It was now the summer of 1995, and two years since my first ride along the P'tit Train du Nord trail. Quite a number of things had changed in my life. Renewed bachelorhood had given way to a second marriage. Weekends and free days were now spent together with Sheryl. I no longer earmarked every free summer weekend for a bike-and-camping getaway. In fact, I had not done any bicycle camping since the summer of 1993 and was beginning to miss it.
A two-day window opened up in which I might make my overnight bike ride. Sheryl had gone down to Florida for a few days to visit her elderly and ailing grandfather and to see her friends. I was a few days on my own, but had to share this time with my children as well. The Friday, the first day I was alone, I drove out to McDonald College to attend an Irish Music Fest, where I saw the Barra-McNiels perform. The Saturday and the Sunday, both beautiful days weatherwise, I had Tannissa and Alex over. I returned them to their mother on Sunday evening.
Now it was Monday, and Sheryl would be returning on Wednesday. It was my window of opportunity...
|St. Jerome to St. Agathe|
The fact that it was pouring rain when I got up would not deter me. I wanted my ride! I was up at 6:30 in the morning and out of the house by 7:00, with all my gear packed and the bike on the bike rack. I had prepared everything the night before.
I stopped for breakfast at the Dunkin' Donuts on Decarie, and then was on the road by 8:00am. It rained hard all the way up to St. Jerome along the autoroute. When I arrived there at 9:00, I paid a visit to the Burger King, right by the highway, to complete my morning constitution.
By 9:30, I was scoping out the train station/bus station scene. I found I could not park in the regular parking lot, on account of the meters. I noticed that a lot of people seemed to be parking on the dirt road along the old tracks, however. I decided this was safe enough, so I left the area to find a market and stock up on some supplies. Then I returned and parked my car alongside the others. (I remained mildly worried about how the car would fair overnight, when all the day workers had gone home and it was parked there all by itself.)
|Starting out in St. Jerome|
I donned my full rain gear and wrapped plastic garbage bags around my shoes. Then I got out of the car and packed up the bike with tent and gear. I was on my way at 10:00.
|St. Jerome to Prevost|
The first part of the bike path was through town. All was pretty much as I remembered it, except for the rain and wet gravel, of course. I rode up along the narrow gravel way beside the old railway tracks for the first block. Past the first street crossing, the railroad tracks come to an end. [See the photos in the previous section.] The rough, muddy path then took over the full width and continued for at least a few kilometres along the raised embankment. There were houses on both sides and the path came to an end at each intersection, where there continued to be lots of obstructions and potholes to get around.
After the last intersection, the path left the houses behind and curved around to the left, behind factories and municipal yards, before passing under Hwy 117 through the huge concrete viaduct.
Along this first section, things were going pretty well. The rain had lightened up considerably and I was able to open up my rain poncho to get the cool air. I stopped and took the plastic bags off my shoes.
Past that first underpass, the path went by the corner of the Parc Regional de la Rivière du Nord. I could see the waterfalls, the old dam, and the rocks where I had stopped back in 1993 for some sun and snack, but this prospect was not too appealing in the rain so I continued on.
Between the waterfalls and the second underpass, the trail had the river on the left side and a low embankment lined with trees climbed to the right. Beyond the trees were farmers' hay fields. At each opening in the trees, dirt bike paths lead up the embankment towards the fields. At each of these point, the roadbed along the bike path was pretty torn up. At a certain point, the trees to the right gave way to farms and then the back of the houses were right along the path, as the main road angled ever closer. As last time, I encountered the farm with lots of big, scary dogs running loose and had to hussle past it! The further along I went, the worse the roadbed got, but at least this time I knew now what to expect.
When I got to the second underpass, where the railroad passed again under Hwy 117, where again there was a giant concrete viaduct, I decided to leave the path. I knew how bad the roadbed was along the section to come. It had been bad enough on a dry day, and I certainly had no desire to tackle it in the mud. As I came out of the far side of the underpass, I walked my bike up the embankment to Hwy 117. It was much more pleasant along the road, and there was a good shoulder. The rain had stopped completely by that time, and I was able to doff my rain poncho, making it much cooler. The sky remained densely overcast, with low-hanging fog on the surrounding hills.
When I reached Rue de la Gare in Prévost, I figured it was time to head back down to the path. I remembered that the worst of the bad roadbed ended at the Prevost train station. I recognized the huge outdoor flea market area, which I had seen the last time from the other side. A half a block to the right along the street was enough to bring me to the Prevost train station. It was 11:10 when I reached Prevost, so I stopped for a snack. I had gone 14km from St. Jerome to Prevost.
North from Prevost, the roadbed was at least passable, still in bad shape but much better than to the south. Along the section north from Prevost I began to experience once again the feeling of being out in the country. The river, still on the left, separated the bikepath from the highway. The highway was way up along the far slope, and hidden by trees and the backs of houses. I could hardly hear the distant cars. The ever constant river rolled quietly along at the bottom of a twenty or so foot embankment. Back in 1993 I had seen canoists along this stretch, but I did not see any on such a rainy day. The first signs of mountains began to appear to the right, where hayfields stretched off to a not-too-distant line of low hills with rocky crests.
|Hills in the Fog|
|See the previous section for a view of these hills in the sunlight.|
|Prevost to Ste. Agathe|
At 11:45 I reached Piedmont, a further 7km (21km total). Beginning at Piedmont the trail was now newly groomed. Back in 1993 this section had still been pretty rough. I remembered the stretch near Mont Rolland where the trail had consisted of all the big, chunky rocks of the original railway roadbed. Now the roadbed was flat and covered with small gravel. At each roadway intersection was a wooden gateway to keep out all but bikes.
|Beginning of the Groomed Trail|
From Piedmont to Mont Roland began the first serious climbing of the day. The mountains had now closed in on both sides and I was conscious of riding up a narrow valley. Still, the climb was not unpleasant. There was only slight pressure on my legs as I rolled along still in my middle cruising gear. I was lucky the old steam trains could not climb very steep hills. There was just enough of a grade that one could coast down slowly. (On a dry day, that is. I was to discover that the wet gravel offered quite a bit more resistance and I would be able coast only on the steepest of hills.)
I made Mont Roland by 12:15, another 4km up the way. (25km total: 2hrs of riding time). At Mont Roland one could leave the bike path and ride up through the small town to the bridge over the autoroute and onto the busy commercial strip of Ste. Adele, which I had done back in 1993.
I did not take that detour this time, but continued following the path north, as the valley of the Rivière du Nord opened out and the river became wide and tranquil. Across the river was a golf course. I could see the mountain peaks surrounding the small valley, some with the traces of ski trails cut into their forest. The path followed along the bottom edge of a small ridge. The ridge was topped with houses, and wooden stairs led down from many to the path's level. The river continued to be on the left. The couple of kilometres past Mont Rolland were a short, populous section and I encountered many who were simply walking along the path. The grey, overcast day made for pleasant walking weather, now that the rain had stopped. The trail was almost dry.
I rode past the area of deserted bush where I had camped back in 1993, while hidden in the trees. A little past that spot, the trail left the Riviere du Nord and followed a smaller tributary. For a while houses appeared again on both sides, then the bush returned. I came to the old railway bridge as the tributary crossed to the right side. [See the previous section for a photo of the bridge]. The small stream climbed up several hundred yards of gushing rapids until it reached the calm of a small pond. At the far side of the pond, it followed yet another waterfall back up into the hills. Back in 1993 there had a small house overlooking the pond, but this had now been replaced with "Doncaster Park", a park where it seemed just about everything was forbidden.
|Doncaster Park: The Rules|
|Summit & Wexford Falls|
Past the park, the trail began to climb in earnest. The grade is still do-able, but I felt its tug on my legs. I had to shift gears into my high gear and proceed slowly and methodically. The climb was not steep enough to make me breath more heavily, but the wet gravel clearly offered more resistance. The ridge climbing to the right was soon accompanied by a sheer drop-off to the left. There were far fewer people on the trail once I was past Doncaster Park. I crossed a couple of deserted roads, and then began the long stretch of heavily fenced, forested land to the right. I could see, far off in the trees, that there was some sort of vast estate. At another point, the trees gave way to what had been back in 1993 an open gravel pit, with lots of sand on both sides of the trail. By this time, however, small trees had been planted to reclaim the area. There was still enough clearing that I could look out on the vast valley below.
Soon thereafter, past one final stretch of climb, the trail rounded the bend and came out upon the highway. I had reached Ste. Marguerite Station and it was 13:00. I had climbed an additional 8km from Mont Roland over the previous 45 minutes. (33km total: 2:45 riding). The highway reaches Ste. Marguerite Station by climbing up a 14% grade. There is a small depanneur whose name, “De la gare”, indicates that there had been a train station at this point some time in the past. In 1993 the area had been broken up with construction. Now there was a large parking lot where the old train station must have been. This parking lot served as the jumping off point for many wishing to cycle on the trail.
I stopped at the depanneur for half an hour, to warm myself up with some coffee and to have a look around the store. I bought myself a fancy map of the Train du Nord trail (the map from which excepts such as the one above have been scanned.) At 13:30 I continued on my way.
From behind the depanneur, the trail continued to climb along the ridge. At first there were houses on both sides of the trail, and then only far below to the left. Finally, I was back out in the wilderness. The cliff side climbed to the right and there was a steep drop off to the left. Once in a while I could catch glimpses of the expanse of the valley stretching out to the left. It was no longer possible to see the valley floor, but I could see the various, distant peaks and was conscious of the wide open space between them and me.
Only a few minutes more climb brought me to the point where the trail turned sharply to the right and went through a small cut-away. [See photos in previous section]. Just before reaching the cut-away, I began to hear waterfalls far down in the drop-off to the left, but could not see anything in the gloom of the forest below.
Just past the cut-away, there was a brief glimpse of Wexler Falls, far below. Then the falls vanished behind the trees, but their roar remained quite evident. The cutaway marked the summit of that section of trail. From that point on, it began to descend, at first as rapidly as it had climbed.
It was 13:45 when I reached the summit, fifteen minutes after having left Ste. Marguerite station. I stopped to check out the falls for about 15 minutes. I followed this trail that led down to the remains of an old wooden bridge that used to traverse the river. I looked downriver towards the swimmers around the rocks just above the falls.
By 14:00 I was on my way on again. It was an emotional moment as I passed the point where I had turned around back in 1993. I was now riding through new and virgin countryside!
|River Approaching Val Morin||Val-Morin: Lac Raymond|
The trail continued its descent from the crest for only a short way, but a fraction of the climb I had made on the southern side. It was soon flat and running alongside the rapids of the river which was still to the left. The number of people along the trail grew radically once I passed the falls. It was still heavily overcast and everything was wet, but the rain had subsided. The respite brought out the stollers, and some even with bathing suits and towels heading for the falls.
There began to be houses to my left, lining both both sides of the river. Then the river was gone and the trail opened out onto a vast lake. I was following the edge of the lake, with the cliff to the right. Eventually I arrived at Val Morin. Where the bike trail crossed the road, at the northern edge of the lake, the citizens of Val Morin had built a small park.
|Lac Raymond at Val Morin|
I reached Val Morin at 14:15, fifteen minutes after having left the summit and 6km further on from Ste. Marguerite (39km total: 3:15 riding). I stopped for a couple of minutes to explore the small park, then continued on my way.
Between Val Morin and Val David the trail was quite flat. Sometimes it passed through wooded areas, at other times though open fields of tall grass and flowers. As I approached the next town of Val David I began to see more houses once again. The train station at Val David was no longer there, but the layout of the streets clearly indicated the previous presence of the train. Along the hillside, to the right, was a row of businesses on a street that clearly used to front the train station. The main road crossed the trail at right angles, and I could look up the street at the commercial section of town.
|Val-Morin & Val David|
As soon as I rolled into Val David, I had this immediate sense of déjà vu. I realized that it was to this town that I had been driven during a 1973 visit to the Laurentians to see my girlfriend of the day, Heather. The train must have been in operation in those days.
|Val David: Main Street & Le Bistroquet|
It was 14:30 when I reached Val David. I had travelled the 4km from Val Morin in 15 minutes (42km total: 3:30 riding time). I stopped off in Val David for a nice, hot soup and bread at the restuarant Bistroquet, which was right by the trail crossing. My luncheon stop lasted for half an hour. I set out again at 15:00.
It was more of the same between Val David and Ste. Agathe. The trail remained pretty flat. In many areas there were houses and nearby roads, with fewer and fewer wilderness areas. At one point the trail crossed the Riviere du Nord on an old trestle where there were interesting rapids.
|Trestle over the North River|
|The North River|
|Looking North||Looking South|
As the trail began to come into Ste. Agathe, it crossed under the autoroute and Hwy 117. Soon it was going along the bottom of a low ridge, to the left, with houses and factories spread out below to the right.
|Train Station at Ste. Agathe|
I reached the old Ste. Agathe train station at 15:30, half an hour after leaving Val David (49km total: 4:00 riding). The old train station was all boarded up and desolate. I did not even stop, but continued on as the trail passed through the industrial area of Ste. Agathe and began climbing again in earnest.
|Ste. Agathe to Mont Tremblant|
Soon the highway was lost to sight as the trail wound its way through the marshy section of the now placid Rivière du Nord. The river began folding its way back and forth through the swamp, like a snake running across the sand. Still the trail continued to rise, until the swamp gave way to woodlands once again. I came upon what must have been a stop at one point, but was now just a deserted highway crossing.
|Beyond Ste. Agathe…|
|The Path Leads Onward|
A bit later the bike trail crossed under Hwy 117 once again, through another big concrete underpass, and began to parallel the highway on the opposite side, very close.
I passed through a camper park. Just to my left was the highway and the park gate while to my right were the trailers and campers. I passed a number of run-down cottages and rode behind some run down businesses. The area was fairly flat and the trees were all short and scrubby.
Eventually I came to an area where the highway went around a dramatic curve, cut into the mountainside. The area began to take on the look of mountains once again. The bike trail hugged the outside of the same curve as the highway, but about a hundred feet below. Coming out of the curve, I passed by a large golf course, and could see peaks all around with wide swaths cut for ski runs. As I left the flat expanse of the golf course area and came up beside one of the mountainous peaks, the trail left the side of Hwy 117.
Soon I found myself riding past a vast gravel pit. All around me was sand (but the trail still has a good gravel surface.) On either side I could see the huge holes in the earth and there were numerous signs of big truck activity. The area looked very industrial.
This area was, in fact, the summit, but I did not notice it right away, the change being so gradual. Once past the gravel pit area, though, the bike trail began to descend rapidly. It had been 17:30 when I had reached the crest. My little map gave the name of Lac Carre' to the area. (70km, 6:00 riding time)
The trail dropped into the top of a steep valley, away from all signs of civilization. It was steep enough that I did not have to pedal at all. I would be able to coast all the way downhill to Ste. Jovite, which I had decided was my destination for the day. The trail wound back and forth along the side of the ridge as it descended into the valley. In the dusk, I was conscious of going by a dam which stretched across the narrow valley. I came by the old, abandoned railway station at Lac Carré.
|Train Station at Lac Carré|
A little later I rode past the Centre de Pisiculture de St. Faustin. As I breezed by, I only had time to see that it was a well-groomed park, with lots of stone channels filled with running water. There was a major road crossing at that point. Then I was back into the wild. Only when I rolled into St. Jovite at 18:30 did I come back into a built-up area (80km, 7:00 riding time).
|St. Jovite: Train Station|
The main street of St. Jovite is just a business-loop off of Hwy 117, which is still a four-lane, though not divided, highway at that point. The built-up portion of town consisted of trendy restuarants and shops extending for maybr four or five blocks. At the point where the main street crossed the Rivière du Diable, there was a park and some municipal buildings. Also at that point was a motel which was closed down.
.My first objective was to find a place to stay for the night. I considered going down by the riverbank, behind the closed-up motel. It was in town, but fairly secluded. I wandered around the area for some time, looking for an appropriate place. Nothing I looked at really felt "good". The area was wet and full of bugs. I saw this wierd guy watching me from the bridge, and decided camping out in seclusion would not really be safe, and the more I hid myself, the more unsafe it would be. Yet I was also concerned that the police might come in the middle of the night if I didn't hide myself well enough. After spending maybe half an hour on this project, I went on to plan-B. which was to go to the tourist information and find out where there was a campground. (The problem with campgrounds is that they can end up being miles away, along steep mountain roads.). I was lucky that there was a campground quite near town.
I had to ride to the north end of the main street, where it rejoined the highway, and then a short way along the shoulder of the main highway. The last part of the ride was up a fairly steep hill, so I was happy it was just a short way. The road which woudl bring me to Camping au Diable bore off to the right, and angled back down the hill below the highway. As usual, I was quite concerned that there might not be space for me, but I was lucky.
|Camping du Diable|
|Camping du Diable|
I set up my tent in a wooded area, amidst the bugs. Thankfully, though everything was wet, it was no longer raining. I was all settled in by 20:00 and ready to ride back into town for supper. It was getting dark, so I wore my safety vest. It was also getting quite cool, so I had to put on my wool sweater under the vest. Back down the hill along the shoulder of Hwy 117 I went, and then turned off to go into St. Jovite. I rode up and down the short main drag looking for a good place to eat before finally settling on a crepe restuarant.
After supper, I called Sheryl in Florida to tell her where I was and how things were going. Then I rode back out of town and back up the hill to my evening nest. I slept well.
[On to Day 2]