Monday, September 28, 2009

P'Tit train du Nord...a creative masterpeice!

This weekend, I cycled on the P'Tit train du Nord linear cycling path from St. Jerome to Mont Tremblant Quebec. This is a stone dust path that was created when the train was taken out of service. In the 1920's-1950's, downhill skiing was extremely popular in Quebec but there was no way to get to the ski hills of Val David and Mont Tremblant. The train was one of the few ways to take skiiers to their destination before the major highways were built.

The P'Tit train du Nord has preserved many if not all of the old train stations. At St. Adele, the old train station has been converted into a bike shop and a cafe. The Auberge at St. Adele was once the hotel for the train stop. Its walls are covered in old photos from the 1920s' to the 40's of skiers with ancient wooden skiis, knickers and long socks. There was one black and white photo of a group of rather solemn skiiers with the local priest and cure with them on the train, presumably for a blessing before the slopes!

Along the stone dust path, there are numerous signs indicating bed and breakfast, restaurants, camping sites, bike shops, and the ever popular depanneur.

The first night, I went to the Julianne restaurant with Karen as our host had told us it was the best in town. Karen and I had a leisurely dinner of fresh pasta, creme brule for desert and coffee. It was fascinating to watch the patrons. The restaurant was packed and patrons filled the tables, sharing a bottle of wine. What impressed us both was the level of chatter and discourse. I compared it to English (Ontario) restaurants where patrons are very quiet or they feel they need several drinks before the speak. The Quebec culture is far more appreciative of life itself and Quebeckers enjoy the pleasures of life, like food, wine, culture and sport. The food was splendid!

Our group started at the Auberge de P'Tit train du Nord in St. Adele Quebec. The Auberge is utterly charming and inexpensive. There is a large stone fireplace in a lounge. The lounge is decorated with comfortable rocking chairs and sofas and the tables are old trunks, presumably used by passengers of days gone by. The most interesting of the trunks was an old steamer trunk that stood vertically and had a chest of drawers inside. The rooms are named after the railway stops. My room was la Peidmont and was a large room with a queen sized bed, two windows, a chest of drawers, desk and a closet. It even had a TV and video player. For this I paid the princely sum of $50.00 per night, or $55.00 with a full hot breakfast in the morning.

There is a large dining area downstairs with a patio that overlooks the P'Tit Train du North cycle path.

On our first day, we took the path to Val David. The path wound by a river and numerous small waterfalls. The fall colours were splendid and the combination of the rising mist, the bright reds and the sparkling water made for many a photo opportunity. We continued to Val David where our host told us there would be a farmer's market. We arrived to find a splendid farmers market. There were alcoholic ciders, artisan breads, unpasturized cheeses, pastries, fine chocolates, ginger gold apples, numerous vegetables and artists displaying their works. It was a splendid sunny day and I was in gastronomic paradise! I bought a soft cheese called Le diable en vache, a bottle of alcoholic cider and a small loaf of bread for my lunch.

We continued to ride on the trail and on some roads with some hills, until we stopped for lunch. Our group, Jim, Andrew and Karen shared our spoils. There were fresh cherry tomatoes, cheeses, different breads, cider and curds to be enjoyed by all! The rest of the group at a different picnic table, each had their own lunch and missed the delights and the laughter of sharing. Some of them curious about our laughter came to our table only to discover an empty cider bottle and remnants of cheeses!

My bike would not shift into lower gears and Andrew and I went into Ste. Sauvere to look for a bike shop. Ste. Sauvere is a charming tourist town with sidewalk vendors and numerous shops and cafes all with brightly coloured signposts. There were dogs, children, old and young all walking the narrow roads in the glorious sunshine. We found a bike shop and a slim bearded man by the name of Daniel took my bike in hand. Within 20 minutes, my problem was solved and for $10.00 I was back on the road again.

There is something puzzling about a map printed out from google. It is very bare bones and has only one route. Andrew and I were searching for one particular street rather than looking for our destination which was the bike route to Ste. Adele. We asked everyone we could see and had different directions. Finally, after exploring numerous sports stores and stopping for a coffee we stopped at a large sign outside of a tourist hotel and discovered we were a mere 500 meters from the bike path! My adventures with Andrew were a lot of fun.

On Sunday, we awoke to a fine drizzle and then rain. The skies were dark and there were puddles forming on the bike path. Some cyclists decided to go home, others choose the path and four of us, Stella, Christine, Andrew and myself decided to go for a longer trip up into the hills and on the road.

The hills were steep and short and if you did not have the right momentum or cadence, which I rarely did, you were forced to walk part of the hills. The rain continued and we were soon fairly soaked. The downhills were steep and chilly. After some 25km we decided to turn back and our ride was only some 45km. I found the hills to be a challenge. We got onto the highway with a gentler gradient and I was able to resume my normal cycling speed. Andrew and I waited for Christine and Stella and I stopped at a Depanneur to buy three bottles of Quebec beer to share. I bought them for the beautiful labels. We rode back to the inn, showered and I opened my bike bag to share my treasures.

I learned that glass bottles in bike bags are not like steel bottles. One of my liquid treasures, la belge, had smashed and my bag was filled with broken brown glass and beer. I was fortunate that this bag only contained my treasures and a plastic bag and hence nothing was destroyed!

We drove home at 330 on Sunday.

Quebec is far more cycle friendly than any place I have biked in Ontario. Rather than bemoaning the loss of a train, and wondering what to do, they created a bike and ski trail that extends over 200km. There is a taxi service to take you and your bike to different locations, numerous supports and most important of all, it is well used. When we were touring, there were senior citizens on the trail hiking, older couples, young couples, children, teenagers, rollerbladers and even a man with skis on rollers practicing for the cross country season. The path and trails are a treasure.

Ontario has many abandoned train tracks and many small communities that were once serviced by trains. We could easily have our own p'tit train d'Ontario. In this way cyclists would be seen less as a nuisance and more of an asset.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Parc nationale de Plaisance Quebec

Today I had the pleasure of discovering la parc nationale de Plaisance. It is near Thurso Quebec and comprises of a series of islands, penisulas and marshes in the Ottawa River. It is a natural haven for birds and has dozens of observation platforms.

The northern cycling path was a challenge for my road bike, in particular when my wheels spun in the soft sand along the park roads, but the scenery was spectacular. I rode along sun dappled trails with marsh or river beside me. As we biked along the path a more beautiful scene awaited us. It was a pure delight to the senses!

We rode to Plaisance and visited the falls. There was a village near the falls from 1912-1925. No one knows why the village ceased to exist as there was no church nearby and hence, no records. There are post holes evident where the homes once stood and the site of a mill beside the impressive waterfalls. There is a small museum dedicated to the site and this history in Plaisance, but I did not visit it.

The parc is immaculate, with Yurts for rent, spacious cabins and what appeared to be hundreds of splendid picnic sites. We passed many canoeists and fishermen slowly plying the golden waters. Once we had arrived in Plaisance we took a ferry back to Thurso. The ferry was a pontoon boat and as the journey was 25 minutes, it allowed me time to drink my thermos of mint tea as I sat down.

After the trip, ably lead by Stella Val of the Kanata Nepean Bicycle club ended, I rode along La Route Verte back to Masson to catch the ferry to Cumberland where my car was was. I had cycled some 85 km. This was by no means a long ride, but the scenery and the fact that I was forced, because of the roads to go slower than usual meant that I was able to relax and enjoy the environment that surrounded me.

La parc national de Plaisance is a hidden treasure and well worth a visit!

Biking in Quebec and cycling deaths

It seems we cannot watch the news without hearing of yet another cyclist killed. Either they are sharing a lane with a bus, or hit by a car it is disturbing at best. City council seems unable to come up with a meaningful solution and the Police are giving out free bells.

Today I had a wonderful cycle trip along La Route Verte, which is a bike trail system in Quebec. I cycled along the highway 148 from Masson to Thurso en route to le parc national de Plaisance. Highway 148 is a very busy narrow highway but the Quebec government has simply paved a shoulder all along in both directions. I cycled as transport trucks and cars roared past me. Not one car honked their horn, nor did I hear "Get off the road". I did not have to share the road, I was on a paved designated shoulder and there were signs everywhere urging motorists to share the road.

Why can't Ontario adopt such a simple solution? It is not expensive, does not require the roads to be widened and allows cyclists to use busy highways. La Route verte is only one of the large cycling systems in Quebec and it extends from the Ottawa area all the way into Gaspe. It is well marked and there is ample information for lodgings that are bike friendly.

While Ontario and in particular, Ottawa city council appears blocked, it seems that one possible solution would be to simply imitate a system like La Route verte.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The new centurions

Here is a photo of two centurions. Steph and me. We had just completed a 100 mile ride, that is 160km. Steph actually had done more! I had often heard of century rides, and longed to do an imperial century ride, or 100 miles.

The imperial century ride is a great challenge and I learned that there is a vast difference between 120km and 160km. At 140km I was starting to get tired. I had taken a large pannier on the back of my bike and because it was large, decided to take 'essentials'. I took an extra bottle of coffee energy drink, almonds and raisins to share with everyone (I never even opened the package), a well equipped first aid kit, a small towel, a sweater, a brush, another shirt (in case), spare inner tube, complete repair kit, allen keys, pocket knife, notebook and pen and a camera.

I was told that there were no stores beyond Richmond and in Richmond stocked up with even more fluid just in case. The extra weight is not really an issue until you are riding on hills and for a long distance.

Our group leader was Tim Sparling who took us to Smith's falls. In Smith Falls there was a lovely little fair with vendors, colourful tents and a young girl singing. Steph wanted to pay her to stop!
We also checked out the local bike shop and Tim bought some ear covers so that he would hear more than the roar of wind when he rode. Tim has hearing aids and tells us it is like thunder. He reported that the ear covers worked!

On the way back, after Wanda and Rolly left at Peirces corners, the remaining Centurions, all male headed for home. I was riding 27km/30km per hour but I am sure they were doing at least 40! I arrived back in Kanata, elated and celebrated with Steph and Andrew over a beer. The centurions of this day were Paul Hough, Tim Sparling, Steph Novak and Andrew Chen as well as myself. While there are no plumes or eagles in the pictures, we are centurions none the less.

Carnivale Lune Blue a step into the 1930's

On August 27th 2009, I stepped back into the 1930's and rode a 1917 ferris wheel, attended a freak show complete with an electric chair and a bed of nails, watched acrobats in a tent and attended a museum of fair artifacts collected from the USA.

The Carnivale Lune Blue, is a painstaking reconstruction of the many travelling fairs and side shows of the 1930's. There was a strongman, Leviticus with a stretchy lionskin and a large handlebar moustache, a woman on stilts, world class acrobats in the Cirque Maroq, and a genuine sword swallower.

The fair itself had a 1917 ferris wheel and an old merry go round from that period. The games had prizes like Kewpie dolls and other games that you would find in the 1930's. The games were equally impossible even back then!

The carnival workers were dressed in period costumes. Most of them were history students who enjoyed their role. I had a chance to visit the exhibits and photographs of carnivals of the past and was fascinated by the sub culture involved and the necessary elements. Each carnival is like a play, there are characters that must be in the play and elements to make up a carnival. This carnival did not have a bearded lady, but it did have a snake show!

The freak show, Carnival Diablo was terrific. The host drank boiling water and mouthed razor blades. The strong man bent a steel bar with his teeth, the sword swallower swallowed a 27" steel sword and the woman who lay on the bed of nails also danced on broken glass. The freak show produced an electric chair from Illinois and the strong man sat in it and took an electrical hit, his head lighting up a flourescent tube for show. It was staged in a canvas tent with rough benches, true to the period.

The Cirque Maroq was breathtaking. It was housed in the original cirque du soleil tent. It was the story of two clowns who found themselves in an all female circus. The female acrobats were exceptional, in particular the german wheel. The strength and coordination required are incredible. We were all spellbound.

After the show, I had a pulled pork sandwich, which was traditional carny fare for that period and took some pictures of the band and the lady on stilts. For about 5 hours, I was in the 1930's escaping from reality and learning about carnivals in that period. It was a time when men like the famous Cuban would poke their eyes out of their sockets and put them back in for show, or when strong men would pull wagons. The carnival had the pole with a huge sledge hammer that you hit. Try as I might, I only reached 1700 out of a possible 2100 points. I did not ring the bell like in the cartoons, but I did do better than a lot of others!

There was a lady who would guess your weight. She was unpopular among women! The painted carnival signs, as in this picture were reproductions of actual posters that would be plastered over the towns. They told of freakish events, of siamese twins, bearded ladies, snake men and so forth. They were colourful, fanciful and in some cases true works of art with their interplay of the themes of light and dark and good and evil.

The 1930's ended for me when I decided to go home and had to negotiate a pitch black trail back to my car. I had left the elephant man, the sword swallower and the strong man behind. A world of wonders indeed!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Road rage and safe cycling

Five cyclists were on a road in Kanata when a van approached from behind, a cyclist was killed following an incident with Michael Bryant, another cyclist was killed outside of Toronto..and the list goes on. The blogs and columns speak of road rage. Road rage is not new but it seems that cyclists are very vulnerable. As a cyclist I have heard drivers yell "Get off my road" and sometimes the driver will blast his horn and cut us off. It is very tempting to retaliate and 'flip the driver'. I have also heard of cyclists who carry rocks in their pockets which they hurl at cars that pass too close, or worse using their U locks to do damage to the cars. The roads that we use often have very narrow shoulders with a lot of potholes and if a car decided to force us off the road, it could result in a nasty accident.

As cyclists we are well aware that retaliation is a losing proposition. The driver can always claim that he or she did not see us, and if we do damage the car, will claim vandalism. If on the other hand, we 'flip the driver' we risk the driver trying to run us off the road or worse as the tempers rise. In a recent article in the Globe and Mail by Christine Blatchford, Blatchford recounts an incident where road rage, and this was between Blatchford in her car and another motorist escalated to a frightening stage.

As a group however, we can document incidents of dangerous driving, take pictures and report them to the police. I believe this information should be shared with other biking clubs in case a pattern emerges or in case certain areas of the city are more hazardous than others. In this way, we can make cycling safer for all of us.

I also feel that given the tensions that exist between cyclists and drivers at the moment, that it would be beneficial to have town meetings whereby each side could express their point of view. As members of a biking club, we have a responsibility to the cycling community to hold forth a standard of responsible and safe cycling

Karine's Blog

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