Transition to the North - Saturday, June 18
Now that we had experienced a bit of the finer, more cultured life, it was time to head away in the direction of less-civilized, less-developed places. That meant north; our eastward route now took us along the north shore of the Saint Lawrence, on Quebec highway 138. The highway crosses over the undulating hills and low mountains of the Charlevoix region, sometimes a bit farther from the coast, and occasionally within sight of it. The weather changed dramatically as we drove north-east: the humidity, haze and heat of Montreal was long gone; even in Quebec City, where it had still been sunny, it was noticeably cooler. Now further north and east, low cloud banks drifted in, and there was often a slight drizzle. It was too bad, really, for there were probably some beautiful scenes to be had as we drove along the northern coast of the Saint Lawrence.
Ferry across the Saguenay
Presently we arrived at the end of the road - temporarily, though, for we had arrived at the crossing of the Saguenay River at Tadoussac. The Saguenay is one of Quebec's major rivers. It is a kilometer across at its mouth, and there is no bridge. Highway 138 continues on the opposite side, and a government-run ferry provides continuous free crossings.
Now across the Saguenay, we continued north and east on 138. Again, little by little, the land seemed a touch more rugged, and a touch more wild. Even though the skies were gray and occasionally wet, we did have some limited views out to the now very-wide Saint Lawrence River. We stopped at one particularly fine lookout near the town of Ragueneau, where bare bedrock shores and low scrub attested to the increasingly harsh climate. And, curiously, where one finds a couple of huge concrete dinosaurs, complements of a dedicated local resident.
River-side lookout near Ragueneau
Less than thirty minutes later, we arrived at the larger town of Baie Comeau - one of only two sizeable towns along the North Shore of the Saint Lawrence east of Quebec City. We stopped here for a bite to eat and a fill-up of gas.
Baie-Comeau was a significant point along our journey. Here, we would turn north on a real wilderness road: Highway 389. The highway will connect us to Labrador, and the start of the Trans-Labrador Highway.
Long way to Labrador
Highway 389 shoots straight north from Baie Comeau, leading straight into the resource-filled wilderness of Northern Quebec. In fact, resources are the primary reason why highway 389 exists in the first place. In its present form, it was constructed in the 60s and 70s by Hydro Quebec, as part of the construction of the ambitious Manicouagan hydro projects. Later, the presence of large mineral resources (especially iron) pushed highway 389 further north, all the way to the Labrador border. There are very few towns and very few amenities and services along this highway. Although quite passable to most passenger vehicles, one still needs to be more aware of resupply points when driving this highway.
A long way to the heart
At the start of highway 389, twin highway signs advise us of some long stretches of driving ahead of us: nearly six hundred kilometres to the Labrador Border, and one thousand-one hundred kilometres to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the 'capital' of Labrador. Big distances!
The first section of highway 389 is quite hilly and reasonably twisty. Twisty enough to bring driving enjoyment to a twisty-road afficionado like myself. The pavement was not always of the best quality, but it was more than passable. In the fading light of a late Saturday evening, we made good progress northwards, soon passing one of the hydro-electric generating stations along the Manicouagan River system - Manic 2.
Our plan for accommodations along these remote northern roads was simple: find a suitable well-hidden pullout (there are many along these highways), and set up the interior of the CR-V to allow a sleeping mattress and sleeping bag to be used. It was nearly dusk now -- about 9:40pm local time -- and it was time to search for such a pullout. We soon found one, pulled safely out of sight, and set up our sleeping accommodations.
Custom Bug Shields
Knowing the reputation that the north has for fierce mosquitoes and other flying nuisances, I had created special screened inserts that I could place into the rear windows of the CR-V. This allowed us to have much-needed ventilation without being drained of a substantial portion of our blood each night. We finally settled down for the night shortly after 10pm, having covered nearly 800 kilometres since leaving Montreal that morning.