1974 Moto Guzzi to the end of the road - almost (north shore of St. Lawrence River)
This ride was for less than a week, but any long ride on an old bike has the makings of an 'epic'........
1974 Moto Guzzi 750S - Highway 138 to Natashquan, Quebec
4 days, 3182 Kms
Why would anyone choose a 38 year old sport bike for a manic blast up one of the more remote roads in Canada? It’s a question I asked myself many times as I was riding home, fighting constant headwinds, the muscles in my neck and back screaming for relief, my backside feeling as though I was back in the headmasters office in Grammar School, and my knees locked in a permanent crook.
Of course, I’m exaggerating a bit. I actually find riding the 750S relatively comfortable - at least for sane distances - and while, after a few hours it does remind me that a) I am no longer 20, b) it wasn’t really ever designed for long distance touring, and c) my 2007 Moto Guzzi Breva 1100 might have been the saner choice, its not all that bad.
Putting ergonomics aside for a while, from a mechanical standpoint, the 750 is a surprisingly good choice for long distance riding. The tall gearing which makes the bike a bit of a pig in town, translates into effortless cruising. It prefers to be in fourth at a steady 100kph (just around 4000 rpm) and starts to get positively balky in fifth at anything below about 105kph.
OK, so it doesn’t have a windscreen, so riding the last 10 hours into a 60kph headwind was a bit of a nightmare. But in every other way it was a fine ride. The handling is exemplary (by any standard I have been exposed to) and it has that ‘cool’ factor which puts a big smile on my face even in the middle of nowhere. Is 750 enough? I should say so!
The bike wasn’t really the issue I was wrestling with. I was trying, unsuccessfully I might add, to get at the root of what it is that drives me to take older bikes on torture tours to some of the more remote parts of eastern and central Canada. I’m not trying to break the bikes, honest I’m not. They are Guzzis!
Remember that original design brief - able to withstand the abuses of squaddies and cops for at least 100,000 kms without major mechanical intervention. No, breaking the bikes isn’t even on the cards, although I do get a wry pleasure with having to deal with whatever minor troubles do occur on the road.
Breaking myself then? Testing my immor mortality? There’s a possibility. Perhaps I’m waiting for
something to break............................................
The Bike - 1974 Moto Guzzi 750S
Setting off from Inverary, Ontario
ElDorado Vs S3
I thought the Eldorado story about Labrador was inspiring. This madness will be much better. Vicarious nostalgia as I never did get to own an S3 in my youth.
Thanks for the kind comments re: Trans-Lab.
The 750S was a single year model, very closely related to the V7 Sport (just minor trim changes + double disks) and never imported to North America. Mine is a 'grey market' bike.
The S3, while a lovely bike, was a bit denatured compared to the original 750's. Not that it makes a scrap of difference - they are all lovely bikes.
Thursday August 2nd
I awoke at 4:30 and was on the road before 5. Morning light was just beginning to make an appearance in the eastern sky and moonlight was still shining down from the west. I had packed the bike the night before, so I turned the key, the bike sprang into life and, not wanting to irritate the neighbours more than usual, I headed down the road as quietly as possible.
I love that time of day. Most people are still in bed, so the roads are quiet and apart from the occasional skunk or deer, I have the roads to myself. I love the early morning mist, the way it hangs in the valleys and condenses on my visor. I can usually have a couple of hundred kilometres under my belt before most people have hit the snooze button.
This morning there was plenty of chilly mist in the valleys and the short ride to the highway had me reaching for my gloves
and wishing for the Breva’s heated grips. I joined highway 401 just east of Kingston, cranked the 750 up to a steady 110kph
(fast enough to make time - no so far above the 100kph limit to attract the attention of the police) and joined the transport trucks on the early morning parade east.
After about an hour and a half I stopped for gas and coffee in Prescott. That first coffee always seems triply welcome. It appeases the raging caffeine monster inside, warms chilled hands, and triggers a gastro-colic reflex. I try and organize my food breaks with gas stops. For me, a perfect stop is the village gas bar / grocery store / liquor store where I can grab all the necessities for the day without having to spend any time waiting, queuing or looking at menus. Stopping for gas is unavoidable and I resent it. Stopping for food and drink can be delayed. The booze is for later.
I crossed from Ontario into Quebec at Salaberry de Valleyfield a sprawling town on a large island in the St. Lawrence River. Rather than struggle through the urban nightmare of Montreal, I chose a southern loop around the city, passing through the small towns of Sainte Hyacinthe and Yamaska before recrossing the St. Lawrence at Sorel-tracy, about 80 kilometres downstream from Montreal.
Highway 138 - Heading to Quebec City
On a typical trip day, I’m pretty much on the bike from dawn till dusk and this day was to be no exception. I wasn’t interested in sight-seeing so I droned along on Highway 40 past Quebec City, reentering the atmosphere of two-lane traffic just west of Beauport. It had been playing on my nerves that although I had my tyre irons and a puncture kit with me, I had neither spare tube nor pump. On impulse I pulled into a Suzuki dealer and with plenty of gestures and some Franglais, managed to communicate
my need for a tube to the helpful sales guy. The only 18inch tube he had in stock was a motocross tube - better than nothing, I thought.
Because I’m an old geezer on an old bike, I usually find myself travelling slightly slower than the ambient speed on Quebec highways (posted speed 100kph, my speed 105-110, ambient speed 115+). Most vehicles just breeze by: back-seat kids noses pressed to the window, parents stoically or disinterestedly looking forward. Occasionally someone will pull along side for a while and I get the full fledged, appreciative, enthusiasts thumbs-up.
A couple of years ago, as the last leg of a father-son three day blast, my eldest son Sam (on his VFR) and I (on my Breva) had put in a long day riding from Tadoussac to home, virtually in rain the whole way. I was determined to beat our record, so set my sights on Forestville, a village another 100 kilometres down the valley.
By the time I got there, I was tired and sore, but pleased with the bike and with myself. A bottle of cheap red wine, some chips, a motel room with the Olympics on the TV and a classic bike outside - its hard to imagine a better life.
Somewhere along 138 near La Malbaie
I am definitely in! This is a trip I'd been thinking about for years. I did a trip round the Gaspe, years ago & always wondered what was on the other side of the river as I rode from Gaspesie to Quebec City on the south side. I've since scrutinized the map & dreamed to run the north side of the big river as well.
That is one fantastic bike. Good on you for taking it on a trip. Can't wait for the rest of the story.
What a fantastic bike!
I never had a Guzzi, I am not worthy.
As a Guzzi-owner I'm pretty interested in this story :)
good reading so far :clap
Friday August 3rd
Although I was back on the road before 6AM, both my head and the atmosphere were a bit fuzzy. Almost immediately I swung into the McDonald’s parking lot, thinking of grabbing a coffee before settling in to the next leg, but the smell of grease so early in the morning didn’t sit well, so I swung out again just as quickly. A thick, damp morning mist had settled in off the river so the stretch between Forestville and Baie-Comeau passed in a bit of a blur, both literally and figuratively. I had to keep wiping my visor with the back of my gloves so that my view of the road ahead didn’t stop an inch in front of my eyes.
Baie Comeau is a small industrial town at the junction of the Amédée and St. Lawrence Rivers, rather vaingloriously described on its official web site thus:
As the voluminous waves of the St. Lawrence unfurl at its feet, Baie-Comeau, daughter of
Well! The only thing most Canadians know about Baie Comeau is that it is the home town of Canada’s least-loved Prime Minister - the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, who, after two terms in office, led the Progressive Conservative Party to a stunning collapse. The oldest political party in Canada was reduced from a 151-seat majority to two seats in the worst defeat ever suffered for a governing party at the federal level (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Mulroney).
I mainly know it as the place you turn left towards Labrador City, so from Baie Comeau onwards was Terra incognita for me. And I was impressed.
Just past Baie Comeau
Almost as soon as you leave the built up area, there are high wooded slopes, cliff faces, hanging lakes and stunning views of the river below. Uncharacteristically, and despite the lingering residue of the morning mist (both kinds), I stopped at an official viewing platform to take in the view towards Anse Saint-Pancrase. A well maintained boardwalk overlooks a dramatic, glacially sculpted defile leading down to the river. It was blessedly empty of other gorpers and the view was worth the stop.
The road continues to hug the coast virtually all the way to Sept Iles - heck, for that matter it hugs the coast all the way to Natashquan, never veering more than a few miles inland, usually to cut across a headland or avoid a particularly truculent lump of pre-Cambrian hillside.
The shoreline is never far away - and stunning!
As I rode along, with the road almost magically to myself most of the time, I had been going through my inventory of tools and supplies in my head. I realised that although I had bought a new tube, I still had no way to inflate it, and perhaps, more uselessly, I had forgotten to bring a wrench that would fit the wheel nuts. Fortunately, like the ubiquitous Tim Horton’s, even relatively small towns have a Canadian Tire - Canada’s basic utility / automotive / hardware store, and Sept Ilse was no exception. I walked out with a sizeable adjustable spanner, a $9 bicycle pump, two packets of ear plugs and a pair of clear safety googles.
Beyond Sept Ilse, the dramatic ‘old mountain’ scenery where the Canadian Shield meets the valley gives way to a broad coastal sand plain. The hills can still be seen, but they are well back from the current shore. In times past, when the weight of glacial ice had depressed this part of the continent and before it had rebounded (isostatic rebound), the St. Lawrence would have been a much wider valley in this area, so effectively I was riding along on part of the old river bed.
By mid afternoon, I was still going well. I had stopped a few times to gas up or take a few pictures, and each time had noticed an unusual, but slight low speed shaking in the steering when I pulled away - but for the most part I was well settled in, the bike was running well and I was making distance. I breezed past Havre Saint Pierre having decided that the end point at Natashquan was definitely within reach if I was prepared for a longish day.
There is an official rest area just past Havre Saint Pierre. These rest stops usually offer a scenic view and I had often used them. So far I had ridden about 560 kilometres so it was time for a snack anyway. This time, as I pulled to a stop I could feel that something was definitely wrong. The steering was dull and shaky. Damn - my front tyre was flat!
A temporary set back
It could be worse. I had a puncture kit, a pump, a nice view, tools, no bugs, nice weather, a picnic bench for my gear and a hard surface for the centre stand. I set to work. Damn - I’d forgotten that the front axle has Allen key pinch bolts and I didn’t have an Allen key that large. As luck would have it, the pinch bolts weren’t too tight, so with a bit of gentle bashing and hammering, I was able to remove the axle and then then the wheel.
Finding the puncture was easy - just a small hole - so I opted to try a fix rather than install the new tube. A truck full of road crew guys turned up to empty the garbage containers, and of course, were captivated by my dilemma. One fellow, who had a few words of English, communicated that there was a tyre repair shop in Havre Saint Pierre and made it clear that they would help me somehow if I needed it. I indicated that I was fine.
“Where are you from”Sometimes I surprise myself with rarely executed bouts of common sense.
I rode the short distance back to Havre Saint Pierre, added some more air to the tyre at the gas station, then headed for a motel.
Predictably, in the morning the tyre was as flat as a pancake!
Saturday August 4th
Whether it was because I had been feeling a bit raunchy the previous morning, or perhaps because of an uncharacteristic moment of restraint, I hadn’t enjoyed my traditional ‘on the road’ suppertime beverage, so I was feeling fresh as a daisy until I looked out of the window and saw the flat.
5AM isn’t really a civilized time to start changing a tube, but I did my best to keep the clanking of tyre irons to a minimum and because I’d had practice the previous day, I managed to get it changed and the wheel back on the bike within half an hour. Stuffing the heavy motocross tube in the skinny 3.5 x 18 tyre was a bit of a struggle, but it went in, and more to the point, held air. I put a few pounds in with the hand pump, then slowly rode to the nearby garage where, fortunately, their air line was still working.
One of the many river crossings along Highway 138
Its only 108 kilometres from Havre Saint Pierre to Natashquan and I took my time. Firstly I had forgotten to gas-up in H-S-P so had to take it easy until I could find somewhere open, and secondly, the scenery had changed. The pre-Cambrian hills and sand plain forests had been left behind. I had now reached the sub-Arctic zone.
When travelling Highway 138, its easy to be deluded into thinking you are travelling east - after all, you are heading towards the Atlantic from the centre of the continent. In fact, you are travelling northeast at almost 45 degrees to the equator. Its not far north in absolute terms, since you only cross the 50th parallel on the way - about level with Cornwall in the UK - but environmentally and climatically, you are getting up there.
Endless muskeg, endless road - perfect!
And to provide a sense of scale, when flying to Europe from Toronto, you spend more time flying up the St. Lawrence River Valley than you do over the open Atlantic Ocean!
For some inexplicable reason, I have a fascination with the world of muskeg, bog, low, glacially ground rocky hummocks, little trees, spruce bog, caribou moss and moose pasture. To some, it must seem like the least engaging environment on the planet. It is flattish, open, wind blown, desolate, almost devoid of signs of life - and I love it. Riding along through this wild, low, open empty landscape thrills me. You can tell that the ice sheets only left the day before yesterday. It cares nothing for your life or death. God walks there in silent contemplation every day.
God walks....... - but with wet feet
I had to hang around in the village of Baie Johann-Beetz (population 81) for half an hour until the gas station / grocery store opened at 8AM. I didn’t mind - its beautiful. A gorgeous salmon stream bisects the village, flowing over glacially smoothed granite on its way to join the St. Lawrence. I clambered around on the rocks for a while taking pictures before making my way back to where I had parked the bike at the gas bar. Right on time, a young lady arrived to open the shop and switch on the pumps. I filled up, bought some granola bars, shared a laugh over the fact that neither one of us could understand a single word the other was saying, and headed towards Natashquan...........to be continued.
Very well written. Liking it a lot.
DAMN! I LOVE that bike! Glad to see you are riding the old girl! Just as it was meant to be! :freaky
Day 3 (continued)
Day 3 (continued)
Salmon stream at Baie Johann-Beetz
The last few miles to Natashquan are narrow, rough, twisty and would have been enjoyable had it not been for the roadworks in progress along this stretch of the highway. In remote areas, Quebec uses automated traffic lights with a digital display counting down the seconds you have to wait until the light changes. The first one I encountered was counting down at 139, so I had plenty of time to get off the bike, adjust my gear and stretch my legs before it got to zero and green.
Countdown at roadworks: 103 and counting
(by the way, for those of you with sharp eyes, the 750S doesn't idle at 2500 rpm - the tach is a little lazy)
Natashquan is two distinct and separate communities. The smaller French-Canadian village of Natashquan (pop 246) is a neat little community straddling the mouth of the Petit Natashquan River. The First Nations Innu village of Natashquan (pop 810) lies at the mouth of the much larger Natashquan River. Only 1.9% of its inhabitants list French as their first language (Innu is their first)!
Petit Natashquan River and the village
The paved portion of Highway 138 ends just east of the Innu village of Natashquan. Frankly, it’s a bit anticlimactic. You turn the corner past the reserve, and there is the sign indicating the end of the road. A gravel road actually continues for another 18 kilometres along the river, but I had been bullied in to swearing I wouldn’t abuse the 750S with extensive gravel riding.
The end of the paved road. The road resumes at the Labrador Coast, about 300 kms to the east
After his first ride on the 750S, my son Sam claimed it as part of his inheritance (mind you, I don’t know what he imagines the rest might be!) and, knowing me well, made me promise I wouldn’t beat it to death along rough gravel roads. He's seen what I do to my other bikes (see link below). Grudgingly I accepted his request, and to honour that, I ended my trip at the end of the pavement.
It was still early in the day, so I took a few photographs, turned the bike around then headed for home. Google maps list the distance / time from Natashquan to Forestville as 697 km, 10 hours 11 mins. I don’t think it took me quite that long, even with numerous stops for photographs and video clips http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUqiLdschwA.
I will admit to being a bit tired by the end of the day though, so before heading to the same motel I’d stayed in on the way up, I filled up with gas, bought a bag of tortilla chips, a jar of cheese dip, a bottle of “La Fin du Monde (the End of the World)!” 9% alcohol beer and a can of Sapporo for supper.
I spent a happy evening watching the Olympics on TV, ingesting my disgusting suppertime fare then hit the sack.
At about 1.30AM my body decided to rebel................
Sunday August 5th
I like to think that the long hours in the saddle and the unremitting sunshine of the previous day had been what made me feel so grim in the middle of the night, but I fear my unwise culinary choices were really responsible. I won’t bore you with the details - let’s just say I had a rather sleepless night - and I was a little slower to rise and my breath was a little worse than usual in the morning. Nevertheless, I was on the road by 6, making my way towards Tadoussac and the ferry across the narrows at the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord.
The line-up for the ferry wasn’t very long and the bike and I were soon aboard. The mouth of the fjord is a famous whale-watching location. I scanned the horizon and was rewarded by seeing a small pod of dolphins making their way inland.
On the ferry across the Saguenay Fjord
The 750S was running beautifully, the air was still and my health (and appetite) had returned so I pressed on for another 75 kilometres and pulled in at the MacDonald’s at La Malbaie.
“Bonjour”, I started, to the young man behind the counter.
“Bonjour. What can I get for you Sir?”
“How did you know - I only said one word?”
“It was your accent........”
The coffee worked it’s magic, and with a big dollop of special sauce in my belly, I felt ready for anything. I checked the map. Only another 716 kilometres to home - nothing to it.
From La Malbaie the road turns inland, rising over a series of substantial hills, up to 600 metres or more above the river. I had noticed a freshening wind when I left MacDonald’s but the weather continued to be warm and a bit of a breeze was welcome on the few occasions I had to come to a stop. To say the 750S romped up the hills would be to stretch the truth. With the increasing wind, it was becoming quite a struggle to maintain the legal limit, even having to drop down to third on some of the steeper sections. Nevertheless, riding was still enjoyable, and if I was having to hold on to the bars a little more tightly than usual, that was to be expected.
I stopped briefly in a drug store parking lot in Beaupre to shed some clothes and perform a quick, preemptive spark plug swap before hitting Quebec City. I always carry a couple of spares, and now seemed as good a time as any to use them. The digital board on the wall of the drug store was reading 32 degrees centigrade.
My plan was to cross over to the south side of the river at Quebec City, follow Highway 20 then loop south around the skirts of Montreal. By carefully following the road signs for Pont Pierre Laporte, I was unwittingly guided right through the heart of Quebec City and city traffic - exactly the place I didn’t want to be in this heat. As the traffic slowed and the bike heated up, the clutch started to drag. I tried a quick cable adjustment at the lever but it had no effect. Unless I snicked it into neutral before coming to a halt, the bike would stall if I let the revs drop and tug forward unless I kept the revs up. Even more annoying, the clutch was becoming like an on-off switch, making pulling away again jerky and loud. The bike and I lurched and screeched up one hill within sight of the walls of the old town, as I desperately tried to find that elusive spot between fully engaged and mostly disengaged. Fortunately traffic along Boulevard Laurier wasn’t too thick and by the time I was on the slip road to the bridge, the bike was behaving itself again.
Highway 20 is a fast, straight four-lane highway that cuts straight across flat, rich farmland. The wind had increased in velocity and was gusting strongly. I swear I spent much of the next couple of hundred kilometres fighting the quartering wind while bracing for the inevitable gusts which would push the bike sideways and lay it over at what seemed like 45 degrees. The journey was starting to be wearing, both physically and psychologically. By this time I was riding in a tee-shirt. A short, sharp downpour had soaked me but failed to make a dent in the heat. I was completely dry within minutes. The wind had become so strong that the loose skin on the bottom of my upper arms was flapping so vigorously that it was painful. Despite the oppressive heat, I had to put my jacket back on.
Crossing the river again and entering Ontario beyond Salaberry de Valleyfield, the cross wind became a headwind.
Tidal flats along Highway 138 east of Quebec City
To say the next few kilometres were a bit of a struggle is an understatement. In my experience, there is a point in just about every long distance ride where a combination of factors conspire to make life truly miserable. I had reached that point. Despite the sheepskin and beaded seat covers I use, the 750S’s Stucci plank had become an instrument of torture. The muscles of my neck, forearms and hands were exhausted from keeping my body from being blown off the back of the bike and my knees had decided that no matter how many times I put my feet on the rear pegs for a change of position, they had had enough.
Normally I can ride through it. My posterior is case-hardened from lots of miles and I seem to be able to shut out any reasonable amount of discomfort. I have found that if I set some goals such as “just another 40 kilometres then I’ll take a break” that often, by the time the 40 kilometres are up, I have worked through the discomfort and am ready for more. Not this time.
As I battered my way along the highway, I found myself longing for my 830lb Yamaha ‘Colossus of Roads’ - the Royal Star Tour Deluxe I used to own. That bike wouldn’t be blown around on the highway. That bike, with its barn door fairing wouldn’t have my shoulders shrieking for mercy or my knees folded like a pretzel. That bike’s clutch wouldn’t have caused me problems in Quebec City. That bike’s effortless power.... - heck, I could have put it in cruise control and just sat back and relaxed.............
With treacherous thoughts like these reverberating in my head, I pulled into the new ‘On Route’ service centre at Ingleside to gas up and give my battered body a rest. I sat inside for quite a while in air conditioned luxury, enjoying a cold drink, commiserating with a cleaning lady whose shift had only just begun, when I saw that my helmet had blown off the bike. I rushed outside before some cretin ran it over in the busy parking lot. Just as I reached the bike an elderly man turned to his wife and said,
“Now that’s a proper bike. A real classic.”
I got off the highway at the next exit and took a slower road, where the wind drag on my body was minimal.
Waiting out a thunderstorm along Highway 2
Riding the last few kilometres home along the St. Lawrence Parkway, the 750S burbling along contentedly beneath me, all struggle and discomfort had disappeared.
I had reached that happy place beyond the pain.
Nick (Sept 2012)
To view a video of the rebirth of the Moto Guzzi 750S click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBW3z...ature=youtu.be
Map of the trip - 4 days, 3148 Kilometres, 38 year old bike, 1 flat, no mechanical troubles
Very entertaining! Makes me want to go back up that way sometime VERY soon! :clap
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