Oh mon dieu - j'aime les vacances.
Yes folks, I love being on vacation.
Particularly with someone who loves the same things that I do and who thinks cycling for five hours a day in the blazing sun is fun. Someone who is willing to practice French for weeks before going just so he can order his own ice tea and speak to the locals.
Last week was my birthday week. Not because I'm one of those people who likes to celebrate their birthday for days on end but because it's the week I normally book off in the summer. Where I work we get our birthdays off so it only takes four vacation days to give me a 9-day holiday. Last year, we did the Simcoe Shores Relay Race and then headed to Gravenhurst in the Muskokas for a few days. This year, we decided to explore Québec for five days. We had heard about a cycling trail called Le Petit Train du Nord (The Little Train of the North). It's a 200km rail trail that has been converted into a cycling trail. It starts in Mont Laurier and heads down to St. Jérome (about 50k north of Montréal).
We headed to St. Jérome last Wednesday at the crack of dawn. It was a seven-hour drive (if the traffic was good) plus lunch and water refill breaks and we wanted a bit of time to explore the town. We took my little Nissan Versa and had worked out a system for getting two suitcases (mine being much much larger as Doug pointed out on multiple occasions), two bikes, helmets, bike bags, purses (well, ok one purse), water bottles, coffee mugs, and enough snacks to feed everyone on the trail into my hatchback. It wasn't very elegant but it worked and we were able to keep everything relatively out of sight and inside the car. I've never had a bike rack before and didn't like the idea of whizzing down the highway, possibly in the rain, with our two bikes exposed to the elements.
The drive to Québec is fun. Eighty percent of our journey was in Ontario and then, not long after we passed Cornwall, we saw the Bienvenue à Québec sign and everything immediately changed. English was no longer the language of choice and the Canadian flag was replaced with the Fleur de Lys. Instead of Swiss Chalet - it's St. Hubert and Giant Tiger is now Le Tigre Géant. I grew up speaking English and French fluently but, having little opportunity to practice French now that I'm finished school, I'm a bit rusty. I was excited to have the opportunity to practice my Joual.
We had to be at the train station (la gare) in St. Jérome at 7:30am on Thursday morning so we figured we had better find it the night before. After a quick check-in at the hotel, we headed into town. As we got closer, I knew that we were headed somewhere fun. Bikes were everywhere. On cars, in cars, being walked, being ridden. We got the sense that we were approaching a cycling mecca.
We pulled into a very large parking lot full of cars with bike racks. There was an old caboose, a train station and a huge archway that read: Parc Linéaire Petit Train du Nord Kilomètre 0.
We had arrived!
Cyclists were everywhere. Hardcore folks riding Cérvelo with their clip in shoes. Grandparents and kids, people preparing to head out for a short ride and others coming in looking like they had just cycled all 200km in one day.
We went into the Bureau Touristique and got a map of the route - and yes, I asked for it in French. We explored the downtown, walked along the rivière, had a lovely dinner of mussels and veal parmesan and headed back to the hotel. It was a long day, a long drive and we had a long bike ride ahead of us.
Lights out at 8:30pm like good little cyclists