Between Charlevoix and Saguenay, QC - In Jessica Belisle's Backyard
I will always remember the first time my bike took me on Route 381 North; it was during a heatwave. Coming from Trois-Rivières, I didn’t know the area and had no particular apprehension even after a few local riders warned me of the road’s difficulty : it was going to be a hilly one ! The second time I took that road, I arrived completely frozen at the highest point, after the La Galette ascent. It was during a 1000 km night endurance race. No joke, I even had to borrow some wool socks and a pair of jogger pants to warm myself up before starting the descents!
THE RIDE DETAILS
✧ Elevation gain: 1271 m
✧ Level: Advance
✧ Duration: 5-6 hours
This morning when I woke up, I didn't know what to expect for my third time around on this challenging yet refreshing itinerary filled with beautiful memories despite my previous difficulties. Looking at the meteorological forecast, I learned that there would probably be showers, but also a little sunshine. The weather wouldn't be optimal, but I was determined to get out of my comfort zone in which I had made myself cozy during much of the winter and spring.
Happily for me, I have a very devoted mother who agreed to support me during this demanding journey. I am incredibly lucky to have her and even more so because we are used to partnering up for this kind of distance. She knows exactly where to go to optimize my refuelling and at what moment to offer me a little snack or a word of encouragement. So we drove to the church of Saint-Urbain, a small village at the start of the 381 where the Route des Montagnes begins. After making sure I had everything I needed for at least the first 20 kilometres or so, I hopped on my saddle and went for it.
From the start, there is a series of ascents that are sure to make temperatures rise. I started to get hot, while also dealing with the mosquitoes and black flies who loved hanging out with me when my pace was slower going uphill. At the second kilometre, one of these insects, a little bolder than the others, slipped under my glasses and made an attempt towards my left eye. Trying to stop it, I dropped my glasses on the ground and had to turn back to retrieve them. This rather trivial event reminded me that my concentration had to be entirely dedicated to the road, and of course, to admiring the beautiful landscapes!
Speaking of landscapes, they are, from the very beginning of this ride, absolutely spectacular. Contemplating the many variations of green and the grey rock mountains that rise on both sides of the road is definitely worth every pedal stroke.
A few scattered showers swept my way on the road leading to the entrance of the SÉPAQ National Park, starting with the Mont-du-Lac-des-Cygnes sector. Nothing alarming, plus, I was very well protected thanks to my Fizzy Rain Coat. Up to now, the itinerary was essentially made of ascents, I had already accumulated more than 500 metres of elevation gain after only 17 kilometres! That said, that is one of the aspects I love most about Route 381; it is shaped like an A, or an inverted V, so that everyone must start with the ascents and finish with the descents. The speedy part is thus inevitably going to happen at a moment or another.
The Route des Montagnes officially ends at the beginning of the Thomas-Fortin sector, approximately ten kilometres after entering the Mont-du-Lac-des-Cygnes sector. However, I had decided to cover the full 110 kilometres and approximately 1,200 metres of elevation gain that would take me from Charlevoix to Saguenay, more specifically to La Baie. So I continued my ascent up to the Côte de la Galette, one of the last major challenges of the ride. Little technical fact: I'm used to using a compact 50 34 chainset, perfectly suited for climbing, and my new bike is geared with a 52 36 chainset. It is not a huge difference, but let’s just say the small gear came on faster than before! And, on this route with several 16% or even 18% climbs, it was called upon a few times!
Once we arrived in Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean 60 kilometres later, it was time for the big descents and in my case, heavy rain started to pour at the same moment. I was thus extra careful on the descent, using my disc brakes wisely and making sure to avoid any holes in the road. It definitely wasn’t the ideal weather, but once you accept you’re going to be soaking wet, you start to enjoy the moment! After all, they say that champions are defined by the adversity they overcome! It is important to note that the road does not always have a paved shoulder and that the asphalt is sometimes damaged. However, after the Mont-du-Lac-des-Cygnes sector, you’ll notice the road isn’t particularly busy and the cars that passed me by were very courteous. The scenery in this tourist area is enchanting, alternating between lakes and mountains. It’s both wild and exotic! The hard part is to not stop too often to immortalize the moment!
The rain finally ceased near Ferland-et-Boilleau village and so I took the opportunity to oil my chain which made a rather intense metallic noise after all these showers! A luxury we can afford when we are well prepared! Ferland-et-Boilleau is also the perfect spot to take a break and refuel. Head to la Boulange where you’ll find mouth watering pastries, and also complete meals if you are really hungry. Plus, the people there are super welcoming! I recommend that you then complete the remaining kilometres all the way to La Baie to get a superb view of Lac-Saint-Jean.
After that stop, the end is near, and I have been thinking that I might eventually try to complete the round trip. Maybe before the end of the season?! Also, depending on how you organize your time, you can mix your ride up with a hike on the way. This itinerary offers so many options!
In conclusion, my eyes and heart were filled with joy in front of so much splendour and I am very happy I have dared to ride this beautiful road again. And, to be completely honest, it is one of my favourite routes in Quebec!
A very special thank you to my mother who was the perfect partner for this memorable day… she even played the role of personal photographer!
Jessica Bélisle, proud ambassador of the PEPPERMINT collective ♡