Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Chocolate Trail Magic : Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts to Saint-Faustin-Lac-Carré

When we headed out of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts shortly after 7:00 am it was into a cool (10°C), overcast morning.  As we followed the paved cycling pathway past the restored train station and out of town we immediately felt like we had entered the Boreal forest.  Three years ago today we began our hike across Canada on the Trans Canada Trail by walking west out of St. John's, Newfoundland on the T'Railway Trail.  We absolutely loved our hike across The Rock, and today's walk reminded us a lot of the amazing scenery out there. 

For most of the day we walked on a trail bordered by dense spruce, balsam fir, tamarack, and white birch.  A thick layer of moss bordered the trail, accented by bunchberry, wild strawberries, and the occasional wild violet.  Red tamarack needles coloured the trail, and the fresh scent of balsam fir hung in the cool mountain air. 

A small tributary of the Rivière Noire, which connects Lac Brulé with Lac des Sables meandered quietly beside the trail.  The dark chocolate  brown waters of the narrow, shallow, river flowed quietly past, winding through wetlands defined by tall, bleached grey snags and carpets of lush green shrubs.

The trail crossed and re-crossed the small stream on wooden pedestrian bridges which provided nice views out over the wetlands with the forested hills beyond.  We could hear the cheery song of an American Robin, the 'Quick, three beers!' call of an Olive-sided Flycatcher, the Eastern Phoebe repeating its own name, and the loud complaints of an American Crow echoing across the wetland. 

Although the landscape looked and felt remote, for a good portion of the walk this morning the trail paralleled the highway fairly closely.  Unfortunately, the noise from the traffic was extremely loud, in some places completely drowning out the sounds of the birds and making it difficult for us to hear each other talking.  We were kind of puzzled by the volume and speed of the traffic on this highway, which seems to take a rather indirect northern route across the top of Lake Superior, only rejoining the Trans Canada Highway near Nipigon, Ontario. 

Around 8:00 am it began to sprinkle gently.  We were a little apprehensive at first, because the weather network predicted 10 mm of rain for this morning, and we expected to get soaked.  However, the predictions turned out to be inaccurate, and nothing more serious than a few light showers fell all day. Best of all, we were blessed with some truly amazing skies. I don't have the words to describe the wavy cloud patterns, except to say that they reminded us both of representations of the sky from Indigenous artists, and paintings by the Group of Seven.  

Soon we crossed a small road and began walking the only part of the P'tit Train du Nord that is open to snowmobiles.  The trail transitioned from pavement to crushed stone dust, and thankfully it pulled away from the highway a little.  In this quieter section of forest, with the river meandering along beside us, we spotted a cottontail rabbit crossing the trail ahead of us.  

We passed a beaver dam, and watched the architect of the impressive structure disappearing around a bend in the stream. We heard the bubbly and over-exuberant song of a Winter Wren, the downward spiralling notes of a Veery, and the haunting call of a White-throated Sparrow as we enjoyed the peaceful landscape under the mesmerizing cloudscape. 

Just before we crossed back under the highway at Degrosbois we came to a section of wetland owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.  It just so happened that this coincided with a pocket of intense bird activity.  The path was bordered by feathery tamaracks and spruce, and we spotted Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black-capped Chickadees, an American Redstart, and a Black-and-white Warbler all feeding in the same small group of trees.  So much bird activity! 

When we walked under the highway we discovered that it also served as a wildlife corridor.  Interpretive signage explained that the Ivry Wildlife Crossing not only allowed users of the cycling path to cross highway 117 safely, but it also allowed wildlife to access habitats they need for food, reproduction, and shelter.  Cameras installed at the crossing have already captured moose, white-tailed deer, raccoon, ducks, and several other species using the underpass to the cross the road safely.  This made us wonder why ducks would need to use a wildlife corridor? 

In the next stretch of trail we continued to be amazed by the wildlife, which included another rabbit sighting, a close-up view of a Chestnut-sided Warbler, and a Northern Flicker foraging for ants on the side of the trail.  Just after passing the Domaine Lausanne, which apparently is a place to camp, we came to one of the major highlights of today's hike. 

Between kilometre 61 and 62 on Le P'tit Train du Nord we came to a sign on the edge of the trail for ChocoStyle Mont-Blanc. When we followed the arrows up to a large parking lot on the edge of the highway we found a chocolate shop with a huge variety of handmade, locally sourced, and incredibly artistic artisan chocolates.  There was everything from beautiful decorated truffles, to chocolate shoes, to unicorns, to enormous animals, to brownies, to dipped marshmallows.  In the back was a chocolate museum and an observation room where you could watch the chocolates being made.  Apparently school groups are welcomed in for tours.  The owners were incredibly helpful and friendly, and insisted on offering us a free sample to taste (it was delicious!), as well as a bonus cookie.  What wonderful trail magic!  This really is a must-stop place on the way to Mont Tremblant

Shortly after leaving this little piece of heaven we passed the cottages and Golf Royal Laurentian.  The cottages on this large resort more closely resembled mansions, but they looked very nice.  The weather was beginning to clear up a little, and there were several groups out on the golf course. 

Perhaps it was the iffy weather today, or the fact that it was a weekday, but we hadn't seen anyone on the trail all day up until this point.  As we passed the golf course a couple cyclists passed, and we saw several others before the day was done. 

One of the highlights of this section of trail was spotting a groundhog draped over a large rock on the edge of the trail.  I'm not sure what the expression on its face was, but it was very full of character.  It let Sean take several photos of it, and then got annoyed, slipping down to the other side of the rock so that just one ear, one eye, and its nose were visible over the top. It watched us this way, periodically peaking over the rock until we were out of sight. 

After the resort the trail took us past a series of truly enormous quarries.  We could hear the machinery working in the open sand and gravel pits, but we mostly just caught glimpses through trees. When we came to a small lookout we were amazed by the scale of the operation - a car at the bottom of the pit looked like nothing more than a tiny spec! 

In the final stretch of trail leading up to Saint-Faustin-Lac-Carré we found ourselves following a winding paved cycling trail once again.  The forest on either side formed a bright green tunnel around the trail, composed of deciduous trees. American beech, sugar maple, and white birch lined the trail, and once again, the calls of Ovenbirds, Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue Warblers sounded around us.  It felt like a different world to the one we'd been in earlier. 

When we reached the edge of town we came to the old train station and then a long linear park.  There were picnic tables down the middle of the open grassy area, as well as a brightly coloured mural, and a unique sculpture of a metal tree that had been decorated with heart shaped metal locks.  Each lock bore the names of two people and the number of years they'd been together.  What a nice idea! 

There was a charming little bistro at the edge of the park, but sadly it was closed on Wednesdays, so we stopped at the grocery store to get some supplies for dinner.  After picking up a salad, cheese, tomato, avocado, and wraps, we walked the last few kilometers to the Gite de la Pisciculture, which is where we are staying tonight. 

It turned out to be a quaint and charming little B&B with very nice owners.  We retreated to our attic room, did our chores, and then retuned to the front deck to eat our dinner.  As we were doing so we were buzzed by a Ruby-throated Hummingbird who was checking out the petunias and the feeder above our heads! 

Across the street was a large stone building which we later learned used to be a provincially run fish farm where trout were raised.  School children and families used to be able to tour the facility and feed the fish.  In the same location we also saw signs for the Gourmet Sauvage, which creates more than 100 products from wild, local, ingredients.  

We also noticed a lot of construction going on, including the newly built skeleton of a very tall tower and miles of wooden boardwalk sections.  Apparently a German company is building an Ecopark, called Sentier des Cimes.  The tourist destination, which is scheduled to open in July, will feature a 40 meter tall tower and 1,250 meters of wooden boardwalk above the tree tops.  The tree-top walk and observation tower will provide a 360° view of the surrounding landscape and the Laurentian mountains, and it will be the first of its kind in North America.  Apparently we got here a few months too early! 

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As we were finishing dinner it began to rain.  The shower was short and intense, and several more followed throughout the night, making us grateful that we were able to spend tonight indoors.



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