What would inspire us to bike nearly 180 miles without the proper gear, lightweight bikes or any previous experience with long-distance cycle touring (watch our awesome video here)? One thing: THE DESIRE TO TRY SOMETHING NEW.
Like going to the best cafe in a new city for the first time and smelling those freshly baked croissants and spotting that giant cappuccino brimming with promise, once we caught a whiff nothing could hold us back from sinking our teeth into the oldest road in North America, Le Chemin du Roy.
Construction on “The King’s Road” started in 1731 and was completed in 1737, at 24-feet wide and over 280 kilometers long, the Chemin du Roy became the longest road in existence north of Rio Grande. Beginning in Repentigny and extending eastward towards Quebec City, this historic road runs along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, most of which now follows along the present-day Quebec Route 138.
So, what did this painstakingly thigh-burning, bum-bruising journey teach us? Let’s start off with a lesson we have learned to appreciate overtime, one that became incredibly evident on this journey in particular.
1. Adventuring is not all fun and games.
Sure we’re not stuck in an office, we have no one to answer to and the projects we work on are all self-motivated for the most part, but that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes we choose to do things that make us feel under qualified, over worked and exhausted beyond the point of repair. In fact, it’s rare that we choose to do an adventure that is “easy” anymore because we’ve come to realize that without a challenge, the amount of learning and personal growth is limited, and where’s the fun in that?!
2. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers.
When deciding to bike the Chemin du Roy we knew nothing about the route, the area or how on earth we were going to do this thing. With minimal (English) resources online, we decided to take it to the streets and stop in local bike shops in Quebec City to get some more detailed answers to our questions. What we learned from the locals saved us the pain of learning hard lessons in an even harder way. The most important thing we learned? That riding from Quebec City to Montreal was NOT the way to go, unless we wanted to be riding the “false flat” uphill the entire way! No thank you.
With that lesson in hand we made arrangements to park our van in Montreal (we found a free, secure street outside the city) and start our route from there. We also learned that upon completing the Chemin du Roy that we could take the VIA Rail Trail from Quebec City back to Montreal with our bikes (additional $25). Tip: Book your train tickets online in advance, what we paid $30 for was $90 at the gate! Yikes and thank yoooou locals.
Another way talking to strangers benefitted us? Free camping and new friends. After biking XYZ miles each day we would usually die out somewhere in the middle of nowhere, so what then?! Instead of being constrained by a motel or campsite reservation, we decided to intuitively knock on doors of houses that had an RV simply because of the fact that they were more likely to understand our way of life.The result: Success. We never had to seek out a 2nd door to knock on and we were always met with kindness and a level of generosity that far exceeded anything we had ever hoped for.
3. Every problem has a solution, you just need to want to solve it.
You should have seen us trying to embark on this adventure. After nearly 3 hours, we had gone through numerous gear-stacking tactics, backpack configurations and eliminated every ounce of luxury we had originally hoped to drag along for the ride. By 3pm we were finally ready. With 2 JanSport packs zip tied on either side of his bike rack and his camera pack on his back, he was good to go. I, as usual, was having a bit more of a struggle but decided to go with wearing my 30 pound backpacking pack on my back…
This lasted for 1.2 days, until my shoulders and back could take no more… then what?! Drew to the rescue. We swapped backpacks and he somehow managed to strap my gigantic pack on top of his bike rack along with the other 2 packs he was transporting. I questioned the practicality of this gear shift, but we had a problem that needed a solution, so we decided to give it a shot. Miraculously, 3 days later, those zip ties and that bike rack were still holding on and my body was free to focus on encouraging my thighs to continue working instead of focusing on keeping my back from breaking. When in doubt, brainstorm and try it out!
4. It is always worth taking the time to stop and admire the world around you.
…because before you know it everything will change and you will wish you had taken the time to smell that rose, admire those dandelions, talk to the curious cows and photograph that perfect old barn house. It’s hard to stop when you’re on your bike with the momentum flowing and the wind blowing through your hair, but it’s safe to say that we’ve never regretted the 2 minutes it takes to stop and enjoy a beautiful scene that we will likely never again see in our all too brief, sweet lives.
5. Bitter (cold) moments can reap sweet rewards.
Day 1: 30 miles, Day 2: 70 miles. At this point, it was day 3, we had camped 2 nights in a row and regardless of how tired our bones and muscles were we HAD TO ride at least 40 miles if we didn’t want ride another brutal 12-hours and 70 miles on our 4th and final day. We had reserved a hotel (shower time!) and made reservations at the famous Chateau Frontenac for Saturday night (food!) and nothing was going to keep us from making it back in time… not even the frigid, relentless rain that we awoke to at 7am on that fateful 3rd day. We covered our packs, put on our ponchos (and plastic bag mittens) and rode as beastly as we could, until I started to cry. Yep, that’s what happens when I’m cold and wet, it’s something I have no control over and no matter how much exposure therapy I get, I still cry.
Instead of telling me to suck it up, Drew made sure we pulled into the first gas station we came across, and for the next hour we sipped on hot coffee, ate gas station croissants and granola and laughed until my shivers were no more. Before we knew it, the rain stopped and we were able to ride our 40 miles faster than we ever could have anticipated… I credit our speed to the coffee and the looming clouds above.
6. As long as you can breathe you can pretty much make it through anything.
Three days down and one more day to go, we had come to the conclusion that the Chemin du Roy was a relatively flat trail with a few gentle ascents every so often, something we had become very thankful for given the distance we were covering and the loads we were carrying. Well, as with most adventures, we were in for a surprise. It wasn’t until the last day, when our muscles were nearly spent, that we were faced with steep, winding roads and undulating hills that seemed to try and drag us backwards with every strained, pedal stroke we struggled to pump out. Inching our way up in 1st gear, the temptation to get off our bikes and walk was strong, but the desire to reach our destination was stronger, and we knew that if we just kept breathing and if we just kept moving forward, no matter how slow, victory would soon be ours.
7. Anything worth starting is worth finishing.
As we sat in our tent taking refuge from the black flies, boiling water for our freeze dried meal, reflecting on the 100+ miles we had managed to pack into our back pockets, we had an epiphany. One of the reasons we love committing to adventures as challenging as this, ironically, is because of the immense joy we are gifted with once it’s over. Starting something for the satisfaction of finishing… it’s a funny thought isn’t it? But anything that you find worth starting, whether it’s an art project, a business endeavor, a marathon, a relationship or a bike ride, it deserves being seen through to the end. Learn lessons, make memories, laugh, cry and seize EVERY day!
8. Sometimes the only way to celebrate is like a King (and Queen)!
180 miles… 180 miles?! Done. No more bike seats, no more backpacks, no more pedaling… could it really be true!? After biking the entire “King’s Road” we were in need of a royal celebration, and what could be more fitting then to celebrate our victory at a castle!
The Chateau Frontenac, opened in 1893, is recognized as the most photographed hotel in the world. Perched atop a tall cape overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, the iconic Chateau was the perfect place to enjoy a much deserved bottle of wine and an absolutely unforgettable meal after a journey as royally challenging as ours.
Aa yes, cozy seats, a beautifully decorated roof over our heads and a wonderful waiter named Marc to take care of us. We went with the “Culinary Escape” package for two, a gourmet, five-course experience in which their award winning Chef, Stéphane Modat, prepares a meal of the restaurant’s favorite dishes and those still in the creation process. Anything worth starting is definitely worth finishing especially when you have an ending such as this:
Perfectly baked, soft, warm bread rolls with sea salted butter to start, followed by the freshest Atlantic salmon tataki to set our palettes right. Our main course was the most tender roasted veal loin and for dessert we were blessed with the “All Chocolate,” which was exactly that…
Hot chocolate sponge cake topped with chocolate mousse, creamy chocolate ganache and a warm cocoa caramel. With moments in between bites to savor our belly-warming wine, we were pretty sure we had died and gone to heaven.
That night we went home comforted by the fact that we had one more epic adventure, and the many lessons that came along with it, behind us. The most unforgettable memories seem to be accompanied by trying circumstances, wonderful company, delicious food and of course, a happy ending. Our photo with the refreshingly personable and extremely talented Chef Modat below: