We left Grundy and drove to North Bay where we stumbled across a fresh veggie and fruit market. I bought the most delicious strawberries I’d had since I was a kid climbing in the back of Mr. Nauss’s strawberry truck at my Grandmother’s house. They were small but every bite had mighty flavours. The kids and I sat on Black Betty’s stoop and polished off a basket before I went to buy a second.
With our tummy’s full, we talked about heading toward Ottawa. Today could be our crossover to Québec, but we would wait and see how our day went. The kids were antsy to see another provincial sign.
As we approached Ottawa, we were in good spirits so we decided to cross over to Gatineau and get ourselves in a good position to hit La Mauricie the next day. The plan was to hit a hotel that night, then drive to La Mauricie and spend two, maybe three nights there.
The roads were busy that day and it was getting late when we rolled into St. Jérôme and checked into a hotel. We did what we imagined any authentic Québecois might do and hit a St. Hubert for dinner. Once settled into the hotel, I studied the map to figure out our best route for the next day. Google told me the time it would take to drive from St. Jérôme to La Mauricie National Park would be about two hours and fifteen minutes.
A quick drive meant an easy day.
When we got up the next morning, we dillydallied, knowing we’d have a short drive day. I told the kids they could hit the pool before we hit the road. While I was sitting poolside, I thought that maybe I should check if La Mauricie had availability before I drove north to the park to find out it was all for lost. Plus I remembered seeing a Parks Canada Twitter post encouraging booking in the busier parks like Jasper and Waterton. I remembered that La Mauricie had also been listed. So I phoned. And I was glad I did, because there wasn’t a single site available. Shoot. Our plan was foiled.
No problem! It didn’t matter, we were just excited to be in Quebec!! We had options, right?
I sent a text to my friend Celine, who I knew spent time at Mont Tremblant. Google told me that was only a fifty-minute drive from my location. I asked her if she had any recommendations for where to stay, as I knew she was resourceful in that area. Unfortunately for me, she was in New Brunswick dealing with seven boys and her phone was dying. She had her hands full. I spoke to the woman working the front desk at the hotel and she told me that there was a popular Jazz festival at Tremblant, so it might be difficult to find a place to stay with that going on at the same time as “La semaine de construction.”
I decided that I was going to scratch Tremblant too. Instead, we would drive to Lévis, get another hotel, pedal to the ferry the next day, and go spend time in ‘Le vieux Québec’. Great. Now we had another plan in motion, we’d get on the road and make some tracks to get us even closer to the east coast. So we got in the van and headed east.
But we moved at an incredibly slow snail’s pace.
There were some construction signs on the roads. I guessed that it was as busy as expected because of this so called ‘construction week,’ but funny thing, I didn’t see too many construction workers.
When we finally left St. Jerome in the early afternoon, we rolled along in a heavy line of traffic. It took us two hours to cover about twenty kilometers. It was horrible! I vowed to never live near Montréal because this kind of traffic would drive me crazy. Eventually the highway opened up a bit, but still the roads were congested. Google showed the drive to Québec City would take about three hours, but at this pace, it would be more like five hours. I was getting frustrated.
After about three hours in the van, and only halfway to our destination, we pulled over for a picnic in Berthierville. I was happy to get off the busy roads for a bit. Once we picnicked, used the washrooms, ran around a bit, and I got my second wind for driving, we hit the road again. We commented on how holy Québec seemed to be. Many places we passed were named after Saints and we saw the most beautiful assortment of churches I’d ever seen. Even if you don’t have a religious bone in your body, the architecture and frequency of these buildings would be sure to fascinate you.
Eventually we crossed the Saint Lawrence at Trois-Rivière where the kids and I marveled at the bridge. We continued to drive highway 132 along the coast of the St. Lawrence, winding through little towns named after saints with striking churches peppered throughout.
Dusk was soon upon us because of our late start. When we rolled into Lévis, I commented on how busy the roads still seemed to be. We drove in and stopped at a motel off the highway. Before walking in, I saw a paper sign taped to the door with a no vacancy note.
Aw well, I’ll try the next one.
I drove to another. Again, no vacancy.
One more try, but still, no vacancy.
I was starting to think that it was odd. I googled hotels in Lévis and Québec City, but not a single one showed up with availability. What the hell was going on?
We hadn’t planned on camping, but I guess we had no choice. I googled the local campgrounds and drove to one of them. Even before I asked the question, I knew because the park was choc-à-bloc with trucks and trailers. Still I inquired. Maybe they could find a spot to squeeze in the van. We wouldn’t pull the tent out, just sleep in the van. The attendant at the gate said, “Good luck finding anything anywhere between here and New Brunswick,” he shrugged, “Semaine de construction.”
I walked away puzzled, thinking that I hadn’t seen that much construction.
The back-up plan was Walmart. RV’s can pull in there and stay. Certainly Lévis had a Walmart. So I googled it and drove to it but when I got there, there was a fair, ferris wheel and all. The parking lot was jammed packed with trucks and camping trailers without an inch to spare for Black Betty.
It was 9 PM and our supposed short day turned into the longest day of our trip yet. I pulled over for a coffee and some grub. I got the kids cozied up and told them we were going to drive into the night.
I had no choice, I had to keep moving on.