Train, Trail and Ocean – From Montreal to Cape Breton

As much as I love touring by bicycle, it’s the touring, not the bicycling that usually holds the great moments. The 20 hour train ride on the VIA Rail, a part of the trip I was not looking forward to, but ended up being one of the highlights.
Life on the Train

Pack a diverse group of strangers into a few train cars, add a few beers, and a good time is bound to happen. But really, it was much more than that, it was the life stories told, stories from the past and stories of dreams yet to come. You can spend your entire life trying to find the path you want to travel and a few words from a total stranger can point you in the direction you need to go and give you the confidence to get there. It’s a safe bet that a few of us who rode the train will remember the time spent together for the rest of our lives.

As great as the train ride was, it was also nice to stand on stationary ground and that ground started at the Truro Nova Scotia train station.
Truro Train Station

A surprise was also waiting at the train station in the form of a Canadian police officer and Officer Chein (his trained drug sniffing chocolate Labrador Retriever). For the record, I had nothing on me, but it didn’t stop me from thinking about what’s been in my panniers in the past and how long the sent lasts. Officer Chein did find a bag on the ground containing a bit of “glaucoma medication”, but the owner was no where to be found and the police officer just put it in his pocket for “future training”. I hope Officer Chein likes his reward the next time he trains :-)

From the train station I took low traveled paved roads to some really nice dirt roads

where I found a place to camp for the night.

I awoke the next day to a sunny sky, a strong tail wind, and a heat wave. The temperature hit over 90 degrees F. with high humidity. Regardless, when a tail wind is blowing and there is ground to cover, it’s best to make the most of it. I traveled over 100 miles that day on everything from singletrack trails to the Trans Canada Highway.

I did hit one bout of rain, but it happened just as I was passing an old one room schoolhouse that has been turned into a museum. It was a perfect place to stop and learn a little history (as well as stay dry and fill my water bottles).

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years of bicycle touring, it’s the more non bicycling locals tell you to avoid a road, the better the road is. I ended the day on just outside the town of Mulgrave on the Old Mulgrave Road, a no traffic dirt / logging road that was as great as all the locals said it wasn’t. I found an abandoned concrete building and with the swarms of black flies, horse flies, deer flies, and other biting insects it seemed like a great place to camp. It was also riddled with bullet holes and broken glass, but that just added to the charm. I named this place Hotel Baghdad and I’ll let the photos tell the story.
Hotel Baghdad 4

Hotel Baghdad

Hotel Baghdad 3

Hotel Baghdad 2

The next day I was feeling pretty shelled from the heat and miles, so I took it easy and made my way over to Cape Breton Island. I was going to hit Cape Breton on my way back from Newfoundland, but I figured it would be better to see on the way in case my plans change and I come back a different way. After crossing the causeway to the island I picked up a rail to trail that is part of the Trans Canada Trail.
Trans Canada Trail

I had a slight headwind, but the views were beautiful and this was just what I needed to recover. I also found some great spots to swim in the ocean and wash the grime from my body.

I rode the trail for the rest of the day, along the ocean and through the woods.

The following day I continued north along the Trans Canada Trail, found some more great swimming spots

and finally joined pavement where I met the Cabot Trail.

For such a famous cycling destination, the shoulder of the Cabot Trail / road is practically non existent, but the traffic was light and everyone was courteous. My plan was to reach the town of Cheticamp and take a rest day and along the way I met a local cycling couple who offered me their ocean front land to camp on for the night.

The view from the tent along with the ocean breeze made this a perfect spot.
View From My Tent

Fishing Boat

All rest days should start with a good time the night before, so I found some live music in town, had a few to many beers, and shot some pool with the local fisherman.

Mind you, I really don’t know how to play pool, but is seems like rule number one is look like you do and anyway, alcohol is the great equalizer so I gave it my best shot . I ended the evening by swerving my way back to my campsite on the ocean and passing out in my tent to the sound of fishing boats hauling in their catch. Yeah, it’s been a great trip so far.

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Good By USA, Hello Canada

After a great ride on Sunday, I decided to spend an extra day at my parents house, so I didn’t leave for Montreal until Tuesday morning. Not a problem, it’s only 85 miles from there to Montreal where I catch the train to Nova Scotia. The ride north was perfect, not to hot and a light tail wind. I followed dirt roads and low traffic paved roads, through the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, to New York where I crossed into Quebec. Unlike entering the States, all I had to do was show my drivers license and tell them where I’m going and how long I intend to stay. No passport needed, no bags searched and no feeling like a criminal.

After crossing the border I followed the Route Verte, Quebec’s amazing collection of low traffic roads and cycling paths, north through small towns and farmland. Route Verte 2 took me to Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu where I then joined Route Verte 1, which took me to Montreal.

Route Verte 1
Route Verte 1

I’ve traveled this route a few times before, but I am still amazed at the effort the province of Quebec puts into there cycling infrastructure.

Chambly Canal Locks
Chambly Canal Locks

My traveling style is definitely low cost, so the one thing I never do is pay to camp. Fortunately, I have found most Canadian’s attitude towards stealth camping to be supportive and I always “leave no trace”, so no harm is done and I’ve never been hassled.

Lots of things prohibited, but camping isn’t one of them
Lots of things prohibited, but camping isn’t one of them

Many sections of the Route Verte allow camping, or at least don’t prohibit it, so with a little work, some great free campsites can be found. I spent my first night in Quebec camped about 30km from Montreal in a patch of woods along the Chambly Canal.

 No fires allowed, but nothing mentioned about camping
No fires allowed, but nothing mentioned about camping

My plan was to get to Montreal early, check my bike and bags at the VIA Rail station, and enjoy some unencumbered time in the city. The closer you get to the city the more cycle paths there are, so it can get a bit confusing at times, but most people are more than willing to tell you the way they think you should go.

 Yes, this was built just for bicycles and yes, it’s a whole lot of fun spiraling down
Yes, this was built just for bicycles and yes, it’s a whole lot of fun spiraling down

Bicycle travel is a huge part of the Quebec culture and many Québécois regularly commute to work by bicycle.

 No, this is not a college campus, it’s one of the many bicycle parking areas around the Canadian Public Broadcasting building
No, this is not a college campus, it’s one of the many bicycle parking areas around the Canadian Public Broadcasting building

I stopped for some lunch in Old Quebec, a beautiful part of the city that still retains much of it’s old time feel.

 Foot traffic only on this street
Foot traffic only on this street

I was also told by someone I met that the Jazz Festival was currently going on, but before I went to enjoy the music, I went to the train station to check my bike and bags. The process couldn’t have been easier. It cost around an additional $30 to bring my bike and gear on the train, but no boxing or disassembly was required.

 Train station yard sale
Train station yard sale

After checking in my bike and gear it was off to enjoy the music.

Montreal Jazz Festival
Montreal Jazz Festival

6:00pm came to soon and it was time to board the train. Next stop, after a 20 hour train ride, Truro, Nova Scotia.