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THE BLUEBERRY ROUTE
Looping Quebec's Lac St. Jean
By Rick Millikan
For Travel Writers' Tales

Inspired by previous cycling on Quebec's network of bikeways, my wife Chris and I seek another adventure extraordinaire. Choosing Veloroute des Bleuets, we'll loop 256-kilometers around Lac St. Jean in six leisurely days.

Saturday: Zig-zagging along Lac St. Jean's southern shore, we stop only to walk our bikes over dams powering local aluminum refineries. We bypass the third aboard a free bike ferry. In Alma, we investigate a cyclist's visitor centre where banners proclaim the Blueberry route's 10th anniversary. This converted church seems ideal for sermons to the mounted!

We wind onto a fat shouldered highway for a rural roller-coaster ride above Lac St. Jean and past patchworks of farmland. Veering through a tiny village, we coast down a back road, swoop onto a bike trail crossing a wooden bridge and enter Parc National de la Pointe Taillon. Soon slipping our bikes in a rack, we relax on its immense park beach.

Rolling onward, we encounter beaucoup des cyclistes: couples on tandems, groups wearing vibrant shirts and families riding all sized bikes, some pulling trailers filled with tots or camping gear. Trailside storyboards describe elusive beavers and moose. We DO spot a golden eagle soaring above, purple finch flitting among the pines and several camouflaged grouse fearlessly sashaying amid undergrowth.

Beyond the park our trail morphs into a deserted roadway and wooden bikeway sweeping above the lake. Today's pedal ends on Ile du Repos at dusk, where we munch takeout paninis on our chalet porch while reviewing this 61-kilometer section; then rest sun-kissed faces and tender tushes.

Sunday: We sail to the restored farmhouse where Louis Hemon lived, worked and developed Maria Chapdelaine. This internationally famed novel poignantly revealed the struggles of French Canadian pioneers.

At lakeside Peribonka, we spot old painted bicycles adorning residents' gardens. In St. Jean d'Arc, cyclophiles even display large bike mobiles around their yard! We picnic here at a spectacular rest area above cascades once powering its landmark 1902 watermill.

Another trail leads us twisting through boggy pine forest carpeted with moss and tiny wild blueberries. Samples of these petite berries burst sweetly in our mouths. In Mistassini, a shop's lawn displays blueberry-themed sculptures. The life-sized Mr. Blueberry reminds us how locals proudly identify themselves as blueberries, being hardy, healthy and sweet! Our nearby motel overlooks roaring waterfalls.

Monday: Breathing in cool fresh air and admiring trailside flowers, we wind through forests of birch, pine and aspen into rich farmlands. Surrounded by fields of golden grain, Albanel our destination perches on a hilltop. Its grassy municipal campground encloses tonight's chalet.

Tuesday: Coasting downward, we skirt commercial blueberries and newly cut canola that spice the air. An hour later we pedal into a sheep farm. Leading us into the barn, owner Julie shows us her livestock explaining, "After three generations as cattle ranchers, we now raise sheep. These ewes produce rich milk for handmade soap products." Buying several bars of blueberry-scented soap at her shop, I slip these into my pannier.

Following a wide river into Saint-Felicien, we cross two town bridges to our hotel and then continue pedaling to its famed Wild Animal Park to observe their broad collection of boreal mammals in natural habitats.

Wednesday: Spinning into Saint-Prime, Musee du Fromage offers an interesting break. A guide shows us early devices used by the first of five generations of Perrons who processed cheeses. Formed into wheels, they transported 90% of their cured cheddar to England. Now their tasty cheddar is commonly available throughout Quebec.

Our next stop is Masteuiatsh. Above monumental summer teepees lining the shore, we enter the native museum and learn about the nomadic Montagnais. Inside the gallery, we admire brilliantly painted caribou hides depicting provincial history from the native perspective.

An hour later we ride into Val-Jalbert, above a gushing river that once powered its first-class paper mill. Abandoned when the mill closed, it became a historic park. Rooming in the 1920's general store, we check out this interesting village.

Thursday: Donning raincoats, our pedal parallels the lake through Chambord, Desbien and Metabechouan-Lac-A-La-Croix, then dipsy-doodles through forests and along farmers' fields. We lunch while drying off in a Saint-Gedeon microbrewery. When we ask about their potables' potency, the owner reassures us, "No problème… c'est bon fuel pour cyclistes…"

Completing the last 14-kilometers, we pass more bucolic farmland, through rugged forests and over another hydro-dam. Celebrating that evening, we toast our memorable adventure. While praising this region's unique natural attractions, Bluets culture and delectable cuisine, we savor poached salmon drizzled with blueberry sauce…and blueberry-chocolate cake!

IF YOU GO:

Check out www.veloroute-bleuets.qc.ca/ for route information and to arrange an English Veloroute des Bleuets guide book citing distances, elevations, rest stops, bike shops, attractions and campsites.

Accomodations:

" St. Monica's rustic I'lle du Repos, www.iledurepos.com,
" Dolbeau-Mistassini's comfortable Motel Chute des Peres, www.hotelier.qc.ca,
" Albanel's municipal chalets: www.albanel.ca,
" St. Felicien's classy Hotel du Jardin, www.hoteldujardin.com,
" Val-Jalbert's turn-of-the-century lodgings: www.valjalbert.com
" Alma's newly refurbished Hotel Universal: www.hoteluniversal.com.

Stops Along the Way:

" Musee Louis Hemon: www.museelh.ca
" Bergeries du Nord, family soap making & farm: www.labergeriedunord.com
" Wild Animal Zoo: www.zoosauvage.org
" Musee du Fromage Cheddar: www.museecheddar.org
" Native museum at Mashteuiatsh: www.museeilnu.ca
" Historic Village of Val-Jalbert,: www.valjalbert.com
" St. Gedeon's Microbrewery: www.microdulac.com

PHOTOS: (Rick & Chris Millikan)

1 Bridge Into Parc Point Tallon Chris and I cycle across a bridge into Parc Point Tallon.
2 Point Tallon Cyclists We meet many other cyclist in Point Tallon National Park on the edge of Lac St. Jean.
3 Jean d'Arc Picnic Spot The perfect picnic stop is just above the falls at Jean d'Arc.
4 Chris & Mr. Blue A shop display features Blueberry art including one hardy and sweet Mr. Bluet,
5 Riverside Roadway-St. Felicien The riverside roadway into St. Felicien typifies la belle landscapes experienced looping Lac St. Jean.

 


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