The conversations started easily in Quebec, no doubt because a) the motorbikes and b) we weren’t Canadians and therefore a little farther from home. Or maybe c) folks in Quebec are just super-nice people.
You meet people on every ride, but Quebec was special. In just one neighborhood on the Boulevard Rene Levesque:
Amelie, the young woman piloting the front desk at Auberge Aux Deux Lions, is the most enthusiastic motorcyclist without a motorcycle I’ve encountered. She used to ride with her brothers when she was young but drifted away from bikes after college.
“I used to ride, it was fun,” she tells us. “I miss it.”
Motorcycles, especially insurance, is expensive in Quebec, she says (“Oh! Outrageous! And the smallest accident – poof! The rates go up!”) but she’s still trying to find a way to do it. She asks us all sorts of questions and for recommendations on bikes.
I have no doubt she’ll be on her own bike someday soon. She’s one of the most positive, outgoing, and effervescent people I’ve ever met.
Good grief, what a wonderful store, with books on every topic stacked precariously everywhere. Though most of them are in French, we find the English section, small but not shabby, and I end up getting a biography of Anne Frank.
At checkout, Linda says that the Aux Deux Lions directory lists Mr. Neron’s store prominently, which is how we found him. He asks us where we’re from and we recite our usual litany for this mission – motorcycles, traveling, Washington, Gaspe Peninsula…
“Ah! So far? Marvelous!” he exclaims. “I used to ride a scooter myself. I had so much fun! I put it away when I started a family, though. Sometimes I still miss it. Where else have you gone? How did you like it?”
We talk a little of our travels and he listens to ours and perhaps remembering his, smiling with complete understanding. At the end, he wishes us farewell:
“Perhaps in the next life we will see each other on motorbikes and we will go for a ride together. I would like that. Safe travels for you.”
And the night before we leave, I have an intense 20-minute talk with an anonymous guy in his thirties at a Shell station down the boulevard.
I’m checking the tires on Linda’s Vespa and he comes off the street and asks about motorcycles, saying he was looking at bikes and wanted to buy a Triumph Tiger 800XC, a really nice adventurer like Terra Nova, only a mite smaller.
We talk about owning bikes and I tell him about the troubles I’ve had with Endurance, my BMW, though I still love her and will never give her up, and why I decided to buy a Yamaha.
We talk about styles of bikes, and which would fit his type of riding, and I mention the Suzuki V-Stroms, the 650s and 1000s.
“Have you looked at those?” I ask.
“I did and I found I didn’t like them,” he says. “They don’t really have much character.”
That leads to a discussion of motorcycle character and why some bikes seem to have them and others don’t, and I concede that my BMW seems to have more character than my Yamaha, though I’m unable to say exactly why. It’s an indefinable quality that we can’t measure that night.
We talk about the dangers of riding, and the absolute cluelessness of most car drivers, and I strongly recommend he take some sort of safety course for beginning riders, mentioning some of the crazy things I’ve seen drivers do. He sees the wisdom in that.
And in the end, we shake hands, he wishes me well, and walks off into the night.
People you meet, and talk to, and sometimes wish you could know better. We found them all over Quebec.
“One of the most important days of my life was when I learned to ride a bicycle.”
— Michael Palin
I always stop to look at bicycles, they’re vehicles of freedom as much as my Super Tenere, Terra Nova. When I saw this SunTour rear derailleur on a nondescript bike in Quebec, I had to take a photo for Tom McCray.
Tom has been a friend since junior high and we fixed bicycles and took them for long (relatively speaking) rides across the Ohio countryside.
He was also a motorcycle rider for a while, but sadly my entry into motorbikes started after his ended. I’ve always been faintly jealous of the ride he took with our good friend and classmate Mark Day to Virginia Beach, and his own solo ride to San Diego.
But as bicycle riders, we loved SunTour components. The Japanese company invented the slant parallelogram rear derailleur, a design still used today, and its equipment worked amazingly well and cost less than Italian Campagnolo or Japanese Shimano.
I had a SunTour VGT rear derailleur on my 1975 Fuji for decades, until I had to upgrade, regretfully, to Shimano. My 1990 Raleigh Technium still has its SunTour fixtures and they still work.
The SunTour Seven was one of the company’s mid-range derailleurs, close to what I had on the Fuji.
But SunTour went out of business in 1995, the victim of insane competition dominated by Shimano. Which is why my 2006 Fuji Touring bike has Shimano gear.
But even though I don’t ride bicycles as often as I should, I miss SunTour, and I appreciate seeing their components still being used. I bet Tom does, too.
“Works of design and architecture tell us about the kind of life that would best unfold in and around them. While keeping us warm and helping us in mechanical ways, they simultaneously invite us to be specific sorts of people.”
— Alain de Botton, “The Architecture of Happiness”
The best restroom I’ve ever seen is in Premont Harley-Davidson in Quebec. It’s like the Museum of Modern Art or the set of Star Trek.
When traveling by motorcycle, Harley dealers are good places to visit, even if you’re not on a Harley. They’re easy to find and are usually open on Sundays.
I’ve picked up Harley gloves – a little pricey, but well-made – and stuff for Endurance and Terra Nova every now and again. And sometimes I’ll get a long-sleeve shirt as a souvenir, like the ones from rides in Budapest and Halifax.
But I started laughing the moment I hit the Premont H-D restroom. It was so over-the-top with its purple Manhattan nightclub mirrors and Le Corbusier sinks that I almost forgot why I was there. Fortunately the place was empty.
I’ve seen a fair number of good and bad restrooms, with some of the bad ones resembling staging areas for food fights, but not with food. So I’m not complaining about Premont, but it’s the first time I’ve come out of a motorcycle place thinking about architecture and not motorcycles.
“I’m gonna take you to my special place. It’s a place that you, like no one else I know, might appreciate…”
– Joni Mitchell, “My Secret Place”
The idea came to me unexpectedly on April 24, 134 days before we took the motorcycles to Quebec.
We were in the James S. McDonnell Space Hanger at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center, listening to the astronauts of STS-125 talk about their mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. One of them, Megan McArthur Behnken, I think, mentioned that Mission Control in Houston would wake them every day by playing a song, one with special meaning for a member of the crew.
I remember thinking oh, the genius of that and filed it for our own mission, months away.
The right song is essential at the start of the day, and later inside your motorcycle helmet as you’re flying down the road. It helps set, and keep, the day in motion.
I didn’t say anything but started making notes, jotting down possibilities when I’d think of a song or hear something played on the radio or in a commercial. It was a delightful side job to the overall mission prep and I could do it without up-wiring the Vespa or bolting something on Terra Nova.
So on the first day, shortly before we left the house, I handed my iPod to Linda and said, “There are 16 songs for you, one for each day. This is the first.”
And she put in her earbuds and heard a Carpenters song, admittedly schmaltzy, but oh, so fitting.
I actually had 22 songs in that corner of the iPod, keeping a few in reserve to be swapped in if needed.
But there was only two substitutions, I think. Heroes by David Bowie fell out and Ride Away came in, for the laugh it gave Linda because she thought of the chicken in the Geico commercial.
Right Beside You by Sophie B. Hawkins withdrew in favor of I Got a Name to later emphasize something I said to Linda on the ferry from Baie Comeau to Matane.
It turned out I misunderstood the meaning of a couple songs, but I kept them in anyway, just because chorus worked so well. America is kinda sad if you really listen to the last part, but you can think of it as the need to work to keep a relationship going.
And Go Where You Wanna Go is almost two different songs, the chorus as encouragement to lead your own life, the verses about being left behind.
But I Can See Clearly Now was perfect the day after our rain on the Gaspe Peninsula and I’ve Been Everywhere and Homeward Bound were the best endings, the best music to play as the credits were rolling for our ride.
“For me, when everything goes wrong – that’s when adventure starts.”
– Yvon Chouinard
Sept. 14, Day 10: Things went south on only one of this year’s 16 day/3,000 mile motorcycle ride. It was largely self-induced and non-life-threatening, but it started simple and snowballed quickly.
We’d rolled in to Perce the day before as the sun was setting – a beautiful night. Linda got us a room at the Chalet Au Pic de l’Aurore, a B&B with a nice view of the Perce Rock in the bay.
We unloaded the bikes and had dinner at an overpriced but snooty restaurant called La Maison Matilde where the waitress looked down her nose as we tiredly clomped into the place in full riding gear, helmets banging off the backs of chairs in the crowded section into which we were pushed. It was like having dinner in a phone booth. We ate, got out of there, fueled up and went back to the chalet to get some sleep.
The chalet’s parking lot was gravel so next morning I move the bikes to level pavement and reload the bags. The skies are threatening but I’m making pretty good time getting everything aboard. But I feel a few raindrops as I’m cinching the last bag and then it starts coming down.
I pull on my jacket and helmet and gloves but I’m already wet. It puts me in a foul mood because it means I’m starting out wet and I’m only going to get wetter as the day goes on. But we mount up and ride out.
Barely a quarter-mile later, I start thinking about the GoPro camera – a small video camera that fits in your palm – attached to my helmet. The chill rain is really coming down by now and I realize I have a vented case, one with slots that are letting rain get to the camera. So I have to pull over and stow the camera.
A tiresome digression: When we’re on separate bikes, I ride behind Linda as her wingman. In traffic, I keep over-zealous drivers off her tail and stand watch. The ride protocol, which we violate constantly, is:
(1) Keep each other in sight as much as possible.
(2) If the line of sight is lost, the lead rider slows down and lets the second rider catch up.
(3) If the second fails to appear, the lead pulls over and waits.
(4) If the second still fails to appear, the lead turns back and starts looking.
(5) If that doesn’t work, the lead stops before going too far, pulls out the cellphone and calls.
It’s just a set of simple rules in case we get separated. Keeping one another in sight is much easier for me since I’m looking ahead. It’s difficult for her, especially if we’re spread far apart, since she has to keep me in her mirrors.
So on Day 10 I stop in a parking lot, pull off the gloves, fumble the GoPro from the helmet mount, unclip the tether around my neck, and shove it in the tank bag.
Linda vanishes as I’m doing this and I try to hurry because I hate being the guy who holds up everyone. I restart but don’t get far because she turns around to find me. We ride in the rain, pausing to admire the Perce Rock, a worthwhile tourist attraction in the bay.
We head for Matane, about 250 miles away on 132, the Route des Navigateurs.
The rain is falling hard and cold now, and we get splashed by passing cars. We’ve gone about a dozen miles when I feel something tap my right thigh, just once.
It feels like the time that the Garmin GPS unit jumped out of its handlebar bracket, hit my leg, and was saved from destruction on I-95 only by the power cord attached to the dash.
But I’m not running the Garmin today, and I think to myself, “now what the hell could that be…” and I start looking around. The RAM mounts for the GPS and EZPass are still attached and everything looks fine. So I start to relax a bit until I see the tank bag is unzipped. Oh shi-!
The GoPro has fallen out, bounced off my leg, and is now lying somewhere on 132 in the rain. I have to find it. Even if it’s been run over, there’s a 64GB memory card that maybe I can save.
I use a parking lot to turn around and zip back toward the spot where it fell. I’m looking but it’s not easy to see because the rain has turned the helmet’s faceshield opaque and I can’t raise the shield too high because the rain will start fogging my eyeglasses instead.
I don’t see it as I’m racing eastward. I go until I’m sure I’ve passed the place where it fell and I turn around again, retracing my original route, knowing this is my last chance.
And suddenly, miraculously, I see it, lying face up in a parking lot close to the street. It must have bounced off the road and into the lot. I hit the brakes, park, and in seconds the camera is back in my hands.
The case’s lens shield is shattered but the camera lens itself looks intact. One of the mounting brackets is in pieces. I scoop up everything and put it in the tank bag, making sure it’s zipped tight. I can check the camera later, but right now…
I take off and start looking in the rain. I ride for maybe five minutes when I see her headed my way. She goes past me with traffic and I find an empty driveway, park, and wait. She’ll come back this way, it’s the only way to Matane. The rain keeps falling as a few minutes tick by…
Then a few more…
And a few more…
And I start to get worried. Did she not see me? How is that possible?
I wait about 10 minutes more before firing up Terra Nova and heading in the direction she was going. Surely she’ll be waiting by the roadside.
But she isn’t. I go east a few miles, then turn around and sweep west. No sign. I find a gas station and fuel up. In waterlogged boots I squish and slosh inside to pay and buy a Mountain Dew and crackers. I’m famished and worried. I pull the cellphone from the Ziploc bag in my jacket pocket, tap in her number and get:
SERVICE NOT AVAILABLE.
Ah, jeez, I think. Here we go.
We reconfigured our phone settings to operate in Canada during the trip. But that doesn’t help if cell service isn’t available. And it isn’t.
But I do have a wifi connection. So I try e-mail. And it’s crazy, but the easiest access to e-mail is through our company system, so I use that. I’m e-mailing her at work.
“It’s 1:39 pm. I’m at Irving gas station on the main road we were traveling on. No phone service. I’ll wait here until I figure out what to do.” I tap into the phone.
No answer. At 2:15 I send:
“I’m going to leave the Irving station and cruise the street to look for you. If you see this, stop some place big and obvious and send me an email telling me where you are. I’ll come to you.”
After some anxious moments, her reply comes through, bringing big relief for me:
“In what city are you? What happened? I’ve been looking for you because I thought you got ahead of me.”
She says she’s at a Tim Hortons in Hope – 36 miles away! – and will wait there. I get turned around by faulty directions from the French speakers at the gas station – they must’ve thought I wanted the closest Hortons. So that was another delay.
But I make it to Hope and see her Vespa parked out front. The rain is letting up. I shut down Terra Nova and squish into the Hortons, where we have a semi-emotional reunion, watched by a few curious customers over their coffee and doughnuts. It turns out she passed me and didn’t see me, assumed I was still westbound, and turned around and raced to catch up. We simply missed each other in the rain.
Linda fetches me a cup of Hortons restorative hot chocolate and a sandwich and I buy socks at a nearby Dollar General and change out in the Hortons restroom. The joy of warm dry feet is indescribable. We suit up again and head for Matane, 200 long miles away.
The rain returns to find us on the road in the dark. Tired, wet and exhausted – I feel as if I’ve been beaten with sticks – we roll late into a Quality Inn where things immediately get better:
– For some reason, we’re given a handicap-accessible room that’s roughly the size of Yankee Stadium. I could’ve parked both bikes comfortably in there if I could have gotten them through the door. (Don’t think I didn’t consider it.)
– The night clerk, a good guy by the name of John, unlocks the guest laundry room where I wash all our wet stuff and dry it. That was like heaven.
– I swap out the shattered GoPro lens shield and replace it with a spare. The GoPro still works, I find.
It’s well after midnight by the time everything is sorted out and we go to sleep.
There’s a quiet collection of 9 4×6 photos in carefully mismatched frames in one of the bookcases in the living room. Each one is a picture taken of Linda and I during our annual travel event – the special one that usually involves motorcycles.
The photos became a ritual as I neared 50 and started (like everyone else) thinking about fleeting Time and how someday photos and memories will be the last things we’ll have. It seemed vital to document those travel days, the days that mattered. That’s why the 9 photos are in an unassuming corner of the house; they’re documentation, not braggadocio.
Each year, the days that matter require us to try and go somewhere we’ve never been before, with the exception of Slovakia and Hungary because they’re wonderful places and they never get old.
But since we had to rule out Europe as a destination this year (though we’ll fight for it next year) we had to decide where to go in the U.S., with Linda on her Vespa.
As our past motorcycle rides show, I’m a sucker for roads with names – the Blue Ridge Parkway, Natchez Trace, Lincoln Highway, Going to the Sun Road and the Cabot Trail are just a few we’ve traveled.
“Find me a road with a name,” I said to Linda.
We talked about taking Highway 1 down to Key West and the southernmost point in the continental U.S., or riding to Tennessee and North Carolina for the Dragon’s Tail and Cherohala Skyway.
And then she sent me an e-mail: “What about this Navigators’ Route near Quebec?”
I looked at the map, saw how the Route ran along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River and looped around the Gaspie Peninsula and I thought: that’s perfect.
It’s ambitious, but we’ll ride north again this year, farther than the Cabot Trail, about 2,600 miles according to the mission profile. With luck, we’ll see Quebec and the St. Lawrence and take the ferry from Baie-Comeau to Matane and ride clockwise around the Gaspie.
The ride will take about 16 days and we’ll try to make them days that matter. And document with the 10th photo.