Monday, June 10, 2013

Ride report: P'tit train du Nord and (almost) Mont-Tremblant

Instead of embarking on a 200km brevet on wet Saturday, I had decided to go onto a long solo ride on sunny Sunday. Whereas on the previous weekend I had turned to the southeast, this time I wanted to head north.

The P'tit train du Nord is a rail train on the former route of a train to the ski resort towns of Mont-Tremblant and Mont-Laurier. The train begins in Blainville, just north of the Montreal island, and continues for about 200 km to Mont-Laurier.

My destination for the day was the Mont-Tremblant. Two years ago, the SO and I cycled on the P'tit train for a two day camping trip, but for health reasons we only made it about halfway to Mont-Tremblant. Based on my planning the route at home, the total mileage from the Place-de-la-Concorde metro station to the village would be about 110 km one way -- a long but doable distance.

I headed out to the metro station near our house just before nine. As I was about to swipe my card at the turnstile, the ticket agent knocked on the window of her booth and let me know that today the metro was off-limits for bikes until 6pm, thanks to the F1 Grand Prix. Just another reason to dislike the Grand Prix...

But what can you do -- I just started riding, with the clear knowledge that this would probably add a good hour of not-that-fun riding and was diminishing my chances of actually making it all the way to Mont-Tremblant. Since it was Sunday morning, I just rode on the main arterial for most of the way and finally arrived at the de-la-Concorde station. From here to the start of the actual trail the route is a mix of separate paths and suburban and residential roads -- nothing spectacular but also not too bad.

In Blainville, the fun began: parallel to the commuter rail line lies a smoothly paved path. It's very popular amongst cyclists, inline skaters, and runners alike, but it's wide enough that you can still go at a good clip. I was feeling great and put the hammer down, zooming along at 30km/h. The wind was mostly a side to headwind, but it wasn't particularly strong.

In Saint-Jerome I took my first break after 60km, wolfing down a sandwich and refilling my water bottles. Once you get to the outskirts of Saint-Jerome the trail turns into gravel, and the gentle ascent begins. The trail is really well maintained and was easily rideable on my 25mm tires. For many kilometers the trail follows the scenic Rivière-du-Nord which switches betwenn still, wide parts and gurgling rapids multiple times. A lot of the old train stations were converted into tourist infos, rest stops, or cafes, and there are also always signs directing cyclists to nearby local businesses.

On my second rest stop, I finally had a closer look at one of the sigs with distances on the trail -- realizing that something had gone wrong with my distance calculation: It turns out that "Mont Tremblant" consists of multiple little parts, and that the one that I was trying to get to was the furthest, almost 20km past the one I had mapped. At this point it was pretty clear that I wouldn't make it there and I decided to just continue until I felt like turning back.

The route continued being beautiful and scenic, with the only annoyance being the sets of narrow chicanes at each and every road crossing (since they require a good deal of concentration I never ended up taking a picture of them). A lot of cyclists of all ages and types were enjoying the beautiful day on the trail.

I reached my point of return when the combination of riding on gravel, the ascent, and the headwind had worn me down sufficiently. I had already crossed the highest point of the route and didn't feel much like having to go back up on the return leg. Having the wind in my back now, going back was a lot of fun. My body had started getting sore in various spots, but I was doing alright. I even had enough energy to ride fast enough to be a target for a roadie grabbing onto my wheel on the section between Saint-Jerome and Blainville. Unfortunately I took a wrong turn at one of the street crossings and missed my chance to have him do some work for me.

After almost exactly 10 hours of time in the saddle and 241 kilometers I finally reached the metro station, being very happy to be spared the final kilometers back home. Today I'm feeling a little stiff, but nothing major. All in all a great ride, despite not having made it to my intended destination. Maybe I'll try it again some time after August, when the commuter rail to Saint-Jerome will have added weekend service.

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