Emily woke up. First, she noticed the smell, then the fact that it did not seem completely dark. She felt grubby from the sweat that had dried on her clothes leaving white salt-marks on her shorts and jersey. She eased up carefully. Her head felt tight, but her stomach was not queasy. She unzipped her tent, gathered fresh clothes and her toilet kit, and eased out of the tent.
From the east, a pink glow was crossing the sky, swallowing stars. The sky was still dark to the west. No one was stirring among the hundreds of tents on the beach. She took a deep breath of the salty air and felt much better. She made her way quietly to the showers at the main house, where she cleaned up thoroughly. She washed yesterday’s filthy clothes and wrung them out with her towel. After taking a long drink at the water fountain, she made her way back.
The groceries were in her tent, because she had more room. She carried them to the nearest picnic table, set out three places, the muesli and yoghurt. She drank another liter of water, watching the sun come up over the cliffs. Jack came out first, waved and walked briskly to the washrooms. He was back before Hilda emerged.
“You don’t look the worse for wear, Em” said Hilda.
“Not feeling one hundred percent, but at least I’m clean and the laundry is done.”
“Good for you. I’ll be right back.”
Jack sat down and assembled his breakfast.
“Good time last night?”
“Didn’t Hilda tell you?”
“Tell me what? I slept through everything. She looked asleep when I got up.”
“I got drunk and passed out.”
“You’re kidding!” He looked over her shoulder as Hilda returned and sat down.
“Thanks for rescuing me again, Hilda.”
“It’s my job, I think, Em.” Hilda grabbed the box of muesli and started making her breakfast. “How much did you drink anyway?”
“I don’t know.” Emily looked down and toyed with her spoon. “I remember the first three beers. Yours, one with Marcel, and one at the next intermission. They tasted really good, with all that dancing.”
“The band must have taken more than two breaks.”
“That’s all I remember. The different people I was dancing with bought the beers. Suddenly, the concert was over, and I could not get through the crowd to the washrooms. I tried to walk around the building and next thing I knew, you were shaking me awake.”
They ate in silence for a while.
“Who’s Marcel?” Jack asked.
“The guy I was dancing with when the band took their first break. I didn’t see him after he bought me a beer and we chatted during the break.”
Hilda looked uncomfortable. “I am really sorry, Em. I’m supposed to be looking after you.”
“I should be looking after myself. I feel terrible about this. What could I have done?”
“Looking back, it’s seems that we all missed some cues,” said Jack. “We forgot to eat the supper we bought. I’ll bet you finished your beers during the breaks, didn’t you?”
“That’s too fast. Next time either sit out and drink slowly or leave the unfinished beer.”
“You made me drink a lot of water last night, Hilda. Why?”
“The alcohol dehydrates you. That’s what most of a hangover is. How do you feel?”
“Not as bad as I did last night when you found me.”
Jack said, “I’ll pass on a tip I got that works for me. I order water first whenever I’m drinking. And I try to drink at least as much water as beer or whatever. It slows down my drinking and keeps me hydrated.”
“I’ll remember that. Thanks.”
“Do you feel up for riding today?” asked Hilda.
“Of course! I may not set any speed records, though. How far today?”
“It’s about 76 km to Madeleine. There’s a pretty place to camp by the lighthouse.”
“That sounds easy enough.”
“Oh, to be 18 again,” said Jack with a smile.
They cleaned up breakfast, broke camp and packed up. Emily tied her damp clothes to the outside of her panniers and rear rack. Soon they were climbing and coasting the Route Verte on the 132 into the sun. They went through their three water bottles each rather quickly, so they found themselves stopping often to refill. They still got to Cap de la Madeleine by 3 pm, in plenty of time to pick an ideal spot. After stretching, showering and changing, Emily and Hilda took naps, while Jack hiked out to the point with an ebook on his phone to enjoy the sunshine and the breeze.
There was a restaurant by the lighthouse, so they relished the fish chowder, moules, frites, and salads. Emily drank water, not feeling like she wanted anything stronger yet. They had crême brulée for dessert and turned in early.
The next day, they rounded the end of the peninsula. The sun stayed in their faces until late in the morning as the road turned to the southeast. The traffic was much lighter now, though still about half logging trucks and half tourists. They made sure that they had several extra liters of water on each bicycle. Emily felt much better, which was good, because the promontory climbing was steeper and longer. They still drank all their water, because there was no shade on the road until late afternoon. They passed the Forillon National Park and emerged on a flat road with trees on all sides. Hilda stopped and pointed to a sign.
“There’s nothing here,” said Jack.
“That’s the driveway. C’mon.”
They rolled carefully down the road to a parking lot. Leaning their bikes on some trees, they walked to the building on the beach.
“The sign says camping sauvage,” said Emily as they reached the office. “Do they mean it?”
“Now you know why I recommended stopping in Rivière-au-Renard for groceries.” The restaurant had lost its alcohol license and the kitchen was being renovated. “They had a different problem when I was here last, but it was still no food, no drink.”
“It certainly is quiet.”
The next day, they rode down into L’Anse-au-Grifon. The tiny fishing village devoted more real estate to the piers and fish processing than residential property. Taking a right at the Grifon Cove, they climbed a long 12% road to the ridge deep in the National Park. At the top, they rested, drank more water and considered the newly paved road.
“That has to be the longest, steepest climb yet, but there’s not much view for a reward,” said Jack.
“Kind of a bummer, eh?” said Hilda. “The trees block the view.”
“Wait for us at the T.”
Emily waved, swung onto her bike and vanished.
“I hope we don’t have to pick up the pieces on the way down.”
“She has a racer’s touch,” said Hilda, “but, still, let’s catch up.”
Soon they were flying down the hills, seven kilometres of smooth highway, with gentle curves and no traffic. At the bottom, Emily was chugging her water bottle, her face bright with excitement.
“The computer says I maxed at 92.5 km/hr. That was fun!”
“I can imagine you’d peg 100 without the bags,” said Hilda.
They had lunch at a brasserie near the bridge in the picturesque town, across from the train station.
“After that climb and last night’s mosquitoes, I feel like finding a bed indoors tonight,” said Jack.
“Me, too.” Emily looked at Hilda.
Hilda got out her phone and in a few minutes had a reservation at the Hostel in Douglastown on the other side of Gaspé. They walked over to the train station and learned about the tourist train that runs on the tracks that once carried people from Montréal everyday.
“Now the VIA train only goes to Campbellton,” said Emily after reading a sign in the station lobby.
They rode along the bay to Douglastown and easily found the hostel. Douglastown was an Anglophone community, which had fallen on relatively hard times after the rise of anti-English sentiment in the 1970’s.
“We really feel the effect of being so far from Québec City,” explained the manager as they sat with the dinner they had made in the community kitchen. “Our children have to bus two towns over to attend an English-speaking school, since our schools were closed.”
“Is there a lot of ill-will?” asked Emily.
“There was at first, but over the last 20 years, things have improved and evened out a bit. It isn’t that big a deal to be Anglophone or Francophone anymore. Essentially, it helps to be bilingual and that is how we bring up our kids.”
“Makes sense to me.”
They had a room together with bunk beds and a restroom with a shower.
The next two days, they rode past a series of beautiful coastal views, and camped on the beach in Chandler and New Richmond. The Rocher Percé sitting in the eponymous bay offered some great photography. They passed farms thick with crops, prosperous towns teeming with tourists, shops and vacationers, and nearly abandoned hamlets with only a tiny IGA grocery store.
“You know, we haven’t had a cell signal since Gaspé,” said Jack as they set up camp in New Richmond. A stand of pine trees separated them from the water and provided shade. Bicycles rode by on the path along the beach.
“I warned Pete about that when we called during lunch that day,” said Hilda. “They won’t be surprised.”
“Campbellton’s a big city. We’ll be able to check in there.”
“I’m not ready for this to end tomorrow,” she said.
“We still have a train ride,” said Jack. “You know how the last one went.”
“Omigod. I’ll hide in the baggage car!”
“Well, I don’t want this tour to end either,” said Hilda, “but I am looking forward to my new job.”
“It should be a lot quieter than the last one,” said Jack with a grin.
“Should be. Dr. Osborne is a family physician in an old home on Fifth Street. Prepping patients for routine visits — I’ll feel guilty taking his money, at least at first.”
“After the Chicago, Montréal and Québec City, aren’t you ready for some boredom?”
“You betcha!” She raised her glass. “To a boring year!” They all clinked their glasses.
“Not too boring,” said Emily. “I want to win some races next year.”
“I’m sure you will, Em.”
After dinner, they walked slowly back to the campground.
“Wait, guys!” Emily said suddenly as they passed a brasserie. “I saw something about Charlottesville on the wide-screen TV in there.” They walked in and took places at the bar while the commercials ran. Emily ordered a hot chocolate, while Hilda and Jack had a beer between them. The news program came on, with a short background story about the Unite the Right rallies in Charlottesville in 2017.
“I forgot all about that,” said Emily.
“I did, too,” said Hilda, “although I did mention to Katharine that you might be safer here than there.”
“I remember that. I wonder what’s happening now.”
“Nothing yet, apparently. I guess if there is anything, we’ll find out in Montréal. Jacques and Maryse watch the news.” They sipped their drinks while the program moved on to the sports. Emily finished first and went to the washroom. Jack instinctively watched her all the way to the door. When she came back, he asked for the bill.
“On the house, sir, if the young lady will sign this coaster for me.” The barman pointed to the screen, where split-screen closeups of Emily showed her finishing in the USAFA Invitational and coming out of the Sùreté du Québec police cruiser in Montréal.
“Thanks, Em,” said Jack with a grin, as she autographed coasters for the barman and three of the waiters. The barman shook hands with them, and they rose. Emily blushed furiously when the customers and staff applauded as she walked to the door. She turned and waved self-consciously. Then with a little bow of thanks, she went through the door that Jack was holding. Hilda took her arm on the sidewalk.
“Will I ever get used to that?” Emily said unhappily as she walked between them.
“I hope not, Em” said Hilda. “Because that’s when fame will have gone to your head. Just grow to be grateful and gracious.”
“Good point, Hilda.” She hugged Hilda’s arm. “Thanks.”
In her tent, Emily checked her phone. Still no signal. She wondered if her mother and Mark were OK, but then realized that she would still be on a train on the 12th of August.
The last day on their bikes proved to be fickle and difficult. After they started out, the clouds rolled in, though the heat continued to build. The wind backed around to the west, making it sometimes necessary to pedal instead of coast on the long downhill into Escuminac. As they approached Pointe-à-la-Gard, the skies opened up. They stopped under the canopy of a gas station island, already soaked to the skin. They let the worst of the squall pass, then continued to ride into the wind and rain for the last 20 km to Campbellton.
The rain finally stopped as they rode across the big bridge that led from Québec to New Brunswick. Their cells phoned dinged on as they parked their bikes by the visitor center. It was only 3:30 in the afternoon.
“You call Pete, while I try to get tickets tonight for Montréal,” said Hilda. “We may have to sit up in coach all the way.”
Jack checked in with the FBI, while Emily called her mother. Hilda and Jack rang off at about the same time.
“Must have been a cancellation just before I dialled in,” said Hilda. “We got a sleeper on the train tonight.”
Hilda called Maryse, while Emily was still talking to her mother. They rang off together.
“Maryse is excited. She’ll meet the train, and we can all ride up to the house together. How’s your mother?”
“OK, and happy that we’re heading home. She’s pleased that we can rest at the Pointreau’s before the long ride south. And there’s nothing happening in Charlottesville. The various police and city authorities are all pumped and coordinated, but it’s quiet.”
“Pete said the same. He added that Frank will transfer in September. The Bureau doesn’t want a turnover anywhere near August 12th.”
“We’ve got nine hours,” said Emily. “D’you think we could use the washroom to change and clean up?” Hilda thought a minute.
“I have an idea. Let me call the MacKenzie House. I stayed there last time, and the owner told me about the night train. She asked me to call if I ever come back.”
Hilda rang up the Maison MacKenzie and got another earful of enthusiasm. After a short call, she rang off.
“It’s sounds like she remembered you,” said Jack. “She’s German?”
Hilda smiled. ‘Yes. She told me to come right over. We can take showers and clean up – even do the laundry if we need to.”
“Wow. That’s some hospitality.”
“Her husband makes crêpes to die for. Be prepared to have pancakes for supper if he’s in.”
The historic house was only a few blocks from the visitor center. The woman who met them at the porch looked like Emily’s idea of a country hostess: big-boned with a ruddy complexion, straw-blond hair braided on both sides with a print shift and an apron. She gave Hilda a generous hug and pumped Jack’s and Emily’s hands enthusiastically.
“I know that this is a regular hotel,” Jack said. “Thank you so much for letting us use the facilities. Is there a day rate?”
Mrs. Weatherby looked at Hilda. “Sie wissen es nicht?”
“I haven’t had occasion to talk about it yet.”
“Hilda saved my life last time she stayed here. I can’t ever repay that.”
“Oh, please, Margareta. It was not like you were bleeding out in the ER.”
Emily was staring wide-eyed, and Jack wore the half-bemused expression he put on when he was discovering yet another interesting facet of his lover.
“Well, come in all of you. Take the room next to the kitchen. It’s empty tonight ‘for repairs’. Towels are on the bed.” They locked their bicycles inside the fence and carried their panniers inside.
After showers and fresh clothes, they gathered in the kitchen while the washing machine ran their laundry. Glasses of orange juice all around. Margareta joined them after checking in a couple upstairs.
Emily looked at Hilda and Margareta. “Is someone going to tell us the story?” Jack grinned and rolled his eyes.
“Some enormous brutes attacked me as I was coming back from the grocer’s. It was the most frightening experience of my life.” She looked at Emily with arched eyebrows and wide eyes. “Then all of a sudden, they were down on the ground, and Hilda here was kicking them down the street in a fury. When they finally got up, they ran as fast as they could.”
“Sounds like Hilda,” said Jack.
“Uh-huh,” said Emily, looking at Hilda. “What’s your side of this?”
“I was just coming back from a walk, and I saw Margareta working the latch of the gate with her arms full of groceries. The two goons were coming from the other direction, heading straight for her. I don’t think they noticed me in the shadows of the trees out there. It didn’t take much to get behind them and knock their heads together.”
“You haven’t taught me that one yet.” Emily heard Margareta suck in her surprise.
“Not yet, Em. You need a certain height advantage and you have to do it very fast and with all your strength to make sure it knocks them out.” She smacked her hands together with a loud clap. “Otherwise it’s like putting a stick in a wasp’s nest – you just make them angry. Once they’re down, though, you can keep them under control when they come to.”
“She would not let me refund her stay, so I remain indebted to her,” said Margareta. “Friends of Hilda’s will always be welcome while I’m here.”
Jack sat quietly, smiling at Hilda with admiration in his eyes.
“What are you googly-eyed about?” asked Emily, snapping his attention.
“I sure could have used her in the MP’s. She can put down a whole bar fight by herself, I bet.”
“Cut it out, you two.” Hilda smiled. She turned to Margareta. “Is your husband here today?”
“No, unfortunately. He has a job over in Moncton. Wont’ be back for two days.”
“He doesn’t work here?” Emily asked.
“Oh, he helps when he’s here, but he is also a lineman for Hydro Québec. They call him whenever there are power outages.”
“I’ll miss his crêpes,” said Hilda. “Do you have any recommendations for supper?”
“Try the Café Europa just up the hill. The food is good, and you won’t have to wait long for supper. Before you ask, I have three more couples coming in tonight, so I have to stay here.”
“We’ll get our things out of the room – just in case you need it.”
The dryer buzzed. They folded their clothes, packed their panniers and left the room as neat as they could.
The storm front had definitely passed as they walked up to the restaurant. A couple of hours later, they wheeled their bikes into the station on Roseberry Street in plenty of time to check the bikes and board the sleeper car.
Until next time,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,