Trek to the Trembling Mountain

Story by Ron Keys// Photos by Ron Keys
April 1 2012

Six hundred miles from its humble source, I follow the south shore of the mighty Ottawa River down and around a steep grade to the waiting Cumberland-Masson ferry. The ferry’s giant steel ramp closes with a terminal clank as the vessel shudders and vibrates to lumber across, arriving at Masson-Angers, Quebec.

I turn onto Route 148. Quebec’s distinctive architecture is a pleasant change with its European flair; on the left, I see the Laurentian foothills, and on the right, narrow, green fields sloping toward the Ottawa river. The hamlet of Thurso’s welcome sign proclaims it to be the proud hometown of Guy Lafleur.

I ride on to Montebello and take a quick turn through the grounds of the exclusive Chateau Montebello, built entirely of British Columbia Red Cedar logs in a mere four months during the Great Depression. I slowly ride between groves of trees at the grand entrance, noting that the property is one of the last surviving land grants made by 17th-century French kings to early settlers of what was then La Nouvelle France. Former Seigneur Louis Joseph Papineau’s stately residence stands beside Chateau Montebello and is open for tours.

The gentle curves of Route 148 follow the river to Grenville and then to Lachute, where I catch Route 327 north into the Laurentians. The road surface is good, the bends are tightening up and the fun begins. As the turns become more frequent, I think that Route 327 was a great choice.

In the foothills, there are many elevation changes but very limited signage, which I discover in a blind corner as I try to scrub off some serious speed and stay in my lane. “There’s no hurry,” I tell myself, but the need for speed is always there, along with its friendly companion, adrenalin rush. Hills, hollows, blind corners and steep rises – I’m almost lifted out of my saddle, and then I careen downward into another tight right-hander. I pass through Harrington, Brownsburg and Wentworth, and I am left thinking about the Scottish and Irish settlers who carved their niche from the boreal forest, taming this land so long ago. But I need to concentrate on the road ahead. With no runoff anywhere, a moment’s inattention could lead to a disaster laid out just beyond the three-foot shoulder, back-dropped by rocks and trees. “No more daydreaming,” I remind myself. I pummel forward on a road with so many twists, turns and corkscrews that I feel like I’m in Deal’s Gap.

In Arundel, I cruise past the Masonic Hall, Legion, Baptist and United Churches, all English institutions. I follow the valley along the Rivière Rouge and Rivière du Diable to my destination, the pedestrian village at the base of Trembling Mountain – otherwise known as Mont Tremblant. Centuries ago the Algonquin gave it its name, possibly because of the many avalanches in the area.

High above the pedestrian village, I take the Cabriolet gondola to the base of this 968-metre mountain. As I wander the patios with their myriad patterned umbrellas, the aromas of delicious ethnic foods waft across my path and remind me of dinner. Live outdoor theatres, shops of all kinds and descriptions, and loud, vivid colours surround me as I spiral downward until I come to a humble cottage.

Joe Ryan, scion of a wealthy family from Philadelphia, came to Mont Tremblant in the 1930s to search for gold with his friend Lowell Thomas, the famous radio broadcaster. Ryan fell in love with the area, thinking it would make a great ski resort, and then single-handedly developed it into just that. Today the largest ski resort in Eastern Canada, Ryan`s cottage nestles inconspicuously amongst Mont Tremblant’s businesses, a shrine to the visionary. Appropriately, the beautiful street of Monte Ryan leads tourists from the Trans-Canada Highway 117 to the base of Tremblant. The first rays of dawn creep across the valley, and soon I’m riding in bright sunshine. I stop for a moment at Lac Tremblant Marina. Boats reflecting on the sheen of silvery water, and across the lake, the pedestrian village peeping over the trees nestled against the mountain, its summit now enshrouded by clouds – these are the scenes I will remember. After visiting the early morning farmer’s market in Old Tremblant Village, I turn right onto Chemin du Lac Mercier. On the way uphill into the forest, with fleeting glimpses of Lac Mercier through the trees on my right, I enjoy the new pavement.

No peg scraping on this lovely morning. With plenty to see, I thoroughly enjoy the ride of undulating lefts and rights along the banks of the slow-moving Rivière Rouge with its red, silt-laden water. A roadside woodcarver’s display catches my eye, particularly an intricate carving of a demon of the afterlife and another work in progress, starting to look like a nymph under a toadstool. At La Conception, I stop and park in front of a huge, timber-framed edifice, Pont Godin, spanning the Rivière Rouge. What an incredible feat of engineering to construct this timber-framed bridge, which is actually a building. Winding through the countryside east of Mont Tremblant, I circle Lac Supérieur. Cradled in a valley surrounded by mountains, the lake is millpond smooth, and the reflected mountain bears the scar of an ancient rockslide. Taking a fork in the road onto Chemin Duplessis, which would eventually take me back to the pedestrian village, I get sidetracked by the evidence of a huge avalanche. The cliff rises hundreds of feet straight up, and I turn slowly onto Chemin de l’Avalanche. While I take photos, a man approaches from a home and asks if I’d like to use his property for a vantage point. Leading me to his deck, he tells me that sometimes, after a heavy rainfall, he hears huge rocks crashing down the cliff.

Paralleling Rivière du Diable, my enjoyable ride on the brand-new pavement ends, and much to my chagrin, I see the next 11 kilometres of my life forecasted on a construction sign. Mont Tremblant is hosting the 2012 World Iron Man Competition, and area roads such as Chemin Duplessis are undergoing refurbishments at the moment. I toddle along, seeking the hardpan between the rows of gravel. Phenomenal views of the rushing river appease me and make my torturous ride almost bearable. Gingerly stopping next to a pile of gravel, I get off my bike to clamber down to the river’s edge. The babbling of the water over the rocks is broken by the hushed music of motor-racing echoing through the mountains, telling me that I’m not far from Circuit Mont Tremblant. Finally, the construction ends and I complete my loop, riding past the pedestrian village to catch Monte Ryan to St. Jovite. The main street is lined with shops, boutiques and cafés, and with near-perfect weather, the motorcycle population rivals the number of cars. I park and relax in an outdoor café, soaking up the ambience and enjoying the street scene in this exotic, but still Canadian, environment. Later, Route 323 takes me south toward Brebeuf, where I come across a lovely covered bridge, built entirely of wood in 1918.

Today, in our world of plastic and steel, this edifice stands – almost one hundred years old – a monument to the resilience and strength of ancient building techniques. Following the sounds of racing, I find its source on Chemin du Village at Mont Tremblant Race Track. I ride in through the open gates and stand trackside, watching the go-karts race, critiquing the lines taken and the braking and acceleration points, which make all the difference between being on the leaderboard and being an “also ran.” The next day, Hurricane Irene pummels the New England States, and I awake to the sounds of the wind in the pines next to my window, a preamble of what is to come. I pack for the trip home and then make my final descent down Monte Ryan to Route 327. Leaving Brebeuf, the mountains surround me again. Taking some alternate routes for interest’s sake, I make it onto Route 315 to Chénéville and points south. I ride a short stretch of highway that makes this alternate route worthwhile. Following a creek, I crest humps that almost have me airborne, followed by 180-degree corners. What a great section to get the blood moving again. I catch 317 to Thurso and ride the Cumberland-Masson ferry back into Ontario. The sky is constantly changing above me. The telltale giant, circular swirl is a precursor to the approaching hurricane. With the eye of the storm still south of New York City, I can tell this is a big one. But with good luck and a bit of good management thrown in, I’ll be home well ahead of any bad weather. Trembling Mountain will be trembling tonight.


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