Over-easy, scrambled, sunny-side up, poché - some things just don't change. That's not to say there weren't those of us riding the 2005 edition of the Tour de Gaspé who weren't slower, heavier and with a touch more grey than when we made our first circuit of the peninsula 11 years ago, but it was nice to know meal-times in general, and the big breakfast in particular, were still a priority. While a number of the riders from the original Gaspé tour in 94 hadn't been unable to make the trip this year- taking one for the team by visiting places such as China and Alsace-Lorraine instead - a core of veterans were present in the form of Sungod, Dipper, Scrounger, Gimp and the author. That core was supplemented by some very able replacements in the form of Gord Young, Nancy (I'm faster than my husband) Warnica and the effervescent Judy Hunt, who was doing her first multi-day trip.
Day 1 - Into La Belle Province
We'd arrived in Carleton, Quebec with three vehicles and a trailer the afternoon of September 25th; after one rendezvous in Truro for those coming from parts east and south, and another in Miramichi City; where we established there were in fact two different Tim's in proximity to two different shopping centres at the exits to two different bridges.
Once safely ensconced in our Motel for the evening, it became apparent the pattern of returning vets and new blood was being repeated with the equipment being used, there being an interesting mix of brand new hi-tech bikes, older bikes which were new to the rider only, returning bikes sporting some new components and three that were unchanged from the 95 tour. I would, however, be remiss in my duties as chronicler if I did not take special note of Dr. D's ride.
Excepting a shiny new rear rim (more on that later) and the Shimano derailleurs, Gord's bike was an original equipment 10 speed Mercier "Tour de France Commemorative Edition", complete with a special badge and "Tricolour" on the head tube, very intricate and attractive lug-work and a bronze coloured paint, which the uninformed could easily mistake for rust. These attributes, in addition to a number of other features such as the double-pull brakes, the cottered cranks and the "winged" nuts holding on the front wheel, were all suggestive of a bike of a certain vintage. There are, however, two wildly different possible ages for the bike it-self (those of you more interested in what actually happened during the trip would be well advised to skip the next 3 paragraphs, as I digress ;-) .
Cottered cranks were the standard right up until the middle 50s, when one piece cranks such as the Campagnolo Record and Nuovo Record started to replace them in the pro peloton. By the middle 60s the older style cranks had almost completely disappeared from the Pro ranks, while double pull-brakes survived into the 70s. During that same period, there were two events the French (who take the Tour very seriously) might consider to be noteworthy enough to warrant a "Commemorative Edition". The first would be Jacques Anquetil winning the Tour for a then record setting 5th time in 1964. The flies in that ointment would be Anquetil riding a Gitane, and Mercier being the principal sponsor of his closest rival, Raymond Poulidor. Poulidor was the Jan Ullrich of his day, hugely popular but never winning the Tour despite finishing 3rd in 62, 2nd in 64, 2nd in 65, 3rd in 66, 9th in 67 and 3rd in 69. That, when combined with the older style of the components, suggests something else being the trigger for the special edition, which leads us to 2nd potential "Event" and Louison Bobet
When the Tour restarted at the end of WW II, it was dominated by two Italians, Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartoli, and a Swiss, Hugo Koblet. The national angst this caused was very similar to what the French experience today, not having a Tour winner since Hinault won his 5th in 1985. In 1953 Bobet won his first of three consecutive tours, a feat he was the first to accomplish and which resulted in an outpouring of patriotic fervour. While Bobet rode a "Stella" and not a Mercier for most of his career, the Tour at that time was organized around National Teams, as it was for the entire period between 1929 and 1962, rather than trade teams as we have today. This lack of alignment around sponsors and their product means there's some likelihood Gord's bike was built to celebrate Bobet's three-peat in the middle 50s.
The other, more probable, scenario for dating Gord's bike is rooted in two facts: 1) The commemorative head-badge is in English, which means the bike was intended for the British or U.S. market; and 2) Mercier shipped large numbers of cottered cranked bikes to the U.S. during the 10 speed bike boom in the early 1970s. Much as I'd like to believe Gord's bike was older than some of the riders on this year's trip, chances are it was part of the 70s boom. I have yet to find any literature from either the 50s or 70s that sheds any light on the unique "audible alarm" his bike uses to warn those within a three mile radius that he is braking heavily.
As in the tradition of past bike trips, the highlight of day 1 was supper; this time in the form of a beef stew Gord made almost entirely from organic ingredients and cooked in a cast iron dutch oven he brought expressly for that purpose. A tomato and romaine salad, along with copious amounts of home-made bread and butter completed the meal and ensured we'd start the riding the next day with an appropriate caloric reserve. There were no survivors.
As the plan was to have the car with the trailer act as sweep, supper was followed by a random draw to determine who tomorrow's designated driver would be. The draw needed to be conducted twice as the initial one resulted in Bruce Murphy being selected and he prevailed upon the conducting authority (whined might be a less flattering way of putting it) to permit an exclusion on the grounds he had been selected as the DD 11 years previous. The re-draw meant Bruce Duffy would be driving …. and so to bed.
Day 2 - Maria to Ste. Anne Des Monts - 106km
My diary for Day 1 of the 1994 trip opened with the words "Not a nice day". While it was 2-3 degrees warmer than 94 and we were better prepared in regards to clothing, riding in the rain when it's 6 or 7° Celsius still doesn't quite make it to the top of my list of "10 favourite things I like about riding".
We were up at 6:00, breakfasting 1km or so up the road at 7:00 and unloading and mounting our bikes at Kilometre 37 on Route 299 by around 8:30. For some yet undetermined reason when the trail vehicle pulled away, both Bruces were in the car. I'm sure the weather had nothing to do with it;-)
Our route today followed the valley of the Riviere-Cascapedia upstream as it worked its way into les Montagnes des Chic-Chocs for about 35 Km, kicked up to about 550 metres as we made our way over Mt. Jacques Cartier, then descended into the valley of the Riviere Ste. Anne, which we followed to the Fleuve St. Laurent and our destination on its shores, Ste. Anne des Monts.
The Cascapedia, as are most of the rivers emptying into the Baie de Chaleur on this side of the Gaspé peninsula, is a salmon river, or riviere de la saumon as the signs at many river crossings were to remind us over the next 5 days. As Nancy W led us up the road in the rain we regularly saw small groups trying their luck despite the low water levels and in one instance had to time our passage to avoid a line that was extending the entire width of the road as its owner cast in back and forth. Despite the rain, the ride was a scenic one, with the river constantly on our left and the fall foliage beginning to turn. About 30 Km in, just before the road turned away from the river and begin to climb, we pulled into a fishing camp and Gordon W treated us all to Hot Chocolate. About 30 minutes later we were back on the road and between the cocoa, the climbing and the rain having eased up were all warmer and enjoying the ride when our sweep vehicle made an appearance and Mr. Murphy joined the riders.
After a couple of short steep climbs, the big climb of the day was upon us. The final pitch was just over 1km long and averaged 10% with shorter sections in the 12-14% range. We all made it to the summit without mis-hap and regrouped there, however it was clear we didn't quite have our climbing legs yet. The next 8-10km was largely down-hill and the road was now winding its way between the surrounding mountains. The speed of the descent and the rain quickly cooled all of us off and had us looking forward to a warm place for lunch.
As is the case with most of the interior of the peninsula, this part of the Gaspé is largely un-developed, as we discovered eleven years ago when the rain and cold had us all border-line hypothermic at this stage of the ride. Other than the fishing camp we passed about 30km back, there is a nary a home or even a gas station for over 120km. The one exception to this, as we discovered to our unbounded joy and relief in 1994, is a 4 star hotel called the la Gîte du Mont Albert, which can be found 100km in. I can still remember the surreal feeling I had in 1994 as I clop, clop, clopped my way out of the teaming rain and into warmth of the hotel lobby. The steaming bowls of Pumpkin Soup we consumed back then while dripping water all over the suede covered chairs, linen table-cloths and hardwood floor of the dining room have become somewhat of a legend, so we had high expectations regarding lunch this time around, and I'm pleased to report the Gîte didn't let us down. Vegetable puree was the soup of the day, which was supplemented with fresh rolls, coffee and in a few cases, steaming bowls of café au lait and bagels with cream cheese and the local smoked salmon. Life is good!
Refreshed, we were back on the road, the rain increasing to a full down-pour while we were in-side. Most of us had used the break to don any and all remaining clothing, so while we were wetter, we were also warmer. What little traffic there was consisted of pick-up trucks with a recently shot moose proudly draped over the bed and cab (I saw 4 that day alone) and Bruce Duffy, who had done a short ride from the Gîte towards the approaching riders to let them know how far they were from lunch, saw 3 live ones.
We were on the out-skirts of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts when Bruce M and I stopped at 100km to await the others. Bruce D and the trail vehicle made an appearance to let us know how to find the motel for the night (we needed to go west for 2 km when we hit the coast - or in other words away from tomorrow's destination, but at least we didn't need to ride 12km west into a big honking headwind;-) The others arrived and Bruce D took a picture as we celebrated Judy's first 100km ride. Somehow emptying one's water-bottle over the unsuspecting celebrant's head doesn't have the same impact when it's raining heavily!
The Motel (Beau Rivage) was quite new and sited right on the river. Bruce D did the dinner honours (two large pots of chili most of which never saw the light of day again) and yours truly lost the designated driver draw for the trail vehicle. The dynamic around that particular draw was about to change considerably. I don't think any of us managed to stay awake even to the end of the 1st quarter of the football game.
Day 3 - Sainte Anne-des-Monts to Grande Vallée - 110km
Our prior knowledge of the route, plus the forecast the night before (sunny, 10°C, 10-12kph wind out of the west) had suggested the day had big potential, but by the time the sun had set there was only one word to describe it, epic.
Our planned morning routine prevailed - up at 6:00, on the bikes by 7:00, restaurant for breakfast by 7:30, on the road by 8:15. The longer distance and the cold and wet conditions Monday had caused Judy's knee to act up a bit, so I'd be giving the her and the group an hour or so on the road to see if the night's rest and some Vitamin I would permit her to go the distance that day. The rear end of my bike was making some very strange sounds and I was on cooking duty that night so I was going to use the time to acquire some groceries and to conduct an exploratory on my rear hub. On removing the freewheel, it became apparent the hub was fine and the problem was with the freewheel it-self. After some cleaning and lubing things were as good as they were going to get so after putting it back together it was onto the grocery store and I was on the road chasing the riders by 9:30.
While there was the occasional hill in the early sections of today's route, much of the road had been blasted out of the cliffs making up the shoreline and as a consequence there were long sections where the road was wedged in between the river and the cliffs and was flat, flat, flat. These flat sections were punctuated by communities that had formed in coves where streams and rivers worked their way out of the surrounding mountains. This, in combination with a following wind, meant conditions were about as good as you are ever likely to see on a bike. The sting in the scorpion's tail however, was the last 18km, which turned inland and made its way over hill and dale before popping out of the mountains above the village of Grande Vallée.
I caught up with Judy about 30km up the road. She was alone and moving at her own pace, but was in good spirits and had no issues at all with the knee. She felt the remainder of the day would be not a problem, so I left her to her own devices and went off in pursuit of the others. They weren't that far ahead and I caught the front of the group (Dr. D and Bruce M) another 5km or so up the road, after checking in on Gordon, Nancy and Bruce D in that order. They were planning to stop for lunch at 11:30 and given no-one had any issues I told them I'd press on through to the Motel Frigault, check-in, then get on my bike and start riding back towards them. Arriving at the Motel there was no-one in reception. I gave it 30 minutes then mounted my bike and started back towards the group.
The thing about a shoreline that runs west and east and a 10-12kph wind out of the west is that there's a world of difference between riding with it and riding into it. The wind, in combination with the climbs, meant I was soon grovelling my way up the hill leaving Grand Vallée and wondering where the legs I'd had the day before had gone. Even the downs, some of which were quite steep and long, required pedalling to make any speed at all. By the time I popped out of the mountains at Madeleine Centre and onto the flats by the river at about 18km I was hoping each corner would reveal the group heading the other way so I could stop suffering. Finally, just past 35km at Manche-d'Épée, I happened upon Bruce M and Gord Y, who were pulling into an épicerie. Roscoe, Bruce D and Nancy were not far behind. I gave them the heads up on what was coming and said would hustle back for the car just in case any-one had problems, which turned out to be prescient on my part.
The words were no sooner out of my mouth when Gord Y and Bruce M were back on the road. Gord was soon off like a shot. Bruce M said he'd been doing that all day and that as a consequence he was now being referred to as Doctor Diesel and tore off after him. I watched in shock as they got smaller and smaller, and when they were about 1km away decided I'd need to do something to stop the bleeding and started to wind it up some more. The gap stabilized and then after a few moments of going as hard as I could ride, started to slowly shrink. I was shocked when I looked down at my speedo and saw it holding steady at 42kph. Along that same stretch of road only minutes before I'd been labouring to ride at 17kph.
It took the best part of 10km flat out to bring them back, but I caught them at the foot of the 1km@8% climb as we entered Sainte Madeleine de-la- Riviere. I crested the climb, slowed for just a minute to allow them to catch up, then we TT'd through town with Gord leading up the short climb where the road turned inland and the big stuff started. Gord was standing on the climbs and Bruce and I could both see a pretty good wobble in his rear wheel as we crested the rise. On our right we passed two kittens sitting on the side of the road.
The road went down, then turned hard left and we had over 2km averaging 14% staring us in the face. I couldn't see the top. I found a gear I thought I could handle and started spinning. Less than 200 metres later I went down another gear and 200 after that went looking for another only to find there weren't any left! In the steeper sections there were moments I thought my front wheel was lifting off the ground. Half-way up the climb I looked back - Bruce was still there about 100 metres back grinding it out but there was no sign of Gord. I wasn't unduly worried as Bruce goes about 60kg and Gord more like 100kg, so it was hardly surprising Bruce was there and Gord wasn't.
I hit the crest and waited for Bruce. Still no sign of Gord. We bombed down the descent and started up the next climb, which was just as steep but more like 800 metres long rather than 2km. The next down was 14% and had two 90 degree turns to go with the 180 degree one at the bottom (brakes, BRAKES!), then we had two shorter 10-12% climbs before the 15%er down into Grand Vallée. Unfortunately the motel was 2/3rd the way down the hill rather than in the Village at the bottom and we needed to get all over the brakes to get slowed enough to make the turn into the driveway. I unhooked the trailer then unloaded the car into it while Bruce got us checked in so I could head back and see what kind of carnage the climbs were causing.
I found Bruce D and Ross about ½ way up the penultimate climb (no Gord!) and 3 km from home. Bruce was saying something about Nancy and a Postal van which I had a tough time making any sense out of and wrote off to a climb related delirium on his part. I told them how far they had to go and to start braking early on the last down or they'd be faced with another climb before they could put their feet up. Gordon W and Judy were about ½ ways up the big 14%er and were sensibly riding a bit then getting off the bike to recover before tackling the next bit. Still no Nancy or Gord Y. Another 2km down the road and the mystery of Bruce D's delirium was solved. Nancy and Gord were standing by the side of the road with their bikes and an animal carrier.
Nancy had seen the same kittens we had passed, but being a bit quicker on the uptake realized they'd been abandoned. She got a lift into the last town back, convinced the people there to loan her a carrier, spoke to the Vet in the town of Gaspé, who told her to bring them in and he'd find them a home, then got a lift back to Gord and the bikes. Gord's rear wheel, which he had bought anticipating his 30 to 50 year old rear wheel would likely not handle the trip, had been poorly built up (no stressing, re-tightening, re-truing) and had more or less come apart as a consequence of the power he'd been putting down on the flats all day. We got the bikes on the roof racks, the kittens and riders into the car and headed back to the hotel, where I got busy making supper, Bruce M got busy rebuilding Gord's wheel, and Nancy and Gord got busy finding food for the kittens, which Gordon W promptly named Lost and Found and were almost as promptly renamed Perdu et Trouvé.
An hour and a half later the kittens were fed and had homes (one in Pictou with Gord and the other in Wellington with Gordon and Nancy), Gord's wheel was retrued (and stayed that way the remainder of the trip - kudos to Bruce M) and we were dining on Greek Salad and "Risotto con Pollo i Porcini". There were no left-overs. What a day!
Day 4 - Grande Vallée to Gaspé - 94km
Between supper at Ste. Anne-des-Monts and supper at Grand Vallée we experienced an interesting change to the "who drives" dynamic. Call it eleven years of additional maturity, aging joints and muscles, diminished testosterone, call it what you will, the end result was people were clamouring and conniving to find ways to get into the driver's (or even the passenger's) seat rather than putting the same effort staying out of them. Only Ross (who made it up all of the climbs the previous day using the same bike and gearing that had him walking some of them 11 years ago), Gord (who we all agreed was some kind of extra-terrestrial) and yours truly (who possibly had more miles in the legs this year than everyone else combined) seemed immune to the siren call of the Jetta. In the end it was agreed the two ladies had dibs as a consequence of 1) Not yet having driven; and 2) Having kitty business to attend to. I'm sure our notes from 94 relating leg breaking climbs during the last half of the next day's ride had nothing to do with the increase in the urge to get behind the windshield.
The day started with the remaining 200 or so metres of 15% downhill leading into Grande Vallée and the climb out of town was pretty ordinary after what we'd been through the day before. While it was cool at 7:00AM (4-5°C), the lack of wind and the bright sun meant the ride to breakfast was as close to idyllic as we'd experienced on any trip. There was a bit of a wake-up call climbing out of Petite-Vallée in the form of 400-500m of 14 or 15%, but this was followed by gently rolling conditions into the rising sun that had us feeling mellow and happy and thankful to be able to enjoy such a splendid day.
About 15km into the ride we came upon the ladies parked along the road in the village of Pointe-à-la-Frégate. Judy had checked out the Inn (Etoile du Nord) across the street and informed us this was breakfast. This place was fabulous. We were led to a room at the back with large windows overlooking the river. Old hardwood floors, original art on the walls, linen on the table may have made us feel a bit under-dressed, but the proprietors made us feel very welcome and the food was magnifique!
Our host inquired as to our destination and when we informed him le Ville de Gaspé expressed concern for our well-being as a consequence of 20kms of Route 197 being under-construction and not passable "par velo". We discussed various alternatives, including using the loop through Forillon National Park (which would add 30km), stopping short of Forillon and adding the mileage to the next day, or pressing on and seeing what the state of the road was first hand, which was ultimately what we decided to do.
Twenty kms later we were into the first of the climbs, with was 3Km @ 10-12% and followed by a swooping downhill with a great road surface that took us right back to sea level and a nice park tucked between the mountain and the river. The road followed the valley inland then spun left then sharply up in short order. There was a fair bit of road construction over the next 4-5km which was not much of a problem except on the steeper bits where standing resulted in wheel spin and sitting meant there didn't seem to be enough gears on the bike.
At the end of construction we found a warm and sheltered flat spot, got off the bikes, pulled off our helmets and had a short nap (hey, some of these guys are seniors;-) Post nap, we found a nice little 15% down-hill with a cruddy road surface (73 kph, no tuck) rolled into a town for the first time in 15 or so kilometres and the fun commenced.
The wind had picked up during our sojourn in the woods and while the pattern of down-hill into town followed by a climb out remained consistent, both the ups and downs got shorter and steeper. Our next climb was up a four laner, 1km or so long and more than 15% (grovel, grovel). The down into Cap au Renard mirrored the up and the climb out of town looked more like 17 or 18%. The down was at least 20%. I hit 83kph with minimal tuck and had to sit up to shut down a speed wobble before it got out of control. We're pretty sure this was the same hill Duffy hit over 90 last time through. He said he's not tucking on a down until somebody does at least 91.
Just down the road we hit the turn for Rte 197. Judy and Nancy had shopped and set us up with bread, cheese, sliced meat and fruit for lunch (yum). Word was there was construction, but not as bad as we'd been told previously. While dining al fresco another Moose procession went by - this time complete with honking horns. We'd seen lots of dead moose (a dozen or so by my count) but this must have been the moose-hunting equivalent to the Red Sox winning the World Series last year. Post lunch we started into our 20km of impassable road and a couple of km later it was over with (well at least the construction part was.) The next 10 km had all of us checking to see if our brakes were rubbing, our bottom brackets seizing or our legs falling off. False flats and head-winds are funny that way.
Eventually we started down the other side and a right turn gave us a honking big tailwind to go with the remaining down-hill and I was hanging onto Bruce Ms rear wheel for dear life. Two left turns at the bottom though and it was time to start grovelling again. Fortunately our dear, dear friends Judy, Nancy and Gordon W found us a place to stay 6 km this side of town (the Fort Ramsay Motel - complete with kickass view of the bay and mountains) and we dodged the last big up-hill (at least until the next morning).
A supper of hodge-podge and the famous Warnica fish fry and it was time to fall asleep watching the Jays thrash the Red Sox.
Day 5 - Gaspé to Percé - 82km
Over the course of Wednesday (Day 4) the wind had steadily built. The forecast for day 5 was winds out of the south building to 40 kph with gusts in the 50s, which would have worked well for us if we'd be spending a big piece of the day riding north rather than south as planned. Fortunately it was sunny and the temperature was going to be in the 10-12°C range. Bruce M, Bruce D, Ross and Gordon W managed to determine who was driving and riding without resorting to fisticuffs. After a couple of artfully posed photos of our assorted bikes and helmets, we were on the road just after 7:00 and headed for town and breakfast, were a number of us were introduced to the joys of the Gaspesian - aka the biggest of big breakfasts.
Gordon and Ross had to find the vet and return the animal carrier so it could be shipped back to the hardware store, so off they went in the Jetta with trailer in tow while the rest of us mounted our bikes and started what the wind would make a tough day for all of us. The early going was a bit up and down, but nothing too scary. When we made the left just past the airport the wind was on the nose and we tried a pace-line for a while. We managed to stay more or less together until the Park just before Douglastown, where we all stopped to admire the view and Judy snapped a few photos. Bruce D headed off and I was about to wheel my bike back onto the asphalt when I saw my rear tire was flat. No issues with getting the wheel and tire out and I found the hole with no problem but no sign of what caused it. I swapped a fresh tube in and remounted the tire and was putting the wheel back on the bike when I notice the axle at an odd angle. I tightened the quick release and gave everything a quick spin and it all worked, but I was probably riding on a bent or broken axle.
The others had left while I was remounting the wheel; however I caught up with all of them except Bruce D on the first long grade. I pressed on and about 10Km up the road caught up with Bruce enjoying a Pepsi and bag of chips in front of a gas station (I didn't say anything about any of us being nutritional role models). Between the wind and the riding he was feeling pretty beat up and was planning on calling it a day. We chatted until the others caught up. Turns out the guy running the gas-station had raced bicycles in his youth - he even showed Bruce his calf muscles! On that note we hit the road again. Bruce D tried it for a bit, and then returned to his buddy the ex-biker. Just before we hit Tete de l'Indien, Gordon and Ross showed up and told us they'd have lunch waiting for us at the Provincial Park just up the road. We told them where they could collect Mr. Duffy then made our way to the Campground and found a sheltered spot to sun ourselves until lunch, which was sliced meat, cheese, apples and a big bottle of coke, was served.
With the exception of the last stretch into Percé, the road was pretty flat. We were also wide open to the wind and the group quickly became fragmented. By the time we hit Barachois we were pretty spread out so I stopped to wait for everyone to go by. Judy had stopped to try and get some photos and was quite far behind as a consequence. It was pretty funny watching her come down the road with her bike at a 45° angle as she tried to compensate for the strength of the wind, which was hitting her broadside at 50kph. She said she had an equally good laugh at me on those occasions where I was in front. The others were waiting for us about 7km up the road in Bridgeville and we stayed fairly close together from there until just before the start of the last set of climbs that take you into Percé.
The last 8km or so into the town consists of three sets of climbs and descents. The first is the toughest with 500-600m of something in excess of 15%. I gapped the others on the approaches and the first climb so waited near the top for them to catch up. Murphy was the next by - he said he was hurting but was holding his last gear in reserve knowing there was more to come. Nancy showed up next, working hard but spinning up the climb at 75 or 80 rpm, with Gord just behind her and using a much slower cadence due to his much taller gearing. Judy was probably another 5 minutes behind Gord (there was a very picturesque church at the base of the climb) and was standing on the steep bits but still coping well. I offered some encouragement then went off in search of the others and found them part way up the next climb. Nancy was almost to the top and still spinning smoothly, while Gord was working very hard to overcome his tall gearing - his cadence was really low, in the 20 or 30 rpm range as he tried to muscle a monster gear over the top. Turned out later he had another gear left and hadn't realized it at the time.
Bruce D and Ross made another appearance in the Jetta and said there was 2 km to go to the summit of the final climb, then a 17%er down into the town. At the bottom of the down with the waterfall I saw Murphy's bike leaning up against the guard-rail, but I was too stoked to stop and started up the last stretch of 13-14%. Nearing the top I was barely moving forward due to the combination of the grade and the wind when a gust stopped me dead. I somehow managed to keep the bike up-right and got it moving forward again, however Bruce M and Nancy were both blown right off their bikes in the same spot. A couple of more grunts and I was over the summit and looking at what has to rank as one of the great vistas in the world as you look down over Percé Rock it-self. There wasn't a lot of time to admire the view however, as 17% takes you down-hill very quickly and with the strength of the wind it took a lot to keep the bike pointed in the right direction. Part ways down there were a couple of depressions in the road surface which meant a number of us got some air. Not a comfortable feeling in a gusty wind and approaching 80 kph!
I was toast, but still full of adrenalin when I found the motel. It was easy to tell the guys had done the shopping as the fridge in the room was full of beer! After a beer and a shower I found the bikes and decided to do some counting of teeth on easiest gears to try and allow an apples to apples comparisons between bikes and riders. What I found was revealing.
First the bikes; Judy's, Nancy's, Bruce D's and my own had virtually identical bottom ends when measured in gear inches, all coming in at 25. Bruce M had the next easiest coming in about 30, or roughly 20% harder than the first group of 4 but easier than Gordon W's triple, which came in at just over 31 gear inches. Ross's easiest gear came in at 36 gear inches, or roughly 40% harder than the easiest group and Dr. Diesel came in at a whopping 50 gear inches, or more or less twice as hard as the group with the easiest gearing.
When you factor how much weight you need to lift with those gear inches into the equation, things get even more interesting. Bruce M was our lightest rider at about 60kg, while Gord W said he weighs in at something more like 100kg. After you do the math Judy and Nancy were still at the top of the food chain, being almost the lightest and having the easiest gearing. Bruce Ms weight and gearing combo meant he had roughly 9% more work to do than the ladies and the rest of us followed with Duffy (21% more), me (26%), Gordon W (44%), Ross (61%) and Gord W, who has 300% more work to do than Judy and Nancy if he's to haul his sorry ass up any hill that called for our easiest gearing! All you can do is shake your head in amazement at Gord and hope to high heaven he never gets a properly geared bike, because then he'd be putting the hurt on us on the climbs the same way he was doing it to us on the flats.
After a short stroll it was meal-time - beans and rice with some hamburger and other assorted veggies thrown in for good measure. I'm pretty sure that was the night Ortiz did the 8th and 9th inning heroics to keep the Sox from losing ground to the Yankees, but I'm equally sure I was in bed and asleep by 9:30, if not earlier. I dozed off to the usual squabbling about who would drive ;-)
Day 6 - Percé to Port Daniel - 89km
We had two rooms in Percé, one of which was being shared by Nancy and Judy, and the other by the 6 men. Tired, I had opted for the bed farthest from the TV, anticipating an early night. What I had not adequately thought through was my proximity to the washroom and the state of our aging bladders and sphincters. My feet were at the bathroom door and my head … well let's just say the dawn approacheth like thunder.
Breakfast (which included ½ a grapefruit) was at the hotel across the street just after 7:00. For some reason the crowded dining room cleared within minutes of our sitting down - I'm sure it had nothing to do with the smell;-) and we were on the road by 8:00ish. Seeing as the day's riding would still leave us close to 120km short of completing a "peninsular circumnavigation" and the other cars were more like 150km away (we would need to get at least one other car to the motel that night if we were all to head home tomorrow) Bruce D agreed to drive and be one shuttler and Judy agreed to be the other - subject to getting some riding in that day.
The day was sunny and 8-10°C, however there were still more than a few remnants of Thursday's wind lingering (in the 30kph range), although it had swung so that it was now coming out of the south-west. Did I mention we were riding south-west for most of today? Gordon W had lit out almost as soon as we finished breakfast, so the rest of us were a few minutes behind as we started the climb out of Percé.
Today's route, while it did have the odd "bump" was far and away the flattest of the week and had no climbs to speak of. The first hour or so had us all moving at our own pace. I eventually caught up with Gordon and we rode together until the first regroupément at just over 20km. Judy announced it was time for her to assume her trail/shuttle duties and when the Jetta made its appearance her bike went on the roof and she assumed her place as co-pilot.
Given the wind we decided to try a pace-line for a while, with Gord Y in the lead. We'd gone about 100m when there was a clang and Nancy's left crank-arm and pedal were suddenly lying in the road. Her cranks, which were state-of-the-art Shimano Hollow-tech with over-sized bearings external to the bottom bracket, had lost the crank end caps and this had allowed the crank it-self to slowly work its way off the spindle. Fortunately all that was required to re-install the crank was a 5 or 6mm Allen key and we were back on the road within minutes.
The road surface being in good shape and possessing a nice, wide and bike-friendly shoulder, we pace-lined from there until 1:30 or so, where we had lunch in Chandler. This being our last day we treated ourselves to a restaurant for a change, which coincidently had rider friendly portions as well;-) Feeling somewhat bloated, we were back on the road around 2:30.
Up until now we'd been cycling through the sea-side. From Chandler on there were narrower shoulders, more development, more traffic and more hills; although nothing above 5-6%. While the sun was still shining it had gotten noticeable cooler, this being somewhat off-set by the wind giving us the occasional helping hand. People yo-yoed off the front or off the back, but with stops at the top of any of the longer climbs we pretty much stayed together and made good time. About 11-12 km out of Port Daniel when Duffy and Judy appeared with instructions on how to find the Chateau et Chalet Motel for the night., then set off to do shuttle duties, telling us to expect them back somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00.
The final descent into Port Daniel was our steepest of the day and we bombed down it to the railway station, where we re-enacted our photo from 11 years previous. Another kilometre on the bikes put us at the turn-off for the motel and 2km of (mostly) downhill along a narrow, wooded and twisty country lane led us to a gravel driveway where a cheery "you made it!" from the proprietor told us we were in the right spot. Three minutes later we were sitting on lawn-chairs out-side our respective rooms admiring the view of the bay and sipping our barley-based beverage of choice.
After introducing her-self and inquiring who we were and where we were all from, our hostess provided maps of the hiking trails on the point, offered us the use of their vegetable garden and took our cook-du-jour (Gord-W) in tow to point out the kitchen. The Motel was very nicely sited amongst mature trees on a bluff over-looking Port Daniel Bay. There was a small strip of motel rooms along with a number of individual chalets and a common-room/cook-house/games-room building we would use for supper. The entire place had an air of simplicity and restfulness that was entirely welcome.
We sorted out who was in what room and shuffled luggage accordingly. While collecting groceries to take to Gord one of the kittens decided my lycra-clad leg would be worth exploring and quickly made it's way up to my waist, then down, then back up, then back down again. Needless to say this was the more aggressive of the two;-)
After a shower, and another beer and a brief read, I made my way to the cook-house, where Ross and Gord where chopping up a storm. Preparations for dinner complete the others (sans shuttlers) joined us and us and soon we had a ping-pong tournament under-way in one room and a game of hearts (and more beer) in the other, interrupted only by the occasional requirement to put another log in the Jotul. On the arrival of Bruce D and Judy, dinner was served (salad and spaghetti with a rustic Bolognese using fresh peppers, carrots and onions from the garden). Post supper we had a couple of hands of Wizard and admired the 40kg of gear another rider (who was dining with our host and hostess) was carrying on basically the same route we were following. 40kg! To put that in perspective, Gordon W and Ross, who had through-hiked the Appalachian Trail a few years back had carried something in the order of 30kg total between them. We finished up the cards and on noting it was almost 11:00 PM (waaaay past our bed-time;-) headed for our rooms.
As we stepped out-side under the most incredible canopy of stars, Mr. 40kg's bike was sitting there. As you might expect with all the weight he was carrying, it was a mountain bike with what looked like 38c slicks, and mountain bike gearing. The only real changes from a stock bike I could see were a Lumotec headlamp being run off a Schmidt dyno-hub in the front wheel, and a sprung Brooks leather saddle - both of which rate very high on the drool index. Oh to be young, fit and foolish!
Day 7 - Port Daniel to Home
The next morning the normal routine prevailed, except now all the bikes had to find their way onto one of the two vehicles. Ross managed to squeeze a short hike in before we departed and by 7:45 we were on the road, Gordon W, Nancy, Judy, Ross and I were travelling in one car and Gord and the Bruces had the Jetta and trailer and were planning to go back to Mont. St Albert for a days worth of hiking. A short stop at the Tim's in Paspébiac and another in Carleton to pick up my car and move my bike onto it and we were on the road to Pointe-a-là-Croix, where those of us not planning on hiking pulled off for one last breakfast, then it was across the bridge into New Brunswick and we were on Highway 11 and heading home - only to find the erst-while hikers passing us in the Jetta. Turns out they blew right by the turn for the Park and the upper trails were closed in any event to allow for Caribou migration or some such thing.
The drive home was pretty mellow. I managed to find a performance of Tosca on a NPR station and the combination of the music and feeling of physical well-being naturally caused me to reflect on the past week. Prior to our move to the States, I'd spent a lot of time with many of these people and this was really the first time in close to 8 years we'd reconnected in a meaningful way.
In general I continue to be amazed at how this group just keeps doing stuff. They may be in their 50s and 60s and slower then when they were in their 30s and 40s, but that doesn't mean you they don't do something, they just take a bit more time to do it. That being said, slower doesn't necessarily mean easy. There are still lots of instances, as this trip bears witness to, where you have to just keep grinding it out; where you persevere. It's a treat to be around these folks, they're amazing.
Judy - It was inspiring the way you just showed up each morning and rode. Thanks for reminding us there were lots of beaches worth walking on, historic places worth looking at and photos worth taking along the way.
Nancy - Nice call with the kittens and good job on the bike! You were consistently near the front and steady, steady, steady. The new bike is impressive, but not nearly as much as the engine.
Ross - I think you are the only one who can say he actually rode better than he did eleven years ago. Thanks for helping me with the dishes (and Gord with the dicing, and Gordon with the shopping and …)
Gordon W - I could see you were riding better each day despite the new hip and continue to be in awe of how you just go out and do what needs to be done.
Bruce D - Thanks for all the logistical work before, during and after, and doing all the nitty little things that need to be done - like sorting out travel and shuttling cars and managing the finances. These trips wouldn't be half the fun without you making sure it all happens.
Bruce M - I know you're not running much and riding even less, but I always knew who the next person over the crest of the hill was going to be.
Gord Y - Put any of the rest of us on your bike and we'd have walked most up-hills and a lot of the flats. Un-freaking-believable! (and he can cook and add too;-)
Thanks all for a fabulous week. Where are we going next year?!