Bruce and I enjoy riding our bikes in Canada and we’ve had the Véloroute des Bleuets on our “to do” list for several years. In 2019 we contracted with a company called Pure Adventures to do a self-guided trip to Quebec City and the Véloroute des Bleuets around Lac St. Jean. We usually take our own bikes, but this time we decided the logistics would be easier if we obtained bikes through the tour company. Pure Adventures also arranged our lodgings and luggage transport between hotels. They provided a suggested itinerary for each day and gave us Ride With GPS routes for the section around Lac St. Jean.
August 1-3: Relais Charles Alexandre, Quebec City
August 4: Motel Lac St Jean, Chambord
August 5: Hotel de la Borealie, St. Felicien
August 6: Motel Chute des Pères, Dolbeau
August 7: Auberge Île du Repos, San Monique
August 8: Hotel-Motel Les Cascades, Alma
Thursday August 1 – Fly from Reston to Quebec City.
Highlight: Museum of Art
We set out for Canada, flying first to Montreal then to Quebec City. We were in a hurry and got confused in the international section of the Montreal airport. We strayed out of the secure perimeter by mistake. We frantically rushed to the security check point, hoping to make our connecting flight. We had to wait through a long line, plus we both got pulled aside for further screening. The guard checking Bruce’s bag pulled out his water bottle and tossed it in the trash. I realized I also had water in my bag. We had filled our bottles at Dulles once we passed security there, not thinking that we would be screened again. Thankfully the nice guard who checked my bag took pity on me. She walked outside security to dump the water and then returned my bottle. We rushed to our next flight and soon arrived in Quebec City.
After a somewhat harrowing ride with a lady cab driver who nearly clipped some bicyclists, we got to our hotel Relais Charles Alexandre, our home for three nights. The hotel is located in the “upper” part of Quebec City and was near restaurants and shops on both Avenue de Cartier and Grand Allee Est. We checked in and lugged our bulging duffle bags up the narrow twisty staircases to the second floor. After settling in a bit, we walked to the National Museum of Fine Arts, located just behind the hotel. We intended to grab a bite to eat in their restaurant on the terrasse overlooking the Plains of Abraham, but the restaurant had closed minutes before. Instead we got a snack at the museum coffee shop and ate outside in front of the museum next to a nice flower garden. After our snack we looked at several exhibits in the museum, including the works of Joan Miro. For dinner we walked to the nearby bustling restaurant district and ate outside at Petits Creux et Grands on Avenue de Cartier.
Friday August 2 – Quebec City loop.
Highlight: Montmorency Falls
This morning we picked up the bicycles we would use in Quebec City from Cyclo Services. We had rented bikes from them in 2018 and were familiar with the business. We intended to walk to the shop and then ride from there so we had to carry everything we needed for the day with us when we left the hotel. Although we were renting bikes, we each had brought a lot of our own accessories, such as lights and mirrors. Bruce also brought a mount for his phone/GPS and I brought my own pedals. I also had brought my own saddle, but I didn’t think putting it on for two days in the city was worth the trouble. After breakfast at the hotel, we had to schlep all this stuff plus our helmets, etc to the bike shop, trekking down the steep quad-busting hills from the upper part of the city to the lower part.
The staff at the shop was a little confused about our reservation for bikes, thinking at first that we had signed up for one of their guided bike rides around the city. After a few phone calls and some paper shuffling, they realized in fact they had set aside two bikes for us and brought them out. The shop mechanic put my pedals on my bike and then we attached the other doodads ourselves, trying not to be too conspicuous. The shop also provided nice panniers and cable locks.
The original plan for the day was to ride on the Corridor de Littoral trail to the base of Montmorency Falls, a ride we did in 2018 during our previous trip to Quebec. The waterfall, which is 272 feet high (taller than Niagara Falls) is a major scenic attraction. When we mentioned we had done that before, one of the employees suggested we ride up Avenue Royale, one of the oldest roads in North America, to the top of the falls. He cautioned the on-road route would involve riding uphill. We decided to ride on the road to the top of the falls since we wanted to eat lunch there anyway.
We set out on the Littoral trail system then cut over to Avenue Royale. I was nervously anticipating a big hill after what the bike shop guy said, but the climbing was not bad, especially with the wind at our backs. The road was lined with charming homes and small businesses. Soon we arrived at the upper part of the falls, which was teeming with tourists. We’ve learned in these situations to go for food first before sightseeing. We locked the bikes and made for the restaurant, where a line already was forming. This time we were too early; the restaurant didn’t open until 11:30 am. Bruce found out they took reservations and got one for 11:30. We went down the path next to the falls to watch people zip lining over the gorge for about 20 minutes, then went back up to eat lunch.
We were the first people seated on the outside deck. The weather was beautiful, in contrast to 2018, when we encountered a cold, misty day and we huddled in the snack bar below the falls for food. Throngs of people walked below us on the trail to the falls.
After eating, we walked across the suspension bridge over the falls and gazed down far below at where we visited the previous year. We briefly explored a trail on the opposite side of the river, but the temperature was rather warm and soon we got back on the bikes.
Bruce mapped out a way for us to ride a bit further up Avenue Royale and then get back down the cliff to the trail system along the St. Lawrence River. We had great views from our vantage point above the river and breezed along. We wanted to go farther but Bruce wisely realized we had a tail wind. We turned downhill at Rue Casgrain and rode back to town on the Littoral trail system, into a head wind.
The head wind was the least of our concern once we got back to the city because we had to figure out how to bike back to the hotel. The old town of Quebec is a warren of steep, narrow streets – many are one way and/or paved with cobblestones. Tour buses, pedestrians, and crazy local bikers whiz by everywhere. Did I mention the hills are quite steep? Google maps showed us a route, but we soon abandoned it. We chose whatever way looked the least steep and was going the direction we wanted. I had to stop several times to let my pounding heart rate go down, but I didn’t walk. Eventually we reached more level ground at the top of the escarpment and breathed a sigh of relief that we survived the climbs. We rewarded ourselves with cups of ice cream from Chocolats Favoris. Back at the hotel, we stored the bikes in a back room downstairs.
For dinner we walked along the lively Grande Allee and popped into Copas for paella on the outdoor patio. We sat next to a couple who had driven 3 hours to spend the day in Quebec and now was heading home.
Saturday August 3 – Quebec City loop.
Highlight: Pont de Quebec
The tour company’s suggested itinerary for today was to ride the ferry across the St. Lawrence River to Lévis, bike the trail out to a viewpoint to get another look at Montmorency Falls on the opposite side of the river, then bike back across the St. Lawrence using the Pont de Quebec (Quebec Bridge). We decided to modify the plan because the weather forecast called for rain in the afternoon. We had done the ride to the overlook last year, but we had skipped riding the bridge. We flipped the itinerary in order to ride the bridge first, and then go to the viewpoint.
First we had to figure out how to get down the hill from our hotel to the trail along the river by going through the Plains of Abraham park behind the hotel. Any backtracking would involve riding uphill, which we wanted to avoid. We eventually found a rather steep trail leading down to the river.
Many locals were out on the trail paralleling Boulevard Champlain along the St. Lawrence enjoying the morning. The bridge loomed high in the distance. The bridge is 3,238 feet long, and 341 feet high. It has collapsed twice during its lifespan. This does not exactly inspire confidence.
I began to wonder how we would get from the river up to the level of the bridge. We stopped at Cageux Wharf to study our map. Bruce asked several people whether bikes were allowed on the bridge. The first lady wasn’t sure, but she pointed out a road across from us leading uphill that she thought would be the way to go. Bruce then asked a more serious looking cyclist, and that guy said yes, bikes were allowed and in fact he was going to the bridge himself. He pointed out the same road (Impasse de Cageux) and told us a trail at the top next to the railroad tracks would take us to the bridge. But, he cautioned, the route would involve climbing. He offered to let us follow him, but we declined, knowing that we would be a lot slower.
We left the river side to begin the climb, which miraculously also turned out to be an easy one. We found the trail and proceeded to the bridge. Near the bridge we saw many families on their way to the Quebec Aquarium.
The bike part of the bridge resembled a claustrophobic metal catwalk cantilevered on the bridge. Cars were zooming by on the main span. The bike bridge was too narrow for anyone to pass and the sides appeared to have open areas at the bottom. I’m sure the view was spectacular, but I was too scared to look anywhere but straight ahead. I tried to take deep breaths and not curl up in the fetal position. We were very happy to get off the bridge and onto the Parcours des Anses trail along the river.
We passed through several small villages and parks on the east side of the river and reached the point where we had turned around last year when we rode partway to the bridge. As we neared the ferry, the skies darkened, the temperature dropped, and the wind picked up. We decided to bag the rest of the bike ride and jumped on the Lévis ferry. We parked the bikes and were heading to the top deck when we ran into the same cyclist who had told us about the bridge. Now he was going to ride north to his home in nothing but his bike shorts and jersey and said getting wet would not make him cold. We, on the other hand, were determined not to get drenched before we got back to Cyclo Services, although we were ready with full rain gear. We bolted off the ferry and pedaled back to the shop and returned the bikes just in time to avoid getting soaked.
Now again carrying all of our heavy bike accessories, we walked to nearby La Dominicaine restaurant for lunch. We sat at the open front window watching people scurrying by in the rain. After lunch we wandered around an arts festival near the waterfront where the city market used to be.
Then we faced the long march up the hills to our hotel. Thankfully the rain had let up before we began the ascent. We stopped to look at as many sights as possible to break up the climb. We went by Chateau Frontenac where we had poked our heads in last year. We couldn’t face the crowds this time. We continued through the Old Town of Quebec past the small shops and eateries along the Grande Allée. The city was getting ready for a big festival to be held the following weekend and some of the streets were blocked off. We ate dinner at Cafe Krieghoff on Avenue Cartier, followed by another helping of ice cream at Chocolats Favoris. We also went to the market at Les Halles Cartier and bought a few snacks to take on the shuttle to Alma the next day.
Sunday August 4 – Shuttle from QC to Alma. Bike from Alma to Chambord. 30 miles.
Highlight: Microbrasserie du Lac St-Jean
After breakfast at the hotel, Alex from Equinox Adventure picked us up in a brand new van to shuttle us north to Alma. He grew up in Alma and told us a lot about life in that area. We enjoyed hearing stories of the measures set up to stop “mooses” from wreaking havoc on the highway. The scenery in Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier was beautiful. After about 2½ hours of driving, at about 11 am we arrived at the Dam-en-Terre resort where Equinox Adventure is located.
The bikes we got in Alma did not live up to the ones we had in the city. Bruce got on three bikes before accepting one. He pointed out several potentially dangerous mechanical problems on each bike but the staff person told him all the bikes were like that. I had them put on my pedals but I decided not to haggle with them about putting on my saddle and adjusting it. We asked for panniers and they rummaged around and gave us some really beat up mismatched bags. The ones Bruce got would not lock down on his rear rack and he spent the whole trip worried that the bags would fly off if he hit a bump. We also asked for locks and they gave us some really short cable locks that we were barely able to wrap around objects and the bike frames. The bikes did not have fenders, which really are needed for a multi-day bike trip. The shop hadn’t even pumped up the tires; Bruce grabbed a pump and did it himself.
A young lady gave us an orientation about the highlights of the next 5 days on the Véloroute des Bleuets. We had studied the tour book ahead of time so we were somewhat familiar with the attractions. She confirmed that our hotel that night did not have a restaurant, but it did have a grill. The owner would let us “make a barbecue” if we wanted. We wondered how we would get groceries etc on our bikes to “make a barbecue.” Perhaps we could pick up road kill along the way? We knew there was a microbrewery on the day’s route, but we weren’t sure if it was open on Sunday or whether it offered real food.
Just as we were about to set off, rain started falling. Not a good omen. We rode out of Alma and crossed several small dams that are part of the Hydro-Quebec system. We had eaten breakfast at 7:30 that morning; now it was after noon, breakfast was a distant memory, and we faced a 30-mile ride. We knew we had to find food before we got to our evening hotel, which was not located near a town. Thankfully the rain stopped and the sun came out, although we had a brisk wind.
We stopped at the restaurant at Fromagerie Médard, but of course it had just closed at 2 pm. We got there at 2:05. We checked out the cheese sampling room, but the overwhelming odor of cheese and an abundance of flies did not appeal to us. We pressed on, pinning our hopes for food on the microbrewery, Microbrasserie du Lac St-Jean in St. Gédéon. Hooray, it was open and it had good food. We sat outside on their patio. As long as the sun stayed out, it was pleasant. When the sun went behind the clouds, it was cold. We decided to gorge ourselves on a late lunch and then eat our emergency snacks for “dinner.”
After lunch we rode on, mostly on nice trails into a headwind. We encountered a few hills as we neared the outskirts of Chambord. We arrived at Motel Lac St. Jean late that afternoon. The woman at the desk spoke no English and was rather impatient that we didn’t speak French. Another guest saw our predicament and translated for us. They let us keep our bikes in our room. The motel indeed was situated right smack on Lac St. Jean. The wind was whipping up waves on the lake that practically lapped at our room. A few guests wrapped in jackets and blankets were huddled on the shore enjoying the views. We walked out on the fishing pier for a few minutes before retreating inside. We thought about ordering take out, but in the end we ate some fruit and energy bars for dinner, feeling sorry for ourselves. To add to our “misery,” none of the TV stations were in English.
Monday August 5 – Chambord to St. Felicien. 30 miles.
Highlight: Val-Jalbert Historic Village
We had a basic breakfast at Motel Lac St. Jean then headed back on the Véloroute des Bleuets trail towards Chambord. The route skirted the center of town so we didn’t see much of Chambord. They’d had a western event at the local fairground the previous weekend, and we did see evidence of the horse-drawn parade on the street.
This morning we visited Val-Jalbert historical village. The village prospered during the early 1900s only to become a ghost town when its paper mill abruptly closed in 1927. During its heyday, the village had electricity and running water thanks to the Ouiatchouan Falls (taller than Niagara Falls). Now it is a park. Many people want to see the falls and walk on the wooded trails along the river.
We locked our bikes near the visitor center and hopped on a small train to carry us up near the falls. The costumed guides narrated the short tour past the former convent school, general store, post office, and other buildings, some of which had fallen down. Unfortunately the commentary was all in French, so we didn’t get much out of it. After alighting from the train, we jumped on the cable car to go to the top of the falls. We looked at the raging water then took a stairway down to the next level where another view of the water awaited. After wandering around the falls we got back on the cable car for the trip down to the former mill and hydroelectric power plant. Now a long line of people was waiting to get on the cable car. We were smart to go to the falls early.
We were happy to find the park had a nice big snack bar where we ate lunch. Afterwards we attended a multi-media presentation in the room where the turbines used to operate. The room darkened and mist enveloped us to simulate the falls. Images of townspeople were projected on the walls and the narrator told the story of their lives. Of course, we couldn’t understand this either. Later they simulated snow falling from the sky. The presentation was fascinating; too bad we don’t understand French.
We got back on the bikes and went onward to Roberval, where we began to see a lot of bicyclists zipping about. We stopped at the town marina where a huge group of riders was lined up for free ice cream. Most were wearing shorts and jerseys, while I had on long tights and a jacket. We discovered they all were part of a large multi-day ride sponsored by Velo Quebec, a nonprofit organization that promotes cycling. We used to do this type of large ride, e.g. Bike Virginia, but we got tired of the crowds and having to wait in line for food and restrooms. Now we were a little dismayed to find that about 1,400 cyclists would be going on a route similar to ours, potentially overwhelming the facilities in the small towns.
We rode out of Roberval and saw many Velo Quebec riders heading the opposite way into town. We stopped briefly at the Musee Amerindien de Mashteuiatsh. We liked the “Classic Rock” exhibit that married art from rock and roll posters with First Nation images.
We checked into the Hotel de la Borealie in St. Felicien then rode a short stretch into town to find a place to eat using the town’s two-way cycle track. We settled on a Chinese joint Restaurant Ô Mets Chinois, not realizing that several more restaurants were just a little ways further down the road. The waitress didn’t speak English. Our wait would have been shorter if we simply ate their buffet. Instead we ordered off the menu. They served us huge portions and we were stuffed.
We were in a nice new wing of Hotel de la Borealie. The hotel had several outdoor patios overlooking the Ashuapmushuan River but nobody was outside because the weather was too chilly. We stored our bikes in a room in the basement.
Tuesday August 6 – St. Felicien to Dolbeau-Mistassini. 34 miles plus out & back to zoo.
Highlight: Zoo Sauvage
After breakfast at Hotel de la Borealie we went downstairs to retrieve our bikes. Several other people were doing the same thing. We realized some of the Velo Quebec people must have stayed there as well. We encountered many riders milling about downtown. Thankfully they headed in a different direction from us on the other side of the river.
We rode on a route defined by neighborhood streets and trails out to the Zoo Sauvage. The Canadians had devised a way to get from town to the zoo without going on the main highway Rt. 169, which we greatly appreciated. We saw some folks preparing to raft down the river.
At the Zoo Sauvage, most of the animals are not in conventional cages. They roam around large enclosures on the 1,200 acre complex. In a nice twist, humans are in “cages” aboard a small open air train that carries them out on a mini safari to see the animals. We went straight onto the train that soon entered through the gates into the realm of the animals. The narration again was in French so we had to use our imaginations. Quickly a group of black bears ambled up to the train. We wondered if the operators put out food for them to associate with the train. We saw a herd of galloping caribou. We finally got to see moose and even grizzly bears and wolves (safely fenced away from the other beasts). We got a kick out of seeing Odocoileus virginianus (white-tailed deer) and Canada geese, which many consider pests at home in Virginia. The train also passed some ramshackle buildings showing what life for people such as farmers and trappers was like up there in the old days.
After our train ride we wandered around the other part of the zoo and saw monkeys, tigers batting around a large metal ball, and red pandas lounging in the trees. A crowd was waiting to board the train when we returned to the station. Getting on the train first paid off for us again. We ate lunch in the zoo’s very nice snack bar. After our lunch we went out to watch the polar bears get fed.
The zoo was quite excited because two polar bears had borne a cub this year. Each mother and her cub had their own enclosure and swimming spot. One pair had a huge swimming pool with a glass front that allowed bears and humans to see each other. Mother and cub were swimming around, delighting the humans in the amphitheater. The other pair was resting on land at first and looked more like brown bears because their coats were covered with soil. Eventually they jumped into their swimming pond where the cub cavorted with a traffic cone and barrel. Their white coats emerged as the water washed off the soil.
The keepers brought out the food, which looked like cantaloups, not much of a meal for bears. They also tossed out a few tiny bits of food. Small arctic foxes had a home next to the polar bears and they snuck in to try to grab some morsels. These wiry and wily foxes were my favorites.
We finally had to leave the animals and get back to business. We had to backtrack to St. Felicien and then go another 30 miles to Dolbeau-Mistassini. For a while we rode parallel to the east side of the Ashuapmushuan River. A few miles later, we took a break at a huge industrial plant that we assumed was a pulp processing operation. Once our nostrils became accustomed to the smell emitted by the plant, we hardly noticed it.
We paid a price for lollygagging around the zoo all morning. About 10 miles into the afternoon ride, the rain started again. This time we donned full rain gear from helmet covers to booties. To add to the discomfort, a lot of the ride was on the dreaded Rt. 169, a major thoroughfare. Traffic, including logging trucks, zoomed by us, the noise magnified by the wet road. We were not in a mood for sightseeing. We gritted our teeth and rode hard. We went through the small towns of Normandin and Albanel, hardly looking up. We ignored several “pick your own” blueberry farms.
On the western outskirts of Dolbeau, we stopped at a couple of overlooks on the Mistassini River and then crossed the river on a bike bridge. We passed up several places I had wanted to visit (La Crémière du Nord | Les Halles du Bleuet); they were on the other side of Rt. 169. I was curious about the statues in front of these places that I had seen on Google Maps. We also rode past the observation tower at Parc Regional des Grandes Rivieres. All I could think about was getting out of my wet clothes and into a hot shower.
Finally we crossed still another bridge over a bend in the river and Motel Chute des Pères came into view. We went a bit farther on the trail to get a look at the Chute de Pères themselves, an impressive set of rapids on the Mistassini River. By now it was after 6 pm. While Bruce checked us in, I tried to peel off my wet clothes and dumped the water out of the bottom of my panniers. Because the bikes didn’t have fenders, our clothes and the bikes were covered with road grit. I was not in a good mood. Bruce poked his head out to announce he had made dinner reservations for 7 pm. I stared daggers at him. Later he had the good sense to change the reservations to a later time to allow us a chance to shower and decompress for a little while.
Our second floor room overlooked the falls and had a small deck. We soon filled all the available hangers with our bike clothes to dry them. The bathroom had an unusual pink sink. We hiked down the extremely long hallways for dinner in the motel’s dining room overlooking the falls. We ate inside; too cold to go out.
Wednesday August 7 – Dolbeau to St. Monique. 30 miles.
Highlight: Musée Louis-Hémon
We awoke to sunshine and saw a steady stream of Velo Quebec bikers pedaling on the trail in the same direction we were heading. While we ate breakfast in the motel dining room, we watched them through the picture windows as they stopped for photo ops with the rapids. We retrieved our bikes from the store room and set off with 1,400 of our closest friends.
The large number of Velo Quebec riders whizzing by made relaxing on the trail difficult. We passed through what I think was a forest demonstration project, but I was reluctant to stop to read the signs (in French) for fear one of the other riders would mow me down. We all rode though some residential areas where the street signposts were topped with cute blueberry sculptures. In the small village of St. Jeanne D’Arc, we stopped at the Vieux Moulin (Old Mill) historical site, where Velo Quebec riders were teeming about and waiting in line for the two toilets at the site. We reluctantly joined the line. Bruce earned kudos from the ladies waiting in line behind him when he lowered the toilet seat after doing his business. As we left, two staff people from the mill were rushing out to fix a problem with one of the overtaxed toilets.
For a while we were on a parallel road, but everyone also had to ride stretches on the busy Rt. 169 towards Peribonka. Bruce had scoped out a lunch spot in Peribonka and we hoped the other riders would not overwhelm the restaurant. Peribonka has a small ferry that carries people and bicycles to Pointe-Taillon National Park. We hung around the ferry dock for a little while then went to get lunch at Bistr’eau Pub Péribonka. Thankfully the place was not crowded. We sat outside on their deck and enjoyed the pleasantly warm weather. We did not see the Velo Quebec people again.
After lunch we set off to see Musée Louis-Hémon. The museum depicts the story of Louis-Hémon who lived in Peribonka for several months in the early 1900s. He was captivated by the Lac St. Jean area and its colorful characters and wrote a famous novel called Marie Chapdelaine as a result. Bruce read the book before we went on this trip. At the museum an enthusiastic young man who spoke excellent English gave us a private tour. The novel has been translated into many languages and adopted for many cultures and also has been adapted into several movie versions. The museum seemed to have a copy of every edition of the book from each corner of the world. Although our guide revealed several spoilers, he did not tell me Marie Chapdelaine’s life decision (whether to stay in Peribonka or leave for possibly a better life in the city) in case I want to read the book one day.
The afternoon was nice and warm as we rode to Auberge Île de Repos in St. Monique. The auberge is an interesting laid back resort on a small island with cabins, beach volleyball court, fishing, and so forth. I had read an online review of the place that said the rooms had no TV, no shampoo, no soap, and no hair dryer. All of the above proved to be correct.
We checked in and Bruce used one of their wheelbarrows to cart our luggage to our cabin; then he had to lug the bags up a narrow set of outdoor stairs. The room was quite warm, which actually felt nice after being chilled for several days. I was prepared with shampoo and soap from home, but no hair dryer. I used the room fan as a “blow dryer” instead. We locked the bikes together under the stairway outside.
We ate dinner on the patio at the auberge. Looking at the photos around the inn we guessed that it must have been an old hippie hangout back in the day. After dinner we strolled out to reconnoiter the route off the island in preparation for the next day’s ride.
Thursday August 8 – St. Monique to Alma. 30 miles.
Highlight: Pointe-Taillon National Park
Mother Nature again was not in a good mood on our last day on the Véloroute des Bleuets. We managed to walk to and from the dining room for breakfast without getting wet, but by the time we got on the bikes we had to put on our rain gear. Shortly after leaving the island we ran into road construction. But not to worry. The Canadians had set up a signed bicycle detour with cones and bollards to separate us from the cars. (Why can’t we figure this out in the U.S.?) Soon we were off the main road headed toward Pointe-Taillon National Park.
An unpaved trail traverses the park. Parts of the trail are in forested areas and in the middle it enters a more open boggy area. We didn’t see any wildlife unless you count three lads who hurtled by us on fully loaded bikes. Whenever we stopped, flying insects descended on us so we didn’t linger anywhere very long. Although the rain tapered off, it continued to “spit.”
Our pre-trip orientation said to pick up lunch at a gas station in St. Henri on this day because nothing else would be available. However, we discovered the tiny visitor center at the national park has a small snack bar and we got sandwiches there, happy to get out of our bedraggled wet clothes for a while. People in clean, dry clothes were coming in to rent bikes to ride along the shoreline trail. Others were moving their stuff into the campgrounds using wheelbarrows. The park has a beach but nobody was swimming or sitting out there. We could barely see the lake through the mist. After our lunch we said good bye to the park and headed for Alma. Thankfully the rain let up.
The route to Alma required a lot of riding on Rt. 169 and also involved some hills. We couldn’t really enjoy the downhills for fear our rental bikes would fall apart. Bruce also worried about his panniers becoming airborne. They routed us off Rt. 169 whenever possible. For example, we stopped behind Presbytere St-Coeur-De-Marie and caught a view of Lac St. Jean. Rt. 169 had shoulders that disappeared whenever the road went over a bridge. We would try to time each bridge crossing during a lull in traffic and then we would make a mad dash to try to reach the other side. I began to get tired from riding up all the hills.
We had a respite on a brand new trail outside of St. Coeur de Marie that jogged along the Grande Discharge River for a short while. As we neared the north part of Alma we saw a family with two kids on bikes heading towards Rt. 169. We wondered if the parents were going to take the kids on the busy road, but we didn’t hang around to find out.
We stopped at the Maison du Velo D’Alma (cycling visitor center) on the outskirts of Alma to look for Véloroute des Bleuets souvenirs. The two young staffers didn’t speak English and left us to our own devices. We both bought a bike shirt that is one size too small. Our true sizes weren’t available. We wanted to support the cause and we got them anyway. Leaving the shop, we headed down another trail towards the bike ferry that would take us to Ile Maligne. Another couple with fully loaded bikes and two kids in trailers were on their way to the ferry also.
The bike ferry is a free service provided on the Véloroute des Bleuets. The ferryman waits in a small shelter for people to arrive then shuttles them across. The boatman quickly came from the opposite bank to fetch the six of us. The parents hauled their large rigs aboard and then we crammed in. The short ride let us out on a trail that proceeded over several more small dams in the Hydro-Quebec system. Before we knew it, we were back at Equinox Adventure.
We removed our accessories and pedals and turned in the bikes. Our luggage was waiting for us in their office. A shop employee took us to Hotel-Motel Les Cascades, which is on a section of Rt. 169 without much charm, mostly strip development. He didn’t speak much English so conversation was limited. He offered to help us with our bags, but we declined, a decision we later regretted.
After checking in, we realized our room was on a different level of the motel, which is built on the side of a hill. We had to drag our duffle bags through the parking lot down a level. Afterwards we realized we could have easily rolled them inside via a connecting corridor, but we didn’t know that until later. Once upon a time the room must have had a view of the Saguenay River, but vegetation had long since blocked the vista. The motel supposedly had a place to eat called Restaurant Panoramique and Bruce went upstairs to check it out. All he found was a dark hallway and a locked door to the restaurant. I was not too enthused about having to walk across the Rt. 169 bridge into town to find dinner. We felt marooned.
Then we remembered a back way into town along quiet neighborhood streets. Alma has a wonderful pedestrian/bike bridge across the La Petite Décharge of the Saguenay River within easy walking distance. We navigated to the bridge and then forced our weary legs to hike up a long staircase into town. We first headed into Microbrasserie Lion Bleu, but they had no outside seating available and their menu was mostly bar food. We left and went across the street to Le Crapaud (The Toad), where we were seated on their deck. We had a very good dinner and excellent desserts on our last night in Quebec. After stuffing ourselves we walked back down the stairs to the river and admired the lights on the pedestrian/bike bridge, which change color every few minutes. A short walk by the town dog park led us back to Hotel-Motel Les Cascades. The hotel was a curious place with long empty hallways. It reminded me of The Shining.
Friday August 9 – Shuttle from Alma to Quebec City. Fly from Quebec City to Reston.
Thankfully the restaurant at Hotel-Motel Les Cascades was open for breakfast. We intended to order off the menu, but the waitress informed us we would get the standard breakfast: a couple of eggs, potatoes, and toast. We tried to shovel it in. As we were leaving the restaurant, our shuttle driver Stephan from Equinox Adventure met us and helped us load everything in the van for the drive back to Quebec City.
Our flight from Quebec City to Montreal was delayed, and we missed our connection in Montreal. The airline already had booked us on another connection leaving much later in the evening than our original flight. We had a long wait in the international section of the airport, being very careful not to stray out of the secure area this time. We bought a few things in the duty free shop and used our $20 voucher from the airline to buy dinner.
The revised flight was supposed to leave at 8 pm. That time came and went without any sign of a plane at the gate. Around 9 pm a plane finally arrived and the passengers got off. We were about to board, but then they told us we couldn’t get on because the ground crew had been called back inside due to lightning. When we were allowed to board, we were just settling into our seats with sighs of relief when the pilot came on the speaker. He told us they hadn’t put enough fuel on the plane to fly around thunderstorms on the route, and we’d have to wait another half hour for the fuel truck to pump in more fuel. I just about lost my composure at that point. The plane was freezing cold. Once we got going a woman in the seat behind me coughed and sneezed during the entire flight. We straggled home around midnight, 8 hours later than planned. I vowed never to fly Air Canada again.
We were pleased overall with the trip to Quebec City and Lac St. Jean. We gave the tour company our preferred dates, and they arranged everything.
The Véloroute des Bleuets is a well-marked route and riders don’t really even need a map to follow it. Although we had to go on stretches of busy Rt. 169, the route took us off the highway as much as possible. The scenery is nice, but not exactly magnificent like the Canadian Rockies. We did not encounter any trail ambassadors.
The motels were fine. The hotel in Quebec City was ideally located and afforded a choice of many restaurants. We would have preferred that the hotels on Lac St. Jean either have a restaurant on site or restaurants nearby. The luggage transfers had gone well each day of the tour. We never had to worry about the whereabouts of our bags. (Pity the poor person who had to haul my extra saddle around all week.)
On the day we shuttled to Alma, Equinox Adventure could have supplied a few snacks to tide us over until we found a lunch spot.
We were not very satisfied with the condition of the Equinox Adventure bicycle equipment we used around Lac St. Jean. The shop should have at least pumped up the tires! We missed having our owns bikes and all of our related accessories, but we liked not having to lug 50-pound bike suitcases on the plane and not worrying about our own bikes getting stolen or damaged during the tour.
After we returned, we provided feedback to Pure Adventures. They let us know this was the first time they ran this tour and they are interested in improvements. Equinox Adventure apologized for the condition of their bicycles. They had been overextended by all the Velo Quebec riders in the area that week. They had to give us lesser quality bikes and hotels because the Velo Quebec people had taken the good ones. We could have adjusted our dates of travel had we known that a large bike tour was scheduled around Lac St. Jean. We received a small refund in compensation, which was a nice gesture.