Riding the Charlevoix: Part III, The Mountain Route

By Ken Aiken - the Gear Guy on

The Charlevoix is not the only meteorite impact crater on our planet, but it is one of the few that is populated. Traveling from the village of Baie-Saint-Paul to that of La Malbaie I’ve crossed the widest portion and ridden past the central upheaval called Mont Éboulements. Half of the crater is missing, the result of plate tectonics and the formation of the Appalachian Mountains on the south side of the St. Lawrence River. However, there are two other rivers, the Gouffre and the Malbaie, with the former following a curved valley northeast and the later that of a curved valley that goes northwest. Throw a rock into mud and you’ll get the idea of the topography of this region with its central upheaval surrounded by annular rings.

Having departing from Le Manoir Richelieu and after tanking up with gasoline I follow Rt. 138 through Cleremont, staying within the posted speed limit to avoid a notorious police trap. Blue and white signs titled ROUTE DES MONTAGNES with a mountain logo make the turn to Sainte-Aimé-des-Lacs easy to find. Lac Sainte-Marie is on my right and after bearing right in the village, Lac Nairne appears on my left. They mark the outer ring of the crater and a single paved road traverses the broad valley filled with a forest of spruce, tamarack, and black birch from here to the mountains.

 

This is the heart of the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and this narrow ribbon of smooth asphalt snakes across the broad expanse towards a seemingly impenetrable wall of rock. I can easily imagine this as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ setting for “The Land That Time Forgot,” but lot has happened in the last 340 million years: continents have since shifted and giant glaciers scoured the land during four ice ages. I have no idea what the bedrock contour is like beneath my wheels: the glacial till left when the last great glacier melted a mere 8,000 years ago has made this terrain relatively flat. What I do know is that this fantastic motorcycle road leads toone of the region’s two national parks.

I manage to convince the park rangers that I only want to take some pictures. They tend to restrict the number of people who can ride into Parc National des Hautes-Gorges de la Rivière-Malbaie simply because of the very limited parking that’s available at the base lodge, but a motorcycle doesn’t take up much room and I don’t plan to stay longer than it take to grab a sandwich and coffee at the deli. The road runs just a few miles (kilometers) into the upper gorge of the Malbaie River, but there’s nothing else like it east of the Rocky Mountains.

 

The ride out of the gorge and return to Sante-Amié-des-Lacs is a delight, especially when I twist the throttle after leaving the boundary of the park. This is just one end of the Mountain Route and when I reach the village I hang a right and continue to Notre-Dame-des-Monts.

Unlike the River Road, La Route des Montagnes is a succession of local roads that follow the ridge of the outer annular ring. The blue and white signs make it easy to follow and neither a map nor GPS is required. This rural road with farms dotted along its length reminds me of Vermont; the rugged horizon of Colorado. The wall of mountains is abrupt and obviously curves in a smooth arc so I don’t understand why it took until 1965 to identify this landscape as being a crater. Previously it had defined as being carved by glaciers, but who ever heard of a glacier moving in a perfect 180-degree arc of this length?

The Mountain Route descends into the Gouffre River Valley at Saint-Urbain. One of the reasons I came to the Charlevoix was to try and locate this road. Google Maps is not accurate: there actually is a bridge that crosses the river, but the highway shown on the popular digital map is a farmer’s private road leading to his back fields. It’s not a problem since your only valid option is to ride into the center of the village to Route 381.

This is a farming community, but one of these farmers raises emus–an ostrich-like bird—and another raises ducks to make traditional foie gras. The specialty food producers in this crater are famous for the quality of their products, which of course are organic.

The Mountain Route continues north on Route 381, cutting through a second national park, des Grands-Jardins, and mountain wilderness for 70 miles (113 km) to reach Ha! Ha! Bay at the head of the Saguenay Fjord. I turn left, and ride towards Baie-St-Paul.

After stopping at Maurcie Dufour’s farm for some of his award-winning cheese, my next visit is just down the road at the Rémy Mill. The bakery offers a vary of loaves made from locally grown organic wheat that’s ground between antique French granite grindstones in the restored 19th century mill on the hillside. There’s nothing like the smell of fresh bread coming out of wood-fired brick ovens to get my mouth watering in anticipation. I have choices, but pick up a couple loaves of their signature “meteorite.”

The mile-wide rock that created this unique spot in eastern Quebec vaporized on impact – there are no chunks of nickel-iron or glassy moldavite to be found. What I’ll return home with is an irregular loaf of crusty sourdough bread, a Charlevoix “meteorite,” to savor along with a bottle of the locally brewed beer and memories of some of the most scenic motorcycle roads in eastern Canada.

Article by Ken Aiken – The Gear Guy

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