I have been (time-permitting) obsessively dot watching the Transcontinental 2017 Race for the last couple of days. It’s an event that fascinates me and motivates me to train harder. Right now, with family and work obligations it’s only a fantasy for me to compete in these events, but I know time will pass, and in a few years’ time I’ll be able to toe that line.
In fact, it’s a great chance for me to practice the fine art of long distance riding now so that I’ve got it dialed in when I get to the big races. With that in mind, I tackled Le Petit Train de Nord as a brevet, my first ever brevet with the goal of riding out and back from my place to Mt Laurier – a distance of just over 500km.
I set off Friday morning bright and early to navigate the city sections through Montreal, across Laval and into the Northern suburbs of St Therese and Blainville – en route to the official start line in St Jerome. Last time I tackled this route was last year, and I planned an overnight stop in Mt Laurier, which worked out fine. However, there’s not much of a town there, and a pretty low vibe, so it really works better as a quick turn point.
I packed light – a half sized top tube bag with electronics and tools in it. A small saddle bag with spare tubes and more tools. A front bar bag was chosen with spare clothes, jacket for night riding and some extra food capacity. Also I had a new Ion 800R lamp capable of Supernova light and a helmet light to keep the trail illuminated. A rear light for safety on the road sections was also selected.
The ride to St Jerome is likewise a bit tedious, lots and lots of stop signs, traffic lights, crossings and this morning for some reason lots of cops. They love to ticket bikers as much as car drivers, so fair warning to you all in this area.
Closer in to St Jerome, you ride along the train line and it’s more direct and faster to ride that sector. However, the wind cannon was pointed right up my nostrils, so I earned breakfast long before the planned breakfast stop.
Nice café in St Jerome, 2 very tasty breakfast sandwiches, and lots of coffee, then back on the trail. The fist km’s are a mind-f**k since the clicks seem to go very very slowly. I try not to look, but they are just too visible to ignore. I snack on my bars, I drink my Sponser Race fluids and life is good.
It’s gravel all the way to Tremblant, thereafter paved. I’m on a road bike with 25mm tires so it’s a bit rough but really doable none the less. The weather is perfect, the trail is dry and the klicks drop away.
I stop for lunch which is another breakfast plate in Mt Tremblant, refill with water and take off after barely ½ hr. There are a lot of tourist riders on this sector – between St Jerome and Labelle is the most popular by far for good reason. Excellent services from bike rental to pumps to mechanical and there are a couple of “angels” on the trail to help those in need.
The afternoon flies away, I am making great time. I blow through all the remaining stations, only stopping for water refills a couple time. The air is perfect, albeit with a good headwind, but it’s not too bad.
I make Mt Laurier barely 12 hours after leaving home, some 267kms out. I’m feeling fresh and positive. Food choices suck, and I go for McDonalds with fresh burger and salad on offer. Can’t go too wrong on that right? Also stuff 4 cheeseburgers in my bag for the overnight return.
After the obligatory photo shoot at the “last station” and the meal it’s time to turn around and head back.
Everything was great until about the 325km mark. Night was starting to fall, it was about 9pm by then. I stopped to turn on lights and continued. I don’t know why, but as dusk fell I got more and more lethargic, until my average speed was a dawdly 20km/hr. I knew I had to sleep. I tried my best to get rest, but it didn’t go so well.
First rest stop – side of station wood floor flat on my back, felt comfortable enough, but bugs woke me after 1/2 hr – time to move on.
Second rest stop – another train station wood floor, this time at Labelle, about an hour later. This was a good stop! First called for hotel, there was no room, second slept on the floor on the station, third transferred to toilet (ladies) that I spied as open (it was about 11:45pm by this time) and slept on the cold hard floor with my rain coat as a blanket and helmet as a pillow. For some reason I had forgotten to bring leg warmers and was really regretting it. Slept for a couple hours under the sink area, which seemed to be the warmest place, and definitely better than being bitten by bugs outside.
Third rest stop – middle of nowhere pitch black bench on side of trail around 4am. Literally no sounds or signs of other humans. Lots of moths in my headlights. Bugs woke me after 20 mins. Very grumpy at this point.
All in all, probably 3 hours on and off sleep.
I rode as and after dawn for a couple very slow, vey lethargic hours, wanting to stop every 10km to rest. Despite the food I had been careful to pack, my body just didn’t respond. Then it started raining. Hard.
I pulled off the trail finally around St Adele in search of real food, and found a Belle Province restaurant. I can tell you it was like finding the Holy Grail. Thankfully it was open and ordered 2 breakfasts. The lady asked me in surprise who was joining me. I said nobody. And then proceeded to eat the lot.
After this, I texted a friend with a request to visit (he had invited me the week before) and also for my wife to come meet me, and have lunch and head home, with me.
I arrived finally at about 10am at Kev’s house which is just a couple km short of the start of Le Petit Train and even better, right on the trail. Stopped the clock. 467km unofficially. Not too shabby. But could do so much better. Short of my actual goal, but given the circumstances a good place to call it a day. He kindly planted a flag at the “secret” entrance to his house!
Kev ushered me to the hot tub where I jumped in and was treated to a couple shots of vodka. Ahh, the best way ever to end a ride! Thank you so much!
Memo to self for next time:
1) Bring bug net
2) Bring leggings or leg warmers
3) Bing lightweight blow-up pillow (ha-ha, maybe?)
4) Chocolate, lots of chocolate – I think caffeine flavoured would be best. Mix with nuts etc. Just make sure lots on hand for night riding.
During the day it was easy to pull up every four hours or so and eat properly. I encourage this in my future self in order not to get too calorie deficient. And let’s face it trail or cycling or wilderness diets pretty much suck.
Would also consider bringing a lightweight stove and pot in order to mix a hot drink or meal on the trail side. It would have been nice also to make a fire to sleep next to. I don’t like the idea of a tent or bivvy for an overnighter but for sure on a longer ride it would be an important piece of kit.
My biggest problem was not having the right food (again) to fuel me long distance. I’m still figuring out (i.e. struggling) to understand what my body needs.
This was also the first attempt to ride through the night and it didn’t go well for 3 reasons.
1) Sleep deprivation
2) Bonking – had burgers and bars and Sponser endurance fluids to drink but they didn’t cut it
3) Bugs – biting the crap out of me, even though I was slathered with enough bug spray to induce acne on a supermodel complexion
I did some research on the subject of sleep deprivation. Useful link here:
I did some research on fuel. Useful link here:
However, it seems chocolate is the perfect answer, so maybe I’ll do a chocolate/jerky report on the next episode.
All in all, a good challenge, and rewarding ride. Time to plan the next one!