed that I was 46km distant from Rivière du loup, though this no doubt referred to the distance via the freeway. I had probably travelled further via my route.
I was on my way at 13:15. A short ways beyond the stop, I came a split between the highway, off to the right, and 'rue principale', off to the left. An old antique barn, which had been one of our regular stops in earlier years (1994/1998), had now been turned into a museum. (I guess they were showing the unsold antiques.)
I headed on across Trois-Pistoles along 'rue principale'. When I reached the centre of town, I descended the hill a short ways to explore the train station, but declined to ride all the way down to the shoreline. Again, I did not relish the long climb back up the hill to the top of the ridge, where the road town and main road were. The train station was open every day except Tuesday, from 23:15 to 02:15. This was the time of day when the Ocean and Chaleur would pass through. I, myself, must have passed by this station three times, always asleep.
My cell phone rang and I answered it, feeling it must be Sheryl. It was actually my daughter, Tannissa, who had returned my call using the 'callback' feature on her phone. When I told her I was in Trois-Pistoles, she had no idea where that was. She did not know I was in the middle of a long distance bike trip and was hundreds of miles downriver from Montreal. She did not remember my morning phone call from the McDonald’s in Boucheville, several days earlier.
After taking some photos around the train station, I continued exploring Trois Pistoles as I rode eastward along 'rue principale'. At one point, I stopped into a book store, where I bought some books on the region. I came to a park on a bluff overlooking the St. Lawrence Estuary and looked out on my black cloud, now seemingly approaching across the water. Would it pass me by?
As 'rue principale' rejoined the main highway at the far end of Trois-Pistoles, and as I climbed up and over the rise ahead, my view of the river was cut off by an intervening ridge which began to my left. Soon, I began to get quite nervous about that dark cloud, now that I could no longer see it. I feared it could top the ridge at any moment, leaving me no time to prepare for riding in the rain. Finally, at 14:45, I stopped and changed into my rain gear, even though it was not raining. I donned my canvas shoes and packing my good ones into plastic bags in my saddlebags.
I crossed into Saint Simeon at the crest of the rise and could see the town ahead, marked by its church steeple. The road continued to climb up along an ever-narrowing valley, enclosed on both sides by forested ridges. St. Simeon itself was located at the head of the valley.
Sheryl called just as I was reaching town. She was right behind me, back in Trois Pistoles, having left the very bookstore where I had stopped not too long earlier. I agreed to wait for her at St. Simeon.
While waiting for her to come along, I rode half a block off the road, up the hill of a side street, to get a proper photo of the church. I saw from my vantage point that the storm I had been worried about had passed behind me by only a few kilometers. I could see the rain clearly falling, just down the valley.
I waited by the church road until Sheryl came up. We chatted briefly and agreed that if she found a coffee shop ahead in Saint Simeon, we would stop and have coffee together. Otherwise, she would continue on to the B&B in St. Fabien.
As it turned out, there was not coffee shop, so I would not see Sheryl until I got to the B&B, which would not be long. The B&B of St. Fabien was actually well to the west of town, and actually only a few short kilometres down the road from St. Simeon.
When I had been planning the day’s ride while looking at the map earlier, I had considered going off the road at Saint-Simeon, to explore the shoreline along a tiny side road I had seen. Faced with the real life geography of the countryside, though, I decided to give it a pass. The road in question climbed straight up the side of the ridge to my left, and presumably dropped equally straight down its opposite side. There being no other exit, I would have had to climb it both ways.
Just past St. Simeon the highway began descending from into an ever-widening valley, the mirror image of the one I had just climbed up. The ridges on either side of this narrow valley were much more pronounced, with clear rocky outcroppings and cliffs. All view of the river remained lost behind the tall ridge to my left. Far ahead, I could see a high promontory, topped by a radio antenna. (Little did I realize, yet, that this was the famous 'Bic' de Champlain.)
As the innkeeper had told me when I had phoned the day before, just inside the St. Fabien line was a side road to be taken. It ran in parallel to the main highway, at about one farmer's field’s distance. Sharing the valley, just to the right of the main highway, was the main rail line, coming out of Trois-Pistoles. I had not seen it in Saint-Simeon; it must have taken a different route.
Following the side road, I came to the night's B&B at about 16:30. Sheryl had already arrived and checked in. The house was full for the night, but we managed to get the downstairs room, so we were somewhat separated from the other guests. Apparently there was no place in the nearby town to eat, so the innkeeper offered to have us join her table for supper. The decision had to be made on the spot, though, as she only had room for two more. Sheryl had waited until I arrived to ask me and I immediately grabbed the places, accosting the innkeeper as she came in from the fields with a load of blueberries. We were just in time, for within minutes she turned down the request of the next couple (who ended up driving all the way into Rimouski to find supper.)
We relaxed and cooled our heels at the hall table, just outside our room, from 17:00 until supper was served at 19:00. Sheryl read and I spent the time writing in my journal. The innkeeper served up a great home cooked salmon dinner and we had great company and conversation around the table of eight.
Sheryl and I relaxed once again at the hall table after dinner, while the innkeeper worked to clean everything up and to prepare the baking for the morning. Once done with her chores, the innkeeper sat down to chat with Sheryl, who had seen and had commented on the diploma as naturopath which she had on the wall. We learned that she was originally from Montreal, but was no longer practicing. As she and Sheryl talked shop, I spent time writing in my trip journal and only lending the occasional ear to their conversation.
We did not retire until near 23:00.Top