Biking to Amqui

Posted by Patrick Lam on Sunday, April 8, 2018

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All the pictures!

April 4: GO Bus fail

My initial plan was to take the GO Bus to Toronto on Wednesday evening. All I managed to do was to wait for the 25 for 15 minutes. I lost patience and leveraged the fact that I had a bike to go to the Kitchener Charles stop, where I waited for the 30 for another 15 minutes. Weather: -2C with 40km/h wind. There was some sort of 401 meltdown going Westbound, so the inbound buses never made it. I gave up and figured I’d have better luck the next day.

April 5: Kitchener to Toronto

Second try. This time I took the GO 30 bus from Kitchener Terminal, dropping me off at Bramalea GO.

Before the ride.

  • First use of adjustable wrench: put brake pad back on bicycle.

I needed to get to my airport hotel, the Hotel Carlingview Toronto Airport. It’s only 11.1km, but it was the worst 11km in the whole trip. That area is incredibly hostile for people on bicycles (and on foot). Yet there were still people waiting for buses. Basically highways (including lots of trucks) with sidewalks. Had I known, I probably would have put my bike on a city bus. Anyhow, I got to the hotel, checked in, and stored my bike in the room.

Now I needed a bike box. Air Canada supposedly used to provide plastic bags for bicycles but didn’t advertise that anymore. I took the TTC 52 to the UP Express (Weston), getting off at Union and walking to the MEC, where they found a used cardboard box they could give me.

  • Avoided: first unrecoverable failure (no-bike-box).
As it should [not] be.

After dinner with Marco, I took the subway to Lawrence West and the 52 back to the hotel. Since transit is slow, that took an hour from downtown Toronto. Got in around 10pm with a bike box.

  • Second use of adjustable wrench: disassembling bicycle (along with 15mm wrench).

The next question mark was whether I would be able to box my bike. I’d never done it, but I wasn’t too concerned about that. The Internet is pretty good at explaining. I was most concerned about the seatpost and it being rusted in place (as it was on my good bike). But this bike was relatively new to me, and had not been stored outside, so I managed to remove the seatpost easily. Pedals, fork, and derailleur were easy. Fifteen minutes later I had a bike in a box.

Successfully boxed bike.

April 6: Toronto to Amqui via YUL, YBC, YYY

Don't tape your bike box too early!

I taped the box shut, but it turns out that this is not useful, because the luggage people at the airport want to see the contents, since the bike box doesn’t fit on the X-ray machine.

The only viable flight for my adventure got me out of YYZ at 0700, connecting to YUL-YYY (stop at YBC) at 0905, arriving at YYY at 1130. Allowing time for potential airport snafus (yes, it’s true that if you don’t miss a flight, you’re spending too much time at airports, but I actually do consider consequences sometimes) I left the airport hotel at 0515 and checked in the bike with 0 snafus and $0 in extra fees (yay status!).

Early April in southern Ontario may be spring-like (when there aren’t snowstorms), but particularly past Montreal, early April is still winter, if you go by the colour of the ground. The flight attendant Hisham on YUL-YYY wondered if he had seen me at some MMA dojo in Montreal… nope, not me, but it would be a reasonable thing to think. He had to leave the aircraft door open for the 35-minute stop in YBC. That’s fine in June, but the -17 air in YBC was bracing.

Brief stop at Baie-Comeau!

At YBC we had about 15 women and 1 man board the aircraft enroute for YUL—for them it was 1stop via YYY. I guess Air Canada sells tickets for YUL-YBC, YUL-YYY, YBC-YYY, YBC-YUL, all as AC8968.

Mont-Joli (YYY) is quite close to Baie-Comeau (YBC) as the plane flies, and may be my shortest segment ever. It’s 34 nautical miles (shorter than YVR-YYJ), takes 20 minutes gate-to-gate (13 minutes in the air), and has max altitude 4000'.

Flying over the Fleuve St.-Laurent.

After deplaning at YYY, I watched closely for signs of my bike box. I was satisfied to see it coming off the plane. Some random English-speaking guy flying into Mont-Joli helped hold my bike while I assembled it. I gave away my bike box to some staff at a check-in desk and set off.

… but not so fast. I immediately noticed that the front wheel needed a bit of truing.

Assembled bike in Mont-Joli snow.

In any case, 15 minutes later I’d fixed my wheel and biked through downtown Mont-Joli (it is indeed a pretty town).

Train station and church in Mont-Joli.

I thought it would be wise to check out the train station. The train ticket I’d originally purchased originated at Mont-Joli, but I decided to instead board earlier at Campbellton NB. This town has a physical station, but the station is unstaffed, and Via Rail claims that bicycles can’t be loaded there. Front-line train staff said it would actually probably be OK.

Mont-Joli would have been a fine choice for lunch, but I figured that there might be weather, so it would be best to get to Amqui as soon as possible.

I made good time on the bike: 2h54 (Google predicted 2h59) for 53km to the Cantine La Paysanne. My sort of crappy bike worked fine. Conditions were still winter, with full-on cornices on road cuts and wet roads due to recent snow. I had less shoulder than I would have liked. However, the route is part of Quebec’s cyclotourism Route Verte, so it was still good. Less scary than biking in Brampton for sure.

Seen along the way, in addition to cornices: epic churches in towns of 6000; cemetaries with crucified Jesus statues; Fleuriste Desjardins; avec-service gas stations; cantines.

Cornice on the Route Verte!

Upon arriving in Sayabec I started thinking that I might be close enough for lunch. But the Google reviews of Resto Chez Mylene were sort of mediocre. La Paysanne had far better reviews. They had no interior seating, and it was still winter, so I had to take the food to the Gite Grand-Père Nicole, where I was staying. I ordered a poutine and a guedille crevette (like a lobster roll, but with shrimp and mango). Never had a guedille before.

Gite Grand-Père Nicole, and a guédille and poutine

The total elevation gain was 753m. One climb early on felt hard on my crappy bike, but the stats suggest that it’s only 119m over 2.8km.

Segment selected: 14.8 km to 17.6 km
Distance selected: 2.8 km
Selected start elevation: 119 metres
Select end elevation: 185 metres
Average grade: 2.4%
Climb score: 6636
Climb category: NC

La Paysanne was most but not all of my riding that day. I continued another 1.1km to the Gite with the food in a paper bag, checked in, talked to the nice B&B host, ate my lunch, and then continued on another 14km to La Captive for dinner. Then (this is important later on) I locked my bike to a post outside the Arena, getting a ride back to the Gite.

Welcome to Amqui! "Haut niveau" is relative I guess.

April 8: Amqui to Campbelltown to Montreal

[omitted: referee clinic, refereeing Saturday/Sunday]

I highly recommend breakfast at that B&B!

Sunrise in Val-Brillant

Stealing my bike

After the tournament all I had to do was to ride my bike to the bus stop at JoJo and then take transit all the way back home. Easy right? Oops, there was still a twist.

I’d locked my bike to a post with a sign. In an attempt to lighten my load, I think that I had left all my keys at home except for my bike key. That’s a mistake. Keys on their own are easy to lose. After looking for the key several times in all of my stuff, I gave up.

OK, so now I have a locked up bike and need to get to the bus stop 2.3km away. I could abandon my bike in Amqui but that’s just littering.

Next idea: steal my bike! The thing about locking a bike to a post is that it’s topologically equivalent to an locked-only-to-self bike: one can free the bike by lifting it above the post. Of course I’m not tall enough to do so. So I enlisted a city staffer to help me steal my bike. Clearly I don’t look sketchy. He and his colleague used a pick-up truck which provided sufficient height. Unscrewing the panel and lifting the bike onto the truck worked.

  • Third use of adjustable wrench: getting panel off post and replacing it.

Still, 2.3km is awfully far to walk a self-locked bike and it would be really inconvenient for the rest of the trip, not to mention that this lock was really not very useful to me in the future. Locks can be removed with bolt cutters or angle grinders. The city staffer didn’t have such tools (or we wouldn’t have needed to lift). This could have gone poorly, because garages are closed on Sundays and the two Amqui hardware stores are also closed on Sundays. I started walking towards the bus stop with the locked wheel off the ground.

Quebec in 2018. Not beyond Asian racial epithets, I found, walking in Amqui. I guess this is not a surprise to anyone affected by Bill 21.

Even though everything was closed, I heard noises from an industrial building. Some guy was working in the welder’s shop after hours and I talked him into cutting the lock for me. Hurrah!


At JoJo I still had a couple of hours to wait for the bus so I had another poutine and waited. I loaded the bike onto the bus and got off at Matapédia 50 minutes later. I did not check out the nearby ski resort “Le Petit Chamonix”. It might not quite compare to the real thing: it has 13 runs and 150m of elevation. Still, the B&B host had mentioned that the snow around here was much softer than around Montreal, which is often icy.

Bike ride to Campbellton

I biked the remaining 22km to Campbellton NB, stopping at the Lieu historique national de la Bataille-de-la-Ristigouche (nothing to see in April but snow, though Wikipedia says that it hastened the fall of Montreal) and crossing the bridge to New Brunswick around sunset. Loads of time between bus arrival at 5pm and train departure at 11pm.

Welcome to New Brunswick / Bienvenue au Nouveau-Brunswick

I try to learn something about the places I pass through. What I learned about Campbellton was that it had the distinction of having the most population degrowth in NB between the two last censuses.

I successfully checked my bike (in a Via Rail provided plastic bag, for a modest fee) and ignored the station attendant’s suggestion to go to Pizza Delight for dinner (it was also up a hill). I checked out the regional chain Dixie Lee but didn’t want fried chicken so went to the newly renovated Al’s Pizzeria instead. From talking to the pizzeria staff, someone decided to pump a bunch of money into renovating this restaurant. Good to see investment into small towns.

With several more hours in Campbellton I decided to check out Tap’s Bar. On a Sunday night I was the only customer there for a while. Then someone else came. New Brunswick is Canada’s only officially bilingual province and everyone I talked to switched languages effortlessly (like me and almost all young native Montrealers).

Tap's Bar; Bike, check.

On to the train. Via Rail’s Ocean from Halifax to Montreal ran the same equipment as the Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver in my rides on both of these trains. I had thought about getting a seat but decided that a berth was the way to go for an overnight train. Reversing my trip, the train didn’t take that long to get back through Amqui and Mont-Joli before continuing to Montreal.

zzz: Memories of the Canadian.

April 9: to Montreal to Toronto to Waterloo

Montreal and Toronto.

After a good night’s sleep, the Ocean passes through Quebec (Sainte-Foy), Drummondville, and the south shore of Montreal, all familiar territory for me. The connection in Montreal to the single Corridor train with a baggage car was painless and I arrived in Toronto Union Station at 4:15pm.

Toronto Union Station with a less-clean bike

There was one more challenge, though. We were now at rush hour in Toronto. How to get back to Waterloo? I called Metrolinx to ask for advice and they didn’t have anything either: either I bike to Square One or 407. The GO Train is only open to folding bikes in rush hour and I’d chosen to not take the folding bike. But there are also no GO buses out of Union Station at that time; the first bus would be in a couple of hours.

Fortunately, I had a bike and could get to Square One. There was surprisingly decent segregated bike infrastructure for the most part, except for the part where there was a car parked in the bike line of course. Lots better than getting to YYZ.

Toronto biking infrastructure: parking fail; the trail under the QEW.

The route was Lakeshore through to eventually Etobicoke Creek (there was “interesting” riding along the creek at some point) and east on Burnhamthorpe. An hour and 50 minutes later I got to Square One and took the 25 to WLU and biked home.

That was fun, but in 2019 I flew round-trip to YYY and got a ride in a car.

Home sweet home!