Riding that Train  
 
   

The last time I rode any real distance on my mountain bike was in Colorado several years ago. At the time I was riding on a daily basis and was in excellent shape for what lay ahead. Once again I had the time to plan another cycling trip but this time I decided to do something easier, a reflection of my current level of fitness. I decided to go for a trip on a rail trail, in this case, Quebec's P'tit Train du Nord. Although the trail runs through cottage country, the Laurentians north of Montreal, it offers a beautiful ride through ever changing natural settings, broken up by a variety of interesting towns and villages along its 200km length.

I was watching for a couple of days of sunny weather near the end of August. This summer's wretched weather had made it difficult to string together more than two consecutive nice days, so I kept putting it off. Then there we had it, seven sun symbols in a row on the Weather Channel's website. I quickly made reservations on the shuttle bus from St. Jerome with the Transport du Parc Lineare Marie-Max for Friday Morning, the day before the Labor Day weekend kicks off. I started packing and in my haste I foolishly dispensed with a detailed list of items to bring along, after all I reasoned I could always find what I needed on route. I planned on three days of pedaling and two nights camping out, with one day extra set aside for contingencies. Since I didn't know how many kilometres I could comfortably handle each day, I didn't make reservations at any of the campsites. This was my second over site considering this was a long holiday weekend.

On Thursday I took a quick test ride with my equipment on the bike to ensure everything was balanced and working as it should. That evening the bike was stripped and the car packed ready for an early morning getaway.

 
 
  Four thirty in the morning the alarm went off, into the shower and then a quick breakfast and I set out for, my departure point. I arrived at St. Jerome at 7:00AM, the bus was already there. The driver checked off my name and I unloaded my bike and help load it onto the buses trailer. After I stowed my panniers and tent into the the back of the bus I went to get a much needed cup of coffee. Everyone was friendly and excited about the days ahead. My inquiries indicated everyone on the bus was planning to ride the length of the trail. They were all packing lighter than me, since I was the only one who was camping out. In additions they all had made reservations at an Auberg, a Hotel or a B&B for each of the nights they were out. I felt a little isolated and started to think about maybe spending one of the nights at an inn along the way. That wasn't to be.  
 
 

The ride to Mont Laurier included only one rest stop and took us about 2hrs in total (check when booking how many stops are normally involved for your particular departure). I followed our progress with my map and tried to spot interesting areas and towns which I might not want to miss. L'Assomption looked particularly intriguing and I noted it was about one third the distance along the trail. I searched through the guide I had picked up from the Laurentian Tourism office and found a campground just outside the town. If everything went to plan this would be my first night stop over.

We reached Mont Laurier (km 200) and the chatter picked up as we swung into the train station to begin the trip. There were a lot of smiles and cameras were hauled out of pockets as the bikes were packed up and everyone started on their way with a wave. Bon Chance! I was the last to leave as I took my time packing and took a few more pictures of the surroundings. I found myself grinning as I got on my bike and started into my first kilometre of the trail. As I pedaled off I kept watching the sky for the clouds to burn off and let that promised sun through.

As I left Mont Laurier I moved from forest to field. Beautiful pastoral scenes alternated with heavy mixed forest that formed a tunnel around the trial. I encountered very light traffic, a few cyclists and inline skaters (the upper section of the trail is paved). At points you find your self breaking out of the woods and following the shores of the areas beautiful lakes, then the forest closes in and your back to your own thoughts. The trail follows a number of ridges and crosses lots of rivers and streams providing ample opportunities for taking photos. I was pleasantly surprised by just how isolated and wild the trail is in the upper section

About an hour out I was disappointed with the first raindrops of the trip after all "seven suns in a row" should weight heavily against it. Of course nature doesn't care about meteorologists or weather reports or cyclists and their plans, it has it's own agenda and we are helpless left guessing most of the time as to just what it might be.

I was lucky that I had just passed a shelter not two minutes ago when the rain started. I turned around and and peddled furiously back to it in an attempt to stay as dry as possible. The shelters are scattered all along the upper section of the trail. Each is built to resemble a caboose. Little more than a wind break and a roof they are a very welcome sight when the weather turns.

I took the opportunity to have a snack consisting of gorp and a chocolate bar, washed down with liberal amounts of an energy drink. The small stopover was a nice break. The rain abated after about 15 minutes and since it never really got beyond a heavy mist I dismissed the idea of breaking out the rain gear. After all the sun would be breaking through the clouds any moment now.

As I approached Lac Saguay (km 163) I came across what looked to be a wilderness campsite right on the side of the trail. There were a number of tent platforms with paths leading through the area. I was sorely tempted to explore but the skies were once again threatening. After a quick look I got back on my bike and quickened my pace. In a short while I came upon a break in the foliage which opened up on the outskirts of town beside a fast food restaurant with shelters not 20 metres from the path. One look at the sky and I dashed for the shelter and proceeded to order lunch. No sooner than I completed my order and the skies opened.

The lunch was very welcome and I felt a new surge of energy but the rains keep me cooling my heels for about an hour. Before I headed back out I broke out my rain jacket and lashed it to the outside of my pack. I was still sure that the heavy rain was an isolated shower and I wouldn't need all my gear. About 10km out of Lac Saguay I grapped my jacket as the skies again darkened. Just as I was passing another couple the rain came down in buckets. Before I could even think about stopping to get my rain pants out I was completely soaked to the skin everywhere except where my jacket protected me. I cursed my lack of fortitude, particularly since I hadn't brought a change of shoes (I didn't have my handlebar utility pack so I had to put my camera and other vulnerable elements into my rear packs which ate any extra space). I took comfort in the fact that everything that absolutely had to stay dry was enclosed in plastic Ziploc's, dry bags or rolled garbage bags.

The rains continued and I kept watching for a shelter (not that it really mattered I couldn't get any wetter) and finally a round lookout with a roof appeared ahead. The lookout has a rather nice view over a lake, even in the rain. As the downpour intensified the lake waters would dance furiously, with breaking patterns cause by sheets of rain running this way and that. I looked back up the trail and the couple I had passed as the rain started were approaching. Their brows furrowed they were soak through to the bone. They lost thier stern expressions and broke into laughter after they dismounted and had a good look at themselves. We briefly exchanged itineraries and I inquired as to their home towns. They lived in the Laurentians and often cycled the path but this was the first time they were doing the whole thing. They were staying at inn's along route and I once again thought about doing the same, at least for one night.

 
 
   

The rain finally stopped and we bid farewell to each other and were off. I was hoping that my shoes would dry out enough that I could change socks and still have dry feet when I went to bed that night. Shortly, I left the woods and started following the beautiful shores of Lac Nominingue, an area which attracts lots of vacationers each year. I stopped at a bridge to take some photos of the Lake when my two rain companions approached. We rode together for a short distance before they decided to head off trail to explore the Nominingue area further.

I was beginning to feel the fatigue as I approached L'Annonciation my days final destination. I stopped in at a depanneur (corner store) and bought myself a very cold can of beer. After consulting my map I revitalized I had passed the campground about 2km back. At the office they assured me they had plenty of sites which supported my happy go lucky approach to the whole trip. The campsite was in a lovely pine forest located along the shores of the Rouge River, which is renown amongst white water paddlers and canoe trippers. After I had made camp and changed my damp socks I broke out the beer and thoroughly enjoyed each and every mouthful.

I headed into town at about 7:00pm and found myself a small restaurant with a nice patio on the main street. It was Friday night and the town was very much alive. People strolled the sidewalks eating ice cream and reading menus. Young lovers held hands across tables while groups of dinners carried on animated conversations. While my muscles were aching, my spirits were high and I enjoyed an excellent diner with a half bottle of Savignon Blanc. A little later I barely had time to put my head on the pillow before I was dreaming of tomorrows' adventure.

 
 
 
 
   

The P'tit Train du Nord is built on an abandoned railway line which started in Montreal and headed into the Laurentian Mountains to the north The trail runs from St. Jerome in the south, through cottage country to Mont Tremblant Village then on passed the Ville du Riviere Rouge to it's terminus in Mont Laurier. The lower section of the trail is surfaced with crushed gravel, while the upper section passed Labelle is paved. The trail has little in the way of a grade but you'll find yourself on an incline into Lac Saguay from either Mont Laurier or Nominingue, from Mont Tremblant south to St. Faustin-Lac Carre and from Mont Rolland (Ste. Adele) north to Val Morin. There are over 20 designated access points with parking. The trail is open to cyclists, hikers and backpackers in the summer season. In the winter the upper section above Val David is used for snowmobiling while the lower section is reserved for cross country skiers. The trail connects into two other regional bike paths, the Aerobic Corridor and the Lower Laurentians Linear Park (paved).

The trail travels through a variety of scenery from forest to field, passes a number of lakes and follows along side the regions beautiful rivers, the Rouge in the upper section and the Riviere du Nord in the south. It also makes it's way through a number of small villages and towns where accommodations, restaurants, supplies and normally (but not always) a bike can be found.

 
 
 

Bike rentals are available at some of the converted railway stations as well as in a number of towns along route. Shuttle service is available for cyclists, both end-to-end and to points on route (for more information see the contact information at the bottom of the page). For further details on the bike path, along with accommodations, restaurants and other services on route consult the following:

The P'tit Train du Nord - Out-There's feature article and resource listings for the linear park

Out-There's Laurentians - The Laurentians Region
Out-There's Mont Tremblant - The Mont Tremblant Region and Resort
Out-There's Montreal - The City of Montreal

Association Touristique des Laurentides
14142, rue de la Chapelle, Mirabel
Quebec, J7J 2C8
450-436-8532 or 514-990-5625
Laurentians Tourism
info-tourisme@laurentides.com

 

The following is contact information for firms mentioned in the article.

Transport du Parc Lineaire Domain Marie-Max - Shuttle service
Boise de Fou du Roi - Campgrounds, L'Assomption
Camping Labelle et la Rouge - Camping and Rustic Cabins, Labelle
Les Jardins de L'Achillee Millefeuille - B&B and Restaurant, Labelle/Mont Tremblant
Camping Domaine Desjardin - Campgounds, St. Faustin-Lac Carre
Cafe de la Gare -
Cafe, Bike Rental, Mont Rolland Station
Les Excursions Riviere du Nord - Canoe rentals and shuttle

 

 
 
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