I had this notion that it would be fun to ride back from Mont Laurier to St Jerome the following day. This time “downhill” and with the wind at my back. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – getting up and knowing there is the whole day ahead with nothing to do but ride is one of life’s great pleasures for me.
I’m not a big fan of out and back routes. Personally I like the big circle routes. It’s always true to say that the return trip is a different experience to the outbound leg of course, but I knew already before setting off where the water stops are, where the good café’s and restaurants were, so some of the adventure is punctuated by the previous day’s experience.
No matter, the sun, like me, is up early before 6am, I’m dressed and packed and ready to roll by 6:15am and rather than stick around waiting for an undoubtedly wonderful Best Western buffet, roll down the hill on main street Mont Laurier and hit Ronald up for an Egg McMuffin and a mango smoothie. Man go faster on smoothie.
Legs and body feel pretty much fully recovered from the efforts of the day before, and it’s easy to slip back into a steady tempo – not even thinking, just on cruise control for the first couple, three hours. It’s a peaceful state to be in and I enjoy the sights of the early morning mist on the lakes and the still, dewy forests around me.
The advantages of being on the trail early in the morning are many, but if you’re a wildlife lover it’s the best! Even though Le Petit Train is never far from civilization, it does lead you into the back country, where nature rules. Over the course of the evening before and this early morning segment, I see two foxes (one red, one almost silver) a huge porcupine more resembling a small dinosaur, two lazy turtles relaxing right in the middle of the path and several young deer, one of whom stops dead still to lock eyes with me for a long minute, before we go our separate ways. Did I mention the groundhogs, the chipmunks and the dragonfly that hooks itself to my front fork for 5 minutes and gets a free ride? It’s a simple pleasure to share company briefly with these creatures.
Lunch is early today. I reach my official favorite stop Labelle around the 95km mark from Mont Laurier and order breakfast. Homemade bread, fresh eggs, and a couple of ice cold Pepsi works their magic. There is a good-sized crowd there already, mostly comprising of touring riders. Once again, I’m tempted to stay, but the itch to continue has to be scratched so off I roll.
I’m happy when the path returns to gravel, which is more suited to my mountain bike, and as I near Mont Tremblant, the traffic changes from touring rider to serious training. For me, it’s great to see all the preparations going on for the upcoming Ironman 70.3 race the following weekend.
Be warned that once south of Tremblant the trail is no longer “downhill”, never mind ”flat”! What felt like a nice steady roll the day before in the opposite direction today feels like a very long hot and dry ascent. In fact I don’t even remember it being downhill the day before and I take almost an hour to cover the 13km or so before topping out. At least my body outsmarted me again by making me stop before the climb for an impromptu dip in a refreshing creek. Nothing better to cool down than head and feet in the ice cold water!
I pass another station stop at Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts on the ascent; it’s a temptation to rest there, but keep pushing ahead. Once at the summit I can hit the gas goes finally and then it’s a long diesel motor to the finish line. There’s so many people out at the lakes I pass, relaxing, swimming and having fun. It’s really a great vibe here, and I recommend it to anyone who likes to spend time outdoors. I pull the ripcord on my “descent” with about 90 minutes to go and pull into a campsite for a pit stop and hit their little depanneur up for a little friendly motivation and an ice cold slushy. I have fun explaining my mission to the ladies there, and we’re laughing about my choice of ways to spend the weekend as they see me off.
At just around the 9:15 (rolling time) mark I finally arrive into St-Jerome, slightly more cooked than the day before from the hard push the last couple of hours and more than ready for some food and a beer. I’m sort of tempted to keep going, since there is still another 60kms or so to Montreal I could cover, but opt for the “I’m done” card, and take some time instead to relax and wait for my train. It’s about 5:30pm, so the return trip has taken 11 hours all in – a full hour less than the outbound leg. Total of about 19 hours cycling time, which would normally represent about 2 weeks’ worth of riding time for me.
Getting back by public transport is easy, contrary to what I’d read. Just make sure you check the schedule very carefully – on Sunday there is only one evening train – you miss it and you’re back on your bike to Laval at least. The good news is that there’s an easy connection from the commuter train to the Metro at de la Concorde station in Laval. Cost-wise it’s really affordable; the STM train is about $10, and the metro $3.25.
If you’re planning this trip I suggest to calculate about $75/day per person for meals, drinks and snacks. Drinks especially are over-priced on the trail at the main station stops, a can of coke cost me anywhere from $3-4. For accommodation, campsites are plentiful but there are very few spots to back country camp on the way. Budget $60-70 for a cheap (be warned, I mean cheap!) motel, or about $100-150 for a nice B&B or chain hotel.
Finally, be sure to pack tools (allen key, pump, tire levers and a spare tube at the bare minimum). I spent a good half hour helping a stranded couple who had nothing more serious than a pinch flat tube on the guy’s bike. They were looking at least an hour’s walk under the early afternoon sun to the next station for help. It’s easy to turn a fun, relaxing ride into a stress-fest with a simple mechanical. There are some official “trail-angels” on the route, but your chance of connecting with them when you need them are very small.
Bugs are a real problem north of Labelle. I would suggest slathering up in spray or cream and don’t expect to stop for long without their unwanted presence. 30 seconds was my state of grace.
Overall, my gear worked great, but for my money a cross bike would be best, given the mix of gravel and asphalt. My rear saddle bag needed to be cinched at least a dozen times to stop it dragging on the rear tire, so clearly it was the wrong purchase. I knew that already, and paid the price for being cheap! However, it held up and did the job.
I recommend a GPS unit, if nothing else than for the fun of recording your data. I used mapmyride on my iPhone which remained plugged in the whole time to my power caddy, which didn’t need recharging the entire trip.
So, finally, I have my first bike-packing trip successfully completed.
Next up, the hills of Surrey!