I first came upon La Vagabond bike trail as I was returning from my St. Eustache/Oka Monastary bike ride of the Fall of 1991, when I believe I followed it home from where it crossed Chemin d'Oka. I found and followed its full length, beginning in Oka Park, upon my return from Carillon in 1993. I revisited the area in 1995, both alone and with Sheryl. Then, in 1997, 1998, and again in 2002, I made the Grand Tour of Two Mountains/Oka/Hudson
Once I rode down onto the Two Mountain side of the dam, I decided, rather than following my old route, I would follow the officially marked (and constantly changing) bike path to the head of the Oka Trail. The marked trail led me west to 18th Street, which I took north to cross Chemin d'Oka. I then had to double back.
Originally, the route was 8th Street to Guy Street. When I first used the trail, I was coming from the west (1991;1993), and so started my trek across Two Mountains at Guy Street. I had only to blindly follow the trail markers (of the time) until I reached the dam. I remember having a great deal of trouble finding my way back to the trail when I tried to take it in the other direction (1985). Later, the access via Guy was closed, and I had to take Henri Dunant.
11:50 I arrived at the trailhead, which is at 16th and Guay. All the streets were torn up and being rebuilt, as a whole section of the former woods bit the dust, the trees being replaced by yet more suburban cracker boxes.
|New house construction eats into woods near beginning of Oka-Two Mountains Trail||Inauspicious beginning of Oka-Two Mountains trail, in Two Mountains|
The trail starts in such an out of the way place, down in a forgotten residential corner next to the rail line. For a short distance it follows the train tracks northward. Of course one is now separated from the tracks by a high steel fence. (Whereas before one could cross). On side away from the tracks remains wooded, but who knows for how long? Across the tracks one can see the school where the trail used to end, before the rail renovations.
Then the trail turns to the left (west) and goes through a short section of deep woods. Hopefully this is a park, which will remain as the whole area is built up.
Very quickly the trail comes upon the crossing of a main street. Fences now prevent one from crossing the road directly. One is forced to go down to the corner, where a new train station has been built. At that point, cyclist join what is now the "main trail" leading to St. Eustache. The original trail ending has become just a spur.
I was lucky to arrive just as one of the new commuter trains was leaving the "Two Mountains" station.
On the far side of the road, as one leaves the station area, the trail re-enters the woods, flanked on both sides by at least a hundred feet or so of dark forest bed. Still, one can see the houses on either side, through the trees. To the left rises a steep embankment. The trail comes out at yet another major street, which is descending the hill. One crosses that street and plunges into the woods again.
|Train crossing road near beginning of trail||First part of trail, through woods near train station|
The trail comes out of the woods into an open section, where it runs alongside a short residential street. Off to the north, just across the Boulevard des promenades, one can see Promenades Deux Montagnes, a large shopping centre.
I left the trail for about 15 minutes to ride over to Zellers, where I could buy some more film.
It was from the parking lot of this shopping centre that Sheryl and I began our ride along La Vagabonde back in 1995.
|Open part of trail, near Zellers||Zeller's shopping centre:
Promenades Deux Montagnes
|Trail continues west
after open section
Leaving the small residential area, the trail becomes a narrow corridor between open green space. Off to the the north can seen the continuation of Boulevard des Promenades, but there is not longer any trace of development, just green woods.
One comes upon a curve, to take the trail around a small kiddy park. Houses begin again to the left (south), and the bike trail runs along their back yards. It is open for a ways...
|Trail goes by houses and playground|
|On into another wooded section|
The trail then plunges back into the woods. After a ways, one passes a large gravel pit to the right (north). Then there is a spur leading off to the left (south). It is a shortcut to the ever closer Chemin d'Oka, which the trial will cross soon over.
12:35 (with 15 minutes stop at Zellers!) I arrived at the crossing, where the bike trail comes down out of the trees and crosses the Oka Road (Chemin d'Oka). It comes down at about a 30 degree angle to the main road, and crosses at an intersection, complete with traffic lights.
|Approaching Oka Road intersection|
It was by this crossing that I had first discovered the Oka Trail, as I was returning in the Fall of 1991 from my bike ride to Oka Monastary via the highway. Only on the way back from the Trappist monks did I notice the crossing of the bike trail. I believe I followed it at that time and discovered, as well, the dam crossing to Laval-sur-le-lac. On my home from the camping trip to Carillon, I picked up the trail in Oka and did that portion of the trail for the first time.
|Iced cream stand at Oka Road|
There is a small iced cream stand which is well situated, right at the intersection. From my first visits, this has become a regular stopping point for me. The crowds speak to the fact that I am not alone in this. On this day, too, I stopped to treat myself to an iced cream sundae.
The owners of the iced cream stand have erected a map of the trail, for the benefit of the cyclists.
As the trail leaves the intersection and iced cream stand, it follows an open, grassy expanse about fify feet wide, alongside the street.
|Map of trail, courtesy of Iced Cream stand||Open part of trail just west of Iced Cream Stand, 16km to end|
|Corridor between back yards|
After a few blocks of open space, the way forward is blocked by homes. The trail swings abruptly to the to the right, to run right along the fence behind a trailer court. A bit further on, The road is lost to view as the trail becomes a narrow corridor between the fences of back yards.
The streets then come to an end and the trail enters a wooded section, where there are no houses. A barbed wire fence along the north side hides a small lake.
|Section along city street in suburbia||End of streets, back into wooded section|
When the trail comes out of the woods, it is to go through open section where it runs alongside Louise Street, between 34th street to 45th street. There are houses all around.
Soon the bike trail plunges once more into a wooded corridor, as it crosses into Pointe Calumet. The right-of-way is now along a raised embankment, sign of the rail line that this once was. On both sides down below, the ground is wet and swampy under the trees. There are no houses until eventually the trail crosses a slow, muddy river. Then the back yards of houses begin to appear along the left (south). The rigth side (north) remains still empty.
|Again along road, in suburbia: houses left only||Fields to right, Purple Loosestrife|
Pretty soon there comes another open section, where the trail runs along the south side of 38th street, between 7th to 13th streets. The town of Pointe Calumet has made the bike trail obligatory at this point, Halfway along, the houses lining the south side give way to a marshy park, complete with a pedestrian boardwalk (closed to bicycles). While it is wooded to the south, the north side is open marshland, with reeds and pretty purple flowers (Purple Loosestrife).
|Beginning of wooded section, at 13 ave|
Then Trail plunges into yet another, dark, wooded section, where it proceeds straight as an arrow along a raised right-of-way. There is standing water at the foot of the embankment on either side. This section of the trail is quite long, but finally opens out. On the left (south) it opens up to a huge artificial lake with a waterpark and tall waterslides, beach and paddleboats at the far end. The right side opens up to marshland and one can see the highway beginning its climb up the pass between the Two Mountains.
The trail crosses Montée de la Baie, the main road providing access to the waterpark and to the houses of Pointe Calumet along the lakeshore. On the far side of the road, along the left, is yet another artificial lake. This one is almost completely encircled by a private campground, whose barbed wire fence separates it from the bike trail. On the right is another small lake, walled in by dense trees on the far side. A sign at the road crossing declares the Oka Ferry to be 11.5km distant
|Crossing at road to water park:||Halte, overlooking lake with campground|
|Looking north to mountain|
After a couple of curves, to get past the lakes, the trail continues on straight again, through another wooded section. Every once in a while it crosses a road lined with houses, but otherwise the trail the surroundings are empty and densely wooded on both sides. When the woods part occasionally, one can get a good view across the farmers' hay fields of the nearby mountain. The ground is no longer marshy.
Suddenly, the trail enters into another small, new development. A new school and schoolyard appear on the left. The trail endures this suburbia for a distance of two blocks, from 58th to 60th streets, as it runs along 38th street.
At the 60th street crossing, the trail enters Oka Park.
13:34 was the time when I arrived at the park entrance.
The trail continues on straight, as it has been, for a while, through open fields of wildflowers. Another mystery trail leads off at right angles to the left, towards the lake. It is unmarked.
This trail comes up from the marina, at the very end of Pointe Calumet's waterfront, as I was to discover during my 2002 ride to the area.
A bit further on, the main trail makes an abrupt right turn and begins heading up the hillside instead of along the distant lakeshore. It begins as a fairly gentle climb, but there is no doubt that one is climbing.
|The Entrance to Oka Park||Cyclists climbing up track|
Soon the trail reaches the park road and loses its own right-of-way, becoming simply a wide, paved shoulder along the riads south side. There is a short, hard climb, followed by a longer section of softer climb, as the road curves slowly. Finally, a final hard climb, near the toll cabins for cars. marks the top.
|Track takes to roadside as it climbs hill||Within sight of top|
14:05 is when I reached the top. Although on previous occasions I have stopped to look around, I did not do so this day.
The main park office is at the top, along with an interpretation centre and washrooms. Across the road from the interpretation centre is the entrance to a long pedestrian trail, which I have never taken.
From the top, the road races downhill and one can get up quite a speed. It is quite a thrill, and quite welcome after the long climb. After a while it levels off, and there is even a small climb.
|Off to the right, below the reservoir|
At the bottom of the hill, just before passing the reservoir, one comes to a decision point: The trail turns off to the right and plunges into the woods. A sign indicates Oka Beach to be 3km in that direction. Another sign points straight ahead along the road, whose shoulder is still painted like a bike path.
I had gone that way the year before (1997) and had learned that it entailed another big climb, almost equal to the one just finished.
I chose to turn to the right and followed the wooded trail, as it dropped down from the level of the road. The way was open and sunlit for a while, the trail continued in a straight path below the reservoir. Then, in the midst of a vast marsh, it began to make a large curve to the west.
|Into the woods||Woodland trail, looking west|
The trail plunges at that point into woodland, where it undulates in a series of short ups and downs. Unlike the earlier wooded sections, these are pine woods. A fine carpet of pine needles carpets the forest floor and there is little underbrush.
The trail came out at a road. On this day the road was quite busy. A sign indicated that the beach was 1.5 km to the left (south) and that Oka was 4.4km to the right (north). At first it seemed different from what I had seen during my previous visits, when the trail came right out at the beach. I soon realized, though, that this was still the old way, only now the road was in use by traffic. In the past it had been closed to all but bikes. When I followed the "to beach" direction, the road came out at yet another road, this latter being the "road" I had remembered from on previous occasions.
14:35 was when I got to the beach, a beach that was packed! I had passed a sea of parking lots. Some were parking so far away they had to take a special shuttle train to the beach. The beach, too, was a sea of people. I spent a while studying the crowd with my binoculars, and watching the boats on the lake. I checked out the far shorelines. I never went far from the main entrance road, however, as I did not want to mix my bike up with the sand and all the people.
|Crowd at Oka Beach||Oka Beach, looking across Lake of Two Mountains to south|
Once I was done at the beach, I followed the park roads towards Oka. At the park gate, I saw a trail across the highway, leading to "Chemin du Calvaire". The trail looked like it climbed right up the mountainside. It was not a trail for my sort of biking. I decided it would be a good to try later, on foot.
|Piste: Chemin du calvaire:
Up the mountain. To await another trip
|Continuation of Oka Trail, west from Parc d'Oka|
At the park gate, the Oka bike trail begins again. It starts out as a paved track through the open fields parallel to the highway. When it clears the edge of Oka Park, however, it takes a turn to the left (south) and descends through fields of low wheat until it nearly approaches the lakeshore. The open fields give way to trees and marshland. There are lots of flowers. Just as it would come to the lake, the trail turns right, parallel to the lakeshore and comes out at the end of a waterfront street in Oka.
|Trail's end, at town of Oka. Looking back eastward|
For quite a number of blocks, I continued along this quiet street. While there were houses to the right, there are no obstrutions to a great view of the lake to the left, only trees, lawns and docks. It was very cool along the lakeshore, a welcome change from the heat of the open fields. The street was at first, St. Sulpice. Then there was a crooked little turn, which brought me one block landward to St. Jean Baptiste, and I lost my soothing view of the lake. The trail ended soon after at the church, which is where the ferry terminus was, as well.
|Lakeshore in Oka, looking westward||Oka waterfront|
|Oka-Hudson ferry terminus|
I stopped and had lunch, hamburger and fries, in a small restuarant near the ferry terminus. It felt good to sit out on the terrace and relax as I watched the comings and goings of the ferries. Three separate ferries were operating, as there was a huge crowd wanting to cross to Oka from the far side. A ferry arrived about every 10 minutes.
This would be only my second time across this ferry, having seen it for the first time only the summer before (1997). Unlike other ferries that I have seen, this one consists only of traffic barges, which are pulled by ropes drawn by small boats. It is amazing to watch the skill of the boatman as he manouevres the big, square barge into the slip with only a few deft pulls of the cable.