Bike Ride - Summer 2004:
Quebec/Bas St. Laurent/Matapedia
& New Brunwick
Day Two


Roger Kenner
Montreal, Qc,
Canada 2006

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Quebec/Bas St. Laurent/Matapedia
& New Brunwick
Day Two: Sorel to Champlain
Sunday, August 1, 2004


I slept in fits throughout the night. When my watch alarm went off at 06:00, I felt far from refreshed. I did not tarry, though, for I had seen the evening before how poorly the campground was equipped for bathrooms. The closest bathroom building was quite a hike, and only held a couple of stalls, to serve the dozens of campsites around. The grass was very wet with the dew and the gravel roadway was still soaked and dotted with huge puddles from the previous day's rain. In contrast, the day was a bright and clear, though crisp and cool in the early morning. The sun was still low in the sky.

Returning to my site at 06:30, I set about packing everything up. The wet grass soon had my shoes soaked and my rustling about disturbed hordes of mosquitoes, forcing me to stop and spray myself anew with "Off". I piled everything on top of the still wet picnic table, and then proceeded to roll up my wet tent. I took special care to keep at least my sleeping bag and air mattress dry. All else was pretty damp.

By 07:30, all was stowed back in its place on my bike and I began the long ride from deep in the narrow campground out to the front. The campground was barely a few hundred feet wide, but stretched back what must have been half a kilometre or more. Farmer's fields and marshes closed in tightly on both sides. I was not sorry to be leaving. It had not been one of the nicest campgrounds I had stayed at.

I stopped once more at the small depanneur near the entrance to buy some ice for my little cooler and a supply of water for the day.

Before leaving the area, I wanted to take advantage of the early morning light to get some photos of what I had seen the evening before: The restaurant where I had eaten, the watery channel behind, the lighthouse, the marina, and other things which would speak the "feel" of the small resort.

At 08:20, I began the long slog back into Sorel. There had been no place around to have breakfast, so I was already pretty hungry. It would take me over half an hour to fight the strong headwind back into town. I stayed on the main road (rather than cutting back over to the shoreline) because I could see from the map that it came into Sorel along the commercial strip and I felt this would give me more restaurant possibilities. The highway was busy, but it had wide shoulders. Houses were along both sides most of the way, so there was an endless supply of driveways and other small obstacles.

I reached town at 08:55, coming out at the commercial strip built along Route 132, where it heads out of town towards the east. Turning towards town, I came almost immediately to a busy-looking breakfast restaurant: "Eggsaurus" had the air of a typical family restaurant, set amidst a modest parking lot. It was quite crowded, but I managed to get a table where I could keep my eyes on my bike, parked outside and leaning against the wall next to the window. It was 09:00

I decided I would order right away, but it took me quite some time to get the waitress' attention, for she was juggling many tables. As luck would have it, Sheryl called on the cell just as the waitress finally arrived. Knowing that I seemed quite distant and short with her, I would call her back a bit later to apologise. Then I returned and enjoyed a leisurely full breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast and coffee.

I felt all things were proceeding according to plan until I went back outside and discovered my bike had a flat tire. "Oh no, not again!" was my immediate thought, for I had already been through more than my share of flat tires the weekend before, while riding out to Sherbrooke. There was nothing to do but totally unpack the bicycle, flip it over, and begin taking off the tire. This I did right on the lawn right in front of the restaurant, before their large picture window. I am sure I provided the breakfast entertainment for the all the diners.

It was 10:00 before my bike was all repaired packed up again. I now had no spare tube, however, and given my new-found propensity for flat tires, I did not feel comfortable going very far in that condition. As I rode in along the main street towards town, I kept a keen watch for any like Canadian Tire. With all the big shopping centers around, it was not too long before I passed one. It was just opening up. Any visit to a large store like that involved quite a lot of disruption and so was to be avoided whenever possible. Once again I had to unpack my bike, so as to take off my saddle bags and camera bag, so that I put them into a shopping cart and bring them along with me. I raced through the store in record time and, armed with my new tube, was soon back on my bike and continuing my ride towards town.

I reached the ferry terminus as 10:20 and rode right in, past the cars in line. I paid my $2 at the gate and then went to the head of the line to wait with the pedestrians and other cyclists. During the short wait, some of the people in line, intrigued by all my gear, began asking me about my trip. There was one middle-aged lady who did most of the talking. Somewhere, about five minutes into the conversation, I must have slipped up in my language, for suddenly the lady took a step back and announced at full voice to the whole crowd, "Monsieur est un anglophone!" "C'est pas une maladie contagiuese," I retorted. Conversation was stilted after that, as everyone felt the need to try to speak to me in halting English. Soon, the arriving ferry broke the silence.

I wheeled my bike onto the ferry and leaned the heavy rig carefully against the bulkhead. (I could not fit the bike into the bike racks, as the others did.) As the ferry crossed the river, I was busied myself with my camera, attempting shots of the receding shoreline, as well as up and down the river. It was difficult to take photos back towards Sorel, for the sun was still shining from that direction. A large freighter passed us as we were crossing, heading upriver.

The ferry reached the far shore at 10:50. At the north shore terminus is a small hamlet, perched at the end of a large, flat island. The mainland is reached only after taking the road across several of these islands, part of the Iles de Sorel, the quasi ‘delta’ of the St. Lawrence where it emptied into Lake St. Pierre. Before setting out, though, I took the time to take some photos of the ferry boat itself, which I had been unable to do while crossing.

Riding in towards the mainland, I got my first good look at the lay of the land. As the St. Lawrence approaches Lake St. Pierre it breaks up into myriad channels and runs past dozens of small and large, mostly flat, islands. Although, I had passed this way many times by car, this was only the second time I had cycled along the road between the mainland and the ferry terminus. The first had been during the pouring rain, when all looked foreboding and wet instead of bright and sunny as it was this day. When travelling behind the wheel much detail is lost because of the speed of passage. For the first time did I notice, for example, that there were a number of separate islands, not just one, and that small bridges and causeways that separate the one from another. At each island was a side road, heading off into the fields, presumably towards houses and farms that were out of sight.

The final bridge brought me to the mainland at Berthierville at 11:15. Looking upriver, I could see the town's waterfront, with the boats of the marina stretched out in the channel before it. The centre of town would have been to my left, but I was headed in the opposite direction and so skipped the visit to Berthierville. The road I had been following continued straight inland from the river, to meet the Route 138 bypass, somewhere behind the town. My map showed me a side street which promised to be much more interesting, so I quietly turned right at the first opportunity. Behind the houses, I could see that I was still riding along the river. I was offered many glances of the blue water of the channel, backed by the green meadows of the flat islands I had been on before.

My quiet street eventually came to an end east of town, where it joined the main highway. The long, straight line of the two-laned Route 138 loomed ahead, cutting away from the river and through vast, open fields towards the distant freeway overpass. It is at this point, around the northern, shores of Lake St. Pierre, that the Highway 40 freeway cuts to the lakeward of the older Route 138. The original road would have been built to connect all the farming communities of the area. The marshy character of the lake's shoreline caused these towns to be built far from the water's edge. The builders of the freeway were not constrained in this way, and probably benefited from the unused marshland. Only from the freeway can one catch glimpses of the actual lake while driving along.

I reached the Highway 40 overpass at 11:40. Although the strong east wind was mercifully pushing me along, I must have been overtaxing myself, for I began to feel pains in my right knee. I stopped atop the bridge to take a rest and massage my knee. I offered a prayer to Jesus that he forgive my lack of attention to those precious body parts which were the engine that kept me going.

From my perch on the bridge, I had a great view over the vast, flat expanse of farmland north of the lake, through which the Highway 40 freeway wound like a long, double ribbon. The lighting allowed me to take a good picture in one direction, but not the other.

Just at the base of the bridge was an isolated gas station and depanneur. Many kilometres beyond, I could see the steeple of the next town along the way. The service station was a welcome find, as I much needed to make use of the facilities. I bought a detailed map of the region and some more water. As it was 12:00, I made my Noon check-in with Sheryl by cell phone.

Continuing then along and enjoying the solitude of the two-laned road through the flat farmland, it was not long before my reverie was broken by some commotion. I could see at the interchange up ahead flashing police lights and lots of stopped traffic. I wondered what was happening. When I got to the crossroads, the main highway connecting Hwy 40 with the town of ST. B, whose church steeple could be seen about a kilometre to the north, I saw that all traffic had been halted on account of a local bicycle rallye. Only when there were no cyclists on the side road did the police allow a few cars to pass. None of the cyclists were ever called upon to stop. I am sure all this enraged the drivers of the forty or fifty cars in line, as only two or three would be released each couple of minutes. I, of course, was able to ride by the stopped cars, right to the head of the line.

Just beyond the busy crossroads, I came to a sign indicating that I was 8km distant from the next town along the route, Maskinongé, and still 54km from Trois-Rivières. Maskinongé was much closer to the main road than had been St. B.. As I crossed over the next small rise, I could see the church steeple of the town as it loomed ahead like a beacon. Some distance yet from the old town, the country highway widened out and began to be lined with businesses: garages, truck and tractor dealers, and small factories.

It was 12:50 when I came to my closest approach to the town centre, which was located slightly off the main road. I crossed a small river and caught a glimpse, upriver, of the steel trestle that carried the railway that ran alongside the highway. A sign announced that 'Louiseville', the next town, was 6km away.

In reality, there was never any break in the built-up areas between the two towns. Unlike had been the case in St. B and Maskinongé, however, in Louiseville Route 138 passed right through the centre of town. The old 'Rue Principale' had quite a trendy character and the streets were filled with people. It was 13:15 as I passed by the centre of Louiseville.

Yamachiche was the next town, at 4km distance. Slowly the built-up character of the main highway began to give way to farmland once again. At the Yamachiche line, Route 138 comes right alongside Hwy 40 and there is a freeway interchange. I recognized instantly the quite busy A&W truck stop at the freeway exit as the same place where Sheryl and I had stopped for a pit stop while on the way to Quebec City with our friends from Miami. It was well past lunchtime, so I stopped in for a mama burger and a large, cold A&W Root Beer. It was 13:40 when I got there, and I was on my way once again fifteen minutes later at 13:55. The restaurant was a mad-house full of people, so I was glad to be on my way.

Once past the busy interchange, Route 138 took on a much quieter air. There were very few buildings along the highway. The railroad ran right alongside the road. The farmer's fields on the other side were interspersed with stretches of marshland. I could see a long line of trees to the south, just beyond the Highway 40, which I sensed represented the lakeshore. Clearly, I was much nearer the lake than I had been during the past couple of hours. My spirits rose at the thought of riding once more alongside the water!

I reached the center of Yamachiche at 14:05. It was a small, tranquil town, compared with the earlier bustle of Louseville. Signs everywhere announced their recent 300-year anniversary: 1702-2102.

At 14:15, I came to a sign announcing 'Pointe-du-lac' in 11km and knew that my long, inland stretch would soon draw to a close. The former town of 'Pointe-du-lac' is now part of greater Trois-Rivières. I came to another sign indicating the city’s boundary while still well out in the country, with no sign of habitation anywhere to be seen.

Things changed abruptly once the highway passed back underneath the 40 at 14:45. The wide shoulders of the country highway vanished instantly, and I found myself hugging the white line at the edge of the pavement. This, added to the traffic which increased many fold south of the freeway exit, meant that I had to be on my toes and could not relax as before. Immediately past the exit, I was into the trees, and could glimpse the lake to my right, through the shaded properties and estates. The flat expanse along which I had been riding all afternoon gave way to hills, as the valley of Lake St. Pierre came to an end at the rocky promontory that choked off the river at its eastern end. A clear drop to the right became apparent as the road rose up onto the hillside, which climbed further up to my left.

I was quite happy to come almost immediately to a roadsite 'halte' offering a lookout on the lake. The parking lot was full and there were many people settled in to enjoy the lake breeze and view. It was 14:40 when I arrived at the lookout, and I would stay for 25 minutes. The brisk breeze off the lake was kicking up the waves and felt good on my face. After taking some pictures, I took out my field glasses to explore. I could not see the far end of the lake in the haze, but I was able to see the mouth of the St. François River on the far side, where I had come out to the lakeshore during my last cycling trip this way, fourteen years earlier.

At 15:05, I finally packed up and continued on my way. The road angled ever higher up the hillside. I passed additional beaches, where windsurfers could be seen profiting from the strong breeze. I came to the centre of the hamlet of Pointe-du-lac at 15:15. As the road rounded the point, I caught my first glimpse of the massive steel structure of the Pont LaViolette span.

Somehow, I had lost Route 138. I believe it had joined Highway 40 at the freeway interchange, although the road I was on must have been, at one time, the main road. After having rounded the point and left the lake, the ‘road’ took on more and more of the character of an ordinary city street. It left the water's edge and climbed up into the hills. Only occasionally, as I came to open sections, could I look out on the valley below and sense the location of the river by the line of trees beyond the fields. Once out of the town of Pointe-du-lac, there was a short stretch of open road, with farmer's cow meadows to my right, before the houses began again.

I came upon a detour, with the road up ahead closed to all but local traffic. I refused to follow the detour indications, however, not knowing how far inland or how much uphill they would have me travel. I had no desire to leave the comfort of my map. I doggedly pressed on, hoping I would find a way through whatever awaited me. When I finally came to the actual blockage - the whole street was dug up for sewer installation - I was able to ride past across someone's lawn. Despite the signs forbidding this and promising huge fines, I could see from the tire tracks that many cars were doing the same thing.

Suburbia pressed in more and more as I continued along what had become some sort of 'river road'. At 15:50, I reached the Pont LaViolette crossing. The road I was on passed underneath the approaches to the vast bridge structure. The freeway descends from the heights: Those crossing the bridge went straight, while those heading eastward along Hwy 40 made a vast curve.

An exit from this freeway interchange dumped the traffic of Route 138 back onto the city street I was on. The ‘river road’ expanded to become a wide, concrete lined boulevard, with three lanes in each direction and a concrete divider. To my left were new housing developments and new shopping centres. To my right, along the river-side, were various factories and large, industrial complexes.

I was at the entrance to the older section of Trois-Rivières proper at 16:00. I came upon a huge traffic circle, encircling a vast park with a monumental statue to the Virgin Mary at the centre. Most traffic headed uptown, but I followed the River Road, to come in along the waterfront.

After passing through more industrial sections and the older, working class sections of town, I came out at last upon the built-up waterfront of Trois-Rivières at 16:10. I recognized the promenade, situated at the foot of downtown's main street, from the car visit Sheryl and I had made some years earlier. It was here also that the hydrofoil to Quebec City had docked in 2002. Across the river, through my field glasses, I could make out the far shoreline along which I had cycled in 1990. The choppy river was full of small boats, jet skis, and windsurfers. The big bridge still loomed just upriver. Several huge ore carriers were tied up further along the pier.

I was not quite sure how to proceed on through town. Luckily, I had picked up a bike path on the waterfront, so I just followed the bike path indicators. These took me across the old waterfront and then up through hilly streets that reminded me of San Francisco. I found myself riding through tree-covered neighbourhoods, past of houses and buildings of distinction. I lost all track of my location with regards to the city centre or the main street.

I became conscious of the sound of very loud engines. I thought that the city had been invaded by gangs of motorcyclists. It was only after listening to these loud noises for several minutes that my brain was able to access a match for the sound I was hearing: It was the sound of racing cars. Sure enough, the day I was passing was the day of a formula-1 car race through the streets of the city. It's a good thing I had not attempted to pass through the main section of town, for I imagine many of the streets must have been closed off, and the traffic must have been horrific.

Along my out-of-the-way path, however, there was almost no traffic. I had came out of the stately neighbourhoods though, and into a rather dowdy section of town. Above and to the left were the major commercial streets of the city. Below and to the right was the valley of the St. Maurice River. I looked out across the tops of factories, warehouses, rail yards, and wharves.

I finally came out at a major boulevard that was the old Route 138, and to the bridge over the St. Maurice River, at 16:25. It was a stately, old concrete bridge, with a wide sidewalk. I stopped in the middle to snap some photos before proceeding on to the Notre-dame-du-cap side.

Notre-dame-du-cap proved to be an economically-depressed area. The road climbed up the hill, along the main street and past tired-looking shops and some boarded-up shop windows. Then there was an abrupt turn to the right and the street descended a long hill, back towards the shore of the St. Lawrence. Just shy of the river's edge, there was another abrupt turn to the left. As I rode along, the unsuccessful businesses of the old commercial section slowly gave way to low apartment buildings and then to individual houses. The quality of the neighbourhood began to improve.

At 16:35, upon coming across a sign indicating that the famous sanctuary of Notre-dame-du-cap was just a few blocks down the hill to my right, I decided that, having come so far, I might as well take a gander. I turned and down the hill, knowing full-well I would have to climb back up. There was not much I could see at the sanctuary without leaving my bike. Past the parking lot, the vast complex of riverside parkland around the famous church was closed to all but pedestrians. I was not ready to leave my bike to go into the church, so I contented myself with just a few pictures before going on my way. By 16:55, I had climbed the three or so blocks back up the hillside to the main road and was once more on my way eastward.

Within 5 minutes, I was clear of town. The highway ran just back from the crest of a fifty-foot cliff, separated only the properties of the single line of waterfront homes. There would be no break in these homes. To my left, however, the homes soon gave way to the open fields and occasional homesteads and barns of dairy farm complexes.

At 17:30, I came to the boundary of the town of Champlain. There was a small park and tourist info kiosk. The latter was closed. It was my first chance to obtain direct access to the water's edge in a long while, so I stopped briefly. As I stood at the top of the cliff, I could see it was lined all along with concrete, as if to protect it from terrible ice jams. I could see on the far side the industrial complexes of Bécancour and the dome of the nuclear reactor at Gentilly. I would make several attempts to get a good photo of the reactor site.

Barely fifteen minutes later, I came upon my campground for the evening. Along the river side of the road had continued an unbroken line of water-front homes, each on a modest property and overhung by shade trees. On the opposite side of the road, the homes of the last town had long since given way to open fields of corn, interspersed every few hundred metres by a massive farm complex comprising numerous barns and outbuildings, along with the farmer's home. Ahead, on the river side, I could see the sign for Camping ?? It was on a narrow property hardly larger than that of the private homes that bound it on either side. A small gravel driveway curved around behind a small concrete building, passing a tiny lawn, and led up the middle of dozen or so trailers. The office was located in the last trailer.

I dismounted, leaned my heavily laden bike against what support I could find, and rang the bell. This very elderly gentleman asked me in and I announced who I was. He found the card containing my reservation very quickly, as it was the only one for the day. Since I had a tent, I could have my choice of any one of the "numerous" tent "sites". Upon examination, I saw that the tiny lawn I had passed by the entranceway was actually "divided" (on his map anyway) into a dozen or more "sites". There would have been no place for anyone had the campground been full: One tent peg could easily have served to anchor four different tents! When I seemed less interested in being out in the open and right next to the road, the gentleman offered me one of the "quieter" sides behind his trailer. This space was also next to the highway, but between the central concrete structure and the adjoining property. No cars could pull in there, I was told. I almost chose this area, until I realized it would be glaringly lit all night by a powerful overhead light. Seeing my discomfort, he offered me one last choice: There was a narrow spit of land between yet another small structure and the far property line. The area was only about six feet wide, so no vehicles could pull in there. I would have a tiny window, between the neighbour's hedge and the first trailer, through which I could see the river. I chose this spot. Since I was a cyclist, and he had a soft spot for cyclists, he only charged me $12 for the night, cash.

It had been 17:45 when I had arrived. By 18:40, I had my tent erected and my gear stowed. I took a short walk to check out the campground. A half-aisle of trailers lined the driveway on the side backing up against the road. Behind these was the concrete structure, which housed the toilets and laundry for the campers. There was a full aisle of camper trailers along the river side of the driveway. Each trailer's space faced the river and had an open, grassy spot where people could sit and enjoy their fire. A walkway led from the gravel driveway down to a second grassy ledge, about ten feet wide. This ledge ran the whole length of the property and was a common area. It was at least ten feet lower than the ledge containing the camper's yards, and so was a fairly private space. On the river side of the ledge, the slope descended sharply to a concrete embankment that ran up and down the river as far as one could see. The common ledge was about fifty feet above the water level.

I was almost directly across the river from the Gentilly nuclear plant. More factories could be seen upriver, glistening in the late evening sun. The river was quite wide at this point and seemed quite deep. Occasional ships would pass in one direction or the other.

Having gotten the lay of the land, I set off on my now much-lighter bike towards the town of Champlain. My mission was to find something to eat. In just a few minutes, houses began to appear on the left side of the road as well, and along both sides began to take on the rustic and more compact nature that spoke of an old-time Quebec river town. I first rode completely through the town, to check it out: There was one major crossroad, with a road heading inland towards the autoroute. I noted a Caisse-Populiare here. The centre of town was marked by the grand old church of tradition. Across the street was a depanneur, where I stopped in to inquire about local restaurants. I was told about an inn out on the edge of town. While there, I bought some ice for my cooler ($4.52), and got a $20 cash advance on the Interac, as I was nearly out of cash. I rode on eastward until the town began to fade back into countryside. At long last, I came to the inn that they had told me about. Set in a huge, if somewhat dowdy-looking, Victorian era mansion, surrounded on three sides by an open-veranda, it had the air of a grand old restaurant. The numerous cars parked outside bode well. I parked and locked my bike, gathered my stuff together, and climbed up the stairs, having fully psyched myself into sitting down for a fancy meal.

Alas, all I found inside was a lonely bar with five or six regulars. When I asked about a kitchen, the bartender said they had not served food there in a long time. No one knew of any restaurants "in the village." My heart sank. Finally, one of the patrons said he thought a new might one had opened up on the side road across from the ‘Caisse-Pop’.

I had no choice but to ride back through town, my stomach grumbling. I checked the closing time of the depanneur, in case I might have to buy a cold supper there. I was not confident. As I nosed around the ‘Caisse Pop’ back at the crossroads, I had trouble finding the little hole-in-the-wall of a restaurant along the side road. It was actually a B&B with an up-scale bar. Dinner was something new that they were doing on the side.

There was an outdoor terrace with two tables, so I grabbed the one closest to the road. From there I could keep an eye on my bike, which I had leaned up along rail that ran alongside the driveway. I had a long, leisurely supper.

Dusk was settling in by the time I was done. I rode across the street to the ‘Caisse Pop’ and topped up my cash holdings with a proper withdrawal. Then I set off on my way back down the road towards the campground, hoping to get there before full darkness set in. I need not have worried, for the town's street lights extended out past the campground.

The campground was a hub of activity, with blazing campfires roaring at nearly every trailer site, each surrounded by campers sitting out and drinking beer and talking. On the patio of the house next door, which virtually looked out over my tent, a big party was taking place. It seemed far to early to go to sleep, so I locked my bike to the picnic table at my tent site and then set out for an evening walk.

I made my way down to the darkness of the lower ledge, with my field glasses in hand, and sat down to look out over the dark river at night. Amidst all the sounds of revelry, I heard a low chug-chugging sound, which I could not place. It slowly got louder and louder. The river was black and the far side was lost in impenetrable darkness. I was seated off in the corner and saw many groups of people come down to look out on the river. They never noticed me. I was nearly invisible. After many long minutes, the source of the regular sound finally made itself known, as the lights of a big tanker finally rounded the point, well downriver. I had never imagined that the sound of the engines would carry so far out on the water! When I had first heard the ship, it had not even been in sight!

I became bored with my perch and decided to walk out to the road and hike down the road a short ways. I walked about ten houses down, checking out both the dark fields on the landward side and the views of the river with my field glasses. The road was dark except for the occasional car, which would pass every few minutes.

Things were a bit quieter in the campground when I returned. The party next door had gone inside and the patio lights were off (Thank Goodness!). I returned to my perch on the lower ledge, to look out once more on the river. A big orange light was slowly resolving itself out of the horizon. After a few minutes of watching intently, I realized it was the moon. I watched the moon rise as the tanker I had been listening too finally came abreast of me. The brightness of the moon had transformed the whole scene! I could now easily see the far shore, as well as up and down the river. On a hunch, I ran back to my tent and got my camera. I was able to catch the lights of the tanker, with the moon rising behind it.

It was quite late when I finally retired to my tent. It was fairly well lit inside, but at least the structure that I was behind shielded me from the garish street lights of the campground. The light that shone on the tent was mostly from the bedrooms of the house next door. I had set up my tent with the open door set towards my narrow window on the river. I went to sleep with only the screen closed, looking out on the water.

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On to Day 3

Prepared by Roger Kenner
January, 2006; lite-version: June, 2006