Riding the back country in northern NB and Gaspe, QC – Part I, Day one

Prologue:

For years I’ve been exploring the huge network of gravel roads throughout New Brunswick.  Many of those are in the Northern parts of the province and are often quite remote.  I’ve also heard great things about terrific gravel roads in the interior of the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec and wanted to ride them.

Using my own research and other routes provided by friends I put together a multi-day ride that would cover some familiar territory as well as lots of places I’ve never been.  Due to time constraints, weather and other commitments I had to do the trip in three stages, with a total of 10 days of riding in June and August, 2018.

Over the three trips, with some backtracking to and from my home base, I covered a total of 4,131 km of NB and QC with an estimated 30% or better of it on gravel. Here’s what the whole thing looks like:

If you’d like to view high-res versions of the photos in this post, use this link to head on over to the associated Smugmug gallery (all images copyright Doug Smalley):

https://dougsmalleyphotography.smugmug.com/Motorcycles/2018/June-16-to-18-Gravel-Ride-to-Northwestern-NB

Day one, June 16, 2018

Today’s route:

Part 1 – Day – 363 km total, approx 50% gravel or off-road

I packed up the bike and got away from the house about 10:30 – a bit later than planned but that’s how it worked out.  I took rte.126 toward Rogersville, exploring a little and enjoying the sights along the way.  Mostly I was enjoying the vibe of riding in good weather and being on a bike trip.

This side road didn’t go far.
So that’s what newly-shorn Llamas look like.

It’s about 80km to Rogersville and I get there just before noon. Before I head into the back country I filled up with gas and got a snack at Tim Horton’s.

yes I’m loaded a bit heavy – that sometimes happens with the season’s first trip
It was getting warm out so I opted to take my caffeine cold.

At Rogersville I left rte.126 and took Pleasant Ridge Road toward Blackville.  The route follows a series of paved and gravel roads with some scenic spots.

lots of gravel ahead.

At Blackville I stopped to explore a side trail I’d never been on before – got a nice view of the Southwest Miramichi river.

It was a secluded little spot and the view was nice and but there was something pretty big and very dead somewhere nearby in the woods that was stinking the place up. Without much hesitation I was back on the road.

Eventually you come to the Little Southwest Road and I stayed on this for the next 75km – all gravel.

saw no other vehicles all the way to Serpentine Lake.
Though, most of the area has been clear-cut, a few tall trees were left standing.
Serpentine Lake comes into view.

I saw a few moose on this trip, these two were the first.

A shedding cow and new calf moose.

I was headed for Serpentine Lodge, a favourite fuel and food stop in this largely unpopulated part of the province.  When I last talked to the Lodge owner he’d told me the Little Southwest Rd. was closed near his end due to problems with the bridge(s).  There are three bridges near the end of the road that had been falling apart for years.  Unmaintained by anybody they had gradually fallen into an unsafe condition and been closed.  This meant I’d have to re-route around them by taking a lengthy detour, but then I came to this sign.

My bike is pretty big and heavy, and I have a full load with camping gear, food, water and food to last me 4 days in the back country, so I don’t usually take ATV trails.  I’ve never been on this trail before and I don’t even know if it goes all the way through but it offered a significant savings in time and distance getting to my destination.  It didn’t look bad, at least the beginning of it so I figured I’d give it a try and turn back if it got too bad.

It started off OK but steadily deteriorated.  Eventually I took a sharp turn and dropped down a series of rocky shelves and the trail ahead was really rough.  I wasn’t certain I’d be able to navigate back up the shelves and the sharp turn at the top but that didn’t even matter.  The trail had suddenly become so tight there was no way to turn around…. so I pressed on.  The next few km were very rough going down, down and down some more.  I was pretty concerned and hopeful the trail went through because I had real doubts I could climb back out if it didn’t.

I made it through the track without too much drama. There was one spot where I went over a sharp ledge with some big exposed rocks where the bike took a hit but it wasn’t too hard. Thanks to Black Dog Cycle Works for building this most excellent bash plate – it wasn’t cheap but it did it’s job very well.

Why I have a good skid plate.
brought some of the Northern gravel home with me.
Serpentine Lake

The trail eventually came out at Serpentine Lake, making me very happy.  From the lake to the Lodge was an easy ride.  I was ready for a break and I love this lake so I stayed a while.  I’ve camped here before but had no plans to do so this night.

There were some fishermen camped in the woods and they appeared to be just sitting around so I went over to say hello.

These fellas admitted they’d likely have caught more fish if they’d spent less time sitting in the woods, emptying beer cans and talking about fishing. I didn’t see any problem at all with their priorities.

I had a great chat with these guys, they’d come in a couple of days before and had prepared to stay up to a week fishing, drinking beer and relaxing.  The man in the foreground was much older and had been very sick recently.  He told me about coming to this lake as a boy and had been coming back regularly over the years.  He got quite emotional when he admitted that since he had a series of major health concerns at the moment and that he had been in the ICU only a week before, this might be his last trip to Serpentine Lake.  He was clearly soaking it all in.

There are a few places that are special in some way to me and that I visit for nostalgic or sentimental reasons.  Some are local and some are physically very far away.  Some I travel to every year while visits to others may be only once in a few years.  Invariably when I leave any of these places I wonder to myself when or even if I’ll ever be back.  I could really relate to what the old-timer was talking about

After a bit of visiting I headed up the lake road and over to Serpentine Lodge. (this next shot of the lodge is for reference and from a different trip)

From a different trip, Sep 2013.

It’s great having a place like this to come to. It’s the only gas, food and lodging for many kilometres in any direction and is well placed for trips like this. Any time I’m in the area I make a point of stopping for a drink, fuel and usually a meal – doing what I can to help keep the place in business.

I had a little visit with the owner of the place: Alyre Marquis who almost always has time to chat.  He was interested in my route plans and envious of my ability to travel.  Alyre seemed to be feeling really tied-down to the Lodge – it’s pretty much a one man operation and I’m sure he spends many hours completely on his own. To me it seems ideal, but the remoteness of the place and needing to be there all the time would eventually wear on anybody. Alyre told me he gets a few ADV-type riders through each season and really appreciates it when people stop by.

Alyre Marquis tending bar, kitchen, fuel depot and anything else that needs tending.

I fuelled up here and continued on.

Along the way I saw another moose and a bear too.  Unfortunately the bear was not as willing as the moose to pose for my camera so I have no bear photo.

A fairly short ride later I got to my campsite in Mount Carleton Provincial Park where I planned to spend two nights.  It’s kind of funny to camp here in the park and pay a fee. New Brunswick has about 6 million hectares of forest, most of which can be camped on without anybody caring. I’m fully self-contained so could camp almost anywhere in the region I could find a flat spot for the tent and I do that quite a bit – some times, though, it’s nice to have at least some facilities and if nobody uses the park, maintaining it could get hard to justify.

I got set up and had dinner – followed by some work looking at routes for the next day.

Home away from home.

After dinner I did a bit of exploring around this beautiful, peaceful Provincial Park.

Then went back to the campsite for some reading, bourbon and a cigar to celebrate a great day on the bike.

Trees busy producing air for us all to breathe.

Mount Carleton is a dark sky location and when the night sky is clear it’s an excellent place to view and/or photograph the milky way. According to astronomy.com, a third of people can’t even see it any more due to light pollution. It’s an awesome sight and I wanted to try to get a photo of it.  So long after everyone was in bed asleep, the moon had set and any effects of the Bourbon had worn off, I rode a dozen or so KM out to Bathurst Lake and set up to try my hand.  I’m not totally satisfied with the results, in the total darkness I missed the focus by a bit so the stars are not as sharp as they should be but here it is anyway.

That finished off Day One of this trip so I crawled into the tent and slept well all night.

If you’d like to view high-res versions of the photos in this post, use this link to head on over to the associated Smugmug gallery (all images copyright Doug Smalley):

https://dougsmalleyphotography.smugmug.com/Motorcycles/2018/June-16-to-18-Gravel-Ride-to-Northwestern-NB

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