I’m having a cafe au lait in one of the nicest spots I think I’ve been recently. Annie in Montreal recommended that I stop in the “pretty” village of Kamouraska and try the Boulangerie Niemand, but what a recommendation. The journey here from my campground was around an hour, mostly across fluvial plains with splendid views out to the river. I always want to write “out to sea”, because it feel exactly like that. To the right are all the farms, and as I approached the escarpment on which Kamouraska is perched, there was a cluster of farm towers, reminding me of the approach to the famous towers of San Geminiano in Tuscany:
Are they perhaps related?
- Today’s Distance (miles/km): /80
- Time in saddle: 4h 42
- Max/min temp (°c): 31°/17°
- Climb/descend (feet) : 1114 / 646
- Calories used: 2098
- Cafe time: 5h 05
…then got back to Highway 132, the Route Verte No1, as far as Kamouraska.
Just as you start climbing the hill into town there is possibly one of the best-placed motels in Canada, and the “Complet” sign looks nailed on to me!:
There are only a few rooms, and all have uninterrupted views of the Fleuve Saint-Laurent and the mountains on the far-distant opposite bank, all are beautifully bedecked with flowers, and it looks unchanged, except for regular repainting, for decades. The morning was sunny and breezy, the wind coming in off the river and bringing a sweet smell and birdsong with it. Down on the mudflats wading birds were ambling idly through the water, pecking nonchalantly for a bit, then having a good look round. As usual, they clocked my bike with particular interest (I think it may be my fluttering flags that does it). Another creature distracted by the bike was a ragged-looking fox, intent on something edible in the field but sparing a few moments to watch me pass:
Inside I found a long queue (good sign) which gave me time to enjoy the fabulous smells and sounds of baking and to listen to all the plans for purchases of the other customers. I had great trouble putting my order together, since my instinct was to say “I’ll have everything, please”. This shop would be considered top-notch smart in the heart of Hampstead, with the women who were serving dressed as though for a performance of the Orestia:
I also bought one of the brioche aux bleuets (blueberry) on the countertop to the right, and an amande croissant, all as warm as the baguette. The boulangerie doesn’t sell coffee but they invite you to take your purchases next door to their cafe-terrace, buy a coffee, and enjoy the food and the view:
The terrace is so lovely, all wooden decking, open to the breezes, very quiet, great coffee, and, I’m finding, impossible to leave. I’m considering a third cafe au lait just to delay the moment further.
The bright yellow of turmeric (and maybe saffron too?) and a mildly curried flavour were quite unique. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten three nicer breads, or as quickly.
Whilst on the terrace I phoned Susie, who is still with her family in Toronto, and visited Ward Island yesterday. It’s been closed for much of the summer after getting inundated by the rising level of the lake. The lifeguard on the beach there told her that in the spring Quebec suffered from some awful flooding, so as a favour to them Lake Ontario agreed to retain a great deal of water that would normally travel out of the lake and down river towards the Atlantic (as we all know here on the blog, from the Atlantic Watershed sign back in Ontario, where all rivers start to flow towards the eastern ocean). However, this didn’t do much for the residents of Ward Island, who have experienced awful flooding of their own, with levels up by two or three feet and many homes uninhabitable. They’ve lost ten metres of beach and most of their tourism apparently (typical mixed imp/metric measurements!). We have often travelled out to the island to use the tennis courts and go for a swim. Not this summer. (Photos courtesy of Susanna Candlin):
A quick thought on Canadian campgrounds – as is often the case, I was the only tent last night. This creates a very different ambience, and I confess that I miss the presence of other tents. Everyone is ensconced in their own immense vehicle and its environs. Because they also have their own toilets and sinks, the washrooms are never really up to the needs of a tenter. We need nice big sinks to wash up in, room to dry up afterwards, places to hang clothes or plug in phones etc. These sites are beautiful but lack the peaceful, simple atmosphere crated by a gathering of what we used to call canvas!
The moment I left Kamoursaka I was met with a strong (and strongly gusting) headwind (maybe I should have stayed there?) that took its toll out in the wide open terrain. I often have a strange reaction to a constant headwind – I get toothache! Just the two back teeth that I’ve had crowned. I have to remember to keep my mouth shut, which stops it almost instantly, but on a bicycle, when you’re straining to maintain momentum, that’s easier said than done. It made up my mind about how to proceed today – gently! Lower mileage and more stops was my personal remedy to myself. I decided that my lunch stop was a priority (I sometimes just cruise through, snacking on stuff I already have) so I dropped down off Highway 132 and into the delightful village of Notre Dame du Portage (portage being the method of connecting one body of water to another by carrying your kayak, and all your possessions, as far as necessary – a shatteringly tiring and regular necessity in the early days of travel around Canada).
The whole village is built along the road with the river on one side and a steep slope (back up to the newer highway) on the other. The old buildings are immaculately kept, as with all these villages, the churches are stunning, and the views too, but the shopping opportunities are a little limited unless you need an atelier, a boutique, or want to buy a summer cottage. I passed one of the best woodcarving places I’ve seen so far. Often these are big, clumsy attempts using a chainsaw to carve a bear, a giant mushroom or an eagle. Not these. Note all the action in the tree on the left: a bear climbing a tree, with a bees’ nest hanging from the top, whilst a woodpecker, carved continuously from the same trunk and cleverly using the bark as feathers, happily pecks wood.
I stopped at a beautiful-looking restaurant but thought I’d just ride down the road before deciding, and stumbled on another nice cafe-terrace, less posh but with a very healthy menu that I’m quite certain Susie would strongly approve of, and would have adored! There were also several bikes parked up outside, which I find is as good a recommendation as you can get when you’re on the lookout for a place to eat or drink. You don’t have to be on a bike to take advantage of this travel tip. Follow the bikes. I had the chef’s sandwhich (an amazing mixture of different cheeses, humous, seeds and salads, on home-made bread, toasted), two big shiny local apples, a café alongé, and the piéce de resistance, one of their special smoothies, called a “relax” and made with mango, pineapple and a few other things I’ve forgotten, and semi-frozen:
The view was, as you’ve no doubt come to expect following this journey up the St Lawrence, wonderful. Susie tells me that people often spot whales between here and the ocean, so I have my binoculars at the ready and keep getting excited at something breaking the surface, but so far it’s always been a rock. As the river is in constant motion it gives the illusion of the rocks moving. Whilst I scanned the horizon after eating, it suddenly started raining, with brilliant sunshine all around. I could see just one tiny cloud directly overhead, and it raining solely on the cafe-terrace. I then started scouring the sky for a rainbow, but had no luck. A deep rumble of thunder followed and my tiny cloud was upgraded to something more substantial and I felt very happy to be under cover for once. There was a nice empty sunroom beside the open terrace, where I’d seen two tired cyclists sleeping earlier on the battered old sofa, so I moved all my stuff in there.
Once the rain stopped, I got moving again, towards Rivière du Loup (Wolf River) where I would finally, and sadly, be saying goodbye to my favourite river so far, and turning southeast towards New Brunswick and the next big stage of my journey.
I took advantage of the big mall area by the highway to do some much-needed supermarket shopping for the next few days. It felt like ages since I’d done this, and it felt like I was briefly back in Toronto or somewhere from many days ago. I did my usual thing of shedding as much packaging as possible before loading up the food:
It feels like a lot to me, after all these weeks. I’ve loved being by the St Lawrence and am so glad I made the decision to stick with it, when my plan had been to go up to Ottawa. Any emotion was supplanted by sheer sweating effort because the last view I had of the river was from the top of a violently steep local hill with my heart pounding, and all of my shopping adding some unwelcome extra weight.
As a parting tribute, I’d like to offer this short film all about the significance of the seaway -aimed at schools I think but I loved it:
There’s an unwritten law of cycle-camping: just before you arrive at your campground, there will a hill, or hills, to make you suffer one last little bit before finally stopping. I’m lobbying to have this law changed.
This was so imaginative, and really made me laugh when I realised what it was: