Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Petit Train du Nord - Part Two

Thursday morning at 6am. We were up, dressed in our cycling digs and having our 'continental' hotel breakfast. We jammed our bags back into the car, under the bikes, and headed to Tim Hortons for our morning coffee. I gallantly offered to go in to order for us. I was, after all, the French-speaking half of this partnership.

Our order was simple. One medium decaf - black. One medium with milk.

I went in and listened to the people ahead of me place their order. Tim Hortons, after all, has its own lingo and it is not something you learn in OAC French class. When my turn came, I asked for "deux cafés moyens svp. Un décaf et un avec du lait".

My order was greeted with a very confused look and the question "est-ce que tu parles français?" "Do you speak French?".

Ummm yes, I am currently speaking French actually....

I tried again and this time my order was met with a hesitant "Ah d'accord" and the price. I paid her and walked out with what turned out to be one medium decaf - black and a medium vanilla latté with extra milk.

At least Doug got his order.

And I got to try my first ever vanilla latté which, as it turns out, has a LOT of sugar in it. By the time we got to the station my blood sugar was a whopping 18 and climbing. I bolused and Doug agreed that he would be in charge of coffee orders for the remainder of the trip.

At the station we were greeted by a very fun sight. A bus with a trailer attached for our bikes plus a mini van for our luggage. The bikes were strapped in within an inch of their lives - they weren't going anywhere.

Holding my café avec du lait (aka Vanilla latté)

Our luggage was weighed and, if it was less than the allowable 15kg, it was allowed into the van. If not, you had to pay for the extra weight. Doug's weighed in a 9kg. Mine weighed in at 21kg.

Back to the car I went to dump my running shoes, my sandals, my running belt, hair dryer and water bottles. I got down to 17kg and they waved me on without a comment...other than Doug's teasing jibes about how much crap I bring with me.

The cool thing about this trip is that it's all organized for you. The mini van transports your luggage to the first B&B (or gîte as it's called in French) and the bus takes you and your bike to Mont Laurier, 200km up the trail. We are told where our B&Bs are and we have to be there in time for dinner. When we arrive, our luggage is in our room and when we leave in the morning, we leave it at the door and it gets moved for us.


By 10:30am, we were in Mont Laurier. We were dropped off in a grocery store parking lot, our bikes were unloaded and we were left to fend for ourselves.

Two hundred kilometres of cycling and three days - here goes nothing!

Day one was the shortest day - only 55km. I say only with a bit of trepidation - we normally cycle 30km when we go out - I've done 60km once and never anything longer than that. I had no idea how my legs were going to hold up. How my neck and shoulders were going to survive. How my blood sugar was going to do. We hadn't trained for this other than our usual fitness routine of running, cycling and swimming. I hoped it would be enough.

Turns out it was more than enough.

Day one was lovely. The trail was paved and fairly quiet. I had pictured a much busier route where we would have to ride single file most of the way. Instead, we could cycle for 30 minutes without seeing anyone at all so Doug and I rode side by side. Sometimes we chatted, sometimes we pointed things out to each other, sometimes we quietly enjoyed the adventure.

We had too far to go to the B&B without stopping somewhere for lunch. This far up the trail the towns were few and far between so, when we found a place that looked even mildly inhabited, we stopped. The only restaurant we could see in any direction was a quintessential chip truck. Nothing says Québec to me like one of those. When in Rome...

I flexed my French muscles and ordered "deux cheeseburger, une poutine et une frites". I got an odd look from the man but he seemed to understand. He did comment on my accent though. He also thought Doug and I were completely crazy because we only wanted la moutarde on our burgers. No relish? No ketchup? Rien??

Nope, seulement la moutarde.

Some things, like homemade pizzas or soups, taste different when made by different cooks. Poutine in Québec tastes exactly the same no matter who makes it. One of the reasons going to Québec feels a little like going home.

Suitably full of calories, we resumed our ride to Nominingue, stopping en route to admire the scenery, take photos and check blood sugar. At two-thirty, we emerged from the trees to find ourselves at a lovely little train station. We had arrived.

We parked our bikes and headed into la gare where we met a lovely and very helpful woman who told us all about the history of the place and its French. When I responded to her stories with more questions  - she commented on my lovely French and accent.

From St. Jérome where they didn't think I was speaking French to the chip truck where I had a funny accent to Nominingue where I have a lovely accent. We were quickly discovering that there are pockets of people in Québec and each pocket has its own little accent and vernacular. I could understand them all but they couldn't all understand me. Funny.

We cycled the few kilometres through town to our B&B - Le Provincialart. A lovely house run by Guy and Dianne. Guy is Mr. Social who met us at the door with water and lime, who helped us put our bikes away and told us all about the house the town in about five minutes. They obviously cater to cyclists and their barn was all set up for our bikes. Guy assured us that they would be fed and watered and ready for us in the morning.

Dianne, his wife, kept more out of sight but we quickly discovered her talents at dinner. She is a trained chef.

We had a few hours before that though so we changed and headed down a path to the lake where we enjoyed a very refreshing, or freezing cold depending on how you looked at it, swim in the lake. We followed that up with a shower, a bottle of wine from the local dépanneur, and a pre-dinner game of cribbage. A family of three arrived (they had taken the bus up with us that morning) and another couple who were cycling the route from South to North. We all settled down for a four course gourmet dinner.

One post-dinner card game and it was lights out for everyone. Fresh air and hours of cycling makes for early bed times.


  1. Looks like you had a great first day. I'm looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip. Sounds fun!

  2. My French is so rusty that I'd be lost and I wonder what les Quebecois would do with a south Louisiana Cajun accent.

  3. Great trip, sounds like fun, fun :-) Hmm the accent thing - some people hear an accent and just shut down. They tell themselves I do not understand you and that is that.

    I love travel story :-) I need a vacation :-)