By Alex Showerman | Photographs Grant Wieler
Saint-Raymond’s transformation began in 2006, when local visionary Frederic Asselin was brought south to East Burke Vermont’s Kingdom Trails network by a local trail developer. He left inspired. Not only was the Kingdom mountain biking system—a big regional draw in New England—an economic success, but it also seemed like an easy project for Saint-Raymond to replicate. “We had experience building hiking trails,” says Asselin. “We had the team and we had access to money—we just needed to make it happen.” Since breaking ground on its first trail in 2007, the 10,000-person town has blossomed into a cycling hub, and its network, Vallée-Bras-du-Nord, has become a sister to the Kingdom, complete with two trail sectors and more than 60 miles of singletrack.
All it took to capture my imagination was one photo of the region’s trails: prime loam winding past a waterfall with dramatic cliffs looming overhead. It looked like British Columbia, yet it was only a five-hour drive from my home in Burlington, Vermont.
On arrival, photographer Grant Wieler and I poked our heads into Hôtel Roquemont, a former truck stop and greasy spoon turned trailside hotel, microbrewery, and visitor center that’s constantly in motion. In the morning, bikers trade intel and tools, the air thick with the desire to get riding. (In the afternoon, beer glasses clink as dirt-covered riders relive their runs over Poutine Général Tao, loaded with tempura chicken and cheese curds.) After stashing a map in my pack, and gathering some beta from Frenette Bicyclettes, the adjacent bike shop, we beeline across the parking lot to the Sector Saint-Raymond trailhead.
One of two of the valley’s trail webs, Sector Saint-Raymond is classic East Coast riding with tight, winding runs that pack 21.7 miles of singletrack into two mountainous zones. As we ride past maple sap lines, cow pastures, and haying fields, I’m reminded of Vermont, although the trails are all new and purpose-built. The smell of freshly turned soil hangs heavy in the air. We find plenty of grippy dirt on the network’s newest trail, Tommy L’Paquet, which requires navigating ample berms, stepdowns, tabletops, and wall rides.
The following day, we tackle the region’s second and more renowned sector. The Shanahan zone is 30 minutes from Saint-Raymond with more than 40 miles of singletrack. It holds the region’s biggest draw: the Neilson, a fairly gnarly 6.3-mile run—soon to be 12.3—named for the adjacent Neilson River. The sound of rushing water is a constant as I bob down tacky igneous rocks, power-slide through moss covered stone wall chutes, and crank over exposed wooden bridges. When I get a second, I glance up from the demanding trail and take in my surroundings, packed with mossy trees, lush green ferns, waterfalls, and dramatic 600-foot cliffs rising from the river. I no longer feel like I’m in Vermont.
You could easily spend three days here. And the Saint-Raymond cycling community is only growing: This year alone, more than 90 children joined the local mountain bike club, and the town plans to have 100 total miles of singletrack by 2022. Says Asselin, “We’ve reached our vision of becoming a true mountain bike community.”
If you go:
Check out what journalist and trail mentor Gilles Morneau, inspired by Moab’s Whole Enchilada, has dubbed the “Whole Poutine”: a 17-mile expert loop that includes marquis downhill trail, La Boréale, the less-traveled Chute à Gilles, and the Neilson. Need a break from singletrack? Bring your gravel grinder bike and check out Vélopiste Jacques-Cartier—Portneuf, a rails-to-trails corridor that connects Saint-Raymond to seven other municipalities with 42 miles of stone dust trail. velopistejcp.com
Family-owned Sushi M et Cie offers a chef’s choice tasting menu, which on any given night may include smoked duck rolls and tuna tartare. It’s delicious—and saves you from having to translate the French menu. sushimetcie.com
At the end of a long day of riding, hit Roquemont’s on-site microbrewery. Yes, they too have a Singetrack IPA. But they spell beer, “biere.” So weird. roquemont.com
For a true Québécois experience, head five miles from downtown to Manoir du Lac Sept-Îles, a historic bed and breakfast built on a natural promontory overlooking Lac Sept-Îles. manoirdulacseptiles.com
DRIVE BY SINGLETRACK — PRESENTED BY MTB PROJECT
Drive: Vermont to Québec
Ride: Darling Hill Loop. Buy a day pass for $15 at the Kingdom Trails Welcome Center. Then hit the Darling Hill Loop, where you’ll find a “down and dirty ride where every pedal uphill is worth the descent,” says Annan Rutherford of Kingdom Trails.
From our High Summer 2016 issue.