Trans-Outaouais Terror

Sure the maps all say there’s a road there. And so what if there’s no Google Street View? How bad could it be? I’ve got wide tires and disc brakes. That should be fine, right? Right.

So off I went.

It wasn’t supposed to be all that hard. But there were some tell-tale signs that said ‘caution’. No routes on Strava use this road. The segments have the skimpiest of traffic. It’s invisible on Google Earth. Mostly. For the first bit the road was paved – nominally at least – smooth even.

Clouds hung low in the sky and the air felt and smelled like rain.

I rode energetically past modest farms, homes converted from trailers and cottages, buoyant and excited that I finally had the time to go explore this 80km loop I’d mapped out.

The Gatineau hills rolled up and down under my wheels over 10, 20, 30 kilometres. I chuckled at the cute wildlife crossing signs by the roadside. Deer, turtles, something that looked like a bear but I can’t be sure.

But around a corner my GPS guided me up a steep, rough road whose pavement was merely an avalanche reduction strategy. And the signs changed. Suddenly it was all about logging trucks. What CB channel to use (is there an app for that?) and how slow to go so that … what? You’re an easier target I suppose.

After the short, brutish climb the road narrowed and trees closed in over top of the gravel and packed dirt surface. It climbed again and I went with it, trying to imagine what sort of space would be left to me if a car or one of these trucks came barrelling downhill toward me.

But surely not. Early Sunday morning? Who hauls logs then?

It was as if by thinking it I caused it to happen.

No, it wasn’t a semi-trailer full of ex-trees careening downhill toward me, barely under control, but an extra wide pickup truck – the kind that has two sets of extra chunky tires at the back. And the answer to my previous question was “exactly four inches”.

I was picking leaves out of my helmet but otherwise upright and uninjured afterward when another vehicle – also a pickup – barrelled past. This one more compact and easier to avoid.

I rode on, climbing still, in short flats and steepish inclines. Eventually the forest ahead of me opened up and I could see the surrounding hills. Payback time, I thought, as my heart rate slowly found its way back into aerobic territory.

As I crested the hill I had altogether another sort of reaction. Chemin Trans-Outaouais is well named. It crosses the range of Outaouais hills between watersheds. And I was following it down into the valley through which flows the Gatineau River.

Chemin Trans-Outaouais – packed down with a boot heel and a big coffee can

Down a road that looks about like it was hacked out of the wilderness last week and flattened hurriedly by the lumberjacks using their boots and a big can of coffee.

Despite not turning a crank during the whole, agonizing descent, my heart rate was well into the dark pinks, my knuckles glowed white through the black of my gloves and I gripped the brake levers for all they were worth as my bike gave way to gravity, rattling – no rattling is not nearly strong enough, picture the SS Minnow in the opening sequence to Gilligan’s Island, or that boat in A Perfect Storm – downward.

How long did it last? You can probably find it easily enough. It’s the crazy steep downhill bit where I managed maybe 18 km/h and 32 watts. It felt like forever but it always does.

And since I lived to tell about it I am forced to admit that the road – downhill at least – is do-able. It made me appreciate the genteel gravel of Chemin du Lac Brochet, and even 6km of climbing the Paugan Demoralizer.

Thanks Strava, for giving me the incentive to try this route. Might be a while before I ride it again, but now I know what it’s like and I’ve a story to share.


  1. Hi Chris. Thanks so much for this tale. You actually passed within about 4km of our cottage … just before you hit the pavement on the way down past Mont Ste Marie. We have driven the trans-outaouais in or CRV several times. It isn’t quite so scary that way. We’ve been contemplating a ride across it to visit family over by St. Pierre de Wakefield….in which cas we would be walking up that hill! You have inspired us to take it on!

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