Whale Ride – September, 2004
The Whale Route: Quebec maritime is 3,000 kilometres (1,900 miles) of coastline, hundreds of islands, nine national parks, numerous species of whales, and mountains among the highest in Eastern Canada. As the St. Lawrence carved its way between the Laurentian and the Appalachian mountains it shaped the history, landscape and soul of Quebec maritime.
From Tadoussac to Blanc Sablon, Quebec maritime's North Shore unveils 1,250 kilometres (777 miles) of shoreline dotted with bays, coves, sandy beaches and 13 types of cetaceans. Begin your journey in Tadoussac, an official member of the 30 Most Beautiful Bays of the World Club. For breathtaking scenery and a rich array of marine flora and fauna, visit the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park.
Looking for exceptional geology? Venture to the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada or to Parc national d'Anticosti on Anticosti Island, an island of 3,000 square miles rich in history and home to more than 120,000 white-tailed deer.
Few people other than motorcyclists, children and hitchhikers know that God does definitely exist, that He and the rest of the gang upstairs work the daily grind just like us, and that the whole troupe of them have a wicked sense of humour, if such literary license can be employed without provoking outrage or groans. While things move quickly in Heaven and stress levels are often high, they do kick back each Saturday night, gathering about the wide-screen, knocking back the suds and watching Google replays of some of their Best Moves of the Week.
“I wanna see Kim Jong-il and the nuclear weapons notes we slipped into his speech on Tuesday!” This from Gabriel, whose playfulness and practical jokeability would shock most people who had only seen the inscrutable version of him on the horn. Chuckles all around and even Simon-Peter, a notorious spoil-sport joins in.
“How about a Prince Charles clip?” cries Pius X, a surprisingly energetic and feisty new addition to the work team.
“Which one? Architecture? Global warming? Dancing with nude Maori ladies?” Peter replies.
“I don't care”, he responds. “They all just crack me up! Who's running him anyways?”
Eyes turned to Job, slouched on the E-Z-Boy, but he refuses the bait and looks away.
“Anybody watching Tom Cruise lately?” A cry from back in the crowd.
Eyes scan about looking for Theresa, but, being a heavy napper, she hadn't showed yet. Giggles are stifled, 'cause management had not yet fully forgiven her for the Oprah Couch thingee yet. Sure he was a creep, but folks up here were expected to take the high road - 'less they had run things up through the approvals process beforehand.
“What about the 'Concours Conehead'? You know, that big idiot that is always getting himself in a jam when he goes on tours on his motorcycle?”
Sporadic hoots and whistles.
“Wasn’t he the one we burned with the Mitchell Boys Police Posse last time he went on a run? You know, when he went up to Yellowknife on his Kawasaki Concours and got nailed for speeding on Day One. We had them plague him for the next few weeks at every opportunity!” This from Indira.
“Let's hook him up with Dubois again!!” shouts Peter.
This brings immediate silence and all eyes slowly turn toward the Big Guy, for this was serious fare.
In the hearts and minds of many in the Heavenly Kingdom, Sidney Ponce Dubois (“Slimy Sid”) was the most blatantly egotistical, oily, and disingenuous Prime Minister ever inflicted on the great northern Dominion of Canada. The mere mention of his name, even decades after his greasy, embarrassing escape from the political noose was enough to raise the average celestial blood pressure toward the danger point.
On Earth below, the Concours Conehead himself had been put to bed under doctor's orders and on heavy medication for most of the filthy 8 years in which Slippery Sid had dominated the airwaves and the news media with continual grinning forays into slimes and slips, reversals and rips, resignations of cabinet ministers, and the eventual reduction of the once-proud Republican Party of Canada from 307 seats to a rump of 3. Yes, three.
Cone Boy had been able only once to bring his feelings face-to-face with the then-Prime Minister and that was in 1984 in the nation's capital and in front of the Queen of England, if that image isn't too irreverent. That singular loud and obnoxious public outburst had shocked badly the gathering of people watching the Queen's horse-drawn carriage as it wended its way to Canada's Parliament Hill and almost landed him in the back seat of an RCMP security van.
God pondered and then grinned. “Do it”, was all he said. He had a nice baritone.
Giggles erupt, small groups gather about highly-modified iMac computers, switches are thrown and mini-cams are clicked from standby to live. Green lights blink across the control array and muted warning buzzers sound like a church chorus. Heads turned back to the wide-screen monitor, where, down below, the Conehead was engaged in the yearly madness of his Bike Tour Selection process.
Observers giggle as he reacts as programmed. His fingers twitch suddenly, his head swivels back and forth over the map of Canada that he had just been perusing and his throttle thumb, out of all control, alights on the town of Godbout, Quebec. Home of the despised and failed leader of the Dominion under God. His route would go through THERE!
Chapter 1: The Best Laid Plans
Maps are the bane of my existence.
Spread out all over the dining room table and flanked by magic markers, notepads and ½ empty wine bottles they cry out to me in anguish, much like the Sirens of Jason's run with the Boys to grab the Golden Fleece and then skedaddle back to town for chug contests, ancient babes, line dancing and some tall tales. We know that maps have always existed, although motorcycles, especially big powerful ones like the Kawasaki Concours, probably haven't.
I always feel sorry for maps because, without us, they are fucked. Think about it. Millions if not hundred of millions of maps scattered on shelves and drawers about the globe, sitting folded and silent. Indeed, some are stacked on shelves in my very own workroom, undoubtedly whispering to each other at night, “Where is that big goofball?!? Doesn't he realise that it's time for the Annual Bike Trip selection process?!?!”
Alarm and confusion spread. First, it's only the Canadian maps rattling their tin coffee cups up and down the bars, then the ones for North America. Soon Africa and Asia (rattling from right to left, mind) jump into the fray. Their baying and caterwauling awaken Antarctica and even the trouble-makers from Down-Under.
Suddenly, like Munchkins, they hush. Stair sounds are heard and soon a large bulky figure limps into sight. It sounds like he is humming “Joe's Garage”, an ancient dirge from the Mothers of Invention, but he is badly off-key. He hops, skips and stumbles about and eventually it can be determined that he is attempting to dance, but in a Old White Guy manner. It is not pretty and he reaches for one of the wine bottles. No glasses for him.
The humming and moaning continue but in a less mindless way. He peers at the map stack and selects a random handful. He is an impulsive sort, not given much to analysis or reflection about the consequences of his actions. Certainly he is not a Thinking Man and his genetic make-up undoubtedly is filled to the brim with the Battle/Rapine/Pillage chromosomes. Unfortunately, he was born several hundred years too late for this mush to be anything but a major social handicap, one that he and others around him grimly bear each day.
To the maps.
Africa is immediately pitched. Not necessarily because there is anything wrong with the topography, music, women or food, but because he still holds the Africa Grudge. Some years ago on that continent he was sent packing by a handful of automatic weapons-toting soldiers, minus his passport and money. A grim hitch-hiking spree across the north of that continent ensued, with occasional stops on the way for the Green Dysentery Projectile Squirts. These proved a major source of entertainment for fellow travellers and major alarm for any children or goats unfortunate enough to be within range of the near-surgical spectacle.
Eventually the ferry ride across the Gates of Hercules from Morocco to Spain was effected, permitting the hapless young hippie to then hitch a ride up through Europe and to Holland for an ignominious flight back to his Canadian home. Africa then, was toast and would stay that way for an indeterminate time, unless of course they offered a symbolic hand in apology, perhaps accompanied by a few keys of Ketabah green hash.
Australia is too fucking hot for any man who sweats even in the Canadian winter and New Zealand was fraught with terrible images of head-on collisions with trucks driving on the “wrong” side of the road. ConeMan had survived three head-ons in his lifetime, including a major one that had sent Stephen Lobotomy through the windshield and onto a new nickname. He was not attracted to the thought of a repetition.
Europe was far too civilized and had many radar and computer-equipped police cars from all reports. This would compromise the high-speed aspect of any decent motorcycle trip. Russia looked like a possibility, but its poor roadways, likewise, would blunt the essence of the foray, despite the glorious volumes of vodka and spiritus reputed to be in universal supply in that fabled land. China too was out, being too inscrutable and, worse still, possessing a modern file on its national security network loaded with up-to-date photos of ConeBoy (smiling of all damn things).
The USA was still not an attractive travel destination as its domestic news was filled daily with odious stories of its unwitting re-enactment of The 900 Days of Leningrad when the Nazis (lying heathen Rummy) and the Red Army (lying heathen Kerry) sought to destroy each other and every other sliver of civilization within political artillery range. As well, it too had some personal, digital stuff at its border stations that would probably result in a quick bum's rush to the nearest cellblock with Connie being led off for auction – probably to some guy with tattoo’s who would turn her into a chopper.
A domestic compromise was inevitable, so the maps of the Northern Big Pink were brought front and centre. Remoteness was sought, as Conner had long ago admitted to himself that he was not comfortable with social convention, heavy traffic, speed limits or high school vice principals. The grimy finger went 'round and 'round the map, seeking a dead-end road or something without humans. Eventually, as if by magic, Highway 138 in Quebec was picked up by the looking glass. Hmmm, no towns worth mention, a route along the north shore of the Bay of St. Lawrence and a neat dead-end at the town of Natashquan, just south of the Labrador border. Bleak, cold, windy and deserted – perfect!
But he was troubled, and the little voice in the back of his head cried out a muffled warning. His trembling finger went back over the map yet again. What was it? Something was wrong. Something evil and black. And then he saw.
Heartland to the Dubois Jackal. Lair of The Anti-Christ.
His heart palpitated yet again. He stumbled against the chairback in mid-swoon. Then his anger and resolve grew – he reached for the wine bottle and finished its contents like Jonah goin' down the whale. He would not shy away. Instead he would aim directly for the heart of the beast. He would make this a Ring Pilgrimage, taking his 25 year certificate for toughing it out as a bland government of Canada bureaucrat and smashing it on the steps of Dubois' boyhood house in Godbout! Yes! That's where it all started and that's where he would commit the final symbolic deed, shouting with rage and holding a shaking finger up to the Heavens.
And free himself from the Snake Oilman's Spell. It began to fall into place.
Chapter 2: Short Cuts Aren't Short
Any time you want to tangle with the family of an ex-Prime Minister of Canada you should have a Kawasaki Concours along with you. The Connie is a disguised high-speed motorcycle cum rocket ship that somehow, probably because of its touring trappings, gets under the radar screens of the Insurance Lady and (mostly) the police. One of the reasons I was fleeing to Quebec was because it was off-limits to anglo cops.
A while back, in a dimension far into the future, I had a series of run-ins with western Canada's photo radar camera network and had unknowingly tangled with the Mitchell Boys, an extended family of cops who relentlessly trailed me across Canada on a loonie launch into Road Madness up to Yellowknife, North West Territories. But those horrors are for another story, not this one.
Skull Boy holds the route planning for a sec while he squints up at The Most Lethal Sports Injuries of the Week on the jock channel. He leaves the keyboard momentarily and lean into it, eyes gleaming, heart pumping in vicarious harmony as 30 or so gigantic steroid Frankenstein’s bunker blast into each other at top speed, snapping limbs like twigs, ripping off helmets and facial features alike and leaving that sucker limp and semi-conscious on the turf while the owner high above frets about money in the millions and the coaches shriek at each other into headset mikes.
OK, that's over. Now back to The Ride.
Loading up Connie for a run is a simple matter. Just fill each saddlebag with 24 beer and a few bottles of the special “campfire” wine (homemade guzzling wine fortified with grain alcohol and a sprinkling of psilocybin chunks to ensure electricity). Jam about 45 pounds of tools into the tankbag and strap the camping stuff and clothes onto the back with a zillion bungee cords. Then ride around for a while, see what falls off and then tighten that area after taking the car out to retrieve the tattered remnants of whatever it was (lepordskin gauchies, sacre bleu!).
The tankbag also contains books, roadmaps, grizzly spray, a wind-up shortwave radio, binoc's, and a sewing kit in case we go down in the middle of no-where (again). A big bag of trail mix dosed liberally with a kilo of chocolate-covered coffee beans should act like the poor man's meth, at least in the morning. And maybe a spliff or two. Hmmm.
There are 2 ways to ride from Ottawa to Quebec City. One is to drone along the 4-lane Highway 401 slab via Montreal that offers nothing other than its boring efficiency and lots of cops lunching along at 100 kph (60). The other is a special “shortcut” that carves and winds up to Mt. Tremblant and the scenic Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal, through Joliette and over on the north shore of the St. Laurence River to Trois Rivieres. English-speakers can't pronounce “Trois Rivieres” without sounding like goofballs, which is probably why the Quebecers chose it - we get back at them with “th” words like “dis and dat”, so we're even.
The first part of the shortcut is dynamite and features about 85 miles of twisties that you can take at top speed. I have a theory that the cops in rural Quebec have an over-abundance of joie de vivre (love of life) genes and they are secretly pleased and honoured when a professional, high-speed rider like Mike The Bike II deigns to break the law for hours at a time along some of their roadways. They especially admire the way Connie goes over the JUMP at Lac des Plages and stay well clear of the area so as to offer no distractions which might compromise safety.
The trouble with the Cone Shortcuts is that they usually lead to trouble and heart palpitations and regularly take hours longer than if the mouth-breathing rider just did it the way everyone else does. But alas, no.
This one was no exception and I figured it took an additional 3 hours to get to Q.C. Of that time, about 2.5 hours were spent ripping up and down the twisties while the other 30 minute session was spent in the back of an olive & white Sûreté du Québec (provincial police) car.
I don't know about you, but I do not feel overly comfortable in the back of a police car. First, there are no inside door handles, which surely is a safety issue that Nader or somebody should get on. I figure this might be because the cops here buy them at cut-rate discounts but I can't be sure because my French isn't that great. Second, people look in at you, even though it's none of their frikkin' business now, is it? Finally, there is rarely anywhere to take a leak. Which, after a while of shifting about on a plastic seat, is the worst of all of them, especially considering the fact that I have had to pee pretty well every 15 minutes or so for the last 5-6 years.
The law enforcement officers chat for a while and then let me go after God knows how many wasted tax dollars. At one point I had actually felt I was making progress to becoming friends with one of them but maybe she had just been dumped by her boyfriend or perhaps she just thought I was on some kind of support program or something because she became downright curt after one light exchange. Unaccountably, she then refused my request for a photo with her (which was to be dedicated to the COG web-folks at Open Forum!) but did allow me a shot out the front windshield aimed directly at Connie. I always wanted to know what it would be like to be a predator for speedsters and now I knew.
Showing great depths of maturity and self-discipline I bite my tongue at the point where I was about to ask if I could borrow her gun and badge and cuffs “just to see what it feels like to ride around with that stuff”. I might see her on the return leg so there was no point laying it all out in the first instalment and I could see in her eyes that I had sparked something deep within her soul. Patience is a virtue.
I never did clearly find out what the big deal was, but it felt good to fire up Connie again and pull out, signalling and merging with traffic like I was trying for my licence again. I sang “You Sexy Thang” out loud in my helmet for the sheer joy of not getting a ticket. I can't imagine the manner of celebration when your cowboy buddy shoots clear through the hangman's noose just when you-know-what is about to go down, but this probably is a close second.
Chapter 3: The Ass-Licking Bear Cub
East of Quebec City you enter the Charlevoix region of La Belle Province which is one of the neatest riding spots you can find on Planet Earth. Turn off 138 at Baie St. Paul and head along 363 which skirts the glorious blues stretching beyond the north shore of the Bay of St. Lawrence, offering breathtaking scenery and some neat architectural treasures by way of quaint French homesteads. Most riders would glory in the great long ups and downs of the highway and its gentle, well-paved curves. Others, off toward the idiot fringe, see such a lifetime opportunity as nothing more than a chance to scare themselves stupid (OK, more stupid) by ripping along in flagrant disregard of posted signs, fellow travellers, and moose.
These are the fools that get captured on TV shows like "COPS" or "Disorderly Conduct" in beastly chase scenes that terrify viewers and bring the political hounds down on the rest of our tails with legislative proposals to do things like govern horsepower limits on bikes, boost insurance premiums to the sky, or provide a small convict population upon which devices like Tazers and Hyper-Mace can be tested in field-like conditions. Let us join one such fool as he whistles along highway 363, oblivious to convention, unaware of the horror he spreads in his wake like an airborne pestilence as he passes cars, SUVs and motor homes. His manner is haphazardly surgical and stupendously negligent. Let us also pretend he is mounted on a 1998 Windsor Green Kawasaki Concours, the finest of all Connies and a high-powered Canadian model at that.
The rider is a great hyena of a man whose visage looks somewhat like a blurred mug shot of a crack dealer. He is breathing through his mouth as is his custom. His nostrils are flared, his permanently-bloodshot eyes are buggy and the terrified hair on the back of his neck is as brittle as a plastic hairbrush. His grimace/grin is a rictus of stupidity like that of a 3-day old corpse and he is murmuring to himself with a high-end British accent as he “... hammers the jolly big Concours through the turns and closes rapidly on the Italian chap, Agostini”.
He is hunched over his fine machine and is firing off machine gun bursts of shifts as he winds Connie up and down through her upper gears. Brakes are hammered at the last second approaching curves, the bike is canted over just so, the throttle is held steady and a nice spray of sparks follows the footpegs as they leave a skipping white grind pattern through the curve. Then the beast is given full blast again and she LEAPS out of the apex of the turn, gradually straightening up in an excellent Mike Hailwood manner, the machine making great hound dog-like baying noises as the speedo needle arcs ever upward. Ago comes into sight ahead.
As the idiot rider straightens up from one memorable corner he sees a very steep and long incline ahead. On a smaller bike or in a car this would pose a dreadful and boringly long churn to the top. But not on Connie. Like a great grasshopper she jumps skyward, each upward gear change signifying another launch.
The scenery starts to blur and the lines on the road become smaller and closer together. About a half mile ahead, the rider sees a logging truck spewing smoke over the crest of the hill, ready to begin its downward, gravity-assisted plunge. The rider is a jumpy sort who usually relies on others to do his thinking for him, and this brief warning image hits the cranial recycle bin before the adrenal flow passes the danger message on to the cautionary lobes of the small, ossified and blackened cerebral cortex.
Like a fiery upward lightening bolt, the bike and homo sapien duo crest the hill scant seconds after the truck, oblivious to the tremendous speed differential of the two vehicles. A brief weightless period marks the transition and then, like a garbage truck plummeting off a buffalo jump, the Big Pleasure begins.
In most cases this would involve a terrifying drop similar to that of the scariest roller coaster ride of your life times ten, an eye-tearing rate of acceleration until the sphincter muscle goes on power-assisted auto-seal, a brief glance at the speedometer needle for the story you may tell later if you survive, and then a great panic lock on the front and rear brakes as the bottom of the elevator shaft approaches and the next turn is revealed.
The forks bottom, the rider is hurled upward and forward onto the tank bag, the rear tire starts to skip-yelp and the brain flashes warning strobes that curdle the blood and shriek "you left it too late you fool...too late!!!!".
But not this time.
For as the cresting downward hurtle begins, the rider sees the logging truck is only about 100 downhill meters ahead. He bats away this slight obstacle and continues in full-acceleration mode. As the revs climb he notes a tour bus chugging its way up the same hill but in the opposite lane. Ah ha! A super opportunity to “thread the needle”. Proper and professional timing is called for in this manoeuvre, but the rider is a panther of a man with the reflexes of a mongoose. He rips, he shifts, he sets the internal timing ticker to ensure he gets it just right, so as not to be squashed like a great canvass sack of thickened vegetable soup on the metal bumpers of either of the threatening behemoths.
For some reason he does not immediately see the black bear cub squatting on the side of the roadway, licking its ass. He is concentrating in a fierce, dim way on not getting massacred by the other obstacles on the road. Then, as he blurs through the proceed/do not proceed zone, it registers and he knows, with certainty, that he is fucked.
He imagines the jokes whispered at the graveside ceremony. “Pssst, hey man, know why a bear cub licks its ass? (pause) Because it can!!!”.
He imagines further tauntings and then reacts the way he usually does in such horrid circumstances - he shrieks inside his helmet like a great girlie-man, fixates on all obstacles simultaneously just like you're not supposed to, pins the throttle, presumably to get it over with quicker, and locks up all 42 muscles in the Sphincter Group.
If there are any aspiring pathologists out there who are looking for a thesis topic, I could definitely recommend the sphincter muscle group as something worthy of careful study, especially vis-à-vis “Type A” motorcyclists. Over the last few decades, my own southern sphincter musculature has become overdeveloped to the point of making me look like a cowboy when I walk. And I know I'm not alone.
Because of years of misuse in high risk situations your average Concours rider's main sphincter array probably looks something like an extra-terrestrial, steroided donut made out of Arnold Swartzenegger's biceps. I know with certainty that any, say, escaped boa constrictors stupid enough to attempt to approach one of these bikers from behind would have its head chopped off quicker than you can say Marie Antoinette. But best we leave the topic now before bad and irreversible images arise. And stay.
There are no longer memories or even blurred images of what actually happened during the licking bear incident. Suffice it to say that Cone Warrior lived to ride another day, even though a pit stop at the next public rest area took longer than normal. Eventually, beast and rider arrived at the scenic lookout just this side of magical Tadoussac at the mouth of the Saguenay River. Where French Harley Boy was waiting...
French Harley Boy: [friendly] “Voooozzzehhhhhtttdooooo?” (you are of where?).
Cone: “Ummm... huh, eh?” (just the way it sounds).
FHB: repeats self but with some enunciation this time
Cone: “Umm... bannn... umm... es-ti, eh?” (stupider than it sounds)
Cone: [role reversal] “Les baleines, ou sont ils?” (the whales, where are they?)
FHB: stares down at the Saguenay River mouth where there are about a dozen white Beluga whales floating about like they just blew a great big spliff. Tourists have been snapping pictures non-stop and making great oohing and ahhing sounds, but The Cone is oblivious – he still has his earplugs in.
Cone: [devil-may-care pronouncement] “Ottawa, actuallement.” (actuallement does not mean actually, it means “at this moment”, actually).
FHB: [moves away]
Cone: Squints and attempts thinking. But fails.
Chapter 4: Projectile Vomit
The Saguenay River is actually one of the few fiords in North America, draining Lac St. Jean from up north a hundred or so miles and providing a splendid place for whales to frolic, charter boats to chug about and Concours riders to sit, open-mouthed at scenic lookouts. Far below, Transport Canada runs a 24 hour, free ferry service (no, not that kind) bringing vehicular traffic back and forth with professional nonchalance. I stay aboard Connie during the float in case of a kamikaze whale attack, but we make it across unscathed.
Up the hill to the superb campsite at the top of the town and get set up for the night. Quebecers are quite a different breed than Canadians from other provinces and, as hard as it is to believe, actually think that sex, drinking and dancing are attributes to be practiced, perfected and then maintained for life, as opposed to activities to be feared. Saying the word “fuck” or “shit” in public in Quebec is about as offensive as yawning, but watch it very carefully with the religious stuff - “tabernac” or “sacrement” can get you killed there.
The lookout at the campsite offers such a high view across the Atlantic that locals tell me that you can see your own back if you squint long enough. I take a backpack of beer and a bottle of “special” wine over and wind-up my Grundig shortwave radio. I bring in some crazy Russian station which seems to have been taken over by madmen, if their transmissions can be taken literally.
Just as I start to groove to some Cossack-punk music I am joined by an older Brit couple who have been camped here for about a week. The man has a small ponytail and smiles when I caution him about the wine. He replies that he lived on Ibiza for a few years when he was a beatnik and takes a big glug. Later he brings out some pot(!) and we sing “Jerusalem” to smiling nods of the Quebecers who have joined us. Some dance. And continue smiling.
The evening progresses nicely and the big loud guy from Ontario warms to this tremendous assemblage of humanity. It is strange, but at the start of the night these creatures appeared to be simple, ordinary souls, perhaps a tad more intrepid than the average couch potato, but nondescript for the most part. However, as the sky above starts to wheel and the joie de vivre sets in, their true bursting selves bubbled forth and eventually can not be contained.
What a jolly fellow is the man from Antigonish! What a glorious beauty his wife has suddenly become! The couple from the UK are friends-for-life, even at this early point in the festivities. Furthermore, Cone Boy gradually has found that his ability to speak and understand the French language has increased exponentially and he finds himsef expounding on pretty well any topic known to human kind, and that in any damn language the gathering chooses to hear! It is uncanny.
'Scuse me while I kiss the sky!
At the height of things he is on the picnic table, shouting out a taste of the sweeping great stories of Mighty Space Captain Big Al Dyno and his hijinks in Aden during the communist revolution. A lethal Polish/Scottish cross that Cone had tried to emulate for decades without success, Captain Dyno himself stood in awe of only one man – Keith Richard, from Rolling Stones fame (“he set the bar high”). Suddenly, almost in mid-sentence, the Hog becomes tired. As well, his balance begins to fade as do his abilities to speak in many tongues...
Projectile vomiting is a behaviour from which many people distance themselves. In fact, there seems to be a public movement afoot to shy away from its practitioners. I know first-hand how this makes them feel, as it is a discriminatory and cowardly process designed to put artificial barriers between the observer and the performer. On the few occasions I have been involved in this struggle in a public way I admit that I have felt guilt and shame. I have felt violated by the very trust I was lead to believe would be there for me as a member of the human race, or at least a fringe member.
On the way back to my campsite that night I accidentally projectile-vomit 12 or 13 more times, strewing my innards and possibly even my outtards along the length of the nature trail, scaring squirrels and other small mammals with sounds and effects that would have been rejected as being too unworldly and terrifying by the guys who put together the soundtrack for “The Exorcist”. While this behaviour might seem shocking to some, to me it merely served as a reminder that the party was pretty good and my fellow campers were glorious sorts – friends for eternity. But I had to ride in the morning and there was no point in pushing things this early on my date with ex-prime ministerial destiny.
Chapter 5 – Getcher Motor Runnin'
Up early and fight the shakers with a blast of Combat Java laced with a touch of special wine sediment extract. Not enough to become impaired but not little enough not to light the fire, if you don't know what I mean.
Connie fires up immediately and settles into a fast idle while I poke and prod at her load. I am wearing about 68 kilos (154 pounds) of armoured gear and the pockets on my safari-like Kevlar jacked are stuffed like the bodies of 5 day-old, bloated chipmunks. Mirrors, whistles, compasses, knives, wrenches, cans of WD-40, multi-tools, GPS devices, spare keys, allen wrench sets, aspirins, trail mix, air pressure gauges, tums, gums, cigarette papers, hard candies, 12 pounds of loose change from various countries, 3 old condoms (yeah, right), a stray sock, 2 shotgun shells, bags of unidentifiable white powder, my lucky giraffe's tooth, Connie owner's handbook, spare shades, duct tape, band aids, a moose-bone chillum, sewing kit, a battered Velocette Thruxton baseball cap jammed down the front, and the all-important licence/ownership/insurance for when IT happens.
I wanted to bring my 2-ton jack, my come-along, my mom's 31 tonne log-splitter, and a spade but sometimes you can push it too far, especially when travelling at high speed.
The run from Tadoussac up to Forrestville and then to Chutes-aux-Outards (Otter Rapids) takes you through big hills, big bush, big rivers and pretty-well zero traffic. Quebec is known world-wide as a net exporter of hydro-electric power and a ride along the North Shore here lets you know why. Big, crashing, foaming river after big crashing, foaming river, surmounted by big towering bridge after big towering bridge. At the foot of each bridge the provincial government has created a nice little parking spot for people who like to fish. And, despite the lack of humans, you could probably live the rest of your life off the salmon and trout in evident abundance at these sites. Yes, I saw a bear at one.
I discovered several times that it is possible to Power Pee off the top of a great huge bridge and finish-up before the leading pee molecules have actually hit Mother Earth. Think of it as one very long invertebrate and you get the idea. You must be organized, you must be fast, and you must beware of trailing appendages during the high-speed end-zip, but otherwise it is clearly attainable, by at least ½ of humankind.
Although the roadways were modern and well-maintained, there were moose warning signs everywhere and we were just getting into September, otherwise known as rutting season. As such, and after seeing first hand the damage that an errant moose can do to a truck (seems every 3rd or 4th gas station has some crunched truck-hulk outside), I tempered my throttle hand a bit and kept it between 120-140 kph (75 – 85 mph).
At such low speeds you have time to think about matters of theology or socio-economic import, so I dwelt upon the concept of rutting season for some time, theorizing how it would be received by the media and the populace at large should it be introduced into North American society, perhaps as a pilot project at first.
Initially, you would need a high-powered team to come up with a very compelling business case, replete with cost-estimates and impacts (intended and unintended). This would be presented to an approvals committee of some sort, probably with representatives from the law enforcement community, women’s' groups, religious leaders, and teenage boys. Following the OK, you would then need some money for an ad campaign headed up by some avuncular Hollywood type, maybe Jack Palance all decked out in black leather.
Then you would erect warning signs and just let 'er rip.
Chapter 6: The Lair of the Balrog
As the cliffs got bigger and the bush got more remote my pulse and respiration quickened. The moment would be at hand later today when I arrived in Baie Comeau. They did not yet know I was coming, but I did. And that was all I needed to dig my spurs into Connie's peg mounts and punch up the throttle notch by notch until we were streaming along just like that stupid “Take On Me” music video about the Ah-Ha girlie-boy who turned into a cartoon and sang higher and higher until he exploded.
Godbout is a bizarre place. There are a variety of reasons for this including the fact that it is the birthplace of, arguably, Canada's most horrid, filthy, creepin', cheatin' snake of an ex-Prime Minister – "Slimy'" Sidney Dubois. His actual first name is Ponce, but that probably lasted until his first road hockey game when the neighbourhood boys took turns laying on the body checks and elbows and giving him the knuckles-in-the-scalp noogies. I know without being told that he then ran home crying to his mommy, vowing to become a politician in order to get even. And did he ever, running up massive spending debts, single-handedly setting the stage for Quebec's microscopically-near separation and almost destroying Canada in the process.
I previously had been able to exact a modicum of revenge against Slippery, the most public of which involved my discovery of the “banished” photos of his marriage to that crinkle-eyed, spoiled little weasel Sonia. The reasons that photos had been buried were because they were taken before Sonia had her boob job. When I first saw them I knew the supplier was mistaken, as the woman in the shots looked like a 14 year old boy and certainly couldn’t be Cutsie Girl. In fact, I only grabbed them because I had heard rumours that the The Slime had previously been married to a hooker – I thought the photos were of her. And they were bad.
There was also the yelling thing in front of Queen Elizabeth lII, but I got little feedback on the effectiveness from that one, except from the RCMP security boys. But today was gonna be the day – I was heading in the Lair of The Beast, even if he might not be home. Or receiving callers.
As described, the route from Ottawa to Natashquan was fortuitous as it took me directly through prime ministerial breeding ground. And I was nobody's fool when it came to determining why God laid this out so neatly in front of me. He wanted me to talk to Slippery Sid's people - and get some answers. I had rehearsed my lines on the way over and reminded myself that I must do everything in my power to put them at ease and keep them from sounding the alarm. Here's how it would go.
“Hi Mrs./Mr. Dubois, my name is HogMan and I am a Senior Member of the Concours Owners Group, otherwise known as COG. I was wondering whether I could talk to you for a few minutes. It's about Ponce.” I assumed dropping his name early and in such a familiar fashion would get me in around the kitchen table with maybe a spot of tea and some bickies. I would then run through a variety of questions, depending on their responses and body language.
“When did it all start to go wrong with him?”, or maybe “As a boy, was he always a congenital, pathetic liar?”, or “Do you hate him as much as the rest of the country?”, or even “Sonia is a little tramp, isn't she? Did you like her whatsoever even before the boob job?”.
The mission proved more difficult than I first imagined, for the first telephone booth that I visited to get an address had all the “D” pages torn out of the phone book in what appeared to be a rough, explosive manner. It took me about 4 separate tries before I was able to get my hands on one that had not been mutilated. I should have suspected the involvement of the bodyguard detail at that point but I was oblivious.
I drove back and forth through town, trying to find the address. I finally succeeded, but when I pulled up I saw the unmistakable outline of an unmarked car with 2 big burly dudes sitting in it. They flashed their headlights at me a few times when they saw I meant to stop. I assume they had been through this routine before, but they probably hadn't yet met anyone as oblivious as Cone Boy.
I foot-paddled Connie over to them and down came the electric window. The driver had on shades, but so did I.
“Ummm... is Labrador around here? Errr... I'm from Ontario and am... ummm... a bit lost... it seems.”
Labrador's whereabouts is known to every school kid in the province because that's where they swiped all the cheepo hydro power from Joey Smallwood and the Newfies for decades. It also a hell of a distance up the north road from Godbout, so I guess the question was a bit lame, but it was the best I could do on the spur of the moment.
“Non”, was the succinct French answer and a silence ensued. I stared in – they stared out. I took that as a dismissive gesture and started to fumble about in my tank bag for my digital camera. I was nervous but needed a shot of Slip's boyhood house. However, the cop started up his car at that moment and the other guy picked up the handset to call in my plate number of something. Oh no! The Mitchell's!!
Suddenly Connie shot off, almost on her own. I checked the mirrors after a few blocks but there was no pursuit. Damn it all to hell! I'm sure I could have brazened it out but earlier that day, whilst rehearsing my delivery I had happened upon the Godbout city jail. I didn't actually know it was the jail at first because it was on a downtown hillside and all I could initially see was a nice floral arrangement that said “Welcome to Godbout - Home of Ponce Dubois”. Later I noted the razor-wire and the frost-fencing surrounding this message.
I can pick up on the warning symbolism just like the next rider. And, just like the next rider, I do not like jails, even from the outside – they creep me out.
I needed to get out of town before they got wise or the Mitchells flew in, and thought to myself that it would probably be best to get up to Natashquan, camp on the beach for a few days, get high and regroup. Maybe I could find somebody to help plot a new line of strategy that I could employ on the return leg. Maybe the Russian guy on the short-wave.
Chapter 7: Route des Baleines (Route of the Whales)
I run right at squirrels.
I didn't used to, but then a couple of them freaked me out one wet autumn evening, with the roadway slick with leaves and oil freshly brought-to-the-surface. This is a recipe for suicide for most motorcyclists as braking/manoeuvring traction is tacit at best under these conditions and squirrels know it.
I got pissed off after a few of these panic evasions and started to observe them more carefully in subsequent encounters. Yep, what at first glance seems to be a soft, cuddly little bambi who somehow has gotten confused with the craziness of modern transportation practices was, in fact, a wily little prick, bent on malevolence and confusion - rats with tails. As I later discovered there will often also be observer squirrels hidden away up in the trees and cackling with chitter-chatter when their buddy causes somebody to crash or kill a child pedestrian. So I changed my philosophy.
Now, when I see one pulling the old back-and-forth bullshit at the side of the road I aim right at them and give Connie The Gun. With a great war whoop she responds immediately and we jump right at the little dickie-licker. I have found that if you aim directly at the body you will often miss, given their cheatin' ability to use the tail to distort the time/space quantum much like the bull fighter's cape. Instead I cut them off on the short side, forcing them out onto open ice where, hopefully, there will be a big garbage truck or something driven by 3 old Italian guys who won't even notice the slight bump.
Then I will go on, smug, satisfied that I have removed at least one squirmy little jerk from the ordeal of daily living. But back to the ride.
If you ever find yourself fleeing from the wrath of RCMP bodyguards and heading west along Quebec Highway 138 you may feel like a yellow cur with your tail wrapped between your legs. But you shouldn't. If not for people like you, pig-dogs like him would escape this mortal coil with impunity, softening their critics with muscle and payola and using the oil to smooth all the bubbling cauldrons of screaming hot entrails and pus cast aside in his wake. Or so I am led to believe. Or maybe that was Robert Mugabe – someone that The Slime reportedly got cosy with in Zimbabwe's heyday in the late 90's.
The ride starts to get REAL good around Baie Trinité and up through the gorgeous seascape of Pointe-aux-Anglais. Great crashing surf and endless, pure white beaches on the south side of the roadway. Want to camp free all alone and in eternal bliss? Just pull over, prop Connie up on a great cairn of stones and driftwood logs so she won't fall over (yet again), lay out the pup tent (using the offshore winds to help you “fill” it), circle the rocks for the firepit, and crack a brew.
Later, when properly rested, there will be time to get the Russian guy on the shortwave, stroll the beach looking for seal heads and using the binoculars to scour the horizon for whales doin' wheelies and blowin' off. This highway isn't called “La Route des Baleines” (Route of the Whales) for nutin'!!
My 17 pound copy of “The Siege of Leningrad” by Harrison E. Salisbury seems to be stuck at page 218 without much in the way of prospect for advancement, at least not on this beach. “The precise motives of this strange and disturbed dictator are not clear. What was clear was that Stalin would not accept the action of his Leningrad proconsuls.”
Man, Big Slippery would have been in his sycophantic glory, toadying about with Stalin, squealing on the proconsuls and handing out grease to the suckfaces. I began to boil afresh and became tempted to turn back this very evening and make a run directly at his statue in downtown Godbout (assuming there is one), ripping Connie up through the high gears and attaining a velocity that approximates that needed to escape Earth's gravity. A fiery collision indeed.
We pass through Port Henry, part of Ponce's political riding when people actually gave him the time of day. The local economy has grown since 1986 when Big Boy dropped $60 million to build a federal office building in the middle of no-where. As He Himself later said with a twinkle in his eye, “There's no hooker like an old hooker”.
Chapter 8 - Surfside
The run northeast along 138 continues past Port Henry through Sept Isles and along some of the most exquisite and isolated lands that Connie has ever seen. Lots of winding roadways, crashing river rapids going under bridges, seemingly-endless sand beaches and far off visons of the Mingan National Park Archipelago, a series of about 40 islands and more than a 1,000 islets and reefs that are home to a whole new universe of plants, fox, beaver, otter and muskrat, seals and dolphins, Minke, Blue and Humpback whales, and seabirds including some 70,000 puffins, common eiders, and shorebirds.
These are also the stomping grounds of about 16,000 Innu people (not Inuit, who are “Eskimos”) who live in 13 rustic communities along this seaway and up into Labrador. I get to know a few of them, the first of whom I meet holding a STOP sign (actually, it said “Arret”) at a highway construction site.
He wanders over with a big grin on his face as Connie stops in full compliance with his big red sign. Our conversation is a mixture of French, English and lots of “Huhs?” due to the requisite earplugs, balaclava and helmet. When I tell him where we are going he lets out a yelp and squeals, “Natashquan! That's WAY up there!”. Despite living here most of his life, he has never been to Natashquan, although I find out later he was pulling my leg.
He squints into the Cone Helmet to see if he can isolate even one spark of intelligence from inside but appears confounded and finally shrugs his shoulders and waves me through. On an impulse I ask if he needs a ride up toward the machinery as there are a total of zero cars on the highway and he surely was getting lonely. He grins and climbs onto Connie into the big squeeze between the gear on the back and the, umm, thick rider ahead.
As we approach his co-workers he begins yelping something indecipherable and waving his sign up and down. If he wanted to attract attention he succeeded, as the entire gang stopped work one-by-one and gazed at the oncoming spectacle. He climbed off to tell his story and Connie and I fired off down the highway, in a passionless manner, as if we regularly ride about with a loonie Innu construction worker replete with waving Arret sign running tandem.
As I pulled past the construction site I saw a number of very cool pieces of heavy machinery, including what appeared to be a 1960s-era Mack B dump truck sitting, unattended, off to the side of the road shoulder. I had a weak spot for heavy machinery, probably based in the warning on drug packages not to go messing with any when you were legally stoned. Every time I read such nonsense I immediately conjured images of The Boys at an unattended construction site, snorting loads of stuff from Shoppers' Drug Mart and then howling and scrambling, like at Le Mans, for the juiciest and most dangerous piece of iron. Somebody would get hurt for sure - probably Sweet Daddy O'Malley, because he throws everything he's got into antics just like this. But he wouldn't complain about getting maimed because he is Irish.
I had run into trouble some years back in respect of a dump truck just like this, except for the paint job of course. The truck in question belonged to the Borough of North York “Winter Works” initiative, which was some politician's name for rounding up all the bums and hippies every winter and giving them minimum wages to do some shovel work in the neighbourhood frozen swamps and riverways. Our job was to dig out stream beds and lay on some big wire baskets filled with pieces of re-cycled concrete (“gabion baskets” in professional terms).
My man Brownie, being the anal craftsman that he is, got one of the suckiest jobs which permitted him to hand-sledge-finesse the corners off the raw chunks of concrete to ensure they fit in the basket in a manner similar to that employed by the ancient Incas on Manchu Pichu. Others of the rubby-hippie assortment formed a human chain gang, passing pieces down from the dump truck to the awaiting perfectionist craftsman.
Special duties were reserved for others, who were deemed by Foreman Jerry to be of an anti-social nature or otherwise were smart-alecs or buckers of the chain of authority. These people (or more accurately, that person) was regularly sent off by himself each morning to “the yard”. Here, using the 10-lb sledge, he transformed the raw materials (great slabs of sidewalk) into those that could be barely lifted into the dump track. He was brought back each lunch time by special pickup truck to the borough central station for water and bread but was quickly driven back to sledge-hammer duties before he could incite hatred or rile up the non-shit disturbing gang.
One day, after bolting my lunch I stood idle outside the lunchroom gazing in at the gang telling stories and playing cards. I felt a bit lonely and looked about for something to do while waiting for the Italian guy (“Tony”) to come 'round in the pickup for my re-delivery to concrete purgatory. My gaze went past the '65 dump truck but then returned. And lingered.
This truck was regularly driven by “Shorty”, a lifer at the borough. Shorty had become the butt of jokes over the decades he had been there, primarily because of the undue love and affection he lavished on his dump truck. He babied it beyond belief, permitting no human hand to foul its shiny exterior and demanding supervisory permission before grudgingly allowing entry to a passenger. Ordinarily I wouldn't have paid much attention to the truck, but it was parked directly in front of the lunchroom windows and had its keys in it.
I didn't have much time. I wandered over and then turned to the gang inside, whistling and waving – they stopped talking and gazed out. This probably would be really good. Or really stupid.
Quickly I ran to the driver's door and clambered aboard. I heard gasps from inside the lunchroom - this was heresy!!! Shorty had left the keys in the truck as per standing regulation and I cranked that old V-8 to life within seconds. In went the clutch, bang went the shifter into bull-low, and to the floor went the accelerator. I was going to burn rubber in Shorty's truck, right in front of the whole yard!!! No-one would ever forget this grand, bellowing, smoking drama, I exulted!!!
Had I been a tad more observant, I would have noticed the full 2-ton load of concrete in the bed of the truck. This probably would have caused me pause for a few moments, in which time I would have figured out the whole lamentable business of weight transfer. But I didn't, because I was genetically unable to think of stuff like that when pressed and in front of a classroom of kids.
BAAAAAANG!!! and then UP, UP, UP!!!!!! went the front end of the truck until I could see only sky. Yes, Shorty's dump truck was doing the very first full-power wheelie of its very life!!!! I got scared at the top because I thought we were going to stay pointing straight up, so I pushed in the clutch, permitting the great beast to plunge back to earth with a tremendous BANG!!!
It was at this point that things became grim. Shorty had rushed out of the building with a great screwdriver in his trembling hands. He had come to kill me and take back the management of his beloved baby. But the truck refused to co-operate.
Just as we BANGED down to the ground, the load re-asserted itself, acting as a magically balanced counterweight, and up we went AGAIN! Shorty was hollerin' and I started to panic. Maybe I should just JUMP, because this thing wasn't going to stop the up-down freak-out for a while. Eventually, of course it did grind to a horrid metal-shrieking stop and I slipped out the passenger door into the waiting pickup, shaken and white.
Pickup driver Tony and I had become friends during my period in solitary and he spirited me away at a great clip. “Mama Mia!!! We athoughta you wassa gonna die!!! Why youa doa thata??? Youa crazy man?!??”
It was tough, but I kept Connie pointed down the road and continued passed the dump truck. There were no cops, so the next best thing to a dump truck wheelie would simply be some high-speed riding until the pressure came down again. "First gear, it's all right, second gear, hang on tight...".
Chapter 9 – Havre St. Pierre Campsite
I pull into Havre St. Pierre (“Saint Peter's Harbour”) and load up on combustibles, beer and grub. Neat town and neat people, even if their machine-gun French is closer to Acadian than Parisian (not that I would ever be proficient enough to know – I read that somewhere).
I have discovered the town campsite just down the beach a few miles and start to personally appreciate the Quebec approach to off-season camping. That is, unless otherwise stated or locked-up, campsites are left open to all and are free of charge when all the sane people have gone home. The Havre site is no exception and I find out quickly that they also maintain the washrooms, running water and garbage pickup, just so the hippies (all of one) don't get all stressed out about household duties.
I have my pick of abouut 70 sites so I get greedy and grab one right on the beach, but sheltered by a nice line of conifers. I wander down to the beach after getting set-up (primary move is to make sure beer is shaded and in a cool spot) and gaze across the sea where the outline of gigantic Anticosti Island comes in loud and clear. Many have been fascinated by this famous spot, remote yet situated right smack in the middle of one of the heaviest sea lanes in the world. To paraphrase the description in Wilkepedia:
Anticosti Island is a rocky, forest covered that is very large (217 km long and 48 km wide, but very sparsely populated (266 people in 2001), mostly in the village of Port Menier on the western tip of the island, consisting chiefly of the keepers of the numerous lighthouses erected by the Canadian government. The coast is rocky and dangerous, and has only two safe harbours, Ellis Bay and Fox Bay. The largest lake on the island is Lake Wickenden, which feeds the salmon-rich Jupiter River.
For thousands of years, Anticosti Island was the territory of the natives who lived on the mainland and used it as a hunting ground. The Innu called it Notiskuan, translated as "where bears are hunted" and the MikMak called it Natigostec, meaning "forward land". The French explorer Jacques Cartier sailed along its shore in the summer of 1534. He called the place Assomption and provided its first written description. By the early 1600s France had officially seized the island and made it part of its colonial empire. Its first settlers arrived when in 1680 King Louis XIV gifted to explorer Louis Joliet the Seigneury of the Mingan Archipelago and Anticosti Island. Equal to one-quarter the size of the country of Belgium, Anticosti thus became the largest island in the world to ever be privately owned. Louis Jolliet erected a fort on Anticosti and in the spring of 1681 settled there with his wife, four children and six servants. His fort was captured and occupied during the winter of 1690 by some of the Massachusetts troops of William Phips during their retreat after an unsuccessful attempt to capture Quebec City. The Jolliet family retained ownership until 1763 when it became part of the British Empire under the terms of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Seven Year's War. In the ensuing years the island property changed hands several times, its owners generally using it for the harvesting of timber.
In 1895 Anticosti was sold to Henri Menier who also leased the shore fisheries rights. Menier converted the island into a personal game preserve and named the Island's 70 metre high Vaureal Falls after the town in France where he owned a home. Henri Menier constructed the entire village of Port Menier, built a cannery for packing fish and lobsters, and attempted to develop its resources of lumber, peat, and minerals. Many of the original houses still stand today. Menier also introduced a herd of 220 deer to the island. Without natural predators such as wolves, the deer thrived and today the population exceeds 120,000 while the island's moose population is about 1,000.
Henri Menier died in 1913 and his brother Gaston became the owner of Anticosti Island. He used and maintained it for a time but eventually decided it was not an economically viable proposition and sold it to the Wayagamack Pulp and Paper Company in 1926. In 1974, the government of Quebec purchased the island. With its 24 rivers and streams bountiful with salmon and trout, it is now a paradise for paleontologists, bird watchers, hikers, and a major draw for anglers and hunters, particularly those from the United States.
Reading all that makes me tired and I kick back with another brew and my binoculars. I scout about the watery horizon and soon make out the back and spray of surfacing whales. I cannot make out whether they are Blue or Humpback, but figure that is fair because they probably cannot determine if I am one of the 1.8 billion Muslim terrorists packing an explosives-laden vest or a Good Guy (Christian, but not the crusades or Irish type). This place (Routes des Baleins) is very well named as it seems possible during most daylight hours to scan about and find one of these big dudes or dudettes.
I have heard that whales have a surreal sense of hearing and can pass messages back and forth for great distances so, one evening after a snort or two I wander down to the seaside, jam my head beneath the surface (cold!!!) and sing out a bubbling, underwater version of “Ruby, Don't Take Yer Love to Town”. Not the whole thing mind, just a couple of verses and the chorus, so the audience gets the general idea. I then ran back a few meters, wrapped head into towel and waited...
I waited for quite a while and even shut my eyes as I have heard that sharpens the other senses. But nothing. Later I found out that whales can use sub- and super-sonics when pressed so I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they got into it, but out of my hearing range. So next time you're doing some snorkeling or something, don't be surprised if you hear something that sounds like “Ruby, for God's sake... turn around”. Then again, maybe not.
I sit each night on my own private beach at my own private picnic table that I have dragged from under the cedar trees around my campsite. I smoke about 1/3 of a joint of a nice black hash/tobacco blend and dick around with my hand-wound Grundig AM/FM/Short Wave radio for a few minutes, wheeling the dial amidst squeals and pops until I get a station that comes in pretty clearly. It is the Russian guy again, but I don't care.
I sip on my ice-cold homemade wine listening to the waves and, for the zillionth time, thank the ancient Gods of Egypt for helping their people discover the secret ingredients and mixing rituals that have allowed us to enjoy this cool, red jewel. I whistle back my third or fourth smacker and suddenly the hash hits. I stare at the surf, the beach and the great constellations above wheeling overhead as they have done for billions of years. I realise that I can clearly understand each word the Russian commentator is uttering and it all begins to make sense to me.
A sudden moment of inspiration drives me to seek pen and paper and I compose an opus to wine. I tell myself I must submit this to the local newspaper even though I have never had a response to the dozens of epics I have sent them over the years. Maybe they are hoarding them, waiting for my demise, plotting to live of my post-mortem fame. Or maybe not.
Ol’ Guzzler Belchin' Red, a discovery from Elmvale Acres
Mention Ol’ Guzzler to most wine connoisseurs and they'll think of stomach surgery or maybe a bad car accident. However, in the hamlet of Elmvale Acres they may remember that it's sort of a shriveled reddish grape, a cross between Rougetta Gummba and Pinot Pinketta that the serfs used to grow atop their septic tank mounds, but is now largely abandoned.
This may change, however, because the Produttori Ragazzi Difettosi Sociale di Elmvale Acres (literally, “Bad Boys”), the local musical winery, has licensed a young entrepreneur from the Ottawa Valley area of Canada, and I was much impressed.
The 2007 Ol’ Guzzler BR (a pre-release sample) is a brassy guzzling red with facial reflections off the bottle and ballsy highlights. It features a toxi-intense bouquet with decaying floral accents mingled with shades of kerosene and industrial waste (from the Ol’ Glugger Projectile V parent) that adds eye-tearing and an intriguing sense of alarm to the sampling experience.
It seems quite elegant in an decidedly modest manner, and somewhat burdensome to sniff. On the palate it's puzzling, with sudden tart ammonia-like fruit -- it brings Bazooka bubblegum laced with Tabasco to mind -- supported by lively, fairly caustic acidity that flows into a long burning finish with deft flesh-searing and further hints of diesel fuel that may sound odd, but work very well, at least after the first few litres go down.
It may be moderately nice as a sizzling tar-like aperitif, with creamy delicate big mac, or with dripping, steaming, fatty sacks of onion rings awash in grease.
Bottom line: I think they Ragazzi Difettosi have got a winner. The next step will be for the other producers of the Vanier region, whose hi-test chugging white (Lava Bianco) is a blend of Ol’ Guzzler and Ol’ Glugger, to follow the Septic Depository gang’s lead, and help re-establish the gem they're fortunate enough to have.
For now, to taste it you'll have to visit Elmvale Acres, a hamlet many people see on their way from the East Ottawa Detention Centre to the local dog pound. It's quite beautiful in a surreal, horrid way, and Ol’ Guzzler Belchin' Red is yet another reason to turn off the highway and spend a day or two hunkered down out by the industrial waste bins behind the Loeb shopping mall. The boys are waiting for you.
Sometimes it is fun to get straight and go out and drive erratically and then humour the police when you get pulled over. But there don't appear to be any police around these parts or even traffic and the other folk don't really seem to care what you do as long as you're having fun. An enigma wrapped up inside a conundrum methinks.
At some point during one dark, wet night I became awake after hearing what sounded like an animal pacing around my tent and sniffing. When it comes to lurching bolt upright in a tent in the middle of the night, few can stay with me. Neither are there many that can subsequently dive deep back into the sleeping bag within milliseconds, pulling the blankees around the head and leaving a tiny peephole for the Eye That Will See The Entry Of The Beast. It is important not to move a sliver when you are cowering in these circumstances, for if you are heard you will be killed.
I am about 6'3” and on the wrong side of 240 pounds and I am an enraged, dangerous, deadly foe when cornered and terrified. Otherwise I either hide or run. But when you are in a tent off the cold dark coast of the Atlantic Ocean and the creatures are circling outside in the Pre-Eating Ritual and you are in the 1/2 terrified and almost asleep mode, burying yourself in your sleeping bag and clutching your LED head-set flashlight like bolos seems like a pretty reasonable idea.
The noises ebbed and flowed and then were joined by the sounds of BREATHING! Not your regular rythmic in-out stuff for these beasts - no way. It seemed liked they took in a big one and then held it for what seemed like hours. Then, just when the innocent children are drifting off, they breath again - in unison!!! The night was grim, and cold, and grim all over again.
In the morning our brave warrior dressed himself in the noisy, scare-off-the-remaining-animals fashion, grabbed the grizzly spray and the multi-purpose tool (set on "Phillips Head") and zip up the first few inches of the tent. A quick, daring glance and then a recoil that would have shamed a howitzer. Nothing.
This is repeated a few times and then the courage is summoned, the adrenal and sphincter alliance merges strongly and, with a terrifying roar, the giant-killer leaps out of the tent, ready for a battle to the death. Outnumbered by the beasts. But courageous to the end!
This startles the guy collecting the garbage at the end of the lane and he almost drops his bag. He then says something derogatory about "doze damn racoon'" and moves on. Cone Warrior glances down and sees some of his empties, scattered about. He also sees numerous tiny animal footprints. Baby ones...
Later, while having his morning snooze on the beach he rockets up when he clearly hears "the breathing" yet again. He whirls and twirls but cannot lock-in on the origin of the horrifying sound. His head drops back and he starts to drift. BUT THERE IT IS AGAIN!
Up yet again, but further disappointment despite swiveling and squinting like a madman on meth. What the hell WAS THAT???
This time he pretends to snooze, keeping his eyes barely open in the old Half Lid manouevre. He waits, waits, waits and then leaps up as he lazer-looks out to sea. Yep, he has finally narrowed the beast down and it is what appears to be a sea creature like a walrus or something with a baby on its back! The duo float about for a bit and then with an AUDIBLE gasp, they load up on air, hesitate for a bare moment while gazing at the beach (yikes!) and then dive.
Another night I am frozen with fear by the sounds of a baying wolf pack. A not too far away one if my senses are the least tuned. They go on for some time and I crouch inside the safety bag, trembling yet again. As it continues I realise they are not coming closer and assume they have pulled down a bear or something and are in the midst of a ripping, snarling death spree. Eventually they shut up and crash but I do not. I realise I must do something during daylight hours to protect myself and ponder/worry the issue all night long.
The next morning I hike cautiously in the direction of the wolf pack, brandishing my fold-out aluminium cane and a can of beer. I wind through thick bush and scrub, along sand trails and up and over hill and dale. Just as I am about to give up I hear noises ahead and slink like a panther forward, ever forward. I am ready for canine battle but I am not ready to see a house ahead with a caged enclosure. Inside I see about 2 dozen huskies with an array of dog-sled equipment strewn about the yard. And risking his life by mixing with these blood-thristy beasts is none other than the Innu flagman I gave a ride to a few days back!
He looks over my way and says “Want a beer, eh?”
There is a bar in Havre St. Pierre that I have come to visit daily. It is now part of my solar cycle and each afternoon I march along the beach “getting in shape”, stopping periodically to see if I can see any whales. I like the concept of having a blowhole and figure that the buddies of my youth could have hit it off well with your average whale (“hey, pull my flipper”). Later in the routine I stop at the town dock and look forlornly into the deeps to see if I can see “Chou-Chou” the semi-famous dolphin that has adopted the town and become a figure of tourist lore. I never do spot the bugger and figure he has headed south for warmer climes or maybe was just a bunch of PR bullshit in the first place.
I enter the “Bijoux” (jewel) and am greeted warmly by its denizens. It doesn't take long for a stranger to crack the ice with the local boys here as long as there is plenty of suds to be had and I've already made my mark as the guy who got shot in the head by the sniper. Not too many people can pull off such a twister easily but I actually have a nice set of matching scars on either side of my forehead from some skin cancer stuff from a while back and I milk my survivorship every once in a while. (“Yep, this here's the entry wound and this is the exit point... clean through, but it hurt like a bitch I'll tell yah”.)
Some roar with laughter, some come over for a closer inspection (sacrement!) and others joke in indecipherable French. We have bonded well in the last few days and are getting ready for a 2 hour special showing of “Disorderly Conduct”, the cops show where stupid people often crash their pickup trucks after a police chase and need to be tazered. Someone places a quart of La Tabernac in front of me and I take a pull direct from the neck. Anything effete would get you pounded out here.
Excitement builds as the commercials wind down. Some around the tables favour foot chases through backyards and over fences. This is probably because there is usually a good smackdown to end the typical incident and I can understand this. Others enjoy high-speed car chases, especially if the bad guy rolls and is hauled out of the wreck with his shattered limbs handcuffed together. I myself am a specialist and get right fired up on the infra-red helicopter pursuits, especially if it's the police canine unit that brings the idiot down in the end (“We got uh 10-15 heer. He's bin dog-bit”.).
We are not disappointed in this tribute to American society and eventually the night wears down to the nub and I am off along the beach for a return to Orc Land for another night of psycho war. As I careen my way along the beach I mix in some beachcombing, some star gazing, some dreaming and some Pimp Walking. Some in my old gang have perfected to High Art the entire pimp-strut collection and I start to take a crack at a few, much in the way an aged Karateka may do rusty versions of the katas he used to know like his own hand. A bit of James Brown Spinaroolas here, some Ike Thrusts there, a Sex Machine Cape Flourish with a Feather-Hat Brushback, and finally some Billy Ocean (who in fact was my Polish buddy Big Swede with some make-up on).
But this begins to pale too soon and I resort to that good old pick-me-up - The Monty Python Horse Canter. Properly done, this requires 2 coconut halves so I have to do the clip-clop with my mouth but eventually we get into the swing of things and make our way down the beach to the den. I never did all that well in school but my mom likes to point out that I got an “above average” in Galloping in kindergarden.
I find out later that I passed a darkened car with 2 teenage neckers who were startled to see the whole array fold out in front of them. Word then got around quickly to the gas bar, the Bijoux, and to the guys running the garbage truck down at the campsite, which in turn increased traffic that would slowly idle past me at the picnic table each evening. No words were exchanged, but their windows were rolled down.
As I gas up to leave Havre St. Pierre I catch a glimpse of a moving object in my peripherals and swivel the old cranium about to catch a quick flash of what looks like a traditional Innu hunter loping down the highway(!). He's going north to south but I can't for the life of me figure out where he came from - there is tundra, scrub brush and rock as far as eye can see so that part is a mystery. Just to make sure I'm not imagining things I dive into my tankbag and click off a quick digital shot as he disappears down toward the St. Lawrence.
After I pay and pull all my damn gear back on yet again, I gaze up and down the road but he is not in sight. I want to talk to this guy so I fire up Connie and zip down the road the same way he was going. I ride for about 10-15 minutes peering all over the place but the man has simply disappeared! Questioning my own sanity, I stop and pop up my photos on my viewer and flit about looking for this special shot - yep, there he is! I zoom in on what is not really that great a shot and see he has on moose-hide mukluks, some kind of a hide & wood backback and what appears to be 3 or 4 spears wrapped together in some kind of material. This man looked quite intent and clearly was on a mission but what it was I guess I'll never find out.
As you leave Havre heading east there is a one-of-a-kind highway sign that probably should have tweaked the prudence quadrant in my brain, assuming I had one. But it didn't.
I actually rode past it at first after catching a quick yellow flash but what I thought I saw intrigued me and I looped back and pulled over in front of it. Yep, a big yellow sign with the name of the next 3 towns spelled out along a black painted line representing Highway 138 on its way to Natashquan. Instead of having black dots to show the towns however, it had a series of bright yellow warning lights and an inscription that indicated, when flashing, that the highlighted section of roadway was closed. Didn't say why, just that you better not even think about it.
So, typically dim and oblivious, off I went to run to the fabled end of the road, see what was up with the good folks of Natashquan (well-off looking white guys' village) or Pointe Parent (bad-off looking Indian guys' village), and maybe get a dramatic picture or two. As I rode (OK sped) along, I pondered lightly the meaning of the high-tech highway closure sign, concluding after a few milliseconds of thought that in winter they probably got a lot of snow and white-outs and wanted to warn people when things got really wild.
It never really occurred to me that it could have been an all-seasons' warning for deep fog and mist that might blow-in off the ocean and fill low-lying areas with a deep, impenetrable goo that would leave special high-velocity vehicles like, say, a Windsor Green 1998 Kawasaki Concours, ripping into a suddenly-blind high-speed series of twists and turns with maybe one of those slippery-lethal green-plank covered bridges thrown in just to keep things fascinating. But it should have.
In mid-shriek I had a flashback to the good old days flying in the co-pilot's seat of a Tomahawk Airlines (yep) Piper Chieftan twin-prop job from Big Trout Lake in north-western Ontario up to Fort Severn on Hudson Bay. Took about 4 hours as I recall and, except for the take-off and landing, was done entirely in a thick fog-soup. After we got to cruising altitude the pilot punched in the auto-pilot and calmly took out a paperback novel and began to read.
The big, stupid looking passenger beside him, however, leaning and squinting to see the last millisecond of the mountain that we were going to explode head-on into, was mortified and suddenly blurted "Aren't you going to even LOOK where we're going?".
His reply was calm "What's there to see?". He read for most of the trip, taking time every 15 minutes or so to ask over the radio if there were any "conflicting" flights up in the same air space.
When you are flying on a motorcycle in the fog and over an icy surface like a slick lumber bridge you don't have much time to read. You just go auto-sphincter yet again and hold on. Connie meanwhile got good and sideways on the bridge and we probably skid-skated across much of its width, coming up nicely short by an inch or two from the heavy-duty guardrails which presumably were erected to make sure no foreign objects flung themselves over the edge and down 20 meters or so to spoil the lovely wilderness setting or pollute the rapids with Ontario-style metal and flesh litterbug chunks.
Pull over and do the Great Shuddering Breaths until things ease up a bit. Christ I'm getting too old for this shit.
Like almost everything I get wound-up about, Natashquan was a bit of a dreary disappointment and Pointe Parent was a dive. I stopped at the end of 138 for a pretty boring shot and a long, steaming pee and then waddled Connie down to the edge of the Natashquan River for yet another shot. OK, done. Now to head home, with a second shot at redemption in Godbout.
I stay on the beach in Havre St. Pierre a few more days as I have discovered a new personal sport. It involves timing Connie and Conehead as they race back and forth to Natashquan each morning. The one-way distance is a shade under 130 kilometers (80 miles) and I eventually get it down into the low 1 hour range, which I'm pretty satisfied with considering that there are several of those deadly-slick lumber bridges along the way.
Chapter 10 – Rematch with the Jackal
The reverse run along the Whale Trail was as much fun as the ride up and I cranked it up a notch after telling myself that I now “knew” the road. Things generally went well but the bush started to grow back along the roadside and I started to get the Moose Paranoia again which didn't slow me down as much as it should. It did however make me recall a freezing winter night coming back to Thunder Bay from Fort Frances in NW Ontario. I was in my old VW Rabbit and was zipping along well outside the prudence zone, taking advantage of zero traffic (cops) and the full moon which, in a snowy countryside, improved visibility tremendously.
As I zipped along I suddenly saw the blurred outline of a horse(!) standing less than a few feet off the roadway. Being a very bright sort, I caught a glimpse of steam coming out of his nostrils and I wondered to myself how he got out of the barn or wherever. About 30 meters later I zipped past his twin and doubly-concluded how pissed the poor farmer was going to be when he discovered the escape. And about another 30 meters beyond that it quickly dawned on me that them were MOOSE. Big ones. Ones that can crush trucks, let alone tiny little girlie-man cars.
I slowed from that point until I got back to T. Bay.
Meanwhile, on the Whale Route, I stop a few times and wander into secluded coves or along stretches of deserted beach, listening to the shorebirds and surf and squinting out to see if I can see any of the Big Boys doing the blowhole thing. The enormity of the seascape stays with me to this day as does the silence which I can only characterize as “big”. I shoulda stayed, I shoulda stayed, I SHOULDA stayed!
I cruise into Sept Isles (“seven oye-lands”, to my Newfie friends) to case out the place and discover yet another gem of a town. Lotsa stuff going down with the teenagers and the docks. Then there was the massive pulp mill out on one of the islands, which was the terminus of the rail line that brought the logs down from Goose Bay (Dubois was the bossman of the Boreal Forestry Company of Canada in his earlier days and shut that town down to the fury of many). There was also one of the neatest sand beaches I had ever seen down below the roadway.
At some nameless point on the road to Godbout I am frightened shitless at the exit to a nice downhill corner when I see an oncoming car of the law enforcement variety. He/she gives out a blasting burble of lights and siren and then continues merrily on his way, presumably chortling at the panic'd look on the rider's face (yes, even deep within the helmet) as he nonchalently locks up yet another tire-smoking fork-bottoming braking dive, hoping against hope that it was all a mistake.
I used to get upset at this common practice of Quebec cops but now I start to dig it. The whole thing between hunter and quarry is now done in high-tech code. Yep, he nails you bare-naked at high-speed and then passes the message through his accessories that you are dead meat but he has more important things to do. He continues on the the Sept Isle donut shop and life continues.
A few miles more up the raod and I stop at another construction site but this one is different as the boys are doing some dynamite blasting. I like a good dose of high explosives and this one is a peach. Wait, wait, wait and then KA-BOOOOMMMM!!!! Somebody should bring a schoolbus of kids out this way if you want to teach an unforgettable lesson in comparing the speed of sound (a delayed boom) to the speed of light (yep, you can see the stuff flying a few seconds before you hear it).
I stop yet again in Godbout on the return leg of the Whale Ride. I know I shouldn't do this but, like all the other stupid thiings in my life that I knew I shouldn't do but I did anyways like buying that Norton, I rode over to Dubois' mom's house again (Note: at this point in the trip I had somehow convinced myself that the house belonged to Mrs. Dubois Sr. and that she was peering out from behind the blinds, waiting for me). I probably did this just to make a point that Canadians everywhere should be free to ride over to anybody's mom's house, even if the kid is one of those types that nobody would pick for their road hockey team because he always cried when he got labelled with an elbow.
As I came around the corner I KNEW what I was going to see and, yep, there they were. Same car, same guys, same sunglasses. I left Connie in 1st gear and took her up to about 6,000 rpm and kept her steady there. Some of you out there smile when you read “steady at 6,000 rpm” because you know what a great place that is to be as you approach an unmarked cop car with 2 guys in it who probably have automatic weapons and they already don't like you. At this sweet engine setting, if suddenly cranked on full, Connie will stand straight up in the air with a howl that would terrify Vlad The Impaler. Or she will spin the rear tire and lay down a smoking stretch of rubber that will close the roadway for a decade. Or both.
But only a chicken would run and I knew this might be the last chance in my life for such a confrontation. I needed closure.
As I approached the car, my heart began the familar stupid pitter-patter but then one of the guys inside it waved(!) to me and rolled down the window. I was flummoxed – what was all this about then?
“Did you find Labrador?”, he queried with a grin.
I stammered something idiotic in reply, nodded like a dummy and pointed in a vague north-east direction. Sensing a need to continue to look like a fool I then added, “Do you know the way to Ontario... ummm... from here?”. They laughed, so I blundered on.
“I just wanted to say hi and... ummm... get an... (inspiration) autograph!”
“Ummm... you know... his mom”.
To make a long story short, it turned out that, a). these guys were bus inspectors checking the frequency of the cross-towner that was supposed to go by every 15 minutes but rarely did, b). the Dubois moved out of town about 15 years ago and, c). never lived around here in the first place.
With that squared away I sorta sheepishly aimed for the highway but the boys waved me back and pointed in the other direction. Nothing like being consistent I mused.
I wend down to Tadoussac on the way home, noting how less wild the roadside seemed from the initial ride up. I guess that's the way life it – strange the first time you try something new and then it smooths out a bit.
Chapter 11 – Race Day!
I decide to stray from my plans to ride ride straight home through Quebec City and Montreal, concluding that a 1-2 day, 4-slab drone through radar- and motorhome-infested autoroutes would drive me stark raving nuts. So I hung a right at Tad and discovered the fantastic Highway 172 that clings to the eastern shore of the Saguenay River on its way up through Chicoutimi and back to the headlands in Lac St. Jean. Although the road was stricken with numerous frost-heaves it was a true rider's delight as it carved through pristine forest, rock, rivers and small lakes. It was one of the best points of the trip – one that I easily could have missed.
I stop in Saint Rose-du-Nord and take in a wonderous village and an equally-wondrous view of the Saguenay fiord, the southernmost of its kind in North America. It's then time to barrel out of there and up to Chicoutimi, Alma and the south shore of the lake. Then plunge back down 155 (Ben Bostrom's number, as if you need reminding) through the bush and rough country to the neat-looking village of La Tuque, through gazillions of square miles of coniferous forest, lakes, deer, quick-running rivers and duck-filled ponds.
It paralleled the St. Maurice River for much of its way and the ride was engaging, fast and challenging, with little in the way of traffic and a complete absence of Quebec Provincial Police (QPP) cars. Down, ever southward we tumbled and Connie was in her prime, leaning through corners, accelerating HARD on uphills that would have most cars grinding and moaning along at about 20 under the limit, and plunging down twisting drops with aplomb, flipping left, then right, then a double left, shifting up, then banging down once, twice, thrice, then HARD on the gas again, keeping her right in her sweet spot. Some people were born to attend meetings or read People magazine, others come alive at times like this.
We overnight along the banks of the St. Maurice River and sit in front of the fire for hours. Staring and sipping ice-cold Polish vodka. The mind softens, the body relaxes and Connie catches her beauty sleep awash with the sounds of the wind and the current. A deep unconsciousness awaits, but dreams of excitement invade from time to time, for tomorrow brings the famous La Mauricie national park whose private roadway winds for some 48 kilometres through cliff and dale, conifer and maple.
I arrive at the camp gates just after dawn but was alarmed to see that the entry posts were chained shut and warning signs had been posted. There, in all their bilingual beauty were notices that the national park staff were on strike and that no automobiles were permitted entry. Hmmm... “automobiles”.
There was a narrow entranceway for “bicycles” but otherwise there was no overt prohibition against squeezing Connie through the narrow defile and sacking the entire reserve. I looked about once, then twice and suddenly Connie and I were through the Fulda Gap, warming the tires and getting a handle on the lay of the place. I must admit that they had a nice, 30 mile set-up, an absence of flagmen and ambulance crews notwithstanding. Obviously I would have to me my own British, low-key commentating but that seemed do-able.
The La Mauricie National Race Park was laid out in a counter-clockwise fashion and consisted of a never-ending series of third gear sweepers punctuated by short little drag straights that Connie could goose nicely, on the condition, however, that the muscular braking effort at the end of each of these chutes did not fling the entire organic/inorganic package over the edge and into the bush, where to remain if and when the staff strike ended and a medivac helicopter could be organized.
Nothing sinister occurred though, and the next ½ hour or so were spent in bike-bliss, without the slightest hint of inpropriety or enforcement of silly driving rules. Wind her up, shift once or twice, and wind her down, grabbing some good nose-diving brakes and clicking the tranny back into its favourite sweet spot. Lean, accelerate, brake, lean yet again and repeat until everything started to blur and eventually overwhelm.
All good things must end however, and after about a 1/2 hour Connie hit the park exit and we stopped, took a few deep ones and then continued on to Shawinigan and then over through the Laurentian backroads north of Montreal and to the familiar race roads of south-western Quebec. I had grown politically philosophical a bit, despite the dissappointment of not getting any face time with the Dubois crowd and I pondered other Prime Ministers who had grown up in the very areas through which I was now riding.
Shawinigan was home to Le 'ti gar de Shawinigan (“the little guy”), the ineffable Jean Chretien. Here was a man who didn't shy away from trouble. A man who became known as The Streetfighter in his hometown, given his earlier propensity to pound people who riled him. And a man who probably was the only leader of a country in the world who publically applied The Face Claw (designed by professional wrestler Fritz Von Eric) to a protester who ventured too close one memorable day.
Montreal too was home of yet another prime ministerial legend – the brilliant and cool Pierre Trudeau. Hustler of gorgeous women, driver of groovy cars and holder of a Judo Black Belt which he too used one day on some poor protester in Vancouver. I idolized these two guys, not only for their abilities and temperament but because they too despised Dubois.
As is typical at the tail of any decent Concours run I begin to get bored with the whole familiarity thing of places close to home. The wondrous highways south-west of Mont Tremblant, which ordinarily fill me with The Testosterone Vigour now seem more like cow-paths lined with all the usual scenery, farm animals and chalets.
At Masson I line up to get on the ferry to cross over the Ottawa River onto the Ontario side. The teenage attendant grabs my $3 fee and perks up as he eyes Connie's load. No words are spoken, but I know his thoughts.
Some months after this trip the media carries news of the imminent death of Slimy Sid, but the facts appear unfounded. Some times life just isn't fair.
Note - all the characters in this mess are fictional and if you think you are one of them then you are wrong.
Please insert your text here.