Maritimelog X: The Endless Beaches of the Magdalen Islands

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Peeling back the tent flap on our first Magdalen morning we were greeted with a brilliant blue sky on a wide, sunny day.  We came to life in a slow, relaxed manner and after a whole lot of sitting around we showered, made a hot cereal breakfast on my little campstove, packed up our gear and repacked our panniers, and by the crack of high noon we were on our way.  

Noon: Packed up and ready to start the day

Our plan was loose (obviously).  We decided we’d simply go in whatever direction the wind was blowing and at the time that direction was north, so off we went.  The road being what it was we actually started with a little romp east but soon enough we had a brisk southerly wind at our backs* and we were skating along at a zippy 25kms/h taking in the amazing sights with the greatest of ease.  

We had camped on Cap aux Meules Island, which is basically the bottom middle of the archipelago’s half-dozen inhabited islands.  The islands are connected by the most amazing and convenient strips of sandbar upon which roads have been built.  These natural connectors are long and narrow – at times no more than a dozen metres across – and they were an absolute joy to cycle on, particularly with a strong wind at our backs.  And they were beautiful too.  Cresting the hill outside of Fatima and seeing the road stretch down into a sandy ribbon was quite an amazing sight.

Once we crossed over to the next island (Havre aux Maisons) we veered off the main route and found a lighthouse overlooking a deserted beach.  To our right was an eroded wall of crimson stone topped with a row of cormorants basking in the sun while off to our left stretched a long expanse of white sandy beach backed by tall white cliffs.  The scenery was truly stunning.  We coasted down to the beach and enjoyed a nice long walk looking for seashells.

Back on our bikes we rode eight or ten kilometres on before stopping at another beach near the end of Havre aux Maisons.  This beach was not deserted.  In fact, it even had a funky little food kiosk where m’lady and I enjoyed a delicious crêpe while we looked over our map and decided on our options for the rest of the day.  At this point we had gone about twenty kilometres and it was already after 2pm.  Our map showed that there was a campground about a half-kilometre up the road from where we sat but then there wouldn’t be another (nor another restaurant, it seemed) until we reached the end of the entire system of connected islands, about 45 kilometres further on.  We decided it was too early to stop for the day and that we’d keep going, which may or may not have been the best choice.  

The funkiest crêpe stand on Havre aux Maisons

That persistent southerly wind blew us along kilometre after kilometre of thin sandbar as endless beaches backed by the infinite Atlantic Ocean enveloped the entirety of our view on both sides.  However, at the upper part of the archipelago the island chain (and their connecting sandbars) hooks around and heads back in the other direction creating a rather large bay.  As a result, for the last stretch of our ride north we could see exactly where we were trying to get to across the bay to our right.  Somewhere along the way we came across a small grocery store.  We stopped in and grabbed some food to make for dinner before plowing on.  

By this time the day had gotten pretty long and we were starting to tire.  With the wind behind us we hadn’t been fatigued enough to rest as much as we probably should have, and now here we were turning headlong into that wind.  Funny how much stronger it seems when it’s in your face.  

Did I say we were “starting to tire” as we turned the corner out of our backwind?  Yeah, I guess it’s fair to say that I was tiring but m’lady was exhausted.  This was already the farthest she’d ever ridden a bike and the first time she had ever hauled gear and she was feeling it.  But she was a real trouper; she sucked it up and powered through the last windy leg of our journey with our little Rocky mascot poking his plush lobster head out of her pannier the whole way.  

M’lady (on bike) and Rocky (in pannier)

When we finally made it to Grande Entrée Island we rode straight to the only campground on the last four islands and pitched our nylon home on site number 22.  Before us we could see the entirety of the road that had occupied our previous two hours snaking along the arcing peninsula, with the endless blue ocean fading into nothingness beyond.  Behind us was a red rocky cliff jutting out into the same boundless ocean on the other side.  It seems that no matter where you are in the Magdalen Islands if you can get yourself to high ground you’ll be able to see the sea on both sides.  

For the record (and for my fellow “number” geeks), here are the cycling statistics for our first two days on the Maggies:

Time: 4:26.38 (breaks don’t count; the clock stops when the wheels stop turning)

Average speed: 16.9

Distance: 74.93 

Total trip distance: 74.93

Top speed: 55.0 (this was definitely whilst going down a steep hill, likely with a pretty powerful gust of wind at my back taboot)

(All figures are metric, obviously.  This isn’t North Korea.)

As I mentioned, the ocean took up our view in front and behind our camping spot.  Beside us, on the other hand, was a large and rather incomprehensible cross.  It was made out of what seemed at first glance to be countless recycled plastic signs but on closer inspection it appeared that the myriad of panels were made intentionally to be parts of the huge cross.  I have no idea what it was for or about but it sure was conspicuous.  

After dinner I grabbed our map and flattened it out on the picnic table.  “What are you doing?” m’lady mumbled.  “I thought maybe we could plan a couple of little side trips for tomorrow,” I replied enthusiastically.

“You don’t understand,” she said, her voice numb with fatigue.  “I’m never, ever riding a bicycle again.  

“Sell them,” she said without a hint of humour in her voice.  “We live here now.”

We decided to take the next day off.  The view from our campsite was too spectacular for just one night anyway.

*After a lifetime of head-scratching I finally looked it up: Wind direction is described not by the direction that the wind is headed, but rather the direction from which it originates.  Thus a “south wind” or “southerly wind” blows from the south to the north, not the other way around.  You probably already knew this but I’m finding it hard to wrap my brain around.  The “other way around” just seems to make so much more sense to me.  

But then again, sometimes “sense” is not my forte**.

**Which reminds me of my favourite joke that nobody ever realizes is a joke: “Yes, I play a little, but piano is not my forte.”  Don’t worry, nobody ever gets it.

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