Oct 8, 2006

Fall color tour

La Mauricie national parkJust came back from my "Fall Color Tour", which turned a bit into a "Failed Color Tour". Not because of some tour-stopping experience, but because I didn't take the planned route, then I cut the tour short after 9 days (17 planned) and last, the colors were not that colorful.

Large photos are posted here. And here's the story...

I leave Quebec City on the first day of autumn, riding against the crisp air on the "Les Cheminots" bike path. A roadie comments how it will be nice when we turn around. Yeah right, with the amount of luggage I got, I'm not on a day ride. I ain't turning around so I better make peace with the wind.

A controller is patiently waiting at the pavement's end. 5$ for the day or 10$ for the season to ride on the Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf rail-trail, which continues for another 65km through the laurentian woods northwest of Quebec City. The path is superb, well-packed and easy to ride. Sometimes the trees form a tunnel.

I didn't sleep much last night (working night shift) and get tired before the trail's end at Rivière-à-Pierre. I haven't met anyone for miles so I camp on a sandy patch close to the path. A couple passes as I was cooking supper. They wave, I wave back.

Drying stuff on Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf rail trailThe night was chilly. The tent and bike panniers are covered with frost and ice formed in my water bottles. I take my stuff out for drying while I slowly make breakfast. Oatmeal, dry fruits and hot chocolate. I better get used to it.

So I pack and leave and no more than 200 meters later around the first bend, a rest stop with tables under an open shelter, outhouse and a better view on a lake nearby. These kind of situations happen all the time when biking. I'd stop and take the heavy artillery to make a photograph, pack it back, ride out just to find a better spot moments later...

A few kilometers later I come across a campground. A few more and I arrive in Rivière-à-Pierre. I stop at a restaurant for coffee and take some cash and end up having a real breakfast. I'll be in the bush for a few days, why not a little luxury?

So I leave for the Portneuf wildlife reserve. I stop to register in town. It's hunting season in the WILDLIFE RESERVE (why that name?) so I wanna make sure I can go through without getting shot. The woman at the desk thinks I'm weird, doesn't know about the road out of the reserve I want to take and worries about me. No problem I say, I got an orange vest. Can I go or not? Yes, she says, no fee for me.

The road up the reserve is nice. Gotta be careful about the trucks. They don't see many bike up here. They just passed the grader so the road is soft. Going downhill is a tad scary. I'm affraid to lose control of the front wheel.

The scenery is great, the leaves are turning yellow. I pass several creeks, a river, and more creeks. Finally I get to the point where the road separates the reserve and the ZEC Tawachiche. ZEC stands "Zone d'Exploitation Controlée" (controlled exploitation zone). It basically feels like a wildlife reserve with little government intrusion.

I come across a quad trail going into the ZEC. Can't be my exit road out the reserve so I continue. I climb up, and ride down, almost lose control, then arrive at a lake. Hmmm, that lake is beyond my exit road so that quad trail must have been it! Oops! I turn around and climb up again. While checking for one of the numerous new noise my bike makes, someone stops to checkon me and confirms the quad trail is my exit road.

The quad trail is bone-shaking. I don't care much about my bones as I do about my bike. Poor bike. A few kilomters later I get to the ZEC main road. I stop a quad driver and ask about the roads in the area. He says I can't take my planned route because a bridge is missing. The river is 25 feet wide and two feet deep with a good current. The idea of crossing 25 feet of cold water 2-3 times to bring my stuff across doesn't thrill me. Beside, the quad guy said the trail is 3 times worse than what I've just been through. I think I'll take the main route leading to the pavement.

It's getting late so find myself a nice camping spot on lake Hackett. Later while in bed, the owners of a trailer parked across the bridge arrive. They start calling for moose. The next morning a loon wakes me up. I get up and moments later the couple realize there's a tent where they thought they heard a moose. LoL

While they check for tracks, I pack and go. The road is nice and well packed. A bit sandy in some curves and rocky on some hills but no big deal. After many flatish section, a fairly steep downhill reveals a wonderful scenery. The road after that is superb. It follows creeks and lakes, all with a slight downhill.

Fall colors - Zec Tawachiche
Close to the ZEC entrance, the road gets wide, flat, sandy, too soft and boring. By now it's raining steadily. I finally get to the pavement and OMG it's a whole lot faster! In the town of Hervé-Junction, I check my options and decide to make it to La Mauricie park. Between Hervé-Junction and Grand-Mère, the road is quite straight and boring. at least there's a good shoulder. Between St-Thècle and St-Tite, I follow a bike route with a bit nicer but those bike routes get on my nerve. They only put a little bike icon with arrows without saying where it's going.

In Grand-Mère I cross the wide St-Maurice river and head north to St-Jean-des-Piles, last village before the park. It's funny how fast one's state of mind can change. It's been raining all day. One minute, on a busy road, I'm ready to quit and the next,on a quiet road, I just want to keep riding in that weather for days. In St-Jean I have a few regrets when looking at highway 155 across the St-Maurice. The highway hangs between the river and cliffs. Gotta ride there next year. I also learn there's a ferry for peds and cyclist, so I wouldn't have had to ride down to Grand-Mère. Too late anyway, time for groceries and the park.

At the park gate, a young man and two girls welcome me. I asked about camping along some bike trail and he says those sites aren't accessible by bike, only by canoe. I asked about the forecast and a girl says it'll be rain for 14 days. Ouch!

It's saturday and the Rivière-à-la-Pêche campground is almost full, full of RVs. I didn't see a single tent. A group has taken a few sites close to mine. They are loud but I can't blame them for having fun. At some point though, some loud techno music begin. I turn red with anger instantly. What kind of idiots go to a national park to listen to loud music? I try to forget about it but can't. I hear two of them talking near the toilet building so I walk over and ask politetly to turn the music down or I'll do it myself using a baseball bat.

I wake up the next morning to the sound of rain. After some time under the tent, I decide I won't stay there all day so I head out for some hiking. A few steps and it starts pouring down. Hmm, I guess I'll turn around. I wait a little and decide to bike since my clothes are already wet so it can't get any worse. Just as I'm preparing, the rain stops and blue skies appear. Great!

Bike trail - La Mauricie national parkI head for trail #3, where I wanted to ride and camp. The trail is fantasmagoric. The trail is fairly easy. I follows creeks, lakes, even better than the ZEC. I come across the campsites I wanted to camp at. The young man at the gate was wrong! There are also refuges for skiers. It's paradise. After trail #3, I take #7 and #9 along lac Edouard. A bit less exiting but still great. It begins raining aagain but I don't care. I fanally make it to the main road, which is paved. From there, it's almost downhill all the way back to the campground. It's not too late so I pass the campground and ride to the welcome center which is still open. I take two more nights at the campground at the other end of the park and ask about the rustic site. The woman at the desk confirms the young man was ill-informed. Damn.

It's sunday evening and the campground is now nearly empty. I make supper in the communal shelter and leave some clothes to dry. The night is clear and take a few star photos.

The next morning, I pack up and ride the wonderful park route. Not much to say except it's a must for cyclists.

After many hills, I make it to Mistagance campground. I'm alone in my loop so I check out the other site and find some firewood left by other camper. I bring it to my site and will have a nice fire tomorrow. The next day is all hiking. I walk many short trails around Shewenegan picnic. Try to compose with gray skies. At least it isn't raining. In late afternoon, the sun peaks through and blue skies follow.

The colors have been patchy. It's mostly yellowish green with wery little red. I feel a bit limited by my bike and would like to have more freedom of movement for better photography. The forecasts aren't promising so I begin thinking about cutting the trip short and do the rest by car and heavy photo equipment to capture some wildlife.

The next is the best weather wise. Outisde the park is Route Verte #4 (green way). This bike path is not the typical rail-trail. It's very windy, with a handful 12% hills,something you rarely see on bike trails. It's also deep in the forest. One of the nicest bike trail I've come across.

I head south and finally decide to cut the trip short. I ride to Trois-Rivières to visit my sister and will ride to Quebec city tomorrow. Tomorrow's forecast calls for rain late in the day and since it always comes from the west, I should be able to ride in good weather all day. Wind will come from the south so I'll have it almost at my back. It'll be a good opportunity to ride from Trois-Rivières to Quebec under good conditions. Last year I rode this stretch under the rain and facing strong winds. Possibly the worst conditions I've had. It was sloooooow. The only reason I kept going was to keep warm and didn't want to take a day off early in the trip.

So I rode along the St-Lawrence. It was fast and easy. 135km for the day... I had done less than 400km in the previous 8 days! I made it back to my parent's house, which I started from. They weren't there and it was still early so I took a shower and drove back to Montreal to drop off the film. Yes, I still use film.
Zec Tawachiche

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