For years, I ignored the brooding hulk of Mount Royal at night, pausing only occasionally to contemplate the shape of its silhouette or the glow of the cross atop it. It was only recently that I actually began to venture onto the mountain after dark, well after most park-goers head home, and when the woods become especially dark and spooky. Sometimes I would head up to its lower reaches, alone or with friends, to lie on the grass, drink some beer and look out over the city. On a couple of occasions, I biked all the way up to the top.
Cycling up the mountain at night is a sensual experience: the sound of gravel under my tires; the strange, damp coolness that descends upon my skin as we head deeper into the woods and higher up the hill; the darkness of the path in front of me, marked against the red glow of the city sky. My friends and I always start at the Cartier monument, taking Olmstead’s broad path, which twists its way up the mountain on a gentle slope and a series of switchbacks. It isn’t long before the darkness overwhelms our vision and we rely on sound and instinct to avoid plunging down some rocky escarpment. It’s a completely disorienting experience, travelling along the path at night, and I enjoy the unique sensation of being guided forward without actually knowing where I’m going. Except for a brief moment when the back of the Royal Victoria Hospital is visible, I never really know where we are, and the increase in ambient noise from the city is the only indication that we have come around the front of the mountain and are biking above downtown. Soon, and always rather unexpectedly, we arrive at Beaver Lake.
Beaver Lake is an interesting place at night. On weekends, there are usually groups of people sitting near the water, chatting and drinking. People often set off fireworks near the pavilion, and in the distance, I sometimes hear street racing along Remembrance Road. On the hill overlooking the lake, my friends and I like to relive our childhood by rolling sideways down the grass slope, trying and failing to get up when we come to a stop, drunk on dizziness. It’s even more fun now than when I was a kid.
The last time we were on the mountain at night it had been raining hard for most of the day. The air was thick with moisture. After hanging around Beaver Lake for an hour or so, we decided to bike east, towards the belvedere overlooking downtown. When we arrived, we were met by a wall of fog so thick it was impossible to see any of the skyscrapers; the only indication of the city’s presence was a low, muffled rumble and a bizarre glow in the mist. We pressed east, slowly, unable to see more than ten feet in front of us. When we reached the cross, all of us stopped and stared up in silence, only the faint buzz of its generator audible. As we continued biking, we passed by the two radio towers atop the mountain’s summit, the tallest one—the one that looks like the devil’s pitchfork—surrounded by a creepy, brightly-lit complex of fences and small buildings, like something you discover when you’re poking around a place you really shouldn’t be. I imagined mad scientists and evil geniuses lurking within.
The fog made the ride back down the mountain even more exhilarating and disorienting. When we arrived near the bottom, on Côte Ste. Catherine Road, the bright, open spaces of the city were a shock. It felt like we had been away for ages.
Tags: Bicycles, Exploring the City, Montreal, Mount Royal, Parks, Personal History