ECT Day 125 – Salt Water

Upsalquitch River to Tide Head
Lake River Camp to Two Faucet Camp
ECT miles: 13.11
Total miles: 2498.7
Elevation change: 315ft gain, 269ft loss

For all intents and purposes, today SpiceRack and I finished the New Brunswick portion of the IAT. When we caught a ride into Cambellton, a port town located at the brackish intersection of river and bay, we had just seven miles to go before reaching Quebec, the longest, and allegedly the most challenging and spectacular section of the IAT. We view these remnants as a victory lap, which allowed us to celebrate ourselves a little bit even though we hadn’t quite reached the finish line. New Brunswick may have been the flattest 175 miles of all time, but they were anything but easy.  In fact, the flatness both belies and creates the true challenge. Weather aside, neither of us expected to hurt as much as we did. Blisters were inevitable for Spice as she continued her break-in, but they were more widespread and longer lasting than any we’d seen or experienced before. And she’s no stranger to bad blisters. On top of that, the smoothest of smooth terrain lay zero physical barriers in our path. The only limits on our daily mileage were born of our own bodies. Inevitably, we hiked until it hurt. We found our limits. While I like to think that I could have hiked 40+ miles per day if I had been hiking alone, the more likely truth is that Spice saved me from shredding myself into a broken mess during the attempt. So all this to say, I have gained respect and a healthy dose of fear for long road walks. New Brunswick may have been ‘easy’, but I’m excited for the next phase.

Even though we were practically sleeping in the road, I slept great. One truck passed by early in the morning, but otherwise it was a totally quiet camp.  The mellow river wrapped us up in its peaceful flow, allowing us to rest when we needed it the most. We had a slow morning, just absolutely thrilled to see blue sky above and to feel the glow of the sun. Some fishermen drifted below us on the barely perceptible current, so we kept our voices hushed, not wanting to alert them to our presence for some reason.

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A surprisingly peaceful campsite despite being practically on a dirt road.

Finally, by 10am we were back on the same old ATV road, walking north. For the first time since Gas Station Camp, we hiked in our own shoes. Spice’s blisters were now less inflamed, and we wanted to gauge whether or not we needed to find her a new pair of shoes in town. With the hills of Quebec looming nearer, I needed to free my toes from the cramped quarters of Spice’s trail runners, so it was a question of how her feet would fare back in the old size 8.5. We had 13 miles to find out.

A little ways up the trail, we ran into a dude named Ted who had driven out to repair some damage that his company’s logging equipment had inflicted on the road. He was genuine guy who had a lot to say about the people in New Brunswick. We would have chatted for longer if it weren’t for the slowly accumulating cloud of noseeums that started chewing on our legs. Just a short distance further, Spice and I got to see the logging machine in action. A single tractor-thing did everything with terrifying efficiency. It cut the tree, de-branched it, and chopped it into uniform logs all with just flicks of the wrists and twiddles of the fingers. This thing was chewing through 10 trees per minute! We watched in awe. I was equally impressed and disturbed.

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This machine, crazy good at logging.

From there, Spice gave me the silent treatment until I sang a song, any song, while really trying my best. So we hiked in silence for a few miles until I finally worked up the courage to debut my shower voice to the forest. When the final notes faded, I felt exposed and relieved. Thank goodness I chose writing as my form of artistic expression.

A stretching break easily turned into a lunch break, then we continued along the gravel as it followed Christopher Brook through a collection of surprisingly steep hills. They were the kind that the AT would have gone straight up and over, dragging a gaggle of grumbling hikers in its wake, myself included. Instead, we walked with ease, my toes stretching wide and my mood soaring into the clear sky, unencumbered by the wet gloom of rainy weather or the stress of making it to Quebec in time. Somehow, someway, we had pulled it off. We’d hike across the border tomorrow, right on schedule.

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When I don’t mind that the miles feel longer than usual.

The last few miles to the water felt longer than usual, but they were unabashedly gorgeous. Everything was green, crazy green, popping and glowing under the bright sunshine. A few homes began to appear, as well as slight ATV traffic, but this actually improved my mood. I’m usually a curmudgeon when it comes to seeing humans, human infrastructure, and loud exhausts in nature, but I was feeling charitable today. Land this beautiful deserved to be enjoyed and appreciated. I was certainly doing my part.

We pulled over at McDavid’s store in Tide Head at 4pm. We weren’t positive that we were done hiking for the day, but that all depended on how our chores went in town. Could we get it all done in time to keep hiking? It didn’t really matter. We’d play it by ear. Worst case, we would get to shower and sleep in a bed.  Spice came out of the store with a cold oj for herself, and a flavorless popsicle for me. I didn’t hate it though. Even plain ice would have been a luxurious treat for me after hiking in the sun all day.

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Call it complete. Almost done with the NB IAT.

While I was inside peeing, Spice managed to hitch a ride for us on her first try. Pierre was a gracious ambassador to the area, and gave us a brief tour and history of Cambellton before dropping us off on main street in front of the Sports Experts. Inside, Spice picked up a new pair of poles to replace her broken set, and we tried on a few pairs of shoes. After hiking thousands of miles in Altra’s, the other brands all felt way too restrictive to us, so we crossed our fingers and hoped that Spice’s feet wouldn’t blow up again. With 400 miles to go, we would already be pushing our shoes to the limit. It was a risky move, but so was switching to an untested brand. At least our way cost us nothing, and we had faith that we’d figure it out, one way or the other.

We liked Cambellton enough that we decided to stay the night. It had a sea-town vibe and freshness. Big, vibrant, and edgy. There were real lives happening here, and it was rejuvenating to watch it swirl around us. A youth on a skateboard grated by. A young couple made jokes while carrying groceries. We’d seen such hustle and bustle in other towns, but for some reason I felt like there was more hope here. Maybe that was a reflection of my own transformation, or maybe it was a symptom of being perched on the edge of the sea. A sea that connected these people with the rest of the world. It would always be an open space, inviting reflection and inspiring imaginations, always blowing a fresh breeze.

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Learning from the locals.

We followed our phones to Maison McKenzie, an ancient house turned hostel in the heart of town. It reminded me of Elmer’s Sunnybank in all the way back in Hot Springs, NC. Spice had trouble opening the sticky front door, but once we were in, it was a welcoming home. We claimed the cheapest room in the place and deposited our stinky packs. Then, after washing our filthy socks in the sink and hanging them to dry in the last few hours of sunlight, we returned downtown to rustle up some grub.

We waited a while for dinner, but it was worth every minute. We utterly decimated a few pounds of vegan sushi so fast that I felt a little bit dizzy afterwards. Spice’s eyes glazed over, and we sat across from one another, finally letting it sink in that we had achieved something. Just what exactly was still pure speculation with the unknown of Quebec looming large ahead of us, but maybe we’d done the hardest part. Sushi is a food for special occasions, and so we treated it as such.

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An old house with a lot of charm, just like Cambellton.

After resupplying at the large IGA a block away, we returned to Maison McKenzie for a round of showers and relaxation. Squeaky clean and cozy, we curled up with Netflix and a pint of cookie dough. Shutter Island didn’t exactly calm my soul, but it was an adequate distraction from my tired feet and nervousness about Quebec. It was going to be hard, no doubt. It would certainly be gorgeous as well, and the French-Canadian culture was alluring in a way that New Brunswick could not match. I wished that I knew more French, but that’s what my smile was for. Bonjour, oui, merci. That should do it.

This post was originally published on my blog Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including the CDT and Sierra High Route.

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