Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ride report: Covey Hill 185km (with cue sheet)

The important thing first: I forgot my camera at home, and this will therefore be text-only. Which is a real pity because the ride went through some really lovely countryside.

The triangle between the St. Lawrence, the US border and the A15 is very flat. Covey Hill is the one exception to that rule, and it's a pretty popular destination amongst cyclist. I had read some lovely-sounding ride reports on Montreal Cycle Fun, but up until now I didn't have enough confidence in my abilities to make it there all the way from Montreal, meaning at least 180km of riding.

Yesterday, I finally gave it a try. After some searching on GPSies I initially planned to follow this route by the Club Cycliste Cycle Pop. After looking at the route more closely, however, I realized that there were long stretches where the route needlessed followed busy provinicial highways and I decided to create my own route.

From our apartment on the Lachine Canal, I followed the Route Verte across the Pont Champlain Estacade and then went upstream to the St. Catherine Locks on the Seaway. If you haven't been there before, this stretch is a real cycle super-highway: It's a service road on the dike separating the St. Lawrence river and the Seaway, continuing for about 20 kilometers between Parc Jean Drapeau and the St. Catherine locks. Due to dense vegetation on both sides it's actually a somewhat boring ride in summer and fall -- I guess just like driving on a real highway. Once you're back on the mainland, the route goes more or less straight south, first on cycle tracks and then on quiet country roads. The area south of the Montreal suburbs is primarily farmland and thus not too exciting. After following one of the many versions of "Rue Principale" for many kilometers I turned left on 1er Rang which turns into a gravel road through a forest. In the middle of the forest, I unexpectedly crossed a paved rail trail, the Sentier du Paysan which runs northwest from Lake Champlain towards Beauharnois. My route continued south on Chemin White, however, and soon I reached the junction with Route 219. This road is slightly more busy but still nice to ride on. In Hemmingford, a charming little town, I made my first stop, and I noticed that I now was in a clearly bilingual part of Quebec. Right before getting to the US border, I turned west on Covey Hill Road. It takes a while to get to the actual hill, but the road is a very scenic country road over rolling hills and lined with romantic overgrown stone walls. Covey Hill itself is only 350 meters high but the approach from the east is pretty steep. I used to be a decent climber while still living in hilly Upstate New York, but after a year in Montreal (and in the searing heat) it was tough to get up there with my 34-27 gear.

I was mildly disappointed when getting to the top, as I had expected nice vistas of Vermont's Green Mountain and of Mont Royal. Well, not so much, at least at this time of year, as the trees block the view in all directions. The western approach to the hill is much more gradual and it was very enjoyable to coast down the road to the intersection with Route 209. Ideally one would turn north one road earlier, but Montée Covey Hill has an impassable bridge, thereby requiring a detour.

Once again, despite being a provincial road, 209 had very little traffic, and soon I turned on more quiet country roads through a nature preserve. After not too long you reach the Chateauguay River which I followed on its western side (on the other side is busy Route 138). At this point I had run out of water and the sun and heat were relentless. In general, I don't mind riding in the heat, but in mid-May my body wasn't quite in summer mode yet. Unfortunately, my exhaustion detracted a bit from the great riding along the river. Finally, I arrived in Sainte-Martine and after some confusion stopped at a supermarket. I was feeling pretty crappy at that point, but a 1.5l bottle of water, a can of V8, and a Clif Bar mostly got me back into shape. The most direct way back to Montreal from Ste.-Martine would be on Route 138 but that is definitely not advisable. Instead, I turned southeast again on Route 205 into the little village of St.-Urbain-Premier and then headed left onto Montée de la Grande-Ligne/Route 207 (another very popular road name around here). Another nice and quiet road, even though it probably had the worst pavement, which my hands and lower back did not appreciate. Route 207 leads right into Sainte-Catherine and on a cycle track I got back to the locks.

After less than 10 hours and 185km (this must be a bit off, as the planned route was 188 and I had at least one detour) I arrived back home. I was probably still dehydrated, but after a cold shower and a cold beer I quickly recovered. Overall this is a highly recommended ride, and since there are several campgrounds along the route one could also do it as a two-day trip.

For your convenience, I'm providing a cue sheet for the ride.

Start at the end of the Pont Champlain Ice Control Structure on the St. Lawrence dike.


  1. It has been an odd early season where running out of water and dealing with warm days has come far earlier than I remember before. See you in Ottawa?

    1. Yep, looking forward to seeing you this weekend. I'll get going around 3am and will arrive sometime during the afternoon. I'll make sure to drink a lot...