5 August 2015 - Reston to Montreal via Toronto
Le P'tit Train du Nord was a rail line built in 1890 to transport forest products from the woods north of Montreal to destinations in the south. The rail line was dismantled in the 1990s to make way for a very popular multiuse trail, our destination for a late summer bike trip. For a good resource on the trail, including detailed maps showing the trail surface, parking areas, and nearby services, see the Tourism Laurentians Le P'tit Train du Nord Guide.
We planned to fly to Montreal and spend a couple of days there before riding to St. Jerome where we would take a shuttle to the most northern point of the trail at Mont Laurier. We would then ride for four days back toward St. Jerome. At St. Jerome we planned to rent a car to drive back to Montreal to pick up our bags and head to the airport.
Never having heard of Porter Airlines, we were not sure what to expect when they turned out to be the best airline for the trip. It was a good sign when our drinks came in real glasses. It was another good sign when the lobby of our stopover in Toronto had comfortable upholstered chairs and free snacks and bottled water.
|Flying over Niagara Falls||Waiting are at Toronto's|
Billy Bishop Airport Ai
|We knew we were in |
a different country when we saw
a bike used in the airport
For phone and data access in Canada we purchased the AT&T Passport plan. The first time I used the phone in Toronto my data use was so high that I turned off data for most apps. This turned out to be a problem when I couldn't figure out why I had no access for google maps.
Taxis from Montreal airport into the city charge a flat rate of $40, plus a $10 tip for the four heavy bags. The taxi driver spoke little English, but he was the exception; almost everyone we met spoke English and was very friendly. For our stay in Montreal we splurged a little and stayed at the Sofitel in a very nice room on 16th floor with a view of the city and several nearby high rises. Enjoyed looking for bikes on the streets below and just watching the urban hubbub.
|View from our hotel||Boulevard de Maisonneuve cycletrack||Boulevard Robert Bourassa cycletrack|
near McGill University
After getting settled in we walked for a while to get the lay of the land, past McGill University to St Catherine St a popular shopping and fast food street. Hundreds of bike commuters were headed home on the extensive network of bike facilities. On McGill College St we had dinner and a beer at an outdoor pizza place, Enoteca Mozza. Not too expensive, about $50. Fortunately for us the value of the U.S. dollar vs. the Canadian dollar was very favorable. The sun came in and out of the clouds and when out it was brilliant, without the humid, heavy air of DC. After a short walk back to the hotel we assembled our Bike Friday collapsable bikes and planned our ride around town the next day.
6 August - Montreal
Based on a recommendation from hotel staff we had a good breakfast at Anton & James of egg sandwiches on bagels. It's a small spot with only a few places to sit but the food was good and it was not crowded. After breakfast we visited the Museum of Fine Art on the way back to hotel. The museum consists of 5 or 6 connected buildings with an excellent permanent collection. A bonus was that admission is free for seniors on Thursday. A Bixi bike and station were on display in the sports design room.
|Museum of Fine Art||Bixi exhibit||Pre-Columbian mask display|
We had a good lunch nearby at Dundee's; veggie wrap with fries. Strolled back to the motel and it was nearly 3pm by the time we headed out on the bikes. Rode along the Maisonneuve cycle track to head NE to the Berri cycle track where we headed east toward Old Montreal and then to the old docks where there is a good trail along the Saint Lawrence River. Watched a lock for the Lacine Canal open and 3 boats pass through. Back into Old Montreal to check out the lively crowd gathered at Notre Dame Cathedral. Returned via Maisonneuve cycle track with some crazy aggressive commuting cyclists almost none of whom wore helmets and most going faster than us. While most of them obeyed traffic signals, many riders would ride through the red light just before it turned green.
|Lunch at Dundees||Rue Berri cycletrack||Rue Berri cycletrack|
|Overlooking St. Lawrence River||Centre d'histoire||Basilique Notre-Dame|
Walked to Corso on Crescent St for good risotto, salad, and creme caramel. Sat outside on the balcony and watched the busy street activity including cyclists leaving the city headed west on the Maisonneuve cycle track. Back at the hotel we packed for our ride the next day to St Jerome. I asked one of the doormen about storing our bags while we rode. He said it would be fine and free and he also thought we could park our rental car out front while we packed the bikes.
7 Aug - Montreal to St Jerome, 35 miles
We weren't in a big hurry; our ride to St. Jerome was not long and we had all day. We walked to a nearby crepe place for breakfast on St Catherine St. We loaded our panniers on the bikes and gave the 4 suitcases to the bellman along with a $5 tip. Started riding around 10am. Joined the morning fray that wasn't bad at that hour. Uneventful ride through nice neighborhoods almost all on separated cycletracks and some paved trails through parks. The only issues were with a couple of fast, aggressive cyclists. Most motorists were very accommodating, waiting for us to cross streets and often even anticipating that we might cross and waiting for us.
|Crepes for breakfast||Leaving Montreal||On La Route Verte 1|
|Another version of a cycletrack||Entering Le P'tit Train du Nord Linear Park|
|KM 0 of Le P'tit Train du Nord|
in St Jerome
Never found a good place for lunch until later in the day and by that time we had already snacked on gorp and Kind bars. Middle part of the ride saw very little other traffic on the well-signed Route Verte 1 & 2. Made two wrong turns where the Route Verte signs were not evident until we turned around after going in the wrong direction and looking again. Our paper maps helped.
Upon arrival in St. Jerome we stopped at the shuttle service office in an old rail car and asked about leaving our racks on the bikes (yes). I had a squeeking deraileur pulley that was lubed by one of the rental bike mechanics. The nice person at the nearby information center told us about a route to the Comfort Inn using neighborhood streets. While she also gave us some good dinner recommendations, they were too far from the motel so we ate across the street at St Hubert's chicken place (spinach salad with feta and a side of fries).
I'm carrying fewer bike clothes than usual so I washed out my shirt and shorts, which became an almost nightly routine. The room was ok. Tomorrow breakfast will be early since we were told to be at the shuttle pickup at the train station by 7:15.
8 Aug - St Jerome to Mount Reviere to Nominique, 35 miles
Our vacation schedule is often like most people's work schedule, in bed early so we can get up early. I was awake at 5 worrying about getting up at 5:45. Arrived at old train station at 7:15 after egg sandwiches at Tim Horton's and a short ride from the motel. Bikes were loaded onto the trailer with the handlebars resting in hooks and rear wheel in a tray, all held down by bungees and straps. Panniers were loaded in a small compartment above the bikes.
|Pierre loads bikes on the shuttle||Starting our ride in Mont Laurier||Headed to Nominique|
According to Pierre our shuttle driver, a dapper dude with goatee and designer glasses, each year over 1,000,000 people use Le Petit Train du Nord trail. He pointed out several sights along the way to Mont Laurier. The first stop was Labelle station where we dropped off eight cyclists and picked up a family of 5 cyclists. Pierre noted the good restaurant at the station where we would have lunch on our return ride. At Nominique, our next shuttle stop the family of 5 got off and Pierre pointed out Auberge L'ile de France our destination that night, located near the train station. Auberge Ignace, another inn option in Nominique located on the lake, was full.
The last stretch of road to Mont-Laurier was a little rough; It's difficult to maintain these northern roads where the winters are harsh. We would discover that several sections of the asphalt trail suffered from a similar problem. At the Mont-Laurier station we packed our bikes and chatted with the other riders, including a woman on a very nice flat bar Opus touring bike who we would see during the ride as we were on the same schedule of overnight stops. The nice man at the info center took photos of us at the start of the ride. Before he left, Pierre was nice enough to point us in the right direction; I was turned around and thought we should ride in the opposite direction.
First stop was a few blocks later at the IGA where we bought a baguette and cheese packets to supplement our earlier bagel for lunch. The trail is paved to Nominique but not in very good condition in several places where heaves and washboard sections are marked with "Danger" notices and orange spray paint.
|Chatting with a local at first rest stop||Trail damage markings||Lots of rest areas along the trail|
Scenery was a mix of rural landscape and forest and lakes. Some sections seemed very isolated. Rest stops with picnic tables are located about every 5 km or so, many with a wooden outhouse. The trail was busy with weekend riders, although nothing like our local rail trail, the W&OD Trail. A few riders were in spandex but many more were casual riders including lots of kids.
At one rest area where we ate some bread and cheese an older gentleman was on the return trip of a 40 km ride that is his regular route. He's lived in the area since he moved there for work late in his career. He's now retired and he decided to stay to avoid the high cost of living in Montreal.
The final stretch took longer than we planned, mostly because we thought Nominique was 10 km closer than it was. We arrived around 5 so we had time to put the bikes in the garage and shower before dinner that was served at 6pm. We booked the inns through Cyclo-Gites Voyageurs B&B. The package includes the inn along with dinner and breakfast. We had a very good creamy cauliflower salad, soup, smoked trout, salmon with rice and veggies, and apple cobbler with ginger beer.
|Wayfinding signs in Nominique||Auberge L'ile de France||First course at the inn|
Afterwards we strolled by the train station to check out the Karaoke Cowboy and walk a bit along the trail. At the nearby Desjardin grocery store we picked up some fruit and drinks. Since breakfast and dinner were included, the challenge each day would be finding lunch. It turned out there were usually places along the way to eat but we most days we decided to pick up lunch in the morning to eat later along the trail.
I had brought my rear-facing taillight camera, the Fly6, but forgot to bring the mount so I bought some electrical tape at the nearby hardware store to use to mount the camera. See video footage below that I took of our ride from Montreal to St. Jerome.
9 Aug - Nominique to Mont Tremblant, 36 miles
The first 93 kilometers of the trail are paved. From Labelle to St. Jerome the trail is mostly crushed stone. We had a beautiful day for our ride to Mont Tremblant; with white puffy clouds in a clear blue sky. As we approached Mont Tremblant we saw a loon on Lac Mercier which the trail followed for a few km. The shore was lined with large homes.
While sitting at the lake we talked to a women we met earlier. She and her husband were following the same itinerary as us for the first couple of days. She had lost her husband. She said he had a problem with his wheel and had to call a taxi to try to find a bike shop. We later saw them at dinner. He now has a new wheel, cassette, and new chain. They are staying at the same inn so we'll probably see them tomorrow. They live not far from Mont Tremblant and will be riding home tomorrow.
|Packing to leave Nominique.|
Most inns had bike storage areas
|Nominique train station||Sunday traffic on the trail|
As we arrived in Mont Tremblant village a jazz combo was playing to a small crowd in the park next to the old train station. We met a couple from Ottawa who own a place there and visit every weekend, driving the 150 km each way. They often bike on the trail.
The Mont Tremblant resort was about 5 or 6 miles uphill so we decided not to visit. Instead we continued on to B&B le Voyageur Inn, passing the large sandy beach near the station. The trail is newly paved and very smooth the last 7 or 8 km. We are in a corner room overlooking the trail and nearby creperie.
|Lunch at La Gare|
at Labelle station
|Grill cheese and soup|
Pierre was right, on our way to the inn we had a very good lunch at La Gare restaurant at Labelle station: cauliflower soup, excellent quinoa salad, grilled cheese and fries. We sat on the station porch with many other cyclists. I would guess that 90% of the customers were cyclists.
While dinner is included in our trip package, two of the restaurants where we had dinner were not located at the inn. In Mont Tremblant we walked about a mile into town for a good dinner at Le Vieux Four of shrimp with rice and vegetables, salad, and creme brule. Afterwards we stopped to listen to an excellent jazz pianist and bass player who were closing the town's jazz fest. We stopped by the crepe shop to arrange to pick up sandwiches to carry with us the next day.
|View of the trail from our room||Creperie across from inn||Jazz festival in Mont Tremblant|
10 Aug - Mont Tremblont to St Adele, 30 miles
Good breakfast of pancakes with cinnamon apples, good bread, and fresh orange juice. After breakfast I bought what turned out to be excellent cheese sandwiches at the creperie across the street. We left around 9am.
The trail became gravel just outside town and we proceeded to climb gradually for several miles. As we neared the highest point of the trail a woman careened down the hill toward us. As she approached the gravel trail surface turned to sand and she swerved a few times then fell, nearly running into me. I helped her right the bike and almost wrenched my arm; it was electric-powered and must have weighed over 100 lbs. She brushed herself off, thanked us and was on her way.
|Passed by 5 passenger vehicle||Sand and gravel operation at summit||Before lunch in Val-David|
|Leaving Val-David||Auberge de la Gare in St. Adele|
At the summit was a massive sand and gravel extraction operation on what is probably a terminal moraine. The downhill ride from there was very gradual. Nearby was a large wood processing operation.
It was another beautiful day. At Gare de St Agathe we found an empty bench in the front of the station where we finished our very good sandwiches from the creperie. At Val David we stopped to view the rapids of Riviere du Nord. At Gare de Val Marin we stopped for lemonade and a chat with a local couple about bikes and biking. They ride, play golf, workout, and ski in the winter and love the area.
Afterwards we rode along the shoreline of Lac Ramond and saw more rapids along the river; a very scenic section of trail. After some looking around we found the Auberge de la Gare situated next to a busy major road. Our room is on the corner facing the street and it's a bit noisy.
Luc from the hotel drove us to dinner at Chez Millot where we had a good meal of barley soup, salad, lightly battered sole with rice and vegetables, and apple cake. Very nice atmosphere. The weather forecast for the following day was not good, 100% chance of rain in the morning.
11 August - St Adele to St Jerome to Montreal to Reston
Woke to pouring rain that didn't look like it would pass any time soon. With a 6pm flight we had few options than to ride the 20 miles to St Jerome, where we had reserved a rental car. Had a good breakfast of warm apples with granola, berry smoothie, and a pancake-like dish covered with blueberries, strawberries and maple syrup.
In full rain gear we loaded the bikes and headed out only to discover that I had a flat rear tire. Changing a tube on a Bike Friday with internal gears is a bit involved since the wheel is bolted on. Nevertheless it didn't take long to install a new tube and be on our way.
|Another excellent breakfast||View from the bike storage shed||Rest stop amidst the steady rain|
The rain continued throughout the morning. The bikes were covered with grit by the time we arrived in St Jerome after a short 20 mile ride. The trail was in good condition, although a bit soft in a few spots. The last 5 or so km were paved and by then the rain had mostly stopped. There was no hose available at the old train station park in St. Jerome so we ran the bikes through the fountain. After removing the panniers and rack I rode my bike to the rental car place ($90 CAD for the one way rental to the airport). Had I been a few minutes later the one available car would have been rented to another customer.
Back at the station we put the mostly folded bikes in the car along with our panniers and headed back to Sofitel in Montreal to pick up our suitcases. Traffic was backed up and we were behind our projected schedule. At the hotel the doorman allowed us to leave the car next to the entrance while we loaded the bikes and gear into the suitcases. The $10 in tips were well worth it. We made quite a spectacle working in the lobby next to the main entrance.
We made good time to the airport, where Kerie looked after the suitcases at departures and I dropped the car off at the rental place after briefly getting lost. We checked in with time to spare. Of course the flight was delayed and we had a tight connecting flight in Toronto. Fortunately we just made the connecting flight and somehow our bags did as well.
We enjoyed our time in Quebec touring Montreal and riding Le Petit Train du Nord trail. We had great weather except for the final short ride to St Jerome. The autobus shuttle worked out well and could be used to customize a tour to/from various locations along the trail. The Cyclo Gite package worked as planned, the inns were in good condition and clean and the food was very good. We would like to return to do more exploring of the area. Biking in Montreal was better than expected although some of the cyclists were a bit crazy and aggressive. Even so, most obeyed traffic laws.
Observations about cyclists and motorists in Montreal/Quebec
- Motorist's behavior - Almost all motorists were very courteous and respectful of bicyclists and pedestrians. Rather than playing chicken to see if they could avoid having to yield, most would anticipate an oncoming cyclists and wait for them to cross.
- Cyclists' behavior - Most cyclists generally obeyed traffic signals, although many riders would start a little early in the cycle, just before the light would turn green, and many would ride through a yellow/red light at the end of the cycle.
- On your left - During the entire week of riding in Quebec only one cyclist warned they were passing on the left.
- Helmet use - Very few Montreal cyclists wore helmets or dressed in bike clothes. I would guess about 20% wore helmets and 1% wore cycling clothes.
- Bike racks - Many racks were scattered around the city, most commonly on parking meters that had a ring around them that could be used to lock the bike. The mini inverted U racks were like a grill rack only wider and more functional although not great.
Here's a video of parts of our bike ride from Montreal to St. Jerome, Quebec along La Route Verte. The video lasts for 9 minutes.