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
Thru axle – RearPartsThru axle for the rear wheel. Bolt-on type (no lever), install with 6mm hex key.40$ (CAD)
KatahdinGravel Bikes2023-03-28: The 'wide range' option has been added, which includes the Garbaruk derailleur cage and a 11-50T cassette. *** Now is the time to book your 2023 Katahdin. Use promo code katahdin at checkout to make a 50% reservation deposit. Limited quantity for 2023. Expected delivery: end of May 2023. Contact us for any questions.*** The first generation of the Katahdin has proven itself both in races, gravel events and in bikepacking trips. For its second iteration, the Katahdin gets a makeover with progressive gravel geometry and new features to make it even more versatile. A relaxed 70deg steering angle, longer reach, 75mm bb drop and 430mm chainstays increase the wheelbase of the bike and place the rider in a stable and comfortable position. The goal is less fatigue, and more speed for long outings and / or races. The internal cables for an adjustable seat post, the fork adapted to the use of a dynamo hub, a threaded bottom bracket shell and all the mounts necessary to install bags and accessories are among the features of the Katahdin. The frame is dressed with the Hunt wheels fitted with Teravail Cannonball 700x42mm tires, as well as the Shimano GRX groupset (with the 11-50T cassette option), which make for a versatile and efficient bike.2,699$ – 4,449$ (CAD)
Chic-Chocs 27.5Fatbikes*** SOME DEMO BIKES AVAILABLE AT SPECIAL PRICE. SELECT DEMO FROM THE DROP DOWN MENUS BELOW *** The Chic-Chocs has proven its abilities over the past few years in endurance races and winter expeditions. Whether it's for the Raid du Fjord, the Wendigo Ultra, or riding with confidence on groomed trails, the Chic-Chocs delivers. A stable geometry with a long wheelbase increases traction and flotation on soft surfaces. In addition, the Chic-Chocs is designed with a 205mm q-factor, the narrowest available for use with tires up to 5" wide. Not to be overlooked for an ergonomic position. Two Shimano drivetrains available with RaceFace cranksets and cockpit. Quality SunRingle rims and hubs (ready for -30degC!), and studdable tires that can be easily converted tubeless complete the package. Throw on some 29x3" wheels when the snow melts, and you've got a 4-season bike ready for backcountry bikepacking trips!2,299$ – 3,429$ (CAD)
Derailleur hangerPartsAlways a good idea to have a spare derailleur hanger when venturing a little further than usual...25$ – 40$ (CAD)
Torngat 27.5Fatbikes***Medium size Demo bike available. Special price at 2,559$ Isolated in northern Quebec, located in the Arctic Cordillera, the Torngat 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!2,559$ – 3,199$ (CAD)
Traveler HatClothingSlip this cap into your bike bags, and keep it stylish around the campfire!34.99$ (CAD)
- 6-panel cap, without structure (ideal to pack into bags).
- Blue color: fabric made entirely from 100% recycled plastic bottles. Each cap uses about 3 bottles, which have been recovered from our environment.
- Olive color: 100% ripstop cotton
- Adjustable strap and plastic buckle (convenient to be attached to a bag)
- One size fits all
TaïgaMountain Bikes*** Now is the time to book your Taïga 2023. Use promo code taiga at checkout to make a 50% reservation deposit. Limited quantity for 2023. Expected delivery: Early June 2023. Contact us for any questions.*** 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 trails. Our selection of Reynolds 725 tubing gives this frame just the right amount of suppleness and responsiveness, while keeping the weight reasonable. A 67deg steering angle and 75deg seat angle strike a balance between modern and progressive geometry, without falling into an overly radical design. For 2023, we lowered the bottom bracket slightly to increase stability. Offered with a carbon fork, a suspension fork option is available upon request (options starting at 259$). Custom built Hunt Trail Wide wheels for Panorama Cycles with 32 spokes, Teravail Ehline 29 "x2.5" tires and Shimano SLX drivetrain complete the package. * Complete bike ($3599 CAD) * The frameset comes with wheel axles, headset installed, seatpost collar and frame protectors. (1649$ CAD) * The frame only option comes with the rear wheel axle and seatpost collar. (1199$ CAD) * The Rohloff option comes with the Speedhub 500/14 A12 DB PM black, the 180mm rear disc, the shifter and everything needed to install the hub on the frame. (+1899$ CAD)1,199$ – 3,599$ (CAD)
ForillonAll-Road touring*Please refer to the component list for 2023 specifications. The Forillon is your best ally for cycling around the world. It is designed to be ridden efficiently on a variety of road types, while remaining stable and easy to handle when loaded with all your luggages. It's easy to see why the family behind the Terra Tributa project made these their bikes of choice for their nomadic lifestyle. Strength and reliability are highlighted in the choice of components. The 36 spokes double walled with reinforced eyelets rims paired with 700x44mm tires and the Microshift transmission offering an immense speed range of 585% are perfect examples. The Reynolds 525 steel tubeset as well as the 4130 steel fork have been selected to maintain excellent stiffness once the bags and panniers are added. Features such as the addition of extra spokes mounts, integrated kickstand plate, multiple mounts for bottles, front and rear racks and fenders make this a true Swiss Army knife for on-the-go travel bike.2,399$ (CAD)