This year, our family decided to spend the Thanksgiving weekend climbing and biking. Our itinerary: Sainte Agathe / La Conception and back on the P’tit Train du Nord cycling route, with camping and climbing at Montagne d’Argent. Three great days to enjoy the fall colours.
The weekend was a success, but it didn’t quite turn out as we’d planned. Here are 5 tips we learned along the way:
1. In fall, be prepared for all types of weather.
In the Laurentians in mid-October, it can be warm, sunny, windy, rainy, and even snowy. We had it all! Fortunately, we were properly equipped so the weather didn’t stop us.
My favourite equipment for unpredictable fall weather:
Toques, scarves and gloves are necessities, but shoe covers and glove covers can make all the difference when temperatures dip below 5°C. Our daughter Emma was glad that her little tootsies were toasty warm.
Merino wool underwear is truly miraculous. It stays warm when it’s damp, it’s as comfortable for strenuous activity as it is for sleeping, and it doesn’t smell – even after wearing it three days in a row, you smell (almost) as fresh as a rose. Sure, my hoodie makes me look like an overgrown gnome, but whatever, I’m comfy and I’m not taking it off.
The Uplink jacket is another necessity. Considering its weight and volume, there’s no excuse for me to leave it behind. It’s perfect for the in-between seasons of spring and fall.
A waterproof jacket and pants keep off the rain and also act as windbreakers. Under my pants, cycling shorts are a must. Long tights aren’t as crucial – when you’re weighted down like a mule, being aerodynamic is secondary. Some tips: get waterproof gear with zippers under the arms or along the legs for ventilation. For occasional use, your hiking jacket will do.
2. Pack light.
The more room you have, the more stuff you pack. We brought along panniers and a trailer, and ended up pulling 100 pounds. The climbing bag alone weighed 40. (Don’t remind me that we didn’t even go climbing, since it rained all day Saturday.)
Big expeditions aside, it’s best to choose either panniers or a trailer to carry your gear. That said, I really don’t see where we could have pared down – other than the climbing bag – since we brought all our own food and camped along the way.
With all the gear, it was slow going. I’ll spare you the details about the times we stopped and the trailer fell over from the weight, taking both bike and cyclist with it.
3. Do not overestimate your capabilities.
If you ignore tip number two, this tip becomes even more important. When you’re pedalling what feels like a tank, the smallest inclines become huge hills. But that’s one of the joys of cycling: discovering that no route is truly flat, as it may seem from a car.
We had originally planned to do a loop from Sainte-Agathe / La Conception to Saint-Donat via the Nordet route. Fortunately, we scaled down our ambitions. If we hadn’t, we’d probably still be out there, trying to reach Saint-Donat.
4. Bring everything you need to fix a flat tire. Everything.
We thought we’d brought everything we’d need. We had extra patches, tire levers, spare inner tubes and a mini air pump.
Saturday night, we were in the tent when suddenly, “Pffffffffffffffffffffffffff…”
“What the heck is that?” cried my wife. “Is someone puncturing a tire? FX, get out there and go see – someone’s punctured our tire!”
“No need to worry,” I answered. ”We’re the only ones in the campground.” Who else would camp at Montagne d’Argent in October with 80% probability of precipitation?
Still, armed with my headlamp and a pen (in case of a squirrel attack), I went out and discovered that the tire of the BOB trailer went flat on its own, likely due to the weight. Of course, it was the only spare tube we neglected to bring. And the hole was on the valve, so it was impossible to repair. The truth became all too clear: my next day would consist of a round trip to Mont Tremblant to buy a new tube. Great.
5. Your kids can handle it. Much better than you may think.
This was a pleasant surprise, even though we’d already told ourselves that fact and had tested it on hikes. The physical ability and endurance of children is quite simply phenomenal. They’re happy as long as they’re well-equipped, and perhaps most importantly, as long as they don’t get bored. A motivated child is a happy child.
Despite the cold and the freezing rain, our daughter Emma, who’s five and a half, loved every minute on her trailer bicycle. Between songs, guessing games and playground breaks, she easily cruised for 50km at a time. My better half was delighted, and pulled Emma along while singing at the top of her lungs, even on the hills. The little one watched the scenery go by and pedalled a few times every 50m or so.
One key to our success with Emma was to get her involved in organizing the trip. We showed her our route on the map and clearly explained our itinerary. We also dressed her like the grown-ups: she had her own shoe covers, bike gloves, and an indestructible waterproof outfit (jacket and pants) to keep her warm.
Overall, it was a weekend rich in learning experiences and full of active fun and family laughter. Obviously, we’d do it all over again. If it’s nice out. And warm.