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.
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.