Cycling Le Grand Sentier

I woke up to a glorious September morning with sunshine, a soft breeze, the trees along the lane and the woods beyond showing the first hints of colour. My mind drifted back to a similar day exactly a year ago to the day! 

Following months of Covid isolation and a tentative summer when out and about wearing masks, I would venture most of us missed getting together with friends.  As I was pondering how best to enjoy the company of a group of friends without restriction, I had a conversation with my boss, an avid cyclist, who mentioned a fantastic, paved cycling route, the Véloroute des Draveurs, in my neck of the woods. Part of Le Grand Sentier/Trans Canada Trail, this is a paved cycle path beginning in Gracefield and heading north to Blue Sea Lake and beyond. I have lived in the Gatineau Hills for 21 years and had never heard of this route, but then again, I am only a casual cyclist, which is rather funny when I think that for 7 years while living in the Ottawa suburb of  Alta Vista, my family travelled almost exclusively by bicycle (but that’s another story). Based on my boss’ glowing account, it sounded like it was something well worth exploring, and well worth doing so with friends.

Emails were exchanged, enthusiasm abounded, dates were set and changed, and in the end, we landed on a spectacular morning to set out on a ride of discovery.

There were nine of us who gathered in the parking lot north of Gracefield.  Some of the more experienced riders had gloves and padded pants, but others just flew by the seat of their pants as it were.  All of us wore smiles and all of us were eager to get under way.  And so, we set out, rather like a gaggle of geese in formation, sometimes two taking the lead, sometimes three, sometimes single file, drifting back and forwards as we wound our way along the wooded path.  Sunshine filtered through, but the morning air was cold and several of us who did not wear gloves were feeling the morning chill.

We rode steady for an hour and a half passing beautiful Lac Castor’s sparkling waters on the right side of the path and encountering like-minded folks travelling both north and south. Without any hills to climb, the cycling was rather effortless.  Nevertheless, for those of us not accustomed to a long ride, the muscles reminded us that we could have done with a few shorter stints before setting out on a half day ride . Cycling at our own paces, we travelled on past some beautiful homes and properties nestled in the woods not long before arriving at Blue Sea Lake. 

Blue Sea Lake sparkled in the sunshine and the water looked like the Caribbean Sea rather than a northern lake. We saw a hut and a stair to the water’s edge but not knowing if this was the end point, we carried on past Blue Sea Lake, eventually coming to a gravel path that led further north for the intrepid rider bound for Maniwaki. It was there that we decided to re-group and head back to the hut we had spied earlier to take in the beauty of the lake and enjoy a bit of a picnic.

Such a beautiful spot, I could have easily lingered in the sunshine all afternoon, but after time to put our toes in the water, eat an egg salad sandwich and have some water, we got back on our bikes for the return trip.

The path is shaded on both sides with trees and shrubs and while the sun filters through and there are openings when by the lakes, it is generally quite shaded and even on the home stretch, I was grateful for the gloves lent to me by my neighbour and fellow-blogger, the ever intrepid Hilary.

Making tracks, the dynamic sister duo pulled out in front, followed closely by Denise and Jeannie, and the rest of us moved forward and back in conversation with others in the pack, as we made our way back to the car park.  Once there we shared in our elation and vowed we would come again.  It was a fabulous morning and a fantastic ride! La belle provence did not disappoint and spirits were high.

To top it off, several of us made another discovery of the gastronomical variety. In the village of Gracefield, 5 minutes from the bike route, is an amazing chocolaterie, MC Chaloin, where we stopped to discover delectable home-made chocolates along with outstanding gelato. A gelato cone topped off the ride on Le Grand Sentier!  Treats for home included a few select chocolates and best of all for me, a delicious chocolate bar filled with whipped nougat. Amazing!

Another year has come and gone, and sadly my bicycle did not make it out of the shed. I am thinking, it is time to take another ride on this great trail and in this glorious September weather.  The geese flying overhead, honking away, remind me that fall moves all too quickly by.  Time to pump up the tires and hit the road.