“When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others. Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle.
~Elizabeth West, Hovel in the Hills
On a cloudy, drizzly October morning, we strapped our bags onto the bikes.
The temperature was cool, around 8°C, with intermittent rain. I had a few days off work and we had decided to go on an adventure. We wanted to try out cyclotourism, that is biking around and camping wherever night fell. Rain seemed to be prevasive all across the province of Quebec for the whole week, nonetheless, and hoping for better weather, we put on our raincoats and started pedaling under the rain…
Hallam Murray describes bicycle transport as:
“Weight for weight the cyclist uses less energy to cover a given distance than even the superbly constructed salmon or dolphin, not to mention birds, the great cats, the motor car, or any form of jet or rocket engine. The bicycle is simply the most versatile vehicle known to humans…It can be ridden, carried by almost every other form of transport from an aeroplane to a canoe, and can even be lifted across one’s shoulders over short distances.”
Add to that the fact that the only fuel needed is you own food, it turns out to be a quite inexpensive method of travelling.
So we decided to go to the Portneuf region northwest of the Quebec city region and set out on our bikes. After a few kilometers down the road we arrived to the town of Ste-Catherine de la Jacques Cartier where a biking trail passes. We crossed the imposing river and found the trail and followed it towards the north. The autumn was in full swing, showing off its majestic scenery full of colours and shades.
After a while the rain started to pour down on us as we kept pedaling. We passed by the beautiful Lac Sergeant without stopping. Soon our feet were drenched and our bodies started to cool in spite of the physical exhertion.
Arriving to St-Raymond
Around 10:30am we arrived to the town of St-Raymond, a very scenic village in the county of Portneuf. It is the doorway to the Vallée Bras du Nord (Arm of the North Valley) which was one of our destinaitons. We stopped at the local Tim Horton’s to drink some coffee and dry up a bit while the rain passed. While social media has been reponsible for the rise in popularity with outdoor sports and travelling, it is often portrayed as all smiles, exciting, glamorous, hip, inspirational. And in reality it often lacks a lot of those elements, in fact often it is quite the opposite. Today was such a day. Cold and wet.
Around 1pm the rain stopped and the cloud ceiling seemed to rise a little bit. We decided to keep going towards the north, to reach Riviere a Pierre about 53km from there.
Without the rain everything soon becomes so vibrant and you can truly appreciate all the colours of the autumn. There are red leaves, yellow leaves, and even orange leaves, and all the colours in between. We crossed rivers, rolled past beautiful pastures and admired the overlooking mountains.
When we arrived to St-Leonard de Portneuf the forest opened up into wide and large, rolling fields where cows were grazing, the colourful mountains and hills in the distance keeping watch over the peaceful valley.
After passing the pastures and the farms the trail goes back into the forest, slowly making progress up the sides of the mountains. It is as if the leaves surround the trail on all sides, even covering the ground, their crunching sound breaking the silence as our bikes rolled over them. The air was fresh, but our bodies kept warm by the exhertion.
We stopped by the Chutes de l’Ours (Bear falls) amid a picturesque scenery of Canada’s finest.
Further up the road we found a peculiar rock. It was aptly named the ‘Rock bridge’ as it arched over a small stream, forming a perfectly natural rock bridge.
We kept pressing forward, wanting to reach Riviere a Pierre before nightfall; we had covered around 50km but were still about 20km short of reaching the small town famed for its granite rock. We passed an amazing spot to camp overnight, with a beautiful view over a small lake; it was perfect. But we wanted to reach our objective so we kept going forward. We finally reached the town around 5pm with about 30-40min of daylight to spare. We reached the end of the biking trail and found the only camping spot protected from the rain was basically besides a street facing into a couple of houses. We decided to try and reach the camping spot we had seen earlier about 15km back before any rain reached us. We managed to bike about 1 or 2km before a few raindrops started to fall. We wisely decided to go back again into the town rather than spend a wet night.
We put our tent up under the roof of the little refuge (there are small roofed refuges about every 10km along the bike trail) just as the rain started to pour down stronger than ever. It would continue like that all through the first half of the night. We heated up our noodle soup, giving us some much given warmth back to our bodies. Soon afterwards we fell soundly asleep.
Early in the morning we prepared our oats for breakfast, packed up our gear and quickly went our way back unto the trail, heading back towards St-Raymond. The day was warmer and ocasionally sunny so we were able to better enjoy the views we had seen the day before, making stops along a lake, and along a farm to feed a friendly horse that came to see us.
Soon we reached St-Raymond once again. We stopped to eat and then went our way towards the Vallée Bras-du-Nord. This time there were no bike trails, just the road. We had to climb a few hills and go down others on the way to the valley. And soon we arrived to the majestiv valley through which meanders the Bras du Nord river. We went to the Cantin entrance and went on the opposite side of the river towards the base of the escarpment.
Bras du Nord Valley
We found an abandoned silo where we left our bikes to go hike up the mountain. We climbed up amid the yellow trees up a winding and escarped trail. We wanted to reach the top and climb back down before nightfall. After an hour and a half of climbing we reached a small vantage point from where we could see the valley below.
After climbing back down we walked by the river with its calm waters and cristaline look which seemed to be playing tricks with our vision. We then prepared to go to sleep in the abandonned silo, using pine pranches as our mattress we made ourselves comfortable in our little cave and enjoyed our supper supplemented by our homemade energy bars.
A soup after a long day out in the cold is thoroughly enjoyable.
The world upside down
After the soup we peeked outside and we were astounded at the beauty of the sky. Out here in the valley there are no lights to obstruct the view of the starry sky. Looking through the branches it seemed as if thousands of lights were shining among the trees, as we moved to a nearby field we saw the sky in all its splendor. Stars innumerable, so bright we could not distinguish the constellations, the Milky Way stretching across the night sky…
Standing under such greatness will definitely make you feel small.
In the morning, after a quick and nutritious breakfast we packed our bags and headed out in the morning mist into the valley.
The view, combined with the crisp cold morning air, combined to make the most wonderful scenery: Horses grazing on a hill, mist hazily floating above a farm, the mountains standing guard on both sides of the valley…this qualifies as a piece of paradise.
The weather forecast was announcing a full three days of nonstop rain and possibly snow so we decided to cut our trip short. Today we would cycle back to Ste-Catherine de la Jacques Cartier. We followed the St-Anne River till we arrived back in St-Raymond and then we continued on the bike trail through the autumn colours back to Ste-Catherine.
We arrived in the early afternoon, sorted our equipment and dried the tent, took a well deserved shower and ate some delicious fish tacos.
It was a great trip, even though in the end it was shorter than planned, but we definitely enjoyed it. Biking is a great way to travel light, cover a lot of ground and actually see things. As Edward Abbey said: “You can’t see anything from a car, you’ve got to get out of the goddamn contraption…”
I encourage all to go out, try biking, try camping, hiking, canoeing, whatever you would like that maybe you haven’t tried yet. Do it. You have two days off? Go out. If you have a dream trip that you would like to do, start by going out whenever you can, and as explorer Bernard Voyer once told me: “stop talking about your trip and do it.”
Happy on the road
“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring