Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Gaspe Peninsula, lessons on fuel consumption vs. wind, Quebec City (wtf?) and my longest pilgrimage to St. Joseph's in Montreal

Percé Rock, Gaspe Peninsula

We based our decision to ride the Gaspe Peninsula entirely on the weather, so when we woke to a brilliantly clear, albeit extremely chilly (9degC/48degF) day, and found out the forecast for the next day would be the same, we made the call to ride around the Gaspe Peninsula. 

Both of our rear tires were getting close to the point of replacement and so we stopped at almost every motorcycle dealership we encountered looking for a tire that was a reasonable price and would fit the bill for both bikes. Make no mistake, finding both of these things while on a French speaking, very touristy peninsula was a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, the time that Roel had spent vacationing with his family in France as a child paid off, and we found a good Dunlop tire. While Roel was inside buying it, I was sitting on my bike, idly looked out over the water and a whale swam by! Always a blast to be surprised by nature.
Sunset at our Gaspe Peninsula Camping Spot
The wind on the peninsula was freezing, but the views were stunning. Perce Rock was amazing and riding around there reminded me of driving the Great Ocean Road in Australia. We found an unbelievable place to camp that evening, between the ocean and a river with gorgeous mountains rising up against the sunset in the distance. The next morning, we woke to the calls of migrating Canadian Geese and then enjoyed a leisurely breakfast as we watched gannets from the nearby colony diving for their breakfast.  
Canadian Geese Migrating at Sunset
It was even windier that day, making riding right next to the water (where there are plenty of signs warning of waves coming up onto the road) a bit frightening. I learned an important lesson that day about how wind will impact your fuel consumption... and though my range is usually easily 200 miles on a tank, I ran out of fuel at 180 miles. Oops. Fortunately, our spare MSR can (thanks for that, Jesse) was full and got us to the next station.

Old Quebec
On Friday, we made it to Quebec City. We had heard from many people how lovely the city was, how amazing the restaurants were and we anticipated that we would want to spend several days there. Upon arrival in Quebec City, we became quite doubtful of our original "plan." Each road into the Old Quebec City was marked with a "No Motorcycles" sign. Really, Quebec City? WTF? We parked outside of the city and made our way to Tourist Information. We walked to see all of the highlights, which WERE beautiful, but between not feeling entirely welcomed and the clouds that were quickly darkening, we weren't too keen to spend another day there. 

It had been an extremely windy ride to Quebec City from the Gaspe Peninsula and being eager to get there, we pushed our speed more than normal. Usually, we're happy to sit at about 90-100kph/65mph, but that day we ran at about 120kpt/75mph. (Sorry if the conversions are off - I'm feeling too lazy to go look at my speedometer :) So, when we were on the highway heading out of Quebec City and all of the sudden my bike started to buck, shudder quickly lose power with only 130 miles on my gas reading, I thought something was terribly wrong. Could one of my newly installed CDIs be going? What on earth was causing this!? In lower gears the bike seemed fine and I managed to get it into a parking lot nearby. It had really felt like I was out of petrol, and upon opening the fuel tank, that appeared to be the case. Cutting my fuel range by 35% seems a bit extreme for it just to be wind/speed related, but neither of us could imagine someone being so bold as to drain petrol from my bike in the middle of a busy city. 

By the time we made it out of town that evening, it was quite late. We had waited out the last bout of rain, were exhausted from a long day of riding, walking and stressing about the bikes and were eager to find a place to pitch the tent for the night. Well, the Quebec cops had a different idea. They pulled Roel over, seemingly for no reason. Turns out they had never seen Dutch plates, or anything quite like Roel's bike, to be frank. Roel basically pulled out every piece of paperwork he had relating to the bike and confused them enough to let him go. 

We got an early start for Montreal the next day, planning to arrive early and make the most of what appeared to be a fine day. Best laid plans... 

In our search for a shower before arriving in Montreal, we stopped at a few different towns along the way. We proved to be unsuccessful in our search, but during one of those stops, we decided to fuel up, and moments after pulling up at the pump, two other overlanders pulled up to the pump across from us.
Look!!! Bikes as packed up as ours!!! (Roel, Nevil, Stephane & Jim)
Nevil Stow is completing his ride around the world with a run across Canada and his friend Jim has joined him for this. We got to chatting and a few minutes later, a truck pulling a trailer filled with Suzukis and a KTM Adventure bike pulled up to have a chat, as well. These guys had just completed the Orange Crush, an off-road navigation rally, and were heading back to Montreal. Upon hearing that we were looking for campgrounds around the city, one of them, Stephane, invited us to camp in his backyard. We exchanged information and all headed off. 
Old Montreal

We made it to Montreal just before Tourist Information closed. Armed with maps and a list of sights to see, we headed to Stephane's home, just south of Montreal. Stephane and his wife Vivianne warmly welcomed us and invited us not only to join them for dinner, but also to sleep inside as it would be quite cold that evening. We gratefully accepted, and shared a lovely evening with them and their two children. Being in a warm, beautiful home, filled the love of a family and the sound of childrens laughter really does something for the soul. I think it's an aspect of life that we really miss out on while we travel. So a huge thanks to Stephane and Vivianne for being so open to sharing their life with us, even for a brief time. 

On Monday, we realized that even if we could manage to see all of Montreal in one day that we would really need to spend at least another day here. Before making the trip to Ontario, we needed to have a new chain, another new tire, and a set of sprockets. We logged onto the ADV Rider site, and check out the Tent Space forum we had heard about from a few other ADV Riders we met along the way. There was an ad posted for a guy nearby that sounded perfect: another adventure riding enthusiast, with a big backyard AND a garage filled with any tools we could possibly need for the maintenance we would hopefully be doing. So we messaged this guy, and heard back almost immediately that he was around and indeed we could camp at his place that night. 

Relieved that we wouldn't have to worry about finding a way to stay near Montreal that night, we headed into the city.
St. Joseph's Oratory

We visited the impressive St. Joseph's Oratory, where my family had made an annual pilgrimage from before my birth, until my grandfather become too ill to partake in the journey. I had not been back to St. Joseph's since my grandfathers passing, but it was just as I had remembered. The smell of the chapel, it's lighting and it's warmth were so firmly ingrained in my mind that it was as if I was a child again, awed by everything this space held and it's palpable energy. My grandfather was a devout follower of Brother Andre, and would always bring home relics from Montreal to share with his friends in Massachusetts and anyone he heard of who was in need of a healing of some kind. 73 years after his death, Brother Andre was canonized in November of 2010... only months before my Grandfathers passing. This makes me smile.

St. Catherine's Cathedral, Montreal

At the Honda dealership, Excel Moto, we finally found luck with a nice salesguy named Raj. Raj not only managed to find the chain Roel needed, but also the front sprocket (which we finally found out happens to be the same as the front sprocket for the VT600) AND he could also get us a Kenda tire, which we've been wanting to try out: if it works out well, it is extremely affordable and will make replacing tires less painful for the old bank account.

Feeling fantastic, we dodged the rush-hour traffic back out of the city, to La Prairie to meet Philip at his home. Again, we received such a warm, hearty welcome, and Philip told us to leave the tent where it was as we were welcome to sleep in his home that night. He made room for our bikes next to his BMW GS1200 in the garage, and then away we went for a yummy pizza dinner and hours of exchanging travel stories, photos and advice. Philip has recently motorcycled through Peru, and hearing his stories made us even more excited to head South next year. Intermingled with the travel stories and advice he shared, we discovered that Philip has a heart of gold and is one of those purely generous souls. He is the father of two very lucky children, and rather than leave the children with their mother and take off for his own adventures, he finds ways to bring the children along. And is even trying to figure out how to do an overland motorcycle trip with his children someday, so that he can show them the world the best way he knows how. It has really been an honor to stay with Philip, and moreover, an inspiration to get to know him.  

New friends: Philip, me, Roel & Réal
As we will be presenting at the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Ontario this weekend, Roel and I are logging (too many) hours in front of the computer, selecting photos and preparing our presentations, in the comfort of Philip's home. The adventure rider community here in Montreal is very active and Philip arranged to have us do a dress rehearsal prior to our departure for Ontario. It was a fantastic evening, and really great to share stories with other riders, which in turn has made us even more excited about the HU meeting.

And a bit of an aside... we had heard from a lot of people we met along the way in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick that Quebecers were not exactly the nicest people. We heard stories of a broken down motorcyclist walking along the highway in the rain for 20kms to make it to a gas station, without a single person stopping to offer a ride, and many other not-so-nice anecdotes. To the contrary, we have found everyone we have met here in Quebec to be absolutely kind and generous. I think it probably helps that we at least make an attempt to communicate in French, but people are very willing to switch to English (if they can), or find someone who can translate. As an example, we got lost on our way to the shops to pick up items for dinner and a woman following behind us in her van noticed our gesticulations and wandering heads as we searched for the street signs we needed. She eventually motioned for us to pull over, and after determining that it would be too difficult to give us directions to where we needed to go, decided to lead us directly there, even though she was literally a block from her home at the end of her commute home from work. 

The bottom line is that people everywhere are beautiful, and if you look for the good in people, you will find it. 


  1. glad to help.. safe travels!

    1. You are awesome, Kerri! We have told so many people the story of that day! Thanks again!

  2. Just loved to meet you both at Phillip's house, to hear your travel stories, see you pics, and who knows maybe travel together someday.

    As in anywhere in the world, its never the great meetings you hear about - only the nightmare stories. Extremely happy you enjoyed your stay in Quebec.

    Travel safe and keep telling your great story.


    1. Thanks so much, Eric. Canada was very, very good to us and we had a wonderful time in Quebec. We hope to see you on the road someday... perhaps next October :)