Highway 381 Quebec - a spring ride (76 Guzzi Convert)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by nick949eldo, May 12, 2019.

  1. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    A little three day loop to ride Highway 381 through the Parc national des Grands-Jardins. It was a little chilly as the road rises to 896m asl. and spring has yet to arrive in the mountains. The Convert rode magnificently.

    Scroll down for the trip report.

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    Nick
    #1
  2. MacNoob

    MacNoob piney fresh

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    That last pic looks very cold and wet....
    #2
  3. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    It was! Rained on and off most of the time. Mostly on... It eventually got through all 7 layers I was wearing:muutt.
    #3
  4. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    DAY 1 Inverary Ontario to La Tuque, Quebec

    On each ride there is always something that dominates the senses. Sometimes it’s sound: the roar of the wind around the sides of the helmet, the contented hum of the engine, or in the case of my Moto Guzzis, the clackety-clack of the tappets. Occasionally it’s the way your bike and body interact that sets the tone for the ride. Wind buffeting, vibration, the jolting of the bike over road irregularities, and bodily aches and discomforts may take the upper-most position in your consciousness. Of course, one’s eyes are always active, scanning the road ahead for hazards, catching the flutter of a wing in the treetops or a movement in the grass where a deer decided to turn tail, rather than play Russian roulette with the traffic.

    On this trip smell overwhelmed my other senses. It will remain what I remember most about the ride, long after the delightful hours of riding on quiet roads beside rivers and lakes and through snow covered hills, and the less delightful time spent doused in spray from heavy traffic on the four lane highway, have faded into a distant memory. You see, it’s spring, and spring can be odoriferous.

    As I made my way across rural eastern Ontario it seemed as though every farmer along the route was fertilizing the fields with a whole winter’s worth of accumulated animal droppings. The fields were crawling with muck spreaders, flailing their stinky loads across the flat terrain. And where no equipment was to be seen, the dark stained soil and the heavy smell of sewage hit my nostrils and showed that the farmers had already been active. Some fields reeked of cow manure, others of pig or chicken – the latter so acrid it almost made my eyes water. I can’t say I really minded though – it’s all part of the seasonal pattern of farming life, renewal and crop growth. Before too long those brown stinky fields will be head-high with corn stalks or knee high with green soy beans, grown so that us unproductive urban and suburbanite drones can be fed.

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    When I’d set off from home I’d quickly popped the fuel cap, looked inside and seen gas slopping around. The Convert has a twenty-three litre tank, good for at least two hundred miles of steady riding, so I didn’t give it much thought when I started. Just after Chesterville the bike started to cough and splutter and soon stopped running at all. I wasn’t too worried. I had a two-point-five litre plastic bottle in my pannier, so I was soon cruising again, assuming I might find fuel in Moose Creek – the next closest village. Moose Creek came and went without any signs of fuel. I was starting to get a little anxious. Crossing over Highway 417, I noticed a police cruiser idling at the side of the road. As I stopped opposite, he rolled down his window and I asked where the closest fuel might be found.

    “You’re closest is in Casselman” he replied, indicating that I would have to backtrack for five miles along the highway. I thanked him, did a u-turn right in front of him and headed for the highway. That short trip was a little nerve racking. At any moment I expected to be stranded along the busy road, but I figured if the worst came to the worst, the friendly cop would be along eventually.

    The Ottawa River at Hawkesbury was full to the brim. Over the previous few days the news had been full of reports about flooding along the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers, with people sand-bagging their houses and cottages in an optimistic attempt to protect their properties. Even the military had been drafted in to help. As I rode east circumventing Montreal I crossed numerous small creeks and rivers, most of which had over run their banks and flooded the adjacent farm fields, creating a magical and unexpected playground for countless thousands of migrating geese.

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    It was a dull day. The sky and the water in the fields showing the same dull grey. Even though it wasn’t cold, the air temperature was cool enough that it began to seep through my multiple layers of riding gear and chill me. As I headed north up the Saint-Maurice River valley I was happy to stop from time to time to take a few pictures and warm my chilled hands. Even though it was always marginally unpleasant to pull off my outer gloves and the silk liners and expose my hands to the air while I fiddled with the cameras, it gave me an opportunity to stretch and bring some circulation back into my feet.

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    Quebec Highway 155 follows the St. Maurice River for the whole distance between Shawinigan and La Tuque. The river is almost always visible, sometimes close, sometimes a short distance away, with rocky forested hills lining the valley. On a week day in spring it’s not too busy, but if the defacement of roadside cliffs with idiot names and mindless graffiti is anything to go by, it must be clogged with scenery-seekers later in the year, all eager to leave their “I was here’ mark on the landscape. I recommend birching or the stocks for the culprits – probably both.

    Since the kind of people who think that defacing roadside rocks is appropriate never venture more than a few yards from their vehicles, most of the landscape is unblemished and attractive, and the actions of a few mindless cretins does little to sour my mood or diminish the pleasure of the ride.

    As evening approached I pulled in to a motel at the edge of town, handed over my plastic and settled in to the kind of small room budget conscious travelers and workers always head for. It wasn’t exactly cheap – although the lady at reception had given me her best rate – and it had the essentials: a TV, a bed, hot water, shower and a toilet. A bottle of wine, some bread and local cheese from the nearby grocery store and the day was complete.
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  5. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Day 2 - Part 1: La Tuque to Lac St. Jean

    My GPS provided me with a convoluted route out of La Tuque, zig-zagging through suburban streets until I finally emerged back on to Highway 155 and was able to head north at a decent speed. Once again, the road was beside a river – this time the smaller Bostonnais River – a fast flowing, tea-coloured stream about thirty yards wide. At the small village of La Bostonnais, I turned off the highway for a few yards just to ride across the covered bridge, before retracing my steps and continuing north. Traffic was light – just the occasional logging truck or pick-up – so stopping to take a few pictures along the route was stressless and easy. Eventually, the river and the road diverged as Highway 155 continued north while the river’s upper reaches lay further to the east within ZEC Kiskissink.

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    As I continued north it started to become clear that spring had not really laid its grip on the landscape. Most of the lakes were still ice-bound, and the forest floor was covered in snow. Where the road swung close to one of the lakes, I parked the bike and walked down a steep slope to the lake shore, trudging through foot-deep icy snow to its frozen edge. Grey sky, grey ice and mist. It might have seemed a melancholy place had I not been so happy to be out in the world on my bike. I didn’t fancy stepping on the ice though. It was probably fine, but it was starting to look punky and treacherous.

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    The miles drifted by. The Convert is a remarkably pleasant companion on such jaunts. For a start, it’s dead comfortable. The big bars fall easily to hand, my knees form an almost perfect right-angle with my feet flat on the floorboards, and the seat is broad and plush. As I have long legs, I have raised the seat a little, using a sheepskin over a beaded seat cover to give me an extra half an inch of leg room, and added a foam wedge at the rear to pitch me slightly forwards. The end result is an all-day riding position that doesn’t place too much pressure on the points of one’s buttocks – a common problem with many cruiser-style motorcycles.

    When accelerating, the bike tends to sound odd. The revs rise quickly and stay there while the torque converter starts to catch up. By the time you’ve hit 55mph, which happens surprisingly quickly, the revs have mellowed and the engine note has died back to more normal decibels and you feel as though you’re cruising in top gear. On long trips like this I’m rarely in a hurry, so 55mph is my favourite speed. It’s fast enough to cover distance and not be an impediment to other road users, yet slow enough that you don’t feel as though you are blistering through the landscape without taking any of it in.

    Eventually, we crested the last rise and there in the distance was the full expanse of Lac St. Jean, its grey sheet of rotting ice looking menacing beneath the heavy clouds. It is an impressively large body of water, some 25 miles long and 15 wide, which, along with the broad valley it occupies, exerts a moderating influence on the local weather. Not that you’d notice that much – it was still darn chilly in May, with a strong breeze driving ice-chilled air onshore. According to our friends at Wikipedia, the lake occupies the impact crater left by an asteroid but you’ll have to take their word for it because it wasn’t obvious to me.

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    I had other things on my mind. My fingers were frozen and I need fuel, both for the bike and for me. Foolishly I’d left La Tuque without any breakfast and my stomach was starting to complain about it.

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  6. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Day 2, Part 2: Lac St. Jean south along Highway 381

    The road that skirts around the south side of Lac St. Jean links a string of small towns. After about twenty minutes of cold, wet riding, I pulled in to the Tim Hortons parking lot at Métabetchouan-Lac-à-la-Croix, shut off the bike, waddled into the coffee shop and shed some of the multitudinous layers I was wearing before attempting to order or pee. Actually, the latter was rather more pressing than the former, but soon both had been attended to. I’m usually an eat-and-go kind of guy, but I must admit, I lingered rather longer over my coffee and sandwich than usual, as the heat started to work its way back into my extremities. I was fairly sure that the next leg of the ride – a short, high speed stint on the four-lane Highway 70 to Saguenay, followed by 381 over the mountains – promised more cold and wet. I wasn’t disappointed.

    I’m not overly fond of major highways and avoid them whenever I can, but I do concede that they have their uses. If the purpose of Highway 70 is to whisk traffic through and passed the suburbs of Jonquiere, Chicoutimi and Saguenay, then it does an admirable job. I dropped briefly down to the small town of La Baie just to get a glimpse of the Saguenay Fjord but didn’t linger long. Perhaps I should have. I subsequently found out that much of the downtown was seriously damaged during July 1996 when heavy rain upstream filled the rivers eventually leading to the failure of the dam upstream on Ha! Ha! Lake. The subsequent torrents of water washed away houses, bridges and destroyed much of the downtown.

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    But I was eager to ride on. The northern part of Highway 381 lies within the Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean tourist region while the southern half is within the Charlevoix region. This didn’t mean much to me. Having looked at sections of the road on Google Streetview, I knew I could expect plenty of trees, plenty of sweeping curves, and a few rounded hills gradually morphing into low mountains, the closer I got to the Parc national des Grands-Jardins about 60 miles further south.

    For the first little while the roadside was sprinkled with small bungalows and houses – the kind that lie along most roads which pass through areas close enough to a city to be within commuter distance. Soon enough though, I’d left the populated areas behind as the road headed into the hills. On a really fast bike, with dry roads and an almost zero likelihood of encountering any police, 381 must be a real blast. I, however, wasn’t riding a really fast bike, the roads were sodden, my rear tyre was almost bald, and I have little interest in high speed riding at the best of times. I plodded along catching sight of the occasional frozen lake through the trees, enjoying the sound of the Guzzi’s pipe reverberating off the occasional rock-cut, the spatter of rain drops on my windshield and visor, and the hiss of the tyres on the road. Each time the road climbed a hill I would enter a misty cloud-world of water droplets and rain where snow lay deep in the bush and along the margins of the highway and my main preoccupation was keeping my visor clear. Each time the road dropped to lower elevations the precipitation and road-side snow would vanish and I would catch a glimpse of mist-shrouded mountain tops to either side.

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