Big trips are curious things–miles and miles of road interrupted by moments of poignancy and snippets of time that persist in the mind as the years march on. “Remember that time…?” we say to ourselves and our riding partners. “You should have been there,” we say to others. Photos help, as do words, to create postcards for the soul–snapshots that help us relive those memorable moments.
Into the Woods
The old walls of Québec City are quickly replaced by steeply rolling countryside. The road assaults the hills head on, pointing arrow straight toward the sky one moment before plunging downward the next. It feels at times like a giant roller coaster, especially near the crest of hills where all I see is sky and trees and … the road leading directly into the Gulf of St. Lawrence! That moment of “What the fjord!” is repeated several times before dropping into the ferry town of Saint-Siméon. I stop to feel the wind, the vastness of the gulf, and eat a chicken sandwich. After lunch, I turn inland.
A quiet, wooded road follows the crystalline Petit-Saguenay River. This little river patiently carved the walls of this fjord over thousands of years. As it empties into the bigger Saguenay River, the deep blue water flows into a stunning panorama framed by steep, forested mountains. It doesn’t look like a river here at all, and it feels more like an alpine lake. There’s a serenity and calmness at this not-so-petite place as a handful of tourists wander about in mute admiration.
On the other side of the broad-shouldered Saguenay, steady breezes and waves have created a small beach. From this sandy point, kitesurfers launch to skim the whitecaps, their slick moves set against the dramatic backdrop of the river and mountains. Inspired by their power and grace (or perhaps more by a grumbling stomach and fading sun), I “surf” all the way to Tadoussac, carving smooth esses into the twisting, rolling tarmac. The sun is low and the woods are getting dark.
Motorcycle & Gear
2012 BMW R 1200 RT
Tadoussac, sitting in a pretty bay, is normally a sleepy vacation town. This weekend it is buzzing with a big music festival. Music fans, young and old, wander the streets of this picturesque hamlet heading from one venue to another. A crowd gathers on the boardwalk to listen to a band playing outside. A stand-up bass, a couple of fiddles, a banjo, a mandolin, and a guitar play some down-home music. Just my luck, they’re singing in English (the lead singer is from New Orleans). A young couple dances as others in the circle tap their feet and bop their heads in time. I enjoy the music for a spell before catching a late dinner.
The farther I get from Québec City, the greater the gaps between towns grow. There are some small settlements along the bay–villages and modest homes with views to die for, but they dwindle whenever the road turns inland, leaving just me, the bike, and the trees. Small streams pass beneath small bridges as quiet waters make their way to the gulf.
A small park in Ragueneau juts out into the St. Lawrence, the river that carries the waters of the Great Lakes into the world’s largest estuary, the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It feels like a sea; the far shore is all but invisible. The strong tides here vary 15 feet and more between high and low, and the bathtub rings around the nearby islands bear testimony to their rise and fall. During low tide, you can see grasses and other marine life that spend half of their lives underwater.
The sign at the start of Route 389 tells a story. Red lights on the sign, marking each of the seven towns along this 350-mile road, tell travelers how far ahead the road is open. Emergency phones are placed at intervals on the road, but the intervals are pretty long–probably 40 miles or more. This is not a good place to get stuck, especially in winter. This is a working road that sees lots of trucks and cold winters. Still, it is fantastic–130 miles of asphalt bliss to the nearest gas station and the Daniel-Johnson Dam (formerly known as the Manic-5). Except for a 30-mile stretch of new blacktop, the pavement bears the ripples and scars of long winters and long-haul trucks. This is not a road for sportbikes or short-travel suspensions. Other than a handful of cars and trucks along the way, it’s mine–all mine. The BMW R 1200 RT is reveling in the workout; the suspension is set to comfort, and the adrenalin is set to 11. I set up for the next corner, look for the exit, and when the coast is clear, I open ‘er up. Corner. Apex. Repeat.
After 130 miles of moto-nirvana, I round a downhill bend and the Manic-5 Dam stretches across my field of view. It gets even bigger as I approach. I park near the base and look up at a mountain of concrete. It’s eerily quiet considering the enormous forces at work here. At 702 feet tall and more than 4,300 feet long, this is the world’s largest multi-arch, buttress dam. The arches give the mammoth structure a striking gracefulness, almost as though it were a cathedral to man’s conquest of nature. Behind this 74 foot thick (at the base) wall of concrete lie more than 36 trillion gallons of water, which generate more than 2,500 megawatts of power. That’s a lot of light bulbs and iPhone chargers.