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.
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