Information about the world of cycling, including bicycle touring

The luxurious settings of the Hotel Place D'Armes in Montreal were by far the best of the tour.

The luxurious settings of the Hotel Place
d'Armes in Montreal were by far
the best of the tour.

Interior of St. Antoine de Padoue parish.

Exterior of St. Antoine de Padoue parish.

Many of the Roman Catholic churches in
Quebec, even those in the smaller cities
like Louiseville, are ornately decorated.
Above are the interior and exterior of the
St. Antoine de Padoue parish.

Alicia Melton and Angie Garde take a break.

Alicia Melton, left, and Angie Garde are all
smiles as they realize they are going to
complete their first extended road trip!
Here, they prepare to take off after a break
in Donnacona on the last full day of cycling.

Phil and Helen Taylor enjoy a well-deserved treat after arriving in Quebec City.

Phil and Helen Taylor enjoy a well-
deserved treat after arriving in Quebec City.

Mural of Quebecers in Quebec City.

The five-story Mural of Quebecers
ecorates the side of a building in the lower
portion of Quebec City. In the background
is Notre-Dame-des-Victoires church, which
originally was built in 1688.

Petit-Champlain in Quebec City.

The narrow Petit-Champlain in the lower
portion of Quebec City remains popular
with tourists.

Painted bike route markings on La Route Verte.

La Route Verte sign. Much of the route for the Tour of Quebec followed La Route Verte (The Green Route). Many of the roads are marked with huge bicycles and arrows on the road, while La Route Verte signs are found along highways, country roads and bicycle paths in Quebec.

 

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SUMMARY: A 6-day, 200-mile ride from Montreal to Quebec City with a seventh day to sightsee in Quebec City or bicycle to the Ile d'Orleans. While $1,600 may sound like a lot to pay for a weeklong bicycle tour, the price includes air transportation for you, land transportation for your bicycle, seven nights in hotels, seven breakfasts, six dinners and support. While Montreal and Quebec City are clearly the highlights of this tour, the smaller cities have special charm as well.

RIDE WEB SITE:http://www.touringcyclist.com/

Tour of Quebec: 2004

There's a lot you can learn when you take part in a small group bicycle tour like TC Tour's Tour of Quebec.

While waiting for our shuttle to take us from the Touring Cyclist bicycle store chain's main offices in Bridgeton, Mo., to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. We started talking about the five-day forecast for Montreal and vicinity. It called for rain the first three days we were scheduled to ride in Quebec.

That prompted Phil Taylor, a doctor from Cape Girardeau, Mo., to bring up that it had rained five days on a bicycle ride he did in the fall of 2002.

"Were you on Cycle North Carolina?" I asked.

After he confirmed my suspicions, I revealed I was on that ride as well. Phil and his wife, Helen, survived the deluge of Cycle North Carolina on their tandem bike. It turned out we shared the same opinion of CNC: While it wasn't the worst weeklong ride we had ever done, it wasn't the best.

After Donald Humphries, the owner of the St. Louis-based Touring Cyclist bicycle chain, dropped us off at the airport. Phil noticed that I still had my Florida Bicycle Safari tag on my bicycle bag.

"We were on that ride too," Phil said.

Wow! This would be the third-straight weekend ride I've done with the Taylors, and I hadn't even known it! I'm sure there's other people who have done two or more of the same rides I have without me even realizing it. On most of the rides I do, I end up getting to know a small group of people or hanging out with people I know from the St. Louis area. But thanks to the intimate nature of this ride, I would get to know the Taylors quite well over the next few days.

It turned out we were grizzled veterans of the camping-tour scene. They've done weeklong rides such as Cycle Utah and two-day rides such as Hilly Hundred. But this would be our first extended luxury tour, and we were eager to see what this would be like.

I had a rough idea what these would be like, having done a couple of weekend luxury tours through Michigan Bicycle Tours. With all due respect to Bubba Barron and his Bubba's Pampered Pedalers service, nothing can quite replace a comfortable bed, a bathroom you only have to share with one other person, warm showers on demand and fine restaurant food each evening.

This particular trip almost didn't happen because of the small number of participants — seven cyclists and two leaders. In 2002, TC Tour's Tour of Quebec drew 26 cyclists. Both Amy Schmidt, TC Tour's director, and I were wondering why people weren't signing up for the 2003 trip. Perhaps it was the shaky U.S. economy. Perhaps it was the fear of a terrorist attack. Perhaps it was the fears of catching the deadly SARS virus, even though all the Canadian cases were confined to Toronto, about 300 miles southwest of Montreal. But those same fears meant that motels and airlines were willing to offer deals to TC Tours to get people to visit Canada. So off we went.

Also joining us on the Tour of Quebec were Larry and Sandy Felkner of St. Louis, Angie Garde of Glen Carbon and Alicia Melton of Edwardsville. Larry and Sandy had been on several TC Tours trips, while Angie and Alicia had never done an extended bicycle tour before.

After relatively uneventful flights from St. Louis to Detroit and from Detroit to Montreal and a 20-minute wait to get through Canadian customs, we met Amy and her co-leader, Don Lewis, at the airport. Don drove in circles for a good half-hour around Montreal-Dorval International Airport, while Amy tracked us down. We started our trek to Hotel Place d'Armes in the Vieux Montreal district. My fellow travelers were less than impressed with the portions of Montreal we took. The common observation: "It looks a lot like Chicago to me."

Well, given that Montreal is Canada's second largest city and a major industrial center, it's not surprising that you can make comparisons between Chicago and Montreal.

They also weren't too impressed with Olympic Stadium, the home — at least for the time being — of the Montreal Expos. They thought it was an ugly hunk of concrete.

But things looked up when we checked into the Hotel Place d'Armes. Don, who would be my roommate for the duration of the trip, and I were both impressed when we unlocked the door and heard the relaxing sounds of classical music drifting through the room. Everything was in its place, including a pair of bathrobes and an umbrella. After a bit of unwinding, we went downstairs for the complementary glass of wine and cheese. Then it was time for dinner at the Restaurant du Vieux Port. After a satisfying meal, it was time to get a good night's sleep for our first day of riding.

We started our day with a breakfast of croissants, hard-boiled eggs, lox and other delicacies, then we hopped aboard our bikes and began our trip on the bicycle trail in Vieux Montreal. On the BiQue Ride in 1997, we rode on the Piste Cyclable du Canal Lachine, which was much prettier than the path that took us northeast along the St. Lawrence River. We saw plenty of Montreal's industries and ports along this route. Phil and Helen had a hard time negotiating some of the sharp turns with their tandem, and we were glad to cross the Riviere des Prairie and leave Montreal. After a somewhat busy stretch through Repentigny, we turned onto more rural roads toward our destination of Joliette.

I had been riding with Angie and Alicia, but when I saw Phil and Helen parked along a convenience store in Saint-Geirard-Majella, I decided it was time to eat. Angie and Alicia decided to go on, but I bought myself a sandwich, chips and spruce beer for lunch.

HOW TO MAKE SPRUCE BEER

The following is a formula based on acceptable ingredients:
4 gallons water
2 quarts molasses, or to taste
One bundle of spruce twigs, approximately 20" in diameter, using only the last 6" of the tips of the boughs
One package dried yeast, proofed in ½ cup molasses and 3 cups warm (body temperature) water

Bring the water to a boil, add the spruce and bring to a boil again. Boil for one hour, longer if you want a stronger spruce flavour. Strain twice through a piece of fine (tightly woven, not cheesecloth) white cloth, into a container.

When the liquid is lukewarm, add the molasses and proofed yeast; mix well. Cover loosely with cloth and allow 3-4 days to ferment. Skim the foam lightly from the top frequently; do not stir or disturb the beer. When the bubbles cease to rise, strain through a cloth again. It can be bottled at this point or drunk immediately. If it is bottled, leave about 3" of space at the top of each bottle. Do not tighten the caps for 12 hours at least.

Source: The Official Research Site for the Fortress of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia

Spruce beer? Just think about what a spruce tree smells like, and that's exactly how it tastes. It's strangely delicious! It must be a Canadian thing, because I have never seen spruce beer in the United States. As I was drinking the spruce beer, the words of the late naturalist Euell Gibbons — best known by baby boomers for his Post Grape Nuts television ads — kept popping through my mind: "You know, many parts of a pine tree are edible."

We continued from there to Joliette, where we ate and slept at the Chateau Joliette. The big event of the day was that Don accidentally forgot to unload my luggage at the hotel while he went out to search for other riders. Without clean clothes, it didn't make much sense to take a shower. But Amy felt my pain and bought me a couple of beers at the hotel bar. They went down real good!

We awoke to cloudy skies Monday for our trip to Louiseville. It takes me a couple of days to switch from being a night person to a day person, so I was the last one to eat breakfast and leave the hotel. I stopped briefly at a covered bridge outside Berthierville, then I caught up with Larry and Sandy at the Musée Gilles Villeneuve. The museum honors the late Formula One star who died in an accident in 1982. He also was the father of Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve, also now a Formula One driver.

As we turned onto La Route Verte, a series of designated bicycle routes throughout Quebec, we encountered a brief, but hard, shower. We ate at a restaurant in Saint-Barthelemy, and I partook of that French-Canadian treat, poutine! Poutine's a combination of French fries, gravy and cheese curds. You either love it or you hate it.

Once in Louiseville, I decided to have a beer or two at the nearby restaurant. The waitress greeted me with a gracious "bonjour," which I returned in kind.

"Parlez-vous anglais?" I asked.

It became clear she knew about as much English as I do French — very precious little. I found out how challenging it would be when I tried to order a beer made by the Unibroue brewery in Chambly, Quebec. I had seen an intriguing beer on Unibroue's Web site that appeared to have the name U2.

"Do you have you too beer?" I asked.

The waitress gave me a puzzled look, so I asked again. After admitting she wasn't understanding what I was saying, I pointed to the cooler and asked if we could take a look. Sure enough, it was in the cooler.

"Oh, ew deu!" she said.

I had my beer, and she earned a nice tip for putting up with my lack of knowledge of French. As it turned out, we both were wrong; the name of the beer is U2, but at least I know how to pronounce the name of one of my favorite rock bands in French!

It also was at that restaurant where Alicia figured out that she had a real aversion to poutine. She ordered some frites (fries), and she thought she had ordered them without gravy and cheese curds. She didn't. She tried her best to eat them, but poutine just didn't agree with her.

The third day of the journey was by far the shortest scheduled day — 19 miles from Louiseville to Trois-Rivieres. Amy and I rode together for the first 10 miles to a rest stop on Quebec Route 138 (the Chemin du Roy) along Lac Saint-Pierre, a huge lake that's actually part of the St. Lawrence River. We both needed to stop, and then I took off ahead of her into Trois-Rivieres.

I decided to double my mileage for the day by taking a bike path to the Forge-du-Saint-Maurice, the site of Canada's first industrial community. The iron foundry was completed in 1738, and portions of it have been restored. When the young guides figured out that I was an English speaker, they were more than willing to help me out! My visit gave them a chance to use their English skills.

Upon my return to Trois-Rivieres, I caught up with Amy, Don, Larry and Sandy. All of the sudden, Don looked at me and my camera and said, "I really want to see your pictures. There's a one-hour photo place up the street."

I wondered why he wanted to see the photos.

"Well, Amy told me that at the rest area, she went to the bathroom while you took pictures."

Sorry to disappoint you, Don, but the photos were of the Lac Saint-Pierre, not of Amy.

Meanwhile, Alicia and Angie were drawn into the hemp shop a couple of blocks from the hotel in Trois-Rivieres. They were amazed by the wide variety of marijuana paraphernalia on sale at the shop.

Wednesday was by far the most dismal day of the trip. After a tour of the Sanctuaire Notre-Dame-du-Cap in Cap-de-la-Madeleine and its basilica, Rosary bridge and Way of the Cross. The rain began to fall and would continue to do so all the way to our destination, the Auberge Chemin du Roy in Deschambault.

Dealing with nearly 46 miles of rain had me down in the dumps, but a spirited game of Hearts and some card game Amy made up and an outstanding meal at the hotel made all the difference.

If Wednesday was the tour's most dismal day, Thursday was its most glorious. Sunny skies greeted us as we took on our hilliest day, the 45 miles from Deschambault to Quebec City. We enjoyed the views of the rolling countryside and the St. Lawrence River on Quebec 138, then turned off onto the old Chemin du Roy, which is also part of La Route Verte. After a dip into the valley, we had to climb an extremely steep hill to begin the home stretch into Quebec City. Angie was the only one who made it up the hill without walking, but she said she nearly "puked blue Gatorade" as she struggled up the hill.

Quebec City cast a spell on me in 1999 during the MOOSA tour, and it recast its spell as we entered the town. The old-world charm of Quebec City impressed everyone on the trip. It's difficult to find a bad meal in Quebec City, and it's difficult to find a bad beer. Alicia found a special brew called Spirit of the Hemp. Alicia admitted it was odd for a state trooper to want to drink a beverage called Spirit of the Hemp, but she said it was smooth.

My initial hope for Friday was to ride the Ile de Orleans, but that wasn't meant to be. No one else wanted to ride. Instead, they wanted to go sightseeing. So, we hopped aboard the Touring Cyclist van and headed for the Chute Montmorency. We climbed the 410 steps to the top of the waterfall; we knew this because Phil kept count. After that, Phil, Helen and I visited the Musée de la civilisation. I didn't visit that museum during my 1999 visit to Quebec City, but it was well worth the time. We visited galleries dealing with the Middle Ages, the First Nations and Quebec culture.

The climax of our tour came Friday night with our final dinner at Le Table du Manoir, the restaurant at the Manoir Victoria hotel in Quebec City. After a delicious dinner, I decided it was time to share my favorite new bicycle trip tradition with Amy. During Cycle North Carolina, I got the waitresses to sing "Happy Birthday" or some other obnoxious birthday jingle for some unsuspecting member of Bubba's Pampered Pedalers. We had been serenaded by a fine accordion player all through dinner, so I convinced our waiter that it was Amy's birthday. Out came a cake with a burning sparkler, and the accordion player led the waiters into song. After Amy was thoroughly embarrassed, the accordion player added the piece de resistance.

"I bet you're Sweet 16 and never been kissed," the musician said to Amy. He kissed her on the cheek. A perfect ending to a great trip.