Bike Ride - Spring, 2005: Around Lac-Saint-Jean &
Back to Montreal


Roger Kenner
Montreal, Qc,
Canada 2007

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Bike Ride - Spring, 2005:
Train to Lac-Saint-Jean, Around the Lake,
and Home via the Mauricie

This will be the Lite versions of this account. No items coming from other sources, such as maps, will not be included. At this time only a short summary of the trip has been completed, first published over several editions of the Newsletter of Saint-Ansgar's Lutheran Church


This would be the first of three bike rides taken during the Summer. I took the train to Jonquière, which was quite an experience! I then took several days to ride three-quarters of the way around the lake, staying each evening in Bed and Breakfasts. I then left the valley and rode up over the mountains to La Tuque, whence I descended the Saint-Maurice River to Shawinigan. From there I cut diagonally across to Berthierville, on the Saint-Lawrence, and rode on back to Montreal.

My Lord Jesus Christ, receive my thanks for his constant companionship, help, guidance, and protection, without which I would never have been able to accomplish what I did.

  • Day by Day Accounts

    Day Mode Summary
    01 Friday, May 20, 2005

    I planned the Lac St. Jean trip early in the year, having visited the area once by car a few years ealier, noting the 'Veloroute des Bluets' bike trail, and being left with a strong desire to return. I was lucky to have some days free at the end of May, but Sheryl, alas, had to work because of the schedule disruptions caused by the student strikes of the Spring. I discovered that there was a train from Montreal to Jonquiere, an experience in itself! It was too early in the season to camp out, so I treated myself to Bed & Breakfasts each night (which in Lac St. Jean, and off-season, were quite reasonable.) It was a marvellous experience to meet the people of the region.

    The train was like something from another era. It would take over twelve hours, oftentimes rambling along the twisty tracks through the mountains at speeds of about 20 mph! Leaving Montreal, there were two separate 'trains' coupled together, each with their own conductors, stewards, etc. Both trains were nearly empty. They divided just past Shawinigan, the one heading west towards La Tuque and Senneterre, the other to Lac St. Jean. Still the train was nearly empty. We pulled into a small town north of Quebec City to find dozens of families waiting on the platform, each clustered around a mountain of belongings and each separated by about ten metres from the other. As we walked about, the open baggage car was advanced slowly to each cluster, and the people loaded their belongings onto the train. When the train left that station, it was nearly standing room only. All along through the mountains then, the train proceeded to stop at isolated cottages, where a family and their belongings would get off. There were no roads! Many cottages has front yard walkways which led from the front door straight to the tracks.

    It was late evening and raining when I got off at Jonquiere. Luckily, there was a roof over the platform, as I changed modes from train passenger to cyclist, repacking all my gear onto my bicycle. I set off to find my first B & B, a small house overlooking the tiny river that runs through the old section of Jonquiere. The next day I would begin my ride...

    02 Saturday, May 21, 2005

    I set out in the grey, misty and rainy morning from the B&B in Jonquière, where I had arrived the day before, by train from Montreal. In the centre of the old section of Jonquière is a small, rocky hilltop, from which one can look out over the whole valley. A bike path leads along the small river through town, coming to an end at a small dam, below which the tiny river drops out of sight into the vast gorge of the Saguenay. Smoke and steam rise from beyond the edge of the gorge, from big paper mills which remain out of sight.

    A steep drop along the road out of town brought me to the turbulent waters of the Saguenay River at the bottom of the steep gorge, just below a massive dam. Once I had climbed back up the far side, to the crest of the dam, I could see the calm water of the Saguenay stretching on as a narrow ribbon, crowded on both sides by steep hills. Alas, the highway left the river at this point.

    Once past the town of Shipshaw, I decided to leave the main road and continue towards my destination of Alma along the secondary farm roads, which appeared to offer a shorter path. They were definately quieter and more scenic, even offered me views of the Saguenay River with only slight detours. Despite what the map showed, however, none of these roads really went through. By the time my road had degenerated into a rough, dirt track, and a sharp rock had given me a flat tire, I decided it was time to abandon that plan. I climbed slowly back up to the main road, which brought me into Alma within an hour or so.

    It was pouring rain when I got to Alma, a picturesque but very hilly town. Two massive outlets from Lac-Saint-Jean pass by Alma. The bridge into town passes high over a deep gorge through which the larger outlet, controlled just upriver by yet another massive dam, passes. The 'smaller' outlet passes right through the middle of town, along a giant spillway filled with wild, foaming rapids.

    03 Sunday, May 22, 2005

    Setting out in the morning on day three of my bike ride, I soon climbed onto the highlands above the dam to see the calm waters of the bay they call 'La Grande Décharge'. I still could not see the lake. It was only when I reached the village of Taillon that I had my first, panoramic view of the lake. It stretched off into the distance like a vast, inland sea. Off in the direction I had come, I could see the distant smoke rising from the factories of Alma. Directly across the lake, I could dimly make out the far shore, and the mountains behind.

    The 'veloroute des bluets' bike trail leaves the road at Taillon, to enter the provincial park of the same name. I crossed over a small footbridge and found myself at the beach and park headquarters. The beach was, of course, totally deserted on such a chilly, overcast May afternoon. There were many other cyclists however, following the gravel trail as it ran alongside the water, just inside the trees from the narrow beach. I passed many beaver dams, and saw the steel structures that installed under all the bridges, to keep beavers from building there. It was chilly. All the cyclists were dressed like me: heavy sweater, scarf, gloves, earband and goggles.

    The trail comes out of the park at Sainte-Monique, 'kilometre 0' of the 'veloroute'. A stretch of bike trail follows a wooden right-of-way, built out along the shoreline of the Peribonka river. Then one climbs into town and crosses a special 'bike bridge' over the river, just above the point where its rough waters calm and join those of the lake.

    Bicycles rejoin the highway to follow right along the north shore of the Peribonka River. I passed by the home of 'Maria Chapdelaine', a famous name in Quebec literature. I passed by the first of many blueberry fields, only just then pushing their brownish shoots up through the soil. At last I came to the town of Peribonka, a tiny waterfront town with a marina and riverside boardwalk. It was here that I would spend the night.

    04 Monday, May 23, 2005

    I awoke at the Peribonka Bed & Breakfast to a dark and rainy morning. Being the only guest, I sat alone at the breakfast table, my hosts only stepping out of the kitchen once or twice to serve me. Outside, I leaned my bike up against the covered verandah and dutifully began packing my gear, fully rigged for rainy weather. It was 08:00 when I set off.

    Highway 169 leaves the lakeside at Peribonka and climbs gently up through the farmland along the valley of a small river, barely a creek actually. After about 10km, I came to a point where the 'Veloroute' sign directed me along small side road, towards the town of Ste.-Jeanne d'Arc. This detour would take me slightly out of my way, but I was getting bored with the main road. The side road led me parallel to the main highway, but kept me on the opposite side of the small creek. I was glad I went that way. I came across one of the largest, most prosperous farms of the region, a complex the size of a small town, complete with horse stables, race track, and manor house girded all around with giant picture windows. The farm even had its own, small hydro-electric plant along the river. At the town itself, I was treated to an old-fashioned mill and dam, with water wheel. In the end, I only had to backtrack a couple of kilometres to regain the main road, and by then it had stopped raining.

    An hour (15km) further along the still uninteresting highway, I came upon the town of Dolbeau-Mistassini, the furthest point from home of my trip. At Mistassini is one of largest waterfalls around Lac St. Jean, a thunderous cascade of white water drops in wide steps through a gorge separating what was formerly two separate towns. The cascade is bordered by stone walls, and there is a pedestrain walkway along the top.

    Dolbeau is one of the largest towns in the area. Two blocks of its downtown street have been roofed over and turned into an enclosed pedestrian mall. After exploring and having lunch in an old, retro cafe, I set out westward across the top of Lac St. Jean. From this point on, every kilometre travelled would bring me closer to home. I followed the secondary highway #373, for the main highway made a large and somewhat useloop loop to the north, which would have easily added 20km to my route. My road was lined alternatively with stretches of forest and vast, open blueberry fields, still sporting their brownish-red tint of late May. To my left, at the far side of the fields, I could sense, but not see, the cliff which dropped down to the Mistassini gorge and river below. Ahead, and looming ever larger, were the mountains that form the west wall of the valley of Lac St. Jean. A very strong wind blew from the west, making pedalling along the flat ground like climbing those mountains.

    I rejoined Highay 169 at St. Méthode and about an hour later had reached St. Félicien, my destination fo the evening. The B&B for that evening would be the nicest of my trip. The house had a nice terrace overlooking the river and the owners offered guests a beer and had us sit down with them to chat and look out over the river at sunset.

    05 Tuesday, May 24, 2005

    The next morning I headed south. At St. Prime, the 'veloroute' left the highway and ran on a trail of its own, between the railroad tracks and the shoreline of the lake. It came out at the Indian reservation at Pointe-Bleue, where there were museums and a waterfront park adorned with giant concrete teepees. Next came the populous town of Roberval, beyond which the bike trail continued along its own right-of-way, again right alongside the lake. South of Roberval, the trail was paved.

    The wall of mountains to the west grew ever closer until, even with the 'village historique' of Val-Jalbert, a re-constructed mill town of the 1920s, the bike trail and highway were hugging the shoreline at the bottom of steep cliffs. Halfway up the mountainside, I could see the spectacular waterfalls of Val-Jalbert. After this, the trail left the water's edge and began climbing, up to the town of Chambord, which is the highest town around the lake. It was my day's destination.

    06 Wednesday, May 25, 2005

    I had a short task for the next day: I would only ride about 25km, but nearly straight up! In planning my trip, I had worried about the distance between Lac St. Jean and La Tuque: Over 125 km of wilderness highway! Could I make such a long ride through the mountains? Then I had discovered there was lodging to be had at Lac Bouchette, 25km along the way. I climbed slowly, huffing and puffing, up the mountain face, until from the crest I could look out over all of Lac St. Jean spread out below me. ("You can't see the views, lest you pays the dues!"). I reached the Benedictine Monastery at Lac Bouchette, where I would spend the night, at just after Noon. I would spend the afternoon relaxing by the lake and visiting the monastery. I even attended evening prayers with the monks.

    The next morning, would leave at 05:30 in the morning, to share the narrow, mountain highway with the big transport trucks as I headed for La Tuque, 100 km away.

    07 Thursday, May 26, 2005

    I left the monastery at Lac Bouchette at 05:00 in the morning, just as the sun was coming up over the mountains. I wanted to get an early start on the section of highway I felt would be my greatest challenge: 100km of two-laned highway through the mountains and wilderness to distant La Tuque, on the Saint-Maurice River. In planning the trip, I had long studied satellite photos and topographical maps, trying to determine if I could make such a long distance. The maps had shown promise. Lac-Saint-Jean was already much higher in elevation than La Tuque, and by the time I had reached Lac Bouchette, I was even higher still. It appeared from the maps that after a dozen more kilometres of relatively flat road would be a small rise, to the crest of the divide, followed then by downhill road all the way into La Tuque. Would it really be that way? I was very apprehensive.

    After a quick breakfast at the truck stop, I set out. At that early hour, the only ones on the road were myself and the big transport trucks. I would learn how to share the road with them. There were no paved shoulders, just gravel. I could hear the trucks approaching from behind when they were still a long way back. I would put myself in the position of the truck driver and would look at the road ahead. Could they pass me? If the way was clear, the trucks would pass me with a wide margin. If there was a blind curve, the crest of a hill, or oncoming traffic, they could not pass me. Nor could they reasonably stop. If I were to stay on the road, they would certainly try to pass, at high speed, in the same lane as I, and with inches to spare. In such cases, I would head off the road onto the gravel shoulder and come to a stop as I heard them approach closer. As it turned out, I would have to do this only about once an hour. There was little traffic on the highway.

    Within a couple of hours, soon after passing a sign warning motorists that the next gas was sixty or more kilometres away, I had reached the crest. I knew when I had passed the crest because the creeks and streams all began running in the same direction as I. The highway presented a few long slopes, but nothing I could not handle by climbing very slowly. At first the road twisted and turned its way around one forest-bound lake after another. Besides the highway and the lakes, trees were the only scenery.

    There came a point, just before noon, when the highway began a long, serious drop. For almost half an hour I flew down the road, just lightly touching the pedals while my bike was in its hardest gear. I'm sure I was going at least 30 km/hr. When I stopped at the bottom for lunch, I was surrounded by the high walls of a gorge and the 'creek' beside me had grown into a river, La Bostonnais.

    I followed the canyon and the river on into La Tuque, passing a couple of picturesque covered bridges along the way. Once I reached the town of La Bostonnais, civilization returned to the roadside and I began to pass houses and businesses. I reached La Tuque at around 16:00, still early enough to ride around town for some sightseeing. I located the narrow, steel bridge hidden behind the paper mill, from which I could look upriver upon the vast reservoir of the Saint-Maurice River. I passed the dam, but there was no way I could get a good view of it. Below the dam, cliffs dropped a hundred feet or more down into a massive gorge. Nestled along the edge of the cliff was a quaint, old English neighbourhood, complete with an Anglican Church, lost in a sea of francophones. As evening came on, settled into my B&B and then headed out on foot to explore downtown and to find some supper. I found the nightlife scene in the small town to be pretty lively.

    I was content with my day's cycling and felt a great relief that I had crossed the wilderness. The next day I would be free to enjoy the ride down the picturesque canyon of the Saint-Maurice River. One small niggling doubt entered my head. Whereas La Tuque had been 100km from my starting point, my next destination, Grand-Mere, was shown on the mileage signs as being 125km away. It would be a longer ride! I was not worried, since I would be going downhill along the river.

    It would not turn out that way.

    08 Frisday, May 27, 2005

    The next day, I did not get an early start. I stayed and enjoyed coffee and conversation at the B&B until well after 08:00. The road down the canyon of the Saint-Maurice was indeed beautiful, but it was not downhill! Though the river may flow downward, the road kept climbing up and down. Then there was the wind! It seemed to be focused up the narrow gorge. At times, I would be descending a hill and yet still have to pedal hard just to make headway. Then there was the rain! After a few sunny breaks in the morning, the clouds and the mist closed in. I would not end up reaching Grand-Mere until 19:30 that evening, after a long, grueling day of cycling.

    When I reached the small town across from Saint-Jean-des-Piles around 18:00, I phoned ahead to advise the B&B that I would not be coming in for at least another hour and a half. I must have sounded tired for, to my surprise, a few miles down the road a van pulled me over. It was the B&B owner, who had driven out to bring me in. I thanked him very much, but declined. I'd ridden thus far, I might as well complete the ride. I slept well that night!

    09 Saturday, May 28, 2005

    I awoke in the town of Grand Mère to a grey, overcast morning, with rain pouring down in torrents. Little changed by the time my hosts had served breakfast, so there was nothing to do but hunker down in my rain gear and head on out into the downpour. Grand Mère and Shawinigan are pretty much the same town, perched high on the lip of the St. Lawrence Valley, where the valley of the St. Maurice River first opens out onto the plain. The grand river drops though two massive dams, one at Grand Mère and the other at Shawinigan, but I could not see much through the rainstorm. I continued west through the city streets along the wide boulevard that was Route 153. It was hard to avoid the splashes and the spray from the passing motorists. Along the way, I crossed over the very rail line which had brought me up to Lac St. Jean so many days before.

    Downtown Shawinigan, with its tall observation tower looming in the grey haze, was perched high on a hill. Just as I was about to climb up this hill, my route took a sharp turn to the right and dropped almost straight down into this narrow, steep, hidden valley. When I came out of the canyon, I was at the basin of the river, below the high dam. The rain had stopped and I was able to park my bike and hike up to the top of a small hill for a grand view: The now massive St. Maurice River heading south out of the basin.

    Route 153 wound around the edge of the basin and then there was a steep, steep hill to get back up to the level of the surrounding countryside. I rode over the Hwy 55 freeway and up yet another steep hill into the small, picturesque town of St. Boniface. Though the rain had stopped, it was still an early, overcast morning as the now quiet route 153 began to drop ever lower into the valley. I was all alone on the road as I passed rang upon rang of farms. Occasionally I would see a distant tractor working the fields.

    I came out at the town of Yamachiche, where I caught the much busier Route 132, the old two-laned road along the river. I was now on familiar ground, for I had biked along Route 132 the Summer before. I had a quick lunch, and fixed another flat, at the A&W stop in Yamachiche, by the autoroute. Then I headed west, alongside the railroad tracks and through Louiseville, Meskinongé, and St. Barthelemy, until I reached Berthierville in late afternoon.

    The B&B in Berthierville was housed in a massive Victorian mansion. My hosts awaited me on the verandah and offered me a beer as we sat and chatted about my ride. I rode off later, to find supper at the Cage aux Sports near the autoroute. Berthierville is a town of two souls. The old town, by the river, is quiet and quaint. Just a few blocks inland along Avenue Gilles-Villeneuve and one comes to an almost permanent motorcyle rallye. I have yet to visit that town when I have not seen serious Harleys and leather jackets everywhere. Back at the riverfront though, where I stopped later in a quiet park near sunset, a local resident I spoke to had no knowledge of any motorcycles.

    10 Sunday, May 29, 2005

    The next morning, I continued west along Route 132. This stretch, where the road runs right along the river's edge, is most picturesque. I had been granted a nice, cool but sunny day for the last day of my trip. I stopped at the riverfront park in each of the towns I passed: Lanoraie, Lavaltrie and St. Sulpice. From in front of the church in St. Sulpice, I could already make out the oil tanks of industrial Montreal far off in the distance. I thought I was near home when I crossed into Repentigny; it was here that the countryside vanished and the road became an urban boulevard. It seemed like Repentigny would never end! I was more than an hour crossing that town.

    I have crossed the bridge at Bout de l'Ile many times, so I was now in very familiar country. I decided, though, to come in via Sherbrooke Street, a route I had never taken by bike. Previously I would either come in via Notre Dame or Gouin. It was a new discovery, especially passing alongide the massive quarry in Montreal East. I had never noticed, at automobile speeds, the huge cemetery north of Sherbrooke Street just west of Hwy 25. I passed by the Olympic Park, then over the CP Rail canyon, and then was passing through downtown.

    Sheryl phoned me when I was about even with LaFontaine Park. She inquired how long I would be and was surprised when I told her yet another hour. As I rode up Beaconsfield nearly an hour later, she had organized an impromptu welcoming party with all the neighbours. I was quite touched! It had been a very successful ten-day ride. The Lord had helped me overcome some real challenges and I was quite content.

     

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    Prepared by Roger Kenner
    First Written: October, 2005 - March, 2006: This version: 2007