This is my eighteenth summer visit in Phillipsburg (on Rt.133 near La Falaise). My wife, Maryse, is from this area (retired after 30 years as a Canadian Douanes Officer at the border) and we spend some time each year with her now-widowed Mother. For the last few years I have brought my motorcycle to Quebec from Florida and have enjoyed touring L’Armandie. Someone suggested I write something about it, so why don’t you join me for a ride and we’ll see what we can see from a little bit of a motorcyclist’s perspective ?
Uncovered and rolled out of the shed, all protective gear on, so let’s warm up the 1100cc Honda Sabre Shadow a bit before starting out. (You can ride a really powerful imaginary Harley if you want !). While we wait, we can count the number of automobiles and trucks that have slowed down to the 50 kph speed limit in front of the house as they approach the Can-US border. The number, of course, is zero.
Well, Let’s Ride ! Put it in gear and roll the throttle !
Turning right onto Highway 133, we have to travel half a kilometer (nearly to the border) before we can cross over and head back the other way. This assumes, of course, that cross-border traffic isn’t backed up all the way to Phillipsburg. We hope not, because air-cooled bikes like your Harley overheat rapidly when forced to idle for extended periods. At the crossover be careful pulling into the northbound traffic as the 18 wheelers are just getting wound up and often exuberant Canadians will blast out of the border crossing after their wait in the customs and immigration line is over. Maybe they’re just glad to be home.
Cruise on down to the flashing light at Phillipsburg, but don’t hurry as we are just out for the enjoyment of the ride and the scenery. Some of my Biker buddies in Florida say I ride like a “little old lady”. Perhaps so, but there is a certain element of extra risk in riding a motorcycle and I want to enjoy a few more birthdays, not withstanding the fact that I already have had a considerable number of them. There is no such thing as a “fender-bender” on a motorcycle. An accident will almost always result in heavy damage to the bike and injury to the rider.
Turning right off 133 onto the road to St. Armand is a very sharp uphill turn, so be sure you are in low gear as merging traffic could be problematic. Lots of twists and turns and shade trees after that, which Moto riders like, but early on there are several hidden driveways so stay alert. Moving on towards St. Armand, there are some really short sweeping curves so you can practice your racing turns if that is your choice.
After enjoying the “country parfum” from the cattle feedlots at the top of the hill above town, be sure to slow down and gear down so you can roll downhill without the exhaust pipes being too loud. (My Honda is sometimes a little noisy, but I try). Look quickly to your left to see the very nice homes on the side of the hill on Chemin Tourelle. It’s easier to see from the other direction, but you can imagine how nice it must be for the residents to have such a scenic view across the valley.
On the corner, notice the old-time general store selling hardware, groceries, and almost anything and everything else one could need. It also seems to function as a social center, as some customers enjoy talking with each other as much as shopping.
Passing the Café du Village we move on east towards the cemetery while looking to the south along several kilometers of valley and heavily forested ridgeline. I am sure you will notice I may overuse the words “interesting” or “scenic”, but that is what touring is all about.
Soon we will reach the Petro- T at Morses Lines and fuel up. Martin will be there with his customary smile and good humor (and he speaks excellent English) but we bikers insist on dispensing our own essence. A really good thing about Canadian gasoline (regardless of the price) is that it doesn’t contain the ethanol that is in all gasoline in the USA. Ethanol is really harmful for older bikes like mine as well as VTTs, boats, and other recreational vehicles.
Moving on east at a smooth pace takes us past the lumber mill, which usually looks empty, but today is full of trucks and equipment. Who knows ? Next a beautiful tree-shaded area with no special speed restrictions but slow up a little to be safe and enjoy the ride.
Soon we will reach historic Pigeon-Hill and more tree-shaded roadway and interesting houses. As we move on, we’ll have nice cruising until we stop at the old cemetery (one of many in L’Armandie) and take a close look at many of the headstones. Some are from the 1700’s. I find it peaceful here under the grand shade trees and one gets a feeling of history written in stone.
Now, start looking down the hill at the absolutely post-card-perfect view of Frelighsburg and the valley below. I always really enjoy that ! I have seen it once in the early fall when the trees are all in pink and golden flames and it must be almost as pretty when covered in Christmas snow.
Pulling up to the stop sign at the edge of town, be very careful as it is at a very steep angled slope with a blind corner and it is difficult to hold the bike stopped without a disastrous fall. Having negotiated the stop and left turn, look at the old mill house by the stream and notice there are several places offering food and drink. However, we’ll pull up into the parking area at the visitor center in the old school where there are restrooms (necessary at times), some good information, and souvenirs.
Let’s head in the direction of Stanbridge East for a nice look at the varied scenery and some smooth cruising. We’ll bypass by the Chute, because it’s difficult to get to a place where you can actually see it.
Along the way, as we pass sport bicycle groups in their ubiquitous spandex, we’ll give them plenty of room and, as much as possible, wave on by any autos or Motos that need to be somewhere faster than we want to travel. When we meet motorcycles going in the opposite direction, we give the left-hand wave that indicates, in all languages and cultures, that we bikers share a special bond that ordinary motorists can’t possibly understand.
Entering Stanbridge East, cross the highway and go on into town to the museum at Rivière aux Brochets. There are many interesting things to see there (including cannons for those of us who like militaire) and the workings of the original mill.
Going to Bedford, the scenery is more pastoral so roll the throttle up and we won’t be delaying anyone. Nearing downtown we see the old needle factory by the roadside. It seems a shame that it apparently isn’t being much used and would likely make a good retirement home or something for the residents. We’ll skip a tour of Bedford as I want to head north to Mystic and L’Oeuf’s excellent chocolat counter to pick up something for “Maman ”. I hope it doesn’t melt.
We’ll go north for a short distance and then turn direction Notre-Dame-de-Stanbridge, carefully crossing the railroad tracks and passing by the fields of corn, other crops, and a few cattle in the pasture. Coming into the village, we’ll pass up the exit to Stanbridge Station, and take the next roadway left on Chemin Des Rivières. This way we can follow along the river (on a road that sometimes needs serious repair), seeing the historic covered bridge on the left, and make our way to Pike River. If you speak too slowly, you’ll be through it before you finish saying it. We won’t be too fast, however, to notice the wonderful silver Church spire and architecture that dominates the village.
Turn right, across from the church, and we’ll take the loop of the old road and avoid the pace of the three-lane highway while we cruise by the cornfields.(Am I the only one who thinks cornfields are scenic ?) It always looks strange to see a Marina sign at the edge of a cornfield with no water in sight, but I guess the Missisquoi Bay must be close by. Merge back onto the 133 highway, throttle up (this is your time to feel some of that horsepower your bike generates) and we’ll move on past the trucking center and turn towards Phillipsburg just as we meet the four-lane.
A leisurely ride by the water’s edge, passing homes that appear to have their front yards bisected by the roadway. We stop at the two Arrêt ! signs of questionable value as there rarely seems to be any cross-traffic. Bikers don’t like stop signs, as a motorcycle is very stable when moving but very unstable at rest. We’ll go past the heavenly quay-side restaurant and up the hill. Turn right quickly on the old highway at the Church before Marielle sees us skipping our time at the gym in the Manoir. Move on down that tree-shaded lane (half of which really needs repair) until reaching another cemetery that is well-worth a stop as it also has some serious history.
Merge back on to 133 and head for home at the top of the hill. Put the bikes away, clean the bugs from the windshield, put the covers back on and we’ll be ready for the next trip. We might then have time for an adult beverage.
I know we missed stopping at many scenic and interesting places, including the vignobles, but we can’t do it all in one trip. Next time we might go towards Noyan and take the back roads to St. John so we can return on the newly opened Autoroute. I was afraid it would be closed as obsolete before it actually opened. Or, we might go towards Pinnacle Mountain, Jay Peak, and then back across northern Vermont. Or we might ………… Anyway, you have been a good riding companion and remember to RIDE SAFE !
Au revoir, and thanks also for allowing me to visit the beautiful L’Armandie.
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