Maritimelog IX: Race to the Maggies

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After spending an evening soaking up my mom and dad’s generous hospitality m’lady and I were back on the move, once again headed to Prince Edward Island.  But this time things were different.  First of all, we were no longer turtling in my parents’ RV, having traded down somewhat to our monstrously large (whilst comparatively tiny) SUV.  And secondly, this time PEI wasn’t our destination, it was to be our launching point.

And where exactly can you “launch” to from an end-of-the-road sort of place like Prince Edward Island?  Well, in this case the answer would be the Magdalen Islands – known in French as Les Îles de la Madeleine – a Quebec-owned archipelago of small islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence about halfway between PEI and Newfoundland, and it turns out that to get there one must catch a ferry from Souris, PEI.

Which we very much almost missed.  Our departure had been delayed waiting for our laundry to dry at mom’s place plus I missed a wee sign along the way that drew us a little bit off course.  Then there was my navigator’s British Columbian confusion trying to locate “Surrey” on our map of Prince Edward Island.  I suppose it’s possible that Souris could be pronounced “sower-iz” but my New Brunswickness just doesn’t see it that way.  Either way we were running behind.  

In that regard it was almost a blessing that even from the heights of our big Mitsubishi Montero the oceanic views while crossing over to the island were mostly obscured by the high walls of the Confederation Bridge.  While crossing the previous day at the helm of the much taller motor home the staggering views slowed me down considerably, but with little to distract me but the grey blur of concrete I was able to concentrate on maintaining the speed limit.  

I had already noticed that most choose not to exceed posted speed limits on the Island, even while driving on the 90km/h Trans-Canada Highway.  This observation proved especially salient as we raced towards Souris flying past car after car at outrageous, breakneck speeds.  It was worth it: we pulled up to the ferry with eight minutes to spare.  I told the guy in the booth that we still had to get our bicycles and gear together and deal with long-term parking at the B&B across the street that supplies the only service in town (but still only charges $5 a day).  The guy in the booth told me to hold on a minute and started squelching into his walkie-talkie.  The next thing you know he directed us to park twenty feet from the ramp to the ferry, and for free, no less!  We raced to get our stuff together while they held the boat for us and in a long, stretched out, breathless flash we were on board.  Whew, we’d made it!

Beers were reasonably priced on the boat so after a quick lunch in the cafeteria we hit the bar.  Five hours later we docked after circling around the very-gorgeous Entry Island, the only non-connected island of Les Madeleines that is inhabited (pop. 130).

Entry Island, QC

Okay, a bit about the islands.  Though the archipelago is much closer to either PEI or Newfoundland than it is to Quebec, the island chain is indeed part of La Belle Province so Les Îles de la Madeleine are primarily French.  It’s made up of about a dozen or so small islands, six of which are connected by sand dunes.  Five of the six connected islands are French-speaking while one island (second from the end) curiously remains steadfastly English.  About 13,000 people live in the Magdalens and if they aren’t working in the fishing or tourism industries they are mining road salt from the massive salt dome that underlies the islands.  

The Souris ferry runs from April to January and if you want to get to or from the Magdalen Islands outside of that time frame you have to charter a plane.  The ferry lands at Cap aux Meules on Cap aux Meules Island* (all of the islands include a self-titled town) where it dropped us shortly after 7pm.  After a brief stop at a very convenient and helpful information booth we started towards a campground in Fatima, across the island.  Sea level being what it is, the first ride off of a ferry always begins with up up up.  As we crested the first hill we could see all the way across to the other side of the island and to the ocean beyond.  There was Fatima, about four or five kilometres away.  We could plainly see the road that would lead us there, running through random smatterings of houses and barns.  We had picked up a map in the info booth but it seemed like we would hardly need it.  Before we left Cap aux Meules we stopped for some groceries and we easily made it to the campground and got set up in time to watch the sun sink into the Atlantic Ocean in front of us before a nearly full moon rose spectacularly behind us.  

And so it was that on our first outing we only rode about eight-and-a-half kilometre.  It was an excellent and easy segue into m’lady’s first bicycle trip and the first I’ve done with someone else**.

*In English the town is referred to as Grindstone, and it’s on Grindstone Island.

**Not counting a dramatically under-planned whimsical trip from Moncton to PEI that I attempted with a buddy when I was about eighteen.  We got as far as the first campground after the ferry.  Two days later we hitch-hiked home, leaving our bikes at the campground.  I suspect they are still there. 

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