The Québec maritime Blog
Motorcycling the Gaspé Peninsula is a rite of passage. Québec’s east coast is revered as one of those legendary rides. Not – I suspect – for the quality of the roads. They fluctuate at the same rate as a thermometer’s mercury. We shouldn’t credit the breathtaking scenery either. Stunning as it is, the maritime regions of Québec offer plenty of alternatives to the explorative motorcyclist. No, Gaspésie is a rite of passage simply because it’s there.
The Gaspé Peninsula forms a perfect tongue, rolling out of the St. Lawrence River and deep into the Maritimes. Its perimeter is drawn with a single continuous ribbon called Route 132. In most places, this road is the dividing line between land and sea.
The opportunity to ensnare the Gaspé Peninsula from the seat of a motorcycle is somehow poetic and perfect. There’s a completeness to this motorcycle trip that makes it special. It’s the ability to ride a simple three-day route and say with all entirety and conviction that one has “ridden the Gaspé.”
Leaving Montréal from the FortNine office, my father and I trace the monotonous Trans-Canada Highway along the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River. Once upon a time in the interior of British Columbia, my dad taught me to ride. That was a university degree and a cross-country move ago. Today I don’t get home too often, so it’s really special to be riding with my dad again.
We continue northeast on the main slab until Rivière-du-Loup, before hooking southeast into New Brunswick. We arrive at Edmundston and a tricky decision when the sun sets. Should we overnight here and begin our Gaspésie loop tomorrow, or continue through midnight towards Carleton-sur-Mer?
I’m not sure why we decide to push into the night. Maybe it’s the fresh air that has left us feeling strangely well after 8 hours on the road. Or maybe there’s an undertone to that air, tickling our noses and calling us forward. Something humid and fragrant.
A sea breeze
We’re borne into a world of darkness and dancing lights. A luminescent needle spins back and forth, keeping perfect time with my right hand. Glancing in the side mirror, I see a bright orb following every lean of my motorcycle. It’s reassuring to know that – on this remote stretch of pavement, lined with trees, hills and moose that I cannot see – my dad’s headlight sees me.
Far beyond the smudgy glow of Montréal, the stars remind me of their brilliance. And beneath my tires, their dancing partners twist and turn with the road. These pavement markers burn in our headlights until – as quickly as they were lit – they’re snuffed out by the night.
We arrive in the Camping de Carleton-sur-Mer campground at 1 AM. Silently and ritualistically, my dad and I set up a campsite we can’t see, with hands we can’t feel. It’s been a chilly and gorgeous night ride. Time for a good night’s sleep.
Wow. The next morning, I zip open our tent and see how lucky we are. It turns out that our campsite is located on an seaside sandbar stretching into Chaleur Bay. Walking to my bike, I hop onto the saddle and lay across the gas tank. The metal is warm from the morning sun. My eyes follow its rays: shimmering across the water, melting frost on the rounded-pebble beach, whispering through the tumbling grassland and casting a long shadow behind a nearby lighthouse.
Welcome to Gaspésie
We suit up and ride to Oratoire Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Saint-Joseph. This mountaintop church is perched at the end of a thrilling hill climb. My dad and I rest at the top, overlooking our campsite from last night and letting our eyes wander east. The Gaspé loop winds into the distance, arcing towards our next stop.
Percé Rock. We arrive at low tide to walk across to the monolith. It’s absolutely stunning – 500 million tonnes of sheer limestone, jutting upwards from the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
After hitting the La Maison du Pêcheur restaurant for a lobster supper (which was swimming near Bonaventure Island that morning), we continue to Forillon National Park. I’m amazed by the beach at Cap-Bon-Ami. It’s just as breathtaking as Percé Rock, but – unlike the gemstone in Québec’s crown – this spot has low tourist traffic.
At the end of the day, we chase the sunset into the interior of the Gaspé Peninsula. It was a difficult choice to abandon the shore road; Route 132 is an achingly beautiful stretch of pavement. But I’m betting that Gaspésie has even more to offer.
While we carve the sweeping corners of Route 198, the coastal cliffs are replaced with tumbling hills and a carpeting of pine trees. We arrive in Murdochville at dusk, greeted by the mountainous tailings of an abandoned copper mine. It once sustained this boom town. Now it casts a very long shadow.
We check into our hotel and settle into the lobby restaurant. The dining room is filled with mismatched tablecloths and the easy chatter between local voices. I order a lobster sandwich – normally a terrifying choice in a landlocked mining town. But here in Gaspésie, it tastes like the freshest thing on earth.
When we awake the next morning, we decide to ride without a route. The Chic-Choc Mountains host some of the most limitless and accessible off-road terrain in Québec; you can get away with free riding out here.
We start by following the windmills. Eight of Québec’s ten major wind farms are in Gaspésie, and they’re an easy way to find dirt access roads. We gradually make our way through the network, using heavy throttle hands to kick up as much roost as possible. Every few minutes, dad and I pause to watch the windmill blades churn our clouds of dust.
At the next break, I realize that the interior of the Gaspé Peninsula is strangely familiar. Riding through this hilly network of logging roads is like riding through the interior of British Columbia. Or through my childhood. We might be visiting Gaspésie for the first time, but it feels like home.
The thing about motorcycling on a peninsula is that it’s delightfully difficult to get lost. Route 132 is all around us, so heading in one direction is a sure-fire way to find it. We start our northward progression at noon. Sooner or later, we’re bound to exit memory lane. Sooner or later, we’re bound to hit the sea.
The road home
When we find the north shore, we find our road home. I reluctantly hop onto Route 132 and angle my front tire towards Montréal. I can now say that I’ve “ridden the Gaspé.” But on the way out, this wondrous place offers a few farewell gifts.
This northern section of pavement – between Manche-d’Épée and La Martre – is the best road I’ve ever ridden. Full stop. And in Mont-Saint-Pierre, we find a hang-gliding platform that yields my favourite viewpoint of the entire trip.
Yes, I can now say that I’ve “ridden the Gaspé.” But after stumbling upon such amazing sights on the ride out, I know that this place has even more to offer.
I’ll be back.