Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Rail trails of Quebec : Charny to Dosquet ... and back again

Neither of us slept well last night with memories of the troubles we encountered the day before still fresh in our heads.  Despite being in a warm and cozy room I spent most of the night listening to Sean pounding out emails out to local birders, scanning kijiji ads online and searching local shops for used cameras for sale.  By 6 am he had found one but it required several hours negotiating buses to go back into Quebec city to find a replacement camera and then a lens in order to keep photographing the trek and Canada from the trail.  By 10 am we had a used camera and functional lens again but were officially drained of all of our savings for the year.

We headed out of Lévis this later morning into a cold, damp, overcast autumn morning.  Strips of pale turquoise blue sky peeked out from beneath the clouds above the southern horizon, teasing us with the promise of warm fall sunshine.  We soon warmed up as we rubbed our chilly fingers together and stomped our feet through the carpet of leaves.

At the outskirts of Lévis we picked up the Corridor du Grand Trunc, which is 12 km long, running from Lévis to just east of Saint-Agapit.  At the beginning of the trail, near Saint-Rédempteur, we passed a lovely wooden gazebo, and a washroom with flush toilets and a sink, and an historical plaque with information on the Grand Trunk Railway.  What luxuries!

According to the sign, the railway in Saint-Rédempteur was instrumental to the founding of the parish there.  In 1854 the Grand Trunk railway built a metal bridge over the two nearby rivers, which was the longest in the area.  In 1890 the Intercontinental Railway gained permission to use the bridge for its line from Montreal to Drummondville.   This junction prompted the Grand Trunk Railway to build the 'Chaudière Station,' which became the hub of a new community.

As we left the noise of morning rush hour behind, we followed a winding, paved cycling path through a beautiful corridor of trees that bisected a subdivision of large homes.  Tall, straight white trunks of birches and aspens bordered the pathway, with the rich coppery tones of beech and oak leaves, the bright yellows of aspen foliage, and the lone patches of orange and red sugar maple leaves creating brilliant highlights above us.  A coating of satisfyingly thick and crunchy leaves bordered the trail and let off a fresh, earthy smell as we scuffed through them. 

 
For the entire day we followed an exceptionally well signed and maintained, straight, flat, paved, cycling trail, which featured rest areas with picnic tables, garbage cans, and interpretive signs every 2-4 km along its length.  It was pure joy to walk, and over the course of the day we must have been passed by more than 30 cyclists, and about a dozen walkers, many of whom gave us a friendly greetings in passing.  Not only are the amenities along the Route Verte cycling trail(s) in Quebec top notch, but there is a very detailed guide available online in French and English showing resources and places to eat and stay along the way (www.routeverte.com). 

As we made our way through the corridor of trees we heard the busy chatter of Black-capped Chickadees in the hemlock and white birches bordering the trail, and listened to the soft, almost whiny cajoling of a pair of Blue Jays sweet talking each other in a nearby shrub.  The loud chatter of a red squirrel suddenly sounded from the top of a maple. 

Around 12 km into our hike we came to the Halte Jean-Sébastian Blais, which was a large rest area with several picnic tables and an interpretive sign for the Trans Canada Trail featuring a red fox.  A wooden bridge adjacent to the rest area spanned a dark, fast-flowing, meandering creek that wound through the adjacent forest.  This charming spot marked the end of the Corridor du Grand Trunc and the beginning of the Véloroute de Lotbinière, which is a 26 km long stretch of trail that goes through Dosquet.  One of my favourite finds from today was a sign saying 'Au Revoir' to the Corridor du Grand Trunc section of the trail and a 'Bienvenue' to the Parc Linear de Lotbinière. 


As we continued west we passed through a stretch of tamaracks, their needles creating a soft golden carpet on the trail, and creating a glow in the forest around us.  Beside us the trees gave way to a rich, golden spruce bog, bordered by tamarack.  On the far edge of the marsh the conical shapes of spruce stood tall, forming a small slice of the Boreal. 

As we approached Saint-Agapit we found joy in seeing the small things along the trail.  Tufts of delicate milkweed seeds adorned with jewel-like drops of water that reflected the world in miniature.  Luscious clumps of plump red berries hanging low over the rich burgundy leaves of blackberry bushes, and the delicate white puffs of wildflowers gone to seed.  Underneath, clumps of soft black mushrooms pushed up through the emerald green grass, occasionally joined by fungi with tall white caps. 

When we reached Saint-Agapit we crossed the Rivière Noire on a beautiful wooden bridge, and then passed the Gare de Saint-Agapit.  The first train station was built on the spot in 1853, during construction of the Grand Trunk Railway, and it was known as the 'Black River Station'.  The current station was built in 1920, and remained in operation until 1970.  It was through the efforts of the local community that the building was restored, and it now serves as a tourist attraction, selling local arts and crafts.  Sadly, it wasn't open when we walked by this morning, but it looked very nice. 

 
We had hoped to stop for a bite to eat in one of the small restaurants or cafés in Saint-Agapit, but sadly they were all closed on Mondays and Tuesdays at this time of year.  The sounds of children playing in the nearby schoolyard, and the ringing of the church bells seemed to beckon us into town, but we weren't enthusiastic about making a detour to Subway, which seemed to be the only thing open.  If there had been fresh baked croissants, now that would have been a completely different story! 

After Saint-Agapit the trail took us through more open agricultural land.  We passed pig farms and fields full of multi-colored cows who paused in their grazing to watch us pass. At one point two entirely black chickens crossed the path ahead of us, and the call of a rooster rang out.  When we closed our eyes, the smells and sounds of the farms around us where the same as those of Basque country in France. 

Many farmers were out working in their fields, a few of them ploughing the rich, wet, dark brown soil.  Small groups of American Goldfinches, Dark-eyed Juncos, and White-throated Sparrows moved through the bushes at the field edges.  Blue Jays and American Robins hopped and bounced through the tall treed hedgerows.  The smell of wood smoke, delicious cooking, rich earth,  and wet fall leaves filled the air. 

As we walked we noticed that many of the fields were very long and narrow, similar to the plots of land cultivated by the Métis in Manitoba, which gave each farmer access to water from the river.  We didn't see a river nearby, but the farmhouses were relatively close together along the road, a product of the long, narrow plots of land. 


As we approached Dosquet, which was our endpoint for the day, we had fields on one side of us, and the road about 25 m away on the other.  A large hydro corridor that had been paralleling the trail was across the fields to our right.  At this point we suddenly came to not one, but a tight cluster of five signs telling us the trail had been re-routed onto the road. 

This seemed ominous, but when we continued on the only thing we came to was a work crew adding soil to shore up the edges of the paved trail.  This wasn't the first sign of trail maintenance we'd come across today.  Earlier we'd passed a man surveying and marking individual trees that were dead or leaning over the trail, posing a potential future threat to trail users.   Similarly in another section a worker had put out collections of orange pylons around very small bumps and holes in the pavement.  The level of trail maintenance, and the high standards adhered to here are truly impressive...and a little extreme! 

Just outside of Dosquet we passed a home with a large blue and white painted scallop shell attached to the railing on its front balcony.  At the edge of its property was another tall wooden cross, and a little farther down the trail we passed a second metal cross standing tall on the edge of the trail.  Once again we felt like we were pilgrims on a Camino! 

When we reached Dosquet we came to a small Lion's Park, and another rest area.  We had originally hoped to be able to stay in a bed and breakfast in this small community having made reservations to do so.  However upon our arrival we were informed by the owner that the season was over as of last night and that we could not be accommodated.  Frustrated we inquired at the next lodging in this community but it required a minimum stay of two nights, while the third is booked for tonight.   Upon seeing our gear each gite owner was quick to remind us that camping was not permitted and that paid lodgings were the only allowed option. 

Uncertain what to do we went to the local park with its covered Halte Velo seating to figure out the evening.  Yet even here both cyclists and a local resident would soon "remind us" that camping was not permitted in the community or on the trail.  

We knew during the planning stage for this section of trail that it would pose a challenge for us, because camping isn't permitted along the pathway (as we were being continually reminded), and there is very little opportunity to stealth camp, especially now that the ground is waterlogged and the leaves are down.  As today's events reiterated we have added to these challenges because we are now hiking in the shoulder season, when many campgrounds, gites, and restaurants not already closed by Covid are closed or are closing for the season.  Making this situation harder is the fact that many of these establishments have not taken down their webpages or Booking.com listings and are still accepting reservations online.  As such, it is very challenging to know what one can rely upon and what reservations will actually count when we make them.  Since these amenities tend to be spaced out at good intervals for cyclists (40 - 80 km), we find ourselves facing a somewhat difficult situation when some of them are unavailable. The next few days will undoubtedly pose a challenge, but all we can do is make the best of it and hope for continued good luck along the way.

Unfortunately the only viable solution tonight was to call a taxi from Quebec City, pay the exorbitant costs involved, return to Charny for the evening, and pay for another cab tomorrow morning to come back to Dosquet and continue on.  A hard lesson to learn after a long day and it now means that we will check our reservations to guarantee that they are available prior to arriving. 

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