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Oct 2, 2018

Bike Touring Quebec's P'Tit Train Du Nord

Through all the years of doing various bike tours and bikepacking trips, one thing has been a constant: Nadia has never come along. There were many reasons for that: the trips we've been doing look crazy to her, far too difficult, painful, cold/uncomfortable, she will not ride on highways, and especially her medical condition (she has an ileostomy) made the idea of bike adventures like that hard for her to contemplate.

But something clicked in her about a year ago and she began to see past those things and realized how much fun I was having and decided she wanted a piece of that fun too. So, one day, she asked me: "Do you think you could plan a bike tour that I could do?" - to which I replied "Of course!" So planning began for a bike touring trip and we quickly zoned in on Le P'Tit Train Du Nord in Quebec because it ticked all the boxes we needed for a fun first trip: basically flat, hotels instead of camping, we love visiting Quebec, no highways involved.

So off we went and here is our trip report. Leave us a comment if you have any questions.

Nadia has also graciously contributed her thoughts and experiences as someone who has never done a bike tour before, complicated but her ileostomy and recent surgeries. Her thoughts are in white.

I wouldn't consider myself a cyclist. Yes, I own a bike store with Sean, but I ride upright, pretty bikes with baskets on the front with my dog, Monsieur. Touring is a whole other world.  Riding bikes more than one day, no way.  I was of this mind set for many reasons, including my medical condition.

I have an ileostomy.  I had surgery in 2011. This illness has governed my life for so many years that it's hard to remember my life before.  When we opened the store I was an apprentice carpenter.  I had only rode a bike for fun once in Amsterdam.  Sean and I embarked on a couple of years of incredible bike dates and adventures.  I was far from fit.  I never broke a sweat, except if was warm.  I rode exclusively for fun.  I liked walking up hills. When the illness struck me I found myself very sad about missing the bike rides that brought me such joy. Really my happy place when I was feeling rough began to be the rides along the river, the colors of the trees, the smells of nature. Surviving mentally was the memories of me under my own power pushing along enjoying life. The illness and recovery was a long hard fought  journey. Then some magic started to happen. I was in my own way getting back to life. The bike ride was my measure of success. The Legacy Trail became my goal. An hour and a half ride there and hour back (50Km) if I could do this WOW. I did it again and again. Last year we rode it four times total. So shocking for me. In the years since the ileostomy surgery I could now dream bigger for myself. The bike was my friend my best pal. I still have many fears. I don't like riding beside fast traffic. This is a fact that I don't think will ever change.  So any trails that are safe from moving vehicles I'm in! Sean and his group have been doing this incredible bike tours in places I'd feel far from comfortable in. Could there be something out there for me? Sean was more than happy to find us a trip. This year we planned a big adventure.

Le P'Tit Train Du Nord is part of The Great Trail (formerly know as The Trans Canada Trail) and is about 50/50 asphalt and very smooth gravel that even racing bikes can manage. It starts just north of Laval and runs 200+kms north to its terminus in Mont-Laurier.

Day 1 Laval to St. Jerome 35kms

Our bikes for the trip: Tout Terrain's lovely custom bikes. The blue one is their bikepacking rig - the "Outback" - which I used the month previous on a trip to Kimberley (check out the post) and the lovely venetian red coloured "Via Veneto" mixte model setup with a Rohloff 14-speed hub, belt drive, dynamo lighting, and disc brakes. Both of these bikes are part of our TT demo fleet - come check them out in the shop soon. They worked perfectly over the course of the trip.

From our hotel in Laval we had to navigate our way on a couple busier-than-Nadia-liked roads but the drivers were pretty good and within about 6kms we were onto some separated lanes. Quebec's network of bike lanes is so extensive, quite varied in quality, but pretty well connected.

Before we knew it - BOOM! - we were onto the south segment of the trail which leads right up to Kilometre Zero in St. Jerome where we would spend the night and then take the Autobus up to Mont-Laurier the next morning to start the actual trail. There were quite a few roadie types on this segment comprises mostly of older men and women out enjoying the day.

The "flower child" in her natural habitat.

The ride up was really pleasant, super mellow, and a great way to loosen up the legs before the real riding began the next day. This mural was in the main square close to where the shuttle office was - pretty cool! We spent a couple hours lunching, bakery hunting, and exploring before hitting the hotel for the night.

Nice easy ride that was picturesque at times even though we were rolling through some suburbs at the beginning.

So day one was a little zip to the bus. We had done a ride on the Chestermere canal to see how far I could ride comfortably. 75KM there and back from our house. I had my electric Gazelle, which helped in the wind and the last 20KM or so. So I set my limit on 50ish as a distance I could manage unassisted. Sean tried his best to make this happen. I'd never ridden two days in a row. I tried not to think too much about he questions in my head about my abilities. Fear as we all know, can keep you from living. This was now happening, I couldn't believe it. I had to push the pedals, myself, and my 20lbs  suitcase along a journey that turned out to be 289KM total. There was no calling a cab or getting on a bus or the train.  Me and my bike had to get to the next place, there was no choice really.

Day 2 Mont Laurier to Nominigue 55kms

Ugly early start (for us anyway) to our day, getting to the shuttle for 7:15am in time for the 8am departure. Check out that bus/trailer combo - so cool. They had 2 of them, both full. This outfit will even transport your bags from hotel to hotel for you if you want so you can ride with no gear onboard - posh.
End of the line? Beginning? Mont-Laurier was our starting point with St. Jerome 200kms south from here. Many of the original train stations are still standing with many converted into cafes, bike shops, and art galleries. Every one of them is worth popping into as some of them are in more original condition than others. If you listen close, you can almost hear the hustle and bustle of people taking the train back in the day.

Baguette onboard. The conditions on the day were perfect: overcast, cool temperatures, and no wind. We spotted this little free library and decided this was as good a place as any to stop for a drink break.

When in Rome... Local sausage, local baguette, local jam, local brie, and prosecco for lunch. So! Good. Protip: Bring lunch as there is not much along this leg.

One of the many beautiful marshy areas along the route. There is a busy beaver in the photo but it's hard to spot.

Auberge L'Ile de France in Nominigue - our home for the night. Proprietors Nancy and Heiko have a great little thing here. Secure parking for the bikes, quaint theme rooms, a great supper and breakfast too. We chatted with them about the impact of the trail on their business and they said cyclists on it represent 80%!!! of their business. Bikes do mean business. 2 days in and Nadia was starting to feel it for sure.

I felt this one by the end. Around 35kms in was when I hit my wall but was able to ride through it. The route felt really remote with nothing but trees between the beginning and end. So glad we brought our own lunch.

Day two was much more of a ride.  Yesterday was 40ish today 50ish.  Oh my! It's flat and smooth without traffic for kilometers - so incredible! So dreamy! The scenery made it so very enjoyable.  There are KM markers along the way, which makes my ride even better, I could count up and down and everyone of the little brown signs signified my triumph through pedal stokes.  But then the incline - not a big incline - but at times it felt ENDLESS.  Slow biking kills every part of the body, especially the mind.  I can say the nap when we hit the hotel at the end of the day was my favorite.  I wasn't very good company at dinner, I believe I was just a puddle. And the sleep that night, heaven.

Day 3 Nominigue to Mont-Tremblant 60kms

Heiko and Nadia. Heiko and his wife Nancy were gracious hosts and cooked up really good food. We definitely recommend staying with them at their cute auberge. They also told us about the tasty eats available at the Labelle Station - which did not disappoint.

Nominingue has a grocery store, a couple dep's (depanneurs - convienence stores) and the auberge and that's about it. We awoke to pouring rain and threatening skies but elected to wait a bit before departing as the weather radar was showing the rain passing - which it did - and we set out in overcast but warm conditions.

Between Mont-Laurier and Mont-Tremblant there were plenty of these shelters to rest under but after Tremblant there were no more of these hideouts from the rain. It was a weird day in that there was no rain but so much humidity we were getting wet just riding through the air.

Nadia's whip: Tout Terrain Via Veneto model with Ortlieb bags, Rohloff 14-speed hub, belt drive, full fenders, dynamo lighting and Schwalbe tires. This bike is one of our demos, come check it out in store.

Sean's whip: Tout Terrain Outback bikepacking/trail bike with 12-speed Pinion Drive crank, belt drive, Swift Industries bags, and Jones bars. This bike is one of our demos, come check it out in store.

Little lovelies everywhere...

La Gare Labelle had an excellent bistro inside with a full bar and restaurant including frites fried in duck fat . The interior was beautiful and the food was quite good. Definitely recommend a stop, even just for a refreshment.

Chickens chilling out beside the path.
This was the longest day so far and by the end of it, Nadia was pooched. To make matters tougher, once we arrived into the Tremblant area, we still had 6kms of rolling hills to get to our accommodations. Remember those tornados that hot the Ottawa area? Ya, we arrived at our accom's just as those same storms breezed by us dropping torrents of rain, lightning, and wind. Dodged a bullet there for sure.

I was pretty toast by the time we got to Labelle and we still had 21kms to go. The toughest day of the trip, no question. Knowing that I had a day off the bike the next day and a massage booked too made the suffering worth it.

My ileostomy and traveling can be a big deal or not. We ostomy people prepare for the worst and hope for the best.  In almost all the moves we make every day our "BAG" governs many choices we make. I have extra supplies always at the ready (extra bags, wipes, clothes) because our bag systems aren't always perfect.  Accidents of big proportions happen to us at any given moment, and sometimes for no reason.  This fear might be my biggest battle of my life.  I have overcome many of the struggles with the help of weed since having the surgery to remove my colon and then a few years later, my anus.  I have my medicine with me and it always relieves my symptoms and anxiety that follow me everywhere. I smoked on this ride and it is a great companion. I also can say that without this medicine I don't think I could have done it.  I still suffer often from phantom pains. I had significant surgery last October to remove my anus. Yes, my ass is ornamental now, sometimes referred to a "Barbie Butt" in ostomy circles. I was worried about the daily ride on my new rear.  I have new and severed nerve endings at a very tender spot, for all of us. I was new to all this so here we go. 

Day three and I have a new appreciation for my love. Sean rides and rides and rides. He's always been able to ride circles around me when I put put along. On this ride he was "tail gunning" - hanging out behind me, happy to sip on wine and watch over me from the back. I know the pace I go is not his. He kept assuring me that this ride is for me, not him. I have my boombotix booming my favorite tunes and helping me trudge on this long, hard day - because now it's uphill all the time.  Uphill is painful. Everywhere hurts. Hurting from riding so much: my neck, wrist, my feet even. How do your feet hurt when your not using them? I knew we had a two day stop and a plan for a massage tomorrow so I was ok with the day. But at the 50KM, I was done done and done.  The climb the humidity - and my ornamental ass!  There was what felt like an endless ride along a lake on the way to Mt. Tremblant, not sure I even enjoyed the view. Turned out to be a bit of a climb to the room for the night.  I can say my toughest day on a bike. 

Day 4 Mont-Tremblant - Val-David 58kms

Morning mist over Lac Tremblant. On paper, today was looking to be one of the toughest days due to the amount of elevation gain as we climb up to the highest point of the trail.

La Stazione bistro in St. Faustin Lac Carre was a sight sore sore legs. After leaving Mont-Tremblant we had a fairly easy rollout for about 10kms before the trail started to tilt upward and once it did, we were on a consistent 3% hill for an hour and a half at least. The climbing continued for about another 30 minutes past this point.

Nadia plugging away on the uphill of in the distance...but relief was close...

The "top" of the trail - which meant it was mostly downhill from here back to St. Jerome. Protip: Never underestimate climbing on rail trails. While the gradient never goes above 3% the climbs can go on for 10's of kilometres which can weigh heavy on the legs because you can never coast.And ya, this is not 2200m - more like 875m.

We found chocolate! A tiny little sign on the trail mentioned there was chocolate up a little grass trail and sure enough there was. Kooky little dark chocolate tourist trap - we bought something to nibble on along the way.

Quebec does feel really welcoming to cyclists. I wish Alberta would just cut/paste so much of what they have done.

Auberge Vieux Foyer - our home for the night. They do a pretty good dinner here but the breakfast was very meh. We'd suggest going into town for breakfast to the C'est La Vie Cafe - much better breakfast and coffee. The in-room hottub was a hit and they also have an outdoor pool and hot tub.

Tough day for sure, the most climbing I've ever done (we did about 300m on the day) but the descent to Val-David was great.

Day four of riding!  This is when I've realized the amount of work I've done and perhaps how much we had left to ride.  I was grateful for the day off and not sure if that was the best. It's a mind thing for sure. I wasn't sure about this body I am in. I was only then realizing that my struggles to embrace my colon free body has made me push more that I ever have before. I once had a "healthy" body and before it went bad I'd have never dreamed of putting my body to any major tasks, I was happy with where I was at.  Sean and I had found hiking as an activity we could do together and I think it started my connection with my body in a new way. The rush of accomplishment when you get to the peak.  Here I was - four days into a bike tour - I was now a cyclist. I asked for no help with my bags. I didn't have an electric this time. I was feeling elated. Also knowing that we were about to pass the half way mark  and the highest point of the entire trail made it an extra special day. Turned out there was some downhill this day too. And hand made chocolates.

Day 5 Val-David to St. Jerome 45kms

The wettest day of the trips, just pouring the whole time. Thankfully it was fairly warm so being wet was mostly fun. Our trusty Brooks ponchos did the trick - including eliciting weird/judgy looks from the other sportif-types on the trail. They were looking at us like we were having fun in the wrong way.

Are we Teletubbies? Eurotrash weirdos? Kook on patrol? Drowned rats? All of the above?

Refreshment break and hiding from the downpour for a few moments. Very hard to overstate how wet we were. It was aorund this point of the day that Nadia started to realize what she had accomplished and she started to get really exciting/proud of herself. So great to witness.

Poncho life. It was so wet that both my grips would come off the bars just by using foul language. It had been many years since I'd been so wet over so many days of riding - maybe never before actually.

Nadia, standing in a puddle, ecstatic at her achievement of completing her first bike tour, Kilometre Zero arch in the background. We still had one more day to do the next day to get back to Laval where our bike boxes were but it was pretty easy and we didn't take any pictures because it was wet - again.

Day five! WTF!  I've made it five days on a bike. We awake to rain and as it turns out warm rain.  I am thrilled.  As you can see in some pictures I'm in a tank top. Under the funny Brooks poncho I am still in a tank top.  This wet cycling experience is something I've never experienced to any degree.  This warm rain made it delightful.  As I've said this journey was a struggle both a physical and a mental.  As this day moved forward my elation was shocking. I had fun regardless to how much my body hurt. We had sunshine and rain over the course of the trip. I've had a chance to see the countryside of Quebec. We enjoyed great meals and good people. At the end of this day we were back to where we started - more than 200KM done.  Plus the ride to get to the bus and now the ride back to Laval tomorrow.

Day six. The last day and the shortest ride. I was so ready to be done at this point so I was very grateful that it was almost over. The little bit left has put my total close to 289KM at the end of the day. This old (49) fat (180lbs) broken (no colon) body has rode almost 300KM.  I feel tired and sore and elated. My love has been so very generous in supporting me. The understanding he has for me is so generous. The patience he showed for my struggles was fueled by wine (love, actually). :)  I'm grateful for my experience and the help I received from him.  As I have shared this a bit with my friends they ask now what? I still want to bask in the bliss of this experience. Not sure if I'd like to ride this many days in a row carrying so much stuff.  But I do know I could if I wanted to. 

So you just never know.

All in all, we'd definitely recommend the trip. There are many ways to do it too: out and back, shuttle to the end and ride back, bring your luggage, have it moved for you, you can even rent bikes there (including electric).

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

Jean said...

We did part of this route and other routes in 2 different trips. One of them included.....visiting several local cheesemaking farms. Highly recommended.