The ride around Lac Saint-Jean provides scenic views, long bike-only paths, and rolling hills.
When: June 2-4, 2017, Bike Travel Weekend
Bicycle Adventurers: Todd “Spokes” Young and Elizabeth “Wanda” Young. Our nicknames are from our TransAmerica ride. “Spokes” because I kept breaking spokes, and “Wanda” is the name we gave Liz, short for “Wandering with Maps” because she always had the maps, yet sometimes was wandering a bit off route.
Accommodations: We had planned and packed for camping, but ended up staying at a B&B the first night and a nice motel the second. We are weak people.
Distance: We rode 170 miles in 2.5 days.
Bonus tip for this adventure: If you don’t speak French well, and we don’t, download the Google Translate app before you embark. It’s very helpful with menus and signs. While the folks in this area are very friendly, kind, and helpful, they don’t speak much English.
We had been thinking about this ride for quite sometime. We have a book of Quebec bicycle routes and had chosen this ride as our shakedown ride before we did our cross-country ride on the TransAmerica Trail in 2016. Unfortunately, we were not able to schedule due to family issues. So in 2017, we decided this would be a great ride for Bike Travel Weekend in June. This route promised it would be mostly bike paths and quiet roads with minimal climbing around a beautiful lake. This would be an ideal ride for early season before you develop your climbing legs.
We live in Williston, Vermont and our ride starting point was a 363-mile drive. On Friday morning, we rose early and made the seven-hour drive north to Chambord, Quebec with heavy showers the whole way. The weather report showed it would be clearing in the afternoon and we would have decent weather Saturday and Sunday. This is early season for this area for riding with temps ranging from the 40s to the 60s. On our way up, we noticed many of the rivers were over their banks. Quebec had a heavy snow year and we had a wet spring thus far. This played into one of the only problems we had on the ride.
The weatherman was right and just as we arrived in Chambord the skies did clear. The temps were in the 50s and there was a nice cool breeze. Our bike maps directed us to City Hall where we could park our vehicle for the duration of our ride. There is no clear starting point for this ride because it is a complete circle and most towns have designated parking areas for touring cyclists.
We mounted our bikes at 2:30 PM with the goal to make it from Chambord to Saint-Henri-de-Taillon. Our ride started out great. It felt natural to get back on our bikes, fully loaded with packs. It had been since September when we finished our TransAm and rode our bikes under load. We enjoyed the nice bike paths on our way through Desbiens and working our way toward Alma. On our way, we stopped at scenic resting area to enjoy the view of the lake where we ran into a family that had just finished the ride. They gave us some good advice about stops and stays along the way.
As we left the family, the father told us the bridge ahead was closed, but just ignore the signs and go through. So we went ahead and came to that bridge/dam and started to cross when an official looking person on the other side started screaming at us to stop. The water was raging under the bridge and it was closed for this reason. So we had to double back 10 miles and route ourselves to Alma. This detour messed up our timing and our goal to make it to Saint-Henri that night. We decided Alma would be our resting place.
We had planned to camp in Saint-Henri, but Alma was a bigger city and we were thinking indoors would be a better idea. As we were looking at a map in a parking lot, a nice woman came up to us and asked us if we needed help. This brought us back to our TransAm ride where people always tried to help us. Sure enough, this lady gave us a suggestion of a great B&B and even called ahead for us. She also gave us outstanding directions.
The B&B was great and that night we walked downtown and enjoyed some local beer and pizza.
The next day we woke to a cool morning. Our B&B provided a nice, tasty breakfast of eggs and ham, homemade yogurt, sour dough toast, fruit, and plenty of coffee. Our first day, we completed only 40 miles and knew we had to make up miles today. Our goal was to make it to Dolbeau-Mistassini, a 65- to 70-mile ride.
Leaving the B&B we quickly rejoined the bike path just down the road. We road along the Grande Decharge River on our way out of Alma to Saint Henri. We enjoyed clear skies and beautiful countryside to Saint Henri. After Saint Henri, we entered the national park or as they say in French, the Parc National De La Pointe-Taillon. In the park, the surface turned to packed gravel and a wooded view along the lake. We had the park to ourselves, save many moose we never saw. We, however, saw many moose tracks on the trail. It was very wet and marsh-like in the park, so during our rests the mosquitos would come to greet us. It was beautiful, quiet, car-free riding.
After exiting the park, we stop in Sainte Monique for lunch. We enjoyed a great lunch with local beer at a diner in the middle of the village. From there we made our way along the Peribonka River to Peribonka. The cool breeze off the water was quite pleasant.
From Peribonka we left the water and the bike path on Route 169, a busier road, but with a wide shoulder. Soon we left 169 for country roads in scenic farmland. Once we arrived into Sainte Jeanne D’arc, we found ourselves back on a quiet bike path all the way to Dolbeau-Mistassini. The majority of this part of the path was just resurfaced and it was in the middle of the forest with just birds, trees, and wildlife. It was quite relaxing.
We arrived into Dolbeau without an issue after completing 65 miles for the day. Our plan was to camp at the Des Chutes camping area at the base of the waterfalls in the town. As I wrote earlier, the water was high and the Mistassini river was raging. When we arrived at the camping area, we were impressed at the awesome power, sight, and sound of the water coming through the falls. This is where we got weak. Adjacent to the campground was the newly renovated Motel des Chutes. The skies were threatening rain and the sound of the falls would not make for a restful night. So we elected for another bed, even though we were hauling our camping gear with us.
We checked into our room, had a nice cocktail, and went for a nice walk around town to clear our legs of our ride. That night we had dinner at the hotel/restaurant which was the only game in town within walking distance. We were the only ones in the restaurant because it was early season. We were waited on by a delightful young lady that spoke very little English.
Wanda always has a hard time deciding which cocktail to order before dinner. Tonight she decided to order a Long Island ice tea. Of course our young server had no idea what that was, but had a book on cocktail mixing and was delighted to try. She came back several minutes later, after we heard all kinds of noise in the back, with a glass filled with a dark green liquid that looked nothing like an ice tea. We politely smiled and thanked her for the effort and tried to dissect the contents. We did not have a clue.
Fortunately, save the cocktail, dinner was great and we had nice restful night at our comfortable motel.
For day three, we had about 70 miles to get back to our vehicle and end our adventure. We woke to a clear, cool morning. We saddled up early and made our way down to Mistassini for a cup of coffee and breakfast at Tim Hortons. Tim Hortons is the Dunkin Donuts of Canada, if you are not familiar. Our ride out of town was through bike paths and then back on to route 169 to Albanel. All morning the route kept jumping from bike bath to route 169. It was no issue because the roads were quiet on a Sunday morning. We enjoyed peaceful farmland most of the route in the morning. After Albanel, we passed through Normandin, Saint Felicien, and had a goal to eat lunch in Mashteuiatsh which was back on the lake. We should have eaten in Saint Felicien, a charming town with many options, but our maps failed us for service recommendations. Mashteuiatsh only had grocery store, so we pushed on another 12 miles to Roberval.
In Roberval we made our way down to the water front, where they had nice park and marina with a restaurant and ice cream shop. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed, so our luck was not great. It was getting to be around 2:00 PM and we were both getting hungry. Just as we were about to leave to search for other options, Wanda noticed she had a flat tire. She made it 4400 miles on our TransAm without a flat, but today she finally got one. Luckily, it was the front tire so the change was quick. Our lunch options off route consisted of fast-food options. With being so hungry, we found ourselves eating at another Tim Hortons.
After finishing our sandwiches, we only had another 12 miles to conclude our ride back to Chambord. The rest of the ride was all bike path. On the last part of our ride, we found ourselves racing a slightly overweight young couple on hybrid bikes. They were resolute not to have a couple of older folks riding fully packed touring bikes pass them. It was a fun game of cat and mouse for the final few miles.
We made it back to our vehicle safe and sound around 4:00 PM with another 70 miles on the books. The ride was a pleasure and we were glad we did it. We were disappointed in ourselves for not camping, since we had just purchased some super-cool sleeping bags we wanted to try out.
While this was not a hilly ride, it wasn’t easy either with constant winds in the lake basin. We both commented after the ride that it was harder than we thought it would be. All in all, we were super pleased with our adventurous weekend.
Bike overnight tips and tricks?
Our plan is always to be flexible. We packed our camping equipment, yet we stayed indoors. We were prepared for anything, and it’s a nice feeling not to worry about the landing spot for the day.
The advantage of early season is we had the place to ourselves, but the recommendation is to do the ride in the summer or fall when more services are open.
This is a blueberry mecca, so when the blueberries are being harvested in late summer, it would be ideal.
One other note is there are many microbreweries in the area and many riders will do this trip in five days and make sure to hit all the breweries.
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