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The Kingdom of Saguenay

5 Dec


It was the French El Dorado. Iroquois legends spoke of blond men rich with gold and furs that lived north of the Saint Lawrence River. Whether it was based on early Norse settlers who arrived in Newfoundland centuries before or a fabrication created to appease early French explorers and traders is unknown, but in 1536 Jacques Cartier discovered the entrance to a great fjord and his interpreter explained that it lead to the Kingdom of Saguenay.

LaViolette Bridge crossing the St. Lawrence River to Trois-Rivieres

LaViolette Bridge crossing the St. Lawrence River to Trois-Rivieres

Fluorescent reds, oranges, and yellows have streamed across my vision for most of a day while riding north through Vermont and the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Immediately after crossing the 1.6-mile long Laviolette Bridge over the Saint Lawrence River into Trois-Riveries it was time to pull into the Coconut Motel so my retinas could rest. Inside, the deep red light punctuated by day-glo blue in the surreal tikki and wicker Polynesian palm-frocked motel bar seemed almost normal in comparison.

The Coconut Motel lounge

The Coconut Motel lounge

The Saguenay is often described as being an oasis in the wilderness, yet it is not difficult to find. One only has to follow Interstate 91 north to the US-Canadian border at Derby Line, Vermont where it becomes Autoroute 55, that eventually becomes two-lane Route 155. When Route 155 ends at on the shore of Lac-Saint-Jean you’re in the Saguenay.

Settled in 1608, Trois-Riveries (Three Rivers) was the second permanent settlement in Quebec, but its importance diminished after a fire destroyed most of the city in 1906. The downtown area of this old mill town has dozens of cafes and restaurants whose tables spill onto the sidewalks of Boulevard des Forges making this a popular weekend destination for regional riders.

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Dreams of Evangeline: The Acadian Coast of New Brunswick

24 Nov

Restigouche Sam, the world's largest salmon

Restigouche Sam, the world’s largest salmon

The J. C. Van Horne Bridge spans the Restigouche River.

The J. C. Van Horne Bridge spans the Restigouche River.

The world’s largest salmon leaps from a concrete pool, its stainless-steel scales glistening in the early morning sun as the dark waters of the Restigouche River flow into Chaleur Bay. Crossing the J. C. Van Horne Bridge from the Gaspé into Campbellton, New Brunswick leaves Quebecois culture behind and I enter that of the Acadian.


The Acadian Coast extends from the mouth of the Restigouche River east along the southern shore of Chaleur Bay to the tip of Miscou Island, then south along the Gulf of St. Lawrence into the Northumberland Strait between the mainland and province of Prince Edward Island. The Acadian Coastal Drive is clearly marked by red signs with a white starfish logo. Most of Route du littoral acadien avoids the main highways favored by truckers and people in a hurry so it’s perfect for motorcycling.


Following a coastline that is almost the mirror image of the southern Gaspé peninsula I reach the city of Bathurst. This is the southernmost point in Chaleur Bay and Miramichi is the westernmost point on the province’s gulf coast. The later lies directly south of the former city with only 43 miles separating them via NB Hwy 8. Everything to the east is the Acadian Peninsula and The Acadian Isles.

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Journey to the End of the Road: Following the Cote Nord

10 Jul

The end of the road has become an almost mythical place in our modern collective imagination; the place where a person runs out of options and must turn back or begin anew. The objective truth is that most highways don’t simply stop. Rather, they merge with or junction at other roads so travelers can roll on to their next destination. Yet here I am. The official highway sign says “FIN” and behind it lies a wild untamed river. I’ve been told that Quebec intends to extend the road all the way to Labrador in the future, but for now Route 138 ends at the Natashquan River.End of the road-KJA


It’s my father’s fault. At a very early age he instilled in me an insatiable curiosity about where a road might lead. On Sunday rides he’d spy a road and ask, “Where does this go,” and our family would be off on a minor journey of discovery for the remainder of the day. Route 138 is a familiar highway. It crosses the Mercier Bridge and becomes Rue Sherbrooke, an intimate part of Montreal that’s less than a mile from home, while the Chemin du Roy to Quebec City and even through the Charlevoix Region to the Saguenay River is well-known territory. Eight hundred and sixty miles long, it stretches from the New York border at Trout River to Natashquan on the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and 500 miles of that is east of Tadoussac. But what lies beyond Tadoussac? What will be found at the end of the road? I had to know.

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Moto-Foodie in Milwaukee

17 Sep


I could dimly see through the blacked-out windows of the van as our driver rolled slowly down the narrow alley past a line of overflowing trash bins.  I could smell the river when we stopped at a non-descript doorway. This late in the evening the dim glow of the lamp mounted on the yellow brick wall barely illuminated the small bronze plaque that read, International Exports, Ltd. / 779 Front St. / Estab. 1968. Clad in a London Fog trench coat, our driver merely indicated the heavy door and we quickly stepped through into a small room. Two women barred our way and demanded the password. We had arrived at the Safe House.

This wasn’t London, nor was it a James Bond film, but it might as well have been. This was my first night in Milwaukee and while I could find people who admitted knowing about this long-established watering hole, not a soul would tell me more or divulge the password. Even our driver claimed that he wasn’t privy to it.

Safe House-72

However, it’s no secret that Milwaukee is a motorcycle-friendly town or that was once known as the “beer capital of the world.”  Most of us are on a first-name basis with Miller, Schlitz, Pabst, and Blatz, but the renaissance of craft beer and the amazing foodie scene in Wisconsin’s largest city were excuse enough to linger a couple of extra days before heading home. Continue reading

Best Western, Mid-Western Ride

10 Sep

On a dreary spring morning I received an email invitation to join a promotional tour that promised free food and three days of riding with other moto-journalists—so, without reluctance, my gear was packed and I flew to Kansas.  Two things motivated my decision to fly-and-ride: I needed a get-outta-town-free card and wanted to see what Best Western and Harley-Davidson were up to.

For decades there have been numerous small businesses that have welcomed motorcyclists, but seven years ago, Best Western Hotels and Harley-Davidson created the first corporate partnership that specifically promoted motorcycle tourism. Extremely successful with over 110,000 Harley owners in the Rider Rewards program it came as no surprise that they wanted to announce that this partnership has been extended for another three years.  However, Best Western had something else on their agenda.

Picking up my bike at Worth’s Harley-Davidson in Kansas City I followed what would become the group’s chase van to the KC Speedway Inn. Outside it looked like a nice Best Western property but inside it definitely was a boutique hotel.  The fact that the open, elegant bar was being thoroughly enjoyed by a group of riders merely added to the ambiance.  Aparently, not all Best Western hotels are created equal.

_KJA8712-72 copy

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Dive! Dive! A short tour of duty aboard the HMCS Onondaga

24 Dec

“Battlestations!” calls the captain and we scramble for our assigned positions. I quickly race down the hall and through the waterproof door of bulkhead 49. The corridors are narrow, barely wide enough for a single person and every surface has been utilized. There are thousands of manually operated valves and switches and hundreds of gauges throughout the ship, but these are not in my sector. I rush through the deep red light of the command center past the sonar, navigation, attack command boards, and the dive plane operator’s station while dodging both the attack and search periscope that have been raised. I quickly move through another circular bulkhead door and down the narrow catwalk between the two 4,000 horsepower V-16 diesel engines. They’re quiet now. This submarine was propelled by two 3,000 horsepower electric motors. The diesel engines were used only to generate electricity and charge the two 110-ton batteries, but they never propelled the ship. My station is in the stern watertight compartment, behind bulkhead 77. I’m in charge of counter-measures, which means I operate a very ordinary looking bronze, lever-actuated device and will, upon the captain’s command, load and release flares or other elements to confuse enemy radar—at least I would have during those Cold War years when this submarine had enemies.

I park the Street Glide beneath the conning tower on the port side of the HMCS Onondaga. HMCS stands for Her Majesty’s Canadian Submarine and the big Harley trike looks pretty diminutive next to this stealthy veteran of the Cold War. This is the last surviving Oberon-class submarine and the pride of Site Historique Maritime de la Pointe-au-Père in Rimouski, Quebec. By day the Onondaga is a museum complete with self-guided audio tours in both French and English. At night it will become Gîte Onondaga, a unique opportunity to experience a tour of duty aboard a military submarine. I’d pulled a few strings to get a berth for the night and had to rearrange a rather complex travel schedule, but here I am, the first journalist to experience one of the most unique B&B inns in North America.Image Continue reading

Touring the “Maggies”

4 Nov

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I arrived at the dock in Souris not knowing what to expect.  Even with my research they remained a mystery and, despite stories heard, I’d never met anyone who had actually been there.  Basque fishermen had been voyaging to this archipelago to hunt “sea cows” since the early 1500’s, but then, as now, the best-kept maritime secrets don’t appear on maps. Yet, when the Traversier docked at Prince Edward Island, nine bikes rolled out; when it left, it carried four.

The Madeleine Islands (Îles de la Madeleine) are one of those rare “in” places to ride, but few have heard of them. Located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence approximately 134 miles (215 km) east of the Gaspe, 65 miles (105 km) north of Prince Edward Island, and 60 miles (95 km) west of Cape Breton, the “Maggies” are considered to be a northern segment of the Appalachian Mountains and belong to the province of Quebec.  Authoritative sources can’t even agree on the extent of their land area (somewhere between 77 and 88 square miles), but there are seven inhabited islands and all but one are connected by a single highway.  The sole purpose of my long journey was to ride this road. Continue reading

Dog Sledding and a bit of Algonquin Culture

6 Mar

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Rolled up in buffalo skins I listen to the coyotes sing, their voices echoing between mountains in the crisp night air. This is not the Ritz-Carlton and the only amenity is a homemade stove and an ample supply of split maple to keep me warm.  The wigwam is carpeted in fresh-cut spruce boughs and my bed nothing more than two bison hides, but it’s an authentic Algonquin experience and one of the reasons I came to Centre Kanatha-Aki. Continue reading


Cooking On The Road: Tin Pan Galley

16 Jan

Camping is big business and outfitters offer a tremendous array of cookware, stoves, and accessories.  In fact, there are so many options that making a decision is often paralyzing to the novice.  Unless you are hauling your bikes in/on a trailer and have room for a gas barbecue and a massive ice chest, choices are limited mostly by size and to a lesser degree, weight. Continue reading


On The Rocks: A Night At The Ice Hotel

1 Jan

With wind blowing out of the northwest and the temperature at minus-19 degrees Celsius the Quebec forest feels like a setting for one of Jack London’s stories. However, once through the massive iron-strapped oak doors, the relative warmth of the interior, even with breath rising hard and white in the still air, is surprising.  Ahead stretches a reception hall of a style that can only be described as Tolkienesque: walls the color of the finest Carrara marble are carved in bas-relief beneath a Gothic arched ceiling supported by crystal-clear pillars of ice.  In the center of the hall a massive ice chandelier infused with ever-changing spectral hues glows in dim splendor. Boots leave a trail of waffled imprints across a floor raked with Zen precision and one expects to encounter an ice queen or perhaps the White Witch of Narnia at any moment.

This is the Waldorf-Astoria of igloos, the world-famous Hôtel de Glace (Ice Hotel) near Quebec City.  Detailed descriptions are useless: the hotel is built to a new design and the sculptural theme differs each year. Embedded LED lighting transforms 500 tons of carved ice and 15,000 tons of sculpted snow into surrealistic visions.  Animal skins cover chairs and benches carved from special ice that’s made in Montreal and trucked north. Foam mattresses grace crystalline beds.  One suite has a fireplace and a hot tub; one of the monastic rooms has a floor to ceiling pierced wall of ice as the footboard to the bed.  Other bedrooms feature elaborately carved walls with fantasy designs, dragons, hockey players, and artifacts or photographs embedded in blocks of ice. Continue reading

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