Sunday, 26 June 2011

On thick tires in the Laurentians

I owe my existence to the Laurentians: my maternal grandparents met skiing there, and later had a skiing honeymoon! Come to think of it, Aunt Lorna, my maternal grandmother's sister, met her husband skiing there and also had a skiing honeymoon.

A bit of my youth was spent skiing in the Laurentians, though not all that much. Some of the memories included my sister (aged ca. 18 months) walking around the house we had rented with the aforementioned grandparents with her feet in a pair of stainless steel dog bowls, much to the disappointment of Granny and Grandpa's Brittany spaniels who associated the noise with supper! Another was seeing Time Bandits quite late after coming back from the Laurentians.

These trips tapered off in the mid-eighties or so for various reasons. One of them might have been a badly timed trip at the end of February 1983. I know the date as there was an issue of some of the people sharing our accommodations going off to see the last episode of M*A*S*H.

Since about that time, I have never been in the Laurentians, at least, in the heart of the ski area.

Until this weekend.

On Saturday, I went in the Défi de Tremblant. The parents had been thinking of coming, but instead headed off to Newfoundland. Consequently, I went by myself in a rented car. Things got off to a shaky start when my alarm went off at 6:30 after a bad night's sleep. I had thought I had set the alarm for 5:30! Prevoyantly, I had everything more or less ready, including my duffel bag of gear leaning in front of the fridge in order make me remember the water bottles therein.

Driving up the Laurentian Autoroute, I was struck by how twisty it was. As well, the frequency of the hills made me nervous. The light, irregular rain was only a relative bother.

Owing to the situation with Canada Post, I hadn't received my kit, so once at the start (located at the Centre de villégiature Tremblant), I went to the information desk to see if they had it there. Neither my name nor those of my parents were on it. I could have sworn I had signed up. Anyway, something was worked out and I was issued with a bracelet and map.

While changing into my biking shoes and generally organising myself, I studied the map and the associated topographical curves. I decided on a 131 km option which warned of a 4 km un-asphalted section. I set off through the misty rain along an alarming amount of what seemed like down. Alarming, as I knew I would have to go up much of it at the end of the day when I would be tired! The disadvantage of starting these Défis at the bases of ski hills is that they are usually above the surrounding area and thus you have to go up at the end of the day. However, the topo curves weren't especially accurate yesterday, as a few tough hills didn't really show on the map and a couple of bits I thought would be tough, turned out to be a biker's dream.
Cyclists resting at the top of particularly steep hill

The upside of going up the hills, was that there were a few terrific (or possibly terrifying) "whee" (or possibly "aiee") moments. A case in point was one hill a little after the above photograph where I my "whee"-ing turned to "aiee"-ing when I realised that there was a distinct "Quebec speed bump" at the bottom of the hill. (Distinct culture and distinct roads). I didn't have a mishap, but I bless the Mavic wheels on Leonardo as when I checked my bike computer, I discover that I had hit 68.1 km/h! That is the third highest speed I have clocked.

Québec used to have some thoroughly eccentric first names. Owning to a much reduced birth rate and other factors, many of these colourful names are now only seen in old signs, such as the name of the bridge above.
The skies were mostly grey with moisture falling frequently. Although, it wasn't a hard rain mostly, it was a moist rain. I spent a certain amount of time wiping sweat from my brow and rain and condensation from my glasses. I also had trouble finding the optimum shirt switching between a Lycra jersey (above) and a merino one (see below). Eventually, I decided on sticking to the merino. At lunch time, I realised that I would get better ventilation from my helmet if I took off the headlight mount (note above).

While the map warned the optional bit I had decided upon warned of unpaved sections, it didn't mention several shorter unpaved bits on the regular route between Amherst/Saint-Rémi-d'Amherst and Huberdeau. If my memory isn't too far off, my impression is that it added up to more than 4 km! These Défis appeal heavily to the Lycra/spandex racing bike crowd. I passed a few of them on the dirt sections with a certain smugness as I didn't have a problem with the surface owning to my 700x32 tires! One of the racer types looked very irritated.

At lunch, I chatted with someone who had been surprised that the break was at 80 km along the route. As I had only done 57 km, I surmised that he must have taken an optional bit that added 25 km. It turned out that he didn't have a map on him and that he had been following some other people who looked like they knew where they were going. He wanted to know what was the fastest way back to the start. I showed him on my map where to go.

Bicycle traffic dropped off after I headed off on my optional loop. I almost felt worried as the frequency of Défi signs dropped off. But I persevered, traveling along besides farms, lakes and cottages. Shortly before I hit the unpaved section, I was past by a couple of racers. However once on the dirt, I was more of less keeping them in sight. Just after the dirt, they stopped at a dépanneur in Arundel where I chatted with them. From their grumbling, I could tell they'd had a tricky time on their narrow tires. I had barely noticed the difference on mine.

After Arundel, the route went past the village of Barkmere on Lac aux Écorces which shows the combination of English settlement and nationalistic Québécois renaming. After another tough hill, the route came to a well made provincial highway. Either there was a slight down slope, or a trailing wind, but I seemed to settle into warp drive cruise mode, zooming along in the high 20s, low 30s. It was glorious. However, it came to an end when the route veered off onto a side road that went through a covered bridge.
(Note the merino jersey and the lack of headlight mount)

In Saint-Jovite, there was a rather...interesting sign in front of one house.
After passing the remains of the Gray Rocks Inn, I finished at around 4 o'clock, having ridden for 5 hours, 34 minutes and 2 seconds, over a distance of 130.36 km, at an average speed of 23.4 km/h, (max 68.1), and with the expenditure of a nominal 2398.8 calories. (The latter statistic is a joke as the bike computer doesn't take into account weight, rolling resistance, hills and countless other factors.) I wasn't looking forward to the drive home on account of fatigue and like factors. I had made up my mind to let myself recover a bit at the car before heading back to Montreal. I even pondered spending the night in the Laurentians.

In this light, I was rather glad that my parents weren't along for the ride, as generally I find them very determined to return home as quickly as possible. They probably wouldn't have gone as far as me yesterday (owing to weather and terrain) and thus would have likely finished earlier. Combined with the atmosphere at the departure/finish site, they would have been itching to leave, whereas I wanted to catch my breath a bit first. Among other things, I wanted to shower as the humidity was nearly 100% and I sweat a fair bit at the best of times! I inquired at the information desk where I mind find said shower. I was directed to go into the Tremblant "village" to a certain spa/aqua park. Arming myself with my clean clothes and shampoo, I wandered into the un-themed theme park known as the Centre de villégiature Tremblant.
My parents would have loathed it, my father especially with his aesthetic penchant. It was surprisingly crass and remarkably scattered in direction. As example, I ask you to consider this purveyor of food.
Red and black check and a name with an apostrophe (where is the OLF?!) says anglo. Poutine, says "Québécois, ben raide". This is the first time I have seen the word "poutinerie". I could go on, but my overall reaction is WTF?
The weirdness of the place is partly cultural as the resort is appealing to a market from outside Quebec, as indicated by the above ad for Porter Airlines. The fact that it is Porter, not Air Canada also tells me that the place is looking at the "executive" market rather then the great unwashed.

After washing in the shower, I headed back to the car where I made a brief effort to nap, before heading home. Thoughts of staying in the area over night were cast off by the resortiness of the area and the fact that I brought neither my contact lens case nor a book. I did stop for supper just outside of St-Jovite, as it was going to be a longish drive and I knew that the traditional Chalet-Bar-B-Q was shut for repairs after a fire a week or so ago.

I found the overall experience a bit weird as while the Laurentians have been in the background for much of my life, about the only thing I recognized was "La porte du Nord" which used to a restaurant Granny liked. The location and name is now a combination of tourist information and fast food chains (McD's, Timmys and St-Hubert). Otherwise, I was mentally adrift as only a few names were familiar to me. The landscape certainly wasn't. This is somewhat significant as I justly pride myself in having a very good mental map. Yet, somehow this area wasn't registering. It might be that this was the first time I had seen the area in summer. When I spoke to my mother about the day, she commented that she didn't know most of the places I spoke of, so it was likely that the Défi avoid the "skiing" parts of the Laurentians.

I also find it interesting how many of the villages I past through had "anglo" names (Arundel, Weir, Barkmere) rather than "Québécois" names (Sainte-Jovite, Conception, etc.) . The names suggest that the colonisation of the Laurentians wasn't as "pure laine" as is commonly thought.

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