dust and echoes

It seems to me that, no matter what kind of athlete you are, whether you’re young or old, weak or strong, novice or expert, you probably share at least one thing with absolutely every other athlete out there – the desire to be alone with your thoughts from time to time, and to allow your brain to compete mano a mano with your body. Now I know that, if you’re a cyclist, it’s great to go out for a Sunday group ride. And if you’re a runner, maybe you already have that perfect running buddy that helps make the ordeal a little less lonely. But for me, it’s the time alone that I crave sometimes…okay, a lot of the time.

I had an incredible opportunity to do just that earlier today. I took my Surly LHT (aka The Tank) out for about 40km worth of the PPJ Cycloparc in the Pontiac region of Eastern Quebec. And let me tell you, if you are looking for a quiet, private ride in this part of the world, look no further. The mostly flat, mostly straight trail of crushed gravel cuts through serene forest and farmland for miles and miles and miles. I began at the Head of Trails, located a few kms west of Quyon, Quebec on Hwy 148. After parking the car and rolling up the tiny side road, I said goodbye to everyone and everything. No cars. No noise. No people. None. Come to think of it, there weren’t even any other cyclists. I can’t tell you when (or if) I have ever biked 40km without seeing or hearing another person, car, or distant sound of civilization. If it hadn’t been so beautiful, it probably would have seemed kind of creepy.

PPJ Cycloparc - Dusty Trails

PPJ Cycloparc - Dusty Trails

For the first little while, I was just astonished that I was truly by myself. In fact, I kind of thought that maybe I as “doing it wrong”. Was I not in the right place? No, this was definitely the right spot. The PPJ Cycloparc’s trail, which likely also doubles as a snowmobile route in the wintertime, cuts between farms, darting in and out of deep, wooded areas into bright and grassy clearings, occasionally crossing extremely minor side roads. Yet despite the seemingly remote nature of the track, the whole thing is exceedingly well organized. Every kilometer is marked clearly on a post located on the north side of the trail. Every road crossing is highly visible to both cyclists and motorists alike and, best of all, the PPJ trail includes numerous picnic /rest areas for weary riders (like myself) looking for a nice place to sit, jettison some garbage and attend to nature’s call. In short, I was in the right spot.

Just to nerd-out a bit here, the goal of today’s ride was actually to test out some equipment. I recently added an Axiom Hybrid front fender to the LHT and wanted to test the clearance on some of the turns. Truthfully, there’s some work to do there yet. For most manoeuvring, everything seemed just fine. But the kinds of really tight, really slow turns that one does to get started from a dead stop or to radically change direction in order to work your way around an obstacle did result in some clipping against my foot from time to time.

PPJ Cycloparc - The Tank

PPJ Cycloparc - The Tank

I’m not convinced that I actually have that fender installed correctly. But since Axiom wasn’t kind enough to provide any instructions or directions in the packaging, I guess I’ll never know. More tweaking to come there, I would think. Otherwise, I can say that the tires (and the bike as a whole) performed admirably on the crushed gravel – so much so that I felt extremely comfortable going no-hands for long stretches of the ride – something that I would likely have never considered doing in loose gravel on nearly any other bike I’ve ever owned. This whole thing is partially in preparation for a longer gravel ride that I have planned for later this summer – the Cataraqui Trail. If today’s ride is any indication, the LHT will hold up very well indeed. Truth be told, I’m inclined to head back out on a longer version of today’s ride and do some camping along the way. There’s a community campground just past Fort Coulogne that my wife and I stayed at with friends earlier this summer. That would make for a great two day ride. Or for something longer, you could camp at Fort Coulogne on Day 1, hit Pembroke on Day 2 and work your way home on the Ontario side for Days 3 and 4. Check out a few of the possibilities on the PPJ’s map.

All in all, an interesting experience. Riding alone along a dusty, quiet trail like that certainly helps spark the imagination and gets the ideas flowing. And if you’re really a creative, imaginative type, you can even delude yourself (briefly) into thinking that you’re all out alone on a breakaway in the Paris-Roubaix. I know I did for a few minutes there. 🙂


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