Over the course of 1992 and 1993, I was getting ever braver and more ambitious in my cycling. Still, the road south into the U.S. remained the great unknown. Although I had a history of visiting Plattsburgh and Burlington quite often, it was still a great leap to launch out by bike. I was not even sure if the border officials would let me across on a bicycle. Still, it turned out to be a great ride, and ended up with my completing the only Century I have ever done.
The [original write up], made soon afterwards, is available.
I left Montreal at 09:45 in the morning, proceeding south across the Mercier Bridge to the South Shore.
This is only the second time I've been across this bridge by bicycle. It is scary, dangerous, and not recommended. I take it only because it shortens the trip by at least 10-15km, easily an hour. There is a narrow pedestrian sidewalk on the southbound side, accesible from Stinson Street in Lasalle. Except for the curb, there is no separation between pedestrians and the traffic speeding by at 100+ km per hour. On the south side approach, the sidewalk ends abruptly at the end of the bridge structure itself, and one must walk the rest of the way down the earthen embankment on the road shoulder.
It is even more frightening coming into the city. From the east, one must pass under the bridge and then walk the bike up the embankment shoulder, barely inches from the speeding cars. Once at the sidewalk, one could more safely walk the bike across, except it is easily a mile or so. Riding in the face of oncoming vehicles, one is extremely conscious of the fact that a single slip would spell the End. Climbing to the top of the bridge, one then must descend a steep decline, making sure to remain slow so as not to lose control.
No warning signs are posted. I can only assume everything is legal, except for perhaps actually riding the bicycle. I imagine that the sidewalk must have been installed as part of the agreement with the Mohawks of Kahnawake over building the bridge in the first place. The sidewalk seems to represent the absolute minimum effort possible.
|Crossing the Mercier Bridge (2000)|
For the first time, I was heading eastward off the bridge. I had to stop at the top and wait until there was no traffic before crossing the double lane highway, in order to descend the eastern approach. I am sure this is not legal. Nevertheless, one onto the eastern approach, the downhill quickly brought up my speed and I was soon off the bridge.
I followed Route 132 east through Kahnawake, St. Constant, and Delson. Though a 4-lane highway in this section, it was actually quite safe for cycling, given the wide, paved shoulders. It is not to be recommended for the heat of the day, however, as it was very hot. [I resolved on any future trips to start out much earlier, closer to 7:00 am].
At 10:45, one hour and 13km (roughly, by the map) into the trip, I stopped at the Orange Julep in Delson for a brief rest and a litre of OJ. Leaving at 11:00, I continued east to a small road, Chemin St. Francois-Xavier, which headed to the right off Route 132 at the Delson-Candiac line. This small road took me due south. After a few brief minutes spend traversing an industrial park, I was out into the countryside. The road was not heavily travelled and paralleled a small river. There was frequent shade from the trees. The road also paralleled a major railroad and the railway museum of St. Constant was not far away. Though I could not see them, I heard lots of trains, including a few steam whistles. A major landmark on the way was the huge Lafarge cement factory, with its towering smokestacks. [One passes this on the main highway to Plattsburgh also, where it is the first (or last) sign of the built-up area of Montreal.]
|South of Delson: Out into the Country (2000)|
Nine kilometres from my previous stop, I was at the little hamlet of St. Mathieu, truly in the midst of Quebec farming country. I could have been a hundred miles for Montreal instead of only five! From St. Mathieu, I turned right (east) onto Chemin St. Edouard, which continued to run parallel the little river. There was a point where the road I was following ran along right next to the freeway heading south.
I would later learn that when I came to the cut-off for Rang des Sloans, I should turn right yet again, crossing the little river and paralleling the first road, but on the other side. On my first trip south, I failed to do this and the road I was following soon turned to the west and headed into the town of St. Edouard, engendering a detour which addied five or six kilometres to the trip (I would not make this mistake on the way back.).
At 12:00, 2 hrs and 32km into my trip, I stopped for water and some eats at St. Edouard.
From St. Edouard, I caught the main road, Route 221. It was busy, but I staked my ground near the shoulder. The road led up over a long incline towards the south, before turning east towards the freeway. (Rang des Sloans, the route that I would discover on my return, passes within a couple of km of St. Edouard, but there is no connection. It continues due south, ending at Rang St. Jean, which connects with Route 221 just west of the freeway interchange at Napierville.)
At the Napierville crossing of the freeway, There are a couple of gas stations and restuarants and a mini-mart
Immediately on the far side of the interchange, I came upon Route 217, a quiet, little country road on which I could continue to head south again. Route 217 ran parallel the main freeway (Route 15), but at a far enough distance that while I could hear it, I could not see it. I could have continued along Route 221, east through Napierville, and would also have reached the border, but would I would have ahd to make a wide curve out of my way. Route 221 was also a much busier highway. On Route 217, cars only passed me perhaps every two or three minutes.
(After studying the map later, I realized that an alternate crossing of the river could be made via the St. Lambert locks. I could then ride south along Taschereau Boul to Chemin St. Jean in Laprarie. Turning right on Chemin St. Jean would soon bring me to the beginning of Route 217 and I could head south from there.)
|Crossing the Highway at Napierville (2000)|
After riding along Route 217 a ways, I begans to encounter some mild ups and downs, signalling the end of the St. Lawrence valley. St. Bernard de Lacolle was the only town that I went by, and that was at a distance of a couple of kilometres. It was about 20km from the Napierville interchange to the end of Route 217 at Montee Guay, just 1km from the border. It was clear from the signs that there would be no crossing at this point. I was within sight of the main Blackpool crossing of Highway 15, but this would probably not be advisable, or even accessible to bicycles.
Instead, I turned east (the opposite way) on Montee Guay and followed it for about 4 km. I had to ride up over one big hill, in a vast northward curve, and down the other side, where I met Route 221, the road I had formerly been on, coming from Napierville and Lacolle. At the intersection, I was within sight of the border station, which I reached by turning right.
|South to Plattsburgh/Back along Champlain Islands|
|[Blue]=Outbound Path [Red]=Inbound Path|
It was 15:00 when I reached the border, the ride from Montreal having taken 5 hours. (I would also take me 5 hours on the return trip, and this with my being quite tired, so I expect this to be a pretty firm estimate of the usual transit time. The distance is about 65km by the route that I had chosen..
I had expected a lot of hassle crossing the border on a bicycle, but was pleasantly surprised when I received none. There were only a few simple questions: Where are you going? For how long? Citizenship? and that was it. As it was, I had to park, dismount, and go inside, just to find an agent who could ask me these questions. The fact that I was on a bicycle caused no reaction whatsoever.
The road on which I crossed became a city street within Champlain, New York, and then after a few residential blocks, came to an abrupt end at Route 11. I stopped to ponder my route. I was quite high up, and could see Lake Champlain clearly laid out before me, but no road appeared to go in that direction. Unlike for my route across southern Quebec, I did not have a proper, detailed map of New York at the outset. I would miss, therefore, a promising, more scenic, lakeshore route. Going east to reach the lakeshore would probably bring me to a shoreline road, but I had no guarantee that such a road would go through. If it did not, the fruitless detour would be long. Finally, I decided to follow the route that I knew, and turned to the right, so that Route 11 would bring me to Route 9, the main two-laned road from Champlain south to Plattsburgh.
(When I did, later, have the occasion to check out a detailed map, I promised myself I would do things differently the next time. I would head east from the intersection of Route 221 (or what it becomes in NY) and Hwy 11, looking for Mason Road. I would follow Mason Road south to Coopersville, from which point it would go right along the lake shore. After Chazy Landing, the road would become Lake Shore Road, which I would be able to follow south all the way to Pointe au Roche Road. Only there where I would have to turn west again, to reach Hwy 9. I figured such a detour might add 30 minutes to the trip, but it promised to be more pleasurable. [As it was, the next time I did come by this way, in 2000, I ended up taking the very same road I had taken in 1993, for it was raining and I was tired and in a hurry. The other route reamins unridden.])
There was a large shopping centre at the intersection, so I took some time off to catch a bite to eat and to try and find a detailed map. I did not find one. Route 9 turned out to be not too bad, through it was not highly interesting. I found the New York highways all had wide paved shoulders of about three feet, which make it easier for cyclists. The highway took the high road, and so I was treated to a number of spectacular vistas.
|Lake Champlain from US Hwy 9 North of Plattsburgh|
There was a moments diversion from the straight and boring route as I rode through the small town of Chazy, New York, and made a stop at the small dam. Otherwise, the 21 miles from the border to Plattsburg took me 2.5 hours. I arrived in Plattsburgh at 17:30, just in time to get one of the last remaining campsites at the municipal campgound.
|Camping at Plattsburgh|
The Cumberland Bay Campsite, just north of Plattsburgh on Hwy 374, is a very nice New York State Park. It is also a very popular campground, however, and I was lucky to find a place for one night. Once I was settled, I rode back to the intersection of Hwy 9 and 374, where I had seen a fairly nice restuarant. I would have supper there and would return the next morning for breakfast. A couple of doors down was a small supply store that sold firewood in neatly packaged bundles. I stuffed a couple of these onto my at-that-point unloaded bike and ported back to my campsight. There I relaxed and treated myself to a nice campfire as I looked looking out over the lake as dusk set in.
|Plattsburgh to Ferry/Burlington to Islands|
|[Blue]=Outbound Path [Red]=Inbound Path|
I was a little slow getting started the next morning, and so was not on my way until 10:00. I found Plattsburgh to have a bikepath, of sorts, that began at the Plattsburgh beach, but did not go very far. Mostly, I took Hwy 9 on through the familiar downtown streets of Plattsburgh, and then over the Saranac River, and southward. The road led past the soon-to-be-defunct Plattsburgh Air Force Base, and I was treated to the spectable of a constant stream of planes taking off. (Plattsburg was the base for the tankers that would re-fuel planes on patrol in the air.) The road ran parallel to the the lakeshore, with a few gentle ups and downs. For the most part, I was high enough to have a good view of the lake. Opposite Valcour Island, I crossed the Adirondack Park boundary and the homes which had lined both side of the road gave way to trees.
As I had been riding south from Plattsburg, I kept a troubled and watchful eye on the tall Adirondack Mountains looming ahead. It looked like the route I had chosen, heading towards the ferry at Port Kent, would avoid the mountains, but with only a rough roadmap, who could be sure? My luck ran out just past the bridge over the Ausable River. The river itself was flat and calm at this point, giving no clue to the Ausable Chasm rapids just a couple of miles inland. Highway 9 took its first major climb right after the bridge, the first portent of what it would be like to continue along that route southward through the Adirondack Mountains. I was definately leaving the Champlain Valley behind!
|Looking Back Down Big Hill (2000)||Bridge over Ausable and Big Hill Beyond (2000)|
I was exhausted after the first climb. How many more would there be? Thankfully, I knew that I hadlmost reached Port Kent. Rather than follow the main roads, which I knew would take me out of the way and involve lots of extra climbing, I was on the lookout for "Plains Road". There was a short, relatively flat stretch after the first climb, during which I kept looking for my exit. The map showed the road I was looking for to be right at the Essex County line, which I had not crossed yet. I was quite dismayed when I turned a corner and saw up ahead yet another long, steep climb, one even higher than the first. Just as I was steeling myself for the onslaught, I passed the Essex County line, and an unmarked road led off to the right. I was overjoyed to be coasting downhill rather than climbing uphill. Plains Road descended to the shoreline and then proceeded, with a few moderate ups and downs, to head into Port Kent.
|The Road into Port Kent (2000)||The Port Kent Ferry Dock (2000)|
|Port Kent: View from the Ferry Dock|
I got to Port Kent at 11:45, just after the ferry had left. The next ferry would not be until 12:30, so I had 45 minutes to cool my heels, to relax, and to look around. The distance from Plattsburgh to Port Kent had been about 17 miles.
The crossing cost $4 for bike and rider and took just over an hour. It was a delightful cruise on the lake. In my explorations of the boat, I discovered I was lucky (two chances out of three) to get the double-decked ferry, where is was a snack bar and store on board. In the end, I stood at the railing on the upper deck and watched the Burlington shore slowly approach, nestled beneath the overpowering shadows of the Green Mountains and Mount Mansfield in the background.
|Lake Champlain View South from New York Shore|
|Crossing Lake Champlain: The Other Ferry||(Closeup)|
When we landed at Burlington at 13:30, my first order of business was to find lodging: A campsite. I knew it was a holiday weekend in both the US and Canada and that space would be tight. Yet I wanted something fairly close to town, for I hoped to spend the afternoon looking through Burlington.
As luck would have it, as the ferry came around the headland and entered the harbour, a vast campground was laid out before me, along the beach just to the north of town. Upon disembarking, I found the bikepath which led along the shore and went directly past this campground. As the day before, I was lucky to get one of the last sites available. I was unpacked and set up by 15:00.
|Burlington Shoreline (Closeup)|
|Burlington Bikeway to Campground|
|North Beach Campground|
Heretofore, I had always visited Burlington by car, which lent the city a completely different feel and geography. The main focus of a typical visit had been freeway interchange at I-89 and Airport Road, with its Howard Johnson's, hotels, major shopping centres, etc. Shelbourne Road and South Burlington were a five minute hop down the freeway and off the I-189 spur. Downtown and Church street were actually an inconvenience. Only once did I ever get down to the waterfront, and then for just a couple of minutes.
I discovered that Burlington had an excellent bicycle path which ran along the lakeshore, from the I-189 Spur/Shelbourne Rd. interchange in the south to the mouth of the Winooski River in the north. The whole trail covers a distance of five or six miles. Must of this is courtesy of the Vermont Railway, whose shoreline right-of-way the trail parallels. Much of the trail is tree-lined. It goes through lots of parks and by many little beaches. It was a totally different view of Burlington.
I began my explorations by following the bike path to its southernmost end, at Shelbourne Road. Along the way, the path passed by the yards and roundhouse of the Vermont Railway. I looked in on the work on a couple of their bright red locomotives. At another spot, I spied an old, historic, square rigged cutter coming into the harbour, in some sort of historic re-enactor cruise. It fired its cannons as it came in.
|Rail Roundhouse on Burlington Rideabout|
|War of Independence Era Vessel||(Closeup)|
As I passed across downtown, I had stopped to get a bike trail map, which proved essential at the end of the trail, which seemed to stop at a park by the lakeshore. I was led by the map to following a quiet residential street (the only street around: Austin Drive) up the hill towards town. Eventually I came to the point where the bike path started out again, to the right. I came upon the most interesting sight, which I will call a "Vermont Freeway". For about half a mile, the bike trail followed a completely finished stretch of expressway, closed off and overgrown with weeds. I think this was part of an earlier junction with Shelbourne Road that I had driven on during previous visits.
Upon finally reaching Shelbourne Road, I followed it south another mile or so, looking for the Sirloin Saloon, an excellent but somewhat pricey eatery that I used to frequent many years ago during the time of my youthful affluence. Luckily, I carried my street clothes with me in the saddlebag. In the parking lot I pulled these over my cycling outfit, dashed into the washroom to cleanup, and then presented myself for a nice steak dinner. Conclusion: It is still a fine restuarant. (Just across the road from the restaurant I saw the old drive-in, now closed down, where I remembered having gone once, during a Burlington "sanity" trip. It was the first time I had ever seen the movie's sound track broadcast over FM radio.)
|Sirloin Saloon: South Burlington|
After looking around little in the stores along Shelbourne Road, I retraced my route back to downtown, where I headed up to the Church Street Mall. For those not familiar with Burlington, Church Street, the old main street, is closed off to traffic and hosts numerous sidewalk cafes and interesting shops. It is a gathering point for the city's college folk, especially on a Friday evening. I window shopped until the stores closed, then found an outdoor table at a coffee bar and finished my evening with some nice iced cream and expresso. (It would be to this very same expresso bar that I would bring Sheryl and her friends a couple of years later.)
The waterfront at night was beautiful, well lit and well populated with folks strolling back and forth. It got a little dark as I pedalled away from the populated areas, on into the night along the bike path. The bike path climbs up to the old railway right-of-way, about 5 metres above the beach, and enters the dark trees as it goes alongside a cemetery. Luckily, I did not hit anyone or anything in the darkness and was soon guided by the lights of the campfires at the North Beach campground.
Before I was ready to retire for the night, I felt the need for a solitary stroll down to the moonlit beach, where I listened to the wind-blown surf and explored all the distant lights with my field glasses. The extra pounds of tarpaulin and rain gear that I had been carrying with me came in handy during the night, as it rained solidly on through the evening. Dry I was, though, and snug, with my cheap tent tented over itself by a big blue Canadian Tire tarp.
I got up and on my way fairly early and by 8:45 was packed and rolling. Although it would lead me out of the way, adding a good hour to the total trip, I could not leave without exploring the rest of the bicycle path, to its northern end where it overlooked the mouth of the Winooski River as it joins the lake. This last section of trail had led me to the point of a peninsula jutting far out into the lake and so I had to backtrack up the bike trail and then follow Vermont highway 127 as it crossed the Winooski River and wound around the south side of Malletts Bay (an area I had never explored by car.)
|On to Winooski River|
|[See Full Map]|
|Plattsburgh to Ferry/Burlington to Islands|
|[Blue]=Outbound Path [Red]=Inbound Path|
I paused half an hour at a breakfast eatery along the road 'round Mallett's Bay, and followed it on inland, crossing I-89, climbing up some serious hills, until finally meeting Hwy 7. Had I taken Hwy 7 to begin with, right out of Burlington, I would have gone only a fraction of the distance. My destination was Hwy 2, which cut over to the Champlain Islands just a few miles north of Burlington. I had hoped to encounter some small road, not marked on my map, which would allow me to cut through along the shoreline. Alas, this was not to be.
I followed Hwy 7 north about three miles before coming to the cut-off for Hwy 2, leading out onto the Champlain Islands. Since the initial intersection with Hwy 7, I had been dropping. Once I got onto Hwy 2, I started seriously dropping down long, steep hills. I was coasting at high speed, along a wide, well-groomed and paved should, which was a great thrill. Anyone coming the opposite way, thought, would face some serious climbing just before reaching Burlington.
|South to Plattsburgh/Back along Champlain Islands|
|[Blue]=Outbound Path [Red]=Inbound Path|
The several times I had driven the Champlain Islands by car, I had always thought that it would be nice to cycle along them. It was a pleasant ride, but not that stupendous as I had thought it would be, at least not along the main road. Hwy 2 hugs the centres of the islands and one only catches glimpses of the lake when passing from one island to the next along a causeway. More interesting would be to take some of the side roads, but I did not have an adequate map to guide me off the main road. It was also a rainy sort of day, overcast and blustery, which did not engender exploration.
When I got to the top of the Islands, at Rouses Point, I was surprised and saddened to see that the old, wooden toll draw bridge that I remembered from previous car viits was now gone. It had been completely demolished except for the two ends, which were used by fishermen a piers. In its place was a modern, concrete, high-rise bridge. No doubt the latter was applauded for its efficiency, but lacked the charm of the former.
I got to the Canadian border crossing at 15:30, about 7 hours after having started out. I had planned to make the return trip in two days, camping somewhere near the border. Since it was still quite early in the day, I decided to go for broke and head straight home. A sign just before, at Rouses Point, had stated that both Burlington and Montreal were 50 miles away. I knew that I was halfway home.
I had stopped along the way at a small liquour store along the Champlain Islands and had bought myself a bottle of extra-proof Southern Comfort, which is not available in Canada. While I had been expecting a hassle on the way down with U.S. Customs, I was not prepared for the grilling I got from my own side as I returned home. Rather than dismount, I rode right up to the wicket, following behind the car ahead of me. When I declared my bottle of liquour, the agent made me dismount and bring it out of the saddle bag to show her. Then she made me find my campground receipts for the previous two days.
My plan had been to head down the Richelieu River, where there were lots of campgrounds. Instead, I headed west along the first little gravel farm road I found and within minutes had reached the bottom of Route 217 where I had been on Thursday. I retraced almost exactly the same route I had taken, but in reverse, arriving home 5 hours later.
I stopped at a depanneur at the Route 221 Naperville crossing and bought myself some hot food for supper. Once across the freeway, I did not make the same mistake as on the way down. I turned north up Rang St. Jean, which brought me to Rang des Sloans. It was a much quieter, flatter, and more direct route to St. Edouard. Along much of the way, I was tantalizingly close to the other road, separated only by a small river with farm houses on both sides.
|Rang des Sloan Climbs Hill (2000)|
The beginnings of the industrial park in Delson were a welcome sight. By then, my legs were toast! Yet I still had to ride up and over the Mercier Bridge to get home. When I rolled into the parking garage under my apartment building on Grand, I could think of nothing but crashing immediately.
This remains the longest distance, if perhaps not the longest time, I have ever cycled in one day: From 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, 12 hours. Cycle touring magazines speak of "Doing a Century", meaning going 100 miles in one day. Well, I had now done that. The sign post at Rouses Point showed Montreal and Burlington both to be 50 miles distant. 160 or so kilometres in 12 hours. My legs would certainly feel it the next day, but they were alive.
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