A ride into the hills
I just had to take the leap of faith ! Summer was arriving and I just wanted to do something different than being some type of castaway flowing to the currents of town ultimately washing up in any fast food for some sanctuary . I thought about it for some time not being sure if I'd come back in one piece let alone alive. After all I'm certainly not an athlete and the thought of it brought shivers up my spine. What if something happens out in the woods where first aid looks a little like delivering your final wishes if they do find you ? I then pondered the alternative which was to cling on to my uneasy state of existence dwelling on the very figurative state of material comfort I had in my quest for a feeling of security ...
As is, being a smoker obliged further after thought not knowing if I'd drop dead all of a sudden for lack of oxygen let alone a stray blood clot clogging the arteries ! Despite feeling in shape I was rapidly reminded that I wasn't once trying to tackle a crowd of seniors doing some Sunday driving in town. But anyways, my mind was made up . I figured that it couldn't be worst than doing 4 miles an hour on foot which I could quite easily accomplish for hours on end.
I started out a little awkwardly not knowing if I'd call it quits before I really got out. Despite being rusty, irrespective of the initial practice runs, the first day looked like magic ! I ended up accomplishing over 60 miles without a sigh going out past the north end of town ! I pedaled with childish optimism in my quest to discover the placid mountainous scenery some 40 miles out within the laurentians ultimately using a trail built for the purpose which is well suited for the task, such a trail being first uncovered after consulting some tourist brochures. Once looking at the possible ways of getting to destination, using the road was out of question, a previous look at the documentation (now available on the WEB) revealing a network of bike paths with one path in particular going within the mountains.
The bike path itself being the "petit train du nord" trail (on the #2 segment of the "Route Verte" network) which runs from the perimeter of Montreal on towards Mont Laurier (which is 150 miles north of the perimeter of the city) is a remarkable run to take being a narrow path that runs on the course of the dismantled rail line that was built in the 19th century to facilitate the colonization of the region, such a line being associated with the establishment of the major towns to encounter along the way within the Laurentian hills.
A look at history
Towards the beginning of the 20th century the region saw additional activity with a fledging tourist industry promoting downhill skiing namely at Grey Rocks and Tremblant. An influx of ski trains as they were called brought in people from Montreal on the weekends to tackle the slopes and relish in some after hours enjoyment . This quite suddenly changed with the advent of a better road network in the 50's and 60 's (namely with the freeway ) leading towards the decline in passenger and freight train travel which was ultimately totally abandoned in the mid 1980's when the last freight train rode the track.
Today the region prides itself with a quality infrastructure to satisfy the most demanding tourist no matter what season. No need to mention that tourism is the mainstay of the economy such tourism not only being centered around downhill skiing with Tremblant being the star attraction but also faithfully serves tourists searching for a hideaway during the height of summer with a host of activities (most notably golf) not withstanding the discovery of towns with a 19th century appeal. No need to remind you that cyclists were not forgotten !
The thrill of cycling
With trail-side views of rapids within hills whose visually appeal astounds many the bike path becomes an adventure not only into the wilderness but also gives a faithful view of what the Laurentians are representative of which is furthermore enhance with the view of sleepy little towns with their own historic heritage a witness to a past which also reflects the craftsmanship of those preceding us. Furthermore further north past Labelle thematic billboards help us more fully appreciate the immediate area and what it is representative of thus assuring tantalizing moments of discovery despite the reality of all french signs (maybe an English brochure is available at the tourist information booth) .
The most thrilling aspect of the adventure not only lies with the ability to explore the immediate vicinity using the bike path as a means of travel to discover the Laurentians, but also to easily find safe harbor including when it's time to call it quits for the day. This makes all the difference considering the length of the trek which at over 120 miles from the starting point in St Jerome becomes a major consideration.
The first time I took the path I had first stopped at the tourist information bureau in St Jerome where people kindly gave me some good indications in english despite the reality of a lone man that looked lost and terribly out of shape giving the impression that he did not fit into the mold of the self accomplished well prepared to tackle any problem . Irrespective of first impressions the polite and courteous advice from the friendly staff gave me sufficient assurance to help me set sail towards my destination without really thinking twice about it... I then set off to discover the Laurentians and a little piece of history along a path which revealed itself as tremendously popular which considering my lackluster shape made me feel like an outcast even if many people were past their prime.
Once starting off it is noteworthy to mention that despite the reality of a lengthy trek there are so many occasions to stop and contemplate the scenic attractions that what at first may be considered as an ordeal is transformed into a moment of discovery that may leave you a little careless if time flows by too fast. Irrespective of the lost hours taking a sun bath or just contemplating the rapids there is always safe harbor that isn't too far out.
Once in Mont Tremblant village a stop at the mountain is a must at least for those which want to risk a climb of this monstrous mound (which clogs my ears every time I climb) to behold the mountainous scenery further east. The more daring folks may even risk discovering the national park adjacent to the mountain to obtain a fuller wilderness experience. And then as earlier implied there are always the excursions far beyond the main artery such as by taking some offshoot bike path an example being the bike path going up to St Donat from St Agathe which gives a glimpse of additional mountainous scenery culminating with a climb of the Kaiicop (at the Interval) to hopefully get a bird eye view of Montreal in the distance.
Once further north past Labelle the path is paved but the trek is just as thrilling if not a little more the path encountering towns with less frequency while giving good scenic views including rapids and lakeside scenery. The trek culminates in Mont Laurier which holds all the conveniences of home while being a fine place to visit for some more eye candy. For those which need to risk some more sweat it is always possible to try "escalating" "devil's mountain" which is in immediate vicinity further north in the town of "Ferme Neuve".
Please don't forget that since the path gives access to a large segment of the Laurentians there is much to see such sites being best uncovered once looking at the relevent tourist brochures. To give an example a small town off the beaten track which is "La Minerve" hosted a beer museum such a town being attainable from the town of "l'Annonciation" which itself has some noteworthy gems to uncover including a fine restaurant in a late 19th century setting which is also a charming place to set your eyes on for a little treat ! Apart from the covered bridge in the town of "La Conception" converted into a restaurant some additional treats include such places as the old town in Morin Heights without forgetting the European feel of the village at the base of Tremblant mountain which if I'm not mistaken has a gondola permitting year round ascension of the mountain without the sweat of a hike.
And then there is also the wildlife to uncover at trail-side and beyond including the all too familiar !
How to get there
Please be reminded that the Laurentians in being part of the Canadian shield are a mountain chain over 2 billion years old and thus despite being the pride of the locals have a look typical of what is expected with hills which occasionally may give the illusion of higher mountains. Although if you dare risk an escapade into the mont Tremblant park you will with some exploration uncover within a relatively small surface area further north some lesser known places which really are reminiscent of what is typical with higher mountains including lakeside scenery in stark mountainous terrain.
A short closing note.
For those which need to know; despite being portrayed as a totally illiterate moron everywhere I do set foot (I haven't tried my luck on the moon yet !) I did finish college in 1986 at "Collège Français" situated at 185 Fairmount west street in Montreal. Unfortunately these last few years a declining state of health forced me to lead a less active life . Although once the good weather arrives I do enjoy taking a ride on the wild side with my bike which to admit seems to keep me alive !