Monday, December 16, 2013

Eastern Townships 2013, Day 6: Frelighsburg to Yamaska River National Park

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I woke up early to a sunny but misty morning. As it wasn't yet quite a safe time to wake up the biketopus, I spent some time making a fire and watching hectic campground staff cleaning everything thrice in preparation for an upcoming inspection that morning.

Over breakfast, we discussed the plan for rest of our trip. It was clear that we were too far behind schedule to do the original route, especially since our legs were still feeling tired. We had offers from two different Warmshowers hosts but one would have been too close, the other too far away. In the end we settled on riding north to Yamaska National Park near Granby today and then have a long but flat day back to Montreal the day after.
After a few flat kilometers back into Frelighsburg, we were served a mean hill for breakfast. According to the sign on top, it was a 10 per cent grade, but compared to what we had done on previous days it didn't feel too deadly.
The mountains of the Eastern Township were still visible in the distance but our route significantly flattened into gently rolling hills.
In Dunham we rode past this lovely looking microbrewery/brewpub. Unfortunately, they were closed and at any rate it still would have been a little early for beer.

Instead of beer, we had bread and pastries from a local bakery next door as a second breakfast. I also picked up a paper map and further refined the remaining route to Granby, trying to stay away from busy roads as much as possible.
That plan worked out very well and for the rest of day we would encounter only few cars on these pretty country roads.

Past Cowansville, we turned east for a bit, following one arm of the Yamaska River (somewhat confusingly, the river consists of several tributaries, all having Yamaska in their name). At the turn-off I had spotted a sign for two covered bridges and I thought they would probably make for a good lunch stop. We were riding along for a bit and I was afraid we might have missed the bridge, but finally we saw the sign and shortly thereafter the bridge, Pont Balthazar. Now I must say that I don't quite understand the North American obsession with covered bridges, but this one's location was stunningly beautiful, right over some rocky rapids.

When looking for that perfect lunch spot, I noticed what looked like a turtle in the water below. It was so big, however, that I first couldn't believe it. To a German, turtles are things that live in zoos or on the Galapagos Island, and even while living in the US I had only ever seen modestly sized ones. This one, in contrast was about 40 cm, lazily lying in the water between two rocks.

What more can you ask for for a lunch break -- covered bridge, lovely scenery, amazing wildlife.

Our route continued on tranquil roads before finally we had completed our loop and met up with the Route Verte where we had been riding on our second day.
After passing through Granby again, this time we kept left and headed towards the National Park. Whereas Mont Orford National Park fit the stereotype of a place of untouched nature very well, the park in Yamaska featured landscape clearly shaped by humans. The Yamaska River (yet another tributary) is dammed to form a large freshwater reservoir, surrounded by the park.

When entering the park, we saw signs that there currently was a blue-green algae bloom in the reservoir. No swimming for us -- or anyone else. As a consequence, the park was pretty empty. Instead of taking one of the cyclist camping sites we were assigned a regular spot in the woods. Before the sun set we took the opportunity for a short hike through the forest. As we walking along on a narrow trail,  I suddenly spotted a porcupine sitting in a tree. Mr. (or Mrs.?) Porcupine and I were equally startled for a moment -- seeing a porcupine in the wild was another first for me -- and the biketopus was startled by me making a jump to the side and being like "Whoa! Porcupine!"

Unfortunately, we weren't quite done yet with our wildlife encounters for the day. After dinner, I took a trip to the bathrooms to clean our dishes and do laundry. The biketopus stayed at our campsite and had an unwanted visitor -- a skunk! We had seen them before but this particular one was clearly more curious than afraid of humans and decided sniff the biketopus's toe. Understandably, she was not too thrilled about that! Fortunately, it all ended well, even though the skunk returned later at night, while we were sleeping in the tent to check out my bike shoes under the tent's fly. Well, what can you say: they're black and white and they sure did smell!

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