New Brunswick, the Gaspé Peninsula, and the St. Lawrence River… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

Like so many other rivers I followed on my bike trek, the Matapedia River on the Gaspe Peninsula provided a convenient route for road builders over terrain that might have been close to impassable.

Like so many other rivers I followed on my bike trek, the Matapedia River on the Gaspe Peninsula provided a convenient route for road builders over terrain that might have been close to impassable otherwise.

The road kept rolling on as I cut across the northern part of New Brunswick. I picked up New Brunswick Route 15 in Elgin and followed it west to Shediac where I followed NB-11 and NB-8 to Bathurst, passing through a number of small villages such as Boutouche, Richibucto and the larger community of Miramichi. It wasn’t a particularly scenic route; the roads had been constructed to get people from point a to point b, not dazzle them with natural wonders. Still, there were things to admire: forests, farmlands, towns, and occasional rivers opening out onto bays on the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Watch out for moose signs take on a more urgency along roads that are built for speed. The New Brunswick highway department wanted to make sure that drivers got the point that a moose is a big animal you do not want to run into!

Watch out for moose signs take on more urgency along roads that are built for speed. The New Brunswick highway department wanted to make sure that drivers got the point that a moose is a big animal you do not want to run into!

Although I selected the first part of my route across New Brunswick for speed (speed being relative at 10-15 miles per hour) instead of scenic beauty, there were

Although I selected the first part of my route across northern New Brunswick for speed (speed being relative at 10-15 miles per hour), I still found much that was scenic.

The nature of my bike trek changed when I left New Brunswick. I had upped the ante. Where I had been bicycling from 60-80 miles per day, I would now be traveling 80-100. Routes would be more direct. Layover days would become few and far between, and journal entries rare. It was time to get serious.

I decided in Bathurst that I needed to experience at least a part of the New Brunswick coast so I picked up NB-134 and followed it most of the way west to the beginning of the Gaspé Peninsula and Quebec. The road runs along the edge of Chaleur Bay and serves as the main street of several small villages with very French names. The first town I came across, however, was Nigadoo, which is a First Nation Mi’kmaq name that means place to hide. Whatever reason the Mi’kmaq had for choosing the name, it worked equally well for the French Acadians.

As elsewhere in the Atlantic Provinces, the Acadians of the region had been deported during England’s mid-18th Century wars with France. Immediately after the Revolutionary War, New Brunswick had become a re-settlement area for Royalists/Tories who had remained loyal to the British Crown. During the late 1700s, the Acadians began to slip back into the country. The isolated north coast where they could live with minimum interference was one of their preferred locations. One might say that they were ‘hiding out.’

If Nigadoo didn’t quite fit my list of towns with French names, Petit-Rocher-Sud, Petit-Rocher, Petit-Rocher-Nord, Pointe Verte, and Belledune certainly did. I quickly discovered that the towns were true to their names. English names dropped off signs. Shopkeepers and others I met tended to speak French first and English as something they preferred not to. I even had an opportunity to try out my rudimentary high school French: “Où est la salle de bain?” Where is the bathroom? My efforts were appreciated, however, and I suspect that they produced a few chuckles when I left.

A number of Acadian towns were located along New Brunswick's north coast that borders on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and

A number of Acadian towns were located along New Brunswick’s north coast that borders on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Chaleur Bay where gentle waves lap at the relatively flat coast line.

A close up of the three inch high waves. I am sure that storms bring in more serious waves.

A close up of the three-inch high waves looking a lot like their larger cousins.

The wavelets were large enough to cover these rocks and bring out their colors.

The wavelets were large enough to cover these rocks and bring out their colors.

I found these shells much higher on the same beach. They spoke to more serious waves and stormy seas.

I found these shells much higher on the same beach. They spoke to more serious waves and stormy seas.

You won't find many photos of industrial plants on my blogs, but I thought this plume was scenic enough to make the cut.

You won’t find many photos of industrial plants on my blogs, but I put my thoughts of air pollution aside long enough to snap this smokestack I found on the coast along NB-134.

I considered my use of French in New Brunswick as practice for Quebec, which I could see looming in the distance across the Chaleur Bay in the form of the Gaspé Peninsula. It looked suspiciously like another climb — and my suspicions were soon confirmed. As I reached the upper end of the bay, the Chic-Chocs (a Mi’kmaq word for craggy mountains) changed from ‘looming in the distance’ to up close and personal. Once again, I was faced with the Appalachian Mountains, which I had first encountered in my challenging climb up and over the Great Smokies. Would they never end?

Looking across Chaleur Bay at the Chic Choc Mountains on the Gaspe Peninsula, I could see a climb in my future.

Looking across Chaleur Bay at the Chic Choc Mountains on the Gaspe Peninsula, I could see a climb in my future.

Another view along New Brunswick 134.

Another view along New Brunswick 134.

Back on New Brunswick 11, I left behind the flatlands of the coast and entered the province's more mountainous northwest.

Back on New Brunswick 11, I left behind the flatlands of the coast and entered the province’s more mountainous northwest.

The mountainous terrain!

The mountainous terrain!

Fortunately, I was granted a reprieve. The Matapedia River had cut a valley through the mountains and my next road, Quebec Route 132, followed the valley and provided a relatively gentle uphill where I could gawk at the scenery instead of peddling my ass off. (It was pretty much gone anyway.) I said goodbye to New Brunswick, crossed the Restigouche River, entered Quebec, and started my climb.

The Restigouche River widening out before it flows into Chaleur Bay.

The Restigouche River widening out before it flows into Chaleur Bay.

A sign welcomed me to Quebec. I would have many miles of cycling before I left the province.

A sign welcomed me to Quebec. I would have many miles of cycling before I left the province.

A few miles later, I came to where the Matapedia River flows into the Restigouche. The small town of Matapedia, located just across the river, included a rather impressive Catholic Church for its size, which was another clear sign that I had entered French Canada. Over 80 percent of French Canadians are Catholic, at least in name, and I can pretty much guarantee that there are enough large churches in the province to accommodate everyone. Looking at my map of the region, I was amused to find another reflection of Catholic influence: the majority of the small communities incorporated a saint in their names. I wondered if they ever ran out of saints or fought over which one they were going to get.

The Catholic Church in Matapedia, Quebec was quite large for the small community it served.

The Catholic Church in Matapedia, Quebec was quite large for the small community it served.

The canyon and the river proved to be quite scenic. I dawdled a bit, stopping to check out river overlooks. Eventually, I reached the top and the country opened up. I rode through the town of Amqui, biked around the very large Lake Matapedia, and began my descent toward Mont Joli and the St. Lawrence River. I then continued to follow Quebec-132 south to Rivière-du-Loup where I intended to catch a ferry. (I could have ridden all the way to New York State on the highway.)

A scenic overlook provided this view of birch trees and the Matapedia River.

A scenic overlook provided this view of birch trees and the Matapedia River. In addition to its beauty, the river is known for its salmon fishing.

Quebec Highway 132 provided a relatively easy and quite scenic route over the Gaspe Peninsula.

Quebec Highway 132 provided a relatively easy and quite scenic route over the Gaspe Peninsula.

I found large farms, small cities and big churches along the St. Lawrence River. I was curious about how one of the communities, Trois-Pistoles, got its name. Pistole, I learned, is a gold Spanish coin, not a pistol. According to legend, an early explorer lost a silver cup at the location that was worth three of them. In terms of the value, Mr. Cotton’s parrot in Pirates of the Caribbean would say, “12 pieces of eight. Awk! 12 pieces of eight.” Now you know.

The small farms of the Atlantic Provinces gave way to more industrial size farms in Quebec.

The small farms of the Atlantic Provinces gave way to more industrial sized farms in Quebec.

Old barns spoke of simpler times.

Old barns spoke of simpler times.

13-catholic-church on St. Lawrence River in Quebec

Large Catholic Churches continued to dominate the skyline of communities along the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. Two more follow…

catholic-church along St. Lawrence River

I liked the backdrop provided by the dark clouds with the churches cross caught in the sunlight.

I liked the backdrop provided by the dark clouds with the church’s cross outlined by sun-lit clouds.

Scenic views along the way included open fields...

Scenic views along the St. Lawrence River included open fields…

And views of the river as seen on the other side of this mud flat.

And glimpses of the river as seen across this mud flat.

Peggy and I found this unique menagerie on our way to the ferry in

Peggy and I found this menagerie on our way to the ferry in Riviere-du-Loup.

And this somewhat strange sculpture of a First Nation native.

And this somewhat unique sculpture of a First Nation native.

The ferry at Rivière-du-Loup carried me across the St. Lawrence River to Saint-Siméon where I will begin my next post, heading in to the remote wilderness of Northern Quebec. The first night finds me drinking beer while sitting in a van and discussing Quebec separatist politics with three young men and a woman PhD candidate while a storm raged outside.

Ferry wake stretching across the broad St. Lawrence River.

Ferry wake stretching across the broad St. Lawrence River.

21 comments on “New Brunswick, the Gaspé Peninsula, and the St. Lawrence River… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

    • Interesting question, GP. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t need to bicycle it again. 🙂 But I never discount returning to somewhere I have been. Redriving the route has been on my mind for several years. And I have passed over sections of it several times in my journeys back and forth across the country. –Curt

  1. This area of Canada has its own unique feel to it, doesn’t it? I felt that as I drove through and can only imagine the feeling would be intensified on the intimacy of riding a bike through it and being closer to nature than in a car.

    • Bicycling does provide a completely different perspective, Juliann. In addition to traveling slower, there is much more of a feeling of ‘being there’ because you are out in the open, experiencing whatever nature has to offer. 10,000 miles can provide a lot of variety. 🙂 –Curt

  2. CP Cox’s question is a good one. When embarking on any journey, so we ever think we will do it again? In your case, I would imagine that returning was far from your mind, but what a great thrill to drive through all this amazing scenery and small towns. You capture the feeling of each of them with your photos. I can empathize with your hope to return to climb that mountain someday.

    • Thanks. I haven’t been to Finland, Gerard, but would love to go. Our son Tony just returned from Norway where he did a presentation on arctic rescue efforts. He is now recognized as an expert after his years of flying rescue mission for the Coast Guard in Alaska. –Curt

  3. Great stretch of the bike ride Curt. Love the pictures.
    It always amuses me how precious the French are about their language. They want you to try but they ridicule if you get anything wrong!
    “In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.” Mark Twain – ‘The Innocents Abroad’

    • No ridiculing in Quebec, Andrew. At least that I ran into. But it could get a bit humorous. The stories about Paris are legion. Peggy was there once years ago with a person from Quebec (if I remember this story right) and a taxi driver refused to give them a ride because of the French the Quebecan spoke! It’s my sense that Parisians have eased up a bit, however. 🙂 Thanks. Curt

  4. Oh your photos are just GLORIOUS!!! Wow. Especially my absolute favorite which is of the colored rocks under the water. The whole post exudes space and fresh air and beauty and just transports me into that glorious countryside.

    Terrific post.
    Peta

    • Thank you so much Peta. I had fun with the rocks. The water seemed almost thick in the way it brought out the color and seemed to magnify the rocks. And it is beautiful throughout the area. I was sad to say goodbye to the Atlantic Provinces, a real Canadian treasure.–Curt

  5. Curt I love the tour you are taking us on through my own country. I think I definitely need to do a Maritime tour. I might like some cycling but not all of it. You my friend are hard core!

    • Most on my Canadian adventures have been in our comfortable van, Sue (with kayaking and backpacking thrown in for good measure). 🙂 But whichever way I have traveled, it has been a beautiful country with great people. –Curt

  6. Curt you give the embience to drive through one Canada’s route and detailed them exactly like you’ve done. I am one soul who never ceased to carry my camera. Great pictures once again. I love Canada but the cold weather keeps me away haha, but still will never get rid of Canada from my travel list. too big, I will always return because I want to visit province after province. Thank you for bringing us those lovely pics. Juli

  7. Somewhat ironically, I’m traveling through much territory that I’ve visited before during this little jaunt. I think there’s real value in a return. As Professor Hill said, “You gotta know the territory.” He was a con-man, but even con-men get it right now and then. And even traveling by car, it’s possible to get to know the people and the communities if you get out of the point A to point B mentality.

    How long did this trip actually take you? I’ll have been on the road for three weeks, and while I could stand a little more if finances allowed, I’m not sure I’d be good for more than a month. For one thing, I’ve seen so much that I need time to process it all. It certainly has been interesting to think of your trip in the midst of my own.

    • The road trip took approximately half as long as the actual bike trip, Linda: three months as opposed to six months. I was surprised it took us that long to drive the route. Afterwards, I was sorry we didn’t plan in more time. So many places deserved to be explored in greater depth. I, too, am a fan of revisiting. There are always new things to see and do.
      The longest extended period of time Peggy and I have been on the road without returning ‘home’ for a break has been a year. I could have kept going. 🙂 Peggy not so much. –Curt

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s