Thursday, June 30, 2016

Assault on Les Laurentides 2016

Last week was pretty fantastic, even though I only ran 4 times in the 2 weeks following the Conquer the Canuck 50k.

Saturday, June 18th we rode to Mille Roches campground on the St. Lawrence river - I had booked us a site near the Southwest corner of the outermost section (Snetsinger Island) a couple of months ago hoping for a pretty sunset. For reference, this is the campground:

(Photo from St. Lawrence Parks

After I managed to crank out a 7km run while pushing the pace to get back in time to watch the sun set with Tanker the Wonder Sherpa, we were not disappointed:

And then we made s'mores!

The next morning we rode the Long Sault Parkway, which is an 11km causeway that spans 11 different islands. Beautiful sunshine and blue water.

(Photo from St. Lawrence Parks)

Tank ready to rock out of the campground


After riding it both ways, it was off to Quebec for a night of camping at Parc National de Mont Tremblant in Secteur La Diable. We rode through the village a week before the IM was to be held, covering some of the bike and run courses along winding forested roads.

Lake and the ski hill

The pedestrian village in the distance
Sunset over Lac Monroe by the Discovery Centre

We encountered the first of the blackflies as we stayed in La Grenouille campground, appropriately named for the hundreds of various species of frog singing and croaking in the swampy area of Lac Monroe directly across from our campsite.

Which had some visitors in the morning.

Unfortunately we couldn't have a fire because the forest fire risk was extreme and so burning in the park was forbidden. The following morning we packed up and rode out to a couple of trailheads I'd read about.

Think we brought enough crap with us?

Chutes Croches (hook falls) was nice, but the trail out to and then the stunning view of Chutes du Diable were simply incredible.

Rail trail to walk on but surrounded by mountain forest.

We were even treated to a rainbow in the mist

Looks much smaller than its true 15m/50ft height, and nothing can compare to being buffeted by the spray of such a thunderous example of nature's power.

Off through the Laurentian Mountains, we battled strong, gusty crosswinds (65kph/40mph) that kept trying to blow me into oncoming traffic and seriously impeded my ability to enjoy the curvy secondary highways we traveled. It took us until 9.15pm and riding through the sunset in Les Laurentides before we reached Secteur Mont du Lac des Cygnes at Parc National des Grands-Jardins. We got our tent set up, had a park warden come by and not only sell us but deliver us some firewood (while warning us to be careful because the fire risk was extreme) and just barely managed to pitch the tarp before a raging thunderstorm came banging through the Pied-des-Monts (foot of the mountains) campground.

Drying out the next day

We awoke the next morning to more high wind gusts, but this stunning view on the way to the washhouse:

We rode up to the Mont du Lac des Cygnes (mountain of swan lake) Discovery Centre after confirming that via ferrata is only cancelled due to severe thunderstorms, then proceeded to climb a damn mountain.

Our guide called this "a nice flat spot" to stop for a snack.

The route was far more challenging than I'd expected, especially since the aircraft cable lifeline to which you are clipped is not to be used as a hold - there was much less hardware to grab than I'd anticipated, and given that I'm slightly terrified of heights and not a very good climber, I was cruising on adrenaline all afternoon (the route takes 5hrs starting with a tough, technical 30min hike; a stop at the teaching wall to ensure you climb safely; the parcours itself took us 3.25hrs, then another 30min hike back down to the via ferrata office). The 60+kph wind gusts trying to blow us off the mountain didn't help - nor did the 2 rain showers that resulted in wet metal hardware for hand and footholds.

Rain cloud incoming.

I got to a traverse section with no hardware at all for 3m/10ft or so, and was getting tired and ragged so suggested maybe I shouldn't continue. Our guide talked me into trying it, though (even offered to rope herself to me, which I declined) - partly, I'm sure, because it was her first time guiding to the summit of the parcours and she wanted to do the whole thing instead of just the traverse. She usually guides at a different park and had not done the La Montée section yet, which includes the summit trek:

"Poutre" are beams - pieces of 4"x4" wood you walk across in gaps in the rock (one is visible behind us in the snack stop photo). "Pont népalais" is a "Nepalese bridge" - just a piece of aircraft cable to walk across with 2 more for you to hold onto, and another piece to which you clip your harness.


I did eventually make the summit of the parcours, and enjoyed the view from the roof.

Tanker and I at the top of the lifeline.

Pretty glad I didn't chicken out after all.

Next morning it was another ride through the mountains - and a 40min rain shower - to the north shore of the Saguenay River and Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay.

Pining for the fjords.

We hiked out to the whale watching platform, but the belugas and harbour seals usually don't turn up until July and August so we didn't see any. Strangely enough, we didn't feel that disappointed.

Near Halte des Belugas right at the golden hour.
You honestly can't imagine how huge this really is.

Sun setting over Rivière Ste-Marguerite

The next morning we finally escaped the swarms of vicious, bug-repellent-resistant blackflies by taking a ferry across the mouth of the Saguenay where it meets the St. Lawrence and riding through a couple more rainstorms along 138, descending out of the mountains along the seaway to Quebec City, then on through Montréal and to Parc National d'Oka.

The beach at twilight.

We had to keep a very tidy campsite because the raccoons were incessant.
They also tried to steal my bike while we slept!

While fairly abandoned at twilight Thursday evening, I discovered while out running trails and the boardwalk early Friday afternoon that the beach was completely packed for St-Jean-Baptiste Day - beautiful sunshine and a hot afternoon for fête nationale, with seemingly everyone making the half-hour drive from Montréal to the park.

Hopefully with no land disputes.

We, on the other hand, went the other way. We rode into Montréal on Friday afternoon, booked into our tiny hotel room right downtown, then spent the rest of the day and well into the night walking and taking in the incredible sights, sounds and flavours (Schwartz's and Firegrill FTW!) of one of our favourite cities.

No trip to Montréal would be complete without this.
The meat is so good even the local pigeons turn carnivorous!
Unique parking at our hotel, but our bikes remained undisturbed!

Outside la Basilique Notre Dame on our way to a magnificent steak dinner

Saturday morning after demolishing some delicious galettes at a creperie in the west end (they even had almond milk so I could have a latté!), we rode the 623km home so we would have Sunday as a day to unpack and get ready to return to work.

7 nights and 2,700km/1,680mi later, it was nice to be in our own bed again. On Monday is was back into the swing of things with less than 4 weeks until the Dirty Girls 12-hour - yikes! At least I managed not to put on too much weight while we were touring - our only restaurant meals were in Montréal, as we'd hit grocery stores and I'd cook breakfast & dinner at campsites, then we'd snack on trail mix at fuel stops as our "lunch". Also managed to keep it down to a single glass of prosecco with our steak dinner to celebrate a successful tour - only drank water other than that, though I did bring home a can of Glutenberg double-Belgian for after the next race..

I do miss the mountains and the incredible sights we saw, but running a trail just minutes from our house on Monday evening confirmed that there really is no place like home.

Also: not a blackfly for miles.

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