Fun — Even When You Get Lost
Text and Photos By Julia Bayly
We were on a mission. After reading several accounts listing Quebec as a bicycle-friendly destination, the time had come to find out.
So a couple of weeks ago my cycling friend Penny McHatten of Presque Isle, Maine, and I loaded up her car with two bikes, spare tubes, cycling apparel and enough snacks to see us through three days and roughly 120-miles over the trails of “La belle Province.”
Our point of departure was Old Quebec City and the plan was to follow a section of the “Route Verte” or “Green Route,” a network of roughly 2,500-miles of dedicated bike paths and secondary roadways criss-crossing the province.
For the more ambitious, the Canadian Route Verte runs from the Atlantic shore of Prince Edward Island to the Pacific Ocean off Vancouver. But that’s for another day. On this trip our goal was navigating the itinerary prepared for us by the friendly folks at Quebec Tourism.
So let me get this out of the way right off the bat: Cycling in Quebec is a total blast. That is not to say it was not without it’s challenges given Penny and I were on a largely unsupported ride in a land where neither one of us speaks the native French fluently, but overall Quebec is not only bicyclING-friendly, it’s bicyclER-friendly.
Challenge number one was fitting three day’s worth of stuff into the panniers—sort of bicyclists’ saddlebags—of our bikes.
For the trip I had brought along my trusty mountain bike while Penny had opted for a cruise-friendly hybrid bike. While both of us are far more accustomed to the feather lightweight and skinny tires of our road bikes, given that a quarter of our route was on gravel or sandy trails, we were glad for the heavier bikes.
That being said, if I do the trip again, I’d be sure to swap out the rugged mountain bike tires for smoother riding road tires.
The second—and greater—challenge was getting from point A to point B on our itinerary. Luckily, we’d taken a 10-mile guided bike tour through Quebec City the day we arrived and our guide took a moment to show us the trail leading west toward our first night’s stop.
We’d been warned the first eight or so miles were what the Quebec call a “faux plat,” or “false flat,” an expression used to describe a route that, while appearing flat, actually trends upwards. Indeed, our legs got a nice workout but the path was wide and paved and very bikable. Soon we were out of the urban areas of Quebec and on the 68- kilometer Velopiste Jacques-Cartier, a forested trail reserved exclusively for cyclists.
The end of day one found us at the very family-friendly Auberge Duchesnay, located on a hill overlooking Lac-Saint-Joseph and where we were directed to park our bikes in a secure large barn that was locked nightly.
Given the hotel targets families it would be a great place to take the kiddies but not one at all recommended for cyclists or travelers looking for a peaceful and grownup getaway. But, reservations had been made, we needed to sleep and one night there was fine.
If we’d had the energy after a day of bicycling, we could have taken advantage any number of activities offered there including day hikes, paddleboards, kayaking or canoeing. As it was, a plunge into the hotel’s Jacuzzi followed by a drink and nachos on the deck were activity enough.
We knew day two was going to be our longest day with close to 50 miles to cover between Saint-Catherine-de-la-Jacques-Cartier and Neuville in the Portneuf region, so we wanted to get an early start. Good thing as that day’s getting from point A to point B got off with a few false starts.
I will say this about Quebec’s cycling routes: Where the signage is good, it is outstanding. Where it is bad, it’s pretty much non-existent. But what some areas lack in directional signs, they more than make up for in friendly, helpful residents.
After an hour or so of intense map studying, reversing directions and attempts to navigate by moss on the north sides of trees, we literally stumbled across Velostation, a bicycle shop just off the bike path.
Shop owner and mechanic Guy got us pointed in the right direction toward the bike path Dansereau/La Liseuse taking us south toward the town of Pont-Rouge. This rolling gravel trail on an old rail bed follows the Jacques Cartier River and offers numerous rest areas and just an awesome ride.
From Pont-Rouge—where the bike trail ended—all we had to do was pick up Route 358 which, after 10 or so miles, would bring us to the busy, but very bike-friendly Chemin du Roy, or “King’s Way.”
All of that would have been easy, had we been able to find Route 358.
Since it was close to lunchtime, Penny and I decided to stop at a small pizza place and try our luck with both the pizza and directions.
Here Penny learned what may well have been the most valuable lesson of the trip—when ordering pizza through use of pantomime, do not point to the fellow eating the most expensive pie on the menu and say, “I’ll have what he’s having.” But boy-oh-boy, was that pizza with extra smoked meat and veggies ever tasty.
While we munched, virtually every diner in the place took a look at our maps, held a spirited discussion en Francais, and dispatched the lone English speaker back to our table with accurate directions to get us where we needed to be.
The rest of the day was a wondrous blur of cycling past farms, fields of corn, open air produce stands and cottages until we met up with the St. Lawrence River and turned east toward Quebec City and our night’s lodging at Auberge aux Quatre Delices in Neuville.
Owners Philippe and Catherine welcomed us into their centuries-old farmhouse where we had the B&B’s entire two-level apartment to ourselves.
Unfortunately the establishment’s restaurant was not open that evening, but that just gave me the excuse to have a serving of that Quebecois delicacy “poutine”—french-fries, gravy and cheese curds—at the diner up the road.
After more than 50-miles in the saddle, I figured I’d earned it.
Breakfast at Auberge aux Quatre Delices is a cyclist’s dream—three courses that included yogurt with seared fruit, a cheese sampler, bread, a mushroom and cheese omelets, sausage and plenty of coffee.
“We welcome tourists and bicyclists,” Mylene Robitaille, of Tourism Portneuf, said over breakfast. “A lot of people here don’t speak English and the English-speaking tourists are new to us but we try to give more service to compensate.”
Robitaille said her region has something to offer year-round from bicycling and agri-tours in the summer to back country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter.
“We are happy to have people come to visit our area,” she said. “We are excited to see new people and to show them what we have.”
One last cup of coffee and it was back on our bikes for the final push back to Quebec City where a tail wind made for a fantastic ride along the river and up some of the only serious hills we’d encountered the entire trip.
Mission accomplished. Quebec is very bike friendly and a great destination whether it’s for an unsupported trek or for a series of day trips in and out of the city.
And next time, I’ll be sure to learn my “droit” (right) from my “gauche” (left).
If You Go…
It’s a good idea to bring along extra cash as ATMs are few and far between on the trails, not all places take credit cards and items like water go for upwards of $2.50 a bottle. Comfortable cycling wear is a must and a good French-English dictionary would have been handy. There are long stretches with no stores, so pack plenty of snacks, spare tubes for tires and an emergency first aid kit and repair kit. Hotels like Hotel 71 in the heart of Old Quebec will allow cyclists on overnight rides to leave their cars in the hotel parking area and also provide a perfect home base for those wanting to do cycling day trips from the city.
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