6-3-2022 Basch-North Hatley Quebec

North Hatley, Quebec on the shores of Lake Massawippi is a welcome destination for cyclists. (MARTY BASCH PHOTO)

STANSTEAD, Quebec — The customs officer, a self-described homeboy who didn’t like to leave Quebec, saw the bikes on the car and immediately asked if we had any rides planned.

I told him. He approved and then praised the province’s Route Verte with its roughly 3,300 miles of bike lanes, pathways, trails and velo-friendly businesses.

“It won’t leave you in the middle of nowhere,” he said.

You know it’s going to be a good trip when the border guard rides a bike.

So did many others we saw in Stanstead, just over the boundary from Derby Line, Vt., the town known for an opera house and library with the border running through it.

The border crossing into Canada was straightforward. Prior to leaving home, download the mandatory ArriveCAN app or use the website (canada.ca). Answer basic questions, provide your passport number and upload proof of COVID-19 vaccinations. Approved quickly, a QR code was provided to show at the border if requested.

The return was even easier. Just a couple of questions about fresh fruits, vegetables, maple syrup and a list of contraband — the officer was having some fun I think — and we were back in the USA.

Voila on both sides.

Between the crossings about 125 miles north of the valley, my wife and I experienced southeastern Quebec’s Eastern Townships with soothing lakes, verdant rolling hills bathed in spring’s pastels and patchworks of farms. The French-speaking region begins about 50 miles outside Montreal and spreads along the northern New England border and the tip of the Appalachian mountain range.

This wasn’t our first time here. We planned to re-visit a trail we enjoyed a few years ago, and explore a new one. One trail was on the southern end of Lake Massawippi, the other on its northern end.

Finding rides is easy. The Eastern Townships website (easterntownships.org), Route Verte (routeverte.com) guidebook and Ride with GPS put them all in your hand. There is a lot to ride so returns trips are necessary.

Traveling with an e-wife, aka a spouse with a pedal-assist electric bike, and several devices requires accommodations with electricity. That was found at a convenient Stanstead private campground off Highway 55 about a mile north of the border that was open in early May. Using it as a midweek base camp, the campground provided effortless access to rides in that small town, plus nearby Ayer’s Cliff and North Hatley.

The 8-mile pedal between pleasant North Hatley and Lennoxville near Sherbrooke along a former railway on the Massawippi River Trail, was a fine outing showcasing the positives of bicycle culture — easy access, good signs, shaded rest areas, maps, trash receptacles, bike repair stations and water. Free WiFi in North Hatley was a plus. It’s part of the 60-mile Grandes-Fourches Cycling Network around Sherbrooke and Route Verte 1.

Much of the summer offerings were still in hibernation like the concerts and farmers market in North Hatley. The Capelton Mine, an old copper mine with subterranean tours, was closed.

Still, the flat, easy 16-mile return spin was teeming with winged wildlife and the meandering river. A small retired ski hill called Montjoie stood against the horizon as legions of e-bike riding graybeards and white hairs whizzed by, the electric bikes perhaps a testament to a forward-thinking lifestyle and high gas price alternative.

We felt the uphill on the south end of the 12-mile long Tomifobia Nature Trail (tomifobianaturetrail.org) between Stamstead and lovely lakeside Ayer’s Cliff. Beavers, finches and bird watcers enjoyed spring’s new growth along the familiar trail. But this time, not only did we ride it twice starting at both ends, we also added a 3.5 mile bike path from Stanstead accessed from Maple Avenue. Though sometimes hilly, the short path and roadway did result in seeing a deer.

The Tomifobia, along its namesake river, is a gem. A new medicine wheel on the south end unveiled in the summer of 2020 by trail stewards Sentiers Massawippi Inc. provided a thoughtful and shaded resting place with four large stone panels explaining indigenous beliefs about life’s journey.

It was there we thought it best to return another time to the land with the favorable exchange rate to do more rides. In the summer, there’s a bike ferry on Lake Massawippi between North Hatley and Ayer’s Cliff. Perhaps, we’ll be back to experience it.

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