My overnight ride to Lancaster was to be a first in many ways. It was my first ride of more than one day, my first camping ride since 1990. As such, it was my dress rehearsal for the much more ambitious ride along the Gaspé Peninsula, which was already planned and which I was due to commence within a week or so. This ride also marks the very first time I rode west from Ste. Anne de Bellevue, the first time I crossed over the bridge and came to know the stretch along Ile Perrot. It would be my first ride past Pointe des Cascades and along the River route. It would be my first ride into Ontario. And on the return trip, it would mark my first crossing of the Valleyfield Bridge over the St. Lawrence, my first passage through the tunnel at Beauharnois, and my first crossing of the Mercier Bridge. All in all, it was a very exciting and satisfying two days. While my Quebec City ride of 1990 had been my first adult intercity ride, this ride of 1992 was the first to set the regular pattern of my rides for the next couple of years.
Read the Original Notes of the entire ride, written soon thereafter.
I left Montreal on my fully-loaded bike at around 11:00 on a bright, sunny Friday morning. I had taken the day off for this event. My initial destination was the KOA campground at Coteau du lac, about an hour west of the city by car, and where my parents had stayed on numerous visits.
I took my usual route out to Ste. Anne de Bellevue, along the bicycle trail to Lachine and then along Lakeshore Boulevard out through Dorval, Pointe Claire, Beaconsfield and Baie D'Urfé, to Ste. Anne. For the first time ever, I satisfied my curiosity and biked up over the Pont Galipeau, leaving the Island. The bridge was under construction and, with the squeezed traffic, the crossing on the car roadbed was rather dangerous and was not fun at all. (All subsequent crossings would be on the sidewalk, or later on the separated bikepath. Indeed, today it is no longer possible to ride on the roadbed, as this is restricted.)
The road on the far side continued to be pretty mean for cyclists, with four-laned, high speed traffic, on across the corner of Ile Perrot and then across the Pont Taschereau into Dorion. I reached Dorion about 13:00, just in time to stop at a bakery for lunch. I was trying to do things by the book, drinking a couple of litres of water per hour and eating every hour or so.
It was pleasant to turn off the main highway at Dorion and to follow the two-laned Highway 338 south along the Ottawa River. At the promontory of Pointe des Cascades, there was a clear view of Lake St. Louis and the St. Lawrence river. The area had changed a bit since I was last there, twelve years previously, in 1980 and on my last trip with the yellow Volkswagen. Where there had been wilderness there was now a well-groomed park. Pointe-des-Cascades is the eastern terminus for the Canal des Soulanges, used for river traffic prior to the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The locks are still there, with the water cascading over them, a drop of about 75 feet, hence the name of the area.
I remembered from 1980 that the stretch of Highway 338 west along the canal was straight and boring, with no trees. So I crossed the canal and found a tiny residential road called Chemin du Fleuve [River Road]. I made sure to ask if I could get back across the canal at the far end. I was sort of worried about a 10km dead end. I had never been on this road before. It was very pleasant for cycling, running right along the river, with lots of trees and shade, and many interesting things to see. I passed an old dam and powerhouse, for example.
Not much was left of the mighty St. Lawrence along this stretch. With the building of the Seaway, most of the water had been diverted along the Canal de Beauharnois. What was left was a wide but shallow riverbed, with lots of small pools and rocky areas. What water remained sort of drained slowly from one pool to the next.
|View of St. Lawrence Dam from Chemin du Fleuve|
Chemin du Fleuve began to get busy as I came into Coteau du lac, a sort of suburb of the regional centre of Valleyfield. When I passed by the KOA campground, my original destination, it was still only 15:00, so I decided to head on towards the campground in Ontario where I used to stay twelve years earlier.
At Coteau Landing, the tiny river road ended and I rejoined the main highway, Route 338. There were lots of trucks on this section of road, close to the Ontario border. At Coteau Landing, the river widens into Lake St. Francis, backed up by the dam at Valleyfield that diverts water into the Beauharnois Canal.
The next town was St. Zotique, at which point the road left the river. This stretch was a little boring. I had never noticed by car how the edge of the lake was such a vast marsh. The road led on through towering fields of bullrushes, with standing water on either side. I was getting a little tired by now, too and was growing anxious about getting a site at the campground, being so close to Montreal on a Friday night.
As I approached the Ontario line, I was overtaken by a fellow cyclist, a woman in her sixties. She was in great shape and properly equipped with the lightest of gear. We talked for a short while, she indicating that she was heading for the same campground. Then finally she exclaimed, "I can't go this slow", and she took off leaving me in the dust. I tried to quicken my pace, but at the end of a long day of pedalling, it was impossible.
I was feeling pretty good about myself as I passed the Ontario border sign. I was also quite ready to call it a day. This campground, by car, had always seemed just across the line. It was not so by bike. I slogged on along what was now the frontage road to the 401 freeway for at least half an hour, past three overpasses, before I started to see anything familiar looking. I reached the Glengarry Provincial Park campround at Lancaster, Ontario at about 17:00. It was filling up fast. A line of campers was waiting to be processed at the gate. At such times, it is nice to be on a bike. I passed all these unfortunate people, and breathed a lot easier once I had my site.
The purpose of my Lancaster ride was to serve as a dry run for my main trip, and I found that I sorely needed it. It had been a couple of years since I had unpacked at a campsite and set up my tent. It all took some re-learning. And then I was almost defeated by, of all things, a missing plastic nozzle at the end of my air mattress pump. (Air mattress? What a softy! But I had learned from my Quebec City trip that a good night's sleep is worth the extra weight. Those foam rolls just do not insulate one enough from the cold ground. But then air mattresses have that fatal weakness...the pump.)
I took a gander on into town to find a hardware store, but it was too late. All the shops in this little town had closed at 6:00. I found a pizzeria right by the railroad station and had a sumptuous pizza while being treated to several trains rolling through (this being the main line from Toronto to Montreal.)
On the way back, I passed a highway sign indicating 102km to Montreal. I felt pretty good about myself again. To have done 100 plus kilometres in six hours (11:00 to 17:00) meant I had averaged 16km per hour. [Or 60 miles, for an average of 12 miles per hour.] This had been with an almost constant headwind. Though hardly noticeable, there had also been an almost imperceptible climb. (I realized this the next day, when I went back.) It's not accident that the Seaway has a whole series of locks along the area I had covered.
|Lancaster: Km 102 (Closeup)|
I was in my tent by 9:00, after having borrowed a pump (Hard to find! Most campers are too cushy to use air mattresses anymore.). It started raining heavily, which put a damper on the usual Friday night partying. I didn't feel too sorry for the people, I was glad to have quiet.
It was still rainy the next morning. I got out and tested my rain gear as I rode back into Lancaster to have breakfast at the same restuarant. My raingear failed. My shirt, pants, shoes, and socks got soaked. Luckily I had brought seconds, and the weather cleared by the end of breakfast. I realized that I would have to re-think the rain outfit.
Returning to the campground, I packing up the wet gear, and found the lady who had passed me the day before. It turned out she did Ottawa-Montreal-Cornwall every weekend all Summer long. No wonder she was in such great shape.
The first part of the return trip was along the same road I had come by. I quickly noticed the double effect of the wind at my back and the slight downgrade. I felt like I was flying! I stopped at Coteau Landing and spent some time out on the wharf watching the ships on Lake St. Francis in their approach to the Seaway entrance.
|Coteau Landing: On the Pier|
Then I decided it would be interesting to return via the south shore of the St. Lawrence. I crossed the bridge at Valleyfield , took the tiny Chemin du Fleuve to avoid the city centre, and met up with Highway 132 as it exited Valleyfield.
Within no time I was at the tunnel under the Seaway locks at Beauharnois. It's an impressive enough tunnel by car. By bicycle it's breathtaking! Suddenly, out of nowhere, the road drops down into the bedrock, water dripping from the moss-covered sides as in a wet bathroom. Then one drops out of sight under the massive overhang of the seaway itself. It's strange knowing that one is tunneling under enough water to float heavy ocean going freighters. The climb out the other side was a little tough, but the fear of the speeding traffic whizzing past me on the tiny road inspired me to move quickly.
I stopped at the Seaway restuarant for lunch. From there on, I was in familiar territory, having travelled this road often, though never by bike. Just past the town, starting at Maple Grove, I left the main highway and followed the quiet residential road along the waterfront. I ignored the turn-off for Chateauguay, which I would usually follow by car. I already knew that route, and was sure it would be much more pleasant for cars than for bicycles. I decided to try my luck on the tiny residential road, now called St. Bernard.
I was now in uncharted country. I had never been this way before, and had a fairly undetailed map. I was not sure if the road I was following went through or not. My goal was the Indian reserve of Kahnawake, whence I could make my approach to the Mercier Bridge. I had recently been told it was cyclable, which I fervently hoped was true, as next bridge would easily add 20km to my trek.
My road almost went through. The view along the lake was fantastic. As I approached the Chateauguay River, which I knew would be the barriar to cross, I saw an upcoming bridge and had hope. When I got to the bridge, though, the sign read, "Private Access Only". It turned out the bridge went to a private development on an island in the river mouth. Otherwise, the road did not go through.
I followed some foot paths through the bush along the waterfront, hoping I would not have to backtrack too far. A little over a kilometre inland, I came to the bridge of old Highway 3, on which I crossed the river.
My next obstacle was the checkpoint at the entrance to the reservation. Since the armed stand-off a couple of years earlier, the Warrior Society mounted armed checkpoints at all entrances to Kahnawake. No one was permitted through unless on valid business within the reserve, and definately not just to use the roads to cross it. I was worried that they would turn me back. They seemed a little unhappy (and when one is talking to men armed with powerful looking weapons, one notices their unhappiness.) They mentioned that I should go around, but took pity on my mode of conveyance and finally let me through with a warning not to do it again.
I admit to being a little nervous crossing the reserve on a bicycle. I noticed and was wary of every car that drove by. Maybe I was being overly paranoid. Perhaps it was the guns. Finally, to make matters worse, I got totally lost and turned around in the town of Kahnawake while trying to find the bridge approach. Before I knew it, I was directly underneath the bridge and had to backtrack. Angry looking teenagers watched this lilly-white idiot passing back and forth in front of their houses. From my youth in the Los Angeles ghetto, I had learned that this was not a healthy situation. I finally found an exit road and was able to ask at the exit checkpoint how to get onto the bridge.
There is a sidewalk over the Mercier Bridge, but authorities obviously do not want pedestrians to take it. Or, one can clearly see that those who built it knew darned well that it ended at an Indian reservation. The sidewalk ends at the bridge approach. To reach the sidewalk, one must walk up the gravel embankment along the heavily eroded and gullied shoulder of the highway, barely a couple of feet from cars coming off the bridge at 100km/hr or more. The sidewalk itself is quite narrow, only about two feet wide. When meeting an oncoming cyclist, one has to stop and scrunch up right next to the railing to let them pass. And then I discovered that the bridge had a bounce. In the centre, as trucks would cross the span, it would oscillate up and down at least a foot or so. I felt like I was in an earthquake! Boy was I glad to reach terra firma on the Montreal side!
I was back by 16:00. It had taken me an hour less on the return trip. I imagine the average was over 20km per hour, as the return distance must surely have been greater along the South Shore. As I was riding in through Ville St. Pierre, I ran into my friend Jennifer, who seemed duly impressed that I was returning from Lancaster, Ontario!Top