ECT Day 123 – Cold Rain For Days
Saint-Quentin to Robinson Brook
Never Standing Again Camp to Frigid Flood Camp
ECT miles: 21.96
Total miles: 2459.5
Elevation change: 1063ft gain, 978ft loss
Hiking in cold rain isn’t always a bad thing, just most of the time. And it was especially harsh today after spending a cozy two nights dry, warm, and bundled in blankets. Even just leaving the motel room took a major force of willpower this morning. However, with a tightening schedule, SpiceRack and I didn’t have much choice. We’d clawed, scratched, stumped, and shortcut our way back on track, and there was no way that we were going to relinquish our tentative hold without a fight. One can’t wait for the best weather on a thru-hike. That’s Thru-hiking 101, and that truth is actually one of my favorite parts of this whole long-distance hiking thing. How many unique and drop-dead gorgeous sights have I witnessed in less-than ideal conditions because of the urging miles, miles, miles? How much have I learned about myself and my limits by hiking out in the rain instead of hunkering in front of the TV with cold booch and hot burrito? So yeah, this was one of those days. Great, miserable, and better in hindsight.
Pulling back the drapes in the morning, I wasn’t surprised to see that it was cold and rainy. How cold? I couldn’t be sure without going outside, obviously, but I had no intention of doing that until I absolutely had to. It looked cold, that much I knew. Neither Spice nor I could resist saying that we wished we were taking another zero day. We’d tried to outlast the rainy weather, but we’d fallen short by a day at least, and hopefully no more than that.
I didn’t feel great. Knowing myself, it was probably dehydration, a chronic town affliction of mine. Nice try body. Better figure it out, we’re hiking whether you feel good or not. Spice and I stuffed our faces with the remaining town food, bagels with guac, and cereal for days. That didn’t help me feel any better, but it had to be done. With an entire zero day to spread our knickknacks to the far-flung corners of our kingdom, wrangling all our stuff and packing up carried us all the way to our 11am checkout time. Finally, there was nothing else to do. Time to get wet.
The rain with mid-40°F temperatures were no fun, but it was the wind that really killed us. We walked down the slight hill into Saint-Quentin for the final time, totally exposed to a fresh blast from the north. There was nowhere to hide on the empty streets, and so we zipped our hoods tight and hiked as fast as our legs could carry us. I was pleased to see and feel that our time spent on the bed had been productive after all. Spice was walking normally again with no blister pain at all. Actually, walking is an understatement. She was flying, and I churned my short little legs as fast as I could to keep up. I was grateful for the warmth that this faster pace generated. On our slower days, staying warm would have been a challenge in these conditions.
We took a hard right out of town, and were soon back on the official IAT where it turned onto a gravel ATV track. Classic IAT. The path was lined with trees, and so the worst of the wind was neutralized. The rain died down a little too, so things were looking up for us. I shook the water droplets from my beard, and even smiled a little bit. When the trail squiggled drunkenly in linked S’s, we wordlessly followed the regular road straight through the middle of them all, wondering if anyone ever stayed on the red-route through this section. Then we remembered that roughly zero people hike the IAT in New Brunswick. This more direct line shaved off four totally unnecessary miles, which made our decision to do so, so obvious that it was nearly an insult to our intelligence. In fairness to the trail builders, however, our route was never intended to be a hiking path, and the extra distance was nothing to someone on an ATV. The pavement was a little more exposed to the wind as it cut through open pastures, but our light-speed progress was addictive.
As we approached Kedgwick, we noticed a cultural shift. The mysterious red, white, and blue flags with a gold star started to thicken, and an interpretation of that painted on the utility poles. What those colors represented was still a Google search away, so we tossed around some good ol’ uninformed speculation. It has to be French-something. We are kinda close to Quebec, I guess. Some hateful signs about the Canadian prime minister tainted the friendly small-town vibe with a dose of childish name-calling, but it also reminded us that Canada isn’t just our happy-go-lucky neighbor to the north with free healthcare. Humans everywhere are human, for better or worse.
Besides the curious flags, another great sources of intrigue was the strange, two-entrance architectural blueprint shared by most of the homes. Stranger still, the obvious front door usually didn’t have any stairs linking it with the ground. A door for those on horseback? Snowmobile? Most flummoxing of all was the posters of a baby-faced youth, “Bonne Chance Olivier!” Was this kid running for mayor or senior-class president? I honestly couldn’t guess. Regardless, this dude clearly had it in the bag. Kedgwick loved Olivier, judging by the sheer quantity of benevolent faces following our progress from windows and bulletin boards.
After a continuous and quick 13 miles, Spice and I were in need of a break. My hands were almost numb, and my energy was flagging. We resupplied for the next 60 miles at the large grocery store, then huddled on the covered benches out front. Before long, however, it became apparent that this break was going to do more harm than good. It was just too cold to sit outside, no matter how many pitas with pesto we ate. We targeted the motel and restaurant O’Régal, a mile ahead for our desperately needed recharge.
We started with coffee to drown the logy and banish the chill, and it wasn’t hard to convince us to order the soup of the day as well. Tomato and rice, it hit the spot. We rested, we warmed. Then, in the blink of an eye, the restaurant went from empty to stuffed. We took that as our cue to get moving, and so, a little after 6pm, Spice and I found ourselves back in the rain, crunching north on gravel tread.
I felt revived and toasty hiking in my puffy jacket, but the day’s dehydration soon sapped the dregs of my energy as we churned out the endless miles. Macklemore pumping from Gronk was eventually the only thing keeping me going as we splashed through puddles in the fading daylight. Then finally, it was 9pm, a reasonable time to camp. Although the land adjacent to the trail was perfectly flat, it was also flooded. That was a bummer, but as always, the trail provides. Within a mile and a half, we found the perfect spot nestled next to a stand of spruce. It was damp, but so were we, and some hot ramen went a long way toward making it feel like home. It might not have been as comfortable as our room in Saint-Quentin, but it was arguably more cozy. The sound of rain masterfully soothed my exhausted brain, and I snuggled close to Spice, grateful for her warmth and strength, grateful to be at the end of a difficult day, grateful that we were feeling strong again. Sunshine. Now sunshine was all I needed, and I hoped that I would at least find its warmth in my dreams.
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