Day 8 – Longueuil to Bromont – 123 km
August 19, 2011
Day 8 arrived and I woke up with a start. Where was my team? When were we supposed to leave? Did I sleep through breakfast? Yes, apparently I was still traumatized by having missed breakfast 3 days earlier and my subconscious was being extra careful to make sure I didn’t screw anything else up.
Once I woke up enough to realize that I was in no danger of riding with an empty stomach and that riding alone was going to be the plan, I headed downstairs. My morning was remarkably like any morning at home – start the coffee and breakfast, check email, take care of the cats letting one out and another back in. At the same time, though, I was already planning my departure. As my host was still asleep, I didn’t actually start packing but had a pretty good idea of what needed to be done. And soon enough Hélène awoke and I finished my packing, loading my bike up for the next leg of the trip. I did notice one thing, however. Without a strict start time, my natural tendencies took over and instead of heading out at 8:30 or 9:00 like I had always thought I would do in my imaginings of the ride, I actually didn’t get on the road until about 11:00. The good news, though, was that I actually knew where I was headed, and after only about 100 metres on the street, I was on a dedicated path.
The first part of the path was of the quality I’d come to know pretty well over the next several days. Called “stone dust” on the maps, it was actually a better surface than it appears to be. The surface was not as loose as it looks so while it did provide a bit of drag, it didn’t feel slippery at all. The best part, though, was that it was almost completely bump free so the ride in the end was smoother and far better than what I experienced on the Thousand Islands Parkway. And even better: by the time I reached the edge of Longueuil, it had turned back into pavement. At this point I ran into a 50something couple on high end carbon bikes who were out for a quick morning ride. They were intrigued by my long bike and asked how much it weighed (probably a bit over 70 lbs now) and how it was to pedal. My answer after several days of riding was now much different. Now it was “Not too bad – it’s obviously heavier but you get used to it.” I ended up proving to myself just how much I’d come along by keeping pace with them at over 35 km/hr as we rode down the path. It was nice after weeks of worrying that I might not be able to manage a heavily-loaded bike to find that it wasn’t going to be a problem at all.
The pavement continued until I got to the town of Chambly at which point the path turned southward on the Chambly Canal at which point there was only very occasional pavement for the next 30 km or so and my average speed slowed down to about 22 km/hr. On the other hand, the views were quite lovely.
The path along the canal was full of people of all ages – lots of people who from the looks of their bikes were from the area, and a couple other riders who were going a longer distance with panniers strapped to the front and back of their bikes.
Eventually the time came for me to stop for lunch. Ever since I started planning this route, I had joked that I should power the whole trip on poutine. By that theory, a dish of french fries, gravy, cheese curds and (as in one of my preferred types) sliced hot dogs, should have all the fats, salt, carbs, protein and fat a cyclist needs to succeed in a ride. And while it was a joke, I did think it appropriate to have my first road food be a meal of poutine. But the challenge was to actually find food. One of the things about the Route Verte – or at least this route is that it’s relatively isolated from towns. It rarely passes directly through a town and so what I found over the course of the ride was that unlike on a road trip where you might pass restaurants frequently, or at least billboards advertising them, you’ll have to watch the map and see when you’re coming through a larger town and be sure to stop and look around if lunch is going to be soon. And so at Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, when the trail crossed the main road, I turned toward the town instead of continuing along the trail. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was back sharing the road with traffic when, not 100 feet from where I entered the road, a kid gave a blood-curdling scream out the passenger window to try to startle me as he passed. It might be noted, however, that after 8 months of daily commuting to/from work in Quebec City, and probably 60-70 km on the road on this trip, this was the only unpleasant interaction I’ve had with a driver (not including those caused by inattention). Finally, after a half a kilometre or so, I arrived at a little drive-up casse-croûte (snack bar) where I ordered a poutine avec saucisses. I did make the mistake, however, of ordering a medium. Even burning all the calories I had (and would) burn, this was just too much food. Still, the little bit I did have was enjoyable.
Now completely satiated, it was time to get back on the road and head for Granby where, not having found a couchsurfing host, I hoped to find a nice B&B for the night. I rode back up the main road, not encountering any obnoxious kids, and was back on the path again. After about another 90 minutes I found myself in Farnham and looking up I saw two people in parachutes coming down into a nearby field. And a few minutes later I passed Parachutisme Nouvel Air and in fact the path went right by their property. I briefly wrestled with the idea of doing a tandem jump but eventually decided the cost and time it might take were more than I wanted to spend that day and I moved on.
And it was a good thing I didn’t take that extra time because by the time I arrived at the Farnham information centre, I overheard another couple of cyclists saying that apparently there was an auto show in Granby that night and that as a result there were no rooms left in the town. And so, I had to make a quick decision – hopefully one that did not involve my sleeping under the stars as I’d sent my tent back to Toronto already. I looked on my map and with the last 5% of my cell phone’s charge, called a few places in Bromont. The first place I called was also completely booked and so I finally called the Hotel Chateau Bromont. As it turned out, not only did they have a room available, they had one that included dinner and breakfast. And though it was a few km out of my way, the thought of staying in a really nice hotel really beat the idea of cowering in the bushes being eaten alive by mosquitoes and hoping it didn’t rain.
And so now I was committed to another 20 km or so of riding – another hour before I would be able to have dinner and relax a bit. But the day was beautiful, everyone else on the trail seemed happy and so life was good. And it was about to get even better just a few km from Bromont.
After about 60 km of gravel I was back on pavement and my speed could pick up a bit. And before long, I found myself heading in to Bromont. And like so many towns and cities in Quebec, cycling was integrated beautifully into the city plan. In this case, the trail I was on routed through a strip mall before heading south to the hotel.
But you’d think I would’ve learned from my experience finding my previous night’s lodging and I would have managed to get detailed directions to where I was going. But no, I really had no more information other than the address of the hotel. And with 5% battery remaining in my phone, I had to be extremely judicious as to what I used it for. I consulted google maps for directions and got the same sort of directions as I’d learned to expect in Quebec. Lots of general “bear right towards X street” that implied that I might find a path or bike lane somewhere but nothing definitive enough to make it possible for me to easily find it. But using google’s directions as a guideline, I headed south and as I did I was reminded of what the “-Mont” in BroMONT meant. It meant that there were going to be some pretty big hills at the end of my day.
Finally, I found my way to another hotel that looked to be in the general vicinity of the hotel I was going to and asked them for directions. As it turned out, it was only about 500 metres from where I was. Fortunately there was a nice big downhill ride to get there. Unfortunately it was followed by an even bigger uphill at the other side. The last 100 metres as I pulled in to the hotel were the some of the steepest I’ve ever climbed but I was rewarded with a nice hotel and a nice view.
When I arrived I got another insight into what it’s like to cycle in Quebec. When I checked in I asked them if there was bike parking. Indeed there was. A few clicks on her keypad and my card was now able to not only open my room but a large shed in the back where bikes could be safely locked. I parked the bike, unloading only those things I needed and headed in. It was now almost 8:00 PM – 9 hours after I left Longueuil.
After a long day like that, a long hot shower is always heaven. And that night, dinner was fantastic – a four course meal of gazpacho (with basil foam – an odd concoction that looked like whipped cream and tasted like basil), crab stuffed trout, salad, and bittersweet chocolate cake for dessert. However, I probably would’ve appreciated it even more had I not been quite so tired. I spent much of dinner trying really hard not to fall asleep at the table.
The night ended in a really comfortable bed. And like every night I fell asleep almost instantly. And like many nights on the trip I awoke in the middle of it, once again wondering if I had somehow missed the Bike Rally departure and wondering where in the world all the other riders and crew went.