We are deep in the heart of Gaspese National park – probably about as remote as we are going to get on this trip. But right now I have no idea whether we can actually drive out from here.
When we left the highway at St Anne and turned towards the park, we had what appeared to be half a tank of petrol – or 25 gallons. Now for the first half a tank old Harv is the cheery optimist. “Don’t you worry your little head” says the gauge, “you have more than enough. Accelerate a little harder if you like”. When it hits halfway though Harv turns all nervous. “hmmm… actually its not looking so good, in fact I’m suddenly going to put the gauge down to a quarter tank.” Then when I fill it up, actually there are twenty gallons still in there. So as I pass the last petrol station in St Anne, I am pondering Harv’s psyche but the satnav is saying that the park is only three miles further on. So, no need to stop then.
Three miles further on we reach a sign which says the park is another 15K, 10 miles. Yup that’s still fine. Then we find the unmanned entry booth at the park entrance, put the money in an envelope and drive on…to a sign which says the main building is another 21k through the park. Hmm… probably still ok.
We get to the main building and discover that our campsite is, er, another 42 kilometers further into the park along a gravel road. At this point the fuel gauge is hovering just under a quarter full, but it has taken us the best part of an hour to get here and it is now 5 o’clock. From the campsite it is another 25k to get out of the park and into a town with petrol. So, just how accurate us the gauge at this point? I guess we will find out, We press on along a wide gravel road which climbs steeply for several miles. It has recently rained and at times Harvey’s front wheel drive struggles for traction. Of course rally driving up hill in 12,000lb motorhome is not exactly the best way of maximising the gas mileage, so about a quarter of the way to the campground the low fuel light comes on.
I grip the wheel a little more tightly and switch to the reserve which has about seven gallons or so in it. Every time we get to the top of a hill I select neutral and we coast as far as we can down the other side throwing up great clouds of dust behind us and praying that there are no sudden potholes. By far the smoothest bit of road is right in the very middle of it but thankfully we only meet one other car on the whole trip. Finally, and with no small amount of relief, we reach the Jacques Cartier campsite deep in the park. There are no services of any kind and we have exactly half the reserve tank with which to drive the remaining 25k back to civilisation. Failing that I guess Philippa gets on her bike and cycles the last bit with a fuel container. I would of course – be happy to, but the old back is playing up a bit…
Having so little fuel also means we can’t run the generator to recharge the batteries and as we are here for two nights that means being a bit careful with lights and no hot showers. This is though, not a bad place to be stranded. Its utterly peaceful and we look over a line of steep mountains, one of which we hope to climb tomorrow. There are moose, caribou and bears, though as ever we have yet to see any of these things in the fur.
Other than a nagging sense that this could all end rather suddenly and inconveniently, it has been a lovely day. We woke up in our field in Matane being rocked quite violently by a howling wind. The sun was blazing away in a blue sky though and after Tom made us scrambled eggs, we pulled back onto the coast road and headed into town.
The middle of Matane is actually very pleasant with brightly painted shops and clapboard houses. It has a fish ladder behind the town hall and we paid our $3 to have a look. We couldn’t actually see any fish jumping but they have a glassed in section of the ladder which serves as a sort of holding pen until they open up a gate to let them continue upstream. There were five or six big silver salmon – one was getting on for three feet- gulping away in the strong current and staring through the glass at us, probably wondering how the heck they’d ended up in a dead end. The ladder bypasses a large weir and a nice young lad explained to us in broken English that the salmon tend to climb it at night when there are fewer predators and the water is colder.
Stopping only for the quickest of cappucinos in a dark little cafe with a heavily tattood waiter, we left Matane and continued up the coast. Gaspe is begining to get a bit more mountainous, the green hills up the spine of the peninsula begining to rise up on our right. The road climbed and fell more steeply and the wind was blowing us around a bit.
Outside St Anne we turned up a fearfully steep road to a windmill farm which has one of the largest turbines in the country. Its not the usual propellor type, but cylindrical, and disappointingly motionless when we got to it, though it was surrounded by dozens of the three blade type all humming away.
An older guy in the car park gave us a leaflet about tours and said “I luff yer moteur-herm”. Peter Sellers was right on the money with his Clouseau accent. I had to work out the French for “1978” and was rather pleased with myself for remembering dix-neuf-soixant-dix-huit. He raised his eyebrows and nodded. Harv gets the best reaction from older people. I remember a chap somewhere in northern New York State, nodding slowly as he watched us go by from his car and then giving me a beaming smile. You could see that he Got It. Younger people are more “what the…?”
We tried and failed to eat at one of the roadside seafood shacks that we kept passing over the last few days but now were either closed or non existant. So in a poissonerie in St Anne I bought a little steamed lobster (nine bucks!). The lady broke it up for me and back in Harvey I excavated it on a plate aong with some avocado and smoked prawns that Philippa got a few days ago. With some bread, mayonnaise and white wine we had a really good lunch parked by the sea.
On the other side of the road was a big stone church and the bells suddenly started clanging as a christening party left by a side door. The ladies held onto their hats in the wind and everyone clustered around a baby carrier.
Over in the mountains we could see big flat-bottomed rain clouds and we pulled out of the car park and headed towards them. Now we are in those mountains and wondering whether we have the fuel to get out of them again…