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

Roger Kenner
Montreal, Qc,
Canada 2006

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Quebec/Bas St. Laurent/Matapedia
& New Brunwick
Day Three: Champlain to Neuville
Monday, August 2, 2004

I awoke at 05:30, just as the sun was coming up over the mist of the river. I could not resist the temptation of crawling out of the tent and going down to the lower ledge by the river’s edge as the sun was coming up. Then I crawled back into my tent and...

The alarm went off at 06:00. I was finally up at 06:30 and staking my place in the single washroom of the utility building. I noticed that some other campers had come in during the night and had occupied the open lawn by the road. I wanted to be sure to be ahead of them at the single bathroom stall.

By 07:40, all my gear was packed onto the bike and I set off down the road. The ride through the town of Champlain was already familiar to me, and I knew it would not include breakfast. I figured I would ride on down the road until I came to someplace that was open. The town's church was brilliantly lit by the morning sun, which afforded me a great photo.

08:00 saw me stopped by a rustic iron bridge spanning a small, tree-lined creek just east of Champlain and near the Batiscan town line. I was out in wide open country. Farmers could be seen out on their tractors in the fresh morning air.

I reached the town of Batiscan proper at 08:40. Batiscan stretched out thin and lengthwise along the shoreline of a vast cove. As with most small Quebec towns, the church was its most prominent landmark. The morning sun cast a spectacular illumination on the stone structure, as it had earlier in Champlain.

I was on a mission to find a restaurant for breakfast. As I rode through the town, I began to fear it would be as devoid of businesses as Champlain had been. Only on the far side, by the town pier, did I come upon this small establishment called 'H2O'. I arrived just as the owner, a Bohemian woman in her fifties, and wearing a shift dress, was opening the door. It was 08:45.

As I waited for the coffee to be made, I had an opportunity to check out the tiny establishment. My tiny table-for-two was the best perch in the small four-table establishment. I was seated before a large picture window which offered me a grand view overlooking the river and the town. The restaurant had a tiny indoor stage and a larger outdoor one. Nestled in the back was a fully stocked bar. Posters on the wall announced past and future performances. Spanish flamenco music played on the sound system. Clearly, H20 was a major night spot among the hip crowd of the area.

I had been noticed a large RV parked down by the pier. A man was just outside the rig walking his dogs. Then he and his wife walked on over, becoming the second set of customers in the tiny four-table establishment. We made some small talk until the expresso-based coffee was finally ready and the owner served up my breakfast of eggs, sausage and toast.

After breakfast, and before leaving, I spent some time checking out the area. Stretching east from the pier was a well-groomed municipal beach. Batiscan must be quite a popular destination for summer tourists! When I looked to the far side of the river, I could see that I was right across from the town of Deschaillons, where I had overnighted in 1990.

I set out from Batiscan at 09:30. The mileage sign indicated that the next town of of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Parade was 6km distant.

At 09:40, I came to another interesting old steel bridge. I crossed it along the narrow pedestrian walkway, barely wide enough to fit my fully-loaded bike, so that I would be able to stop midway across the wide watercourse in order to get a photo. Just upstream was a railway trestle.

At 09:50, I passed a sign marking the Sainte-Anne-de-la-Parade town line.

I reached the town itself at 10:15. Sainte-Anne is quite a popular destination for Quebecers and is well-known for its distinctive and rustic architecture. The most prominent features of the town are its long bridge across the Sainte-Anne river, leading right up to the impressive church of the samename. I snapped photos of just a few of the well-preserved old houses, some before the bridge and some after.

At the far side of the river, near the church, I had the opportunity to escape from the main highway for a bit. A well-marked cyclist detour led through the main part of the town, along what must have been the main road in former times. I did not end up rejoining Route 138 until I was some ways east of town, well back out into farming country.

Grondins was the next town along the route. I crossed over the town line at 10:50, a somewhat meaningless indication, as usual, for I was still well out in the country. The nature of the countryside was shifting, though. To my left, just behind the narrow line of farms, an appreciable ridge had appeared. To my immediate right, as I rode along the highway, the land dropped off into low fields that appeared only just rescued from the marshland. Up ahead, I could see that both the ridge and the road curved in a vast arc towards my right.

I reached Grondins proper at 11:05, where I took a twenty-minute detour off to leave the main highway to explore the older, residential part of town. At Grondins, the road finally met the ridge and climbed up onto it. The town was nestled along the ridge, which formed a point jutting out into the river. Grades along the main highway were typically easier. Now that I was riding along rue Principale, I was in for some serious climbing. As with most rural Quebec towns, the church was the primary landmark.

I regained the main road past the town and at the top of the ridge. It was 11:25. I was east of Grondins and overlooking the Saint-Lawrence far below. Looking east, I could clearly see a narrow gap in the mountains ahead, through which the river would pass. Behind the gap, I could only the purple haze of a distant mountain could be faintly made out. I wondered which mountain it was.

The roadside distance indicators showed that I was 15km from the next town, that of Deschambault.

At 11:30, I crossed into the Mrc of Portneuf and came immediately upon a fancy, new tourist information centre, built up along the edge of the cliff, overlooking the river. I rode in to check it out. The facilities were useful, and I was able to pick up a number of brochures, but the young girl in attendance was not too knowledgeable.

My stop was only ten minutes long. I left and continued east along the highway, which ran along the crest of ridge. It was a great section of highway, both for the comfortable cycling and for the spectacular view.

I came to the Deschambault town line at 11:55, just as Sheryl called me for the Noon check-in. We talked for about 5 minutes.

I came into Deschambault itself at 12:20. The town was located was located on the high point, overlooking the river, at the very narrows I had seen earlier from Grondins. Deschambault was considerably larger than the other towns I had passed through that morning. As I rode through, I came upon an antique shop that I recognized from Sheryl's and my 1998 car drive along this route.

To the right of the main commercial street, which is also the main highway, is the old, preserved, historic section of town. The whole area was groomed as a vast park, occupying the point at the narrowest section of the gap. Stone buildings, some dating back hundreds of years, were set out in the grass. The park was thick with tourists. Stairs led down from the top of the ridge, down the cliff to the river below. I would have loved to have been able to explore that way, but it would have taken far too long, and I would not have been able to secure my bike.

It seemed longer, but I was done looking around after twenty minutes. I set out again at 12:40. I raced down the main road as it descended from the high point down to the flatland below. Before leaving the heights, I could see the lowland laid out in a vast curve, running around the eastern side of a widening of the river that was almost formed a lake. The high ridge followed the flatland around and, far off in the distance, I could see that the main road would once again climb up on high, to reach the next point. Prominent, in the distance was a long, stone jetty, reaching almost 3/4 of the way across the vast 'lake'.

Signs indicated that the town of Portneuf was 5km away. Once I had descended to the flatland, the river became pretty well invisible. Train tracks ran along the right-hand side of the road. (They must have gone around the point at below Deschambault, at the river level. I do not remember, but they must have crossed to the right-hand side of the road before I entered Deschambault, for there had been no tracks on the riverside earlier.

When I finally arrived at Portneuf at 12:55, I could see that it was clearly a much newer town than those I had been passing through. The town looked like an artificial creation, something that did not match the countryside. I rode first into the town proper, a rather dowdy collection of working class houses, until I found a depanneur and bought myself some wine for lunch. I then rode across the vast open area around the main highway and the railroad tracks, to take the road down along the waterfront. Here was access to the pier.

The long stone jetty of Portneuf stretches well out from the shoreline, to cross nearly the entire width of the river. I imagine the water in this area must be so shallow as to have to extend the jetty out that far to get proper depth. At the beginning of the jetty, I could see clear evidence of tidewater along the low shoreline. (I have since learned that the 'tides' are felt, in fact, all the way up to the outlet of Lac Saint-Pierre at Trois-Rivieres.)

As I rode out along the long jetty, I faced a ferocious wind coming down the river. The water alongside the jetty was being whipped up into a frenzy of choppy waves. I was surprised to find weirs (for catching eels at low tide) built alongside the jetty. At the end of the jetty was a public dock and a small marina. Although I could stop at the public dock with no problem, the well-groomed benches along the other breakwater, forming the small harbour, looked more interesting. I had to walk my bike out along that side, as riding was posted as prohibited.

I was all alone at the end of the harbour breakwater as I enjoyed my lunch, taking care to fight off the gulls and to keep the strong wind from blowing things away.

I had ridden back to the mainland and was on my way eastward once again by 13:45. Almost immediately, I crossed into the town of Cap Santé and the road began its long ascent from the lowlands to the top of the ridge. The flatland became ever more narrow. To my right was the ever-present railroad and I was treated to a passing freight train (Long gone are any passenger trains along this stretch). Beyond the tracks could be made out the roofs of waterfront homes, nestled in amongst the trees. Occasional roads crossed the tracks to lead down that way. As the ridge to my left took on more and more the air of a cliff, I came upon this impressive waterfall.

Eventually the road reached the top of the ridge and I entered the built-up portion of the town of Cap Sante. It was 14:15. At first, this town looked quaint, old, and rural, as had all the towns I had passed through so far, except for Portneuf. A sign indicated it was the town's 325th anniversary, having been founded in 1679. I passed the old church at the town's centre, high on the point.

As I rounded the curve to the far side of the point, though, the rustic, small-town flavour of my surroundings evaporated. The narrow main street suddenly widened to boulevard status and I found myself thick in modern suburbia, passing by an endless sea of parking lots and big box stores. Heavy traffic seemed to have suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

The boulevard continued its climb and soon I could see off to my right across a deep valley to another town on the far side. It was the town of Donnaconna, which the signs indicated was still 4km away. I saw where the old road took off to the right and sharply descended the cliff to cross a river on a bridge I could barely make out below. I was tempted to leave suburbia and follow that way, but in the absence of good maps, could not be sure there such a road might end up.

[My saying, coined this day: 'Can't see the views unless you pays your dues' Meaning: The heavy climbing was worth it!]

I came to a point where I could look ahead and see the that my road would descend a long hill, to cross over the Jacques-Cartier River, and then climb up and even longer and higher hill on the far side. There was nothing to be done about it.

At 15:00, I was stopped at mid-point on the bridge, looking downstream. The river seemed quite shallow. People could be seen wading out into the water along the shorelines of a park the lined the riverside below. The river lost itself around a curve, hiding from view the bridge I had seen earlier. When I turned to look upriver, I could see quite close by the Highway 40 bridge. I had not guessed I was so close to the 40.

It was a long, steady slog on up to the top of the far ridge. When I made it there fifteen minutes later, at 15:15, I found myself once more mired in major suburbia. The Highway 40 interchange was right next to me to my left. Route 138 ahead consisted of a four-laned, divided roadway, as far as I could see. Major shopping centres were at hand on every corner. Vast tracts of suburban homes could be seen off behind them.

I had the option of continuing on along the high road or of turning right and descending the hill, only just so painfully won. I had no real idea where the road which descended sharply to the right might lead, except for a sign indicated 'centre-ville'.

Steeply the road to the right descended. As it dropped ever lower, its size narrowed and the homes and buildings around it grew smaller, older, and more dowdy looking. I was entering a town forgotten by time. I eventually came upon Rue Notre Dame, clearly once the old main road. It led though an old downtown section of town. I retraced the road westward, past the vast 'Bow Industries' complex, to the point where where the road dropped off into the valley. It became clear that had I taken the old road from the other side, I would have come up at this point. It would have been interesting to see the old bridge, but I did not feel like spending what little potential energy capital I had left, only to have to climb back up the steep and difficult hill.

I turned around and followed Notre Dame the other way, back through the old downtown, with its many empty and closed shops, and then onward as it ran through more old, forgotten sections of Donnaconna. Soon I was below a ridge, with a cliff climbing abruptly to my left. Clearly, the new suburban section of town was atop the ridge while the older, original, and more interesting section was below. Despite being below the crest of the ridge by at least a hundred feet, I was still fairly high up. To my right was yet another steep drop, below which I could see farms which stretched off towards the river.

Somewhere around 15:40, I crossed the unmarked boundary of the next town of Les Écureuils. There had been no real break in the line of houses stretching along both side of the road. Eventually, just past the town church at the 'centre' of Les Écureuils, Notre Dame began an unmistakable climb to the top of the ridge. There was no indication of any road continuing forward along the lowlands.

The climb was long but satisfying. As I climbed higher, I could see further and further out onto the river below. At the crest of the ridge, where I rejoined Route 138, was a sign inviting drivers back along the way I had come, along the 'route rustique'. Thankfully, by this time Route 138 had lost the four-laned commercial status it had acquired in Donnaconna and had reverted to a quiet, two-laned country road. It was 15:50 when I reached the crest of the ridge.

Riding along the high road gave me an excellent view of the river below. I saw pass by one of the hydrofoils connecting Montreal and Quebec, such as I had ridden on in 2002. On the far side river, I could make out some of the towns I had passed through in 1990. My immediate company, on both side of the road, were corn fields. Every passing stall advertised 'Fresh Neuville Sweet Corn'. It was obviously an item in great demand, as many passers-by were stopped at each location. Apparently, it is the best sweet corn in Quebec.

Once I had passed the 'Welcome to Neuville' sign, I began to search out the evening’s campground. Just as I came over the rise which gave me a view of the distant church steeple marking the center of Neuville, down off the crest and in the lowlands by the river, I came upon the sign for the campground. Mind, there was no sign of any campround, only the sign. It pointed to a small driveway leading off the road and behind a small roadside motel.

What a descent! Suddenly, I came upon a driveway which dropped at about a 30 degree angle , the access road to the campground.. I descended clamping down hard on my brakes, and yet still rode right on past the entrance gate before I could come to a stop.

It was 16:20 when I arrived at this quaint, little campground, Camping L'Égaré, much nicer than the one I had stayed at the evening before. It was spread out along a sort of 'shelf' hugging the side of the ridge, at the bottom a one hundred foot steep cliff, and at the top of yet another similar one. There was a small rec-room, cafe, and shower building at the centre of the campground, with trailers in spaces along both sides. I found the attendant in the cafe, a friendly and efficient lady who greeted me warmly and promptly found my reservation. Since I had arrived relatively early, I was able to secure a nice secluded spot, right up against the cliff, though bounded by camper trailers on either side. It would be a good campsite.

The lady in attendance had told me how I could ride on down the cliff below the campground and come out on the low road, which would bring me into Neuville proper. My site was set up by 17:00 and I set out on my way to explore the town. As I descended the second steep roadway, hardly more than a gravel trail, and walking my bike on foot, I noticed a wooden viewing stand whence one could sit back and look out the river below. I would return there to sit later in the evening.

At the foot of the cliff, the driveway came out through an old, forgotten gate onto the country road that ran alongside the river. Looking upward, one could have no way of knowing there was a campground above. I had came out just about where the houses of town began to replace the small farms of the countryside. The road ran along a narrow shelf of flat, riverside land, barely a few hundred feet wide.

As I rode towards town, I caught several 'low tide' views of the river with my camera. When I would return later in the evening, these views would be totally different. Indeed, as I came into the back end of town, meeting the main road as it descended the hillside, I came upon viewpoint looking out on a river strewn with boulders. Upon my return, all would be hidden by the tide! From the viewpoint, I could see east along the shoreline to the distant marina.

My immediate goal for the evening was to find a restaurant. My riverfront side road eventually joined the main highway, near what looked like an old train station (but was not, for the train ran behind the town). The main highway had descended the ridge, to run along the flat shoreline, fifty feet below the main section of town. On the far side of town, it would begin a long climb back up to the high ridge. The older section of the village of Neuville lined the old main street, probably the highway of former times. The backs of the older buildings could be seen atop the cliff facing the new highway. All along the new highway were scattered a smattering of newer buildings, all businesses. Another older section of town stretched right along the river's edge, just below the highway.

I rode east along the main road until, at 17:35 and nearly past town, I came to a modern looking gas station/ depanneur. I stopped in to inquire about a restaurant and the shopkeeper suggested the Manoir Neuville, still further east.

By the time I had ridden on east for ten minutes, I had almost given up hope of finding the restaurant. I find that often people who travel by car have no concept of distances as experienced on a bicycle. I was already well past the marina and buildings along the highway and along the ridge above had thinned out. The highway was beginning a serious climb back up to the top of the high ridge and had made a turn inland. At the last possible moment before I would begin the hard climb, I came upon the sign for Manoir Neuville. A driveway descended to the sharply to the right, back down to the water level. Tucked in below the cliff was a quite fancy inn and restaurant. There were, as yet, very few cars in the parking lot, for it was still very early for supper.

At the basement level, out behind the inn, there was an open terrace facing the river. The tables were protected from the strong wind by huge sheets of clear plexiglass. More interestingly, I would be able to park my bike where I could see it. I could see from those already there (It was not crowded.) that the atmosphere was relaxed and I would not feel as self-conscious in my bicycling outfit as I might in the dining room. It was 17:45 when I found a nice table to myself, right by the window in the corner.

From the terrace overlooking the river, I could see through my field glasses to the distant Quebec City Bridge, nearly lost in the haze. Directly across the river was the section of road I had remembered from cycling in 1990, which had dropped down from the high ridge to the water level, to go through the town of Saint-Antoine-de-Tilly, only to climb painfully back up to the top again. As I sat there having supper, I slowly watched as the incoming tide on the river covered the visible rocks one by one.

Seated comfortably on the terrace, I had a couple of beers and a nice leisurely supper of Caesar Salad/Hawaiian Pizza/coffee as I watched the late evening sun over the river. At another table came in a lady (??) I had known from Concordia some 20 years earlier and with whom I had worked closely. I know she saw me. We made eye contact, but did not deign to acknowledge or recognize me. She was with someone. I was disappointed but could not feel too slighted, for I could not remember her name either.

An hour and a half later, at 19:20, that I left the restaurant refreshed and relaxed, to head back towards the campground. Before going right back, however, I left the main highway at the depanneur where I had stopped earlier, to climb up the ridge to Des Erables Street, where I explored the old, quaint houses of the town. It had been this stately mansion, seen from below sitting atop the ridge, which had first drawn me.

Sheryl called on the cell. I had to ask her to give me the address of the B&B in Levis where I had made our reservations for the next evening: B&B de la traverse: 6010 St. Laurent. Somehow, I had forgotten to write down this key information in my own notes. Sheryl would head out the next morning and she would join me in the late afternoon.

I rode back down the hill to the waterfront back street along which I had come into town. The main road was soon lost and I was riding out into the countryside, with a tall, dark cliff running alongside on my right side. I made several stops to compare the before and after tide views of the river. Eventually, I came to what I recognized as the lower gate of the campground. It was unmarked and unused. Beyond the old, steel gate was an overgrown fruit orchard. There was no sign of any habitation. The campground was totally hidden in the trees above.

I climbed my way back up to the campsite, pushing my bike up the steep hill, and then secured it for the evening at my campsite. It was still quite early and the tiny campground was alive with life. Every site had a campfire and many kids were out playing on the playground equipment. The tiny rec-room & cafe were alive with people.

I took my binoculars down to the belvedere that was a short ways down the cliff road and settled myself down to look out on the river as dusk set in. I was hoping to once more see the moonrise, as I had the night before, but my narrow angle of view through the trees was not right. By the time I realized this, the moon had already risen. I sat out on the wooden terrace from 20:00 to 21:30. Occasionally, some fellow campers would come out and chat with me, but mostly I was left in solitude.

When I came back up to the campground level, all was much quieter. It was pitch dark when I took one last walkabout through the campground, pausing a while on the swings, before retiring myself at 22:30. I slept very well.

On to Day 4

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