Sunday, September 03, 2006

Saint Alexis des Monts / Lac Sacacomie ride

Lac Sacacomie
Nearing the top of straight-up climb from Municipal dock

The fourth visit of Cycle Fun Montreal to Lanaudiere ended up with us leaving the region of Lanaudiere because we rode so far east that we crossed the invisible line over to region of Quebec called La Mauricie.

We had received a suggestion from the internet to try a ride from St-Gabriel de Brandon east to St-Alexis des Monts. And, it was further suggested, if we were looking for some fun then we should continue north to experience the road to Hotel Lac Sacacomie.

So we loaded the bikes in the car and headed out on the Met eastbound, and from Joliette we drove to our new destination of St-Gabriel de Brandon. New, because so far this year we have always been parking at the central location of St-Jean de Matha. All the rides we did here this summer were based on the first ride we did in this region, from the book Petits Escapades, which takes you to the far western corner of St-Gabriel, but not into the village itself. So today will be the first time we actually enter in to the village (via Rt. 348).

Ok, so the first challenge is always where to park the car and where is the tourist office and where is the route out of town?

We took a cruise through the main street (rue St-Gabriel) through town to the lake (It’s called lac Maskinongé and it’s pretty big). It helps to get our bearings and then we U-turned and returned to the middle of town. We stopped in the big parking lot for the pool/arena/community center, beside the Caisse Pop, the friendly and informative tourist information office, and, it was right beside the route out of town. Jackpot! This is also conveniently across the street from a large and modern Metro supermarket. In fact after the ride I got food at the Metro and ate supper at the lake-side public beach picnic area, located about five minutes north from here.

The ride goes from St-Gabriel de Brandon along the main road of Rt. 348 10 km to the tiny village of St-Didace, where we turned at the Crevier gas station on to the Rt. 349 to go 25 km to Saint Alexis des Monts. There are not a lot of villages to pass through on this ride. There was a new beaver dam beside the road that I stopped to look at. The 349 is a smaller road and is hilly and twisty, and does not have a paved shoulder. With plenty of roadside trees recently cut down, it is possible they are going to be widening it. That would be good news.

Fresh Beaver dam near St-Didace

After a few peaceful miles we crossed the town-line border into St-Alexis. I t was apparent that they liked bicycles: we found ourselves on a designated bike route! This town line was really deep in the middle of nowhere, so seeing the bicycle signalization was a bit of a surprise. I always like to see the effort that some towns make to help the two wheeled set feel at home.

This road gradually became more populated and we were arriving back in civilization at the village of St-Alexis of the Mountains (des Monts). So far the ride had not been very mountainous, just mildly hilly. There were none of the big hills like those to be found south of St-Melanie de l'Energie, for instance.

Since St-Alexis was in the La Mauricie region, I had to go find some new maps. All my this-summer’s maps were Lanaudiere-region-based, now I had to find some Mauricie region maps. Quebec is a big place geographically. This is actually a good thing. I went to the local Dep to get some snacks and see if I could find a local map. I was in luck, after I asked for a local map he took me to a place in the store far away from the “corporate-map-company” display, and I got a local St-Alexis map, for a mere 2 bucks.

It’s always great to be able to get the on-the-ground local map. Bigger maps never have the intimate details of a locally-produced map. This one got me located and as you will see, motivated too. In fact without this map I would have had 80% less fun on this day. Yes, 80%

I didn’t want to eat standing in a dep parking lot, so I rode a little bit further to the town center. Here was the imposing Catholic Church, and to my surprise, beside it is a lake, in the middle of town, with new picnic facilities along side.

Excellent lake-side location for our lunch stop

However, I was nervously noting that there was also a gigantic trout jumping out of the lake. When I say giant, I mean a 20-foot long trout. Trout are supposed to jump out of water and eat mosquitoes. This one was big enough to jump out and eat me.

One big trout

The St-Alexis tourist office was closed (on the weekend?), but the map I had bought at the dep turned out to be perfect for my needs. I had heard that the road to Hotel Lac Sacacomie was "something special" in the hills department. Since the ride so far had left me wanting more hills, I looked at the map to see where this place was. I originally had the impression that it was 50 miles to the west of here, but it turned out to be about 15 km away (i.e. 30 km out and back). That was just perfect to add it to today’s ride. I had mistakenly thought that this hotel’s road was 50 miles to the west of here. So this was a big surprise and a great bonus to the ride. And quite possibly reflective of some pretty slack planning.

I took a look around so I wouldn't get lost on the way back; the landmark was the National Bank (I mean, banque) that was on my road direction home. I really didn't want to get lost and stranded! Then I headed in the direction of Lac Sacacomie. Backing up the map was also a direction sign in the village.

Leaving St-Alexis: some remarkable roadside kitch

The ride now climbed upwards, we were heading into the hills outside of town. One note, the road quality of this section, about ten km, is terrible. Going uphill you are going slow enough to steer around road obstacles, but the descent later was not one of the joys of my life.

Soon we arrived at the turn on to the Lac Sacacomie road. There were some nice surprises. First, the road surface was top quality. Next, I had noticed we were following a river uphill, and were getting higher and higher above the river itself. Turning on to this road meant we were now suddenly confronted with a fast descent down to the river level. The first fast downhill of the day, and it was fast, wicked fast. Well, this was happiness inducing.

At the bottom, at the river level I quickly sobered up: the road continued up the other side and it looked steep. I started climbing and I soon learned that it wasn't just steep, it was steep AND long, and the steepness increased as I rode along. The bottom was actually the gentle bunny-slope area, the middle was steeper and was enjoyably twisting back and forth and still with the hard climbing, and then I arrived at the last section, straight up the hill for 500 metres. Straight up and steeper than below , in fact in an optical trick, it made the below area look like it was the flats! It was a solid, straight up the wall, unrelenting 15% climb.

The "Wall" was later to be one of the fastest descents of my life

Well, Woo-Hoo! Yes, I was still enthusiastic, later today this would be replaced with a kind of oh-my-god-how-slow-can-I-climb-this-and-not-fall-over mentality. But for now, I was happy, because I know that on the other side of every killer uphill is a great downhill speed-fest.

At the top I took a pic of the road sign for the hill behind me: “Danger: 15% hill” it said. Now comes the descent. In one of the quickest kilometers I’ve ever seen on a bike, the sign for the entrance to the municipal parking access area for Lac Sacacomie (some services) flashes by, and I was soon climbing up another big hill as the road winded it way around this hill-lined lake on the way to Auberge Lac Sacomie.

This was really good fun, and when I got to the end at the hotel, I wasn't sorry it was ended, because I knew I had those big descents to climb back up. The fun wasn't over yet.

I had a talk with the Hotel Lac Sacacomie doorman. I learned that maybe there's a possibility that the first part of the road will be repaired in the future. If so, this would be one of the best routes for cycling in Quebec.

I didn't stop for long at the Auberge. I walked from the hotel to the road to soothe my hard-worked leg muscles before tackling the hills again. They were just as steep going back, and when the sign for the Municipal lake parking area came up I turned to see what's up down there. It was a descent back to the water level, and it was almost insanely steep. At the water was a chalet (services) and a public dock and boat launch, I didn't do any off-the-bike exploration, which I regret, but I know I'll be back here again some time.

Before climbing back up I did have a talk with the chalet worker who was outside in the sun. We talked about me going back up the hill; I think she thought I'd have to find a truck to give me a lift back up the hill! No sir, I rode it all the way back to the entrance to here, and back up the main road, which would take me to the ultimate high point on this road: at the top of the steep ride back down to the river-crossing.

Climbing up here I noticed I wasn't the happy dog I was earlier, it was getting hard. The climb is about 100 metres in about a km: a very good hill indeed!

There are only so many 100% efforts anybody is capable of; I had used up my allotment. I know I should have ridden Cam Houde more than once a month!

The climb up had a flat section so I sat up while riding and relaxed, I looked around, and... Got stung by a bee.


It wasn’t fatal and I scraped out the stinger, and continued on my way, the sting changing from a red spot, to a loonies sized bump, then later that night to 3 inch wide red circle. I was happy that it didn't hurt too much at all. As you can see, I'll find any excuse I can to be happy!

Bee sting (minor)

A couple of minutes later I was on top of the hill.

15 percent descent - Speed Limit 40 km/m

And a maximum speed of 83.7!

The upper part of the descent: down "the wall"

I was looking forward to the descent to recover some energy, so I coasted all the way down, the top section I let it out, and went under control through the middle-section's turns, and then down the final bit and I was down at the river level again. My smile was big enough to dam the river! I checked out my max speed on the speedometer gizmo and it said 79.4 and this was an all-coasting descent. I was still in a state of jubilant glee, so with no one telling me that this was a really bad idea, I went right back up the hill again to do another descent, this time I would pedal the top section.

Good idea right?

Well..... Yes and no.

I got another great descent, and I got my max speed up to 83.7 KM/H. Nothing bad happened, I got back to the bottom again even happier than before, but the climb had definitely been an extra effort that used up some reserves I would have liked later, because as I got closer to home my speed was not respectable!

But that was later, I rode up the final climb and I was back on the main road at the sign that says Auberge Lac Sacacomie 6.5km. I took a minute to think about what a road this is. My mission this summer was to find and ride some great new hills. This one is on the list!

This road was a descent, but it was a rough road. It was all bumpy and bouncy downhill coasting, until I was soon back at St-Alexis. I made another pitstop at the dep for some mid-ride food supplies. Then I went back to the centre of town to eat beside the lake, in a different and more grassy’n’green location behind the church. There are lots of good spots to eat or picnic here. The bells of the church rang with the celebration of a newly married couple. Life is good, I thought. And, it was.

I still had to ride the 35 km back to St-Gabriel, luckily I knew it wasn't going to be hard riding. I followed the bike path directions back out of town to the Rt. 349. I now got to enjoy this road with the magic light of late afternoon. I stopped in a road-side sand quarry for a little break, away from the road and really, in just a few feet, deep in the woods. Sometimes on the road bike we don't get a real feel for the nature we are speedily riding through. Now, For a few moments, I got very immersed in nature.

When I woke up, I mean, with the short break now over I continued this away-from civilization section until I passed the beaver dam and got to the intersection of the 348 at St-Didace (population 589). I took a few minutes to cross the bridge into the village proper. The church perches high up the hill, there's a dep, and in a few hundred feet there's a dam or weir that maintains the level for the Lake at St-Gabriel de Brandon. I'm guessing this but more and larger boats were floating in the river than I expected to see in such a tiny (but it did have a golf course!) village. There was a park at the dam and you could cross the river on top of the dam. It was worth the stop, and some people (i.e. motorcyclists) were just stopping at the totally unscenic Crevier gas station for a break. You can do better than that; cross into the village itself!

St-Gabriel de Brandon to Lac Sacacomie

Then it was back on the main road, Rt. 348 and back to St-Gabriel de Brandon. From this road there was a pretty good view of the mountains to the north. In a few miles we arrived at eastern end of Lac Maskinonge. We took a short detour ride north on the road to Mandeville (we’re back at civilization: there’s paved bike path shoulder here), because the road aimed straight for these hills and in the setting sun it was irresistibly ultra scenic. I didn't go all the way to Mandeville, I was intent in just getting back home to the start, and home was close (think: supper!!!)

In a mile I was back at the edge of town and intriguingly, there was an alternative bike-path-route through town, avoiding riding along the edge of the highway route of Rt. 348. I took it, and it was interesting, but it was bombed-out road first paved in the 1940s and I don't think ever repaved. Oh well, it was going in the right direction, and I was riding slowly anyhow.

When I reached rue St-Gabriel, the main street of the village, I took one last detour. I went down to the water’s edge to the town beach (Plage). At the late hour I was there, it was free parking, so after seeing that the picnic tables were perfect for eating my supper I went back to the car, finally!

For once I remembered to check the bike computer to see what is the total distance of the ride, it was about 105km for the day.

I got changed, locked the bike in the car, and walked across the street to the Metro store to pick up some picnic-feast type food. Then I drove to the beach and to "the best seat in town” for supper.

I sat a picnic table on the edge of the park that sits elevated about five feet above the beach level. Here I ate my salade avec saumon sauvage d’Alaska salmon. with 7-pepper hummus and whole wheat baguette with jus d’orange and biere Labatt. I was sitting at the picnioc table on the edge of the beach, with not a road or a car in sight, and ate and watched the sun set across the lake and the light leave the sky. This had been an excellent day to ride a bicycle.

Lake-side sunset supper spot: another great location

Labour Day weekend is often considered the symbolic end of summer. If I might indulge in some reminiscences, let me say that I have really enjoyed exploring the Lanaudiere region of Quebec this summer. It has lots of great roads for cyclists seeking scenic settings to cycle some smile-filled miles! Next year I plan to explore the western side of Lanaudiere, where it connects with the Laurentians. Next month I am going to Trois Riviere to ride something, perhaps a loop through the Parc de La Mauricie, which was what my my coworker called “the hardest ride of his life.” Sounds good to me.

For anyone not yet convinced that they should visit Lanaudiere, then let me remind you of this one fact: One hour and 15 minutes from your door in Montreal is St-Jean de Matha. From this village you can ride in any direction and cycling happiness will be obtained.

Don't wait until next year, September is here and the trees are changing from green to the reds, golds, and yellows of the autumn. September and October are great months for biking. And they’re the last two months of cycling until next year. Break out the tights and woolie jersey, and get riding!

For the other Cycle Fun Montreal rides in Lanaudiere

click here for trip # 1 - original Petits Escapades ride in Lanaudiere
click here for trip # 2 - added side trip on chemin belle montagne to Saint Beatrix
click here for trip # 3 - made a great modification to eastern half of the ride

click here for a great Laurentians hill ride, the nearly new Saint-Donat to Mont Tremblant road.


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