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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.)
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 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.