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.

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