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
forests and sea, beckons to the world beyond its port. As soon as you set foot here, the
river’s constant presence will imprint a lasting memory on your senses, and the lure to
traverse its waters to see marine mammals and wild ducks won’t subside until you give in
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”
“Do you know Linda? I used to visit her there twenty years ago......”
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!