Thursday, June 18, 2015

White Birch and Blueberries

     I've been around half of Quebec Province's Lake Saint-Jean and have biked on many of their bike trails called veloroutes which are solely for bicycles and pedestrians. One word comes to mind so far, "Amazing!"

     My campsite for two nights in Dolbeau Mistassini is directly on this bike route and a large grocery store is one-half mile away. How lucky can a bicyclist get!? My van is parked at the bottom of this bike path, facing the waterfalls . . . .

Here's a short movie clip of how close I am to the waterfalls; it zooms to where my van is parked.

     Since my sister and brother-in-law are at another town, we decided to each go our own way for a couple days. It's nice to be solo now and then. 

     I crossed over the Mistassini River on a bridge and saw these folks playing on a sandbar. And at another sandbar on the river, there were about 60 or so sunbathers and waders in the river. Folks here seem to appreciate being outdoors. I've noticed many restaurants even on busy streets with outdoor dining, including the second floor of restaurants, many balconies for outside diners.

On my way through town I stopped at a pavilion and a squirrel scurried out to greet me.  I reached into my sack and got a corn nut for it. It ate it. Then I gave it a second corn nut; instead of eating it, the squirrel stashed it behind a bench seat, and approached me for a third corn nut. Smart squirrel; it already knows how to work the system!

After a short time sharing a path with cars in town, I was on this 10-mile designated bike path. What's not to like about this path!

The predominant views on this path were the plantations of white birch . . .

and the blueberry fields.

 And a wonderful rest stop with a sign describing the vegetation and plantations in that area, a covered picnic table (with two bird nests on the rafters), a bench, a bike stand, and a short distance away (see red arrow) a toilet that is vented and doesn't stink. The Canadians think of everything!

     I saw a man and woman (about my age, early 60s) leaving this homestead, which has a good supply of firewood, in a 4-wheeler and wagon, traveling across the road to a field. Next to this lovely round home was a travel trailer.

     They were working hard on this crop. It's times like this, I regret not knowing French. I would most certainly ask about their lifestyle. My guess? Perhaps they live and farm from Spring to Fall, and with money earned from their crops, hook up their trailer, shut-down their round home for the Winter and go to Florida.

I saw this wall hanging at a store and thought to myself "how appropriate!" This area of Lake Saint-Jean is all about white birch and blueberries.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Vous Etes Ici - You Are Here

     We biked a trail yesterday that was probably once a logging road, but is now a bicyclist's road; no motors, no horses, and no dog walkers were allowed on this hard sand-packed excellent road.  And of course, great signage in French.

      Our 30-mile loop began and ended at our cabin in Albanel, Quebec on the far west side of Lake Saint Jean. The western side of Lake Saint-Jean is very windy with rolling farmland, pine and tree plantations, and thousands of acres of "wild blueberries". But the first part of this trail is a wonderful forest with dwarf-dogwood lining both sides of the trail.

Mostly pines but some birch . . .

     My sister's manual bike usually puts her last on the trail while my brother-in-law and I slow down our electric bikes so we don't lose her. But when my sister saw this on the trail . . . .

. . . she passed us and kept up an almost 20 mph pace without stopping! Most disturbing to her, when I finally caught up with her, was "it was fresh!"

     With my sister in the fast-paced lead, it didn't take long to reach the Mistassini River, where there was a cabin and toilet for a wonderful rest stop. The waterfalls were thunderous and furious of course; there's a tremendous amount of water in Quebec.

And these smooth shoreline boulders were also interesting.

My sister and brother-in-law celebrated their 16th wedding anniversary at the Mistassini River yesterday. Still as doting as two newlyweds!

 The trail strangely changed to a wide-open expanse of blueberry fields. But these blueberries are the lowbush variety in Quebec resembling the wild blueberry, a very tiny fruit harvested in August.

The berry is very small and turns almost black when ripe.

There are bike tours in August to the blueberry fields which turn a wonderful yellowish color during harvest.

We passed two beehive collections. Both were well-protected by fencing to keep bears out. My sister's comment, "There ARE bears here!"

   My brother-in-law's bike battery died before we arrived in Girardville, and when he saw this hill, he told us he needed an ice cream cone.

So my sister and I continued on to Albanel without him. The last eight miles were a seldom-used rural road which was peacefully scenic with farms, cows, hay fields and bales, and old barns.

     When we arrived at our cabin, she retrieved her husband's already charged back-up battery, got in their van and met her Sweety on the rural road with a kiss and a fresh battery. True love!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Park of the Cave

     Our destination this week is Lake Saint-Jean in northern Quebec province which is an "impact crater lake". This lake is fed by dozens of rivers and streams, and although it's the almost the same maximum width-length as Lake Tahoe in California, there's twice as much surface area because of the many inlets, coves, bays and tributaries. My sister, brother-in-law and I plan to bike on the paved bicycle trails around this lake.

     But before we unloaded our bikes, we visited a private park, Parc de la Caverne Trou de la Fee, which is the site of an old power plant that was closed in the 1960s. It's situated on the Metabetchouane River which cuts a beautiful gorge through granite boulders and forests. The entrance fee is about $15 USD and it includes a crawl through a cave where bats supposedly hibernate in the winter, and hikes on several trails paralleling the gorge to see water falls and unique plants that thrive in this misty cool damp gorge. This is the entrance . . .

The walk to the cave is cool and misty; we're headed up river to that covered bridge over to the other side of the Metabetchouane River.

On the other side of the thunderous furious pummeling falls is a peaceful river.

Then we climb stairs . . .

I'm hoping my brother-in-law knows where the trail to the bat cave is . . . .

Are we on a trail?

We arrive to the cave known as "the hole".

The non-English speaking guide with a flashlight gives us hard-hats and we squirm and bend and contort our bodies to fit the narrow passage ways which constantly drip cold water. We were glad to reach the end of this cave; it meant we could turn-around and go back to the sunlight! Our next surprise was the "three waterfalls" area. It was a beautiful path through balsam fir trees, paper and yellow birch trees, one lonely wild orchid, berry bushes, and jack pine. That's me (blue vest on backpack).

Lots of boulders to walk over . . . the red arrow points to me on the trail.

More rocks to step over . . .

Half an hour later my sister and I were rewarded . . .

The second and third waterfall was actually a confluence of two rivers with two different elevations, very unique.

Then our loop trail took us back to the Metabetchouane River to the old power plant via a unique round bridge from left-over power plant materials.

This is what the round bridge looks like from the overlook platform when we approached the bat cave.

After walking through what's left of the old power plant, we find ourselves on a zigzag boardwalk around a rockwall.

And three swinging bridges . . . .

And another trail which takes us back to the stone arch where we began our walk three hours ago. My 5' 3" sister's legs are barely long enough to get over this boulder.

I saw a Black Bear scamper off the dirt road when I drove back to town. Maybe this little hole under the white boulder is her lair?

The many little streams that feed the Metabetchouane River create a moist environment where moss, lichen, and ferns cling to boulders. 

Another rock-strewn trail . . . .

And more tree root-strewn paths . . . .

And after we round this last boulder, we're suddenly in a clearing near the stone arch entrance. I loved this adventurous trail. Yes, I've indulged in posting way too many photographs. S'il vous plaît, pardonnez-moi!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mont Tremblant of Quebec Province

     You might think Mont Tremblant, only 80 or so miles north of Montreal, is just a ski resort. But it's much more than ski trails on the slopes of the Laurentian Mountains. My sister and her hubby and me have been in Mont Tremblant for a week, mostly biking but some walking.

     Mont Tremblant has a race track for Formula One races, it has an Ironman 70.3 coming up on June 21, and it has rivers, streams, bays, and white-water. 

     It's a perfect weekend or summer escape. Folks come here to bike, paddle, fish, golf, zipline, and a number of other pursuits outdoors. And there's plenty of resorts, rental units, second homes and there's a hostel here too.

     And fortuitously, the The P'tit Train du Nord which is a 125-mile bicycle trail, winds through this town. This bike trail is astounding; the more I ride it, the more impressed I become. It's a rails to trail conversion and it connects many small towns including Mont Tremblant in the scenic province of Quebec. 

     The trail around the Mont Tremblant area (the town, the resort, and the ski area which are three separate localities) is maintained with mucho money, staff, and resources. It's amazing to me because in the United States, this rails to trail concept would get more "nay" votes than "yea" votes. In fact, my friend Chef Renauld of Montana says folks nixed the idea of the abandoned Old Milwaukee Roadbed being converted to a trail across the entire state of Montana. But here in Quebec, the Little Train of the North trail has apparently blessed local commerce with mucho tourism dollars. Notice the dotted center line? Mont Tremblant doesn't skimp on trail expenses.

          There's lush ferns everywhere . . . and six-inch dark green clover on each side of the paved trail. That's why we saw deer near the trail.

      My sister and I took the "P'tit train du Nord" to the grocery store in Mont Tremblant one day; a bit over seven miles one way. I just love this trail.

My sister reminds me of Miss Marple when she rides.  She rides a standard manual bicycle.

     But her sweet very-democratic husband rides an electric bicycle. I also ride an electric bicycle. So, today we three voted on whether or not to ride the Little Train of the North trail with a 4 percent grade or the extremely hilly spur trail to the resort of Mont Tremblant which is a bit more scenic. Surprise, surprise, the vote was two electrics against one manual for the hilly trail. But my sister's a good sport; she walked her bike up, and we patiently waited for her.

 The hilly trail rewarded us with white-water streams . . . .

And a crossing of the Riviere du Diablo . . .

This spur trail has several courtyards with picnic tables, bike stands, and garbage containers. On weekends, these courtyards are popular.

I'm wondering if these boulders were transported here from somewhere else? It's too picture-perfect! And being from the United States, I'm a bit skeptical.

If anyone gets lost on the bike trails, there's no excuse!

 But the most astounding experience was running into these guys trimming the tree limbs on each side of the trail!

     I stopped to ask him if he'd mind me taking his picture. We engaged in a conversation although my French is very poor and his English was equally poor. I told him it was great that folks maintained this beautiful trail, and he asked where I was from . . . Texas apparently is a word that doesn't roll off the French tongue too easily. He kept repeating "Texas" and asked if he was saying "Texas" correctly. It was funny, cause I could see he wanted to master that hard "X" pronunciation.

     I've enjoyed Mont Tremblant very much, despite this area being "resort-ish". It's still very much an outdoor enthusiast's nirvana, particularly for bicyclists. And to cap off the days of wonderful biking, my sister and I have had lots of fun preparing healthy dinners for her sweetheart and us. And fun clinking glasses to sisterhood too!