Our room was at the top of the stairs, in a large country house. It was a large room and we were pretty well off to ourselves, with a large window looked that out over the fields outside. It was to this wholesome atmosphere that I awoke at 06:30. Outside, the sky was overcast and looked like it would rain at any moment. Still, I took a deep draft of the cool, refreshing air that blew in through the open window.
Before the breakfast hour, I ferried all my saddlebags back downstairs to the protected porch and then retrieved my bike from the shed, so that I could load it and be ready to go right after eating.
Breakfast was served to all the guests at once, in a large dining room along a long table at which Sheryl and I sat pretty much in the middle. The hosts served us all the most delicious crepes, with ham & cheese.
Sheryl was still not feeling too well, but she saw me off at 08:20. I was dressed out in full rain gear for a light drizzle was already coming down from the dark, grey skies. I rode up out the gravel driveway to the road and turned to climb up and over the railway overpass, looking back for one last glance at Sheryl still waving at the B&B door. Then I set my mind on the day’s task and descended the far side towards town.
My first tourist stop was at the same covered bridge we had gone over the evening before, while returning from the restaurant. This bridge was significant for it lay at the very beginning of the Matapedia River, at the very spot where lake gave way to river.
Leaving the bridge after some photos and a few moments of quiet reflection and thanks, I rode on into town, where I found the streets to be pretty quiet for a Monday. I snapped some pictures of the picturesque train station and of the old-time street which had so impressed us when we had passed this way in 1994. I made a quick stop at a local depanneur to fill up my mini-cooler with ice.
Upon leaving Amqui, there was a long, long hill to climb. It seemed unfair that, in descending the valley, I should have to climb such a steep hill! The sky above me seemed to be clearing and I hoped and prayed for better weather for the day. When I neared the top of the hill around 09:10, came upon a road sign indicating I was 73km from Matapedia. Campbellton was further still. I certainly had quite a ways to go that day! The paved shoulder along the highway seemed to come and go at the whim of the Fates. When it was not present, riding was often tough with the trucks passing by so near.
I was at the Lac-au-Saumon line at 09:25. The town itself lay on the far side of the long lake of the same name. I debated whether I should leave the main road to go through the town or continue. I was not sure if the far road would join up again once the lake was past. I lamented not having a better map. As it was, though, the main highway ran quite high above the lake and offered a good view of the town. At many points along the way, I would encounter the remnants of the former, older, which dipped into every ravine and climbed over every ridge, now spanned by a culvert or pierced by a rock-cutaway.
I took advantage of the bridge at the far end of the lake, where the road from town rejoined the highway (Who could have guessed?), to get a good view up and down the river. The lake was really no more than a widening of the river, but the flow seemed to have grown much in amplitude.
Caupascal was the next town long my route. I reached it at 10:25. The real canyon would begin at this point, for thus far I had only been at the bottom of a narrow valley. The road descended sharply into the mountain town, which had the air of a Swiss village. Around the town, the walls of the surrounding hills closed in to form the narrow canyon down which I would be riding for most of the rest of the day.
There was a certain hustle & bustle about Caupascal. Two rivers joined here and this fact was celebrated by numerous fishing camps and tourist stops. I stopped into the tourist information kiosk, where I found a detailed topographical map of the canyon. I hiked out onto a wooden-framed suspension footbridge, whence I had a great view of the confluence of the two rivers: The Caupascal and the Matapedia. Salmon fishermen were out in force on the river, standing in their hip waders and casting their long lines with flair.
I had been enjoying a few, isolated sunny breaks, but now I noticed a big, black cloud behind me as I headed south out of Caupascal at 11:00. The next town of Saint-Flo was 10km distant. The road out of town was on the left side of the canyon, high above the railroad tracks, which themselves were high above the river. There was no shoulder on that stretch of highway, busy with trucks, which continued to make cycling difficult.
Not too far out of town, I was pleased then to discover a covered bridge. Once I had dropped down the steep embankment to explore the bridge, I noticed a tiny 'Route Verte' sign on the far side, pointing along the small side road that led along that shore. Now that I had a detailed map, I could check these things out. I found, to my delight, that the road did, indeed, go through to Saint Flo. The side road was much quieter and offered me many opportunities to ride right along the river’s edge.
On the entrance to Saint-Flo, the railway crossed over to my side of the river across an old-time iron trestle. Several cars were jammed into the small pull-off place by the bridge and their fishermen owners eyed me warily as I climbed up to take photos of the bridge and river. The Matapedia being a designated a 'Rivière au saumon', one must have permit to fish, and each permit gives one access only to a clearly marked stop along the river. I saw no such marking near the trestle. Perhaps this is why the fishermen were so wary.
The road into town paralleled the rail line and grew into its main street. I checked my detailed map, hoping I could continue along my current path, but alas I could not. The side road did not go through and I would have to cross back over the river to rejoin Route 132 on the far side.
Once I had crossed the tracks and the river and had ridden back up the embankment to the main road on the far side of the canyon, I turned around to get a photo back towards the tiny town. Just as I had had put my camera away and turned around, I heard a train whistle. I could not get turned back around and get my camera out in time. I missed the shot! It would not be the first train shot I would miss that day.
It was 12:00 as I headed down the road from Sainte-Florence. Routierville, the next stop, was 11km away. Separating the two villages was some of the most picturesque views of the canyon along the entire route, as the river, road, and railway tracks twisted this way and that to overcome the canyon's geography. There were impressive rock cutaways. I passed many sections of rapids. In other places, where the water was calmer, I passed fishermen enjoying their sport while casting form wooden dory-like boats.
As I rounded a curve at 12:50, I saw ahead the old, covered bridge at Routierville, circa 1931. I rode across the bridge to explore the tiny hamlet on the far side, which consisted of little more than three or four homes, one of which was the old train station, itself built in 1878. The gravel road then crossed the tracks and took straight up the side of the steep mountain slope, where only 4x4’s dared travel. I returned to get some photos of the bridge and station before re-crossing to the highway.
There was a roadside 'halte' just below the bridge, which offered a great setting for lunch. I was just beginning to eat my cream cheese, grapes and wine when a heavy rain suddenly began. I quickly donned my rain poncho and packed up my wet food before heading on down the highway. It was 13:20 and Matapedia remained 41km distant.
At 14:25, I came upon a place marked 'Avignon West Trail Head'. Besides the small parking lot, giving access to the trial, there were massive power lines crossing the canyon.
A bit later, I came to a point where the main highway crossed the river over a brand new, steel bridge, and then climbed high up on the far side of the canyon, along a new gravel embankment. Just as I was beginning to steel myself for the climb, I saw the old road exiting to the left and continuing along the riverside. There was a 'Route Verte' sign pointing in that direction, so I stopped and re-checked the map. The loop of old road appeared to go through. In fact, the map I had in hand showed no sign of the newer ‘detour’. I decided to take the old road on faith. It was very pleasant and relaxing to be riding without the constant traffic for a while. The road led right along the river's edge and was, for a good part, covered by trees. The pavement was old and cracked, with plants growing through it in many places. I probably drove along this section on my early passages through the canyon. The soothing sound of the gentle rapids mixed with the sounds of birds and the traffic was only a distant din. I came upon a natural spring, where a family with a van was stopped getting water. I asked if the road when through and, to my delight, they told me they had come from the opposite direction. I felt relieved and could more fully enjoy the experience of riding alongside the river. I came upon the main highway soon after, as it crossed back over the river.
Ahead was another spectacular stretch of narrow, winding canyon, with the highway and the railway greedily hugging the steep slopes on either side of the rapids below. The rain had come to an end once more, allowing me to stop and enjoy the views. The railway found itself sometimes on one side of the river and sometimes on the other. At one point, I came to the bridge of a highway leading off into the hills on the far side.
(It was along this section that I probably awoke in the early morning in my sleeper berth on board 'The Atlantic' in 1999. As I lay on the bunk, I looked out the window at the misty river, lit by the pre-dawn light. I calmly enjoyed this vista for several minutes, until the train crossed a trestle and I was left staring at the rock cutaway, at which point I fell back asleep.)
15:10 found me only 8km from Matapedia, with the canyon was beginning to widen out into a valley once more. While the experience of descending the Matapedia had been spectacular, it had not been the experience I was expecting. While visually the road seemed pretty much downhill all the way, there was almost no point where I could coast. Indeed, it was often hard pedalling. Perhaps the downhill cant of the road was only an illusion? Or maybe it was the headwind coming up the canyon from below?
I reached the Route 132’s junction with the town of Matapedia at 15:40, just after an old, iron trestle had brought the railway tracks back to the highway side of the river. There was little of the town of Matapedia at the highway, just the railway station and a few roadside businesses. The real town was away across the river.
I stopped at the tourist information kiosk to get some brochures and information. Mainly, I wanted to make sure I did not miss the bridge over to the quieter road on the New Brunswick side. Amazingly, the girl suggested I stay on Route 132, despite how busy it was and the fact that there were no paved shoulders. She was obviously not a cyclist! Before heading on, I took a detour to ride off into the town itself. I wanted to buy a bottle of wine while I could still do so at the depanneur; other jurisdictions are so weird when it comes to buying wine and beer.
Returning to the highway from the town of Matapedia, I could better see the degree to which the valley opened up greatly at the point where the two rivers met. The waterways had almost a tidal marsh-like quality, though I knew we were still above tide water.
I left Matapedia along the main road at 16:00. Not too far along Route 132, I came to the bridge crossing over the river. As I crossed the Matapedia into New Brunswick, 16:15 became 17:15. Looking upriver, I could see the railway trestle which brought the rails over to the New Brunswick side as well. Downstream, I could follow Route 132, hugging the side of the slope on the far side, marked by bare rock-cutaways. The New Brunswick side was built out on the sediments of the river. Far down the river, it was much brighter, a sign that the valley was opening up to become the Baie de Chaleurs.
I rode in along New Brunswick 11, coming soon to the town of Tide's Head at 17:40. There was a steep rise as the road climbed up to a high path above the lowlands. Far below me, at the foot of the cliff to the left ran the railway. I could not see the river well, but guessed from the name of the town that I was passing the point where river met ocean.
As I had expected, the road on the New Brunswick side was much quieter than Route 132 had been. Though this was the third time I had been on this little section of highway (1992;1998;2004), it was the first time I was seeing it so well, at bicycle speeds.
Through the main section of the village of Tide's Head, which I reached at 18:00, the road ran right along the rail line, both together forming the town's main street. Leaving Tide's Head, the road climbed up once more high onto the slope, as I renewed my acquaintance with my lesser gears.
Altholville was the next town, and I reached its town line at 18:15. I had climbed high enough up the side of the ridge to have a great view out over the nascent Baie des Chaleurs. The cloud cover that had dogged me all day was finally gone and everything was brilliantly lit by the early evening sunshine. Off, across the bay, the white spire of the church at Pointe-a-la-croix shone like a beacon.
I crossed into Campbelltown proper at 18:25. From my high vantage point along the river road, I had a great vista of the Interprovincial Bridge and beyond into the ever-widening bay. Finding my B&B for the evening was another story. I did not have a proper map of Campbellton, and so finally had to stop into an Irving station to get my bearings. I rode past the familiar downtown and then there remained for me one final steep hill, followed by an equally steep descent, a fitting end for the bicycle riding portion of my trip.
When I got to the B&B at 18:45, things got rather strange. Unlike other B&Bs, there was no sign at the address. What I found was a rather non-descript, white house, among other white houses all looking the same. I rang the doorbell and nothing happened. Yet I saw our white Honda in the driveway! Some people next door called me over and said I had to phone the owner.
What I had reserved for the evening was, for the first time, not a B&B, but a 'tourist home'. The owner did not live there. It was not an inn, but a regular, full-featured home. Each guest had a bedroom, and all had access to the kitchen. Food was left in the kitchen so we could make our own breakfast.
As it turned out, I did not have to phone the owner. She was around. She greeted me and told me Sheryl had arrived in the early afternoon, was inside and was not feeling well. Sheryl had arrived at 15:00. The owner gave me the receipt for the money Sheryl had given her and explained that, while the house was a student residence in the Winter, she rented it out as a ‘tourist house’ in Summer. In the fridge we would find milk and OJ. There were cereal boxes and bread on the counter, next to the toaster. Have a good night!
I went inside and found Sheryl upstairs, in bed, in one of the bedrooms and not feeling at all well.
I unpacked my bike and brought everything inside, including the bike itself, which I parked in the dining room. Then I set out on a mission: To buy some soup for Sheryl and to get a pizza for myself. I had to return to the very same Irving's for directions to a supermarket and to a pizzeria. I bought Sheryl some light broth and got a pizza at Mike's. Upon my return, she came downstairs and sampled some of the broth. Then she excused herself. I led her back upstairs and tucked her in, whereupon I returned downstairs to finish my pizza.
I met our co-habitors, a couple from Maryland travelling on motorcycle. They were staying downstairs in the basement, where they had their own fridge and kitchen. We chatted for some time before they retired. I had the whole main floor and upstairs to myself. I sat in the living room, looking out the big picture window, as I sipped my wine and updated my notes on the day.
Finally, I retired. The bicycle phase of my trip was over.Top