Saddle Bagging the Gaspe Peninsula (Tom Rosato)
We did it – sixteen hundred and fifty (1650) miles in eight days on a sled. Just as planned – well, almost, anyways. A group from the Easy Riders Snowmobile Club toured the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, Canada in a counter-clockwise direction beginning and ending in Jackman, Maine. Our trip began with five guys, but ended with only four. The original five included Larry McCullough riding a 2009 Arctic Cat Turbo Z1 LXR; Russ Glidden on a 2010 Yamaha Vector GT LTX; Herb Hilton on a 2006 Polaris FST Turbo; Ron Cater on a 2010 Skidoo Renegade X 600 ETEC; and me, Tom Rosato, riding a 2010 Ski-Doo GSX 1200 LE. Unfortunately, the trip ended for Herb after only 35 miles of riding, just over the border in Canada.
For reasons unknown to us, although I’ve heard some mention of “lousy, stinking” handlebar muffs, Herb ventured off Trail 545 in Armstrong and lost a battle with a few misplaced trees. I’m happy to report that Herb is okay – the same can’t be said for the trees or his sled and helmet, both of which were totaled. Speaking of his helmet, Herb was wearing a brand new GMAX helmet he bought in Jackman because he forgot his helmet at home. Lucky for all of us the accident happened somewhat near civilization, nine-miles north of the Club de Motoneigeistes Liniere, which is the first clubhouse in Quebec above Jackman. The club members were extremely helpful, the president of the club, Laurent Caouette was called in and actually used his truck and trailer to pick up Herb and his sled from a road crossing where we had towed the sled. He then drove Herb to Jackman where Herb’s family met him. The rest of us then had no choice but to continue on, although I know I speak for everyone when I say that Herb was truly missed. Personally, I’m just glad that Herb has a hard head ‘cause if you saw the remains of his shattered helmet, you’d be shocked that someone survived that crash, let alone walked away from it. Must be his Marine training.
By the time we bid farewell to Herb, it was about noon and we still had 240 miles to get to our hotel in Rivier-du-Loup – no problemo. We covered those 240 miles in eight hours flat including two gas stops. We didn’t stop for lunch, a precursor of things to come for the remainder of our trip. The trail conditions were outstanding which, as it turned out, was typical for the entire trip. The weather was 5-10 degrees below zero and cloudy, both of which were also typical for the entire trip. After a long day, we were rewarded with a garage for our sleds and a gourmet meal. What more could we ask for?
Our daily routine was to get up early, have breakfast and for the most part leave by 8am. We’d typically stop for gas in the late morning, then have lunch sometime between 1 and 2 pm (although we only had time for lunch on two of the eight days, the other six days consisted of candy bars bought during gas stops), pit for gas again in the afternoon, and then gas up one last time near the hotel, usually around 5-6. Each hotel was well marked on the trails so that we were always able to find our way. Upon arrival we would park the sleds in the secure parking garages that were available for three of our eight nights or lock them up together with chains and cables. We’d remove our saddlebags, check-in, eat a gourmet dinner at the hotel that was included with our packages and be in bed by about 10. Trust me, when I say these were gourmet dinners they really were – the Canadians take pride in their cooking. The hotel snowmobile packages are the way to go: they include dinner, lodging and breakfast. In the morning, we would pack up after breakfast and take off with full stomachs and gas tanks.
Our trip was arranged with the assistance of Info Motoneigiste Gaspesie, a free information center for snowmobilers who ride the Gaspé Coast, providing tourist assistance, trail maps and trail conditions for the entire Gaspe region. They are bilingual and can be reached at 1-877-202-4636, a number worth committing to memory during a Gaspe trip. Their website is www.quebectrails.com. They are located in the Les Sentiers Blancs Snowmobile Clubhouse on Trail 5 in Chandler, Quebec, a stop we made on our trip. Dale Fitzpatrick actually made all of our hotel reservations for us after we planned the trip out and most importantly, with one phone call to him, he changed all of our hotel reservations from three rooms to two following Herb’s incident.
Larry, Herb, Russ, and I were among the veterans from the club who made the trip along with newbie Ron. The four veterans all rode 4-strokes so oil supply and odor wasn’t an issue, but Ron rode Ski-Doo’s 600 E-TEC 2-stroke. Fortunately odor wasn’t an issue, or was it? You’ll have to ask Russ who was directly behind Ron. With regards to Ron, the four of us veterans have determined that this newbie can only be classified as “high maintenance,” the same way I actually classify my oldest daughter. Ron is the type who needs a fair amount of assistance – okay I really do mean a lot of assistance. We should have known from the start – he couldn’t start the trip with us to Maine. He drove his truck and trailer and met us in Rivier-du-Loup because at the very last minute he needed help in locating two tires for his truck and then he needed help in getting the trailer hitch lock sawed off of so he could tow it. He deserves kudos for his perseverance because he didn’t back out. Still, he needed help his first day of riding to get up on time; to get his electric face shield installed on his helmet; to get his weekender bag and gallon jug of oil strapped to his sled. And then a few days later he needed help purchasing a cell phone charger. And the next day he needed help all day long with his jacket zipper. Despite his needs we certainly enjoyed Ron’s company and hope he’ll join us next year too as a veteran.
Speaking of veterans, Larry was his usual stellar self with his uncanny navigating skills. I still maintain that there is nobody better out there at leading and navigating other than possibly a GPS unit. He is human, though, and did suffer a few brain freeze issues resulting in getting us momentarily lost. Russ was his usual calming self. He has an ability to keep everyone on an even keel, something that every group needs to maintain harmony. As for me, I simply organized the trip ahead of time and pulled up the rear with my green CSS ride-lite on. Aside from Herb’s incident, we encountered zero serious problems. Of course, there were a few minor incidents, such as everyone going off trail on more than one occasion, except for Russ who was perfect. There were a few mechanical incidents – Larry had to continually add antifreeze to his sled and had trouble starting it one day, Russ had to change his drive belt, my taillight burned out due to a previously cracked lens, Ron had to buy another quart of oil. Not bad.
The language barrier and our ability to communicate and find our way in French-speaking Quebec was not an issue. Granted, the natives speak French but many of them also speak English to a certain degree, many of them even fluently. In my opinion, it was much easier to communicate on this trip than on our last trip to the Gaspe in 2007. Trails were well marked for the most part and the signs were also easily understood as long as you had a map. The high cost of gas in Quebec was of concern. We routinely paid about $1.23 per liter, which equates to nearly $4.75 per gallon. Speaking of gas, a comparison of the sleds at the pumps revealed the following performance results: Ski-Doo E-TEC 2-stroke: 18 MPG, Yamaha Vector 4-stroke: 16 MPG, Ski-Doo GSX 1200 4-stroke: 15 MPG, Arctic Cat Turbo 4-stroke: 13 MPG
As it turns out, total trip costs were more than expected due to the virtually even exchange rate and the cost of fuel. Each of us spent nearly $500 in gas; $650 in hotels which included meals; $100 in miscellaneous expenses such as lunch, beer, more beer, and of course a few bumps and bruises. Tack on the Quebec trail pass, towing from home to Maine and the total cost us somewhere around $1,500 US each. Ouch. But that won’t stop us from going again.
Our eight-day, 1650-mile trip averaged 205 miles per day. For the record, the shortest day was eight hours at 150 miles and our longest day was twelve hours at 275 miles. Our itinerary took us from Jackman, north to Rivier-du-Loup, then counter-clockwise around the Gaspe Peninsula to Amqui, then to Carleton, then to Chandler, then to Grande-Vallee, then to Matane, then to Rivier-du-Loup again, and finally back to Jackman. We stayed on the major trail number 5 in Gaspe for the most part.
We compiled a list of some of our major observations to help put future Gaspe travelers at ease. For instance, the local people in the Gaspe region welcome snowmobilers with open arms. Snowmobilers represent the majority of business for this region during the winter. The trails for the most part are meticulously maintained, wide, well marked, and contain minimal road crossings compared to the states. They cut thru the woods, open fields, towns and include many railroad beds, roads (not just logging roads, but vehicle roads not used in the winter). There are numerous sections of trail where you can open it up for long stretches – in one case nearly 35 miles, as fast as you want to go. The scenery was spectacular, especially the views of the Fleuve Saint Laurent to the north, the Golfe du Saint Laurent to the east and the Baie des Chaleurs to the south. Not to be outdone was the Mont Saint Pierre region along the Fleuve Saint Laurent, which reminded me of the Going to the Sun Road in Montana at Glacier National Park. I thought those narrow roadways that climb the mountains along the cliffs with minimal guardrails were scary, but let me assure you, it is even more scary on a snowmobile at Mont Saint Pierre with the only guardrail being a snow bank. The highlight of any trip to the Gaspe region is to see “The Rock” at Perce at the tip of the Gaspe Peninsula. Animal sightings were scarce – we saw a little bit of wildlife that included an owl, snowy hare rabbit, a moose, and a few deer. That was it.
We discovered that currency was not a problem as ATMs are plentiful and English could be selected on the screen. Currency consists of a lot more coins than we’re used to. Credit cards are accepted everywhere including gas stations. Speaking of gas stations, they were plentiful but you have to plan ahead, especially when venturing off the main Trail 5 onto local trails. Some of these excursions can be over 100 miles long in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately our sleds could all go at least 100 miles on a tank, so our gas worries only occurred when we tried to utilize all of that range, which we did on a few occasions. My sled has a 4-gallon auxiliary tank mounted on it so we knew we always had some extra gas that could be siphoned if necessary. This provided peace of mind, especially for the Cat whose low fuel indicator seemed to come on at 85 miles or so.
Of note: We saw police on the trails only once. Their function was to make sure riders all had trail passes. We probably crossed a dozen or so large suspension bridges and saw four or five major wind farms that contained a minimum 50 windmills apiece. We even saw a new windmill farm actively under construction.
Hope you enjoyed the article and learned something from our experiences. Please don’t be afraid to do “The Loop.” It’s the kind of trip that you will probably repeat in the future – maybe in the opposite direction or do some of the interior portions of the region rather than follow Trail 5 all the way around. If we can do the trip, you can do the trip, too. This type of backpacking trip will lead to even more adventurous trips in the future. I know that’s the case for us.
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