Monday, September 18, 2006

The "Trans Lanaudiere Ride" project

Ask your friends about the Lanaudiere region. what's their answer? That's where the the music festival is? It's Quebec's tobacco farming region? It's the flat lands along the Saint Laurence river? No one answers "it's got some of the best mountainous road cycling in Quebec."

From Montreal, everybody thinks that the land to the north is the Laurentians. These are the laurentian mountains. But, the government one day got involved, and now there's two regions to the north: the Laurentians and the Lanaudiere. These are the same mountains, but there's technically two tourist "regions." Everyone knows the Laurentian region, with Tremblant as the big mountain to the north. But, what's east of Tremblant? Yes, it's the Lanaudiere, and it's also full of hills and mountains. Is it good for cycling? Not just good, it's great for fans of two wheels on the road.

I spent the summer exploring the northern part of Lanaudiere. South of this point is civilized North America. North of here are national parks, forests, preserves and ZEC's, the start of the thousand miles of northern bush until you run out of trees, and then hundreds of roadless miles later, you arrive at the Arctic ocean (ok, technically the Baffin Strait). I set out to explore this last east-west road network at the northern edge of civilization. North of here the bear, fox, moose and other creatures of the northern forest make up the population. Sure there's a few roads heading north, but they are one-destination dead end roads. I had never been here before, would I want to come back once my explorations were finished?

For the typical montrealler, heading north means crossing Laval on the 15 and heading straight up the Laurentian Autoroute, usually no farther than Tremblant. Instead of this now-familiar routine, I headed east to Jolliete and then north. For one thing, the Saint Laurence river heads north-east in direction. So the mountains are a lot closer to the river than further west.

My first destination was home to 19th century circus strongman Louis Cyr, the village of Saint Jean de Matha. I had looked in a bicycle guidebook to Quebec, "les Petits Escapades" which suggested a loop ride circuit around this village. My first visit here was at the end of June, on Saint Jean Baptiste day, Quebec's national holiday (now renamed La Fete Nationale). The scenery was nice, it is here where you enter the mountains. What would it be like on bike? The answer came quickly. I locked the car, crossed the highway onto a quiet country road, and in about four minutes after I started pedalling I was struggling up a 20% climb!


Luckily this was a short hill, but it set the tone for the rest of my Lanaudiere explorations. I had found hills, and I wanted more, more more more! Happily, Lanaudiere delivered these hills no matter where in the region I went, and by the end of the summer I had completed the entire trans-Lanaudiere east-west circuit on assorted saturdays and sundays. It's roughly 150 km across, and depending on how you do it it would make an excellent 200 point-to-point day ride. It has plenty of villages, each with it's own character (this is not a clone-town region like we see in populated areas, with the same megagiantcorp chains infesting every town with Tim's, MacDo, and Couche Tard at every highway intersection. Happily, the mass corporatization of our consumer society hasn't quite reached here yet. What was even better is that between these villages, there are back roads that cross farms, forests, hills, ridges, valleys and best of all, chains of mountains.

Where to start? There's almost too many choices, so I'll list them starting from the west and we'll voyage eastwards.

Tremblant to Lac Superieur

This essentially connects the next section to the populated Lauentian area around Tremblant. You could also start at St-Faustin/Lac Carre. I haven't actually ridden this section yet, but it is the logical choice to connect to the amazing road described next. From Tremblant, follow the road to "the north side" and then in the direction of the "La Diable" entrance to the Parc Tremblant, except be sure to turn for Lac Superieur. A few kilometres after the lake will be a road on leftside going to St-Donat. I a couple of kilometres more this road will transform from a tiny country road into a brand new, just built 30 km through the forest, which sees so little car traffic that it is known as "la chemin cyclist." Before a couple of years ago there was no road here at all, so the usual "cottage country" landscape hasn't yet been built, (it's beginning, but if you hury you'll see everythng in the natural state.

15 km

Lac Superior to Saint Donat

The amazing new road (aka "chemin cycliste") to St-Donat. 4 stars. Really big hills, big scenery, excellent road quality, and no condos! This is one of the best sections of road ever to be built in quebec. Once at eastern end, there are paved shoulders to Saint Donat. If you didn't start at tremblant, it is recommended to start at Saint-Donat. For one thing, it's not tremblant. For another, you're supposed to be discovering Lanaudiere. in Saint Donat park at the municipal tennis court or the park pioneers (swimming).

40 km

Saint Donat to Notre Dame de la Merci

This short section on the Route 125 is still not done, I did the next section as part of a short day which unfortunately left me with short gaps at either end. Doh. Route 125 is major road and busy, but is very scenic. Good halte routiere at Notre Dame de la Merci, which is where I parked for the next section.

15 km

Notre Dame de la Merci to Saint Come

Wow! This is a great road, twisty, hilly, twisty some more, hilly some more. First 8 km has good road surface, but no paved shoulder, after that a paved shoulder all the way to st-Come. The route 347 traverses along side and at one point, through the Foret Ouareau regional park. Excellent scenery. 4 stars ride. Note, this is a very popular motorcycle ride, so riding early in the day will make it a more peaceful experience. It is one of the most scenic road rides of my life. Notre Dame de la Merci has an excellent rest area, I parked (on weekend) at the town hall/library next to the halte routiere. There's also a new beach, kids park, and little nature trail to relax afterwards.

30 km

Saint Come to St-Emilie de L'Energie

I messed up the last ride and didn't get this last ten kilometre. There's a big hill down to St-Emilie (BIG!). St-Emilie has a very nice tourist stop and sawmill history centre but it is a bit hidden. From St-Emilie you can ride south to Saint Jean de matha over some great hills, or ride directly to Saint Gabriel de Brandon.

10 km

Saint Emilie de L'Energie to St-Jean de Matha

Thisis a very nice forested climb, take chemin des feuilles des erables (maple leaf road), this road is located at the very bottom of that BIG hill. After a long descent (there's a rest stop here at the depanneur Lau-Den). At end of this road take the highway (left) to Saint Jean de Matha (good parking at at Musee Louis Cyr behind city hall. Note: The loop ride from Saint-Jean de Matha to east to Saint Gabriel, then west to St-Emilie and back via chemin de feuille d'erable is the first one I did in the region, and is one that I repeated three times since)

20 km?

Saint Jean de la Matha to St-Gabriel de Brandon

Start on street in front of church, cross highway (east) on to quiet country road, with a sharp hill just 4 minutes from town. Don't miss the turn off to St-Gabriel or you return on a loop to St Jean de la Matha. In St-Gabriel you can park at the big parking lot beside the tourist office and across from the Metro grocery store. The nice town beach is north about 1 mile (sign says plage). Eat snacks or supper at the beach. I parked here for the ride to Saint Alexis des Monts/Lac Sacacomie.

20 km

Saint Gabriel de Brandon to St-Alexis des Monts

Take the highway east to St-Didace, then turn left on 349 on a small road to Saint Alexis. Possible improvements to this road are in store for the future. It's forested and quiet. when the town line to Saint Alexis is crossed, the road becomes a bike corridor. Arriving at St-Alexis stop at a dep for a snack, but continue with the snacks to the rest stop beside the church and the lake in the town centre. There's a gigantic trout jumping out of the lake.

Congratulations: you have finished the Trans Lanaudiere!

35 km

Bonus ride: Saint Alexis des Monts to Lac Sacacomie

Officially, you have finished the Lanaudiere, but this last section is the icing on the cake. it is a wicked little ride and deserves to be done if any energy remains at all. (or if you rode from Saint Gabriel and will be returning on a out-and-back ride) Turn left at church to Lac Sacacomie (bad road for 8 km), turn at sign for Auberge Lac Sacacomie/Parking municipal Lac Sacacomie. This road is excellent 4 star quality. Enjoy excellent hills for 6.5 km. The road ends at hotel Lac Sacacomie You can stop here, or if returning, follow this advice: When returning, go down to the lake at the parking municilap de Lac Sacacomie. Then ride back up. You'll love me ort hate me, but you won't forget this hill for a long time. It's one of those the road can't be any steeper than this or it would be impossible to ride. (Yes, I find this sort of thing to be fun!). Once at the top of this, you have one of the best descents in quebec, let it rip! Woohoo! I hit a record maximum speed on this hill. Coasting! SInce the road is only 6.5 km long, you'll be be back at the crappy long before too long, but hope and pray that the long promised repairs are completed. Then it' back in Saint Alexis des Monts and you really are finished with Lanaudiere. Until you come back again!

15 km


When I read in the book les Petits Escapades, I looked at the hill profile and thought to myself, this looks interesting. That was an understatement. I enjoyed my summers' day trips to here, every time I was rewarded with great scenery and hills, and plenty of both. I saw a few dedicated cyclists along the way, but hardle any compared to the Laurentians region. Why the secret? I hope I can encourage more cyclists to come out and enjoys this jewel of a cycling paradide less than 90 minutes from Montreal. See you there!

For more information you can read ride reports from my individual lanaudiere rides on my cycling blog, cycle fun montreal.


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