Sunday, September 9, 2018

Slow Rolling with Adele - Coaticook Hills & Surprises

On Adele's and my annual pilgrimage to Quebec, it was Forest Lumina that captured our curiosity during our 2017 Sherbrooke region excursion, and unable to visit then, the area begged to be explored in 2018. Using Coaticook as base (population 9,000), we planned to take in the light-show-in-a-forest plus ride some of the suggested loops on the Eastern Townships' bike map.

The two loops listed above are what Adele and I rode over two days, but of course, there's more to the story.

For example, it was the hilliest region we've ever cycled in Quebec or Ontario! However, Adele and I are fairly adventurous, and when I mentioned this fact ahead of time, she was game for anything. That's what I love about Adele.

A unique urban park in Coaticook, complete with tables and chars affixed to the ground.
I plan a general cycling route and region and she researches accommodation and the food scene.

But first, to back up a bit,  there was torrential rain in the forecast the first day of 3 days in mid-August - very reminiscent of last year's sojourn in Sherbrooke! We'd planned on driving to Coaticook anyway so, making the best of it, we first stopped at the Louis Garneau outlet just shy of the Canadian border.

It's hit or miss though whether I buy something. The red down jacket I got last year was a good find but since then nothing was appealing for the price. However, this time I scored a simple looking magenta tech shirt (look for it later in this post) and a t-shirt for my son on the $5 rack. Adele got $25 panniers, a phone mount for her frame, and other odds n ends.

Arriving in Coaticook too early to check in, we ate lunch, had an ice cream cone at the famed Coaticook dairy when it started to rain. But we make the best of it. Late afternoon we're sipping a bottle of wine on the B&B's porch and later ate an amazing dinner in nearby Compton, which included my first taste of escargot (smothered in tomato cream sauce so I can't say I actually tasted snails),\. The presentation of course, was delightful, something I now expect dining in Canada with Adele. And, at 9:30 pm among drizzle and hundreds of people, we walk the magical circuit in a forest, listening to folk tales projected and animated from the woods with the sound of the nearby Coaticook River lending to the ambiance. A highlight for me at Forest Lumina was walking over the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America while Adele gripped my arm (not her favorite part!) as teenagers behind us jumped up and down.

The next day the storm had mostly cleared out and we set out, aiming to explore and of course stretch our legs after eating a lot the previous day. Immediately, we're in farm country with sweeping vistas.


Coaticook is the agricultural seat of the region. Once a stop on the Grand Trunk rail line from Montreal to Portland Maine, it had been a mill town, but now is also reinventing itself as a tourist area with Forest Lumina as a magnet.

The region is very hilly - we're either climbing or descending - often on dirt roads. Clementine's wide tires and geometry handle it well, but Adele's 1" tires on her custom Marinoni are troublesome on gravel. For safety she walks some of the hills.

Closer to Compton we surprisingly pedal by Station Cheese, after tasting the delicious cheese at breakfast! Of course we have to sample the different varieties and I stow two small blocks in my panniers.

 Across the road a tractor festival happens to be in full swing. How lucky is that?

There are also old farm implements, sewing machines, kitchen gadgets, and ephemera on display or for sale.

My favorite was the older guys dressed in coveralls, tinkering with engines, the chug-chugging the overarching sound of the whole festival.

That's my new Louis Garneau tech shirt.
 And someone presented a homemade trailer for perusal.

The skies looked threatening at one point, but rain never materialized and the weather eventually cleared as the day wore on. The hills continued, however, and we cut the loop somewhat, also deciding to stick to paved roads. This is the first time I notice that Adele doesn't catch me on the descents as in years past - I'm faster climbing, she's been faster on downhills - so I compensate this year by ascending in lower gears so I don't get too far ahead.

It was on one of the climbs that I oddly pass a raccoon skeleton neatly preserved on the asphalt. I laugh out loud - how often do you see that, I thought? I had wanted to photograph it though I felt a little weird about doing it...

 ...however, when Adele caught up, she thought it was also pretty cool, and had no qualms about taking a picture, immediately sending it to a friend who'd also appreciate the sight!

By late afternoon we start descending toward the little city then huff up the hill to our B&B, preparing for another special nighttime event.

With a quick dinner and a beer the August night is already dark. Adele drives 20 minutes east to a tiny town where we hope to catch up with the Sherbrooke amateur astronomy club's annual telescope viewing on a mountain summit - an opportunity too good to pass up! We follow tiny signs and park on the side of a dirt road, then crowd onto a full school bus (how many adults can squish onto a seat?) for a rollicking ride the last 5k. On top it's chilly but an amazingly clear, planet filled sky. Each telescope owner is patient and answers our questions in English (we can't comprehend the general announcements in French). I get to see Saturn's rings, Mars's red blob, Jupiter and several of its moons, and amazingly clear craters on our typical half moon. What a wonderful evening!

On our third morning I suggest a shorter loop that appears to be all paved.

With full sunshine, the day was much warmer than expected. It was fun to stop and explore old churches, and this loop brought us fairly close to Vermont.

We started noticing the Pilgrim Loop signs. Silhouettes are cut out of metal and when you press a button on a metal box (choice of English or French) you can listen to a 5 minute history lesson.

This recording explained how Nathaniel Jenks and his wife emigrated from Vermont and was a traveling country doctor. Interestingly enough, we easily found his gravestone on our way out of town. As a Vermonter with a French maiden name, it's commonly known that Canadians moved south across the border, but it never occurred to me that it must have gone both ways.

Again, the terrain was hilly, though pleasingly with more farmland and lots of tree farms.


At Baldwin Mills a gorgeous round barn presented itself, one of the remaining two in the region.


Then it was a long descent back to our car. On the drive south we stocked up on bread and pastries at a bakery and even made a second stop at Louis Garneau because it was on the way (Adele and I call it that, both understanding that we know its an outlet). I liked the tech shirt so much that I wanted another, even if it would be the same color. I was also interested in the panniers that Adele picked up. But another purchase was not in the cards, so-to-speak. Her panniers had been a demo model and I failed to locate another shirt in the same size.

As expected, Adele is awesome traveling companion. I hope we have more adventures together!

The Coaticook River Valley is worth another trip. There is more to explore and with the right bicycles I'd like to ride more dirt roads, which allows more possibilities for loops. There are plenty of affordable B&B's in the city, perfect for easy walks to restaurants and stores. With wide open panoramas, paved roads with shoulders, beautiful farms, and friendly locals it's a compelling reason to get out of Vermont and head north.

7 comments:

  1. I adore your adventures with Adele! :) Sounds like the two of you had a couple of fun days together and explored quite a bit.

    For what it's worth, I would've required a photo of the deceased/skeletal raccoon too... that really isn't something one sees very often (dead ones, yes, but in that state, I don't think I've ever seen one). It's almost like a fossil living on top of the asphalt.

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    1. In Vermont Fish and game of local authorities would've removed the animal long before it had decomposed to that point. We didn't smell a thing.

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    2. I forgot to add that a baby racoon skeleton was in a similar state only a few feet away. Obviously mommy and child perished while crossing the road.

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    3. Wow! That really is impressive. I'm particularly amazed that bones were still there. It seems that crows get most of the "road kill" around here, so I can't imagine ever finding something quite like this.

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  2. A very interesting account of your trip. I learn a lot from your posts! I am curious about what you call "paved" roads. Paved here would mean as in our pavements (sidewalks to you!) made of paving stones. But what you call paved roads looks like our normal tarmacked ones - is that right?

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    1. Our paved roads are made of tar, gravel, and a bit of glass for reflectiveness (for night driving) mixed together into what we call asphalt or pavement. So yes, I believe it's what you call tarmac.

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  3. Those pictures are wonderful! I'm now remembering one of the joys of longer-distance bicycling: seeing the unfamiliar.

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