Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lac Megantic - loop ride around the lake

In our quest to ride Quebec's best roads' present stage, we are riding rides that start three hours or less from Montreal. Lac Megantic is just under this cutoff (just!) and yesterday this long awaited ride finally was ridden!

Parking, bike path access, and post-ride picnic were all at lakeside Parc de l'O.T.J.

Downtown Lac Megantic is still undergoing major reconstruction after 2013 disaster

Musi-Café reopens for first show, before new building even has walls!

May 13 - snow's not all gone, but almost all gone!

Gear Envy, big gear envy. The Bertrand feels very inadequate at this moment

Anglican church does not have steeple envy

Lots of nice roads and nice paved shoulders too

Scenery was frequently excellent!

We got up early and were on the road at 7:17 am - almost a new record for us! First stop was gas at L'Ange Gardien's cheap-gas-mecca on the Eastern Townships Autoroute, second stop was a few miles further at the Tourism Eastern Townships at the Granby exit-for maps and bike maps. (Very convenient, very useful, a mandatory stop!)

Then we drove and drove some more until we arrived in the Town of Lac Megantic. We had known of this ride around Lac Megantic for many, many years, and we finally made it, with perfect weather conditions too.

We parked at the Parc de la O.T.J. which is right on the lake and bike path. To our surprise there was a major media scrum in and outside: many camera's, satellite trucks and multiple TV networks. This was either about the re-opening of the destroyed in last summers catastrophe Musi-Café, the arrest of three MMA employees for the disaster, or something completely different. We looked at media reports this morning and did not see any camera shots or interviews from this location. 

This impressive media presence wasn't about us or this excellent and popular bike ride.

All we know that this was a great location to start and end the ride. Lake, beach, change rooms and toilets, benches and picnic tables, free parking, closeness to food stores, closeness to bike path, but what, oh what does OTJ mean? 

Then we headed off around the lake in a counter-clockwise direction, as advised the "Le Québec dans 30 Boucles" bike ride guide to Vélo-Mag magazine readers' favorite road bike rides. We like this guidebook a lot, even if some of the rides have variations that we prefer slightly compared to the guidebook's chosen route. 

The Park de l'O.T.J. is bike-path connected to the main bike path in town that takes you out of town (we started heading west). The paved path changed to a rock-dust trail that was in good shape and solid for our 700x25 tires. Some deer were closely watching us and a partridge did its best to intercept our trajectory, but we continued with no other obstacles. We went through the campground and the quiet road instead of the Rt 263 to Marston, big hills and crappy road, but quiet. In Marston we joined the Rt 263 for some more good climbs.

We stopped for snacks in Piopolis, then we continued south to the turnoff on to Rt 161 back north to the town of Lac Megantic. There is a new rest stop at the corner here with great views.  We briefly considered a little out-and-back south the Woburn, but that no-shoulder road quickly made that an undesired option. The road had generally been equipped with decent and (mostly) clean paved shoulders and we didn't feel like a no-shoulder/ride-the-white-line was an enhancement to today's ride. Good news for the future: It looked like a rebuilt road with paved shoulders will soon replace the present death-highway segment to Woburn.

North to Lac Megantic has one major highlight: a roadside lookout tower!  We love lookout towers (Hello Saint-Malo near Coaticook and Ile aux Coudres in the Charlevoix).

Excellent lookout tower on Rt 161 S of Lac Megantic

A short while later we were entering the town of Lac Megantic and riding along the edge of the rebuilt (in progress) downtown (rebuilt after the major disaster there last summer).  We noticed that the Musi-Café was hosting it's first show since the night of the disaster, before even the walls have been put on the building-that's the spirit!

We got back to the parc and the calm and warm mid-may weather was perfect for a lake-side picnic so we went up to the Marché Lavallé (4298, rue Laval) and got some picnic foods and had a pretty good late lunch/early supper picnic.

 Phase 2 - Parc Mont Megantic-Secteur Franceville

The ride around Lac Megantic is only 60 km, so that's a short ride for such a long drive. We mixed up the fun with a hike in provincial park Parc Mont Megantic to visit the new Franceville sector, a completely new side to this excellent national park.

We arrived here at 6 pm after our leisurely post-ride picnic but that left plenty of time for a nice hike up to a scenic lookout halfway up the mountain.

The parc entrance was gated but we paid the fee at the check-in box and proceeded to visit this all-new side of Parc Mont Megantic. First impression: this is not a low-budget development. Second impression: will be be eaten by bears? Well it turns out not, but boy it was quiet in the post-apocalyptic sense.  

Americans may wonder why info in english is on a smaller sign. C'est normale.

Franceville entrance can't be missed!

 The Franceville secteur entrance is on a dirt road that defines "in the middle of nowhere" although there is a new multifunctional bike path from the village of Scotstown right to the Park entrance. (We were surprised, and pleased)

New welcome centre (Accueil) in Parc Mont Megantic Franceville sector

Our hike started from main road because early season park open but gate locked situation

We will say that both the bike ride around the lake and the trails in the Parc Mont Megantic's Franceville's sector were very well marked.

Trail along this stream (ruisseau) was a beauty

Trail up the mountain seems well-built and well-maintained

From our destination's lookout we could see Mont Orford

At this point we turned around, hiked back to the cars (always watching out for any bears or other carnivores following us, of which there were precisely zero, as usual) before darkness arrived, which was a success for a change.

To conclude, this was an excellent day for a bike ride and a hike and an exploration of a new area. Imagine, if you can, how nice this would be in summer! Also, fall colours around here are pretty spectacular.

Here is the link for the map for the ride.

Here is the link for town of Lac Megantic. There is tourist info and maps here.

Here is the link for the Quebec provincial park Parc national du Mont Megantic (the town is beside the lake while the mountain/provincial park are about 50 km away from each other). This is a favorite Quebec park of ours.


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