Trip Report: Vallée Bras-du-Nord
Ferns, moss, mushrooms, and mist
flank the epic mountain bike trail ahead of us. We’re deep in the forest and surrounded by the supernatural beauty of British Columbia. And I might even believe I was actually in BC if Tommy and my other companions didn’t have heavy French accents... and if I wasn’t less than an hour from Quebec City.
Tommy, Mathieu, Gilles and I are mid way down the world class Neilson Trail, the crown jewel of Vallée Bras-du-Nord’s two trail networks. Located in the Secteur Shannahan, this trail represents the most remote singletrack in the secluded valley. Beyond the Neilson it’s nearly 60 miles to the next town.
|Falling water is the soundtrack on the Neilson.|
On our side of the cascading river a thread of coffee colored singletrack rolls under a cedar canopy. On the opposing side a vertical granite face rises hundreds of feet above us. My eyes revert back to the task at hand as we roll on. I make chase and before long the loamy soil gives way to raw granite slickrock beneath my tires.
“Listen to the sound of the river in the next stretch
.” Tommy shouts back to me.
Falling water is the soundtrack on the Neilson and in the section we’re riding the raging rapids are deafening. As we descend around the next bend and the river goes mute. A mirror flat section of water lies ahead and I hear nothing but humming tires on trail. Tommy looks back. I nod. Tommy smiles.
We catch up to Mathieu and Gilles where they have stopped at one of the Neilson’s landmarks. It’s a massive wooden catwalk clinging to the rock wall high above the ravine. It dawns on me that, to a trail builder, this has to be one of the most difficult places to construct a bike trail! Piles of house size granite fragments flank the river.
|After numerous scouting missions, for a time, he did not believe the trail would be possible to build.|
In some places the water has carved a gorge so deep that one must ride in its shadowy depth unable to see the top of the walls above.
“Here, building the trail between boulders was too difficult so the catwalk was erected
.” Explains Gilles. “And when building on, over and around proved impossible we had to figure out how to get through
Gilles is the man ultimately responsible for the Neilson. Having conceived of placing the trail in such formidable terrain, Gilles had scoured both river banks for possible routes. And he explained that after numerous scouting missions, for a time, he did not believe the trail would be possible to build. But persistence prevailed.
Further yet down the trail, Gilles points out one particularly rocky section. This was one of the last pieces he puzzled together, the missing link, between the bottom half and upper trail. Upon its discovery a vertical rock dead-end stood between the ravine’s wall and river’s rapids. Impassible. That was until the trail crew came in, drilled holes in the rock, injected an acid bath into its heart, and busted tons of bedrock out of the way. Now we rode through the narrow key hole through the otherwise impenetrable wall.
I’m impressed! Built with Incan like craftsmanship the Neilson is a masterpiece. And best of all it leads into the rest of the Vallée Bras-du-Nord trail network.
On the day of our arrival in Saint-Raymond we rendezvoused at the VBN headquarters with Mathieu Dupuis Bourassa, Executive Director of Vallée Bras-du-Nord. Mathieu was personable and eager to host. He had also been a huge help in arranging our visit to the region. As I thanked him for the hospitality he ushered us into the Roquemont, a hotel and brewpub that houses the VBN headquarters.
Over lunch Mathieu explained that the Hotel, restaurant, and trails’ HQ were newly transformed from the site’s prior iteration as a more rustic hotel. This was a common theme in the region and it was apparent that the town, once dominated by the timber and agricultural industry, was reinventing itself into a tourist based economy.
Founded in 2002 Vallée Bras-du-Nord is unique in that it is run as a cooperative between the administrators, landowners, local businesses, and the government. More than five million dollars have been invested in their efforts to build trails, infrastructure, acquire equipment, and develop events. Their mandate has been the revitalization of the area and largely due to their initial efforts the surrounding region has enjoyed a recreation and adventure sport boom.
|In the process of building the infrastructure required to attract outdoor enthusiasts the Coop has managed to put community members back to work.|
Today the Coop has extensive responsibilities. Of particular priority is the development, promotion and stewardship of the mountain bike trails. In addition they oversee numerous recreation based tours, river sports, hiking trails, a series of trailside cabins and yurts and occupy two welcome centers and a bike shop.
In the process of building the infrastructure required to attract outdoor enthusiasts the Coop has managed to put community members back to work. Every year since ‘02 they’ve hired a dozen “at risk”
youth from the Portneuf region who have suffered various hardships (dropping out of school, substance abuse, etc.)
and offered them a few months of work in what they refer to as “a different kind of school
”, the great outdoors. While employed by the Coop they are tasked with building and maintaining the trail system. This unusual approach to rehabilitation forces participants to adapt to adverse conditions and tasks in the alternative working environment with the goal of teaching them patience, tolerance, discipline, teamwork, determination and perseverance. Remember, these are the same people that played a critical role in blasting away the “missing link
” Gilles pointed out on the Neilson Trail!
We finish the Neilson Trail descent and arrive back at the the Vallée Bras-du-Nord welcome center where we had started earlier that morning. Vermont trail builder Knight Ide stands out front and greets us with a holler. He’s just driven a cannonball run up from Vermont to ride with us for the second half of the day.
Hugs and high fives are dealt to the crew. Knight is no stranger here. He is an honorary local having built a signature flow trail for the Coop, but today he is here to sample another builder’s goods: Knight is here for the inaugural run down the Boréale, a jump trail built by Jerome Pelland, one of Canada's premier trail builders, and his Sentiers Boréals crew.
We’ve been told that the Boréale is fit for a DH park, plummeting 600 feet down the Valley’s western wall back to the river, but not before a lunch of baguettes, local cheese, pâté and Boreal Blond Ales. Man, the French know how to mountain bike!
Stay tuned for Supernatural Quebec - Part Deux