It was the second summer in which I had grown accustomed to taking off every free weekend for long, often overnight, bicycle rides. Ostensibly, the purpose of these rides was to prepare me for the major ride of the summer. In 1992 it had been the Gasp‚. In 1993 it was to be Nova Scotia. A weekend or two earlier I had made a three-day voyage to Plattsburgh and Burlington, ending off with a 100 mile non-stop ride home from Burlington. My knees were still suffering badly from the Burlington ride. This trip up north took place just before getting ready to go to Nova Scotia.
The decision to go north was taken at the last minute. I remember having read or heard somewhere about the Train du Nord "Linear Park". I got up on the morning set aside to begin my bike ride, still wondering where I should go. I had noticed on a map I had picked up earlier a thin green line leading north form St. Jerome, with the appellation: Parc Lineaire. It was a small map in the back of one of the Quebec regional tourist brochures, certainly nothing truly official looking. I hesitated about going north on such slim evidence, as it was a four hour ride just to get to St. Jerome. What a dissappointment it would be if the park were not there yet! Finally, though, I made up my mind to take the chance, and headed north on the sole faith of that thin green line on the small map.
|Rosemere to St. Jerome|
Before I could even get started on the bike trail, I had to ride to St. Jerome, a distance of over four hours by bicycle. With my fully loaded bike, I followed my usual path up to the "Back River" (Up Grand Blvd, through Hampstead and Snowdon, up through the industrial park past Blue Bonnets, under the Metropolitain at the Kraft Food plant, up though Ville St. Laurent to Cote Vertu, over to Grenier, and then north through to Cartierville and the Hwy 117 bridge approach.). This first leg took its usual one hour.
Crossing into Laval, I followed the old Boulevard Labelle (Hwy 117) as it curved to the left to go through Chomedy. I had not been on this route for many years, and much had changed. It was a lot more built up than I remembered, with hardly any stretches of green farmland left. It was also a lot more run-down. When I had lived in Blainville with my parents, Labelle Blvd. (Then Hwy 11) had been our main route into the city (My father eschewed freeways). Between Ste. Rose and Chomedy in those days was nothing but vast fields. Chomedy was a thriving English town. The shopping centre at the four corners was a vibrant, thriving place where we often went to the Dominion supermarket for our groceries. I remember once picking up my friend Bernhard as he was standing at the corner of Labelle & St. Martin hitchhiking. As the road curved in towards the bridge, it used to pass by several large restuarant complexes. By 1974, when I became mobile again, having purchased my bicycle, not much had changed. This route became my main one for Rosemere and I used to come out almost every week.
|St. Martin Shopping Centre in Laval|
During the 19 year interval since then, I had hardly ever driven out along Labelle Boulevard, except perhaps once or twice at the most, and then in a speeding automobile. It was a shock, therefore, to plod back along the road at 15km/hr. The main road now went straight north from the bridge, and it was hard to find the "exit" to the left. The grand old restuarants were gone. The old shopping centre was dowdy and run-down. Climbing up past the shopping centre, the city just kept going and going. I passed only one short stretch of farmland before plunging into the midst of tacky suburbia again. I had to ride the long way around the interchange of a new freeway. Then there were even more houses before I came upon the familiar Laurentian Autoroute interchange at the entrance to Ste. Rose. The main street leading down into Ste. Rose was also much, much different than it had been. Finally I was riding over the familiar Rosemere Bridge. It had taken me another hour to ride across Laval.
I went through Rosemere, past the familiar four corners, past the golf course, past the new shopping centre, and under the Hwy 640t. Soon I was riding through Ste. Therese, following which I had to climb up the escarpment, the first step in leaving the valley of the St. Lawrence. I stopped to look back out towards Montreal from my vantage point of a hundred feet or so. Hwy 117 continued on, straight as an arrow. I had a nice, wide and paved shoulder to ride on, but the road was busy and noisy, with cars travelling at highway speeds. The sun was beating down and there was no shade.
|Familiar Hill in Ste. Thérèse|
I reached the corner where my school bus used to turn off of Labelle back in 1970 and stopped there for a fast food snack. When I continued on my way, I noticed how much the old area had been built up. I had ridden past that section every morning for almost an entire school year, and so had a graven image of what it used to be like. Now I could recognize few landmarks.
|1260 Boul. Labelle - Blainville|
Finally I came upon 1260 Boulevard Labelle in Blainville, the place where I had lived back in 1969/70. I stopped to take some photos, but little was the same. I could make out a vacant grassy area where the trailers had been. The trailers were now much further back.
Plodding on, I began finally to escape the built up area. The straight-as-an-arrow road seemed to go on forever. As I was about to lose hope, I crossed the Mascouche River and the road made a turn to the right. Coming up over an overpass, I could see Ste. Jerome off in the distance, across an interminable stretch of farmland, dissected by hydro lines. I continued. It would be two hours after the Rosemere bridge that I finally came into St. Jerome.
Before arriving I first had to climb over yet another overpass. Below was a rail line and a small freight yard. I had made contact with the trains, which was a heartening sign! The city started abruptly as I came down the far side of the overpass. I was at first in a suburb of St. Jerome, and the highway was a wide suburban boulevard passing by shopping centres and fast food outlets. When I crossed into St. Jerome proper, the road became a narrow, busy street and I found myself fighting for my place between the parked cars and the formerly two lanes of traffic which had now become one.
I rode on for a short while and then stopped at a gas station to inquire where I would find the "Parc Lineaire". When the attendant stared at me blindly, I lost heart. Clearly he had no idea what I was talking about. Was it possible I had come all this way after a mirage? I had the sudden inspiration to ask him where to find the train station. He told me it was closed. I did not care, so he gave me directions. I rode on up Hwy 117 to the centre of town, and then turned to the right for one block. There was the old train station, all boarded up. Cars were parked all around the near vacant lot.
|St. Jerome Train Station|
I looked all around the train station for some indication of the Train du Nord linear park. There was none. The tracks just stretched on across the street and around behind the buildings. Next to the tracks was a small, bike-beaten path of perhaps a foot in width. I decided to begin following it north, to see where it might lead.
|St. Jerome: End of the Rail Line|
I had to rid yet a couple of blocks before I came, at last, to the end of the rail line, which I was exhilerated to find at that point. The small path climbed the embankment and took over the rails' place. Though the going was still rough, with stretches of big gravel and lots of pot holes, I still thrilled to find that the bike path did indeed exist!
|Starting Out in St. Jerome|
For a long stret ch the line led along through residential areas. At each of several road crossings, I was conscious of being just to the east of the commercial area and main street of the town. Eastward from the old rail line were blocks and blocks of houses. The old rail line clearly served as a sort park for everyone.
|St. Jerome: The Early Trail|
The road crossings were fairly undisciplined places. The trail just stopped, leaving one to make their way around the obstacles and down off the embankment as best as one could. At one of the last road crossings, there was a big pit right in the middle of the trial and it was necessary to carefully inch the bike around the narrow edge of the hole.
After a mile or so, the residences to the right came to an end and scrub forest closed in. On the left side were the back ends of small factories and the city yards, places which would have been served by the railroad when it was in operation. The trail began to curve towards the left (west). Soon it entered a huge concrete underpass, almost a tunnel, under Hwy 117, which was just leaving St. Jerome by the north.
On the far side of the tunnel, all trace of city and civilisation were gone. I finally felt like I was riding out in the country. Both sides of the trail were wooded. To my right (now north) was an embankment. To my left the land dropped off a bit, but was then flat. I was vaguely conscious of the approaching river.
|Stop at the Falls|
As the trail neared the river, it began turning northward (to the right) again. The ever-narrowing bit of wooded land between the trail and the river was evidently the corner of some large park. For a ways the woods were fenced off. At the point where woods and the park finally gave way completely and the trail reached the river, there were rapids and a waterfall. Derelict concrete structures built out on the flat rocks, the remains of dams and gates, clearly showed that this had been an industrial area back in the days of water power.
I had been riding for about half an hour on the trail, and nearly four and a half hours since starting out, so I decided it was time for some rest and relaxation. I walked the bike a ways out onto the flat rocks and then tied it up. Gathering some food from the packs, and my camera and field glasses, I walked further out on the rocks, to near the white water's edge, where I sat down and had some lunch.
|Stop at the Falls|
After half an hour or so of relaxing to the soothing sounds of the river tumbling over the rocks, I packed up and continued on my way. The trail now paralleled the river, which flowed at the base of perhaps a 20-foot embankment to my left. To the right, the slight tree-lined ridge continued. Every once in a while the wall of trees would be broken by a dirt road, leading off into farmers' fields At each of these side entrances there was clear evidence of dirt bikes. In fact, the roadbed of the trail became progressively more difficult as I proceeded, the dirt bikes chewing up the hard surface until it was soft sand. I kept trying to ride along the very edge of the trail, where it was still firm.
After a while, the trees on the right gave way to open farmers' fields. I could see the highway was getting nearer, just on the other side of the fields. The fields then gave way to the backs of houses. At one point I came to a house whose back yard was full of big dogs who were not tied up. By the time they finally noticed me (and I them) I was just about past. They all started barking and growling and they began to run after me. I had to really push pedals (while navigating the deteriorating roadway) to get away from them. Up ahead was another underpass, through which the trail crossed back over to the east side of Hwy 117. I lost the comforting companionship of the river.
|Trail Approaching Second Underpass||The Second Underpass|
The trail continued to get worse. Passing under the highway, I found myself on a straight stretch of trail, with farmers' fields on the right and the highway on the left. Coming down off the overpass, the highway had curved to be parallel with the old rail line. Separated at first by just a few yards of grass, the separation grew to maybe the hundred feet of a grassy field, but no more.
|Along the Rough Trail in Prévost|
Besides dirt bikes, it was evident that tractors and heavy farm equipment also used this stretch of "farm road". The surface was so torn up and sandy that I had to shift to my easiest hill climbing gear and still almost stand on the peddles to continue. A couple of times my wheel sunk in so deep that my bike came to an abrupt stop and I almost fell over. I gouged my leg with the bicycle chain at one point, while fighting to stay upright.
|Prevost Train Station|
After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only half an hour or so, I finally made it past the farm whence the tractors had come. As the trail came into the built-up section of the town of Prevost, the roadbed began to improve slightly. At the last open section where I could see the highway, there was this gigantic open-air flea market between the old railroad (which was on a three-foot rise) and the highway. The whole area was packed with cars and stalls and there were throngs of people. After crossing a sideroad, the old rail line began to pass behind the houses and stores of the town and I could not longer see the highway. It became wooded again and very soon I came upon the old, boarded-up train station at Prevost. I felt quite drained from my long struggle to traverse what was probably less than a mile since the underpass, so I parked my bike and sat down for some liquid refreshment.
The decoration of the station and some signs posted on the side were the first indication I had that I was on any sort of official bike trail. After my experience in the "sand", I had begun to have some serious doubts.
|Along the River - Into the Hills|
Leaving Prevost, I began to see the first signs that I was going into the mountains. The river was soon my comfortable companion to the right again, only now quite a bit lower down. To my left, behind the fields, rose up a couple of large hills with rocky summits. All trace of highway and civilisation were hidden from me. It was quiet and peaceful. The trail, though still tricky to manoeuvre along, showed no further evidence of dirt-bike destruction. I was able to relax and pedal at a gentle pace.
|Along the River||The First Hills|
I began to notice that while all along the far bank of the river I could see the back yards of houses, there was nothing on my right side except trees. (If there were houses, they were up above me, where I could not see them.) The river was quite calm along this stretch and I noticed most families had boats tied up at their dock. I passed some canoeists gently making their way upriver.
Soon I was coming into the town of Piedmont and became conscious of being at the bottom of a steep valley. Although the river was still below me, everything else climbed high on both sides. Piedmont had another small train station and I crossed another road called "Chemin de la gare", after which I was out in the country again.
It was only after leaving Piedmont that I began to notice any appreciable climb to the trail, but I had to lighten my gears only a bit to keep the same pressure on my pedals. The forest closed in on the trail, taking the place of the open farmers' fields. Gone as well were the houses that had been my companions on the far river bank. Although the map later showed me how close the road really was, I could hear none of it. As I rode along, only the birds broke the silence of a hot, sunny day in the woods. The grinding of my tire s along the gravel kept me company. I still needed to be alert, as there were numerous holes in the trail, or big rocks protruding from the packed earth.
At one point I rounded a corner and saw, with dismay, that the roadbed curving up the slope ahead of me suddenly gave way to the original large-rock gravel roadbed of the railway. Only the tracks had been removed. A narrow, beaten path, of perhaps three inches width, was the only road available for my bike tires. As I crept along with upmost attention, I began to fear that the rest of the trail would be the same. Luckily, after maybe five minutes, and rounding another curve, the rocky roadbed gave way to hard packed gravel path again.
The path curved to the left. I passed some open fields and the municipal yards, and I then was upon the train station of Mont Rolland.
|Mont Rolland: Trail and Train Station|
Now that I was out in the open, I could see that my hour of gentle climb had truly brought me into the mountains. Peaks were all around. To my right was the impressive mountain of Ste. Adele, where I could see the cleared away ski paths.
|Mont Rolland Basin||Autoroute at Mont Rolland/Ste. Adèle|
The train station was at the heart of old towm of Mont Rolland. I left the trail at that point and rode up the hill through the quaint little town. As I climbed out of the ravine, it was a shock to suddenly re-enter civilisation. I was at the very spot where the Laurentian Autoroute and Hwy 117 intertwine briefly that I knew well from having driven past many times before. As I crossed the bridge over the river, towards the highway, I noticed how the river was boiling in rapids on the low side the bridge and yet was calm on the high side. Looking to the north, it was clear that Mont Rolland lay at the base of a broad, flat, almost circular expanse, surrounded by mountains. The calm river snaked its way through the huge golf course that extended up the basin.
I rode on across the overpass over autoroute and came to Hwy 117 running parallel on the far side, hugging the base of the mountain. It was upon reaching the traffic light on Route 117 that I came officially into the town of Ste. Adele. Route 117 was a wide, suburban boulevard with several lanes of traffic running each way and with wide shoulders, complete with curbs and sidewalks. To the right, towards Ste. Adele, the road descended a bit before turning to the left and beginning a long climb up a straight and steep hill.
While most of the built-up section of Ste. Adele was at the top of the hill, a small, modern shopping centre could be found at the base of the hill, just where the road curved. Among its small, trendy stores was a Tim Horton's doughnut shop. I rode over and checked it out, deciding to have a quiet coffee while I relaxed for a few minutes. It was getting on into the evening and I realised that I should be thinking about lodging. It would be getting dark soon, despite the mid-summer calendar which kept it light until nine o'clock or later.
|Past Mont Rolland|
Clearly no places would be available in the commercial heart of Ste. Adele. As I had not seen any indication of campground as yet, I decided I would have to camp on the sly along the bicycle trail. I rode back over the freeway and river bridge, back down through the quaint houses of Mont Rolland, down into the ravine of the railroad. When I got to the trail, I decided to head further north, as I could not remember having seen any good sites on the way up.
Leaving the train station area, the trail runs alongside the now calm river. A road runs along the top of a small ridge to the right. Several blocks worth of houses have their back yards on the top of the bluff overlooking the old train tracks. Slowly the bluff gets higher and higher, and the houses more and more distant. Across the river, to the left, continues the vast open expanse of the golf course. Along this stretch the trail is wide and well groomed, in stark contrast to the narrow packed earth trail coming into town from the south.
As I rode along, I passed a number of people out for their evening stroll. It was clear I would have to get well clear of the built up area before I could find a place to camp.
The gravel road (a term which best describes the trail at this point) curved to the left and suddenly there were no more houses on the right, just trees. On the left was still just the river. After riding perhaps two kilometres, the embankment on the right faded and the scrub forest was again at my level. I considered myself now far enough out of town to begin looking for a place. I checked out a couple of small wooded promontories stiking out into the river, but they did not seem private enough, and there were lots of bugs. I looked to the solid mass of underbrush to the right, and finally decided this was my best bet. I wanted to be completely hidden so that no one would come to disturb me during the night.
I found a deserted open stretch of road where I could see no houses in either direction and the underbrush and trees before me seemed impenetrable. There, I boldly marched my bike in through the bushes, taking care not to overly disturb those on the outside. When I was, perhaps, fifty feet from the road, I stopped and laid out my tarpaulin, using it to push down the smaller plants. I set up my tent over the tarpaulin and arranged my sleeping gear inside, so that all would be ready upon my return.
Lodging taken care of, I decided to go have some supper. Upon leaving, I took careful note of the landmarks. From the road, it was impossible to see where I was. I then rode back along the road the two kilometres into Mont Rolland, and up and over the bridge, taking me back into Ste. Adele. I stopped once again at the Tim Horton's and had a supper consisting of hot soup, sandwich, and doughnut.
It was dusk when I retraced my path. There were still a lot of people out walking along the path close to town, but it was fairly deserted out by where my hidden camp was. Once I had located the spot, I did not go in right way, but stayed out by the river until it was quite dark, enjoying the feel of nature. I watched the birds and other animals along the river. I used my field glasses to explore the lights on the surrounding mountains. I was feeling very contented.
Finally, I figured it was time to retire and so found my hidden path and walked my bike in through the underbrush. I laid it down in front of my tent and locked the wheels. Then I climbed into the tent, got undressed, and snuggled into my sleeping bag. As I lay there, I listened intently for any noise as I was somewhat concerned about being discovered.
[On to Day 2]