TEMISCOUTA, Quebec — It’s all about the descents.
At least, that’s what I kept telling myself as I cycled along the rolling terrain through the Temiscouta region of Quebec.
For every uphill in the road, geography dictates there is a corresponding downhill — and thank goodness for that — it made those climbs more than worth the effort.
Just 40 minutes north of Fort Kent, Quebec’s Temiscouta region is defined by a lake of the same name, rolling hills, farmland and a distinctly European flavor.
It’s also one of the prime cycling locations for the crew of Freshtracks Adventure, a Caribou-based company specializing in full service, guided bicycling trips in Quebec, New Brunswick, Maine, Vermont and Europe.
“Freshtracks is about the joy of an active lifestyle and living well,” Mark Rossignol, company co-founder, said. “It’s not just about cycling we want to get people outdoors and show them activities and an active life is a worthwhile life.”
This past week Rossignol, together with Freshtracks’ cyclist Dave Chamberlain, were guiding a ride in Temiscouta that included a night’s stay in Notre-Dame-du-Lac at La Dolce Vita where it really is all about living — and dining — well.
“Cycling can be as challenging as you want to make it here,” Rossignol said. “Then you can come in for a good meal, camaraderie with your fellow riders, try some local food and get to know the local culture.”
As a team Rossignol and Chamberlain are cycling force to be reckoned with.
But they also know that cyclists come in all shapes, sizes and levels of ability and Freshtracks is all about tailoring rides to meet those differences.
The Temiscouta ride is billed as appropriate for beginner to advanced riders with two days of riding up and down the hills around the lake.
For those wanting a challenge, there is the 6 Gap Ride in Vermont which Rossignol describes as “truly epic.”
The trip includes a 135-mile ride with 12,000-feet of climbing, eight to nine hours in the saddle and the steepest one-mile in America in Lincoln, Vt.
I guess I’d categorize myself at the intermediate level of cycling and those hills in Quebec were more than enough for me.
In fact, on more than one occasion it was all I could do to keep my bike moving fast enough to remain upright during the climbs.
It’s to their credit that neither Rossignol nor Chamberlain once made me feel badly about my abilities over two days of riding.
Quite the opposite, as the two were constant voices of encouragement.
However, if I had heard either of them say “It’s all downhill after this climb…” one more time I could not have been held responsible for my actions.
“Yeah, there are a fair number of hills,” past Freshtracks client Susan Pope of Bangor said. “But if you take your time they are no big deal.”
Pope and her husband Gary Capehart rode with Freshtracks earlier this spring in honor of her 53rd birthday.
“It was something we had never done and we’d do it again in a minute,” Pope said. “I just cannot describe how beautiful the area was and there was no traffic — we saw all of six cars go by.”
Riding with an established company like Freshtracks, Pope said, took a lot of the unknowns out of the trip.
“We had just gotten our bikes out and dusted them off after years of not using them,” she said. “I liked the fact we could rent high caliber bikes [from Freshtracks] and I would not be bringing up the rear because I was on my Schwinn three-speed.”
It’s not about who can go the fastest the farthest, Rossignol said. Rather, it’s enjoying everything the ride has to offer along the way.
Things like the herds of cows off in the fields, the large draft horse that watched us pedal by or an alfresco lunch next to an old barn.
No one is dropped — cycling lingo for being left behind — on the rides and a fully equipped van is never far away if a tire needs changing or a bike repaired.
“We want to show people something new and worthwhile to experience,” Chamberlain said. “It’s not just about biking — it can be about the scenery and cuisine, too.”
When it comes to that cuisine, Rossignol and Chamberlain leave it up to Annie Lavoie and Marc Lagace, owners of La Dolce Vita (www.aubergeladolcevita.ca).
“If you want an easy ride or a challenging ride we have everything you need right here,” Lavoie said of the region. “We are happy to prepare food for those rides.”
Cycling burns calories and at the end of the day the sight, smell and tastes of the inn’s artisan pizzas, cheese platter, salads and gourmet desserts made re-fueling a gastronomic delight.
The next day’s ride kicked off with eggs, French toast, fruit, yogurt and oatmeal.
“My philosophy is to use as much locally produced food as I can,” Lavoie said. “I work with between 25 and 30 producers [and] that can be a lot of work but I really like doing it.”
Down the road at Auberge Marie Blanc (www.aubergemarieblanc.com) good things were cooking, too, as the Bard-Sirois family prepared to open the lakefront inn and cottages for the summer season in addition to their gourmet-based restaurant.
I’ll freely admit to feeling every mile we put on in Temiscouta, but Rossignol is quick to point out that’s where training and commitment come into play.
“Set a goal and work toward it,” he said. “If you know you are riding in the hills of Vermont in September, start getting ready now and you will be ready.”
So encouraging were Rossignol and Chamberlain along the rides they actually had me convinced I could be ready for their Tuscany ride this fall in Italy and have a good time in the process.
“With exercise people get this idea you have to live like a monk,” Chamberlain said. “But it can be meshed into your life when you live well and eat well.”
And yes, I do enjoy both and nothing lets you know you are alive and living well than the wind on your face as you swoop down a miles-long 11- to 13 percent grade after struggling up the other side.
With some training, next times those hills won’t be quite the struggle.
Complete Freshtracks trip itineraries are available at www.MakeFreshTracks.com