Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Night Ride II

As Sam has written, our run through the Gaspesie, into the Maritimes, and across Maine was a great trip through some of the most beautiful places of Canada. The Gaspesie exceeded all my expectations. It is such a stunning combination of coastal villages, soaring hills, snowcapped peaks, and thick forests, even at elevation. The only shame is that so much of that portion of the trip was hobbled by a problem with my fuel system.

The trip had been chock-full of some difficult moments. We rode through snow on the way to Quebec City, and the next morning we rode through a proper snow storm on our way over the Charlevoix and down into Baie-St-Paule. I remember wanting to quit and then Sam laughing at the slush caked on my knees and chest. Two days later, riding out of the Gaspesie, we hit sheets and sheets of rain. It was terrible weather for a great trip.

I’ve since lost track of the days when we travelled, though I think we left on a Wednesday, rode to the Gaspe on a Thursday, and continued on to Sackville, NB on Friday afternoon to meet Anamitra at the train station. We all planned to stay with our great friend and former professor, Frank Stain, and his wonderful wife, Michelle. Our intention, at least, was to arrive in the afternoon. Instead, we’d come in in the rain at 3 am, eyes as wide as saucers and adrenaline at its peak.

That Friday, bad weather, a broken bike, and some bad decisions all piled on top of one another. At five pm, we were in Gaspe, at the end of the peninsula, with 600 kms to Sackville. We made the best time we could – I have a speeding ticket to prove it – but soon found ourselves in the Miramachi, past midnight, in a terrible rain and fog. Looking at our maps, we decided we would run Highway 126 rather than 134. It is an older highway, but it appeared a shorter route by 10 kms. We didn’t know then that it was called the Moose Road, or that it would twist like a spring, or that it would be near-impossible to navigate in a thick fog.

A great danger on a motorcycle is overrunning one’s headlights. It’s a problem I learned of as a young boy when a snowmachine slammed into the wall at the end of the bay on which my parents live. The riders had been out at night and by the time the wall came into their headlights they could not stop. It was my same fear on the bike: our headlights caught in the fog and the wet road and the fatigue would all conspire to prevent either of us from stopping in time for a moose, or a stopped car, or some other obstacle.

Still, we were against the clock and were tired, and were more than keen to meet scotch and warm beds and see our friends in Sackville. After Sam led for the first half of the road – the much more difficult and twisty section, I might add – I took point for the second. My speed soon reached the maximum the bike would allow, something like 90 km/h. I thought that since I was not at top speed I would not have to worry about stopping in time for the unexpected.

The unexpected eventually came in the form of a stop sign at Magnetic Hill. By the time I saw it and pulled in the brakes I was skidding across the road coming to a stop only on the other side as a car passed behind me. We had travelled fifty kilometres at this speed, never aware that we were running far faster than we could manage. There’s a greater lesson in here somewhere, but in the meantime I have only the story and memory of how fast my heart was beating.

We did arrive in Sackville forty-five minutes later. The last kilometres into our old college town, with the radio lights in the marshes cutting through the fog, were matched only by that time pulling into North Bay after the first night ride. Might we have many more and with plenty of time to stop.

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