Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Slow Rolling with Adele - Canadian Waterways and Farm Fields, Salaberry de Valleyfield

Photo credit: Adele
Every bike tour should start with a great cup of coffee. Adele and I sipped a Kenyan brew at Lakeside Coffee in Rouses Point, New York, just shy of the Canadian border, before starting our late September bike tour. Thankfully a 3-day window of sunny, autumn weather seemed destined just for us. If this adventure proved to be as great a time as our June sojourn then Adele and I were in for another girl-powered gastronomic ride.

(For a map of our route, check out Salaberry de Valleyfield ride.)

I had problems putting a handle bar bag on Clementine without the bag rubbing on the frame or getting in the way of using the forward flat bar position. I rigged a bag, and though not perfect, it would have to do for the trip.
Adele's lime-colored custom Marinoni bike, complete with her name painted on the frame, had already been on one Canadian adventure, but this was my Clementine's maiden voyage. We'd packed light for two hotel nights - hands down my lightest panniers to date - but I included a dress, walking shoes and warm clothing for night-time strolls around Sallaberry de Valleyfield, a region Adele and I had visited several years ago as part of an organized tour and wanted to return to explore more of the area. It never hurts to pack light, in general, not only to spin the pedals as effortlessly as possible but 3/4 full panniers meant we could stash Canadian goodies should an occasion present itself.

The bike trail has wonderful signage and waysides with picnic tables.
We divide trip duties as follows: Adele researches accommodation and restaurants while I plan the route. Using Google maps and Route Verte marked routes, I printed a few letter-sized maps plus an alternative return idea for variety. That's as far as my research went. My phone doesn't work in Canada, however Adele's phone does, so I was hoping she could help with navigation once we got to the island.

Adele and I pedaled across the border, zigzagged on back roads, then connected with a wonderful surprise: our itinerary apparently included a bike path heading northwest, cutting off the usual right angles around Canadian farm fields. We still had to ride 54+ miles to reach our hotel, but we figured it shouldn't be difficult with a flat-as-a-pancake landscape.

Roadside bike maintenance near an underpass. Photo credit: Adele
A few miles along the path, I noticed that my lower bottle bracket was loose so I stopped and tightened the Allen bolts.

We observed fields in the midst of harvest: red onions drying on top of the rich, dark soil and endless acres of bright green lettuce. Adele is a gardener and was curious so she checked out the fields up close.

We were chatting about whether migrants were harvesting the gigantic fields - we could see pickers collecting vegetables - when tractors started heading our way.

This is my favorite picture of the trip!
The farm hands all waved and smiled and the tractors rumbled along the edge of the path until turning onto a narrow dirt road. Adele and I dodged the earthen tracks and a bit later we spied long rows of migrant housing with multiple doorways, like a motel.

I was leery about a forecasted headwind, especially riding upright on Clementine. By early afternoon gusts started to slow us down.

A bridge in Beauharnois.
Due to a detour, we exited the bike path, split a club sandwich at a restaurant, then kept cruising on narrow roads into Sainte Martine. By then the headwind was formidable, and I worried I might fall behind, considering my torso should've taken the brunt of the headwind, but somehow the Clementine surprisingly kept gliding with only little extra effort to get up to speed whenever I stopped. Adele slowed also, however, we stuck together, trying to make the best of it, distracted by architecture, flowers, animals, etc., and if anything we felt fortunate that our adventure coincided with the 3 sunny days flanked by bad weather. I knew we'd eventually turn west, which should help, and though it was already late afternoon, we were optimistic we'd pull into the hotel before dark.

In Sainte Martine another bike path beelined through tall cornfields, but new shrubs and young trees had yet to provide a wind break, so we moved slowly and rolled into Beauharnois, a community on the Saint Lawrence River and took a short break. By then I'd determined I was unhappy with my bicycle's stock saddle (too wide, chaffing my rear end) and apparently thirsty and tired, because while I was standing, straddling Miss Clementine, I lost control and she toppled, her weight digging into my thigh but at least I saved her from crashing to the ground. I recovered and we continued on, aided by Adele's homemade energy cookies, but as I confided with Adele, I'll feel so much better about riding a new bicycle once it receives it's first scratch, very much like the new car syndrome.

A bridge in Beauharnois that crosses a Hydro Quebec spillway that dumps into
the Saint Lawrence River. Photo credit: Adele

I imagine Adele was as delighted as I was to be pedaling alongside water again.

As we navigated fish ladders, spillways, and pedaled by a Hydro Quebec powerhouse we couldn't help but notice a ship listing in the water with cables tethered to a barge to keep it steady. I snapped a photo to identify the rusty behemoth, which later I discovered was an oil tanker, named Kathryn Spirit, abandoned in 2011, and has since caused ongoing environmental concerns.

As long shadows highlighted beautiful churches and homes along the shoreline, we decided to concentrate on reaching the hotel, which was located on the far side of the island, somewhere after following Route 132 for several miles. But lacking adequate scaled maps  - indeed that's when I wished I'd made a better effort to print out a series of maps of  Isle de Salaberry de Vallefield - we trusted Adele's phone and Google Map directions to take us there.

Miss Google's voice lead us through lovely neighborhoods, through beautiful parks, over bridges, past lakes, over a dam, and we were treated to a wonderful tour, except something wasn't quite right because we should have been heading deeper into the city center. Eventually we'd mistakenly completed a circuit and recognized with a groan we'd wasted a half hour and hadn't made any progress. We were still several miles from the hotel and the sun had long since set.

Tasty solace: chocolate pyramid and creme brulee.
The evening was beginning to chill down so we pulled over, regrouped, and put on more clothing. I strapped my bright headlight onto the handlebar while Adele attached her headlight and flashing rear light. I lead the way, navigating Route 132, which fortunately had an adequate bike lane and as we neared the confusing city center in blackness we stopped for directions. While I was inquiring with store clerks, Adele located a good Samaritan in the parking lot who was happy to guide us the rest of the way. Indeed our guardian angel drove with her car flashers on, slowed at intersections (I'm sure she noticed my bright light in her review mirror) and led us right to Hotel Valleyfield's front door The wonderful lady in the Prius said something out her window that we couldn't discern, we waved, and she drove away.

Adele and I were all smiles. We checked in at 7:45 pm. stowed our bikes in a locked conference room then dropped our panniers in our room, foregoing a shower until after we'd eaten dinner. We had originally planned to check out restaurants in town, but at the late hour we opted for dinner in the hotel restaurant, which was delicious. Adele and I toasted each other with a glass of wine, laughed at our mishap, and were thankful we'd both brought along lights. Over desserts: a chocolate pyramid and creme brulee, we decided to take it easy the following day, because we deserved it.

Stopping in the lobby momentarily, before heading out to explore the nearby trails.
I slept until 8 o'clock the next morning! After a mediocre buffet breakfast, we consulted with lobby personnel, trying to find out more about Salaberry de Valleyfield's events, but were disappointed. This confirms what Adele had found out earlier on her morning walk, that there were many vacant store fronts and the economy must be falling on hard times.

We decided to head towards Coteau du lac and investigate the historic site and meander from there. As I stopped to photograph the interesting sculptures in front of the hotel, I noticed the hotel front (a former factory) is looking shabby.

I stop on the dam to wait for Adele and listen to the water rush below the dam.
Like entering the island, exiting northwest atop Hydro Quebec dams provided safe access with more water views.

Coteau du lac historic site sits on a prominent point overlooking the Saint Lawrence, strategic in both Revolutionary War and the French and Indian Wars. It also displays interesting steel replicas of canal boats in grassy remains of Canada's first lock system, opening the way for shipping.

I liked the ingenious swivel guns.
The beautiful Solanges Canal path and pivoting railroad bridge that allowed canal boats to pass through.

Afterwards we pedaled northeast on a narrow road by beautiful homes, hugging the shoreline. However, we quickly tired of that as we'd been there before with the group in years past. Our map indicated a parallel canal path, but we couldn't find the access so we decided to turn around and head back, but Adele detoured down a side street, and I followed.

Adele and I love second hand stores and garage sales. Even when traveling by bicycle, because there's nothing like self-imposed limitations. Of course that didn't stop Adele on one adventure from hauling a free Blackburn rack for 3 days...but that very rack now graces her new bicycle - a stellar find! So, it was no surprise that we spent an hour inside a crammed junktique store. The lady proprietor offered us coffee and cookies. Adele didn't buy anything, but I was tickled to get a lovely pair of green heart-shaped earrings and a lime-colored fleece headband.

We returned to the Saint Lawrence crossroads and discovered the side spur that led us to the Soulanges Canal path (map link located after I did more more research!).  As was becoming quite evident, there are numerous safe places to ride a bicycle, yet the hotel's bike map (Adele and I booked a room with bike package) is lacking in easily navigated scale, supported by earlier research on the Web and city's Visitor Information, both failing to provided adequate information. And, as Adele and I later discussed, Isle de Salaberry de Valleyfield region is missing an opportunity for more bicycle tourism.

We turned south on the path, sticking with our plan to keep riding to a minimum. Our memories are fuzzy about the details of our group journey in this region years ago, but neither of us recall this section of the path, if indeed, we'd been on the path at all! Adele and I enjoyed discovering little things, like stumbling into old bridges and interesting historical details - canals, like the Soulanges, played a huge part in Canada's early commerce, primarily transporting grain and coal.

A pedestrian suspension bridge at one end of the Soulanges Canal where it merges with Lake Saint Francois.
In our typical nothing ventured nothing gained attitude, the path suddenly ended, dumping us onto a secondary road. However, I was determined to get to a beautiful narrow/pedestrian bridge, its wooden framework glowing in the late afternoon sunshine. We rode for a bit past smaller homes then doubled back because the bridge entrance seemed to be surrounded by a municipal campground. Leading the way, I plunged into the potholed campground road, past trailers in campsites then we pushed our bicycles over the bridge, with view of golden trees, a small lighthouse, the mouth of the Soulanges Canal and on the others side we entered a park on a narrow peninsula.

I marveled at our luck to have found this special place. But we didn't linger long, wanting to allow ample time for the return journey. A local road lead back to a bike path, which connected with a familiar trail and from there it was an easy reach back to the hotel.

One kilometer before the hotel Adele and I stopped at a waterfront park where she took a phone call, which lasted several minutes. In the meantime, I lounged in the sunshine and petted a friendly cat enjoying the peaceful sunshine.

But the cat became distracted by ducks paddling close to shore. I was amused that the feline thought she stood a chance to capture waterfowl 6 feet offshore, especially know cats' aversion to water, but this didn't stop the friendly cat from giving it her all.

I burst out laughing when the cat popped up between the rocks.

Later, Adele and I rested in our hotel room then walked to a Cajun restaurant for a nice dinner.

The third and last day of our trip was a brisk 39F at 7 am, but with lots of sunshine. We bundled up, leaving the hotel around 9 am, deciding to follow Route Verte trail signs around the southern part of the island instead of stumbling directly across the busy city. We aimed to ride more of the trails plus take a different route back to the border.

Reading signs at a viewing area of a protected wetland. Photo credit: Adele
We glided by a couple of harbors, through neighborhoods, a wooded park, then another lovely trail alongside Canal de Beauharnois. With only one blip where we asked a friendly construction worker to get back on course, Route Verte signage provided adequate route finding and Adele and I crossed the canal on a half mile long narrow, but quiet bridge. On the other side, a lovely tree-lined trail hugged the canal for several miles until we reluctantly turned away from the water and started heading back across the farming heartland.

The trail ended at Saint Etienne and we began picking our way along back roads.

Many variations of poutine at Restaurant aux Pierro!
At lunchtime we visited Restaurant aux Pierro in Howick. Adele and I split tasty chicken fajitas, certainly enough food to boost our energy, but as small town restaurants go, this one was busy with local folks, talking to each other. Adele joins in, complimenting the owner and his wife, informs them I've never tried poutine, and before we know it they had added an extra dish on our table: Poutine Pierro, the local Canadian staple with the owner's own spin.

Poutine is a rich combination of cheese curds and French fries, topped with meat gravy. There are many variations of course, and Pierro's version had smoked meat. It was very tasty, so tasty that I overate and felt full for the next 3 hours!

I can't resist trying poutine. Photo credit: Adele.

Pierro and his wife are New York City aficionados; NYC kitsch adorns their restaurant. Photo credit: Adele.

Yeah Miss Clementine, these roads are made for you. Photo credit: Adele.
We head further south and turn onto country roads. There is a slight headwind, but nothing compared to our first day's struggle, so we do what touring cyclists do: chat, admire our surroundings, adjust ourselves on our saddles everyone once in a while, and scheme about the next adventure.

Photo credit: Adele
Adele had been a bit disgruntled when we first reached our hotel. Accommodations, breakfast, and staff's general lack of knowledge about cycling in the region had colored her outlook. But by exploring on our own and discovering many hidden gems - and with more trails than we had time to explore - she was considering another sojourn.

At some point we beeline back to the bike path we had followed on the first day because it heads in the right direction, plus it allows wind protection.The sky had clouded over and we planned to get back to the car well before dark. This time, Miss Google does a stellar job and reconnects us with the path.

Photo credit: Adele
Back to riding beside nearly brown cornfields.

We verify directions with a local in Lacolle, deciding to take the path to the very end where it dumps us onto a quiet country road, only 6 km from the US border.

As we near the end of our amazing trip, I realize how much I enjoyed riding Miss Clementine, despite the uncomfortable seat. The bike rolls very well, once I get her up to speed, and maintains consistent motion with little effort. I will require patience with the proprietary thumb shifters, which, when moved, create audible clicks yet operate in friction mode. I own bicycles with both indexed and friction shifting so I understand the intricacies of both yet I know I will have to be patient when shifting through Clementine's gears as this minor difference fools me into thinking she has index shifting!

The bicycle easily handled the extra 20 lbs. on flat terrain. The true test of it's climbing ability under weight will come in 2017, when I camp and ride in the Vermont hills. I'd like to utilize a front, ideally lowrider style rack because I love carrying weight up front, which tends to calm my erratic steering. On that note, Miss Clementine turns easily, even one handed.

And, in spite of my initial trepidation with the Bosco handle bars, I have fallen in love with their functionality. My favorite position was sitting upright; the handle bar grips were perfect and I found I only reached forward on the alternate flat my bar position when my body needed a break. I love the thumbies; they are comfortable.

Both water bottle bosses worked well. The downtube version had ample space for storage, comfortably clearing my feet and the front wheel.

Sitting upright is still foreign, however, heightened by alternating between my too small Ross commuter bike and a larger, longer Clementine. Clementine feels too large versus the Ross feels too small. Ideally, I'd like to locate a 20" old step-through bike to replace my Ross, however I know this will be like finding a needle in a haystack, but if I could, this would alleviate the disparity between the two sizes - bikes I'm anticipating will be my main bikes going forward.

I am concerned with Clementines's overall weight. She is not as light as I would've liked and may be heavier than my Ross. I suspect the longer frame, larger wheels, wider rubber, large handlebar, plus fenders, etc. all add significant heft. And will the bike fit on a bus rack? I fear it won't. I imagine I will be satisfied if the bicycle and my own strength can handle climbing with camping gear, but that's a future test. All the more reason to pack lightly!

In general, I'm quite pleased with Miss Clementine on our first mini-adventure. You can bet Adele and I will plan another interesting journey in 2017. Stay tuned.

For a map of our route, check out Salaberry de Valleyfield ride.


  1. This was a fun touring with the two of you. I have done the ride around Lake Champlain and often thought about riding in Canada. Now I have a plan, because of you. Thanks for that.

    1. Thanks John. I have been touring in Canada for a few years now because Quebec is in our backyard. Their trail system is pretty extensive so there's plenty of places to explore. Montreal and immediate vicinity alone has a wonderful system. Check out my "bike overnights" tab for other ideas for Canadian trips. And let me know how I can help.

  2. I am Verte with envy at your use of and proximity to all those cool Canadian bike trails. Chapeau!

  3. I enjoyed reading about your mishap and the extra miles resulting from it - I think bike tours are all the more interesting for mishaps!

    1. Lizzie - yes, I agree that unexpected detours can be interesting, but they sure don't feel that way in the moment! However, it is a test of ingenuity...what I didn't reveal was my friend had wanted to call the hotel and arrange for us to be transported because it was dark, but once I showed her my awesomely bright headlight, she was all for getting there on our own. I love that she was game and now she knows how a good light can make all the difference in confidence. Adele and I learn from each other: she's wonderful companion.

  4. What a wonderful adventure. I'm like you: a new bike makes me nervous until it has its first scratch! Glad to hear that Miss Clementine made a good traveling companion.


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