|Monday—September 14, 1998
Location—South Branch Pond Campground, Baxter State Park
Staring into the soft, flickering glow of the campfire last evening, relaxing once more in the comforting warmth of that kind and familiar old friend I retreated to delve the depths of thought, indeed to fathom most near my subconscious as I turned to the days just past and to the unknown days that lie ahead. My emotions became a whirl, a stir of both melancholy and fond memories along with the excitement and exhilaration of preparing for my lone trek into the wilds of the northern Appalachians, into the cold, early grips of winter, the stark tundra and the far off reaches of Canada. My trek on that famous old trail, the Appalachian Trail is now history and just as it quickly ended, so now just as quickly begins another exciting adventure, a journey of near 700 miles o’er the Sentier International des Appalaches/International Appalachian Trail (SIA/IAT).
I awake to a bright clear day. Eric, who is touring Maine by bicycle, gets out and on his way. Thanks Eric for sharing your lean-to with me! As I prepare to head on north I linger to reflect again, as during the evening last. I am thinking now about the three unmarked trails that intermix with the AT on the summit of Mount Katahdin, by the old weather-beaten sign, the last of the old familiar white AT blazes. For it is there that another trail begins and two other trails pass. Within this Park and on that summit these trails may never be marked, their physical presence may never be seen, but they exist all the same and their presence will remain forever. For you see, there are things that man, vain man, with all his influence, wealth and power cannot change. I speak now of a timeless and unshakable domain beyond the power of man. Man can end the white paint marks of the Appalachian Trail on Baxter Peak, and at his whim, he can also end that venerable old trail there too, but man cannot end these majestic and grand Appalachian Mountains on that summit, nor can he end there this vast and spectacular continent we know as North America.
The first of these trails of which I speak, begins on Mount Katahdin, just as sure as does another trail there end. This trail was the dream and will soon be the reality of another Benton MacKaye. For, just as MacKaye dreamed of such a grand trail along the central Appalachian Range years ago, so, likewise has the MacKaye of our time dreamed of another grand trail along the northern Appalachian Range. This dreamer is also the Myron Avery of our time, for he is not only “The Dreamer” but also, “The Doer!” His name is Richard Anderson and his new dream trail is called le Sentier International des Appalaches/International Appalachian Trail. It is on this trail that I now depart.
The first of the unmarked trails which passes over Mount Katahdin begins its journey in the southernmost reaches of the Appalachian Range in south-central Alabama on Flagg Mountain near Porter Gap and continues on to the Cliffs of Forillon where the Appalachian Mountains make their spectacular plunge to the sea at the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Cap Gaspe, Quebec. Life is breathed into this trail as a result of an amalgam of wonderful existing trails all up and down the Appalachian Mountains Chain. This trail, which has the AT as its grand section, encompasses the entire range of the majestic Appalachians. It is called The Appalachian Mountains Trail (AMT). It is on this trail that I now continue.
The second of the unmarked trails which passes over Mount Katahdin is indeed a most grand affair, for its beginning arises from the waters of the Caribbean Sea at the Gulf of Mexico in Key West, Florida, the southernmost point of the eastern North American Continent. From there it winds its way north through three time zones across what is, for all intent and purposes, the entire breadth of the Eastern Continent to also end at the spectacular Cliffs of Forillon at the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Cap Gaspe, Quebec. This trail too, is an amalgam of existing trails, with the grand old AT as its backbone. And it includes numerous other trails and roadwalks all up and down the East Coast and Maritime Provinces. This trail is called The Eastern Continental Trail (ECT). On this trail I also now continue. And as you read and journey on with me it is about the adventures along this trail that this book is written.
I stop to say good-bye to Ranger Donnell and I’m off to Russell Pond. The trail is mostly a valley walk with very good treadway compared to the heavily used trail south of here. I stop to meet and talk with Tom Lohnes, Ranger at Russell Pond Campground. He seems intrigued and taken as I once again relate the story of where I’ve hiked and where I’m headed. The day into South Branch Pond Campground goes quickly and I’m in early. Here I meet Ed Cunningham, Ranger at South Branch and he puts me up in the bunkhouse. I have it all to myself! These are great accommodations, a well thought-out design, all fresh and new. In moments I’ve got a fine warming fire going in the wood stove. This is very comfy. I sleep very soundly, for I am still emotionally drained from bidding farewell to so many dear friends on the AT.
“The happiest heart that beat,
Was in some quiet breast.
That found the common daylight sweet,
And left to heaven the rest”.
[John Vance Cheney]
Tuesday—September 15, 1998
Location—Shin Pond Village, Craig and Terry Hill, Proprietors
The hike on out of the United States and into Canada is mostly a roadwalk from here to the international border at Ft. Fairfield, Maine. At Matagammon Gate, the north entrance to Baxter State Park, I check out with gatekeep Dana Miller and head on east to Matagammon Store and Campground, managed by proud owners Don and Dianne Dudley. Here I relax with hot coffee and a great sub. There is no electricity way out here in the north Maine woods, so a generator powers the whole operation. The freezer is working fine though, thank you very much, and the ice cream is hard as a brick!
I manage to make it into Shin Pond by late evening, a 25-mile day. I am very tired, but even with my bedraggled appearance I’m greeted with a smile from Craig, and I’m soon the grand recipient of more hot coffee and a great pizza! Craig puts me up in their fine motel; very clean, neat and comfortable. There’s hot water and even good water pressure for my shower. Another good night’s slept…in a bed with sheets and a pillow no less. Isn’t it interesting the things we take for granted!
“Not to the strong is the battle,
Not to the swift is the race;
Yet to the true and the faithful
Victory is promised through grace”.
[Frances Jane Crosby]
Wednesday—September 16, 1998
Location—Abandoned Hunter’s Cabin East of Smyrna Mills, Maine
The roadwalk continues, a welcome change of pace from the rocks and roots. Folks can’t understand how I could possibly enjoy hiking gravel roads, secondary highways and even US highways. Granted and I will concede, you wouldn’t want to load your gear and your kids in the car and head for northern Maine to hike the shoulders of US1! But for a thru-hiker the roadwalks are a welcome diversion, offering the opportunity to meet the local folks while allowing some longer mileage days to boot. Up here there are many logging trucks on the road, as timbering is the mainstay, however, the drivers are most courteous and to-the-man have all moved as far as they can into the other lane, thus giving me plenty of space.
While we’re on this roadwalk subject please permit this old codger a moment’s digression. I consider myself fortunate to be counted among those who had the opportunity to hike the AT on the roads through the Cumberland Valley years ago…a section of the trail traditionally, and now historically, known as “The Cumberland Valley Roadwalk.” The Cumberland Valley is an idyllic, pastoral place, “settled in” with beautiful rolling hills and peaceful, bountiful farms all along. A great example being the Messer farm; hard working folks who permitted hikers to pitch in their clover-blanketed back yard…and the “Ice Cream Lady,” Bonnie Shipe. That’s all gone now, thanks to the “vision” of certain of those in the ATC who have found it impossible to rest until every inch of the trail is off the road. So now, after spending millions and millions of dollars and pi~~ing off a lot of folks in the Valley, the AT zigzags through the fields. You’ll see a few of the neat old farms, and Boiling Springs is a classic trail town. But the true stature of this proud old valley, the beauty and magic of its lands and people…enjoyed by all who did the roadwalk? Ahh, that joy, that experience is gone forever. (Easy, easy, just my opinion!)
As I near Smyrna Mills I pass more homes and the traffic picks up a little. It is late afternoon and the local school bus goes by heading west dropping kids off. The driver waves in passing and I think to myself, “Bet I’ll see her again soon,” as there isn’t much out there where I’ve just come from. Sure enough, in just awhile I hear the bus approaching from behind. It slows and the driver offers me a lift. She says she can take me up the road a couple of miles to where she lives. I decline the offer but thank her just the same. As I continue on and in a short time, I can see the bright yellow school bus parked in the yard. As I near I see the young lady, along with her husband and children out on their porch and they beckon me to come over. Here I meet Cheryl and Roger Stevens. After answering the usual questions of who I am, where I’ve come from and where I’m headed, Cherri asks if they might help in any way. Without hesitation, I pull out my water bottle to have it filled, for on roadwalks, unless you’re willing to drink from the ditches or knock on people’s doors, you’ll pretty much do without…and I was running on empty! I’m invited into their home and the children seat me at their table. As I eat my fill from a plate of confections placed before me Cherri puts together a bag of food for me and then goes back to her commercial sewing machine where she’s making camo totes and packs for the local hunters. As I watch her work, the thought occurs that I could sure use a new water bottle belt-pouch. My threadbare bag is full of holes and the elastic cinch gave up months ago. As I prepare to head on up the road, Cherri asks if there is anything else they could do. Sooo, I show her my beat-up old water bottle belt-pouch. After taking one look, and spending no more than a couple of minutes at her machine, I become the proud new owner of one of Cherri’s custom (water bottle) totes!
I stop in Smyrna Mills for another great pizza then head on east to find a place to spend the evening—an old abandoned hunter’s cabin. The lock was broken years ago and never mended, so I push the door open and enter the dark old cabin. The floor is clean but sloping noticeably to the northeast. Here I will roll out my sleeping bag. My tummy is full and I am content. In this quiet little place I will be warm, dry and comfortable. As I open my pack to prepare my bed for the night I find the small outer compartment stuffed with money! I wonder now, as I light my candle to write this journal entry for today, how many of us have been blessed during our life with such human kindness and generosity. Folks, this is the stuff miracles are made from—bringing us riches and blessings that a winning lottery ticket could never deliver. The Stephens’ family would not have a clue to the meaning of the term “trail magic,” nor what a “trail angel” might be. But then again, it’s probably just as well.
Great miracles abound,
In this world of toil and sin.
But we must have an open heart,
To take the blessings in.
Thursday—September 17, 1998
Location—Abandoned Weight Scales House North of Littleton, Maine
In just a short distance this morning, the secondary road I’m hiking passes under I-95. Near this interchange I am served a great breakfast at the Brookside Restaurant, a neat little mom-n-pop stop. What a great way to start the day, stoking my tank with energy for the morning walk. By lunchtime I’m in Houlton.
For quite awhile now I’ve been relying on the pawn shop watch I bought for a buck while at Ronnie and Judy’s in Live Oak. It worked fine until I dunked it once too often. After that I simply relied on my friends on the AT for the time of day. But now, hiking by myself, I need to be able to determine my location accurately using the time/speed/distance triad. Of course, to figure any one of the three variables, I need two of the others in the equation. I can estimate my rate of progress very well under most circumstances and over most terrain. So, If I keep track of how long I’ve been hiking since the last known landmark, I can calculate with remarkable accuracy the distance I’ve traveled. This is particularly useful when relying on road and topo maps. So, while here in Houlton, I head for the Wal-Mart for a new watch.
Then it’s over to the truck stop on US1 for a bowl of soup before heading north. I’ll be hiking US1 now, into Mars Hill. I had been concerned about the traffic on this busy US highway, but there’s a fully paved emergency lane, which makes the going most pleasant. So, as I hike into the evening and as my new watch says the sun will soon be setting, I’m able to find another clean floor on which to rest my head, a small unused and unlocked weight scales building. I roll out my sleeping bag just as the sun and the mercury are dipping. Here I am warm and comfortable. My worry about the possible consequences of hiking this busy US highway have been just that—worry, for this has proven to be a most pleasant hiking day!
“A fool beholdeth only the beginning of his works, but a wise
man taketh heed to the end.”
[Unknown, Dialogues of Creatures, 1535]
Friday—September 18, 1998
Location—Midtown Motel, Mars Hill, Steve and Rachel Burtt, Proprietors
Today is a short hike, only 17 miles into Mars Hill. I arrive early at the Blue Moose Restaurant and am served a fine breakfast to get me cranking and on my way. On this blustery fall day I pass many nice old homes and farms along US1. Most of these folks raise potatoes and with the season in, just about everyone has a produce stand out by the road, with potatoes for sale.
Arriving at Blaine I stop for a bowl of soup at the local truckstop. As I’m finishing my lunch, the pastor of Mars Hill Methodist Church stops to chat—and to buy my lunch! Here I meet Rev. Elizabeth Vernon, a very nice lady, and after a most pleasant welcome to Mars Hill, she invites me to church this coming Sunday. I arrive at the little village of Mars Hill by mid afternoon. I head right for Midtown Motel where I meet Rachel Burtt, the motel owner. After a little Yogi magic from the old Nomad, Rachel relents to talking to her husband about the room rate for me. I soon meet Dave Smith, the motel manager who shows me to one of their vacant apartments upstairs in the back—that they can let me have very, very reasonable for a couple of days! The accommodations are fine, with refrigerator, stove and plenty of hot water for a soothing shower!
Just up the street is the local A&P where I quickly head to buy food to stock the refrigerator for the weekend…and a frozen pizza to fix right away in the oven. I hit the jackpot on my mail drop, receiving many letters and cards from family and friends.
Later in the afternoon and stopping by the motel office to chat with Dave, what a great surprise and coincidence to find that Dick Anderson, President of the SIA/IAT will be checking in later this evening! He’s coming up from Portland for a trail construction workday on Mars Hill Mountain! Later in the evening I get to meet him, along with SIA/IAT Board Member Tom Rumpf, and we have a great time. They invite me to breakfast in the morning and I decide to spend the day with them working on the mountain.
“Boughs are daily rifled by the gusty thieves,
and the book on Nature getteth short of leaves.”
[Thomas Hood, The Seasons]
Saturday—September 19, 1998
Location—Midtown Motel, Mars Hill, Maine
I’m up and out by 7:00 a.m., headed for Al’s Diner across the street. Here I’m greeted by Dick and Tom who introduce me to David Jones, another SIA/IAT board member.
After breakfast we head for Mars Hill Mountain where a group of David’s students are waiting to go to work. This should be a great trail-building workday. Dick has all the right tools and Dave has the strong, young workers. The job at hand involves chopping out switchbacks as we crisscross one of the steep ski runs. We get right at it. By noon we’re most of the way up the mountain with the treadway cut and bright blue and white IAT trail markers up! By 2:30 the job is done. Back down the mountain, and returning to the vehicles, we find that Dick has cool refreshments waiting for us in a cooler. He sure knows how to start, run and top-off a work party. This guy is truly the Benton MacKaye and the Myron Avery of the SIA/IAT!
On the way out we stop at the ski lift where I have the pleasure of meeting Wendell Pierce, owner of Mars Hill Mountain. Mr. Pierce has graciously given the SIA/IAT use of his mountain for this grand new trail. We have a great time together and I thank him for permitting me to hike over his mountain!
“Why do men climb mountains…tread deep forests, seek solitude?
…when we break away into the wilds, we make the decisions
…there we may recoup some control over our destiny.”
[Bill Reviere, Back Country Camping]
Sunday—September 20, 1998
Location—Midtown Motel, Mars Hill, Maine
They roll up the sidewalks pretty early here in Mars Hill, just the occasional logging truck or potato truck to break the nighttime silence. My room at Midtown Motel is upstairs in the old house connected to the rear of the motel, back from the main drag; so the street noise, what little there is of it, doesn’t keep me from a long, sound sleep and I don’t stir until 8:30 a.m.
After rolling out I fix myself a little instant coffee on the apartment range and then decide to go for some more homemade toast at Al’s, so I head over for that delight and more coffee. As the waitress fills my cup for the third time, I’m thinking about the trouble I had in January and February in northern Florida and southern Alabama with my hands getting cold and my fingers going numb. So I know I must come up with something besides the thin cotton gloves given me by Mountain Man at Hatchet Creek Tradin’ Post. Folks here in town have told me my best bet would be Poppa’s Discount about two miles north towards Presque Isle. There is no clothing or department store here in Mars Hill, so I head to the intersection to thumb a ride out to Poppa’s. I soon arrive to find that they’re not only open, but that they’ve a grand selection of gloves and mittens to choose from. I’ve been thinking that I really want some soft lined mittens, but on trying a number of different options, I finally choose a pair of wool gloves to go inside a pair of unlined leather mittens. On trying the lined mittens I found it impossible to do much of anything with them on. However, with the layer combination of gloves and mittens I’ll be able to do chores, like making and braking camp while wearing the wool gloves, which should help keep my fingers from becoming useless nubs. And when the chores are finished, on can go the leather mittens to let the wool do its job. So I go for the glove/mitten combo.
It takes a little longer to hitch back to town but I’m finally able to get a ride directly to the front door at Mars Hill Methodist Church. Rev. Vernon had invited me to attend Sunday service and I decided right away after talking with her last Friday that her suggestion was a good idea. I arrive just as the congregation is finishing the first hymn. Well, Rev. Vernon sees me, though I enter quietly and sit in the last pew. And at the first opportunity, she introduces me to her congregation. So, when “get acquainted time” rolls around, just about everybody makes it by to meet me and to shake my hand. Reverend Vernon, I’m sure glad I came. I’ve had the enjoyment of meeting a group of warm, caring folks—and I thoroughly enjoyed your inspiring service!
After church, I head for the other little mom-n-pop restaurant just down the street, to enjoy their AYCE Sunday buffet. I manage to stuff myself with good wholesome home-cooked food, then to top the feast off with some of the best bread pudding I’ve had in a coon’s age. Upon asking for my check, I’m told by the waitress that “it’s already taken care of.” I know this is Rev. Vernon’s generosity because she’s the only person I’d told of my dinner plans. Thank you, Elizabeth! There are some really fine people in the little community of Mars Hill. You have obviously set a fine example.
After dinner, (in the South, lunch is dinner and dinner is supper) I return to my room and settle down to work on my journal entries, the final few to complete the AT portion of this odyssey. I soon realize that I am further behind than I thought and that I have much more to write about each day than I thought, so I find myself writing all through the afternoon, into the evening …and all night! I don’t get caught up until 5:00 a.m. Monday morning.
“The tints of autumn—a mighty flower garden blossoming
under the spell of the enchanter, frost.”
[Whittier, Patucket Falls]
Monday—September 21, 1998
Location—Abandoned building across from Customs, Fort Fairfield, Maine
So, here it is, 5:00 a.m., and time to straighten up the room and get things in my pack and go. Sleep will have to wait. I head for Al’s for some more of that great homemade toast and fresh brewed coffee. Then it’s back to the post office to mail some things home and get my bounce box off to my next mail-drop in Matapedia. I figured I’d need some additional provisions, but I have enough food in my pack for at least a day, maybe two, so I decide to head on out.
I depart this delightful little trail town at 9:00 a.m. to head for Mars Hill, Mountain. It’s a chilly, overcast morning and Mars Hill Mountain is shrouded in mist and clouds. Big Rock Ski Area is at the base of the mountain and I hear the diesel engine that operates the lift, so I head over. As it turns out, I get to talk again with Wendell Pierce, the owner of Big Rock and Mars Hill Mountain. I take my camera out for a picture of Wendell and he says he’d like a picture of me, so I oblige. I hand him the camera and promise to send him a print.
I make the climb up Mars Hill Mountain in short order, reaching the ridge where the trail heads north on a quad-trac/snowmobile road along the ridge and past the ski lift. At the ski lift, a worker is on one of the very top towers installing new cable rollers. Up here the mist and clouds are swirling, as if vapors from a witch’s cauldron, creating an eerie sight as I hail the worker. He is not startled to see me, as he is in two-way communication with Wendell at the base of the mountain. “Working in the clouds today!” I shout. “I’m used to it, if you don’t work in the clouds; you don’t work!” was the reply. I am thinking how blessed I’ve been on this odyssey, to have had such incredibly good fortune with weather conditions at the really critical and important times. The view before me now is like the memory of an old black and white movie that fades in and out, blurred by time. But, at the shelter atop the summit with Dick Anderson here Saturday, I could see to the horizon in all directions! Standing near the flagpole from where the fifty-star U.S. flag was first flown and where the sun first strikes the North American Continent for most of the year; to the south dancing on a sea of illusion was Mt. Katahdin. And to the north, it seemed, stretched all of Canada.
From the ski lift the trail follows fresh-cut treadway to the northeast and down the mountain, along a secondary road and on to the barricade at the international boundary. The boundary, a forty-foot clearcut runs directly north over the ridges, down through the bogs and beaver ponds—straight through whatever is there, on a beeline. The swath is overgrown in many places with alder, making the going difficult. The RCMP patrol the accessible sections of the boundary with quad-tracs, so, hiking through those section is easy. However, getting through the bogs and around the beaver ponds is another matter. I’ve been on this boundary line for many miles and many hours today. There’s a shelter on the north end, near Fort Fairfield, but, somehow I miss it. I’ve felt a fair degree of urgency for the past hour as the boundary follows an exposed ridgeline and a bad thunderstorm is intensifying nearby. I move on north with haste and reach the U.S. Custom’s Office at Fort Fairfield just as the skies open. What a blessing to be inside as the rain comes in sheets and the show is right on top of us.
I had noticed an abandoned building, what appears to have been an old restaurant, across the road from the custom’s office. It wasn’t posted, so as the rain relents, and at first opportunity I beat a path to it. As luck would have it, the front door has been removed and a piece of plywood is propped up to cover it, so I’m able to move it aside and enter a nearly dry (and fairly warm) room. By pushing a couple of old display cases together and laying a piece of pegboard over them I have a fine place to roll out my sleeping bag. I have not had sleep in two days, so as the rain comes again, pounding in waves against the old building, with puddles forming all around me, I tumble into a deep trance-like sleep.
“If solid happiness we prize,
Within our breast this jewel lies,
And they are fools that roam.”
[Nathaniel Cotton, The Fireside]
Tuesday—September 22, 1998
Location—Boarding House above Pit Stop Pizza, Perth, NB Canada
Skipping a night’s sleep, then hiking 21 miles is not a real smart idea! The pounding rain lets up sometime during the night…I know not when, for I sleep soundly and do not awake until the bright sunshiny day finally rousts me out at 8:30.
So, here I am at the international border. In a few moments I will leave the United States and enter Canada. After 248 days and nearly 3,700 miles I have hiked the trails and roads of most near the breadth of the entire Eastern United States…through sixteen states, from the Florida Everglades to the near-northernmost reaches of Maine. Two Canadian Provinces and some 525 miles yet remain to complete the “Odyssey of ’98.”
I head for Canadian Customs with some trepidation. I don’t know what there is to fear—I guess it’s just natural when you must deal with the authorities. Well now, was my uneasiness ever unfounded. No finer nor friendlier folks will you meet anywhere. They had heard yesterday about my plans to come through from Mel Fitton, an SIA/IAT member from New Brunswick who had prepared maps for me and left them here at the custom’s office. So, it seems, they were primarily interested in getting my picture! They had failed to get John Brinda’s picture last year. John, too, has hiked the Eastern Continental Trail all the way from Florida to Canada. He later sent them a very fine professionally prepared and framed map of his “long hike”…but they had no picture of John, so they wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again. John, they would really like to have a picture of you! So I am greeted with big smiles and hellos from Sharon Dunbar, Herrick Hansen, and Dirk Bishop. Herrick then gets his Polaroid camera out for an on-the-spot autographed shot. I guess they’ll hang it on the wall somewhere or stand it on the counter next to John’s map!
Sharon is interested in the route I will be taking now that I’m in Canada. I explain that to follow the designated SIA/IAT route, which I prefer to do, I will have to continue hiking north on the international boundary until I reach the old railroad grade at the Aroostook River. She says, “Now, you know that since you’re in Canada, you’re supposed to stay in Canada until you cross back at one of the designated border crossings.” Dirk tells me that just a short ways north of here, right on the border, I will encounter a very large beaver pond and just after that, a long, wide bog. He explains that, more than likely, I will have to work my way around, which means some necessary straying back on the American side of the border. He invites me upstairs where we can view the border to the north where these difficult spots are located.
A road in the U.S., the Aroostook Falls Road, leads directly to the old railroad grade at the Aroostook River, which would get me there much easier and much faster. However, I explain to Dirk that I have done my best to this point to follow the designated SIA/IAT route and that I would prefer to continue in that manner. They are all sympathetic to my plans to stay on the SIA/IAT. In fact, a call is made to the Mounties alerting them that should any of their border sensors come alive or should they receive reports from local folks that someone was crossing the border at an undesignated location, that it would probably be me. Thus, they have cleared a way for my passage!
I am receiving great assistance from the SIA/IAT folks. Dick Anderson had prepared, with considerable time and much detail, crisp, clear maps of the north Maine section. And now, waiting for me here at Fort Fairfield Customs, is there a large detailed bundle of maps and information to get me through New Brunswick, just as promised, by Mel Fitton. Thanks Dick and Mel. It is apparent that much thought, time and effort have gone into the preparation of all this information for me. Indeed, I am in your debt!
Dirk also mentions that he had received a phone call earlier from Madeleine Theriault in Madawaska, the New Brunswick SIA/IAT Chapter President. She wanted to know when I reached the border, so Dirk offers to make the call. In a moment I’m talking to Madeleine, who has taken a day off to drive to Fort Fairfield to greet me! She answers on her cell phone and is now only a few minutes from the border.
The old saying, “one good turn deserves another” must apply here, as, just moments ago, I received a cheerful and enthusiastic “Welcome to Canada” from Sharon, Herrick and Dirk; and now, as I am greeted by Madeleine and her son Sebastien, another very warm and sincere “Welcome to New Brunswick, we’re glad you’re here!” Without a skip, I am invited to breakfast, the invitation to which I just as quickly accept. In a moment we are loaded up and headed for Andover-Perth. Madeleine says she has a favorite spot for breakfast so we’re soon at Mary’s Bake Shop and Luncheonette, run by Mary and Greta Barker.
We have a fine breakfast indeed, with more great homemade bread for toast—This southern boy really isn’t missing his biscuits and grits! Madeleine reviews the maps and information that Mel has provided and gives me the name and phone number of a good friend in the Kedgwick area that I should contact for assistance up that way. Behind the counter at Mary’s hangs some of the most beautiful hand knitted wool socks that I have seen since ones made for me by my grandmother. Madeleine sees me admiring them and before we leave Mary’s she insists on buying me a pair. I dearly want a pair, gave a half-hearted “you really shouldn’t” and when she insists again, I choose the white ones!
Back at the custom’s parking lot we linger and talk some more. To me, it really is something that she has taken off from her work to drive such a distance to meet and befriend me. The time spent with Madeleine and Sebastien will be a most memorable part of my journey through New Brunswick. Thanks, dear friends!
While on the second floor at Canadian Customs, and looking out of the window and down on the houses below, I ask Dirk about the house between the two customs building, “Is it in the U.S. or Canada?” And he says, “Yes!” He points out, and then I can see the boundary monument right in the yard! So, as I shoulder my pack and head for the border clearing I must walk right through these folks side yard, between their fence and their house, under their clothesline and on out their back yard! I’ve told you before, but it stands repeating here again for all you doubters…folks, I’m not making this stuff up!
Traveling north on the border, and within just a short distance, there it is a HUGE beaver pond. These fellows can really back up some water! This pond engulfs the entire border clearing and then some, on both sides of the border. The only way, so it appears, to get around this flood is to follow a two-track trail below the dam on the American side, so over I go. Just below the beaver dam the trail ends and from here on it’s bushwhacking and mudboggin’. I spend the better part of fifteen minutes going the next fifty yards working my way through brush, tangle, mud bogs and part of the dam itself. Once around I’m back in Canada, only to meander a number of times onto the American side again as I fight my way through and around numerous bogs. I am glad to get this part of the hike behind me as I reach the old railroad grade at the Aroostook River.
On the old railroad bed, for the first mile or so, is superimposed a paved road. As I’m hiking this roadway, a motorhome approaches from the other direction. It slows and comes to a stop and the old fellow inquires as to where the road might lead. I explain that it goes to the international boundary between Canada and the U.S. and that it stops at a barricade. I suggest they drive on down, for it would certainly be worthwhile as the narrow valley where we are now opens into an impressive wide expanse with beautiful mountains in full fall regalia, on either side of the grand Aroostook. After answering the typical questions, these folks also want my picture. The old fellow is obviously anxious about getting his large rig (with auto in tow) turned around, so I send them along with the assurance that there is plenty of room to turn around at the barricade, and to stop on the way back and I would spend some time with them.
I hadn’t gone another 100 yards and just past this lovely house, when out in the road runs this fellow after me! He says, “Mister, stop a minute. Please tell me where you’re going.” So it is that I meet David Brown, the self-proclaimed mayor of Tinker Ridge, just below Tinker’s Dam! (Folks, this is true). After answering the typical questions, he says, “I’ve done some hiking and I would sure like to take your picture.” I tell him that I don’t give a Tinker’s damn and to get his camera and come on up the road and get in line behind the motorhome! In a few minutes, comes the motorhome again and I stop as the old gent pulls to the shoulder…and right behind comes Dave who pulls off and stops behind them. Cheez, you’d think I’d just won the Boston Marathon! Here I meet Barry Unicume and his friend Yvonne Roblin. They’re from British Columbia. After the photo op Yvonne invites Dave and me into their motorhome for sandwiches, coffee, and dessert. Hot dang, can’t refuse this kind of hospitality!
Well, it seems pretty certain I won’t get far today. I didn’t get out of Fort Fairfield until noon, however the morning spent at Canadian Customs and with Madeleine and Sebastien was a delightful time. Coming up the border was slow going and now I will tarry some more as I accept Yvonne’s invitation for late lunch. So, into the motorhome we go. Yvonne fixes sandwiches for all of us along with hot coffee and lots of donuts. By now the occasion had presented where I must recited a couple of my ditties and Dave insists on getting them on tape. He’s a teacher, and wants to share them with his students. So I send him home for his pocket recorder. Shortly he’s back with his recorder and some goodies for my pack.
I’ve tarried long with these kind folks and must get back on the trail, so I bid farewell to Dave, Yvonne and Barry and I’m on my way. I hope now I can just get as far as Andover-Perth, only twelve miles for the day. As I continue on the old railroad grade along the Aroostook it is definitely “darkin’ over” and before long a light, steady rain begins. I garbage-bag my pack and don my rain jacket as the rain turns to a hammering downpour. On I march through the deluge to finally reach the bridge at Andover-Perth. There are no motels or cafes on the Andover side so across the bridge I go in the howling rage.
It’s only 7:00 p.m. as I enter Pit-Stop Pizza but it’s already dark outside. Here, as I glance at the clock on the wall, I realize that after starting late and goofing away the morning and half the afternoon, that I have also lost an hour due to a time zone change at the border. I’m soaked, tired and hungry—and it’s dark. There’s good food right here, a bar in the basement and rooms for rent upstairs and the rain is really pounding outside. Looks like this is it for today, a most brilliant decision after very little pondering. I meet Lloyd McLaughlan, proprietor of the establishment and after some discussion and a little Yogi-ing I am offered a room at a very reasonable rate. Lloyd laments that the room he’s giving me has no door lock—as a matter of fact, it has no doorknob. I tell him that it makes no difference to me if the room has a door!
After a hot hamburger with fries and gravy, a few with Glenn at the bar, along with an autographed (U.S.) dollar bill for his wall, it’s time to do some laundry, hit the shower and roll in. What a day—gotta hammer the road tomorrow!
“This is the time of year when it gets late early.”
Wednesday—September 23, 1998
Location—Rogers Motel, Plaster Rock, NB Canada
Came in last night in the near dark, in the rain and in a rush, so didn’t get much of a look at the town. I’m up and ready to go a little after 7:00 a.m. and head down to the café for some coffee…but the Pit Stop is still closed so I decide to look the old town over and find another spot for breakfast. Low-and-behold; right next door is Mary’s Bake Shop and Luncheonette, where Madeleine and Sebastien had taken me for breakfast yesterday morning. So, in I go for another great breakfast prepared by Mary and served by her sister Greta!
The IAT continues along the Tobique River on the same old railroad grade hiked yesterday along the Aroostook River. If you’ve read some of my earlier journal entries from western Georgia you know I have a distinct disdain for railroad grade treadway. What’s left on most of these old railroad paths is loose unbedded rock, a very unpleasant base for hiking. This old grade isn’t as bad as most since it’s also used by ATVs and snowmobiles which have helped pack things down. But, this sort of hiking is also boring, except for all the dogs that want to take your leg off because you’re passing through their yard! The road paralleling the trail along the Tobique is higher and offers a better vantage of this scenic area and the traffic isn’t bad so I switch to the road for some “blue blazing” today.
Sections of the Tobique are almost spellbinding. At Tobique Narrows the river has cut like a knife through the mountains. The railbed has been literally blasted from the vertical cliff wall, which rises abruptly from the rushing torrent. The view up the Tobique at this point is like no other place I’ve seen on any other river–a stunning, halting kind of grandeur, definitely on the wild side.
The river finally settles itself into a pleasant little valley with many old homes and farms along the way. I arrive late afternoon at Plaster Rock, make my way to the Roger’s, a very modest but clean and well-kept little row of rooms run by a kind old gentleman, Wilfred Lagace; who, after showing much interest in my adventure, offers me a room at a very reasonable rate. The deal! Wilfred says, “you pay me what you think it’s worth.” Turns out we both were happy!
“Have you ever stood where the silences brood,
And the vast horizons begin,
At the dawn of the day to behold far away
The goal you would strive for and win?”
[Robert W. Service, The Land of Beyond]
Thursday—September 24, 1998
Location—Bear’s Lair, Riley Brook, NB Canada
The railbed and road continue by the Tobique River for this entire day’s hike into Riley Brook. This is the first day of moose hunting season and around about 9:00 a.m. I see the first pickup truck loaded full with one of these huge animals headed toward the game-check station in Plaster Rock. This is the first of some 10-15 trucks that will pass bearing the remains of these hulks. Some are so enormous that I can see them, head and rack above the cab of the approaching truck. One hunter had loaded his kill hind-end first and tight against the cab, but a goodly part of the head, rack and most of the animal’s front quarters still hung out over the tailgate!
There’s a grocery store complete with grill and carryout near the little communities of Everett and Two Brooks. Here I enjoy another hot hamburger, including fries, beans and cole slaw. I was first introduced to one of these hot hamburgers at the Pit Stop Café in Perth. Seems it’s a favorite fast-food item up here. It’s an interesting combination of very common ingredients familiar to all Americans, consisting of bread, fried hamburger, French fries and gravy. But get this combination…the fried burger patty is placed between the two pieces of white bread and right beside this on the same platter go the fries. “Big deal,” You say. Ahh but now for the interesting part, this whole concoction is covered over with brown gravy…fries and all! Yes, gravy on the French fries. Makes for a somewhat soggy platter, but to a tired, hungry hiker, very tasty indeed.
On up the road towards Riley Brook, and in a fellow’s side yard, four hunters have a moose hoisted up in a tree in the process of skinning and dressing it. They greet me and I ask to have a look, as I’ve never seen one of these animals up close; they invite me over. Seems that in order to dress one of these mammoths, a pole the size of a small fence post must be run between the Achilles-like tendon and the leg bone just above the hind fetlocks. To this pole is tied a very substantial rope, which runs through a pulley fixed high in the tree, then down to the hitch ball on one of the hunter’s 4X4 pickups. As the skinning process progresses, the carcass is hoisted higher in the tree until only the head rests on the ground. A hand saw (looks like a carpenter’s saw to me) is then used to cut the animal in half along its spine into what is known in the butchering trade as “sides,” like sides of beef, only these are sides of moose.
I comment to one of the hunters that the moose appears as big as a cow, and he says, “That’s what it is, a cow—a cow moose.” The hunters estimate that this one weighs around 500 pounds, not big by local standards, as some cows can tip the scales at well over 1,000 pounds. But, as I stand gawking up at this thing, it looks huge to me! I mention that I enjoy hunting and when I was a youngster I used to go quail, squirrel and rabbit hunting with my father. We also went fishing every time the occasion presented. Those times spent together are a treasure of memories…my first contact with Mother Nature’s great bounty that is her vast, never ending out-of-doors. My mom was a great cook and she always prepared, in finest fashion, whatever we brought home. But, this moose is another matter. It will fill a couple of large freezers and feed a good-sized family for probably the better part of a year! One of the hunters reckoned that moose hunting certainly was a lot of fun, but after the “bang” the fun was all over. There’s no way a man, or a number of men for that matter, can drag one of these hulks out of the woods. The trick up here is to not only scout the moose but to try and shoot it somewhere near where it’s possible to bring in one of the large log skidders. This being a machine of considerable might used in the timber harvesting business to drag logs out of the woods.
As I hike on the road to Riley Brook, a fellow in a pickup stops and wants my picture. He had seen me passing through Plaster Rock and wants to hear more about my odyssey. And shortly, yet another vehicle stops and a young lady gets out and approaches me. Here I meet Marie-Josee Laforest, Interpreter and Assistant Superintendent, Mt. Carleton Provincial Park. Marie is on her way to a funeral in Plaster Rock. Seems everyone up here knows I’m on my way through. No news seems to be big new around here. She wants to be the first to welcome me to the park. Her eyes light up and her voice absolutely jingles as she speaks about Carleton! She says all the folks at the park are excited about my coming and are anxiously awaiting my arrival. Marie provides me with information about accommodations for the evening in Riley Brook and also welcomes and invites me to stay at her home just north of the little village.
Funeral processions are a somber affair, and in a short while I hear the steady increasing hum of traffic behind. I turn to see the hearse and the long line of headlights approaching. I stand and face the procession, waiting at attention until it passes. I am finding that folks up here are more than just good friends, they’re more like family, and it seems they’re all out today. It’s a joy to be in such a remote community that hasn’t been swept into and whirled away by our maybe not-so-great modern times. Places like this really do exist where family values and bonds are still as I remember from the little back-hills village in the Ozark Hills where I was raised. Guess the old-fashioned in me really comes out at times like this. I don’t mean to imply that life as we know it today is necessarily bad—or good for that matter—just different. For me, I like the way it used to be a lot better and so do the folks around here! In the past eight months I have been on many different and varied roadwalks. They have all been interesting, certainly a diversion from hiking o’er the mountains and through the woods, much as was the AT Cumberland Valley roadwalk of many years past. This roadwalk today will remain in my memory. Here, I’ve met kind, gentlefolk and have seen fine places.
I arrive at the little village of Riley Brook in a chilling evening breeze. I knock at the door of the Bear’s Lair, a rustic and nestled-in log lodge on the banks of the picturesque Tobique. In a moment the door opens and I am greeted by Evelyn McAskill, proprietor and lodgekeeper. She invites me in and shows me to warm, comfortable quarters. I no sooner get my shower and settle in than a knock comes on my door. It is Evelyn. She invites me into the lodge’s grand room where she has prepared an evening meal for me! The folks in Canada are indeed, kind and generous people.
“All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all
I have not seen.”
[Ralph Waldo Emerson]
Friday—September 25, 1998
Location—Park Offices, Mt. Carleton Provincial Park, NB Canada
I’m up at 7:30 a.m. and Evelyn sends me on my way with a fine bacon and eggs breakfast. In just a short way the road crosses the Tobique River and here at the bridge a lady stops her car, rolls down her window and hands me a fancy half-pint jar of apple preserves. She says she saw me hiking into Riley Brook yesterday and has been told of my unbelievable adventure. I thank her kindly and put the little treasure in my pack to savor later.
Just a short distance above the bridge is Marie’s lovely home. I will not see her again, as she will be away this weekend so I stop and leave a little note of thanks for the warm hospitality extended me.
In a short while I’m at the little community of Nictau. As I pass this lovely farmhouse I’m greeted by the ambassador of the household…the family dog. His barking brings some folks around and from behind the house. My wave and greeting is returned by an invitation to stop and come in. So I break my stride, snap my Leki poles together and cross their large, manicured lawn. Here I meet William V. Miller, III, his sister and her husband, Julie and Marty McCrum, Bill’s mother Wilma and her two brothers, Lionell and Jim Clark. Bill’s brother Jim is also present. I am whisked into their lovingly-cared-for and spacious old farm home and urged to sit right down at the dining room table. Then the questions—about who I am, where I’m from and where I’m headed. Sooo, as briefly as I can I recount my story once more. It’s then I mention meeting Marie-Josee yesterday…on her way to a funeral in Plaster Rock, and that the folks at the park were expecting me, so I must not tarry long. That’s when Julie mentions that the funeral Marie-Josee was attending was for her father William V. Miller, II.
I put my head down, blush and feel ashamed for what I’ve just said, to be in such a rush. These folks have just buried a dearest family member, and even now during their time of grieving, have opened their home and extended their kindness and hospitality to a passing stranger! Well, I relax, sat back in my chair and chat while enjoying the hot tea and cookies placed before me. Looking out the picture window beside the dining room table the sun is setting the mountain ablaze across the valley. As we all marvel at the beautiful fall colors I mention that I could not possibly repay them for the kindness they’ve extended me, but if they would gather ‘round I would recite the inspirational poem about Ma Nature’s Paint Brush. There became a hush and my voice lifted and carried the message about the magic spell of fall. I know now, this poem about fall was inspired and written for this occasion. With tears in most every eye, this wonderful family—none ever having wished to be brought together under such circumstances, share a poignant, very special moment together. Thank you, Lord for bringing me here today to be where you have lighted and guided my path and to share with these kind, most generous people.
Bill Miller, III is a craftsman, a builder of wooden canoes, a vanishing art passed down from his father and grandfather. He shows me his shop with all the wonderful old tools, and some of the projects on which he’s currently working. Bill is not content just to build these works of ancient art. He fells the trees from his own wood lot and runs the strips, boards and planks on his own sawmill. While Bill is showing me around, Julie is putting a little package together for me to take along; apples from their trees, preserves made from berries picked on the farm, and syrup, the purest and sweetest maple syrup I’ve ever tasted. Yup! Boiled down from the sap of their own birdseye maple trees right here on the homestead!
The Tobique Valley is indeed a special place, fixed it seems permanently in time, when time with family and friends was the most important thing, when those with skill of hand took pride, bringing joy and satisfaction; when a hard day’s work was always expected and always received and when fierce independence and right judgment was keen. These folks are of that time and tilt long past. I know they’ve never wavered from it—standing tall and proud. What a blessing being here with them, if for but a brief, brief day! I am sure that as I write this, plans are underway to take the trail from this valley roadwalk to the woodlands and ridges all along. Soon, many will thru-hike this grand SIA/IAT, but a hundred could pass here every day and the kind and gentlefolk in this valley would certainly welcome them as they have me and each intrepid could experience the joy and pleasure in passing through this grand and proud old valley. But alas, it certainly will not endure.
I have been overwhelmed by the hospitality, friendship and generosity extended me by all the folks I have met since crossing the border at Fort Fairfield into this beautiful country of Canada. As I approach Mt. Carleton Provincial Park a vehicle passes, turns about and then pulls alongside. Here I meet Bertin Allard and Jean Francois Paulin. Bertin is the Superintendent of Mt. Carleton and Jean Francois, one of the Park Wardens. With warm, friendly smiles I am again welcomed to Mt. Carleton Provincial Park! I am offered a ride on into the park, the kind offer to which I politely decline and as I hike on I am at the park entrance reception building within the hour. As I approach the visitor’s center I am overwhelmed again. Out on the deck come all the folks working at the park. While Jean Francois has his camcorder running, Bertin introduces me to Guy Belanger and Larry Dyer who work in maintenance, Nadine Perron, Steven Theriault and Rhonda Pelletier, gate attendants. I am then invited to continue on to the park office where Larry will prepare an evening meal for Bertin and I! I hike this final distance quickly and am greeted again by Bertin in the office parking lot. Not only am I treated to a great supper of pork chops and fried onions but am told that I will be staying in their private warm bunkroom while here in the park. Bert familiarizes me with the park and the trail system before departing for home and family and I’m able to take a luxurious hot shower before settling in for the night. What an amazing, amazing day!
MA NATURE’S PAINT BRUSH
Ma Nature’s got her paintbrush out,
Brushin’ o’er the green.
From her palette, every hue,
To brighten up the scene.
In red and orange and yellow,
She paints so brilliantly.And there, a touch of umber,
She threw that in for me.
Now what’s all this excitement?
It happens every fall.
It’s nothing but a rerun,
In case you don’t recall.
Well, we’ve seen the work of masters,
Hanging in our galleries.
But none can match Ma Nature’s hand,
When she paints autumn’s trees.
Ahh, ‘tis a magic time of year,
A spell cast over all.
For all the seasons we hold dear,
The best, by far…is fall.
Saturday—September 26, 1998
Location—Park Offices, Mt. Carleton Provincial Park, NB Canada
I’m up at 8:00 a.m. and prepare toast and coffee in the headquarters’ kitchen. At 9:00 a.m. I meet Gerard Magualle, Park Warden who will be spending the day here at the park office. He gets the generator going and the office up and running. Shortly after 9:00 a.m., on a cool, clear morning I’m off on my hike to Mt. Carleton and Sagamook.
The trails here in the park are professionally designed and constructed and are well blazed and maintained. When I first see the blazing technique, a blue 3×3 metal plate with a narrow white hash mark, I have my doubts about its effectiveness; but as I quickly find, these markers stand out clearly (but not offensively) and are easy to follow.
On the approach to Mt. Carleton the trail ascends the Bald Mountain Brook Ravine; with the brook entertaining me with joyful song as it cascades over the many falls and rapids on its way to Lake Nictau below. Once the ridgeline is gained I turn south, past Mt. Head. The final ascent to the summit of Mt. Carleton involves a short, steep rock scramble. To this point, I have had the trail to myself this morning, but this being a beautiful Saturday, and the summit within easy reach from a nearby parking lot on the other side; many families with youngsters are already enjoying the warming sun and the grand panorama. The summit crowded and the kids a little too raucous for my comfort I quickly move on.
To reach Sagamook I retrace my path back along the ridge, past the point where I turned from the ascent, and continue on north to Sagamook. The final climb is again a short, steep rock scramble. But, here, as I ascend I find an abrupt transition, not in the path beneath my feet, but in the atmosphere all around me, as if I am passing through an invisible veil. Below this, the earthly sky and above…a heavenly sight! For it seems, I am entering a mystic, spiritual place. I arrive at the summit to find that I have it to myself. Mt. Carleton, the highest point in New Brunswick, has been popularized and is the destination for most all the folks that come to the park. But, lesser-known Sagamook is certainly a much more remarkable place. As I sit here, gazing in wonder at the sights before me I feel a peace and calm never before experienced on any mountaintop. For here there is some form of energy emanating from the very core of this mountain, permeating the ether and creating a quintessence above and all around me, penetrating it seems, the very depths of my soul; bringing an inner trembling, though I am still! I do not resist but permit flight to my mind and spirit. Then as I linger, and from where I know not for I am privy to none of it, comes the inspiration for the unusual and mysterious verse that will close my journal today.
The descent from Sagamook is steep and follows many switchbacks, with the trail emerging at the shores of Lake Nictau. Back at the park office, and in the evening, Warden, Fred Everett, relieves Gerard of duty. After another soothing shower, and as I relish preparing my evening meal in their modern kitchen, Fred and I strike up what turns out to be an astonishing conversation. For Fred, I find, is native to the area and knows much of the history and mystery that surround Sagamook. In the course of conversation I ask Fred to tell me about Sagamook. Hesitating, he says: “What do you want to know?” That’s when I explain my experience on Sagamook earlier in the day. “Fred,” I exclaim, “There is incredible energy rising from and encircling that mountain, not a form that you or I would know or understand, more mystical, but non-the-less physical in a very real and gripping way! Sagamook, I believe, is a very spiritual place!” As we relax for the evening in the presence of a more familiar peace and calm, and sitting at the kitchen table, I recite the inspiration received on Sagamook. Fred then relates this remarkable story to me:
“In the days long past, and perhaps for centuries, the great Nations of the Maliseet and Mic Mac
poled their canoes to ascend the rivers from the valleys far beyond Sagamook, to come together
from other lands at the shores of Lake Nictau, a long, narrow lake held high and close by Sagamook.
And from there the tribal chiefs, together, would ascend to the very summit of Sagamook to hold council.”
What a truly unexplainable and humbling day! I knew nothing of this history, this mystery…of “Great Nations gone before.” But yet, somehow I have been whirled up in this ancient, mystic past! How many have climbed Sagamook over the centuries? Indeed, how many have experienced this peace, this calm, this contentment and the mysterious presence of:
THE SPIRITS OF SAGAMOOK
The summit of ol’ Sagamook
Isn’t all that high.
But, as I climb I pass right through
The bottom of the sky.
From here to turn and look–and gaze,
Into the wild blue yonder;
And try and try, as best I can,
To comprehend the wonder.
Now from this lofty firmament,
I let my spirit soar.
To mingle with the spirits of–
Great Nations gone before.
And as I part this sanctity,
A bit of me will stay.
To rest in God’s eternal peace,
That’s present, here…today.
Sunday—September 27, 1998
Location—Bertin Allard Home, St. Quentin, NB Canada
After breakfast of pop tarts, toast and coffee, again prepared in the office kitchen, I’m off for the 27-mile hike into St. Quentin. The forecast today is for rain and as I bid Fred farewell and step off the porch the rain begins. At the visitor’s center near the main gate Steve greets me. He asks me to come in and sign the guest register, for in the excitement on Friday, I had failed to do so.
Shortly after I leave the park, an approaching auto slows and stops. It is Rhonda Pelletier, gate attendant, on her way to the park. Rhonda is a native Canadian, a member of the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation and a good friend also with Madeleine Theriault, the kind lady who met and befriended me at the Canadian border. Rhonda is bearing gifts for me, a braid of sweet grass and a small, carefully bound and tied bundle of sage. We both understand the symbolic significance of this gesture, a gift from her ancestors, as she listens with astonishment as I recite the poem about Sagamook. I thank her for her kindness. Then, with the rain intensifying, we bid farewell and hastened our separate ways.
I would like to take a moment to tell you about Madeleine Theriault…a remarkable person. I know Madeleine through her volunteer work as president of the New Brunswick Chapter of the SIA/IAT. Rhonda knows her through her work professionally as tourism coordinator and consultant with the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation in Madawaska, New Brunswick. Her effort in this latter capacity is helping restore a presence for the Maliseet as a true Nation among the people of New Brunswick, so their rich, long history and heritage can again be prominent. I am humbled to have had close contact with them…both present and past. Of those I’ve met on this odyssey, it is immediate and readily evident, their deep dignity and pride. The Maliseet culture, forever a part of New Brunswick, should be known and respected by all. Madeleine, my dear friend, I wish you success in all you do!
The rain is setting in now with “darkin’ over” permanence. I brace and push on into its chilling wall. As I reach NB180 in the darkening swirl a truck stops and the driver offers me a ride. He pulls away slowly and glances back with puzzled expressions as I decline his kindness. This is the first of countless rides offered me today. I have hiked in the rain over many roads, for many miles, for many days, but I have never been befriended by so many people.
Some three miles from St. Quentin, who comes out from his home to again greet me? Oh, yes! It is Bertin Allard, Superintendent at Mt. Carleton Provincial Park. He has a thermos of hot tea and some delicious cookies for me. Down goes the tailgate, off comes the pack and I thoroughly enjoy this respite. Here I meet his daughter Julie and they invite me to have dinner with them this evening and to stay the night at their home in St. Quentin. I immediately accept and am very thankful and relieved to know that I will soon be out of this bone-chilling rain.
Following Bert’s directions, and shortly after the hour, I arrive at their cozy home. Here I meet and am greeted by Bert’s wife Jeanne-Darc, their younger daughter Marie-Eve and Bert’s mother, Blanche. I dine and enjoy an evening of fellowship with this kind and generous family. Bert has already been in contact with Andre Arpin at Echo Restigouche. Echo is a resort with cabins, campground and restaurant on the Restigouche River. Thanks to Bert and Madeleine I’ll be staying there tomorrow evening; for both are very good friends with Andre. Madeleine’s older son, Raphael is an employee at Echo but now away at college in Pointe Gaspe.
Bert has also been in contact with Maurice Simon. Maurice works for Mel Fitton, the SIA/IAT chief organizer in New Brunswick. Mel provided the maps that got me from Fort Fairfield to St Quentin. Maurice has been charged with the responsibility of trail layout and construction for the sections I’ll be hiking north of St. Quentin and Bert has made arrangements for Maurice and I to get together here in the morning.
I take a long, warm shower to get the chill out of my bones. I’m in the basement den where Bert has kept a fire going in his old porcelain cook stove. I am warm and dry and with great friends…many blessings this memorable day.
“My road calls me, lures me
West, east, south and north;
Most roads lead men homeward,
My road leads me forth.
To add more miles to the tally
Of gray miles left behind,
In quest of that one beauty
God put me here to find.”
Monday—September 28, 1998
Location—Echo Restigouche, Kedgwick, NB Canada
I’m up at 7:30 a.m. and again am I the guest of the Allard family as we enjoy breakfast together. Shortly, comes Maurice Simon with a bundle of maps in his hand. The spacious den in the Allard basement has a large picnic table and we gather there as Maurice lays out the maps. The trail from Five Fingers to Echo Restigouche is quite complicated and after Maurice spends about five minutes attempting to explain the route…and now sensing his frustration, I say to Maurice, “Why don’t you just come with me and show me the way?” Well, that’s all it took to have a hiking companion for this day! So, after Bert loans Maurice his fanny pack and water bottle and stocks him up with some goodies we load up in Bert’s truck and head out to the trailhead passed yesterday at Five Fingers Brook.
Why are good-byes always so tough? I’ve known Bertin Allard for less than four days…but it seems we’ve been friends for a lifetime. So, with tear-filled eyes and a good solid hug, I bid Bert farewell. Thanks Bert! There’s absolutely no way to ever repay you, your family and all the great folks at Mount Carleton Provincial park for the generosity and kindness extended me.
Shortly, Maurice and I are on our way toward Echo Restigouche, over trail laid out by Maurice. Here the trail follows a multi-use treadway for the first few miles, being shared by ORVs, snowmobiles, horses and cross-country skiers. We then turn and follow Five Fingers Brook, later fording it. Soon we reach the Outdoor Recreation Center, a fine lodge owned and managed by Gerald and Clemence Belanger. It is a new facility with a large swimming pool and manicured lawns all around. The lodge sits close by a dam and spillway and has a spacious covered porch where Maurice and I are invited to relax for awhile and have lunch with the Belangers. I know I will never be able to return to all the memorable and enjoyable places I’ve seen during this odyssey, but if I could, this peaceful place would be one of them.
As we continue on along Five Fingers Brook it is becoming a formidable stream with many spring-fed tributaries joining from deep-cut ravines, known to the folks here in New Brunswick, as gulches. The trail now begins to traverse these gulches, making for a roller-coaster hike from one to the next, over grades in excess of fifty percent. There are no switchbacks. The trail goes straight up and over and straight back down. At some points, where the trail is even more precipitous Maurice and his crew have cut steps into the gulch walls.
Echo Restigouche is near the confluence of Five Fingers Brook and the Restigouche River, and we arrive here around 6:30 p.m. for a short roadwalk to the resort. In what seems to be the style of greeting here in New Brunswick, who drives up the road to meet us, but Andre Arpin! He welcomes me to Echo Restigouche and says he has a cabin prepared for me for the evening. And in near the same breath I am invited to dinner, as his wife, Francine, has supper waiting! So, Maurice and I hasten on to the Arpin home. Bert has brought Maurice’s truck out to Echo and before Maurice departs for home and his family, we arrange to meet in the morning at my cabin to review maps I will rely on to get to Matapedia, Quebec.
I meet Andre’s wife Francine Levesque and their daughters, Marie Christine and Aerchee, and am then treated to a delicious evening meal. After supper Andre and his daughter Marie Christine take me into their little town of Kedgwick to get provisions needed for the next five days. I pick up some ice cream, cookies and Hershey chocolate. Then back at the Arpin home we gather again at their dining room table for dessert, before Andre drives me to my cabin for the evening. As Andre drops me off he mentions that firewood has been stacked on the porch for my use and invites me to build a fire in the wood stove. Even though baseboard heat has the room cozy and inviting as I enter, I can’t resist building a fire and I have one going in short order. This is the fourth night in a row for a shower and a comfortable bed. I am very tired, but it has been a delightful day hiking with Maurice.
“Carefree to be, as a bird that sings;
To go my own sweet way;
To reck not at all what may befall,
But to live and to love each day.”
[Robert W. Service, A Rolling Stone]
Tuesday—September 29, 1998
Location—Small Plateau-step in Bologna Gulch
I am up at 8:00 a.m. and greeted by the sun as I prepare toast and coffee in the cabin’s little kitchenette…even pop-tarts, toasted for a change! Soon comes Andre to take my picture and bid me farewell. And also shortly, Maurice arrives. Again, Maurice lays out the maps and we study them intently. It appears there are many more gulches to cross as the trail follows the Restigouche River, and the maps given me by Maurice show this section to be incredibly rugged.
I was not aware that there is no bus service from eastern Canada back to the area in Maine where I want to go after completing this odyssey. Maurice explains this to me and offers to come and get me when I return to Matapedia, where the bus from Gaspe will drop me off, and from there to take me to the Maine border! So, again with tears in my eyes and another good, solid hug, I bid another new friend and a great hiking companion, goodbye!
Andre had mentioned that John Brinda also stayed here last year, and that John was up and gone by 8:00 a.m. But, it is now 10:00 a.m. as I continue to tarry before departing this cozy cabin at Echo Restigouche. The trail leaves Echo on a paved road for the first seven miles, then to a gravel road, then off into the woods. It isn’t long until progress slows as the trail returns to the gulches along Haffords and Stillwater Brooks. These brooks cut right through the mountains; with the narrow ridges on either side extending like fingers from a hand to abruptly stop at the next larger brook. It is impossible for the trail to follow along these streams as they have cut so deeply into the mountains, forming in the process, near-vertical walls rising straight up to form each mountainous finger. The trail goes up and over each of these, across the narrow knife-edge ridge, down into the next gulch, across the next brook and straight up the other side…on and on for what seems, endless miles!
It is late as I arrive at the first designated campsite. I have covered little distance today. I am totally exhausted. My arms and legs move like mush, as if bound with lead! I am on a little plateau-like step above a small, clear-running brook in Bologna Gulch. I get a cooking and warming fire going quickly with the aid of birch bark and I spend little time by the fire before rolling in.
“…there’s a hand that stretches downward,
Makes my feet to walk again.
Tho my journey may be rugged,
He’ll be with me ‘til the end.”
[D. Sue Jones Horton]
Wednesday—September 30, 1998
Location—Small ridge above Upper Thorn Point Brook
Last evening the sun had set on a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky, but at four this morning I’m awakened by rain on my tent. It is raining steady when I awake again at 7:30 a.m. As I lie here awaiting the rain to ease I am suffering a dull headache and my sinuses are nearly closed…probably the result of the bone-chilling rain that I endured last Sunday during the roadwalk into St.-Quentin. The rain relents and I am able to break camp and be on my way by 9:30 a.m. The sky still threatens so I have donned my rain jacket and garbage-bagged my pack.
Progress today is agonizingly slow, strenuous and very deliberate, with ascent and descent grades in excess of seventy percent. I must move with absolute, constant focus to avoid falling, especially descending the gulch walls, as the rocks and roots are not only incredibly slick, but are concealed by the wet, slippery leaves of fall. Progress slows even more as I reach the ford at Upper Thorn Point Brook. The brook, at this location, is about 30 feet wide with dark, ominous, fast-rushing water. I stop, drop my pack and remove my boots and socks and put on my off-road running shoes to make the crossing. As I enter the brook the water is bone-chilling cold and I can feel the force of the fast-rushing stream as it surges against my legs and my knees. At the midway point I am up to my thighs in the hammering force. I move very slowly and cautiously making sure both feet and both poles are firmly planted before taking another step. As is common with these mountain streams, the streambed is a jumble of rocks as slippery as ice, with footing unstable at best. But, I am able to ford without incident and am very relieved to reach the other side. The water in this brook, running high and hard is over-flowing into secondary channels, which I am able to ford at ease. I get out of the wet running shoes as quickly as I can, dry my feet thoroughly and get my warm wool socks and boots back on.
It would be incredibly difficult to negotiate this treadway with a full pack, if not for the steps that have been hacked from the gulch walls. Even with the steps, progress remains very slow and very strenuous. As I move from step to step, often must I also move my hands from step to step, for in many places the wall is right before me. I have covered very little distance again today as I arrive late and carry water from a little brook to the campsite above Upper Thorn Point Brook. The rain has continually threatened throughout the day but holds off and I am able to pitch camp easily. The woods however, are soaked from the early morning rain and without the aid of much birch bark a cooking and warming fire would have been impossible. It is getting dark much earlier now so I must prepare my evening meal with the aid of my Petzl headlamp. It is 8:00 p.m. as I climb into my sleeping bag in my little Slumberjack. Just as last night, I am completely exhausted. My head has pounded all day and I have had much difficulty breathing. Nowhere during this odyssey have I had to endure such a constant physical demand as in these ascents and descents. I’ve never hiked through terrain anything like these mountains in New Brunswick.
“To pitch my tent with no prosy plan,
To range and to change at will;
To mock at the mastership of man,
To seek adventure’s thrill.”
[Robert W. Service, A Rolling Stone]
Thursday—October 1, 1998
Location—Small Ridge above Upper Thorn Point Brook
Shortly after midnight the rain begins again. Sleep is fretful, as I am kept awake by its incessant tat. As the wind pounds on my tent the sinus headache pounds in my head. The rain is hard and cold and continues through the morning, and I am unable to break camp lest I become drenched and chilled to the bone. So I remain marooned in my little shelter. Just as well as I am weary, sapped of strength…bone tired. The rain continues throughout the day and I feast on two cold pop-tarts and a peanut butter sandwich.
Having this head cold, I know I must increase my fluid intake, but along with the water consumed last evening to prepare my supper and with what I have downed today, little of what I brought up from the brook remains. So I put my cook pot outside the tent and hold the tent fly at an angle so the icecold rainwater is channeled into the pot. Within a short time I am able to collect a couple more quarts of water, which I have also nearly consumed.
Around 5:00 p.m. the cold rain relents long enough for me to scurry out for my daily duty. Then my ever-present companion…rain, returns. But I am blessed to be reasonably warm and dry in my little Slumberjack. As I have been imprisoned here for the past countless hours, marooned on this not-so-tranquil island in the shroud, I have had much time to ponder life as it had been over the past many years, and I conclude that indeed, all that I have suffered, all that I have endured; that I have been blessed in the balance. Sleep is not fretful this night, though I have been kept long.
Don’t be dismayed by this world’s wealth,
‘haps you’ve been denied your share.
For the measure used is not always right,
In judging what’s just and fair.
So; go your way, be content each day,
With the metes that are handed out,
For you’ll find in the end, blessings tend,
To banish the sorrow and doubt.
Friday—October 2, 1998
Location—Small ridge above Upper Two Brooks
I have been cooped up in my tent for 36 hours because of the cold, relentless rain, but I’m able to get out this morning as the sky threatens but the rain holds off. Soon I reach a vista at an abrupt turn in the trial near Cross Point Island. Here I am afforded one of the most spectacular views seen on any river that I can recall in my memory, perhaps more-so even, than the breathtaking view into the Tobique Narrows. Looking back at the sheer, stark wall of stone at Cross Point, steel gray in the cold, swirling gloom of this day, it looms as if a forbidden place. But, I must forgive it this unkindly presence for I am sure that it would take on a totally different character in the soft, warm glow of an early morning sun.
As I proceed, the skies clear, and there are many view points all along the beautiful, winding Restigouche River Canyon today, especially above Marshall Island and Pine Island…but progress is very slow as the trail is unbelievably steep and treacherous. To further slow progress I get lost on two different occasions. I am unable to find the trail from Gilmores Brook to Upper Two Brooks. I am finally able to work my way around by taking the worker’s access trail and an old logging road which follows the ridge around between the two brooks. I was expecting to have to ford Upper Two Brooks, but a tree has been felled across the brook to bridge the stream and I am able to cross easily. Dark is descending so I pitch camp just above Upper Two Brooks.
On my entire journey on the AT, the day of least progress due to difficult treadway, was 14 miles. That day was spent traversing a very rugged section through the “ Notch” and up Old Speck Arm in the Mahoosucs. By contrast; Wednesday, after a full day of hiking I had covered eight miles…and today only nine! These mountains are not formidable by any standard, but they are without question, the most rugged that I have ever hiked…anywhere!
“For far over all that folks hold worth,
There lives and there leaps in me
A love of the lowly things of earth,
And a passion to be free.”
[Robert W. Service, A Rolling Stone]
Saturday—October 3, 1998
Location—Ledge beside branch to Silas Brook
I do not wake this morning until 9:00 a.m. There was no energy left last night and I fell into a deep, sound sleep. I was physically exhausted, but additionally, I was also emotionally exhausted due to the anxiety and frustration of getting lost. The anguish of facing the possibility of failure totally sapped me. This morning the sun is striking the upper wall of the gulch beyond the brook, which is encouraging; a great way to begin the day!
I am able to follow the trail much better today and as some of the sog goes out of the treadway I move with less hesitancy…more confidence. I am able to cross Upper Grindstone Brook without difficulty, but Lower Grindstone Brook requires fording. So I must go through the ordeal of changing to my running shoes. The ford is not at all wide, but it is very deep and the water is very swift and ice cold. Before I can get my feet dry and my wool socks and boots back on I have lost feeling clear to my upper ankles. As the circulation slowly returns it’s as if my feet are being attacked by porcupines! It is late morning now, but the little thermometer attached to my pack zipper pull reads 36 degrees.
Progress comes to a near halt again at Cheulers Brook. At the exact point where the trail drops over the gulch wall there has occurred an incredible rockslide. It has swept trees and everything with it to the bottom of the gulch. Much to my chagrin, and once out on this near-vertical slide, I find that descending through this talus is a nightmarish ordeal! Though I am supine, I am near straight up as I push back against my pack as hard as I can, using it as a skid brake against the loose rock, I also dig and jab my heels and poles in to keep from skidding out of control. Rocks kicked loose careen and rattle to the jumble below. Once out on this skid plate, I dearly wish I were anywhere but here. I try moving back to the side, but I just kept sliding down. Luckily, I am able to get a heel dug in, a pole tip wedged or my pack snagged on a rock. This is a frighteningly dynamic process, not under my control, which moves me along and quickly down as I dig, jab and drag for all I’m worth! As I skid into the jumble of rock and trees I am able to get stopped. My heart is pounding in my throat as I heave an anxious sigh and run a quick damage-control check on my bod and my pack.
Leaning forward now and peering down through this maze of rubble and brush, I quickly realize that this ordeal isn’t over yet! I am still a great distance above the brook and the trees are lodged and twisted in what seems an impenetrable jumble. Some are wedged in precarious fashion, while others teeter on boulders. I look for another way out, but the way is blocked on both sides…and there is no way back up. I pull my shoulder, hip and sternum straps as tight as possible to secure my pack from pitching me and I begin shinnying, grappling and tumbling my way on down. Finally I’m in the brook and heave another big sigh of relief. Once across and part way up the far gulch wall…and looking back, the slide doesn’t appear all that big a deal. But I thank the Lord for getting me through. I am relieved to have one more potentially hike-stopping obstacle behind me.
Above Silas Beach the trail turns to off-camber slopes bringing much side-slabbing. After miles of this my feet and ankles become very sore, but I move on as best I can. So, it is with mixed emotion that I pause here at the park bench overlooking the great canyon of the Restigouche, for it seems we have been together for such a long time, not necessarily as friends but hopefully, with deep mutual respect as tolerant companions. As I turn, completing another nine-mile day—and with a reluctant glance over my shoulder, I bid farewell to this enchanted, untamed land.
SECRETS OF THE RESTIGOUCHE
The secrets of the Restigouche,
Are known to only me.
The first to hike this river trail,
Along the IAT.
All through these mountains there is cut,
A canyon long and deep.
And to its flank rush joyful brooks,
From gulches rough and steep.
And o’er this all the trail is laid,
Not for the faint of heart.
Built by a chap they call Maurice,
A classic work of art.
If in you there’s some mountain goat,
‘Twill serve you well, indeed.
Surefootedness on mountain walls,
A skill that you will need.
Will take you days to hike this through,
The miles you need not rush.
For it will take the strongest man,
And turn his limbs to mush.
So, if you’ve got the yearn and bent,
I’d recommend to you –
To come and see what I have seen,
And plan to tough it through.
And now I bid thee, Restigouche,
Enchanted land, farewell.
If you would know its secrets…come!
For I will never tell.
Sunday—October 4, 1998
Location—Snowmobile Trail Warming Hut below Squaw Cap
I am stronger this morning, my feet somewhat better…and the sun is bright and warm on my face as I scale the last steep gulch wall above Silas Brook. From here the trail moves over to the ridges and tablelands and settles back to more typical and friendly treadway. One interesting section follows for a short distance as the trail turns onto a wide overgrown roadway, complete with old early to mid-century telephone/telegraph poles with many cross-arms having scores of insulator pegs and old glass insulators still intact. It’s been many decades since I’ve lifted my eyes to such a sight. What a flood of memories this produces. As I close my eyes I can hear the beautiful old touring cars passing and even smell the sulfur from the chugging and belching old steam locomotive running along beside!
I didn’t know what I’d find at Glenwood Park. I’m glad I didn’t expect much. It’s a large old abandoned wayside with grass growing through cracks in the asphalt. The vandals/thieves have found the well, pulled up the entire pipe and wire and have stolen the pump, leaving a scattered mess behind. There’s an old plaque by one of the still-standing picnic tables that somehow, miraculously, has avoided being smashed to smithereens. Under the plexiglass (which is still intact) is a faded news clipping with a picture of some old chap that most likely had something to do with the park. The whole seedy place is blocked off from the road by the typical pipe barricade which I pass as I head out for a welcome diversion on the highway.
I hike along NB17 for approximately three miles then turn onto Upsalquitch River Road for a quiet roadwalk through this pleasant little valley. After some five miles the trail crosses the river on an old restored railroad bridge. I’m now back again on this not-much-fun multi-use old railroad bed. After a couple of miles on this foot bruiser and with evening nigh I’m ready to call it quits for the day. Up ahead I see a small building at a snowmobile trail intersection. This is apparently one of a number of warming huts placed at intervals along these trails. The door is unlocked and I enter to find my abode for the night…complete with picnic table, airtight wood-burning stove and firewood stacked against the wall. My pack thermometer reads 46 degrees as I glance at it while dropping my pack to the table bench. It takes me less than five minutes to get a good roarin’ fire going. I’ve forgotten how dry wood burns! Old candle-plugged bottles provide light as I cook supper right on the stove.
To complete my journal entry for today, I’ll drop this little eyebrow scruncher. As I drifted off to sleep last evening and most near dreamland I envisioned someday finding a little old cabin beside the trail, complete with stove, tight walls and a door that was left unlocked. This dreamland delight brought a gentle chuckle as the sandman finished me off! Tonight, as I bed down, cozy and warm in this little old cabin beside the trail, comes the realization that these little unexplainable occurrences are the makings of this grand miracle I am living…the “Odyssey of ’98!”
“Nomad you must certainly realize that you carry a lot of
other people’s dreams with you on your odyssey.”
[Tom Wright, BMTA]
Monday—October 5, 1998
Location—Pete Dube’s Restigouche Hotel, Matapedia, PQ Canada
A cool, clear day weather-wise, but I get off to a bumpy start trail-wise. Just above the warming hut a new snowmobile trail crosses Meadow Brook. The sign says “Squaw Cap Mountain, elev. 1585 feet.” This trail does lead to Squaw Cap…eventually, but it isn’t the trail I should have been on. The climb to Squaw Cap is a steady, easy pull along an old woodsroad-turned-snowmobile trail. Only the last half-mile requires much exertion. There’s another warming hut on the summit along with numerous towers, buildings and fences. Not much to brag about up here. The views are so-so, but most are blocked by some sort of summit ornament. Squaw Cap is the third highest peak in New Brunswick, but if you’re out climbing mountains in this province I’d say save your time and head for the second highest in Mt. Carleton Provincial Park…that’s Sagamook!
I get into trouble again coming off Squaw Cap. Recent and current timbering operations north of the mountain have created a maze of logging roads. Most are rutted and choked with mud. More not-much-fun treadway. I run into many dead ends and go through a “bushwhack from hell” thinking I know where I’m going, eventually putting in double the miles and time to get back down to NB17. The hike along NB17, until I reach Rafting Ground Road is a dangerous place to be. The shoulders are narrow to nonexistent and the 18-wheelers are coming through steady and hard.
In just awhile I meet up again with an old friend…the Restigouche River. But here I am treated much more kind! The seven miles into Matapedia, Quebec is a pleasant roadwalk and takes only two hours. South of here to cover this distance took all day! I see the town of Matapedia long before I arrive. In fact, I walk right by. It’s across the river in Quebec, and the bridge is still a mile northeast as I pull abreast of the town on the New Brunswick side, but I really don’t mind the two more miles of walking. Sixteen states, and one of the two Canadian provinces behind me. Only Quebec to go. I’m so glad to be at Pete Dube’s Restigouche Hotel in Matapedia! I arrive, totally bushed, at about 6:00 p.m. to be greeted by Pete. He welcomes me with an expression of amusement as he looks at the bedraggled old Nomad, but I receive a warm handshake and he shows me to a fine room. The Restigouche is a great place; large, clean rooms with TV and phones, and a great restaurant. I am having much trouble with my feet and need to get them up for a long rest. There just couldn’t be a better place–dang Pete, I’m so glad to be here!
“Time, distance, terrain, weather and the trail itself cannot
be changed. You have to change.”
[Warren Doyle, Jr.]
Tuesday—October 6, 1998
Location—Pete Dube’s Restigouche Hotel, Matapedia, PQ Canada
After a very restful night’s sleep, I am already feeling somewhat renewed and rejuvenated. I remember seeing this little café on the way in last evening, so I head there for breakfast and some fresh-brewed coffee. It’s only a couple of minutes to café Resto Le Temps Perdu where I meet Marie Letourneau and Jerome Boldue. Good food, great folks.
I head on over to the post office at 9:00 a.m. to find that my bounce box hasn’t arrived. I am distraught and get upset, but it’s my own fault. When I looked at the New Brunswick map months ago, there in big bold print, was Matapedia. So I assumed Matapedia was in New Brunswick. It is in fact, however, in Quebec, just across the border! So, not only did I show the wrong province on my bounce box, but I also failed to list a zip code or provide a return address. So, should there be any surprise my bounce box hasn’t made it? Solange and Henry at the Matapedia Post Office are doing all they can to track it down.
David LeBlanc, who has been charged with SIA/IAT trail construction north of Matapedia, comes by in the evening with maps of this area. We talk strategy about how I should proceed to complete the remaining 250+ miles to Cap Gaspe. We calculated that even with the most optimistic estimate for my rate of progress, that I wouldn’t be scaling Mt. Jacques Cartier until around the 25th of October. This is getting late to be above tree line in the Chic Chocs, so, the decision is made to skip the section of trail between Matapedia and the Matane River for now and go up and get the Chic Chocs done.
“For most of us, I suppose, the Appalachian Mountains are in the United States
and in the English language. Our books encourage us in this; they take us to New
England borders, and stop there, just as though plants and animals were also
controlled by artificial boundaries. Neither the mountains nor the living things
are so controlled…”
[Maurice Brooks, The Appalachians]
Wednesday—October 7, 1998
Location—Pete Dube’s Restigouche Hotel, Matapedia, PQ Canada
Still no luck on my bounce box, but a box of goodies sent me by Easy Rider, with the same incorrect and incomplete address has come in, so I have been encouraged to be patient. I am optimistic now that my bounce box will soon arrive. Another great day of rest at Pete’s place!
“…by walking out alone into wilderness I can…after awhile begin to see and
hear and to think and in the end to feel with a new and exciting accuracy.”
[Colin Fletcher, The Complete Walker]
Thursday—October 8, 1998
Location—Pete Dube’s Restigouche Hotel, Matapedia, PQ Canada
I have had an offer for a ride from Matapedia to the Matane River north of here for Friday afternoon by Bruno, one of the members of David’s trail construction crew, so I decide to rest another day. Pete encourages me to remain his guest here at the hotel, so here I stay for another much need day of rest!
“It was so exciting to find out what was around the next corner, or across the
rushing river ahead, or to see who we might meet in the next town or café.”
[Peter Jenkins, A Walk Across America]
Friday—October 9, 1998
Location—Fir Stand, Hunting Zone 13A, Matane Reserve, PQ Canada
Another great night of rest at the Restigouche Hotel. I open one eye to glint out the window into the fog and haze. The forecast is for this sludge to burn off, opening up a warm, sunny day. I finally roll out at 9:00 a.m., dress and trundle over to Resto Le Temps Perdu. Loading up is always the order of the day before heading back up the trail, so this morning it’s a three egg mushroom omelet and a double order of home fries. Ditto on the toast, and Marie has to put on another pot of coffee before I’m done. Then it’s across the Matapedia River Bridge to the little grocery store for provisions. I figure to pack an eight-day supply of food to get into the Chic Chocs. Then it’s to the other end of town for a stop at the pharmacy for more enteric-coated aspirin and a bottle of Osteo-Bi-Flex, the chondroitin/glucosamine tabs the pharmacist had kindly ordered for me. I also picked up some rub-on salicylate to help relieve the near constant foot pain I’ve been suffering since the 100-mile wilderness in Maine. A final trip to the post office pays off. Henry has a smile for me and more mail that has trickled in under the wrong/incomplete address, including my bounce box!
Back at the Restigouche Hotel things are shutting down for the season. The restaurant closed last night after supper and this morning the rear section of the hotel is being secured. It’s quite an ordeal. The rooms are all stripped for a final cleaning; then the mechanical systems are shut down and the entire water system is drained and purged.
In my room I set to getting my pack in order and the room straightened up. I find I have a little time before Bruno is due, so I clean and grease my boots. They really took a beating on the Restigouche River Trail (along with my poor doggies) and they sure look neglected. It’s amazing what a little lanolin will do–just like new again! I finish my boots and am rubbing the last of the grease into my dry, chapped hands when comes a knock on my door. Bruno has wrapped up the week just as planned and is here right on cue. He still needs to run by the house and pick up his girlfriend, Carole. So I have time to get my backpack in order and head on down to the lobby. What a great stay I’ve had here! Thanks to all at the Restigouche, especially to you Pete! You have put me up (and put up with me) for four nights, stoked me with five-star food, and in addition to being a great host you’ve become a dear friend. I will remain in your debt.
Bruno and Carole arrive, I load my pack and we’re off on a clear, sunny day to the Reserve Faunique De Matane, some 70 miles to the north. Bypassing this lower woodland section (to be hiked in a couple of weeks) should enable me to complete the Grand Traverse; the extensive, above tree line alpine section of the Chic Chocs, before the snow closes this tundra down. At least that’s the plan! John Brinda traversed the Chic Chocs in late September/early October last year and hit snow then. Looks like I’ve still got “Indian Summer” with me. Anyway, I’m confident I’ll have safe and successful passage! At the end of this two-hour ride I have made another great friend in Bruno Robert. Just across the Matane River bridge is the entrance road to the Matane Reserve and Bruno and Carole drop me off here before continuing on to visit friends in Matane, Quebec. Thanks Bruno! See you again when I return to Matapedia.
At the Reserve entrance I meet Georgette Levesque. Bless her heart, I get a great big smile as I come through the door, which quickly turns to a full-faced frown as she discovers I speak no French! During the next half four we progress from, “No hike, closed, moose hunting,” to, “only hike ten to three, mandatory!” This progress, a transitional process, results from a telephone conversation with her supervisor. After explaining to him that I have a regulation orange vest (which Bruno had the foresight to suggest I use, and then loan to me) things start to loosen up. First he says the Reserve is closed to hiking during moose hunting season “It’s for your own safety” was the reasoning. Trying not to sound facetious, I ask, “Are you not concerned about the hunters’ safety during moose hunting season?” His reply: “Of course we are.” Sooo, for the coupe de grace, I ask, “Then why isn’t the Reserve closed to hunters during moose hunting season?” After a very long pause he says, “Put the lady back on the phone.” So out from under the counter come the reserve permit and a map, but I’m still stuck with, “only hike ten to three, mandatory!” There is no resistance, however, and not a word is said as I head out the door and on up the Reserve road…at four-thirty!The hiking days are really getting short now and I must strap on my little Petzl headlamp as I pull off the Reserve road to pitch camp under a fir canopy in “Zone 13A.” Hunters are still bouncing and rattling by with their rigs loaded with ORVs and camping gear as I enter slumberland in my cozy little Slumberjack.
“Half the confusion in the world comes from
not knowing how little we need.”
[Richard E. Byrd, Alone]
Saturday—October 10, 1998
Location—Etang a la Truite, Hunting Zone 19, Matane Reserve, PQ Canada
The bouncing and rattling starts again at daybreak as the procession of hunters entering the Reserve continues. Complying with the “mandatory” isn’t difficult as I catch a few more winks and then lounge in my bag with some pop tarts for breakfast. I break camp in the cool, clear of this morning and fudge a little as I pull back on the road at 9:30 a.m.
The sun is warm on my face, but for only a brief time as a stiff wind starts kicking out of the east and the sky “darks over.” I stop in the lee just over a little pop on the ridge to garbage-bag my pack, zip my rain jacket and cinch the hood; then I’m back out to brace the day. My head cold is pretty much cleared up but my nose still wants to drip on the map every time I look down at it, but not to worry; it’ll fit fine in my stack of smudgy, spotty maps! I’m into a steady pull, which started at the Reserve entrance and continues throughout the morning. The rain holds off but the wind persists and it’s turning cutting cold as I detour over to the hunter’s lodge at Lac Matane.
I tap on the window to get the attention of a hunter sitting comfortably by the wood stove. As he looks out I rub my hands together and blow on them as if to say—“I’m cold, can I come in by the fire?” The mime works and he motions me to come around to the door. As I enter a young lady clearing dishes from the lodge table greets me. I say, “Hello, how are you.” And she replies, “Fine, how are you?” Hey! The gal speaks English! She continues, “Take off your pack and have a seat…would you like a warm bowl of soup?” From what I’ve written the past few days, it’s evident the great Canadian hospitality didn’t end at the New Brunswick/Quebec border! The delicious, hot bowl of soup is followed by another and then a tall cup of steaming coffee accompanied by a plate of brownies topped with an absolutely heavenly white fudge sauce…and then more coffee!
The conversation with the hunter who motioned me in amounts to little more than a nod as he speaks very little English. But soon another hunter enters the lodge, and when I say “Hi!” he replies, “Hi, how ‘ya doin’?” Bingo! Turns out the chap’s from New Hampshire. Over the course of the next few minutes I find out how the Matane hunting operation works. Turns out the moose hunting season here in Quebec is a lot longer than in New Brunswick. Down there it’s only three days, and if you’re a resident and you’re lucky you’ll get your name drawn from a lottery. But here in Quebec, most anybody can purchase a hunting license and pick up their gun and go. Here in the Reserve, however, the Crown owns the land, and they’ve built these beautiful lodges. They pretty much handle the entire setup for you also, including guides. It’s such a jam-up operation and there’s such a demand to hunt here (there are also a lot of moose) that a lottery must be held. I didn’t have the heart to ask the fellow how much he was plunking down for the four day hunt, the Ritz lodge and meals, plus the guide service and all the haulin’ around; plus, hopefully, his moose!
No problem lingering in this warm, comfortable place, but I manage to get back out within the hour. As soon as I step off the porch the rain begins. The road continues climbing, and as it pulls, I push on against the wind and rain. I’ve become very chilled but by late afternoon the wind slacks off, the rain slows and it seems to warm a little as I hike on to the offices at Etang a la Truite.
As soon as I reach the office the door opens and out steps a lady with that grand Canadian ear-to-ear grin, and a big “Hi!” Before I can return the greeting she says, “follow me, we’ll get the bunkhouse open for you.” And then she hesitates, saying: “You are staying for the night, aren’t you?” I manage an awkward blurt, “Yes, I mean yes Ma’am, I’d like to stay. It seems you knew I was coming!” She smiles again, “Yes, Georgette at John (that’s the name of the Reserve entrance folks!) called me yesterday and told me to watch for you!” As we enter the bunkhouse I tell her I’ll not be able to pay very much for the room. With that she whirls around, and with her eyebrows up and her dander up, exclaims, “You pay nothing here, you pay nothing. It is for you!” With that I finally manage, “Hello, I’m Eb, friends just call me Nomad.” So, here I meet Marlene Simard from Matane, Quebec. She tells me about her great job–lots of responsibility, but she likes it very much. Come to find, she caretakes the facilities from Lac Matane all the way to the Reserve’s eastern boundary.
The building warms quickly. There’s a gas heater and an airtight wood-burning stove to help it along. The bunkrooms are complete with mattresses and pillows. And I’ve got electric lights (the generator runs all night), a full kitchen, including table and chairs…and the shower is steaming hot with shove-me-back pressure. And I was just gonna ask if they’d mind me pitching my tent in their yard! Hot coffee, a warm meal quickly and easily prepared on the kitchen range, and a table to sit comfortably and enjoy my supper. Wow! What else could a weary, cold hiker possibly want?
Well, why not a little friendly conversation? Marlene had said to come over for awhile this evening after I got settled in; so over I go. I’m greeted at the door by Arthur Bernier and at his invitation and even before I can reach the kitchen table I’ve got a cold one shoved in my hand! After some real up conversation and a downed brew, attention turns to the maps I’ve laid out on the table. I tell Arthur I have a few questions. “Let’s have a look,” he says, as he brings another round from the refrigerator. I explain that my concern, and the problem I’m having, is figuring how to get from the route Georgette told me to follow through the Matane Reserve, to the trail in Parc de la Gaspesie. The maps for both the Reserve and the Parc show Mont Logan; the Reserve map near its eastern extreme, and the Parc map close by its western boundary. But neither shows a connector trail. Georgette at John couldn’t help me and none of the folks at Lac Matane Lodge were familiar with that area. Arthur, however, is able to give me very detailed instructions and directions…right to the familiar, bright SIA/IAT metal blazes! After the map review it is getting late and as I bid good-bye and turn to the door both Arthur and Marlene press Canadian bills into my hand. As I depart I’m wished farewell with that great Canadian smile and a, “When you reach Gaspe, celebrate and have a good meal on us!” Thank you dear friends for your genuine kindness and warm hospitality. I will long remember this day and the miracle of it!
I could get up early tomorrow and do the 24 miles into the Parc…but I’ll probably be a good fellow, sleep in, and comply with the “mandatory!”
“Miracles can…be identified in hindsight by the positive,
often profound changes they make in our lives.”
[Joan Wester Anderson, Where Miracles Happen]
Sunday—October 11, 1998
Location—Etang a la Truite, Hunting Zone 19, Matane Reserve, PQ Canada
Before midnight the rain picks up steady again and continues all night. I awake around 8:30 a.m., stumble to the door and stick my head out. The rain is not only hard and steady…it’s hard, steady and very cold, a bad combination. So, I throw another log on the fire to get it stoked up, have a bowl of cereal and go back to bed!
The rain doesn’t let up all day so I stay in the sack to keep my feet up. I have no problem with a few extra Zssss. I hand-wash all my socks and pants and get some writing done. Marlene stops by for a minute to say she’s glad I’ve stayed over and to tell me this rain should clear out tonight. I’m in the sack by 9:00 p.m., countin’ my blessings!
“Knowing God’s own time is best, in patient hope I rest.”
[John Greenleaf Whittier]
Monday—October 12, 1998
Location—Heated shelter, Mont Louis-Marie-La Londe, Park de la Gaspesie, PQ Canada
I awake to a glorious, clear morning! After fixing a grand breakfast of hot pop tarts from the toaster, coffee and a big bowl of cereal, I get my pack organized, straighten the place up and I’m out the door at 8:00 a.m. I bid farewell to Arthur and I’m headed for the Parc. The road follows the shore of the lake for about three miles, a very pretty setting. I see lots of moose tracks all along and two of the track makers, a cow with a young one. Would that be a calf?
At 9:45 a.m. a vehicle pulls alongside and stops. Out hops a fellow in a very impressive, dark…uniform! It’s one of the Reserve wardens. I’m thinking I’m in the deep-doo now, for sure, but he has that ever-familiar big smile for me as he exclaims: “You must be far away hiker.” He follows that up with, “You know you shouldn’t be in this Reserve, it’s moose hunting season…but we make exception for you!” I promptly thank him and introduce myself. His name–Luc Forest (honest)! I have to answer the usual questions, after which he wishes me a good hike and I’m on my way again.
The road is rising steadily and before I reach the Parc boundary I’m pulling about a 30 percent grade. At the ridgeline and following Arthur’s directions I pick up the familiar SIA/IAT blazes; and just to the left of this first blaze in a jumble or rocks; a blanket of snow. Even at this below-summit elevation I’m already in the alpine zone where the few trees that are around are stunted and definitely in a struggle to survive. From this lower ridge vantage, to the west, I can see the stark shoulders of Mont Logan reaching to the clouds; and on up (down) the trial to the east, the turquoise roofs of two magnificent shelters. It is only 4:00 p.m. but I have made very good time for the 24 miles so this will be it for today.
I don’t know how anyone could pass up one of these beautiful dwellings…yes indeed, dwellings! They are like small live-in cabins, complete with porch (enclosed with doors and windows), wood stove with attached wood shed and internal door thereto, a main room with a thermal picture window (looking back toward Mont Logan) and two separate bunkrooms to accommodate a total of eight people. The bunkrooms are complete with two bunk beds each…with mattresses. Interior walls are knotty pine, tongue and groove. These things are down town! I quickly get a fire going with the supply of birch bark, kindling and matches provided. Chairs (plenty of ‘em) are the plastic outdoor type with backs and arms. The privy is just out the door and water is right down the road. Cooking supper is easy; I just set my pot on the wood stove. Hot coffee right away! With all my chores wrapped up by 5:30 p.m., I am able to relax on the heated porch and watch the sunset over Mont Logan. I gaze in awe, as this breathtaking setting is slowly transformed into Purple Mountain majesty! The Chic Chocs are gonna be magic, I can see it already; they’re just gonna be magic!
The room is warm, the bunk very comfortable. Wonderful, restful sleep here I come!
“Have you ever heard of the Land of Beyond,
That dreams at the gates of the day?
Alluring it lies at the skirts of the skies,
And ever so far away.”
[Robert W. Service, The Land of Beyond]
Tuesday—October 13, 1998
Location—Old cabin (Le Pluvier) Lac Cascapedia, Parc de la Gaspesie, PQ Canada
I banked and damped the fire just right last night. My little pack thermometer read 72 degrees when I awoke this morning at 7:00 a.m. I take it with me to the privy to check the temperature outside, as there is frost all around. The mercury keeps dropping, finally to steady at 26 degrees. My poor little skin-and-bone hiney records a temperature more in the zero range as it contacts the privy seat! Plenty of reading material, all in French …just as well as the cold creates a definite urgency to get a move on (No pun intended). Back in the warm shelter there are just enough coals to boil some water for coffee and to toast a couple of pop tarts. I have used little of the resources here, but I must try to find the caretakers of this delightful place and thank them for leaving the door unlatched. This luxury in the Chic Chocs I won’t soon forget!
I bundle up and am on my way by 8:00 a.m. My hands and feet stay warm as the old jitney gets up to normal operating temperature. The trail ascends a little pop on the ridge and as I crest the rise I stop with mouth agape and in total amazement and disbelief at what I see below! To set this stage, and as a reminder…Do we not appreciate the fact that we are prisoners of the medium TIME? We are enslaved by it, moving only as it moves and at its whim, to be kept constantly within its grip. But this morning for a brief moment, I break away from the bonds of captor time to move freely back through the ages and to a far-off land. For, as I peer at the mountains below me and to the horizon I see scores and scores of sharp-peaked summits marooned on a perfect sea of white. Formed as if from mirrored glass float these vapors in near blinding brilliance, likened to the sun playing its intense narrow band of light across a still, calm lake. But here, visualizing such a likeness, imagine this incredible brilliance to be omnipresent, with light emerging from every angle, merging in every direction. As my time machine whirrs and clanks to a halt, I find myself atop a south-sea island peak…possibly Tahiti’s Mt. Orohena, circa the mid 18th Century. And from this vantage, likely due to the illusion optics can play with angular light, I see two small cloud tufts transformed into perfect three-masted tall ships, their pure white sails billowing, set full sail on this mystic, shimmering, mirage of sea. Could this perhaps be John Byron leading Her Majesty’s Ships the Dolphin and the Tamer? Or, per chance might one of them be Fletcher Christen and his mutineers aboard HMS Bounty? Ahh! But the clutch of time is infinitely strong and as the sun works its magic to quickly lift and consume this cloud sea, and with it in just a finger snap of time, I am once again earth-bound on this grand high ridge near the sky, in Park de la Gaspesie!
I must admit to some blue-blazing today. There is no other choice. Recent heavy rains have made a quagmire of the treadway here on the west end of the Parc. Progress is brought to near a halt, more a churning action than forward motion. It’s January da-ja-vue. I churned in mud for days in Florida at the start of this odyssey. So, reluctantly I move to the woodsroad, which makes for a 23-mile, instead of an 18-mile day. The road follows some very happy streams and brooks and I am entertained most of the afternoon by their joyful songs. I try to concentrate on the scenic wildness of the Parc and listen to the brook’s glad melodies as they rush to the lakes below; but to spite my very best effort I think almost constantly about…my pitiful feet! The pain is unending and unnerving. So I stop, take off my boots and slather on some more aspirin cream. This brings some relief as I switch to my running shoes for the afternoon. The miles are taking their toll; 270 days and near 4,000 miles—a long way and a long time to be on your feet through indescribable terrain, carrying a 30-pound pack. Not only is this odyssey near its end but I am near ready for the end. Oh, but do I have some exciting days ahead of me however, for tomorrow I will gain the tundra over Mont Albert and soon after that, Jacques Cartier, the highest peak in southern Quebec. Then next week it’s on to the cliffs of Forillon at Cap Gaspe, the end of the SIA/IAT and the Appalachian Mountains.
As I am walking the road along Lac Cascapedia and as I near my destination for today, a pickup coming towards me, slows and stops. Here I meet Adrien Pelletier, concessionaire for Club Grand Yetis (French for Bigfoot), a lakeside resort of old but modernized, well maintained log cabins. This old camp is now on Crown land as are all the beautiful cottages and heated shelters in the Parc. After responding to the usual questions, Adrien asks where I stayed last night and where I was headed today. Come to find out he is also the concessionaire for the shelters at Mont Louis-Marie-La Londe where I spent the evening last. He says, “you know you need reservation and must pay to stay in shelter?” I reply that I could not pay much, but that I did burn some of his firewood and that I could pay for that. Then, with the customary broad-beaming Canadian smile he says: “Someone who has walked so far we do not see; you are my guest, and tonight you stay at Le Pluvier, the end cabin on the lake. There is firewood there for you.” He is obviously very pleased as I accept his hospitality. I thank him, am on my way again and within just a few moments I arrive at the old camp on Lac Cascapedia.
Here is the artist’s perfect setting, an old log cabin on the lake. How many of these landscapes have we all seen…how many can there be? Seeing those faded old paintings always brings a feeling of peace and calm, a trip back in time to a warm, snug place; a time when the pace was slower and the basics were a way of life. Here is that old cabin, nestled snugly on the tranquil shores of this alpine lake, with its meandering shoreline edged with slender, spire shaped evergreen. And reflected on the lake from across, and all around, the grand, sharp-peaked mountains that are the Chic Chocs! This is indeed, a picture-book setting. The old cabin has such a proud character. A patina o’er the log walls, the windows and floors that only time could possibly have created. From the old lean-to porch stacked high with split birch firewood there is an unobstructed view across the calm, peaceful lake, clear to the far shore. Give me a minute or two while you set up your easel and prepare your canvas and I’ll get a fire going so you can paint the swirl of smoke from the old stone chimney! And in just a few moments I have that warming and cooking fire going and I settle in, snug and warm in this little old log cabin on the lake…the artist’s perfect setting from a far off time and a far away place.
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
[Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken]
Wednesday—October 14, 1998
Location—Heated shelter, Mont Albert Campground, PQ299/16, PQ Canada
The topographic map over which the Parc trail system is printed, and the trail profile map both seem tame in comparison to what I’m used to studying. Neither gives a clue to the ruggedness of the terrain and the extreme of the elevation changes experienced today…then it dawns on me. The contour lines on these maps are in meters, not feet! The climb up and over Mont Ells is long and very steep. Ditto for Mont Albert. The hike today is like no other trail I’ve ever traveled. The alpine tundra is a rugged yet fragile place. The few plants and trees that are here are stunted and cling to the rock in what seems such an anxious way, their life constantly in the balance. I thought I’d seen rock on Mt. Washington, through the Presidents, on Mount Katahdin and along the Knife-Edge to Pamola, but they pale in comparison to the rock flanks and ravines of Mont Albert. Here, the entire mountainside is rock, the likes of which I’ve never seen before, almost volcanic in nature; not gray, but light tan to dark brown, colors like a hunter’s fall camo, or like the paint of desert warfare. Even in the sunlight these walls of rock and the endless jumble of boulders cast cold, ominous and forbidding shadows. I feel unwelcome, for here I am certainly not “at one with nature!” I hasten along and feel much better hiking back down among the trees again.
The descent from Mont Albert goes down, down, and down some more to eventually emerge by the beautiful lodge, Le Gite du Mont Albert. I have been told that Gilbert Rioux; the concessionaire for the lodge and campground is an avid outdoorsman and hiker. It was suggested that I contact him for lodging once here. So, a call to Mr. Rioux by Pam, the lodge receptionist, and I’m a guest at the heated (and lighted) campground bunkhouse. After I get a shower, do some laundry and have a great evening meal I head for the bunkhouse to find I have it all to myself. In fact there are three bunkhouses and I have the entire compound to myself! Here are top-flight accommodations; electric lights, large tables and benches, a wood stove right in the center of the room, (with wood box full of split birch firewood), bunks for eight and his and her heated bathrooms right nearby. With birchbark and split birch firewood I quickly get a comfortable warming fire going and settle in for a very pleasant evening. I can even get around after dark without my headlight. Thanks, Gilbert, for your hospitality!
“If it’s blessings you’re a’countin’
Try a morning in the mountains.”
[“Walkin’ Jim Stoltz”]
Thursday—October 15, 1998
Location—Heated shelter, Lac Aux Americains, Parc de la Gaspesie, PQ Canada
I am up and back down to the restaurant at Le Gite du Mont Albert when they open at 7:30 a.m. The lodge is a very fine facility and the restaurant, exceptionally so. The roof on the lodge, restaurant and adjacent buildings have a very steep 14/12 or perhaps even a 16/12 pitch, characteristic of alpine construction. In the restaurant, the ceiling is cathedral with large timber-peg beams. The stone fireplace rises the full height, which draws your gaze to the high-angled beams above. But enough of this…here comes breakfast! This morning I have a four-egg bacon, onion and mushroom omelet, a double order of toast and home fries, and perhaps half a gallon of coffee!
Descending Mont Albert yesterday and nearing the parking area, the trail was roped off with a sign attached indicating that Mont Albert was closed for the season. Inquiring this morning at the lodge desk, receptionist Chantal tells me that Mont Jacques Cartier is also closed. Aww! Now wait a minute here! I’ve come the entire Appalachian chain, am in the shadow of the last great mountain…and it’s closed! This just can’t be happening! The Parc has an information office just adjacent to the lodge and I had gone by there yesterday evening a bit after five, to find it closed. I thought I’d just got there late, but Chantal says that the information office is also closed for the season! In a recent issue of Backpacker Magazine there’s a great article about the SIA/IAT, entitled The Province of Dreamers, written by Paul Mann. In this article, Paul mentions getting a special permit to enter the Parc’s higher elevations after they had closed. Chantal says the main offices for the Parc are in Saint-Anne-des-Monts, a local call away and that she would be glad to call them for me and explain my circumstances. As I watch her talking with the Parc official, and not understanding a word she is saying, I am hoping her expression, which remains very pleasant, is a good sign—and indeed it is. After providing them my name, address, etc. a faxed permit lay right there on the counter! Thanks Chantal for this great help. And thank you Francois Boulanger, Minister of Parc de la Gaspesie!
Back at the bunkhouse I get my pack in order, sweep the room out and am on my way—in a drizzle, towards Mont Jacques Cartier. The climb begins immediately as I head to Lac aux Americains. The drizzle increases steadily changing to a constant wind-drive rain and it’s also turning cold. There is a heated shelter near the lake and I head for it. When I arrive the rain is pounding and my little Campmor pack thermometer reads 38 degrees. Wet and cold is a very bad combination and I’m definitely feeling the initial stages of hypothermia as I enter the cabin. With the aid of birch bark and dry wood chips from the woodshed I’m able to get a much-welcome warming fire going. I look at my watch. It’s only 11:00 a.m. but it looks like this hiking day is already at an end. Here at the cabin I am at elevation 600 meters. The traverse from Mont Xalibu to Mont Jacques Cartier a distance of some two miles, is all above 1,000 meters and at times reaching 1200 meters, twice the elevation here at the cabin; most of it above tree line. So, I can pretty much figure what’s going on up there right now—driving snow, and plenty of it!
In my last phone conversation with my older son, Jay, and after explaining that this hike wasn’t over yet, having the Chic Chocs ahead, and probably some severe weather to boot, he said, “Dad, don’t try pushing on when you know you should stop. Wait for another day.” Time to apply that logic, so it appears! The cabin warms quickly as I roll out my sleeping bag and climb in to stop the shivers and wait it out. This day has been a serious “darkin-over” day. The rain does not relent, continuing past dusk and into the night. As I prepare my hot evening meal of rice and gravy I think of how fortunate I am to be warm and dry in this little cabin…and I thank the Lord for these blessings.
“Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
“Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.”
[John Newton, Amazing Grace]
Friday—October 16, 1998
Location—Heated shelter, Lac aux Americains, Parc de la Gaspesie, PQ Canada
I awake to the dim light of dawn around 7:00 a.m. The cabin is completely engulfed in the wind-laden swirl. It rushes against the east cabin wall only to turn and hasten back against the other side. The little cabin shudders, not knowing which way to brace. If storms could be angry or happy, this one would certainly be happy in knowing the anxiety it is causing me. For, though this storm shows no signs of leaving soon, it occasionally lifts its darkened shroud to reveal the forbidding starkness above, and I can see the rock fortifications, the sheer walls and crags above tree line slowly being transformed from steel-cold gray to pure-ice white, as the storm hurls its force and fury against the escarpment.
Since entering the Appalachians in central Alabama in late February, I have scaled the summits of countless hundreds of mountains all along this ancient and timeless range. And now here I sit, storm bound all this day, pondering the not unlikely possibility of being turned back at the base of the very last. And as I think these thoughts, a feeling of sadness and sorrow descends over me as I sigh in despair: “Dear Lord, why have you forsaken me?” I have believed, and have said repeatedly that a path will be provided and that I will have safe and successful passage to the completion of this odyssey, but now I am consumed with doubt. This mountain before me is tall and rugged and the ice and drifting snow to cap its crown are not my friend.
I get out briefly in the evening and make a dash to the privy. I also hasten to the little brook below the cabin. Here I am greeted and comforted by this playful friend as it sings its song and fills the cabin bucket. I am also comforted as I return to the snug little cabin to prepare my evening meal. For it is at this moment that a still, calm voice softly reverberates within me. “Be not of despair, for I am with you; we will climb this mountain together.” Now with this contentment I sit alone at the cabin table, and during the next forty-five minutes the remarkable “Ballad of the IAT,” which will complete the last journal entry for this odyssey, rolls from the end of my pencil!
Earlier, I was certain a dreadfully long, lonely and restless night awaited me, but I know now that I will sleep peacefully to prepare for the journey on the morrow.
“Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail.
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.”
[R. Kelso Carter]
Saturday—October 17, 1998
Location—Heated shelter, Le Galene, Parc de la Gaspesie, PQ Canada
I awake just before dawn and try squinting away the sleep as I peer out the cabin window. And there they are! A momentary twinkle here, then there, as the stars work to recapture the sky. I feel a rush of excitement as I rise to prepare my first cup of coffee. But the exhilaration is short-lived as the morning dawns to total overcast. However, as the morning sky brightens I take yet a closer look to see momentary patches of blue here, then there. Tis now I quickly realize that the high altitude mush that had the entire area in its grip for the past two days is gone and the present cloud cover is no more than locally generated mountain weather which usually burns off, in the absence of other clutter, by late morning.
By 9:00 a.m. the sky is clearing nicely to reveal the ice covered mountain looming above me. In the past nine months I have climbed many mountains higher than this one, but as I gaze at its enormity—the ice and the rocks—it is a truly ominous sight. But I must go now and climb this mountain, for it stands as the final obstacle. I have prepared long and diligently for this test. I am confident now, that with the Lord’s help, I will succeed.
So I sweep out the cabin, shoulder my pack and head up the trail. The last two days of rain have made a quagmire of what was an already mushy treadway and progress is slow and difficult up to tree line. Here the ground is frozen. Footing is surprisingly good and progress improves considerably. As I continue to ascend, the rocks and frozen earth give way to snow and ice-covered boulders. I am able to avoid the worst ice by seeking footing in the lower, snow-covered rocks. Progress is very deliberate and very slow…but I have planned only a little over seven miles today and I’m getting through! I am in snow and ice for the entire tableland traverse, some four miles, but the snow is never deeper than my knees and I never go down once in the ice-covered boulders. As it turns out, one of the unexpected problems, for which there is a quick fix, is the sun glare on the snow. I simply drop my pack, don my sunglasses, and off I go again!
At 2:00 p.m. I am standing on top of Mont Jacques Cartier! Such a strange thing, as I gaze over this wintry scene. The incredible show that is the snow and ice has not changed…just my perception of it. For now I look down totally mystified by its pure beauty. This morning I looked up totally mortified by its forbidding presence! The sky is wide and clear, not a wisp of haze as far as the horizon. The summit is pure white with ice and snow. As I sit and rest in the warming sun I feel the warm presence of a forgiving God. Forty-six hours; the time storm-bound in the little cabin below, is such a short time…yet long enough for me to have felt forsaken. How slow and hesitant we are to believe, but how quickly we doubt. Sitting here now, doubt dispelled, faith restored, I am at peace. I will climb on over this mountain and I will successfully complete this odyssey. How, after all the Lord has carried me through, could I have doubted!
As I prepare to depart this place, and as I stop to really look, as Benton MacKaye would say, “Let us tarry awhile—till we see the things we look upon.” I realize that what I am looking upon, I had already written about at the table in the little cabin last night! “You’ll stand spellbound, while ‘round you’ll see, Mont Albert’s skyland tundra. And to the north, clear to the sea, more of God’s boundless wonder.” So it must be that my spirit had already made this journey. And perhaps that is why I did not even slip once today in the treacherous ice covered boulders…my spirit had already passed this way! I pause and turn for one more look at this wonderland and as I proceed, the sun-crusted snow crunches beneath my feet. And so, I descend this last great mountain. There will be other obstacles in these remaining few days as I complete the northern part of this odyssey…But it is literally all down hill from here.
I arrive at the cluster of warming shelters at la Galene before 4:00 p.m. to find one of the shelters left unbattened and open for the winter. I quickly get a warming and cooking fire going, find some water in a nearby drainage and settle in for the evening. Thank you Lord, for this incredibly successful day!
“Oh mountaineer of time, upon your dizzy height–
What lies beyond the day? Beyond the night?
You need not answer, for we’re climbing too
And soon enough–will come to share the view . . .”
Sunday—October 18, 1998
Location—Mont-St.-Pierre Motel, Mont-St.-Pierre, PQ Canada
With dawn comes a crisp, clear morning. The hike today is a roadwalk to the sea at Mont-St.-Pierre, all downhill. As I descend I pass from the first clutches of winter back into the last throes of fall. Leaves scurry, carried along by the vagabond wind as it passes through. The unmistakable pungency of fall is still in the air. My senses know not what to believe as they are jolted from one season to the other.
I now pass by sugar maple groves with their kin all bound, as if fugitives, by the vascular-like tubing of the sap collectors. Workers are busy scurrying about as they secure for winter and prepare for spring, as countless cords of birch firewood are being stacked, the fuel to fire the boilers.
I now catch the first familiar odor of the sea and soon I get my first glimpse of its graceful lenticular arc as I crest a small hill. Soon, I am at the small seaside village of Mont-St.-Pierre. Turning the corner onto PQ132 I enter the parking lot at the Mont-St.-Pierre Motel. One of the motel room doors is open and as I pass a woman comes out to greet me. It is the proprietor, Charlotte Auclair. The greetings up here are humorous, yet wonderful—a great big smile, followed by a bubbly barrage of French. My response? An expression of dumbfounded befuddlement as I say, “I do not speak French.” She responds, “I get my husband, Raymond.” As Raymond rounds the corner he stops to look at me. “You’re a hiker, you come a long way?” After a brief explanation, he says, “You’re the second one. John Brinda was here last year. You will stay, too. Are you hungry?” Not waiting my response, he says, “Come with me, we’ll have lunch.”
Raymond is very knowledgeable about the SIA/IAT and speaks enthusiastically about it. He knows, and has talked with Dick Anderson, SIA/IAT President. He also knows my good friends, Pete Dube and David LeBlanc in Matapedia. After lunch, complete with dessert and more hot coffee, prepared and served by Charlotte, I get to meet Raymond’s folk who have come by. Lucette and Gerard Boily both speak fluent English and we have a grand time together. I recite a poem for them, The Ballad of the IAT. They are both taken by it and I promise to give a copy to Raymond.
I spend a very relaxing evening with my feet up, working on my journal entries.
“…Canada is populated by people who will live nowhere else.
They are held in good part by the land…[They] share a rapture
about the beauty of their country…Attached…by private ecstasies:
Small, religious experiences that dissolve the senses, as when
a loon cries across a still northern lake, or the ocean thunders
against the rocks…or the eerie flickering of the Aurora Borealis
above the ice…”
[June Callwood, Portrait of Canada]
Monday—October 19, 1998
Location—Motel du Rocher, Madeleine-Centre, PQ Canada
Charlotte opens the restaurant at 7:00 a.m. and I am right there! She prepares a fuel-tank-filler breakfast of eggs, bacon, potatoes, toast, oatmeal (with maple syrup) and lots of coffee. Raymond joins me shortly to bring a dreary forecast of wind and rain for the day. I exclaim, “How can that be?” From this splendid breakfast table front-row-seat vantage we are enjoying the view of a clear sky and a calm sea as the warm morning sun bathes the towering rock walls which form the western end of the bay. Raymond explains that the weather can change quickly here, and indeed it does! In a few short moments a full rainbow forms across the western wall and the sky and the now-gray precipice below “dark over” and a storm in total fury drives through hammering the building, whipping the sea to a rage. I sit in disbelief as this storm roars across. Not in any hurry to shoulder my pack and head along with this torrential train, I linger. Raymond talks about life in Mont-St.-Pierre and I talk about life on the trail. As I finally head back to my room to prepare to leave, Raymond points to the beach. “Be sure to walk the paved sidewalk along the beach; that’s the trail.”
In awhile, and as I depart, I pass in front of the restaurant. Raymond and Charlotte come to the front door and bid me farewell and a safe journey. As I turn to wave goodbye for the last time, Raymond motions, arms, and voice high, “Go across to the sidewalk, that’s the trail…”and so I do! What a memorable time spent with these folks. They would accept no payment from me other than the pure excitement it seemed they enjoyed just having me as their guest. Thanks dear friends! You are Canada to the core, the very best example of your country’s generous and friendly people!
This will be a long day on the road, eight to nine hours, as I try to make the 25 miles into Madeleine. The rain decreases to drizzle and soon ends, but the wind continues all day. Fortunately it is at my back, to lift and propel me along. An enormous seawall leads the way along the shore, which the road follows right on top. The wind keeps the sea whipped in a rage, causing it to constantly lunge and crash against the wall and onto the roadway. All along the walk today the mountains come to the sea, often ending abruptly in sheer granite walls and cliffs. As the road weaves its way along, grand vistas open and close to the fore and aft, much like slides projected on a screen as they pass one to the next. This helps make for an event-filled and seemingly short day.
Having arrived at the small seaside village, Riviere Madeleine, my destination for today, I stop at Restaurant Chez Mamie for supper. Annie Langlois, Mamie’s daughter, is the proprietor, and her sixteen year-old son, Gilbert Lemieux, greets me. Gilbert speaks fluent English and after a brief exchange I find that there is good news and bad news. The good news—I will be able to get a very fine spaghetti dinner. The bad news—the motel where I was planning to stay the night has just closed for the season. Gilbert says he will help me find a place to stay, so the urgency for me now turns to getting on with the spaghetti dinner! I am able to relax and enjoy my evening meal, for as I am being served, Gilbert tells me that the little motel I passed, by the church back in Madeleine Centre, is open. The owner will not only drive the five miles to pick me up when I’ve complete my meal, but he will bring me back here for breakfast! Thanks Gilbert, for your kindness and your help!
After supper, Leopold DuRocher, the owner of DuRocher Motel is here to pick me up. He speaks good English and on the ride back I must explain my odyssey. This brings a baffled expression to Leopold’s face, which doesn’t change until we reach Madeleine Centre. The motel is right on the sea, is very basic but also very clean and well kept. A hot tub of water feels luxurious to my tired, creaking old bones and I’m able to get a very restful night’s sleep.
“Canadians are not Americans who live in a colder climate:
They are different people. While they resemble Americans –
wear the same jeans, use the same expletives, drink the same
booze…goggle at the same centerfolds – they are not the same.”
[June Callwood, Portrait of Canada]
Tuesday—October 20, 1998
Location—Motel Richard, Grand Vallee, PQ Canada
I have my pack organized and am out the door a little before 8:30 a.m. Leopold has offered to drive me back to Mamie’s to resume my hike. As I wait by his office I am startled to hear his truck engine start. I’m right by the truck but didn’t hear him come out. As I hoist my pack and head around to load up I realize there’s no one in the truck! I guess, up in this country, it’s more a necessity than a luxury to have a remote-start feature on your vehicle. Scraping frost and climbing into an icebox every morning for months on end, I am sure can get very old very fast. In moments Leopold emerges, I load up and we’re on our way to Mamie’s. Thanks, Leopold!
Mamie’s is open. I had a fine meal here last evening so I decide to head back in for breakfast. This is definitely a family operation, as this morning I meet Mamie’s other daughter, Rachele. A lovely place, great food, grand hospitality. Thanks folks!
The roadwalk today changes dramatically from the cliffside meander of yesterday. The mountains are becoming more rugged and more persistent as they meet the sea, ending in vertical walls and undercut cliffs, dropping directly to meet the eternal crashing waves of the sea. The road must now climb inland and take to the mountains making for many long, hard ascents and descents. But, PQ132 is one of the most beautiful and enjoyable of all the roadwalks so far as each new valley, each new cove and inlet reveal another delightful little Canadian village. The Quebec people take pride in ownership and even though the dwellings in these small hamlets are all very modest, they are clean, freshly painted, and with yards well kept. Here live some of the most friendly and happy people I’ve ever met, full of joyful enthusiasm and vitality. The riotous colors they’ve chosen to paint their little homes and cottages are just as bright and cheerful. Pure white with fire engine red trim is the most common combination, but it isn’t unusual at all to see, for example, a caution-light yellow house with a purple roof and chartreuse trim! You absolutely cannot be sad, you cannot be glum around these folks; you’re just gonna smile and feel warm all over when you are greeted by these people and see these storybook places!
By early afternoon I am nearing Grand Vallee and see a billboard advertising Dixie Lee Restaurant, so I make a beeline for the place as I polish up on my “howdy, y’all.” The place turns out to be a chain operation with headquarters I don’t remember where. The food is so-so, served up in cardboard boxes with plastic utensils, and to my way, a little too expensive. Dixie Lee would be in trouble in Dixie. No self-respecting southern boy would put up with the cole slaw for very long. But, like my momma told me years ago, “If you can’t say something nice…” well okay folks, the fried chicken was okay. ‘Nuff said!
I pulled the same stunt again today as yesterday. I hiked right by one of the very few motels still open this late in the season on my way to Petite Vallee, where the only lodging I can find is a pricey bed and breakfast. And it’s turning cold and starting to rain. I hike on east to a small convenience/grocery store and finally get in out of it. After buying a few provisions and exhausting all possible local overnight alternatives (including pitching on the cold, wet ground in the rain), the owner’s son, Jean Francois LeBreux, who speaks reasonably good English, offers to drive me back to the motel in Grand Vallee. Here I am able to get a very nice room for a reasonable rate.
“Few Canadians live more than an afternoon’s drive from
wilderness. Beyond the towns are woods and lakes, and then
rock, tundra, and ice that stretches to the top of the world.”
[June Callwood, Portrait of Canada]
Wednesday—October 21, 1998
Location—Abutment ledge under roadway bridge near St. Yvon, PQ Canada
After a good breakfast at a mom-n-pop just past Grand Vallee, and sticking my thumb out along the same roadway I had hiked yesterday I manage a ride back to Jean Francois’ little store. As I stop in to thank them and say farewell I am greeted with a steaming hot cup of coffee. Yet another fine example of the wonderful Canadian hospitality. Thanks folks!
As I hike on toward Gaspe today the mountains have their way with PQ132, first forcing it up, then down, then thither, then yon. The wind keeps pushing as it drives a steady, cold rain against my back. It is late afternoon as I enter the restaurant La Maisonnee in the little seaside village of Cloridorme. Here Lena Richard, the waitress, greets me. She speaks very good English and I soon learn that the only motel in the area just closed for the season. I now know without question where the old phrase, “A day late and a dollar short,” comes from and I become quickly resigned to the fact that I will be pitching in the cold rain tonight. Lena and owner Denise Minville take obvious pity to my plight as I am served a generous and delicious evening meal, their compliments!
The rain has eased some and with a couple of hours of daylight remaining I decide to hike on. As I leave the little village of Cloridorme the road winds deeper into the mountains. In awhile I descent to a narrow inlet cut deep into the hills. There are three very lovely lakes and a small, very picturesque waterfall. Between two of the lakes and just above the falls there is a bridge. Dusk is rapidly descending and the cold rain has returned to be the host for the evening. I decide to explore the bridge and to my delight do I find a two-foot wide ledge under the bridge, high and dry on the main abutment. Here I am not only out of the wind and the rain, but have the comfort of the retained warmth of the day. This is certainly not the Hilton, but way up the scale from the blowing rain and the cold, wet ground. I lay my tent down for a ground cloth, roll out my sleeping pad and bag and roll in for a very comfortable, dry and warm night’s sleep. Few vehicles pass, their muffled sounds and gently vibrations not the least bit disturbing.
“All men should strive,
To learn before they die.
What they are running from,
And to, and why!”
Thursday—October 22, 1998
Location—Flodo Motel, Riviere-au-Renard, PQ Canada
As dawn reveals the day I open one eye to peer out across the lake being glazed by the still-present rain. I decide to go on snooze and give it another hour. Easy decision! Another hour makes all the difference and it appears the sun may even make a show this morning. As I hoist my pack and head on east toward Gaspe (Mic Mac for Land’s End), comes the realization that this will be my last day on this most enjoyable roadwalk by the St. Lawrence Sea. I had looked to PQ132 with dread as I descended the Chic Chocs. But, was I ever wrong! For already, though it has been just a short few days, I recall with a most-warm feeling of nostalgia my entrance into the little seaside village of Mont-St.-Pierre, where I became immediate friends with Charlotte and Raymond at Motel Mont-St.-Pierre. I fell instant captive to the spell of this little world by the sea; to the beauty, the wonder and the mystique of this enchanted land. Today, that journey through this spellbinding little isolated, storybook corner of the world will end, and so too, soon will this journey.
The road quickly leads back to civilization as I again pass power poles and neat, well-kept cottages. The hike today leads through many lovely villages and again along the sea. The wind is much less troublesome and the day has turned most pleasant.
It is very easy to tell that it’s moose hunting season up here. The successful hunters are all driving around with moose head hood ornaments. Yes! Moose heads, antlers and all, strapped and lashed to their car hoods! Even the little Hondas. You can’t even see the car coming down the road, just this huge moose head! The more ingenious have propped up the entire moose carcass on a special-built outdoor freezer rack/sawhorse right in their truck bed. These fellows are driving around with the meeses standing up in the back of their trucks! Folks, ya just gotta see this. It’s a pure hoot!
I complete the roadwalk along the sea a little after 3:00 p.m. and check into the Flodo Motel in Riviere-au-Renard. I had been instructed to contact Raynald Bujold, Superintendent, Parc National Forillon upon reaching Fox River (Riviere-au-Renard in French). I soon reach Raynald by phone at his home, as he is preparing for a flight to Montreal. The folks at the Parc were anticipating my arrival and Raynald greets me enthusiastically. He explains that the trail through the Parc, to the cliffs at Forillon has just been completed and that maps and information about the Parc would be brought to me at the motel.
Soon comes a knock on my door and here, in typical Canadian fashion (the warm smile and grand handshake) I meet Jacques Fournier, Chief of Visitor’s Services for Forillon. The people in Canada, it seems without exception, take great pleasure and enjoyment in their work, and Jacques speaks with contagious excitement as we pour over the maps, brochures, and booklets he has brought for me.
“Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
…From morn to night, my friend.”
[Christina Georgina Rossetti, Up-Hill]
Friday—October 23, 1998
Location—Auberge de Cap-aux-Os, Grande Greve, PQ Canada
The excitement about Gaspe and Forillon is indeed contagious as I find that I am filled with anticipation this morning, anxious to get going and into Parc Forillon. Out of Riviere-au-Renard the trail is a roadwalk of approximately eight kilometers to the new treadway on the west end of the Parc. As I hasten along a vehicle stops and a young man walks back to greet me. It is Luc Tremblay, a reporter with LeJournal de Quebec. He wants to interview me and take pictures, but I discourage him as I explain that I have far to go today and must not tarry. We did, however, make arrangements to get together early in the morning at the youth hostel at Cap-aux-Os where I’ll be staying the night.
I am soon on the fresh-cut trail and begin the ascent into the mountains of Cap Gaspe. Jacques had mentioned last evening that I would be the first to thru-hike the SIA/IAT in Parc Forillon, and this adds all the more excitement to the day. The morning is cool and clear and the views from the ridge down into the Fox River Valley are panoramic. As I scan to the horizon I see the winding river, the lovely, neatly kept homes along the valley road; and at the horizon, sitting on the sea, the quiet and peaceful village of Riviere-au-Renard. It humbles me to know that I am the first to experience what will bring pleasure and joy to all that follow on this adventure-filled path!
The trail, although long today, is very enjoyable, passing many fine ponds, each with its resident moose. As evening draws nigh and as the sun begins its exit in a blaze, the ridgeline and far-reaching summits are set afire. I linger at the last overlook for the day, a beautiful deck complete with railing and benches as I gaze with repose at the wonder before me, the timeless and magnificent Appalachian Mountains that are Cap Gaspe. I then hurry off the mountain to the road below in the last fading shadows of the evening.
The youth hostel, Auberge de Cap-aux-Os is a clean, well-kept facility. I am greeted by Alain Fortin, my host and he shows me all around. After settling in and preparing supper in the very fine kitchen I make arrangements with Alain’s good friend, Maryline Smith, to pick me up at the Parc’s east parking lot at 3:00 p.m. tomorrow. For tomorrow, at Cap Gaspe, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I will reach the end of the Appalachian Mountains, where they plunge to the sea at the spectacular Cliffs of Forillon.
I have the pleasure to share a room this evening with Patrice Lasserre, a young lad from Toulouse, France. He speaks very good English as we talk about our respective countries and our mutual interest in the sport of motorcycling. He gets a far away and longing glint in his eye as he speaks about Muriel, the lovely lass he hopes to marry.
“My first approach to the Gaspe was anything but…dispassionate…
I wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the region…Blessed is the land
whose fulfillment is greater than its promise.”
[Maurice Brooks, The Appalachians]
Saturday—October 24, 1998
Location—Church Boarding House, Gaspe, PQ Canada
I am awake at first light. Even though there will be five full days of hiking north from Matapedia, I am excited about arriving this day at the Cliffs of Forillon, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean, for today I reach the northern-most end of this odyssey.
I get my pack together and hurry to the kitchen for a quick breakfast of pop tarts, bananas and coffee. Luc Tremblay is Johnny-on-the-spot at 6:30 a.m. and we spend some time together for the interview. The deal that I had cut with Luc yesterday was that if I promised to take some time with him first thing in the morning, he would drive me back up the mountain to where the trail crosses the road. That arrangement works well, as he wants to hike some with me this morning, so we’re off to the trail and a few more questions. We arrive in good order at 7:00 a.m. Luc hikes along and we enjoy each others company for awhile as the trail again ascends to the ridgeline. Luc gets the answers to his questions and takes a few more pictures before departing to spend the day with his family. (A fine article complete with a photo appeared on page two of Le Journal de Quebec the following Monday.)
The treadway now is some of the finest and the scenery some of the most spectacular o’er this entire odyssey. The vista, provided by a tower on the north shore, offers a sweeping 360-degree view. This morning Cap Bon Ami is blocked sharply against the sun, which casts its narrow shimmering highway of pure brilliance from the sea’s crescent horizon past the looming granite walls of Bon Ami. Here, where the cliffs meet the sea is a scene paradoxical, the granite walls quiet, unmoving, serene and steadfast; the sea raging, hammering, a symphony of sound, relentless…a cacophonous calm! From the west and the south come the Appalachians from Alabama—to the east and the north, continue they, descending and abruptly ending at the sea!
The day passes quickly and I soon find myself standing before the old lighthouse overlooking the Cliffs of Forillon. Near the lighthouse a foundation is being prepared, where a monument will soon be placed marking the terminus of the SIA/IAT. Here I prop up my pack with my Leki poles to create my own monument to commemoration my hike and also to commemorate this magnificent SIA/IAT. I get out a homemade sign which reads “Cap Gaspe, 10-24-98, Nimblewill Nomad, Odyssey ‘98,” prop it against my pack and take a few pictures.
I follow the trail beside the cliffs to the waters of the Atlantic where the mountains disappear below the waves to the ocean floor. Standing here at the water’s edge and looking at the cliffs and the end of this, a mysterious, grand and glorious scheme of things that are these ancient and near timeless Appalachian Mountains, I realize, that for these mountains there is an end, not perhaps in time, but certainly in space. In terms of the presence of man on this planet and that span of time, these mountains are truly immortal…and I consider the frailty of man and my own mortality. Soon the last chapter in my life will be written not only in time, but also in space as my remaining days flow to their end, much as these mountains flow to their end here at the sea. Once back at the lighthouse I linger in its shadow. A flood of emotions descends as I turn to leave. I am an old man now and I must face the reality of it. But, I’ll live out these remaining days with a deep inner contentment in knowing that few have lived any part of their lives with the intensity that I have lived during the miracle of this incredible odyssey.
Mary meets me at the parking lot and we are off to Gaspe on what seems like a long, long ride.
“Though here at journey’s end I lie
In darkness buried deep,
Above all towers strong and high,
Beyond all mountains steep,
Above the shadows rides the Sun
And Stars forever dwell:
I will not say the day is done,
Nor bid the Stars farewell.”
Sunday—October 25, 1998
Location—Pete Dube’s Restigouche Hotel, Matapedia, PQ Canada
I’m up at 4:00 a.m. to catch the bus to Matapedia. The ride from the sea around Gaspe is very enjoyable. The coast is dotted with small seaside villages and the rising sun plays a fascinating light show along the islands and cliffs. I shall never forget Perce Rock, an amazing monolith resting on the beach at Perce, the sun lifting its dark, bold silhouette, creating an enormous sunrise shadow across the land. The trip passes quickly and I am soon stepping off the bus and heading for the Restigouche Hotel. I am greeted by Pete who has that grand Canadian smile, and in his customary kindness to me, also a fine room! Pete invites me to remain as his guest and to take an extended rest before heading north again, as he can see that the trail is wearing on the old Nomad and that I am very tired. I have been on the trail now for 283 days and over 4,100 miles. But I explain my plans to go back on the trail in the morning, for it seems with just a little luck I should complete this last 80 plus miles by Friday evening, October 30th on my 60th birthday.
I have become a good friend with Pete and also with Pete’s good friend, Richard Adams. Richard is a legend in his time…known far and about as “The Old Man of the River.” Richard is 88 now, yet he remains vital and very active. Matapedia is the salmon sports-fishing capital of the world and Richard Adams, for near 75 years, has been the river guide! Both Pete and Richard have expressed an interest in doing some hiking with me, which I consider an honor, and I invite them to go out with me in the morning.
“Between the mountain and the sea
I’ve made a happy landing;
And here a peace has come to me
That passeth understanding.”
[Robert W. Service, Eyrie]
Monday—October 26, 1998
Location—Hunter’s Homemade Camper near St.-Andre, PQ Canada
Another great night’s rest at Pete’s fine Restigouche Hotel. He and Richard are both ready and eager to get started as I am greeted at Pete’s door. I make a quick dash to the post office and we’re headed for the trial by 9:00 a.m. The plan is for Pete and Richard to hike with me into the village of St.-Andre, a distance of some 15 kilometers. My determination to reach the Matane River Bridge in five days, a distance over 80 miles to the north, is very ambitious and I am concerned about being held back this very first day by my two hiking companions. My fears are quickly dispelled, however, as we begin our climb to the ridgeline above the picturesque village of Matapedia. Both of these gentlemen maintain themselves in peak physical condition year ‘round. They love the out-of-doors and I suspect neither has ever suffered a failed opportunity to be there! Pete, at age 57, has guided on the river for Atlantic salmon and in the surrounding mountains for black bear for years. Richard recently added another notch in building his incredible legend by polling a 26-foot canoe loaded to the gunwales with 500 pounds of man and gear just after recovering from surgery. So here I am, huffing along behind these true mountain men, in brisk fashion as we claim the first open crest. The SIA/IAT north from Matapedia I will find to be a most memorable section. And the first viewpoint above this little village, looking down on the confluence of the Matapedia and Restigouche Rivers, is breathtaking!
The morning passes quickly as the trail traverses open hardwood coves and gentle undulating ridges. By noon the trail becomes more rugged as we descent Gilmore Brook, the site of Pico Falls. Here an intricate stairway system has been devised adjoining the falls and along the happily cascading brook. Near the pool below the falls where the forest canopy opens, we enjoy and share lunch in the welcome warming rays of the sun. It seems the picnic table has been placed here just for us! I thoroughly enjoy the company of these dear friends and I become totally captivated as Richard spins his stories and tales of bygone times and of places long ago. As he speaks in soft tones, characteristic of these rugged mountain men, I notice that he has opened his old wool coat to take in the sun’s warmth. And it is only after my second take do I realize and does it register that this kind old gent is wearing a shirt and tie! I am immediately taken by this as being pretty darn strange. But I quickly get it in proper perspective as I realize that this old man is, in the truest sense and in every way a professional—the rivers and mountains his office. So, it makes perfect sense, for in traditional fashion—professionals, as they do when in their offices, wear…yup! A shirt and tie!
The trail continues on through more open hardwood and along pleasant old grassy woodsroads. We too- soon arrive at the little village of St.-Andre. All of these small, remote Quebec villages, almost without exception, cluster themselves closely around grand, high-spired churches. The beautiful old church at St.-Andre, being situated on a gentle ridge crown, is particularly striking, reminiscent of the church I attended as a child. Here the trail enters the village by the church side yard. Pete’s girlfriend, Gaby has come for he and Richard and she greets us. The wind has come up and is driving an increasingly uncomfortable chill. As I bid farewell to these kind friends, and as they climb into Pete’s warm pickup, I turn onto the road and into the cold, harsh wind to continue on alone. I have been long on this trail. And my heart is tugging at me to turn and go back with them to their warm homes. But I have come too far and journeyed too long to turn now. I know it not wise to pause for a final wave goodbye, so I press on, into the biting chill.
The hiking days are so short now. By 4:00 p.m. dusk is descending and I must begin looking for a suitable place to pitch for the night. The wind has not relented and is driving a bitter cold. As I crest a small ridge I see a small building in the distance. As I near I find a homemade camper propped up on crossbeams. Through the side window I can see a small table and a bunk complete with mattress. But alas, the door is padlocked and the windows are all secure. As I leave, a little voice tells me, “These fellows always hide a key nearby within easy reach.” So I turn and take another look. Where could it be? I feel under the camper just below the padlocked door. Oh, yes! There hanging on a nail is the key! In a moment I’m inside and have my pack off. It is cold, but I’m out of the wind and I won’t have to pitch on the hard, frozen ground. Thank you Lord! Now I’m not feeling quite so sorry for myself. On the little table I prepare a meal of sardines, a cheese sandwich and for dessert, the last Snickers bar from Easy Rider’s “care package.” I roll out my sleeping bag on the plush mattress and roll in for the night. My water bottle freezes almost solid on the table beside my bed, but I am warm and I sleep soundly.
“Sharing mountain time is the glue
of great and lasting friendships.”
[Kim van den Eerenbeemt, Yamnuska Guide]
Tuesday—October 27, 1998
Location—Campsite south of Ste-Marguerite, PQ Canada
The morning dawns cold and clear. Little water remains in my water bottle, mostly ice. I down a couple of pop tarts and am able to stuff my sleeping bag and organize my pack before my fingers turn numb. I tidy-up the hunter’s little camper, leaving it neat and clean just as I found it (Thank you, kind sir!) and padlocking the door, I’m on my way.
It is very cold but there is no wind. My little pack thermometer reads 20 degrees this morning. The early rays of the sun feel very good as I pass to the sunny side of the ridge. Crossing the ridge into the morning shadows the sod and earth crunch beneath my feet. The crystalline beauty of hoar ice is all around. I can hear the happy song of a little brook below and upon reaching the stream I see a challenge before me. The brook is of respectable width and flowing considerable volume. I size up the situation and decide that rock hopping is the way to go. There is a large boulder in the center and to get there I must take a good jump. After the first hop and skip and I am committed to this, I realize I should have stopped and switched from my boots to my running shoes and waded across; for the leap to the boulder is further than I had judged and it is covered with ice. As I make the impossible lunge my foot flies off the ice-covered boulder and in I go! I manage to stay upright but both my legs become submerged to my knees and my gloves are full of the bitter cold water. I know I must act fast before my boots and laces freeze solid and my fingers quit working. I can see the sun striking the trail 100 yards above and I set a beeline for it. My feet are totally numb and feel like stumps. My boots are already frozen and before I can drop my pack and begin working at getting my boots off my fingers quit working right. Getting my frozen boots and wet socks off becomes an almost impossible task.
One luxury with which I have lavished myself on this odyssey is a (almost) full-size towel! I am very thankful that I have it this morning as I dry my feet and legs and try to mop out my boots. The towel is turning “crisp” as I hurry. Dry wool socks on dry feet begin the immediate process of relief. Even the needle-jabs of returning circulation feel wonderful! I must ford two more streams today: The wide but shallow Assemetquagan River and the narrow but deep Creux Brook, but the plan for these crossings is to hit them this afternoon when, hopefully, things have warmed up a bit!
Later in the morning I reach another fair-size brook, but here is a log bridge, and even though it is broken down on one side I am able to cross easily. In a short distance I hear hammering and I soon arrive at a trail shelter construction site. Here I meet Jean Pierre another of David LeBlanc’s crew members and momentarily, out of the woods comes Bruno! Always happy, always smiling Bruno, with that warm ear-to-ear French Canadian grin. And after a grand handshake, Bruno exclaims, “The shitter is done, ya’ ‘wanna try it out?” You just can’t help but be happy around these folks! I linger long for much pleasant conversation before bidding Bruno and Jean Pierre goodbye and heading on up the trail.
I soon am on a long, steady ascent, dodging under and over a fine filament of twine played out before me. As I reach the ridgeline, the trail moves over to the bluff and a spectacular viewsite opens up, overlooking the canyon of the Assemetquagan River. Here I find David LeBlanc and Steve, another of David’s crew members, enjoying the overlook and their lunch. It takes little encouragement to join them as I drop my pack and whip a couple of cheese sandwiches together. David shows me the little gadget that plays out the measuring line I had been dodging. It is an ingenious and interesting contraption. Strapped to your belt it simply plays out string, measuring the exact distance as you move along the trail. You can take a reading from the dial anytime, just like from an odometer and the twine is biodegradable!
The folks here in Quebec, as throughout New Brunswick and northern Maine, are highly dedicated, and with total commitment work to having this SIA/IAT completed and officially open by Earth Day, 2000! Even though there has been much contrived controversy, naysaying and wringing of hands against this joint nation SIA/IAT effort, the trail is becoming and will continue to be a great asset to the people of the United States and Canada. I am finding it to be an incredible trail! This cooperation between our two countries is working just fine! We all know that the last blaze ends on Katahdin. And although the blazes stop there we also know that these grand and glorious Appalachian mountains go on, and indeed I am finding that out first-hand! In the U.S., on the granddaddy AT I continually trekked along with folks hiking and enjoying the trail. But here in Canada, I have been the sole, solitary hiker. Yet I have not been alone, for out here I have met near countless folks and have made dear friends of most all of them, from Maine to Cap Gaspe…all trail builders, all working tirelessly creating and breathing the breath of life into this remarkable SIA/IAT.
David had just come up from the river and he tells me that I should have little problem fording. This heightens my spirit, as does the pleasure of accepting an invitation to have dinner with he and Bruno upon completing the northern end of this odyssey. So, I head on north now with a little more bounce in my step. I soon reach the Assemetquagan, switch to my running shoes to make the ford and I cross easily without incident. The water is ice cold and my feet again turn numb, but I quickly dry them and get my warm wool socks and boots back on. Upon crossing the river the trail quickly ascends to again regain the ridge with viewpoints first back into the canyon of the Assemetquagan and then as the trail turns, down into the narrower, but no-less-impressive canyon of Creux Brook. From here the trail descends a stunning and scenic razorback to ford Creux Brook. The crossing here is deceptive as the brook is relatively narrow, but even at the rapids where I decide to ford, the water is deep and running with considerable energy and hydraulic force.
I switch again to my running shoes and take particular deliberation in lashing my boots to my pack, good and secure. I then shoulder my pack, cinching my hip, ladder and sternum straps as tight as I can stand. Oh, yes! I know that all we’ve been taught, and indeed all I’ve ever read about fording with a pack would have us be almost free of it and be ready in an instant to bail out. That may be good advice for folks carrying a beggar’s load and not accustomed to shouldering a pack. I’ve carried mine 284 days now and it’s part of me. Out here in the remote wilds of Canada where continuation of life and the presence of your pack are synonymous I want my pack to remain a stable part of me, especially in situations where, if I loose my balance for a moment, it could pitch me around. I feel that my pack and I have a much better chance of negotiating a difficult ford as a unit, and not loosely engaged as is customarily recommended. I learned this lesson the hard way the first day on the trail in the Everglades where, for the grace of God, my journey would have abruptly ended. So, in I go, first to my ankles and then below my knees. The rocks are very large and rounded and stable footing is difficult. My hiking poles quiver and vibrate in the turbulence. I concentrate with total deliberation and focus, taking time to get my poles and feet firmly planted before moving forward. I am tempted to hasten as the water is bone-numbing cold but I know that I must move slowly and with patience. This pays off, as I am able to cross without a hitch or a slip! I then go into pit crew mode changing back to warm socks and boots.
The climb out of the canyon is gradual with the walls diverging, to open into a pleasant valley. The trail leads to a woods road, which I follow until dusk. I am able to break the ice to get water from the road ruts to boil for supper. I pitch in a small clearing along the roadway. A little birch bark, some spruce twigs and I have a fine cooking and warming fire going. I lean my boots forward toward the fire and lay my wool gloves on them to dry. The wind has subsided and the drizzle, which began earlier, has stopped. The hot meal and the glow of the fire warm me. If I can make Causapscal tomorrow, this will be the last night I will spend on this frozen anvil-hard ground.
“My words are tied in one with the great mountain,
with the great rocks, with the great trees, in one with my
body and my heart. All of you see me, one with the world.”
Wednesday—October 28, 1998
Location—The Andre Fournier Home, Causapscal, PQ Canada
I slept well but am greeted by first light through the chilling gloom and swirl of a drifting crystal mist. I had banked the fire late last eve in hopes there may be a few warming embers this morning to cut the edge from the biting cold that has come to be my companion, but alas, the fire had burned hollow and the ashes have gone as cold as stone. Breaking camp is a very vulnerable time. I work as quickly as I can with numbing and fumbling fingers as I feel my core temperature dropping. I forgo breakfast to get my pack on and get moving. With age has come a definite reduction in circulation to my extremities. I have little difficulty with my feet, but my fingers and hands are a real problem. I can tolerate the arthritis, the slow-healing dislocated knuckles and the blue-numbing cold. But what is frustrating and scary is the loss of control; the weakening, molasses-slow movement that, even with intense, forceful will cannot be overcome. Simple tasks like zipping up my jacket or tying my laces become demoralizing ordeals. I give up on the jacket zipper to get out and going, crunching the frozen trail. With my wool gloves and leather mitts on now I can feel the faint, but welcomed shock of the electric quills that signal the return of circulation to my hands and fingers.
The trail to the little village of Ste-Marguerite follows along two-track and logging roads. As I reach an area of active timber harvesting my way becomes confused by fresh trail in all directions. I get my compass out and try to “reckon” most directly towards the village. When I pitched camp last eve I estimated that I was within a couple of miles of Ste- Marguerite. But this morning I have already gone much further than that. I fear that I have already passed the village and am going the wrong direction, for at the village the trail turns sharply southwest. Odds are that I have made a wrong turn at one of the countless intersecting skidder trails.
It is now mid morning and the day is warming. But the drear continues to hover in a moisture-laden blanket and through this shroud comes the muffled sound of a distant chainsaw. The trail I have chosen leads me in that general direction and soon, down yet another intersecting two-track, I see the dark silhouette of a pickup truck suspended in the soupy haze. Two hundred yards back a narrow trail I am at the source of this woods alarm and am greeted by a kind old smiling red-faced French Canadian. It becomes quickly apparent that neither of us understands a word the other is saying. French for International Appalachian Trail is Sentier International des Appalaches. I manage to get that out . . . plus, “Ste-Marguerite.” He now understands I am lost and am trying to find the trail to the village. The response is near a minute of the softest, most delightful French dialogue I’ve yet heard. With his arms akimbo, he occasionally motions in every direction! Facial expressions being fairly universal, I screw my face into the most convincing question mark I can muster. The old woodsman then throws up his hands and motions me to follow him. We load in his truck and he drives me to the skidder intersection from whence I came. Turns out I was doing okay and would have soon been to the village. Over the course of this odyssey I’ve come to find that I’m almost never as far along the trail as I think. Case in point! As I head up the trail I manage a “merci,” and in perfect English the kind old gentleman responds: “Good Luck!”
The wind picks up but is not chilling as the afternoon warms. The hike on into Causapscal is pleasant and uneventful. I have been instructed by Pete Dube in Matapedia to call Andrew Fournier upon reaching the convenience store at the outskirts of Causapscal, Andre is the principal at Cegep School (equivalent to our high schools) and is the section leader for the trail I’ll be hiking to the Matane River. As I near the store the sky performs a serious “darkin over” and a steady rain begins. The shelter and warmth of the store is most welcome. As I make the call a woman overhears my conversation and offers me a ride up the hill to Andre’s schools. Upon arriving I am greeted at the door by a group of students who usher me along to meet Andre. I receive a most enthusiastic welcome and Andre immediately interrupts his schedule to drive me to his lovely home where he patiently reviews all his maps with me.
There is just no getting used to the kindness and generosity of the people of Canada and I am overwhelmed again as Andre invites me to have supper with he and his family and to spend the night at their warm, cozy home. Andre chuckles as the ear-to-ear grin on my face says “yes!” before I can manage!
The hiking hours become more precious as the days grow shorter and there are still two full hours of daylight remaining. The rain has ended and as I mention that I would like to get in a few more miles today, Andre offers not only to pick me up this evening at a point about five miles north of town, but to drop me off there again in the morning. So back at the convenience store, and armed with maps to take me to the conclusion of the Canadian portion of this odyssey, I’m off through the lovely village of Causapscal, Quebec. On the north edge of town the trail turns through a park and then ascends beside a glad brook to open into upper meadows and lush, rolling farmland. Rain continues to threaten, but holds off and the evening is mild. The trail turns onto a quiet country road and just at dusk I hear the gravel crunching behind me as a vehicle approaches. I turn, as Andre rolls his window down and I am greeted by that happy, contagious Canadian smile!
Back again at the Fournier home, Andre introduces me to his wife, Helene D’Aoust and their son, Christophe (same Canadian smiles). Helene prepares a delightful meal and I spend a joyful evening with the Fournier family. A hot tub never felt so good! What a blessing, not to have to break ice from two-track ruts for water, then sleep on the hard, steel-cold ground!
“The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow it if I can…”
[J. R. R. Tolkein]
Thursday—October 29, 1998
Location—Andre Fournier Home, Causapscal, PQ Canada
A great night’s sleep in a warm, soft bed! Andre has prepared breakfast for me. As I collect my things and arrange my pack I linger with Andre and Helene, for I want to sort a place in my memory for these kind, generous folks and their comfortable, charming home.
Back to the place along the country road where Andre picked me up last evening, we tarry and talk some more. I know he would like to play hooky and hike with me today, but we bid each other farewell. He must return to his students and his school and I to my solitude and the trail.
The trail soon leaves the country road to ascend the gorge cut by the Causapscal River. Where the trail joins the river, I am greeted by gentle waters with quiet dignity. But as the canyon walls close and as I climb, the true nature of this river is revealed. For, rushing at me down through these granite walls passes a reckless, runaway traveler. Over the boulders and ever-heightening cataracts comes this rollicking, cascading tumult, shouting in ever-increasing crescendos of pure sound! I am taken by this mystifying blend; the purity of sound mixed with the raw, raging torrent. I can feel the shuddering vibration deep in my chest and I am swept up with the rush of it to become dizzy from the excitement all around. I must sit to level my head as I try to comprehend this incredible show.
But I must not linger, as many miles lie before me if I am to reach the city of Amqui by nightfall. I have grown weary from the countless days on the trail. The loneliness, the wet and the cold, the pain, and the never-ending daily strenuous task; all are slowly but surely taking their toll. If I can reach Amqui tonight, I won’t have to sleep on the hard, frozen ground again. Tomorrow I will be 60 years old. My bones are tired. Twenty-six miles today; twenty-six miles tomorrow and I will finish the northern segment of this incredible journey. That’s what I want to do. I want to finish tomorrow on my 60th birthday. I’ll make it to Amqui tonight and tomorrow night I’ll be at the Matane River and from there I will be taken to the De Champlain home in Matane where I can be warm and dry again. I’ll do the 52 miles. I don’t want to be out on this hard, frozen ground anymore!
After scrambling the canyon walls to sky-high vistas, which open across and down into the gorge, the trail leaves the Causapscal and I turn for one last look at this wild, untamed place. Back on woodsroads now I fix my concentration with singular intensity on hammering out the miles to reach Amqui before dark. I rush along as the miles click away beneath my feet. As I shake out of the hypnosis brought by the rhythmic shuffle and the clicking hiking sticks, I realize there have been no blazes. As I stop and look I know instinctively that I am lost. I shout “ Oh Lord, not now. Please, Lord, not now…I can’t get lost now!” But I am lost. I have seen no blazes, no flagging for a great distance. Where could I have gone wrong? Where could I have missed a turn? Andre’s maps are so good, the trail marked so well. How could this happen, now? I’m standing on a main road and there are houses and power lines. This is not the right way. There are no blazes, no flags. I look at the map. Where am I, which way do I go? I am wasting precious time. I must get back on the trail right away. Across the main road, 300 yards down a lane, there’s a house. I rush there and pound on the door. Surely someone here can give me directions. I pound on the door again but no one comes. I rush back to the road. A car approaches and I hail the driver. He speaks no English. I am becoming very anxious. I sit down by the side of the road and cover my face and my eyes with my trembling hands. I must suppress this fear and anxiety. I have got to calm myself.
I finally quit shaking and look up. Along the road to the west is another dwelling and I can see a vehicle turning in. As I walk hastily toward there, the gentleman sees me coming and waits in his yard. Here I meet Marc Bergeron. He speaks English! Marc confirms that the trail does not pass his home. He studies my map but is unable to help. He does, however, give me directions to Amqui. The roadwalk appears to be a much greater distance than the trail, but I can walk the road with assurance that I will reach Amqui buy nightfall. If I retrace my steps in the attempt to locate the trail it could take hours. I choose the roadwalk. I know Andre will be disappointed and upset that I missed some of his trail, but this is the right choice, considering the time and the uncertainty. I bid Marc farewell and it is with much anguish and trepidation that I decide to head up the road away from the trail, on another way to Amqui. A little after 2:00 p.m. I reach the paved road leading to Amqui. Once on this road, and in only moments, a car pulls over and stops on the shoulder. As the man crosses the road and approaches me I immediately recognize Andre. I begin to tremble and tears well in my eyes. I remember now that he had a meeting today in Matane. He is returning from that meeting. Oh, he must be so disappointed and upset with me. But as he comes nearer he greets me with a warm and comforting smile, saying, “When I saw you I knew right away that you made a wrong turn.” I can’t control my trembling as I apologized for getting lost and for not returning to find my way. I tell him what has happened, that precious time was wasted and had I found the trail I could not have made it to Amqui by nightfall. I tell him that I don’t want to sleep on the frozen ground anymore. Andre can see that I’m an emotional wreck. He repeatedly urges me to ride into Amqui with him. He stands and talks with me for a very long time as the traffic rushes by, not wanting to leave me on the busy road. I tell him that I must walk to Amqui and that I will be all right. He reluctantly bids me farewell, turning many times as he returns to his car. I stand, as if frozen in my tracks, as he pulls onto the road and is quickly gone.
It seems such a great distance to Amqui. When roadwalking and when it is possible to see for miles ahead, time passes so slowly. Dusk is approaching as I arrive at the city to head for the Ambassador Motel on the far side of town. As I near the motel entrance a vehicle approaches from behind and I hear someone call my name. “Eb!…Eb!” I turn and there is Helene. She says, “I have been looking and looking for you. You will come back with me to Causapscal and stay with us again tonight. Wait here while I call to tell Andre I have found you!”
As Helene disappears into the motel to call Andre I try to piece this puzzle together. I know that Andre became very concerned after finding me wandering along the road this afternoon. He could see immediately that I was distraught and very fatigued. He must have gone to where Helene works as soon as he reached Amqui. She also apparently became very concerned and set our right after work to find me. It was obvious that she was very happy and relieved when she did. On the ride back to Causapscal, and as we both are able to calm down and relax a little I made Helene promise to let me take them all out for pizza tonight! As we pull into the driveway, Andre pulls in right behind. He greets me with relief and enthusiasm as he tells me he’ll be hiking out with me in the morning. Once inside and as soon as I’ve dropped my pack I head straight for the hot tub again. Helene has a short meeting to attend before dinner, so Chris entertains me with some of his music videos followed by a show, which involves many “Barney Oldfield” contraptions he has built for his hamster. Andre watches with beaming pride and we all have a happy time…including the hamster!
Helene soon returns from her meeting and we’re off for a great pizza and a grand evening. On the way home I have Andre stop at the market while I run in for some ice cream, peanuts and chocolate for sundaes later! Back at the Fournier home, Andre and I settle in to discuss plans for tomorrow. He will hike with me to Lac Matapedia where Helene will pick him up later in the morning. He wants to be back at school for the afternoon Halloween program his students have planned for him. Andre explains that two of his friends and fellow SIA/IAT trail builders are also interested in hiking with me tomorrow…for the full day. Without elaborating, Andre assures me they’ll be able to keep the pace for the distance. I say, as I try to hike my reluctance, “ Let’s do it…I can sure use the company.” Andre calls them immediately and it’s all set. He also calls Mona Doucet. Mona is coordinating my pick-up at Matane River Bridge tomorrow evening and those plans are also firmed up.
It’s great to be warm enough to enjoy an ice cream sundae! And that we all do just before trundling off to bed! What an incredible event-filled day. It’s great to be with these wonderful, caring friends and to spend another night in their warm, comfortable home!
It seems God always finds a way,
To find a way for me.
His guidance comes thru steadfast love,
‘Tis there for me to see.
And as I stumble o’er the path,
I need to keep in mind.
That He has cleared a way for me,
…That faith will help me find.
Friday—October 30, 1998
Location—The De Champlain home, Matane, PQ Canada
Today will be a long hiking day, near 26 miles. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make the distance and arrive at the Matane River Bridge before dark. The plan is to get out early and be on the trail by 6:30 a.m., so I’m up at a little after five. I can already hear Andre downstairs. I dress quickly and get my pack ready to go. Andre has breakfast prepared, along with plenty of hot coffee. No time is wasted this morning. Helene bids us farewell and we are loaded up and on our way. On the drive to Amqui, Andre is bubbling with energy and the air in the little truck cab is charged with excitement. Today will certainly be an exciting day, but as we roll along and at the first light of day I begin thinking back over the almost countless dawns of this year…for now with sadness I realize that this day will be a bitter-sweet day for me. This will be my last hiking day in Canada, perhaps forever, for today I turn 60 years old. I will not miss the loneliness and the cold that has accompanied me the last part of this trail, but I will miss this vast, rugged and beautiful land, and I will dearly miss all the gracious and kind Canadian people that have befriended me.
Two hundred and eighty-seven days to shoulder my pack, to trudge through swamps and climb over mountains is a very long time. Four thousand, two hundred continuous miles is an incredible distance. Even though I’ve done it, as I say the words under my breath, I can’t comprehend it. I have always had a feeling deep down—from the very first day—that the Lord would protect me, that he would provide safe passage. In my mind’s eye I could see all the places ahead, the boundless horizons, the countless miles. I somehow prepared for all of that. I prepared for the going of it. But, somehow I never prepared for the finish of it and today is the day for the finish of it. But, I must not think about that any more. Andre and I will hike together today. I will make new friends and delight in their company and I will savor every minute of this last day north.
Andre pulls into a grassy parking area on a side street near the trail north of Amqui. Our two hiking companions are already here waiting. As I step from the cab I must brace against the wind. We are in for what is shaping to be a long, cold, rainy day. Oh, but I must catch some of this enthusiasm that is all around me! For there is much excitement as Andre introduces me to his good friends Diane Bouchard and Andre BeRuBe. Andre must interpret for me as I speak no French and they no English. But I know that we will do just fine because we are all mountaineers, woodsmen of the highest order if you will. The mountains are within us and we know and understand that language and today that common joy and contentment will suffice.
We shoulder our packs and are on the trail shortly after daybreak. We cross the road I hiked to Amqui during the waning hours of yesterday as the trail leads out on a woodsroad and along a ridge above open fields. The wind is harsh and cutting but we all push into it with great determination. About an hour into the hike it becomes apparent that my three hiking companions are all well conditioned athletes. The wind is not all that is brisk as we move along at a pace in excess of three miles per hour. I must dig my trekking poles in and lengthen my stride to stay abreast. The trail this morning follows near the shore of Lac Matapedia with many fine views, first to the north and later to the west as we pass.
We pause at one especially picturesque vantage to rest. Andre has been telling me about his responsibilities with the SIA/IAT and the enjoyment he has had building the trail here near his home. Diane and Andre BeRuBe are just two of the many volunteers working along with him. As we shoulder our packs and head back on the trail, Diane and her friend take off like greyhounds chasing thumper.
I guess we all suffer occasionally from that familiar malady known as foot-in-mouth disease! Well, I really stuck mine in it last night. When Andre mentioned that two of his friends would like to hike to the Matane River with me I commented that it would be a long distance and a long day and that I didn’t want to be held back. Andre’s only comment was that they would maintain the pace and do the distance just fine. Now I know why! Last season Dianne Bouchard was ranked first in women’s competitive cross-country skiing for all of Quebec Province and Andre BeRuBe third in men’s; and I was worried about these folks keeping up with me? Oh boy!
It seems the morning has gone so fast, for soon we reach the rendezvous point where Helene awaits for Andre. There is a picnic area and beach here on Lac Matapedia and we linger, not wanting to say goodbye. How do you keep sadness from the day when you must bid farewell to dear friends…friends you may never see again? This day is going to run the gamut of emotions, I can tell. This birthday I’ll remember forever!
Diane, Andre and I hasten along. Their pace is smooth and rhythmic, never slowing, never varying. Great athletes always make their sport look so effortless, so easy. They truly know how to play the game. By mid-afternoon I am confident that the Matane River is within striking distance and that we will arrive there by dark. So now it finally, really hits me. I finally realize that in a little over two hours, after near countless days and thousands of hours, the Odyssey of ‘98 will be all but over. I plan to do the 175-mile roadwalk from the Miccosukee Indian Reservation in the Florida Everglades, down to Keys West but I doubt if I will feel the swell of emotions that are rising within me now. I am thinking of these beautiful people that are with me today. I know this is Andre’s design because of his concern for me. He wanted someone with me today to see me through. Andre interpreted for them earlier as they told how proud they were to be hiking with me. The feeling is deeply humbling. Surely they know how proud I am to be in their company.
I think of the remarkable places I’ve been, all the glorious and boundless treasures nature has revealed to me; the kindness, generosity, friendship and love of so many wonderful people I have met…and in tears of sadness and of joy, bade farewell. Now in tears of joy and gladness, I remember. I become overwhelmed with emotion. I am trembling. I cannot stand. As I clutch my hiking poles I sink to my knees. I am consumed by this whole incredible mystery. So many folks have asked me, “Why?” I have tried to answer, but I could not, for the answer is part of this whole mystery that is now here deep within me; a part of my very soul. But I do know this. In two more hours there will be a miracle in this old man’s life—and that miracle will be the “Odyssey of ‘98!” I sob openly in the presence of my new friends. My tears cascade and disappear in the wet soil beneath my knees. But they are not embarrassed and I am not ashamed. I raise my eyes and smile a smile of great peace and joy. It is a moment for all of us to smile. Finally, I pull myself up, dig in my sticks and we move on to the Matane River.
Intermittent wind-driven drizzle is the worst we’ve had to deal with today and even this relents as we turn sharply southeast. After fording a brook and ascending the ridge we can hear the traffic on PQ175. In a few moments we also hear voices and just as dusk descends we are greeted by the excited contingent of folks who have come from Matane. They cheer us along as we hike the remaining mile to the Matane River. As we cross the bridge I break from the group for a few moments to go to where Bruno and Carole had dropped me off two weeks before. Here I take my last remaining steps on this incredible International Appalachian Trail. I lean and rest my arms on the old rail fence and cradle my head as I bow to give thanks. The miracle has happened. I’ve done it; 287 days, 4,227 miles. It truly is a miracle! An old man, on his 60th birthday, standing with his head bowed in humbleness and humility . . .thank you Lord for bringing me into your grace and for keeping me safe in your care all these days, all these miles. And thank you for these 60 years!
As I return to the group Lulu Bourassa has her tripod set up, camera mounted. Everybody has to have their picture taken with me. We start with the whole bunch. Andre and Dianne, and from Matane; Eric Chouinard, Jean-Claude Bouchard, Eddy Pellerin, Georges Fraser, Jean-Pierre Harrison and Nelson St. Pierre. It seems as we pose, that these folks are more excited about me finishing than am I! All of this fuss and attention is so bewildering. It is such a grand and happy time. We all then load in a large passenger van and amid the din and chatter we head for Saint-Vianney where a friend is waiting for Diane and Andre. I try to spend a few more minutes with these great athletes but there is too much confusion. Thank you Diane and Andre for taking this day to be with me. Your company has inspired me and has made this day most memorable! As I bid these friends farewell we turn and head for Matane where I have been invited to be the guest of Viateur and Jocelyne De Champlain. Viateur is the Director of Administrative Services at CEGEP De Matane (equivalent to our community college) and is also the SIA/IAT chapter president for Quebec Province. We stop first at Jean-Pierre Harrison’s home for some refreshments and a little celebrating. Jean-Pierre, thanks for inviting me to your beautiful home (the hot tub was great)! Eric, trail name Grand Manie-Tout then whisks me away to the De Champlain home.
I am greeted enthusiastically by both Viateur and Jocelyne. I am able to relax and have a most pleasant evening dining and enjoying the company of these very kind people. The De Champlain home is a grand two-story affair with a striking spiral staircase in the center. I have the whole first floor to myself where Viateur has a wonderful warming fire going in the wood-burning stove. After this very enjoyable evening with Viateur and Jocelyne I retire to my room to rest and reflect on this miraculous day. As I drift off to the most contented sleep I keep softly repeating, for I cannot convince myself, “Nomad you did it, Nomad you did it, Nomad you…ZZZZZ”
BALLAD OF THE IAT
The Appalachian Mountains,
Don’t end in northern Maine.
For as you tack a northeast course,
They re-emerge again.
They climb to stand triumphant,
Through New Brunswick and Quebec.
And o’er them wends the IAT,
A dreamer’s perfect trek.
No mountains stand the likes of these,
Down in the forty-eight.
A wild, yet stately majesty
You’ll find they radiate.
Here rugged mountain men do speak,
Strange words in softest tones.
While in them born a hard, tough style,
No meanness in their bones.
Bring me a man who makes friends fast,
And I will bet you this:
Give me a day in Canada,
‘N I’ll have a longer list!
Down in the states’ vast wilderness,
You thought you’d seen it all.
In Canada…it doesn’t end,
‘Til past horizon’s wall.
You’ve hiked past ponds and lakes and brooks,
Fell captive to their spell.
But here, somehow, your heart turns warm,
In their forbidding chill.
Up through the Whites and Presidents,
You touched the alpine zone.
But in the Chic Chocs,
You’re above the trees for miles…alone.
On earth we search for perfect peace,
It is our lifelong quest.
Up here you’ll feel God’s presence ‘round,
And in you as you rest.
For God’s hands hold these mountains up,
His tabernacles high.
You’ll never feel more close to him,
Until you cross the sky.
So, come see the rivers Restigouche,
The lovely Madeleine,
The Tobique and the Upsalquitch,
And all’em in-between.
They’ll fill your heart with playful glee,
They’re happy songs you’ll hear.
Come seek their gladness in the fall,
That magic time of year.
You’ve seen the bear, the moose, the deer;
And if that pleases you.
Come climb Mont Albert’s tundra high,
And see the Caribou.
For here you’re nearing Santa’s land
With reindeer roaming free.
You’ll hike a wonderland of snow,
A Christmas fantasy.
And, If scaling mountains to the blue,
You’d rate a perfect day.
Then come traverse the Chic Choc Range,
And climb Jacques Cartier.
You’ll stand spellbound while ‘round you’ll see,
Mont Albert’s skyland tundra.
And to the north, clear to the sea,
More of God’s boundless wonder.
Katahdin is the grand finale,
On the old AT.
But you’ve not seen the final act,
Until you’re at the sea.
For at the cliffs of Cap Gaspe,
The Appalachians end.
And here you’ve scaled the final mount,
Passed round the final bend.
And so, your trek’s not over,
You’ll need to follow me.
And hike these northern, far-off lands,
…Along the IAT.