Sunday, September 23, 2012

QC-MTL Day 4: Lanoraie to Montreal

< Back to day 3
With a view like that, breakfast tastes twice as good
The long riding on the previous had taken its toll and we felt pretty stiff after rolling out of our sleeping bags. However, we woke up to a picture-perfect sunrise over the still river. We figured that the distance back home would about 75 km, including a long stretch which I had ridden before and knew wasn't as pleasant as the route we had been on for the past couple days. The first 15 kilometers, however, were still very nice, with a quiet Route 138 meandering alongside the river.
Beautiful sunrise over the St. Lawrence
Right before we turned off of 138 towards L'Assomption we were passed by what was the largest group of cyclists we had encountered on our tour. It looked like they were some youth group with a few adult ride leaders and--their own follow vehicle. The follow vehicle passed me in a somewhat unsafe manner, but I'm always happy to see young people riding, especially in a touring context. It is a rare enough thing around here.

Whereas on my previous ride I had continued on Route 138 all the way to Montreal, this time we followed the Route Verte which turns north from the St. Lawrence and then follows the Assomption River to the island of Montreal. The stretch between the river and L'Assomption was very unpleasant to ride on: fast traffic headed towards and from the A40, including a bunch of trucks, and a narrow shoulder. Worse yet, around the A40 exit there was a lot of construction which rendered the shoulder unusable. I hope once the construction is done they will have improved the cycling infrastructure.

Dedicated bike ways and lanes did exist in L'Assomption but they mostly were of the horrible kind: zig-zagging through the town, bad pavement, pointless stop signs, frequent changes of the side of the road. In addition, the weather had gotten incrementally worse. What had started as a sunny day with no wind whatsoever had now turned into a gray day with a stiff headwind. At a gas station between L'Assomption and Le Gardeur we took shelter from the drizzling rain and nourished our tired selves with a coke and ice cream. The drizzle neither got better nor worse and after a while we continued on our way.

In Le Gardeur the Route Verte first leads through a suburban residential area and then runs on a bike path between a highway on the one side and what looks like an ammunitions factory on the other. Near the A40 interchange there was a big construction zone but they had done a good job of putting up signs for the bike detour. Once we had crossed the Assomption River into the southwest end of Repentigny it was high time for lunch. The biketopus had hoped for a nice restaurant somewhere on the river but based on my prior experience I was rather skeptical about the prospects of finding such a place. And indeed, the best we could find was a Harvey's.

By the time we got going again the rain was merely a drizzle; but only minutes later (that's how long it took to cross a ridiculously badly designed intersection) we found ourselves in a formidable downpour. We took shelter in a strip mall just opposite the Harvey's and fortunately the weather slightly improved again after a few minutes. Crossing the bridge onto the Ile-de-Montréal was unpleasant nonetheless, as the gusty wind regularly carried the passing cars' and trucks' road spray over the cycle path barrier.

East Montreal: a mix of parks, residential and industrial areas
For the rest of the day we struggled with increasingly strong headwinds, a route that ranged from crappy to not-that-bad, and our exhaustion. Had there been a convenient option to take a train or bus for the rest of the way we would've gladly accepted it -- but there wasn't, and so we just struggled on. For the last few kilometers we at least were back in familiar territory, and having the sense that you're almost home certainly helped. Exhausted but happy about the whole tour we finally arrived back home.

With the headwind, we certainly felt as if we were dragging along an anchor
Getting into the city from the east definitely sucks and it was the worst part of the whole tour (Trois-Riviéres was bad, too, but at least it wasn't as long). Unfortunately, there aren't really good alternatives. For the stretch on the Ile-de-Montréal  one could follow the North Shore on Boulevard Gouin which has sucky parts too, but overall is a little nicer. Another alternative would be to cross the St. Lawrence in Sorel-Tracy and approach Montreal on the south shore. The problem with this is that for long stretches this requires riding on a shoulderless 90km/h highway for long stretches. If that could be fixed -- and it probably will be at some point, as it is part of the Route Verte 3 -- I would definitely recommend this option.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

QC-MTL, Day 3: Trois-Riviéres to Lanoraie

< back to day 2 > forward to day 4
After a good night's sleep in our our executive suite, we made good use of the included breakfast. I had a bunch of bagels with jam and the biketopus had a big serving of fresh waffles. We probably overdid it a bit and thus started our ride pretty slowly. Fortunately, getting out of Trois-Riviéres was much more pleasant than getting in. The weather was pleasant and for the first 10 km we were on fairly quiet road before meeting up with Route 138 once more. In contrast to other days, 138 did not run near the Saint Lawrence but further north; the road closest to the river was Autoroute 40.

Second breakfast in Yamachiche

We made a second breakfast stop after 20 km at a playground in Yamachiche. Once we got out of town, the Route Verte would depart from Route 138 and for the most of the day we'd ride away from highway shoulders. Instead we'd be on gorgeous country roads: barely any car traffic and a picturesque, pastoral scenery. The downside of these quiet roads was that there wasn't much in terms of eating or drinking. We should have stopped in Louiseville, one of the few real towns in the area, but by the time we rode through it was still a bit early for lunch. We were counting on a lunch stop in the next town, Maskinongé, another 10 km down the road, but this turned out to be not such a good idea. Maskinongé was a small village with a big church but not much else. The only lunch option was a depanneur which fortunately had a little pizza counter in the back. Watched by Our-Lady-of-Something we a poutine lunch and a Pepsi.
Our-Lady-of-??? watching over our lunch

The stretch from Maskinongé to Berthierville was the highlight of the day: once again we were on lovely country roads, but this time the roads were literally covered with thousands and thousands of butterflies. We're no butterfly experts, but I think they were Atlantis Fritillary. And yes, they just hung out on and next to the road, flying up and around you once you got near. We had never experienced anything like that and it felt almost surreal. Near Berthierville we got back to the 138 which was being repaved. A nice flagger told us that we should just ride through on the side while the cars still had to wait.
You can't see them, but the butterflies were everywhere

Once we got into Berthierville we took a long break at the Metro supermarket and considered the options for the day. After our bad experience with the hotel on the previous day, we had already booked a campground in Lanoraie in the morning. According to Google Maps the campground would be only about 10 more kilometers and it was only 3 pm. As a nice addition to an already nice day I therefore suggested taking a little detour Sorel-Tracy. Sorel-Tracy is a fairly unattractive industrial town on the south shore of the Saint-Lawrence, but going there involves a nice ferry ride.
The ferry is the only crossing of the St. Lawrence between Trois-Riviére and Montreal

We decided to go for it, and the ferry ride was indeed nice. Three big ships were anchored in the river, waiting to dock at one of the factories, and a fourth one was tugged back out from there. Sorel-Tracy was as boring as I remembered it from an earlier ride and after a short break in a park on the river we took the ferry back. In Berthierville we stopped again at the Metro and stocked up on grillables for dinner. My GPS had run out of battery and I didn't want to bother with exchanging for what I thought would be only 10 kilometers on Route 138.

Wolfgang parked on the ferry
Well, 10 kilometers we rode, and the house numbers were in the right range. We knew that the campground's address was 600-something Grande Côte, but nothing resembling a campground appeared. Since we weren't 100% certain about the house number we just kept going a little further but once we got into the 800s we realized that something was wrong. We checked again on the Iphone, and yes, we had already gone past the red dot that supposedly was the campground. Looking at the address, though, it dawned on me what had gone wrong: we and the red dot were on Grande-Côte Est whereas I was fairly sure that I had entered Grande-Côte Ouest on Google Maps. And indeed, looking at the camping guide confirmed that Camping Chez Denise was at 568 Grande-Côte Ouest, i.e. another 10 km down the road. It appears that the Iphone map app doesn't know how to deal with spelled-out French street names and interprets Ouest as (maybe a typo of) Est. Sigh. We were both pretty tired at this point, having already had our longest day with almost 90 km. Well, there wasn't much we could do other than ride on. And eventually we arrived at Chez Denise.

Our awesome camp site at Chez Denise
Our problems weren't quite over yet, as, contrary to what we thought they had told us on the phone, they didn't accept debit or credit cards and we had run out of cash. Oh well, the next ATM was only 5 km away and so I quickly went back there while the biketopus set up our tent. And what a camp site we had! While the rest of the campground wasn't anything out of the ordinarzy and all occupied by RVs and trailers, Chez Denise had one tent-only site. You walked down a flight of stairs and then were pretty much on the shore of the Saint-Lawrence! No neighbors and a beautiful view of the river which was quietly flowing in the warm light of the setting sun. And a nice porch swing for our tired selves. A good end to our longest day of the ride.

> forward to day 4

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Cyclists of the Lachine Canal

The Lachine Canal path is a busy bike route in Montreal, used both by commuters and recreational cyclists. It extends for about 13 km from the Old Port to the upper end on the Saint Lawrence in Lachine. Our apartment is just one block off the path and I really enjoy watching the variety of cyclists riding by. Recently I hung out near the Saint Gabriel locks and took some snapshots. Enjoy!

I never feel too comfortable taking pictures of random people without their permission, but I hope none of those depicted here will be offended. Please let me know if you want to have your picture removed.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

QC-MTL, Day 2: Saint-Alban to Trois-Riviéres

> forward to day 3
Still sunny after crawling out of the tent. It wouldn't last for long.
During the night the rain had been coming and going but by the time we got up it wasn't raining. We had our usual campground breakfast, oatmeal and Starbucks Via coffee, and then started packing up. While putting away the tent a slow drizzle started again and by the time we rode over to the campground office the drizzle had turned into a veritable downpour. It looked grey and rainy all around but we decided to see if we could wait it out in a pavilion next to the office. Well, the downpour changed in intensity but never really stopped and after 40 minutes we decided that we had to get going anyway. We donned our shoe covers, the biketopus put on her rain jacket (I didn't bother with the jacket because it was pretty warm), and off we went.

Packed up and ready to go.

Waiting for the rain to end--unsuccessfully.

We followed the Sainte-Anne river downstream on one of the nicest roads of the trip. As it often seems to be the case in Quebec, there is one road on each side of the river, one being a busy highway, the other one being a rarely used country road. We could ride side-by-side for pretty much all the way back to the Saint-Lawrence, rarely encountered cars, and enjoyed the slight downhill. After a while even the rain stopped.
Mural depicting the ice fishing town.

Tommy cod info center in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade
By the time we reached Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, we had already done 30 km and it was high time for a second breakfast. We stopped at the Centre Thématique sur le Poulasson. Poulasson, or tommy cod in English, is a small fish found in the Saint Lawrence and some coastal waters in the north east of America, and Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade is known to be the "tommy cod capital of the world." In winter the Sainte-Anne river freezes over and a whole little ice fishing town is created on the ice, complete with play grounds, shops, restaurants, and heated cabins for fishing.
I wonder if they were able to set up the village in the last, very mild winter...

Sainte-Anne river near its mouth
Horrible one-lane metal grate bridge
From Sainte-Anne to Trois-Riviéres our route would stay close to the shores of the Saint Lawrence, following Route 138. A few kilometers down the road we encountered a long and narrow steel grate deck bridge. Riding on steel grate sucks, and having to do it on a long and narrow bridge sucks even more. Fortunately, traffic was light and we both made it across safely but pleasant it was not.
Break in Le Bas-de-Champlain

Wolfgang on the Saint Lawrence
Our tentative plan was to stop somewhere near Trois-Riviéres, either in a motel in town or on a campground a little further upriver. The decision between campground or hotel was greatly facilitated by another big downpour we encountered while entering Trois-Riviéres: Camping in the rain didn't seem like all that much fun, and we were also starting to get tired. Our first impression of Trois-Riviéres wasn't all that great. After riding through endless suburbs, we crossed two of the trois riviéres on a crappy sidewalk and then continued through what seemed to be a big brownfield redevelopment. Once it's finished it will probably be nice but for now we weren't impressed. The rest of the way through town didn't get any better: outdated bike infrastructure on busy roads all the way.

Finally we reached the outskirts of town near the approach to the Laviolette Bridge, the only bridge crossing the Saint-Lawrence between Quebec and Montreal (you can't ride across by bike but there is a shuttle service for cyclists). All of the cheap hotels were located in a typical highway-strip-mall environment. We had checked room availability via the internet earlier the day and thus we very surprised when the first hotels we checked were both fully booked. There was only one other hotel out there, a Super 8 that was listed as a bike-friendly hotel in our Route Verte guide, and there we were told that there was some big Catholic event was currently going on and they had only one vacant room left. Unfortunately, that room was the "executive suite" for 200 dollars per night. Riding through the rain and city had used up a lot of our physical and mental resources and we decided to just suck it up and pay. 80 km was enough for the day.

Our oversized executive suite...
The room was gigantic -- big enough to spread out our tent for drying -- and had its own hot tub. We picked up dinner at a nearby supermarket, did some laundry, and after a hot tub session quickly fell asleep.
...which, despite its size, we quickly were able to mess up entirely.

> forward to day 3

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

QC-MTL, Day 1: Quebec to Saint-Alban

< back to day 0 > forward to day 2
Quebec City finally behind us

Lovely country road, unfortunately closed for construction further down
Both the biketopus and I are not known for being fast in the morning. Thus it was somewhat surprising that we managed to get on the road by 9 am. The breakfast options near the hotel were limited and therefore we started the day with only a gas station muffin for the biketopus and a coffee for me. Our route continued down the same busy road that we had been on the previous night. But the further we got away from the city center the better it got. After about 13 km we finally met up with the Route Verte and the Chemin du Roy, and got our first views of the mighty St. Lawrence. The Chemin du Roy, or King's Highway in English, is a historic route that was built to connect the 17th century settlements on the northern shore of the St. Lawrence. The first kilometers on the Chemin were on really lovely country roads; this shouldn't last long, though, as the road was closed for construction further down and we had to ride up a short but ridiculously steep hill to get to the detour on Route 138. We encountered lots of other cyclists but almost all of them looked like they were only doing day rides or at most credit card touring. The wind kept blowing in our faces -- the dominant wind direction along the St. Lawrence is west/southwest -- and our wimpy breakfast took its toll. We stopped near Neuville in a pretty little park for a Clif Bar break and decided we would get lunch in the next town, Donnacona.

The Route Verte weirdly steers cyclists clear of the city center, probably due to the fact that downtown is located at river level and the bypass on the 138 saves you some climbing. But the strip mall along the highway didn't look too appealing and we went into town. Donnacona is a rather small town and the lunch options were limited but we did find a nice place with an outdoor patio.

Over lunch we finalized our destination for the day. The camping options directly on the route were sparse but we did find a nice sounding campground a little bit further inland. After several attempts we got someone on the phone and they confirmed that they had spaces available. They told us that their office closed at 5 pm but that they'd leave us a map with available sites in case we wouldn't make it in time.

Neuville, one of the pretty little towns along the route
For the rest of the day we would be riding on the shoulder of Route 138 which was generally pleasant. After 70 km it was time to leave the river to get to our campground. We quickly stopped at a fruit stand to stock up for dinner and then continued northwest on Route 383. This road was quite different from the pleasant riding on 138: plenty of fast traffic, including a good number of trucks. A paved shoulder did exist but it was narrow, making this a very unpleasant experience. To make things worse, I accidentally left the biketopus behind after she had some mechanical issues with her pannier -- I guess that's what happens if you're too busy fiddling with your GPS.
Nice spot for a break, with a great view of the St. Lawrence

Rarely does the road run right along the river. Here it does.
Well, eventually we made it to the campground and the bad riding experience was quickly forgotten: the campground was even better than we had imagined it after looking at their website. It's a big park along the the Sainte-Anne river which is deeply cut into the land here. At the upper end of the park is a hydro dam and lake, including a beach with camp sites right next to it. We chose a site a bit further downriver, in the middle of the woods. Aside from a couple of ATVers that were perusing the park's trails we were pretty much by ourselves.After a long struggle with wet firewood -- since we arrived after 5 we couldn't buy wood at the office -- we had a well-deserved dinner and quickly climbed into our sleeping bags.
Our REI tent sent up at the Secteur des Gorges de la Riviére Sainte-Anne

> forward to day 2