Québéc, New Brunswick, Maine - Gaspé To Moncton
The time to get to Campbellton proved to be of little importance, not with us arriving at 2p.m. and the hostel closed from 12p.m.-4p.m.. Oops - I hadn't noticed that schedule on my previous visit, even if this was a relatively common - and annoying - Euro practice. No matter, this gave us a chance to walk the appropriate lengths of Water and Roseberry streets, the depressed main drags of town. What else was there to do? This wasn't exactly a tourist destination by any means.
For our weak version of "When life hands you lemons...," practicality took priority. We each provisioned for traveling forward in our respective directions, happy to find a quality supermarket nearby. The bonus of this meant that I'd make another beloved chili that evening, excited with the prospect of cooking again so soon. The Percé experience had more-than-sufficiently both literally and figuratively whetted my appetite.
Beyond the food premise, however, when the hostel reopened for the evening I immediately discovered a small disappointment. It didn't seem like my bike had been worked on while I was away. Fair enough - what would have been the appeal or reward for having done it? - but it also was a small bummer. The guy (not present on this evening) sure had seemed sincere. That detail now would wait until morning.
More to the moment, a pot of chili accompanied by beer and wine came first and foremost. It was also the proper time to reset all of my baggage back into riding mode. When that was taken care of, I then took to typing like a madman to try and catch up my journal entries. It sure was nice to have a free internet source again! I tapped the interior of my wrist repeatedly to get the flow started.
Come morning, us three musketeers-of-recent saw a parting of ways. Harry was heading to Québéc while Simon and I (by car and bike) were moving south toward Moncton. Perhaps I'd see Simon again there - only if he took a number of detours to slow his progress down, however.
With my friends now quickly away, I turned next to get my bike looked at. Fortunately, nothing was particularly bad in the bottom bracket innards - they were just filthy. Big surprise. Perhaps not as surprising, though, came the news that I had apparently used a brake cable in place of a shifting cable. Oops - that must've been back when I had installed a thumb shifter for my front three rings. Well... that explained THAT difficulty!, I sheepishly admitted at first only to myself.
Indeed, getting into the big ring had increasingly been requiring a two-handed, even superhuman effort. Try THAT sometime, particularly when riding with a full load of baggage to further wobble a hobbled bike! Learning my lesson, too, I decided it would be good self-therapy to fess up to the mechanic that I was the numbnut who done did it. Gosh darn it - people still liked me! (They just didn't respect me any more, necessarily.)
My bike rejuvenated, off I went. Bathurst was my (shifting) target for the day, a place I'd arrive at following along the coast. Such was my customary wont whenever possible. Doing so right upon leaving the bike shop, I stopped here and there along the first chunk of kilometers to play some horn or rest. Now back on the saddle, I wanted to start by taking it relatively easy. You gotta ease back into these things, ya know.
Somewhere along the way, too, I got into a conversation at one rest stop. This happened at a bay's overlook with a couple and their two adopted girls from China. One of the two girls, coincidentally, was going to take up the trumpet shortly: I was impressed. Of more import, however, was my having tagged/helped along recently for my sister's own China adoption trip. We could share a little about our experiences there - it's all about the sharing. Aw, shucks!
At about 85km from Campbellton, I ultimately called it a day in Nigadoo. This was a town not terribly short of Bathurst, but I was done. For my efforts, a good chunk of the day had been uninspired - I found myself primarily isolated, slicing almost only through remote-feeling countryside. That monotony had only been broken on a few occasions by the random power plant or log mill, not so much by towns. Not inspiring stuff - it had been downright spooky on at least one occasion, too.
That came on account on a troubling incident. In succeeding events, ones with but a few minutes of interlude between them, a car had pulled off the road in front of me. That it did so only after slowly passing me, and that this happened on the loneliest stretches didn't help, for starters. I passed them by eventually each time, widely giving the parked car berth while eyeing the occupants fiercely (it was a couple, but the guy looked pretty skanky).
There was no way of knowing for sure, but I hoped that my overly-dramatized alertness would give them a heads-up that I was wary. Maybe it did. In any event, on each pullout they eventually started up to pass me again slowly. Only to pull off once more a ways ahead of me.
No other cars came in either direction, meanwhile. No surprise there - they hadn't before (or wouldn't after) for a good while. As things worked out, fortunately, there'd ultimately be no ill tidings. I was overjoyed when my newest and most inquisitive friends rolled away for good on the fourth drive-by. Creepy.
Fortunately, my chosen campground - shortly found thereafter - had me back in a slightly touristy (i.e. POPULATED!) area. Still, as usual by now, there were all of only two other tents including mine. Plenty of RVs, though. Sigh - the tent era had apparently passed completely in the roadside camping world. Worse - no one had the courtesy to give me the memo. It wasn't like I wouldn't have torched the notice had I possessed it, but it would've been... polite.
One of the other brave tenting souls was a guy camping with his two daughters. Keeping with my day's human-connection theme, though, he struck me as a bit odd. He came by my homestead sometime after my tent proudly stood, insistent in making conversation. This would actually repeat a few times that evening, then the following morning, too. Hmmm - I wasn't so sure about this one. Usually I'd take to such conviviality well - I'm a social-enough being, after all - but. Seriously, BUT.
To his disappointment I decided to keep the talk light and banal. Perhaps it was the apparent knife wound to the neck, or his talk about having to get out of mean ol' Québéc city on account of gangs. Gangs, knife wounds? Uh, no thanks on those! "Flee!" that little voice inside me said.
Noticing my attention to his neck, he at least made a game attempt of giving me a song and dance. His story was one about surgery-gone-wrong that went in one of my ears and... well, I'm not sure where it went from there. I wasn't buying, and soon I'd be moving... far... away from him. Tattoos and a mullet didn't exactly help his case, as neither did two scruffy daughters straight outta Deliverance, the Sequel.
Meanwhile, with an overnight rain to dampen things a bit, and more of the same threatening to come, I packed up quickly come morning. As a rain-alternative, my new best friend offered his house to stay in nearby - should I want to avoid the wetness. Uh... well... He casually noted, too, that I had an awfully nice instrument to let get ruined by rain. When did he see me brandish my horn? Indeed it was a fine thing, I agreed... as I passed on the generous offer. A shocking development.
As it was, the day became a scorcher on short order. With improving prospects, I rapidly made my way to and through Bathurst in no time. On I'd go, however, moving beyond this poster city for industrial decline. That decision came in spite of how much the New Brunswick board of tourism tried to help keep me around. Indeed, somewhere I remembered reading about Bathurst as being "...on the Chaleur Bay coast, which has the warmest waters north of Virginia...". Not a bad plug considering how far to the south ol' Viginnie lay, so yeah, I agreed... if you wanted to swim in a toxic bath! Thus it was an immediate goodbye to Bathurst. Hello, Acadian Peninsula!
To be fair, all of the New Brunswick tourism brochures had about the same thing to say. This was true regardless of the town in question, or however much they varied in beauty. This reminded of something... oh yeah, such commentary brought back to life the ever-cheery (and nauseating) guide on the Tadoussac whale-watching boat. Similarly, I'd not be buying. But I still liked the idea of warm water, or sunny skies at least.
Bathurst aside, the more general version of the promotions went something as follows: "Beach (unsupervised), warmest waters north of Virginia, covered bridge, lighthouse, local historical museum..." Apparently this was quite the commodity of alluring prospects for about any town north of Moncton. Probably I'd see more of the same in the south as well, but I hadn't started with those brochures yet.
From such unvarying boosterism, I soon determined one thing: what worthless crap! A map would serve better than any of the guides, thus, so I quickly resorted to using them exclusively. From Bathurst forward I dumped the freebie guides as quickly as I leafed through them. They didn't qualify as quality fire kindling or acceptable emergency toilet paper even... and I was generally open to such versatility in times of need.
On the Acadian Peninsula, however, even a map wasn't of great utility. While accurately showing the one main road looping the coast, I went through a number of towns marked on the map that were not in any way apparent as I passed them by. I had no idea that a settlement was being surveyed as I rolled through various lonely scatterings of houses. Like nature, perhaps maps abhorred a vacuum.
In fact, I had come to notice that signs showing upcoming town distances didn't seem to exist, either, in New Brunswick - spare on perhaps the grandest of highways. In the meantime such observations weren't of much use as I began my foray onto the Acadian Peninsula. Far more pressing matters of the stomach were on my mind during this fireball of an afternoon. It was that which finally and unhesitatingly caused me to pause at the only restaurant I had seen on the north Acadian coast, at The Navigator. Did I have a choice?
Obviously not, if only in one sense. Pulling up to the door, I immediately found out that it was closed for another week. Tarnation AND damnation! I stood there confused for a few minutes. However, my knocking and peeking about eventually produced results: the owner was around and about after all.
An older VW Bus/Harley hippie extraordinaire, my new best friend/savior turned out to be a downright Mr. Congeniality - when he finally poked his head out the window. Soon, though, he offered to throw together a homemade Acadian sandwich for me. Nothing from the menu, of course - the place was technically closed - but it'd be one just like the one he had eaten himself. My mind did a mental jig as my tummy summersaulted. Yes! Mais oui!
While he set about prepping the sandwich, I roamed around his property. What a cool place! I thoroughly enjoying his collection of old VW buses and fishing boats, each now parked among weeds in a sea of grass for eternity. Islands of hospitality, their life was far from over. Every one of them served as places to sleep, eat, and drink until complete dissolution should they part via the sea's corrosive salt. Genius!
All of THAT would happen - such use, not their imminent destruction - in the not-too-distant future. I was apparently just ahead of it even if July was already well-established. He officially would reopen in about a week for the (soon-and-yet-so-far-away!) short season. "Short" struck me as quite an understatement, but it certainly made for an impressively useful off-season.
In the meantime, the main building was marginally open for miscreants, such as I, who didn't look to take no for an answer. The main building wasn't just a restaurant, either, serving as a kind of tumbledown farmhouse-cum-diner-cum-museum instead. It was as long on character as the proprietor, walls adorned with innumerable kitschy and commemorative items. Frankly, I loved the place in short order; I would've gladly settled in for a short stay if it had been truly open.
But it wasn't. However, over the next couple of sun-baked hours, this Jerry Garcia double and I talked travel and Acadia, exchanged contact info, and had many a good laugh. Ha ha. HA HA! See? I'm serious!: this was my first extended conversation in Acadian French, so I was happy to do so.
Moreover, this new dialect was another animal altogether from Quebecois - which by now you surely know isn't French. All things considered, I thought I did reasonably well, more pleased than anything else that English was completely off the menu. I only needed to ask for a few repeats when not letting the odd lost phrase otherwise disappear into the (gusty) wind.
More importantly, this stop served as a great reprieve from the heat, something that was especially-well ignored as I sat under a languidly twirling fan. The chitchat eventually took a useful tack, too, as I was given some great tips about where I was headed. Suggestions abounded, mostly favoring lower Fundy Bay to upper. I was glad for the advice as this was potentially good news: it would possibly ease some travel constraints for me.
Lastly, it was suggested that I utilize Val-Comeau as my night stop. Oh yeah - I still had to figure that out! With this latest tidbit I knew I better be off before I did something rash - like ripping the fan off the ceiling to take with me. Damn, it WAS hot!
Not long after parting, I more precisely learned what would be meant by camping at Val-Comeau beach. That came from careful inspection of my map. It'd make for about 135km in the day's serious heat, THAT'S what it'd take. Huh. With impending stormy weather (certainly on account of that same lovely heat I was experiencing), I'd need to mull this over... in motion, if only to start.
Providing a helpful rest place to do so, too, I soon stopped at a lighthouse painted like the Acadian flag. I should say FORMER lighthouse. NOW it was now an information center, though one featured conspicuously in almost all Acadian brochures. Oh, THAT lighthouse. Indeed.
Waltzing into the structure and out of the heat, I was met with wide eyes by the two Cajuns inside. Who this fool yankee?, their expressions read - though not harshly so, thankfully. That didn't matter. When I said what I wanted to do, heading on to Val-Comeau cycling-wise with the remaining sun, threatening rain, and dinner stop, their eyes grew wider. Hmmm - not good.
Next they laughed aloud - foolish American! That came in the nicest way, of course... before they got to their (I assumed paid) task of recommending a poissonerie-resto (fish restaurant) ahead in Pokemouche. I was game for that - seafood was a big reason to follow a coast, after all.
All the while, these two mild-mannered curmudgeons engaged in a competition regarding my imminent failure. They separately hedged bets about my actually making it that far. This was far from necessary: by this point, I was convinced of their point... Hell, I'D put money on it, too. But I was still going to give it a shot.
For the ever-lengthening moment, however, I had fun rambling on with them - losing precious daylight. I was happy to talk about Acadia, but again I was happier still that the conversation stayed in a French that I was coming to understood better. I had come to notice that, just like I had experienced in Campbellton, the north of New Brunswick was so bilingual that one immediately heard "Are you English?" at the first sign of (my) confusion. This was something bound to come up at various turns in the conversation with my French limitations.
Fortunately this, my insisting on staying in French by merely continuing to do so, was not scoffed at by the vast majority of people I would run into in Acadia. It'd be particularly true of the Frenchborn folk (whose parents both spoke French at home), not unsurprisingly. I'd always be game for such hijinx, never one to pass up the opportunity to avail myself of the language. I knew full well that I'd be losing this chance soon enough, probably come Moncton or so.
Meanwhile, as expected, I at least made it to Pokemouche. That came after about 110km on the day. I was steadily making good on my plans however foolhardily. That last point rang even more true by the time I passed through a drenching rain at never-ending Caraquet (supposedly the "longest town in the world"). Did everyone live on the main road in that town?
I'd never know, mainly since I'd zip straight through and on to Pokemouche. There, over 1-1/2 hours spent eating a superb chaudrée (seafood chowder) and conversing with locals (all sufficiently amazed that I had biked from Montréal), I prepared for the final surge. My new audience was impressed that I was doing Nigadoo-Val-Comeau in one day, let alone solo.
By this time my day's adventure was something I was beginning to take pride in, admittedly. How could I not, what with so many nay-sayers? Still, I was unnecessarily tempting fate with my yapping: this dillydallying would do me no favors for the final 25km to Val-Comeau. I'd find that out soon enough.
Leaving the restaurant, immediately the lightning began. That's what I got for tempting the fates. Next came the thunder. Then... you already know. Soon torrents of salty sweat and suncream washed over my face and eyes. Given the amount of rain, one would think that that phase wouldn't last long. Au contraire - how much of that creamy crap had I put on? How much salt can a body hold?
If that runny mess didn't blind me sufficiently, my sunglasses next would -the evening was rapidly darkening. Why was I even still wearing them? Oh yeah - to keep even MORE crap out of my eyes! Like the road's dirt and grime. For all this, the pouring continued as headlights started to pop on. Now I started to alternate with the gravel shoulder for safety, a choice that was feeling increasingly less wise as I couldn't make out its rough spots or rubble both. I didn't FEEL that safe, that was for sure.
Maybe this "system" would've sort of worked, too... if one didn't count the occasion when an 18-wheeler passed me by - and I wiped out. Oh - THAT. My front wheel cocked just the smallest amount in reacting to the truck's forceful draft on the slippery surface... and that was that. Whammo!
I went down hard and instantly, a splattering for all of only a moment. Next I was immediately up and over onto the side of the road, scared like a rabbit under a lion's pounce. Yiminy, that was close! Off went the glasses for good, admittedly a bit late. Okay, then. Now adorned with bruises, I next rode on the road without exception, ever-watchful to pull over completely. Now I only went (quickly) gravelbound when I saw another car approaching behind me.
At Tracadie-Shiela, and with 15km to go, I knew complete darkness was 1/2-1 hour away. Fortunately, the road massively improved, seemingly in anticipation of this. I now had a smooth track, wide shoulders, and the rain suddenly stopped, too. This perked me up and put me into insta-decision mode - I decided to reach Val-Comeau after all. Twasn't long before I pulled into Val-Comeau with about 15 minutes of light to spare. What - nobody to greet me?
I couldn't spare a moment for even self-congratulations with darkness on the way, however. I immediately set to putting in a record-time monter-tente (tent setup). As happened only too often, this included the requisite interpretive mosquito dance. What, you guys?!?
Yep. In spite of now being on top of the breezy Atlantic Ocean and in an open field both, they successfully had sniffed me out in no time. Given my stank, that was no great challenge, I imagined. Whatever - I let them feast away, hoping they'd at least get a band going with a catchy tune. Sigh. Sheltering done, and a shower to flush bug guts off of my skin, I flew into the tent. Home sweet tent - Z-ville here I come!
So what if my sleeping bag was a little damp? Or that I had smushed mosquito guts (with my blood) all over the tent walls moments after entering my nylon redoubt? I was dry! Kind of! This proved fortunate, as the rain that had so fortuitously paused suddenly recommenced in pent-up fury. THAT began approximately one second after I had zipped the entrance shut.
Relieved in having dodged this bullet in buckets, I laid on top of all my sleeping gear in my underwear. James Taylor crooned on my iPod, something about Carolina, fire, rain, and how I had a friend. Sure I did - and he (she?) was named SLEEP. My body by now positively screamed for it. My eyes soon shut, even if only to let lightning frequently illuminate the tent's magenta coloring onto my eyelids. This happened repeatedly, each time in unexpected pyrotechnic bursts to which I paid no heed whatsoever. Sleep, sleep...!
The next morning I had a wee bit o' laundry to do, no surprise, and a lot more drying - even less surprising. This latter effort gave time enough (always!) to blow some tunes in a shelter on the beach. That was never a bad compensation. Meanwhile, reflecting back on my wipe out, I thought of how this seemed an unlikely place to be - alive and well.
As the morning wore on, a hitchhiker from Montréal (the other lone tenter this time around) made for some odd (surprised? - didn't think so) but friendly conversation on and off. However, with a recently-discovered café suddenly calling me, I'd have to pass on shooting the breeze with Wacko Jacques-o. Instead I soon sat down for a tasty petit-dejeuner du pecheur (a fisherman's, like the lumberjack's, breakfast). THAT was needed.
Achieving a successful level of stuffing, perhaps resembling ballast of some order, NOW I was ready to roll road again. I decided to allow my clothes to finish drying draped over my bike (per the usual) - the tubes of the socks always proved the most pesky in finding an arid state. My improvised dryer was made into reality by using a bungee-cord-assisted system (B.C.A.S., patent pending), something I had been refining incrementally. In my way of thinking, this was a testament to my practicality - and not open to discussion.
Yes, I was long past any concept of embarrassment when trailing dripping socks and underwear from my panniers while I rode. Efficiency was my master. Under such a poor-man's version of Tibetan flags came midday - I was moving along with nothing but pride and glory. Let them undies fly!, I beamed. My only intent, beyond dry underwear, anyway, was to accomplish a light day of riding. Hopefully I'd find myself slightly past Miramichi for the day, a town found at a bend in the coastline I was so studiously hugging.
Light, my ass! This was painful - and slow. Altogether I would manage only about 50km and pack it in at Oak Point, where I stumbled on a "family" campground. HEADWINDS! How they could change a day completely! On this occasion, they had first developed into about 15mph of head-on sustained misery. That didn't last long, shortly being followed by a gusting of 20mph-plus to keep any illusions in check.
Following the generally well-shouldered NB-11 didn't help, either - it was only serving as a wind tunnel, as far as I was concerned. Boy, I was on the wrong end of it, and how! Fortunately I wasn't missing much landscape-wise as I rolled through the woods. With my thoughts focused on battling the breeze, I only occasionally noticed a pretty marsh wending its way to the sea. I wasn't in much of an appreciating mood; I justified my lack of interest by noting that the trees were probably 10th- or 20th-growth by now, anyway. Another spoiled Pacific Northwest brat, I was.
No, the punyness of Eastern matchstick trees was a detail that scarcely mattered in such a breeze. Of far more consequence was that each bend in the road consistently reaffirmed the mess I found myself in. Flags, tall weeds, willowy branches and every other slender, pole-shaped thing in the area was menacingly bent over in the wrong direction - against me.
For all of this I made a trumpet stop, then a fruit stand stop, then another trumpet stop. Each was done in hopes of a wind shift, but no... no... no. My frequently good luck with winds was now taking an opportunity to start balancing the scales. Not that I wasn't all for such inequality. On the bright side, my diminished and surrendered spirit entailed that I would arrive in camp far earlier than usual.
That turned out to be true even considering my late start. More importantly, I'd also be able to avoid the mosquito dance in setting up my tent. Early further meant having enough time to blow my horn into the river/sea before the campground. Wow - a timely campground arrival... what a novel idea! Who woulda thought?
With the extra time, too, I pored over maps. I tried to register my options, always with an eye to the time remaining to get to the bottom of Maine. It looked like I still had a slush factor of three days with reasonable daily riding, I figured. But with more headwind days like this, who knew?
After such a tortured 50km, I got a good night's rest in spite of the distance's brevity. Come morning, I was assured that a non-Tim Horton's/McDonald's restaurant was all of 10-20 minutes away from the campground, too. This was stated by the overly confident campground owner, who next gave reasonably detailed directions outlining what I'd see on the way, too.
Au... contraire. Sigh. Once again, negative. Not true. Uh uh. Instead I started with a good hour spent mostly plowing face-first again into the wind. THAT would only serve to further whet my appetite. Crap!
It turned out that the directions were great ONLY if you threw out the minor detail of a time-space continuum - or a bicycle. I should have thought of that, silly me! Nevertheless, after I crossed the BIG up-and-over bridge that put me on the desired side of the Miramichi River (after pedalling only some 18km), I indeed found the restaurant.
At least this part rang true, about it being in a restored area of E. Miramichi practically under the bridge. But, per the now-norm, it was closed. Fortunately, the one across the street did just fine. And finding that silver lining I always look for, I got to try an excellent local fishcake along with my caffeinated, otherwise traditional breakfast. My luck could change as swiftly as the wind, indeed. Mmm... fishcake!
After feasting, the winds now were back in my favor: I again headed east to the next point. The new road (Route 117) still followed the Miramichi River, but now it widened again on its way to the broader Atlantic. Come Baie-Ste-Anne, I loaded up with fruit... and decided against calling it at this original destination thought for the day.
Instead I enjoyed a leisurely trumpet lunch at a lonely road's end into the bay. With that renewing my strength, I next stretched and headed on. Feeling so good (catch the trumpeter Chuck Mangione reference? Did ya? Did ya?), and with my windy fortunes so nicely reversed, I decided on adding another 26km to reach Pointe Sapin - including a little detour to Escuminac. What difference a little thing like wind could make in brightening a day's prospects!
Supposedly Escuminac's wharf was some kinda big deal, the largest in North America. THAT was the ostensible reason for checking the place out - no other could be had, honestly. True enough, the wharf's girth/length was all that - as I would be repeatedly told in the short time it took to get there. Woo woo woo... ?... !... ?
Arriving was another story. I was nonplussed, only spying a few good-sized brackets of wharf and a couple dozen boats total. That number included those both found in and out of the water. What was the fuss? Sure, there were sizable stacks of fish/lobster containers - and a few container trucks - in evidence, but with a minimum of activity in the middle of the day one would have to say that the place was dead.
The main processing facility looked vacant, too. Apparently this would all be about the imagination: supposedly 300 boats were here and hustling in peak season. It just seemed hard to believe in the current circumstances. Meanwhile, I noticed a local monument that testified to the loss of 30 or so sailors in a perfect storm-like situation. That had occurred only a small number of years prior; it was on that solemn note that I decided to just accept what I had heard.
Leaving the facility back to the main road, I noticed some guys on a deck drinking beer. Hmmm... that was an awfully tasty-sounding mirage - uh, beverage - under a beating sun. Quick to be open to opportunity, I stopped and asked for water as a matter of course... and it worked. Immediately I was proferred vodka 7s instead, a cocktail I'd subsequently receive in appreciable number. This would do nothing to upset my whetted thirst... right?
My newest companions-of-a-moment were all cousins, or relatives-to-be, with a long history together. Almost all of them had lived in the area at one time or another; now they were catching up as quickly as liquor could be downed. A grandfather, held in common by all, used to own almost all of the land in the area; they were part of a gathering mass to meet in town for a wedding the next day. I toasted the bride, the groom... and my good luck in jovial companionship.
Our conversation, passing over the next few hours, soon ranged from fishing to construction to peat moss work all over Canada. Apparently the entire clan travelled a lot under contracts, going to wherever the money was. That was often Alberta in these days of boom, oil extraction from tar sands being the travail-du-jour. The fodder of talk typically and eventually seem to make its way to who was making foreman when. Not exactly my line of expertise, but this certainly filled the bill of getting to know new ways of life via travel.
Well, they most talked about work, but what really got them in fine form - and more so as the liquor flowed - was gossip. THAT centered on who was having sex with which girl in town, both currently and in the past. And where - like under which fish container. Funny stuff, even as I felt the role of interloper in not knowing anyone they were chatting about.
Rounding out the conversational menu were industrial accidents, drug use, race/gender/gay jokes. Particularly regarding the latter, I felt my age a bit at times - this type of kidding around felt quite age-dated. This was true, too, even as a couple of the guys were older than me. Different worlds... apart.
Lurid tales of hookers, escorts, and each other's sisters were nothing if not entertainingly told, though. And, should I be of sound mind, I was advised, I was also invited to the huge wedding party/BBQ that night. I was good-naturedly assured that I would be both amply liquored and laid many times over, too. Lucky me! Still... as fine as free booze and getting laid sounded marvy, doing such while intoxicated and behind some rotting fish bins (with a pork rib in my hand, no doubt) just didn't grab me. Next time, surely!
As it was, the copious amount of vodka was already putting me slowly to bed at all of 6p.m. Assuring, the matter, my drink was being constantly monitored for refills. Eventually, with 70km of riding already behind me on the day, I knew that sleep was going to be the most interesting thing to me soon enough. Those sexy fish bins would have to be damned.
Looking torn between my options to my companions, I suppose, is what next led to being fed a succession of enticements. Each was used to make the case for staying - wine, women, song, etc. Twist, twist went my arm. Then again, the twisting was far less successful than that.
What lines could tempt the vacillating cyclist? Lines like needing to duct tape my ass if I went on to Pointe Sapin, necessary if I was to put myself at the mercy of the ravaging homosexuals living there?!? Yeah, that would do it! Not that there was anything WRONG with gays, of course, they assured me. They weren't homophobic, racist, or chauvinist, you know.
Earlier I had laughed, too, when I was told that there was no racism in the area. Why, they even had one "chinaman" in their town of 2000! Sigh. SUCH friendly guys, really, but in the end I didn't want to replay conversations I had heard (and even then tired of) when I was 20. Golly gosh - the buzz was wearing thin, free likka or no. On to Pointe Sapin!
Fortunately, that was only 18 km more - and the wind was still agreeable. So... SNAP! I was gone. With loaded legs I somehow managed the hour or so to get to my new "town" in a something hazily representing a flash. There, I only immediately found that there wasn't any official camping in the area anymore. Oops.
From my maps I knew that a big national park was another 20km ahead, but it wasn't like I knew where within it was the legit camping. Hmmm - was it finally time to poach? Guess so. "Nothing doing!", a local man suggested: I could camp on the beach in front of the lone church! That indeed sounded tempting but, in viewing the area a minutes later, I found it a bit rocky. It'd be kinda hard to set up a tent on a boulder, I reasoned. Moreover, I didn't trust the tide line of sea goop, either.
Puzzling my options, I did what comes naturally to all humans: I delayed. For that to be properly realized, I got a little grub at the local co-op/convenience store. I really didn't have much choice. Up until then I had hoped for a seafood dinner, but with the one resto closed all I'd get would be going two for two in the failure department.
Finished provisioning, I next had an awkward sink bath at the marina's lonely wash building. That'd continue the stall as I continued weighing poach locations. Cleaning up was certainly civilized of me, too, but I really had to decide soon with the impending dark. Finally, I chose: behind the church's rear out-building. That'd have to do, a spot luckily with my tent behind it and out of the main road's view.
On the other hand, my chosen milieu would NOT be out of the view of a couple of neighboring houses. Soon enough, and confirming this, one man shortly left his house by car. Hopeful of nothing being amiss with my new neighbors, I waved to him... and he waved back. I figured that was a good sign; I set up the tent quickly.
Soon enough, though, now just after dark with my head only momentarily having hit the pillow, I heard another neighbor approach across the grass. "Avez-vous mangé?" I was queried. Damn! Dinner? Criminy - if I wasn't so stuffed, I coulda had a free local meal! Sadly, instead I responded that I had eaten. Sigh. This other neighbor now retreated as well, apologizing for having bothered me. Reflecting on the day's events, meanwhile, I was pleased. A goodly 95 km of rolling had been completed, I had made some friends (and gotten boozed up a bit), I was more or less clean, and it looked like the poach was a go all around. Zzz.
At 7:30a.m. the next morning, I thought I was up and about nice and early. My only intent was to cleared out before anyone could possibly be bothered by my presence, friendly neighbors of the night notwithstanding. In this I was quickly foiled, however: apparently Aline (her name, I was to learn) had already been by once to check up on me.
Certain the neighbors were tenacious, if only in the best-meaning way. Maybe I was just odd enough to merit the attention - that'd not be for the first time. In any event, it was at 8a.m. - when I was packing up - when Aline's husband Claude stopped by to inform me of his wife's earlier visit. More importantly, however, he wanted to offer breakfast. Pointe Sapin was going well as pitstop, I told myself.
Soon I was dining "alone" with a homemade breakfast, Aline & Claude (déjà mangé at 6:30 a.m.!) shortly each to a side of me (they'd already eaten). With no appreciable delay my hosts began peppering me with questions about my current trip, my previous trips, and also commenting about their own around Canada. Fortunately, these were such kind people that this was more welcome than dreaded in the least.
Meanwhile I found that my every move - the three passes checking out the church area, the co-op food and marina wash stops, the conversation with the man in the car - were already known to them. They relayed back each to me in accurate detail, making sure they had left nothing out. Astonished, I could only laugh. Welcome to small town Canada, just like small town everywhere. No secrets.
All good, regardless - Aline and Claude were incredibly welcoming, offering ever more food or coffee. I had a place to stay if I needed, too, or a shower, or... whatever. In no time I felt guilty being waited on hand-and-foot, but honored, too. Simultaneously I kept wolfing down food, sampling all of Aline's homemade jams and breads. Burp! Finally I had to stick a fork in myself I was so done. Must... stop, I finally admitted to myself.
Next it was time to waddle out and tour the garden, Aline and I having gardening in common. Having just recently run into bears in the woods behind the garden, she was now even more meticulously caring for the garden than ever these days. However, she also was now completely avoiding the woods further back on their large property, one which started at the sea (the Cumberland Straight technically) over the main road.
Staying on subject repeatedly, I was warned about bears if I as thinking of offroading in the national park ahead. No, I hadn't been thinking that, not without a proper mountain bike, anyway. In any case, I would be loaded for bear - foodwise. I left with a large packed lunch of sandwiches and various fruits, plus enough homemade breads to cover the next day's breakfast as well. My hat was off to such hospitality, all told. It made for a worthy reason for a late start, too.
Now I quickly made my way into the big park Kouchibouguac (I'd never pronounce it correctly), only a short distance more to the south. This new terrain I already knew to be a relatively uninhabited version of what I had already been seeing along the road. No great shakes in that regard, no, but scenery can be heightened both by putting architecture in... and leaving it out.
Eventually, though, I came upon the trailer home of the remaining inhabitant in the park. Something of a curmudgeon, he had refused to leave when the park was established. Aline and Claude had "warned" me about him sufficiently, but only as an oddball as opposed to anyone dangerous or in the least menacing.
Spotting his encampment situated on a dark marshy creek, I pulled off the road. He was sitting outside, enjoying the sun with his wife/female companion - that'd save a knock on the door to say hey. Nearby was a large sign in French and English, vociferously deploring the actions of the Canadian government in forcing people off of their land.
There had been some 40-50 people removed in establishing the park, true, but I would later hear that they had been well-paid to do so. In any event, HE was staying - and push hadn't yet come to shove. Being rather old, one might surmise the logic of his reasoning - as easily as that of his opponents. No one exactly knew where the guy in black with the sickle stood in the matter, however.
Regardless of the history, I had a nice long and friendly chat with this local celebrity. Certainly his anger with the government was an undertone impossible to miss. That came despite his laughing during the banter. When the yapping came to its denouement, something like an hour later, I was warned of... bears.
With that in mind I decided to just passsssss through the park. Nothing to see here, folks - just moving along! Fortunately the winds were reasonable to aid this, as was the traffic. The sun worked its usual magic, too. As always I kept hugging that thar coast, knowingly extending my tour significantly in doing so. Nature's lines are rarely straight or efficient.
Richibucto, a town already past my day's midpoint, gave room for pause. It was going to have a lighted boat parade at 10p.m., but... I was rolling through rather early to stick around for that. Instead, I only saw some sea- and ghost-themed decorations being put in place. There was some legend of phantom ships in the area from way back when, thus I found ghosts hanging from trees and masts everywhere. Too, it was worth noting that this was a major booze smuggling point for the U.S. during prohibition. That, too, was worthy legend.
Enough of Richibucto, though - I was hankering for my next chaudrée/chowder of fruits de mer (seafood). I figured that was the appropriate pat-on-the-back for successfully poaching (rewarding myself for such things was something I deemed important). Of late I had been doing my best to sample chowders as I began down the Atlantic Coast, happily yet to be disappointed. They were going light on the cream and potatoes, heavy on the seafood and flavor - the right equation!
Post Richibucto and now in Bouctouche (my destination at around 100km), my belly was pleased yet again. CHOWWWW-DAH! That was even worth having to backtrack a little to get to my campground. Local pecan pie eased that nicely, too. Yea, I was that little white lab rat tapping the reward lever every time.
At camp, heavy breezes made putting the tent up a bit of a game. It's kind of tough to stake a tent that is being picked up and thrown down the field. Eventually I was able to pin two corners down long enough to run around it and get the other two down in a hurry, though. The good news with the wind was that it kept my little biting friends at bay. Now THAT was a compromise I'd always willingly take.
The next day I awoke to murderous headwinds. Fair enough, it wasn't like I had no foreshadowing. But, whereas that was great mosquitowise (the little bastards could be a pain in the mornings, too), such windblasting made for another short, disappointing day of trying to cover ground. In all I only tallied about 50km, stopping at Shediac before I decided to pitch my bike into the sea.
This time around it was worse than the approach to Miramichi. I actually went down to my bike's smallest ring up front and the rear's largest - GRANNY GEAR!!! - to keep forward progress steady. What the nasty hills by St. Irenée hadn't accomplished, this amazingly strong headwind had. I questioned at times if I was indeed making forward progress.
Not that it was all bad, however. For a tiny stretch, around a bend for a segment of a handful of kilometers, I enjoyed a tailwind where I literally flew in silence. That was almost eerie, yet once again it proved that the absence of sound was always a good metric for measuring a tailwind's strength.
I nevertheless had a far more numerous count of sidewind sections to more than equal that tiny glory run. In those, I had to struggle a bit to keep my bike on the road or out of the middle of it. Additionally, with such wind-whipping - or windburn - my lips got so dry and stage-one chappy that trumpet playing was a complete washout. On this day it was only due to stubborness that I hugged that goddam coast, skipping a couple of shortcuts that might've saved 20 of the day's 50km. Some called this stupid, I admitted ruefully to myself.
Whatever - when I got to Shediac, I decided it was over. Time to call the misery a day! Meanwhile, to contrast my situation adroitly, right away I met a group of five women. They were a merry bunch, on their first day cycling from Monction to somewhere in Newfoundland, to a one as full of energy as I was depleted of it.
Reality would set in at some point, too, of course. With a ferocious tailwind bringing them from Moncton to Shediac, how could it not? I held off in mentioning that this would be the easiest day of their entire trip. One of them certainly knew this, anyway, a woman who had met up with the rest in riding from Victoria, B.C. She was the quietest one of the bunch.
At the time of my arrival it was 2p.m. or so. Here it was, so early in the day, yet I was completely spent! I tried to rationalize this defeat of sorts, settling on it being the likely result of six days in a row of riding. True, this made for a 550km toll that couldn't be ignored.
Thus self-justified, I sat in front of an information center on the coast, easily located next to its massive lobster sculpture. If nothing else confirmed that Shediac was the world's lobster capital, that should do it, I figured. At least I had company over the next two slightly dazed hours - a couple of friendly RCMP trainees were game to chat the time away.
Certainly it must've beat donuts and coffee for them, even if we only covered the usual and obvious subjects such as my trip and their lives in NB. Like so many locals, they had barely seen much of their own province - they both were sure that I would see considerably more on this trip. They were exceedingly genial, in any event, and I was probably welcome in another sense, too: for a couple of hours I saved them from having to tell kids not to spray-paint the lobster, steal volleyballs, or other such mayhem they'd otherwise be up to.
In Shediac the time had come for more decisions to be made about the trip, meanwhile. For that, I deemed all plans to go to Prince Edward Island (PEI), Nova Scotia, or even just to see the massive Confederation Bridge between PEI and NB - ideas I had been entertaining - as now officially cancelled. I was pooped, the wind was howling, and rain was forecast for the next few days. That sounded like plenty enough.
Instead, Moncton would call me in the morning as a rest stop. That'd mean heading inland a little and chopping out a massive chunk of coast with a very small cut. To get there, though, I'd supposedly have to go into more stiff winds for the 25-30km of distance to be traversed. Sigh - would that really be the case? I sure hoped not - this day had been a bear enough without need for a follow-up.
Now decided, and bidding adieu to the RCMPs-to-be, I soon put up my tent in yet another challenging (but mosquito-free!) breeze. That only meant one thing as far as I was concerned: I immediately took to napping the nap of the dead. Following that, there was nothing more to accomplish beyond yet another great seafood chowder. In my case, the rat always tapped the lever.
The next morning's ride looked like it would go per the negative forecast's expectations. A sunny sky was rapidly turning gray to the south; a blustery wind was picking up, too. In anticipation of a grind, therefore, I was up at 6:30 a.m. to break camp, eat, and roll by 8 a.m. at the latest. That must've been SOME nap!
Indeed. Sure enough, things did start out a bit breezy - but nothing in comparison to the previous day, thankfully. I chose the old Moncton-Shediac road for safety reasons (the main route was heavily trafficked), and this turned out to be a fortunate choice. It was every bit as peaceful and scenic as advertised. Whew - enough of the traffic, I thought.
Only the tiny town of Lakeside broke up a quiet roll through forest and farm. Things went so swimmingly, indeed, that I found myself in Moncton by 10 a.m. or so. My timing proved impeccable, too, as the first drops of rain hit me as I rolled up to the friendly doors of the C'mon Inn Hostel. The wet stuff would pick up in a hurry - but I was past caring. Time for a REAL pitstop.
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