Text by Loïc Olivier
Photos by Loïc Olivier, Brian Redmond, Joe Walters, Anthony Bertrand, Vincent Girard and Charles-Alexandre Steadfast-Desjardins / Video by Vincent Girard and Charles-Alexandre Steadfast-Desjardins
I’ve been riding with Grant and Joe since 2015.
They’ve been waxing about Papineau-Labelle Wildlife Reserve since the moment I met them.
Grant grew up not too far from there. He knows that Papineau-Labelle is a gold mine, full of trails, with lots of bikepacking potential. As for Joe, he has visited Papineau-Labelle a number of times on winter trips. When we chat, he’s categorical: We.Must.Go.
Fast Forward to the summer of 2017. Eric at Panorama Cycles asks me if I’d like to assemble a team to go and check out the trails at Papineau-Labelle.
Open invitation goes up on Facebook. A few weeks later, 6 members of the Ottawa Valley Bikepacking Collective and 2 new friends from Montreal and Bromont meet up at Accueil Gagnon, north of Duhamel, for an S24O in two variants:
– Adrian, Grant, Joe, Anthony, Brian and Vincent will ride the Allroad variant; a 40 km loop on logging roads and doubletrack;
– Charles-Alexandre and I plan on doing the Packraft version, a 50km loop with a 1+km crossing of Lac Montjoie as proof of concept of multimodal bikepacking in the Reserve.
So we meet up one Sunday morning in September. It’s nice and warm outside. Joe and Brian have been in the Reserve since Friday. They’ve checked out a bunch of trails and their comments are very positive. Their favourite trails are those located just north of Lac Montjoie. Narrow Singletrack. Bush trails. Solid wilderness experience.
We have lunch, we chat and start packing up the bikes. We’re off.
The numbered trails are in tip-top shape. We ride quickly through them. Seems that everyone is eager to get under the lush forest canopy and to hit sweet doubletrack.
As I ride up a hill, I hear noise behind me. I slowly brake and look behind my shoulder. A huge porcupine comes out of the brush and waddles from side to side as it crosses the road.
We leave the main road and end up in the woods. Something’s up. Charles-Alexandre has a flat tire. As he replaces his tube, the other guys take advantage of the down time and start playing in the sandpit they’ve discovered a few metres away.
A few minutes after we hit the road again, Grant suddenly puts on the brakes. Another huge porcupine crosses the trail. Papineau-Labelle porcupines are pretty easy going.
The doubletrack is in good shape. Even the two guys on gravel bikes are having a good time… As long as they pick their lines carefully! That’s what happens with a skinny bike. I, on the other hand, have it easy. The Chic-Chocs’ fat tires absorb all the bumps, which means that I get to look at the countryside.
A little further down the road, the group splits up. The bigger group continues westward on narrowing doubletrack. The trail doesn’t seem to be well-used and there are lots of low branches. Gotta be careful or your whiskers get tangled in ‘em. Adrian gets wacked right in the mouth.
Charles-Alexandre and I go north towards Lac Montjoie. There’s a nice big hill right before we get there and we bomb down the trail at over 40 km/h. When we get to the lake, we undo our luggage, inflate the rafts and start packing the boats with bikes and bags. Charles-Alexandre gets in within minutes. I take forever to get ready….
We paddle slowly and follow the bay’s steep banks over a few hundred metres. When we reach the open water, the wind picks up. Our packrafts gently roll and sway on the waves. My bike’s rear tire is partially submerged; I yank on the frame to rebalance the weight around. I rest my backpack on the bike fork to counterweight the Chic-Chocs’ back end. A couple of paddle strokes to test it out. It stays put and the tires stays afloat. All’s good in the world.
Two loons are calling in the distance… Not a soul around. We’ve got the lake to ourselves. We paddle on for 90 minutes until we reach the SEPAQ’s cabins on the other side of the lake. We’re doing our best to get out of our rafts but it’s a pretty clumsy affair… The rafts are pulled on shore and the bikes are reassembled. It’s past 5pm. The sun has moved to the other side of the hill. I’m soaking wet, hungry and cold. We get changed as quickly as possible and stuff our faces with fast-acting carbs before busting a move. Charles-Alexandre is a BEAST, I can barely keep up with him. The fact that my life jacket keeps coming out of my handlebar harness is not helping me out…! I have to stop a few times to readjust everything.
The numbered trail we’re on is pretty sweet. We ride and chat. We cross only one car over the next ten kilometres. Charles-Alexandre notices moose tracks everywhere. Surely we’ll see one! Yeah…. Nope.
We make the decision to take the long way back and ride around Lake Ernest back to the Cheminots campsite where we’re all staying overnight. We can smell the bonfire over the lake. The other guys are obviously getting cosy over there. We arrive at the campsite as dusk sets in, to the hollers and high-fives of our friends. We take swigs of bourbon to celebrate a fantastic day on the trails.
As the night sets in, we put on our puffy jackets and warm up (so to speak) by passing flasks around. The sky is clear and Anthony is the first one to notice the Milky Way. All 8 of us are now staring at the sky, amazed at this incredible sight. Not a word is said. It’s pretty magical.
The last guys standing decide to throw in the towel. The night is cool but there is almost no wind. I slide into my hammock and close my eyes. I quickly fall asleep and dream of packrafts…
We all agree that Papineau-Labelle Wildlife Reserve has incredible bikepacking potential. There are a ton of trails out there, and so many ways to plan out routes. Riding in Papineau-Labelle is generally pretty chill but keep in mind that porcupines have a tendency to just appear out of nowhere. And unannounced.
It would be entirely possible to circumnavigate the Reserve and stay at different campsites along the way. But having said this, the Cheminots campsite really is awesome. The view of Lac Ernest is stunning and it’s within a stone’s throw of Accueil Gagnon, which means easy access to firewood for epic bonfires! From the Cheminots campsite, there are many possible 40-50 km routes that can be done during the day, before rolling back to the site to sleep and eat comfortably.
One thing is for sure: we’re coming back to Papineau-Labelle shortly!
- “Allroad” version – 40km
- Packraft version – 50km
- Fatbike Panorama Chic-Choc
- Packraft, life jacket, bailer, whistle,heaving line
- Night/day clothes; spare clothes for after packrafting
- Hammock, sleeping bag, underquilt
- A beer and a flask of whisky
- Water filter
- Gas stove and canister
- Tools and tube
- First aid kit
- Distance Instructions
Altitude VS Distance
- Distance Instructions
Altitude VS Distance
SHOP OUR PRODUCTS
Clothing"S24O" (aka Sub 24h Overnighter) is, in the jargon of the bikepacker, an adventure of less than 24 hours including an overnight stay. The definition of micro-adventure!30$ (CAD)
ClothingSlow Travel is the state of mind we approach during bike journeys. It is taking the time to live each experience in its entirety, focusing on quality rather than quantity.
- 100% Cotton
- Printed by hand in Montreal
ClothingWhy stick to the already known paths! #Backcountrycycling has become over time the mojo of Panorama Cycles. Make it yours with this unique cap!39.99$ (CAD)
- 100% Cotton
- Leather adjustment strap
Fatbikes*** Pretty much all of our fatbikes are already sold for fall 2021. If your size is currently 'out of stock' on our website, please contact your closest PANORAMA CYCLES dealer to know what they have on hand or will be receiving. Please subscribe to our newsletter to be the first informed of when the next pre-sale will be launched. /// Please refer to the component list below. Photos not representative of final buildkit. *** Isolated in northern Quebec, located in the Arctic Cordillera, the Torngats Mountains are frequented only by those who have the real will to face the elements of nature. We do not get there by chance. It is a mythical place that imposes respect. An highly inspiring destination for the Torngat fatbike! We have included in this bike the features needed to make it completely versatile. Among other things, the frame is belt-drive compatible, it has an access for a dropper seatpost and is equipped with horizontal rear wheel dropouts. The Reynolds 725 high-grade steel tubing frame and the light, stiff carbon fiber fork accommodate the largest 26″ tires available, as well as the 27.5 x 4.5″. All you have to do is leave the house, get on the bike and explore the territory that is still unknown to you!2,999$ (CAD)
Fatbikes*** Pretty much all of our fatbikes are already sold for fall 2021. If your size is currently 'out of stock' on our website, please contact your closest PANORAMA CYCLES dealer to know what they have on hand or will be receiving. Please subscribe to our newsletter to be the first informed of when the next pre-sale will be launched. /// Please refer to the component list below. Photos not representative of final buildkit. *** Opportunities for adventure are infinite with such a versatile bike. Let the Chic-Chocs carbon fatbike take you to the mountains, rivers or beaches you’ve always wanted to discover. At 29 lbs and equipped with tubeless 27.5” x 4.5” tires, this is a seriously fun bike to ride on newly discovered sandy, rocky or snowy paths. You’re into bikepacking? We’ll get along pretty well! In addition to 3 water bottle mounts, top tube bag mount and anything cage mounts on the fork, everything is ready for you to install a rear rack (if you prefer this setup versus minimalist frame bags). That way you can carry your skis to get to this remote backcountry spot, or bring some extras on your trip for a memorable night around a campfire. Your friends will thank you!4,099$ (CAD)
PartsThru axle for the rear wheel. Bolt-on type (no lever), install with 6mm hex key.45$ (CAD)
- Chic-Chocs: For 12x197mm hub. 220mm axle length. Thread pitch of 1.5.
- Torngat: For 12x197mm hub. 229mm axle length. Thread pitch of 1.5.
- Anticosti: For 12x142mm hub. 174mm axle length. Thread pitch of 1.75.
- Katahdin: For 12x142mm hub. 171mm axle length. Thread pitch of 1.5.
ClothingA fully equipped fatbike ready to take off. Bikepacking pure and simple.30$ (CAD)
Mountain Bikes*** Medium size complete bike will be available and delivered early 2022. Reserve yours now by placing an order online.*** In between a trail bike and a multi-day adventure bike, the Taïga has multi purposes. Take it on your local mountain bike trails, or for a bikepacking outing in the more rugged backcountry paths. The geometry of the Reynolds 725 frame is developed with stability and comfort in mind. A steering angle of 67deg and saddle of 75deg strikes the balance between a modern and progressive geometry, without however falling into a too radical design. Hunt Trail Wide MTB wheels fitted with WTB Trail Boss 29 "x2.6" tires, SRAM NX drivetrain, and a choice of FOX 34 Float or rigid carbon fork complete the package.2,899$ – 3,099$ (CAD)