Crossing the final bridge from the Long Sault Parkway back to the mainland was tough. I was tempted to spend a full day there. It was the middle of the week and, but for the RV-ers on McClaren Island there was not another soul to be seen. The weather was sublime and I entertained the idea of having a lazy camp day next to the river. Maybe take a few hikes and relax. Just the day before I had spent the morning in a busy law office trying to wrap up all the ends that were sure to come loose when I was gone. I could use a day like this in what seemed like an Eden. I actually turned my bike around and headed back down the access road to return to the Parkway. Then I pulled off to the shoulder of the road looking back towards the direction I had been heading. An aimless bastard I felt at that moment. Which way to go?
The great unknown won out as it would many times over the next week. I was soon heading east on Route 2 towards Cornwall. When I rumbled into town it was early enough that Catholic schoolgirls were sauntering on sidewalks heading for a bit of education. Hot Catholic school girls. Only one of them really gave me a good savory look. What, me with my Klim Adventure Rally Jacket on and my DS-4 helmet. I looked bad ass on the all black DRZ with full panniers. I know, because I saw my reflection in a large pane of storefront glass at a light. I passed the school girl by wishing I was ten years younger. But, it did give me a bit of an appetite for something syrupy sweet so I dropped into a joint called Bruyere's Restaurant and wolfed down a Belgian waffle. There I met an interesting older gentlemen who just lost his wife. He talked of tales about a Gaspe trip he had done in the 1950's when his nut sack was "full of compass needles", as he put it. He navigated the terrain in a pick up truck with a buddy. I asked him whether he ever got up to the north shore, across the St. Lawrence from Gaspe. "Nope, always wanted to though," he said. To him it was like the dark continent up there.
Back on the bike I had planned to continue up Route 2 and hug the shoreline all the way to Quebec City. On the map it looked like a long days ride with great scenery and towns. But something in the way the old man had said, "always wanted to" stirred in my craw. On a whim, I took a quick left and navigated annoying intersections until I found a sign for Rt. 401. I jumped on the turnpike and got my mind wrapped around the concept of jousting with fast moving traffic all day long. A far cry from what I had expected that day if I kept to plan, but I wanted to see this place of dark beauty. The 401 was a way to make real distance and get to the wild country fast. A term kept going through my mind, "collecting kilometers." I had read that in a dude's ADV trip log a few years back. He was from , Estonia, I think and would spend four days on a free way putting in 600 mile days to get to far off mountains where he would then spend all of 36 hours before trudging back. Imagine that? So I kept that term in my head all day long. Not that the scenery wasn't occasionally spectacular. But I was going too fast to really enjoy it. Keep in mind that too fast on a fully loaded DRZ is 65 mph at a prostate shaking 6500 RPM's.
Originally I intended to stay fully south of Montreal and Quebec City and make for Desjardins where I could then set out for Gaspe along the mellow south shore of the St. Lawrence. But, now I would stay fully north of both cities and make for the North Shore. Shoot for a chilly little town called Baie-Comeau and then hop a ferry across the river to Mutane and head east to Gaspe. This was a more ambitious plan, but I would feel more like I scratched the surface of being a real adventure rider. To date I hadn't done anything that I would call epic. This could turn into something bordering on epic, I imagined. And so I kept on collecting kilometers. The day was pristine. Sunny, mild and nothing but blue sky. Something told me that could change quickly.
I had never been to Montreal or Quebec City. Though it would have been nice to take a leisure day in one or the other, I had no desire for neon lights, fast food, and mega traffic. Of course an Asian rub and tug joint would have made for a nice 50th birthday present, but I resisted the strong primordial urge and kept to the highways well north of both cities. Quickly I drifted into the French speaking region, noticing it when I exited for a gas stop. The other folks gassing up their cars gave me a strange look as I openly took a long pull off my flask. Be bold when in new land, I say. After filling my measly 2.6 gallon tank, my credit card was not accepted in the pump so I had to go inside with cash. I stood in line behind a smoking hot, 30-something woman. She was wearing a short black skirt with patterned black pantyhose and must've been a real estate agent or something. I spent five glorious minutes waiting behind her because of an issue with the customer in front. I could smell the wonderful combination of shampoo, perfume and the delicate nylons encasing her legs. I was finding that, like a dog, my sense of smell was becoming more acute on the open road. And this chick was acute to say the least. When she finished paying for her gas she turned around and gave me a big warm smile saying something in French I couldn't understand. Not knowing a lick of French I stood mystified watching her walk out to her car. The cashier snipped at me three times to get my attention. After I paid for my petrol and got back on the highway, I spent a few moments imagining I had blown an incredible opportunity. Oh well. There's still the trip, I thought.
Hour after hour reeled away. Montreal clicked by with its incredible sprawl. Same thing with Quebec City. Though I was about eight hours from home, it still didn't feel like I was out of my element. That changed when I finally picked up Rt. 138 North. I remember coming up over a large hill. Riding down the other side, I was presented with a mountain view that made me feel a real sense of wildness. A moose could be coming along any minute, based on all the warning signs. I stopped on the highway, snapping a picture that now looks tamer than it seemed then. I had a long, long way to go in that direction.
The day clouded over and it had dropped fifteen degrees over the past 50 miles. I was a bit cold as I chugged along. But too lazy to dismount and bundle up. The scenic views have a way of providing warmth. It was getting a bit late and I had to find a camping spot within an hour or two. I convinced myself that I should stop for a hot meal first at a restaurant even though all day I had looked forward to hearing the whine of the Dragon Fly, my beloved camp stove. It was the thought of French cooking that lured me.
The next town was Baie-Saint-Paul. I pulled in and asked a passerby where a nice plate of Pasta could be found. I also got a great tip on where camping could be had with some fishing possibilities. I needed free camping with no one around. Maybe just a moose or two. The town was very quaint with old time architecture. The town folk were nice enough. The little bit of tourist flow made it feel special. The restaurant and it's pasta ended up being outrageously good. Of course it was the first grub since the early morning waffle so I devoured it and sucked down a red ale in record time. I needed to get back on the road so I would have plenty of time to find the camping spot.
I had to backtrack ten or fifteen miles to the south west to get to where the recommended campsite was. Somehow I didn't mind retracing earlier steps. The site was on a trout stream of some sort and supposedly had mega fish in it. I figured I could cast a few lines to end the day. I got lost a time or two, before finding a rocky single track trail that got hairy in a hurry. The kind of trail where you become committed fast with no way of turning back. For a while I thought I was traveling down a narrow creek bed rather than a trail. No way could I turn my bike around without removing all the gear on the bike and muscling her for ten minutes. Luckily, I was on the lithe ride of the venerable DRZ and not some 450 pound behemoth. There certainly weren't going to be any F800's where I was going. I dumped it once at slow speed forcing me to take remove my helmet and take a slug off my flask for posterity. But after 15 minutes, I found the stream which clearly was the one I was directed to. It was gorgeous and totally away from it all. Well worth the backtracking and effort. No one else around for quite a few miles. I just had to hope it wouldn't rain as I wasn't sure I'd get out if the trail got any slicker. Though there wouldn't be much mud, It would be all uphill on slippery rock back to tarmac land. I cant say I was looking forward to the ride out. I dismounted and spent a moment relishing the rarity of the moment. I wondered who I should thank. Over the whole day, I had been in the saddle for eight or nine hours, a personal record.
After dismounting, I holstered my bear spray on my belt and pitched the 15 year old half moon tent. Only a fool doesn't carry bear spray in bear country. Plus it can be used on people if the need ever arises. My grin was unmistakeable as I fired up the other half of the joint from the previous night. I snapped a quick photo of the view out the tent. I tried a few casts, but I didn't feel much like ruining some fish's evening. Maybe in the morning, I figured. Instead I fired up the Goal Zero and listened to the album, "Songs from the Wood. " It was quite a bit colder than the night before and the heavens above stank of rain. Just the kind of ominous sky made for cracking a special bottle. It took a few minutes to find the mini-bottle of Patron Anejo my wife had tucked in my pannier the night before I left. I considered pouring it in my titanium mug, but opted to go direct from the bottle. I nursed on it like an infant. Quickly my insides were alive in the glowing warmth of Mexico. Because I was beat, I nodded off within the hour. There was to be no campfire again. What the hell was wrong with me? Again, I slept great. I awoke only once when something big wandered through camp about half way through the night, just as it began to rain lightly. I could hear it walk up to the tent then wander off without incident. Took me a few moments to fall asleep again. I used the image of that girl at the gas station to forget about the possible mauling I might endure and the tough ride out I would likely face in the morning. I pictured her slowly pulling off her hose and throwing them in a heap on the bedroom floor as she recounted the sublime adventure rider she had encountered. Man, I could still smell that smell. Next thing I knew it was morning and day light hit. I stepped out to take a well deserved wizz in a strange rain that can only be described as lightly falling mist. To my surprise, I was able to use a large bear track as a target for my frothy yellow stream. A bear track! When I realized it's size and how close it came to my tent, a horrifying feeling came over me. Slowly I fell to the fetal position on the ground and began sobbing like a terrified toddler. Just kidding. We have bears in New York, as well, and the things don't intimidate me all that much. Not when I'm prepared and ready to for new experiences.