Quebec Independence plus a Dark and Stormy Night… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

As I climbed out of toward beautiful rivers such as the kept me company.

As I climbed out of Sainte-Simeon toward Lac Saint-Jean, beautiful rivers such the Little Saguenay kept me company.

I had ridden 110 miles when I arrived at Parc national de la Pointe-Taillon on Lac Saint-Jean in Quebec. The rain was coming down in buckets and I was exhausted. It was a perfect night for hypothermia and all I could think of was setting up my tent and crawling into my warm goose-down sleeping bag. I was pounding in my last tent stake when a woman came over and asked if I would like something hot to eat. I almost fell in love.

I’ve long since lost and forgotten her name, but what I remember was that she was a PhD candidate doing her thesis on some type of plant growing in the region. We’d had a brief conversation when I arrived with water dripping off my nose. She had wanted to know where I had biked from. “California,” had been my reply. Apparently my answer had impressed her, or maybe she was just nice person concerned about a guy who didn’t have enough sense to get out of the rain.

In addition to hot food, she had a large, dry van. I wasn’t the only one lusting after it. Three 20-something men from Montreal who were car camping soon joined us with a case of Labatt Beer, a Canadian brew out of Ontario. All I had to contribute to the party were tales of the open road, but apparently they were enough. I felt a bit like a troubadour who was singing for his dinner and drink.

It was another dark and stormy night on the road— but cozy. As the rain pounded down on the roof, our conversation had ranged far and wide. And, I might add, long, since it was close to 1:00 a.m. when we downed the last beer, wished each other good night, and stumbled off in the rain.

The topic that had interested me the most was the issue of Quebec independence from the rest of Canada. It turned out that the three young men were separatists and believed that Quebec would be better off going it alone. The dispute over independence was buried deep in past. Quebec, of course, was predominantly French in culture, while the rest of Canada was primarily English. French Canadians had long worried that their culture and language would be buried under an avalanche of English language and customs. In the late 60s and early 70s this concern had turned to violence. In 1980 a referendum had been held to determine whether Quebec should pursue independence. Sixty percent had voted no, but nine-years later the issue was still simmering.

Given that our group was made up of three French Canadians, one British Canadian, and one American, our discussion on Quebec independence had been quite animated, but surprisingly amicable.  It’s amazing what a rainy night, a dry van, and a case of beer can accomplish for international relations. We laughed a lot and as parted friends.

My photos today trace my journey from the St. Lawrence River ferry at Sainte-Simeon to Lac Saint-Jean. I followed Quebec Routes 170 and 372 up to Saguenay and then Routes 172 and 169 to Parc national de la Pointe-Taillon on the north side of the lake. (Peggy and I followed 170 up to 169 and went around the south side of the lake.) The ride included substantial climbs, rugged terrain, beautiful rivers and small to mid-sized communities. As I/we approached Lac Saint-Jean and climbed onto the Laurentian Plateau, the land flattened out considerably.

Landing at the ferry dock at St. Simeon.

Landing at the ferry dock at St. Simeon. The ship was maneuvering around to drop its ramp on the exit way.

This one time lighthouse at St. Simeon had become a souvenir shop and ticket booth.

This one time lighthouse at St. Simeon had become a souvenir shop and ticket booth.

Quebec 170 out of St. Simeon had proven to be quite a climb.

Quebec Route 170 out of St. Simeon had proven to be quite a climb.

There was a lot of up and over...

There was a lot of up and over…

The Palisades on top were impressive. The signs suggested I make a left turn.

The Palisades on top were impressive. The signs suggested I make a left turn.

A close up...

A close up…

Small towns along the way were neat and orderly. I think this is Sagard.

Small towns along the way were neat and orderly. I think this is Sagard.

A river ran through it...

A river ran through it…

Spring time flows guaranteed rapids when Peggy and I re-drove the route.

Spring time flows guaranteed rapids when Peggy and I re-drove the route.

Jesus welcomed Peggy and I with open arms— not surprising in Quebec.

Jesus welcomed Peggy and me with open arms— not surprising in the Catholic province of Quebec.

The land flattened out as we neared Lac Saint Jean, providing scenes kill this one.

The land flattened out as we neared Lac Saint Jean, providing scenes like this one.

The gentler terrain supported large farms...

The gentler terrain supported large farms…

And wide open country.

With wide open country.

I took this photo with its tell-tale Catholic Church next to Lac Saint Jean.

I took this photo with its tell-tale Catholic Church next to Lac Saint Jean. The clouds were gorgeous.

Looking out toward Lac Saint Jean.

Looking out toward the large Lac Saint Jean. The campground where I spent my rainy night is on the opposite shore.

NEXT BLOG: I continue my journey into the far north riding over muddy dirt roads, dodging three trailer logging trucks, and taking a bath with eight ounces of water.

27 comments on “Quebec Independence plus a Dark and Stormy Night… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

  1. Amazing pictures Curte Mekemson. I love Canada. I visited once in the Summer season. And my next dream about Canada is to visit in Autumn when all the trees are red, yellow and orange. I am sure I will not miss that holiday. I love your pictures, amazing.

  2. Great story, I love those serendipitous meetings. I once met two Romanian gypsies (No wagon, they use SUVs now) on their way through Portland and had them over for homemade chili on a cold night.

    The diminutive balconies on the lighthouse are a nice touch. Dontcha love how rivers turn a deep blue metallic color in the right light? Those farm silos aren’t phallic at all.

    Here’s my latest post since they still don’t seem to be appearing on the WordPress roster. Damnit, WordPress. https://allthoughtsworkoutdoors3.wordpress.com/

  3. My comment was going to be on the lines of GP Cox but he says it so much better – so ditto! Also just love the photographs and the last one is particularly breathtaking. There’s barely any difference in the blue between the sky and lake , just the clouds and the dark line of the horizon. Stupendous. I feel I’m travelling and seeing the varied landscape with you!

    • Can you imagine the world leaders going off on a 10,000 mile bike trek together? 🙂 I’d say, give them all the beer they needed… Can’t imagine it hurting (well, I wouldn’t bet too much on that), but it might lead to the proverbial peace on earth! (Laughing, Lex) –Curt

  4. That sounds like a pretty fun evening in the van Curt. I love those chance travel encounters. There’s still a portion of Quebecois who would like to separate though it’s on pretty low simmer at the moment. Thing is they’d like to be able keep Canadian passports and currency. Yeah right!
    Alison

    • I, for one, Alison, have always felt that cooperation beats the heck out of separation. Win/win is always the best solution. And I have never been a fan of ultra-nationalism. –Curt

  5. Lovely photos as usual Curt (and Peggy). I’m most familiar with British ?Columbia, although my grandfather was from Montreal I have not traveled east. I love that lady who was thoughtful enough to offer you something to warm you up in the rain. A true good Samaritan.

  6. It would have to be terrific trout fishing country. I have never thrown a line and now it might be a bit late. You see those people with complete gum boots up to their arms fishing in the rapids of Canadian rivers. Why do I think of that movie Mrs Miller and McCabe?

    • I got into trout fishing in my 20s, Gerard. It was one more excuse to go out in the woods. Later I found it a way to supplement the rather poor excuse for food the early freeze dried backpacking foods were. By the 80s the backpacking food had improved substantially and I stopped trying to catch my dinner. 🙂 I sometimes think of returning to fishing… a beautiful river flows through our front yard and I still have the gear… –Curt

  7. “It’s amazing what a rainy night, a dry van, and a case of beer can accomplish for international relations.” Yes! I like that you parted as friends. Heated debates don’t always end that way.

  8. What a fascinating time to be in Quebec! You paint a fascinating picture of the rainy night and international discussion. Labatts Blue was a popular brew in my teen days. Oh Canada!

  9. You are one brave guy! Not sure I would have gotten into a van with people I didn’t know — even though it doesn’t seem as if you had much of a choice! And, after all, the lady at least had a college degree! (I’m smiling wondering just what I would do if I were in your shoes.) Pretty country and you came out alive!

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