Monday, 12 March 2012

The Rail Trail

Sept. 24 2009

This picture was taken the day before I was diagnosed with
Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I remember it well as I had remarked
feeling unwell but at the same time elated to be on this trail with 
a good friend.  Cycling has saved my life in many ways and
this blog shares my passion for it.

The Rail Trail

Most of the time, I ride on the road, staying away from the gravel trails with my thin, slick-wheeled road bike.  I love the road, and the  endless possibilities for a day ride, weekend ride, cycling vacation...

.....And of course pavement lets us go that much further....

On the other hand, a few times a year, I am drawn to the variety of off-road trails that exist thanks to forward thinking planners who have seen the potential of turning old rail trails into cycling paths.  And there are a plentiful amount of trails to choose from.

Soulanges Canal Path

The rail trail allows the cyclist to experience the countryside from the vantage point of train engineers leading their locomotives from town to town, leaving one to imagine the romantic notion of rail travel from bygone days while cycling on sparsely populated paths, safely away from the road but never too far from the next hamlet of population.

On these days, we are not in a hurry like we may be on our road bikes. The trails are meant to be enjoyed with frequent stops to take a picture of an old covered bridge, a lake that you have only seen from the vantage point of a passenger  car, or a corn field cut through the middle by the path of majestic locomotives once used to haul grain and supplies to the small villages lining the tracks.

North of Montreal, the 'Petit Train du Nord', or 'Small Train of the North' cuts its way from the lower Laurentian mountain range all the way to Mont Laurier, some 220 kms. north.  During the summer, many cyclists will embark on day trips covering portions of the trail, others take on the challenge of doing it all over a few days. It is wonderfully maintained and varies in folia and terrain as you head north, or perhaps south as one can access the trail from numerous entry points.

One of my favourite rail trails lies just south of the Canadian border in upstate Vermont.  The Mississquoi Valley Rail Trail runs 26 miles from its start in St. Albans and runs gently along the Mississquoi river east and north to Richford, Vermont.  Along the way, most of the time, there is an unobstructed view of Jay Peak, and some stunning scenery through forests, streams, farm fields and small quaint towns that long for the railroad of another era.....

A corn field along the Misissquoi Valley Rail Trail

It is on this trail that one can really get lost in thought, grateful for the wonderful land that lies so close to the bustle of the city. I usually go on a weekday, rarely seeing more than a handful of riders pass by.

With Jay Peak, Vt. in the Distance

It is truly wonderful...and peaceful, and on these days, I am never rushed for time, or in need of the thrill of speeding down a sloping descent on my road bike.

Mississquoi Valley Rail Trail:

Just west of Montreal, there is an old canal that was once used for shipping before freighters started to use the the St. Lawrence River seaway.  Along the canal, a trail follows its length all the way to the Ontario border, roughly 35 kms. Using the same philosophy as the rebuilding of rail trails, the Soulanges Canal path has reinvigorated a once-decrepit length of waterway long past its useful prime.

It is a scenic trail, and superbly maintained.  Along its way, you get the impression that on these quiet paths, life at one time fluorished from the railway.   The towns along its entire stretch, long ago having had their heyday, now sit quietly as bedroom communities, or meeting places for farmers.

These are but a few of the hundreds of rail and canal trails across North America.
  Try one someday.  You don't need much - a hybrid bike is perfect, and of course,
a boxed lunch, a camera.....

and an imagination for what once was......

On this day, I saw few people

Interesting Links:

The Route Verte is an extensive Network of road and path trails in Quebec connecting virtually
the whole province for the enjoyment of cyclists.  Its 4000kms. of trails make it the largest
cycling trail network in the world.

Canadian Rail Trails:
Rails to Trails Conservancy:


  1. Thanks Rob! Love the photos; such peaceful scenery along the Soulange (good fishing too - lots of pike and bass) and no hills to contend with on the old rail lines.

    Love and Grattitude, Beth

  2. Rob, you're right on the mark. Today the Ecomuseum has announced that its bears will be waking from their winter's sleep, a certain sign of spring and and a whole month ahead of last year. Your blog inspires me to make a promise to myself that this year I'll get myself out on some of these trails. Thanks!
    Flan's Mum

  3. Rob, this is a very interesting - these trails have played big roles
    in my life as well - Soulanges Canal (after my divorce), Petit Train du Nord still does its job to me....
    Thank for putting those pictures together!!! Well done!!
    Keep it up!!!

  4. I am going to enjoy reading this Rob...great job!!

  5. Just great Rob....makes me look forward to summer when I'll take my bike and try to do part of one of those trails...I look forward to the peace and quiet...


  6. Lovely post, Rob, one day ... one day ...


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