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Why Quebec beckons those on a bicycle

  • Cyclists get underway in Tour la Nuit, the annual Montreal bicycle festival's night ride, June 3, 2016. This year, on May 31, the crowd of some 10,000 will bicycle into and around Montreal's Olympic Stadium as part of the night tour. Montreal is a hotbed of cycling, with plentiful urban paths and access to long-distance touring routes and one of Canada's longest rail trails outside the city. (AP Photo/Cal Woodward) Cal Woodward

  • A cyclist takes in the St. Lawrence vista at Notre-Dame-du-Portage, Quebec. Along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River defines the magic of bicycling the Route Verte network. AP

  • Paule Bergeron takes in the scene in Place-Royale in Old Quebec, Aug. 27, 2018. Quebec City offers compelling urban bike routes along the river, out to Montmorency Falls and through intriguing neighborhoods, as well as access to the Jacques-Cartier rail trail running through forest, farmland and meadows. (AP Photo/Cal Woodward) Cal Woodward

  • Cyclists on Velo Quebec's Grand Tour sweep along a trail in the Eastern Townships, Aug. 1, 2015. More than 1,200 cyclists took part in the ride, which dipped into Vermont. This year's Grand Tour is in the Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean region. Velo Quebec is steward of Route Verte, a vast network of bicycle routes that has made Quebec a leading destination for cyclists. (AP Photo/Cal Woodward) Picasa

  • Quebec City's iconic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac dominates the city skyline from the ferry crossing the St. Lawrence River, Aug. 15, 2015. Riverfront bicycle trails on both sides offer easy cycling and striking views, while the Jacques-Cartier trail outside the city runs more than 80 kilometers or 50 miles through forest and meadows with several towns along the way. (AP Photo/Cal Woodward) Picasa

  • Cyclists chat beside a historical fresco in Old Quebec, Aug. 31, 2017. Nearby, the Promenade Samuel de Champlain path takes cyclists along the St. Lawrence River, past outdoor works of art and the lively waterfront, connecting them with a path across the river via the ferry or bridge. (AP Photo/Cal Woodward) Cal Woodward

  • In this Aug. 7, 2015, photo, Quebec and Canadian flags greet visitors at a shop on Isle-aux-Coudres, where a road circling the island shore provides a perfect loop for lovers of quiet roads, gentle hills, flats along the water and eye-candy vistas of mountains you don't have to climb. A free, 15-minute car ferry gets you to the island from Quebec's Charlevoix mainland. (AP Photo/Cal Woodward) Picasa

  • Towering equine topiaries dominate a carpet of flowers at the Montreal Botanical Garden, Aug. 10, 2013. Montreal is a hotbed of bicycling, offering a bike festival that draws some 25,000 cyclists on a June 2 ride along with access to long-distance touring routes and the nearby rail trail, P'tit Train du Nord. (AP Photo/Cal Woodward) Picasa

  • A bear takes a dip with a toy at Zoo Sauvage in Saint-Felicien, Quebec, Aug. 14, 2014. The zoo, notable for the wide open spaces turned over to its animals, is a favorite stop for cyclists circling Lac-Saint-Jean on Veloroute des Bleuets, the Blueberry Trail. The trail is part of Quebec’s Route Verte, a network of off-road paths and bike-friendly byways that stitches together wild places, pristine villages and a few buzzy cities in a French-flavored tableaux. (AP Photo/Cal Woodward) Cal Woodward

  • A view of the grounds at Manoir Hovey, outside North Hatley, Quebec, in the Eastern Townships, Aug. 30, 2017. Bill and Hillary Clinton vacationed with the Canadian mystery novelist Louise Penny at the inn along Lac Massawippi that summer. The Eastern Townships are laced with bicycle routes that make it a prime destination for cyclists sampling the Route Verte network of trails and byways. (AP Photo/Cal Woodward) Cal Woodward

  • Quebec in summer is a place of wildflowers, garden flowers and sometimes flowers in a boat, as seen in this Aug. 7, 2015, photo from Isle-aux-Coudres. A quiet road circling the island looks out on the mountains of Quebec's Charlevoix region and the broad St. Lawrence River, and can be accessed by a free car ferry. (AP Photo, R.M. Green) Picasa

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  • Visitors to Val-Jalbert, a re-created paper mill town from the 1920s along Lac-Saint-Jean, are dwarfed by the roaring Ouiatchouan waterfall, which once powered the mill. The spectacle dominates the town, both by day when visitors can stroll the streets, and by night when the waterfall is dramatically bathed in lights of changing colors and the town is reserved for guests who stay there. It's a popular stop for cyclists on the Blueberry Trail around Quebec's Lac-Saint-Jean. (AP... R.M. Green

  • Tents await the cyclists on Velo Quebec's Grand Tour in Granby, Quebec, Aug. 1, 2015. The tour is a logistical marvel, as transport trucks outfitted with showers move to each night's destination, support staff set up and break down the tents and Velo Quebec feeds the crowd, with massage available. (AP Photo, Cal Woodward) Cal Woodward

Associated Press
Published: 6/3/2019 9:23:38 AM

In Montreal each spring, an epic bicycle festival demonstrates how 25,000 people can let the good times roll without bumping into each other too much.

In Quebec City and its hinterlands, cyclists plunge into a history shaped by French explorers, the Roman Catholic Church, aboriginal culture and British conquest – plus a quite unexpected taste of Teddy Roosevelt on a trail into the wilderness.

In Charlevoix, an island provides a perfect loop for lovers of quiet roads, gentle hills, flats along the water and eye-candy vistas of mountains you don’t have to climb.

Then there is the south shore of the St. Lawrence, where the panorama of river, sea, sky and flowers defines the magic of bicycling in Quebec in ways that words cannot.

Those treats are mostly thanks to Route Verte, Québec’s gift to the cycling world. It’s a vast network of trails and bike-friendly byways that is about to get another growth spurt. Quebec’s “green way” is a gift to the natural and cultural worlds, too, stitching together wild places, pristine villages and a few buzzy cities in a rich, French-flavored tableaux.

It’s the masterwork of Vélo Québec , the publicly and privately supported bicycling association and Route Verte’s steward.

Sprawling over 5,300 kilometers or 3,300 miles, Route Verte is a handful to get to know, requiring more time than most people have and more legs than are under me.

And the network, a quarter century old next year, will be undergoing its largest expansion in a decade with an announcement coming from the government, detailing the addition of 900 kilometers, said Louis Carpentier, director of development for Route Verte.

Montreal Bike Festival

Montreal’s cycling culture turns into a rolling party the first weekend of June. The Go Bike Montreal Festival is anchored by two family-friendly rides that close downtown streets to traffic and take over the city-island. The premier event, Tour de l’lle, typically draws 25,000 people on bicycles and countless more cheering them on from neighborhoods along the 30-mile route. Music, dance and acrobatics (Quebec, home to Cirque du Soleil, specializes in the circus arts) are part of the mix.

Before the Sunday ride comes Tour la Nuit, which launches some 10,000 cyclists at sunset May 31, many with tricked out bikes strung with decorative homemade lights. This year, the cyclists will enter and circle Montreal’s Olympic Stadium for the first time since “Chariots of Fire” greeted their arrival in the 1980s. “It’s the wow moment for Tour La Nuit,” says Joëlle Sévigny of Vélo Québec.

Sévigny, who calls Montreal the “Copenhagen of North America” for its cycling passion, has managed the festival rides for decades and seen them become an impetus for newbies to make cycling a regular thing. “Tour de l’lle is a real incubator of the cyclists of tomorrow,” she says. “It’s to give the taste of bicycling to people again.”

Nearby, the offroad P’tit Train du Nord rail trail runs 140 miles between the Montreal outskirts and Mont-Laurier on Route Verte #2. About half paved, half smooth crushed stone, the “little train of the north” trail offers well-spaced amenities, intriguing inns and a shuttle service to drop cyclists and their bikes at the northern end or places along the way. It can take your luggage to that night’s auberge, too.

The Blueberry Trail

Veloroute des Bleuets circles Lac Saint-Jean, a lake so big you might think it’s the sea. In late summer it makes good on its promise of wild blueberries for trailside scavenging. The lake circuit runs for 160 miles on trails, quiet roads, village pathways and occasional paved shoulders. Signed as Route Verte #8, it meets the standards that are the hallmark of all designated routes in the network: Inns with Route Verte accreditation must offer healthy food choices, safe storage for bikes and tools for repair while campgrounds must make room for cyclists even if full.

The route is perfect for self-supported touring. But it’s also part of Vélo Québec’s summer extravaganza this year, the Grand Tour, a week of fully supported cycling that unfolds in a different part of Quebec each year.

The 2019 Grand Tour, with an option for inns if camping’s not your thing, runs Aug. 3 to 9, covering 400 or 870 kilometers depending on the route chosen. People can also sign up just for the Aug. 3 to 5 weekend.

Quebec city and rail trail

Quebec’s historic capital, like Montreal, has extensive bicycle paths for commuters and several of prime interest to visitors. Starting at the ferry terminal, the Promenade Samuel de Champlain path going west borders the riverfront for 12 kilometers, looping onto a narrow walkway on the bridge crossing the St. Lawrence and joining with another trail in the town of Levis. The Levis trail offers a spectacular view of Quebec City and a chance to return on the ferry, closing a 30-kilometer loop, or to go longer. Another trail runs out to Montmorency Falls, a higher-than-Niagara waterfall and recreation area with zip lines and via ferrata climbing.

Nature is nearby. The Jacques-Cartier trail outside the city runs more than 80 kilometers on stone dust through forest and meadow with several towns along the way.

It was there that Paule Bergeron from Quebec City’s tourism department, while guiding my companion and me on a ride, led us to a trailside plaque at Saint-Raymond commemorating a visit by Teddy Roosevelt in 1915. Six years after his presidency, he came on a hunting expedition into the Quebec wilds.

The man who once led the Bull Moose Party found himself confronted by a real bull moose. Although protected by Quebec hunting laws at the time, the animal, like Teddy, was not one to back down. According to a newspaper story, the moose bellowed, pawed and charged the hunting party and Roosevelt “dropped him with a bullet to the heart.”

The plaque, in French, shows Roosevelt posing with the antlers and pays tribute to his devotion to nature and his creation of national parks in the U.S. It says he capped his trip by handing out chocolates to children at the local train station.

The river/sea

This is where I always go back to, no matter where else I go.

On Route Verte #1, spread over more than 1,200 miles cyclists can go along the south shore of the St. Lawrence for days, a week or more, seeing the river widen going eastward into the wild beauty of the Gaspe Peninsula until the far shore disappears and the sea, somewhere, begins.

My hotspot is a day ride from the river road at Notre-Dame-du-Portage to Kamouraska and back, about 70 kilometers in all. In this wide panorama, the sky seems always etched with drama, as stormy sheets of rain and shafts of sun sweep over the mountains on the other side, the river churns in hues of brown and blue, and mist half swallows islands. The canola fields surrounding Kamouraska make for a brilliant yellow carpet and village homes – a kind of folk art in themselves – are lined with gardens. Sunsets are routinely extraordinary.

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