I could understand the "you're crazy!" contingent. Wrestling my toddler into a trailer already loaded with clothes, diapers and emergency supplies, then dragging it behind my bike for 70 kilometres didn't exactly sound relaxing. On the other hand, I've learned that containment is an essential tactic in childrearing. And with our five-year-old Zoey stuck in the saddle of her trail-a-bike, and little Molly held in childproof restraints in the bike trailer, we could hope for two to three hours a day of peaceful pedalling.
Two hours of peace a day is about as much as any parent can expect from a family vacation, we reasoned. So we loaded my old Toyota Corolla with bikes, bags and optimism, and set out on our "pedals and puddles" tour of Quebec's Eastern Townships.
Day One: Granby
When we reached Granby, an hour south of Montreal, the thermometer had hit 30 degrees and the kids were sweating in the un-airconditioned car. We made straight for our destination: the Amazoo water park in the Granby Zoo.
For $129, we purchased a two-day family pass to the zoo and water park. Since Granby would be the beginning and end-point of our biking circuit, we knew we'd come back to enjoy a second day.
Aimed at families with young children, the water park features two wave-pools, a wading pool with sprinklers and small slides, as well as a lazy-river innertube ride. Trees and umbrellas provided shade for picnicking (many families brought their own coolers full of snacks) and the concessions even sold cold beer. Vive le Québec! We decided to save the zoo for later, and spent the day splashing and lounging, in preparation for the biking ahead.
A drive down Granby's Rue Principale showed an interesting array of shops and restaurants downtown, but not much in the way of lodging. Instead, we stayed at Motel les Pins, about five kilometres from the zoo on Highway 112. It was clean, comfortable and reasonably-priced. For dinner, the Casa de la Spaghetti, also on Highway 112, offered a family environment and decent Italian food.
Day Two: Granby to Waterloo
We drove into downtown Granby and left our car parked free of charge in the municipal parking lot beside the Tourist Information Bureau at 111 Rue Denison. Since it would take about an hour to get the bikes off the roof-racks, assemble the trailer and trail-a-bike, and load everything up for the journey, my husband hustled the kids off for breakfast while I set to work.
Immediately next to the parking lot was a McDonald's, but a short walk across the bridge brought a serious upgrade in morning dining: the Café de la Brûlerie, serving pancakes, omelettes, several variations on eggs Benedict and excellent coffee.
By noon, the kids fed and fortified, we were ready to hop on our bikes toward the next stop: Bromont.
The paved bike path out of Granby meanders through meadows filled with wildflowers. Butterflies fluttered across our path and the chirr of crickets filled the air. It was scenic enough, but the best part of our chosen route was that -- apart from short hops into towns to visit restaurants or B&Bs -- we would spend the full three days on dedicated bike paths. No traffic to contend with, no swerving with the toddler-laden trailer onto the gravel shoulder of a highway as trucks zoomed past. The peace of mind made this an ideal route for a family cycling trip.
About nine kilometres out of Granby, a turnoff through a campground led into the town of Bromont and the irresistible Musée du Chocolat. Less a museum than a mouth-watering restaurant and chocolate boutique, the place serves up a delicious lunch of crêpes accompanied by the best cup of hot chocolate this sweaty cyclist has ever tasted.
Following lunch, we were tempted to change our plans and find a place to stay overnight in Bromont. In keeping with our "pedals and puddles" theme, Bromont boasts a water park for cooling off. But we had already booked a B&B in Waterloo, so we swung ourselves back in the saddle and reached the O'Berge du Pignon just in time to escape an afternoon thunderstorm.
Day Three: Waterloo to Parc national de la Yamaska
When I'd booked our accommodations for this trip, it had been surprisingly difficult to find a B&B in Waterloo that had a room big enough for two adults and two children. The room in the O'Berge du Pignon was a bit of a tight squeeze, but it was clean and cosy with a private bathroom -- enough to satisfy our needs.
As we left Waterloo the next morning, the bike path turned to gravel, which made pulling the bike trailer more strenuous. Luckily, Zoey disdained to ride in the "baby-trailer" with Molly, and had decided she was capable of pedalling the entire tour herself. We loaded the basket on her trail-a-bike with animal crackers, granola bars, and a bottle of orange juice for the road.
I had high hopes as we approached the Parc national de la Yamaska, imagining something along the lines of Algonquin, or at least Gatineau Park. The park, however, turned out to be a stretch of scrubby woodland clustered around an artificial lake called the Reservoir Choinière. My disappointment was compounded by the strong smell of agricultural fertilizer wafting through the air.
"What's first-ilizer?" my five-year-old asked, after I commented on the smell.
"Cow poo," I answered.
"Oh, yeah," she agreed, scrunching her nose. "It smells like first-ilizer."
Still, the kids had fun swimming and playing in the sand at the park's beach. There were plenty of picnic tables, a concession stand and a dépanneur selling snack foods, and -- bless Quebec again -- cold beer.
As evening fell, we picked up some hot dogs and beverages from the dépanneur, filled our water bottles and biked to the Savage Mills Hut, which we had booked for the night.
The hut is the only accommodation in the park, apart from camping. We found it basic, but comfortable, with an outhouse and firepit outside (firewood supplied by the park); bunks, a table, and a woodstove inside. Visitors have to bring their own food, water and bedding (we packed a couple of sleeping bags).
I snuggled in with Molly in the bottom bunk while Zoey enjoyed her perch on the top. As the night fell, the cabin darkened, and it was another early bedtime for one tired cycling family.
Day Four: Parc national de la Yamaska to Granby
The gravel path turned to pavement again just outside of the park, and we experienced our easiest day of cycling: a 10-kilometre, gentle downhill coast to Granby. Arriving there, we cycled past our Corolla waiting in the parking lot and made straight for breakfast at the Café de la Brûlerie.
After packing up the bikes, we took advantage of our two-day pass to visit the Granby Zoo.
The weather was cooler, so instead of heading straight for the water, we took time to see the animals. Molly enjoyed the goats at the petting zoo, while Zoey was thrilled to reach into the shark tank and pet a small shark.
On the way to the waterpark, we were sidetracked by a small amusement park within the zoo. Free rides included kiddie bumper-cars, a merry-go-round and a small ferris wheel.
Finally, we all took one last splash in the water park -- tired, refreshed, and ready to head home to Ottawa.
Kate Jaimet is the Citizen's outdoor and environment reporter.
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If You Go
Where to stay:
- Motel les Pins, Granby, Que.: Rooms with two queen-sized beds cost $103 a night. 1-450-378-0793 or www.motellespins.ca
- O'Berge du Pignon, Waterloo, Que.: The "Campagnarde" room, with one queen-sized bed and two cots, cost $145 a night, breakfast included. 1-866-494-4343 or www.obergedupignon.com
- Savage Mills Hut, Parc national de la Yamaska: The hut with four bunk-beds cost $45.50 a night. Guests must bring food, water and bedding. 1-800-665-6526 or www.parcsquebec.com/yamaska
Although we did not stay in Bromont, some options within cycling distance from the bike path include:
- Auberge les Jardins Interieurs du Lac, Bromont, Que.: Rooms start at $50 per person for double occupancy. 1-866-934-2212 or www.jardinsinterieursdulac.com
- Hotel le Menhir, Bromont, Que.: Rooms start at $109 a night. 1-450-534-3790 or www.hotellemenhir.com
- Granby Zoo and Amazoo water park: 1-877-472-6299 or www.zoodegranby.com
- Le Musée du Chocolat, Bromont: 1-450-534-3893
Cycling guide: La Route Verte du Québec les guides Vélo magazine, pages 122-123http://www.vancouversun.com/travel/Seven+wheels+three+days+kilometres+happy+family/2000518/story.html