Words by Vince Hempsall, Images by Bear Cieri and Doug Williams
East Hereford is where mountain biking was born in Quebec. This quintessential hamlet with its white farmhouses, Christmas tree plantations and 800 residents borders the New England Hills and is about as backcountry as it gets for the 49th parallel.
Mountain biking has been a part of the culture in this area since around the time Gary Fischer was clunking his way down Californiaâ€™s Mount Tam. Thanks in large part to the efforts of a local named Jean Dâ€™Avignon, who loved pedaling his modified cruiser around the many logging roads of East Hereford and the nearby town of Coaticook, mountain biking became a prominent activity in the region.
Around 1999, the sport experienced a downturn here, (partly due to the unfortunate passing of Dâ€™Avignon who died in a car crash) but now itâ€™s experiencing a resurgence â€“ Quebecâ€™s Trail Association has recently built 20 miles of singletrack in East Hereford (bringing the total rideable terrain to 40 miles) and the annual Raid Jean Dâ€™Avignon race here has become part of the FQSC circuit.
David Lauzon, President of the Quebec Trail Association, had invited the MTBVT crew to ride the area and so we decided to grab professional Burlington-based photographer Bear Cieri and cross the border into La Belle Province. East Hereford is only 5 miles north of Beecher Falls, VT, and is so sparsely populated and off the US mountain bike radar that David said weâ€™d see a moose on the trails there before we saw a person. (He was right.) Itâ€™s only fitting that the trails here are called â€œCircuits Frontieres.â€
We rode with David, his partner Isabelle Neault, and Francis Harvey, the owner of the Coaticook bike shop Le Foyer du Sport. (There are very few amenities in East Hereford. Not even a gas station. The large town of Coaticook is the hub of the region and itâ€™s about 20 miles west or 30 miles north of Norton, VT. We will feature Coaticook and the trails there in another story.)
It turns out the three hardcore riding Francophones were the best tour guides ever because theyâ€™d all been involved with the trail building here over the years. (Francis had started riding in East Hereford with his friend Dâ€™Avignon back in 1989.)
We shuttled to the top of Centennial Drive (so named for local millionaire Neil Tillotson who had the road built for his 100th birthday) and then immediately got down to business hitting the new trail â€œMaitrise.â€ It starts at the top of Mt. Hereford and goes from a rock roll down to a massive wooden banked berm to a trail full of baby heads. Maitrise means â€œmasterâ€ in English and it helps to be a master at mountain biking to do this trail.
Everywhere we rode that day we saw evidence of moose but no people. At one point on â€œMaitriseâ€ we stopped so Bear could take photos and Isabelle said to Francis â€œYouâ€™re standing in moose poo.â€ Francis looked down at his Garneau Tflex 300 shoes and sure enough they were surrounded by the tiny little droppings that seem ridiculously inappropriate for an animal of such size. Then, 30 minutes later we saw a young moose cross the logging road in front of us as we climbed up to hit the â€œMissing Linkâ€ trail. That sparked David to tell the story of how he once drafted behind three moose while on this trail.
During our 7 hours of riding the â€œCircuits Frontieresâ€ that day we saw two deer, one moose and one other mountain biker. We enjoyed everything from gnarly stunts to machined pump tracks to mellow field-crossings and technical ascents. These are our favorites:
â€¢ â€œ50 Pesosâ€ â€“ Short, fun and fast. This new bermed pump track parallels Samâ€™s turnpike logging road. The name comes from a 50 peso note that was found in the honor box at the trailhead.
â€¢ â€œChasse Gallerieâ€â€“ a west-coast-style trail with rock rolldowns, natural gaps and loamy patches beside pink lady slippers and wild strawberries.
â€¢ â€œTwin Mulletâ€ â€“Â named for two identical brothers with mullets who were Davidâ€™s neighbors. The name is also a play on the French word â€œmulletâ€ which means calves â€“ and youâ€™ll need some decent-sized calves to get up it. This is a technical freeride trail with a steep up.
â€¢ â€œChainon-Manquantâ€ â€“ aka â€œMissing Linkâ€ â€“ this is where you can get your fast and flowy on.
For more about the â€œCircuits Frontieres,” log on to www.adsvmq.org. There are maps of the area at the trailhead (see map link below) and an honor box for fees. One dayâ€™s ride is $5 and a seasonâ€™s pass is only $20.
For an insiders perspective on riding in East Hereford and around Quebec check out Doug Williams site Cycle Fun Montreal. Thanks for the image Doug. We owe you one.