ECT Day 129 – Sandwich Powa

Riviere Matapédia to Amqui
Skinny-dip Canada Day Camp to Better Than Subway Camp
ECT miles: 16.11
Total miles: 2575.5
Elevation change: 518ft gain, 459ft loss

As SpiceRack and I reaped the benefits of our strategic decision to shorten our route by 20 miles, I found myself wading through an existential quagmire of questions, doubts, and half-answers. The pleasant road walking and chill-out time in our hotel room made me feel guilty, I suppose. Of course, the whole purpose of the shortcut was to save ourselves from the stress of impossible mileage goals and to buy us some relaxation time, but this was new territory for me. I struggled to reconcile with the compromise, as it inevitably churned up a myriad of deeply philosophical question. What is the purpose of a thru-hike? Is that linked to the route itself, or something less tangible? What is the point of hiking this trail? How much of that is about the physical challenge versus experiencing the land, cultures, places, and companionship? Are we compromising too much, or the perfect amount? Will I care tomorrow, will I care in a week? So yeah, it was a confusing day, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the heck out of it. There was a lot to be grateful for: great weather, smooth walking, engaging company, a gorgeous sunset, a comfy bed, and epic sandwiches.

I wasn’t surprised to awaken refreshed after getting an early night next to the peaceful Riviére Matapédia. Even though the sky was bright, it was still early and Spice was still sleeping, so I snoozed. And why not? We had an easy day ahead  and plenty of time to reach our goal. That said, we were still up and hiking at the reasonable hour of 8am, after an unreasonable breakfast of cookies, granola, and a little bit of everything else. I washed it down with some heavy gulps of water, expecting heat on the 12-mile road walk into Amqui.

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A pretty nice roadwalk, all things considered.

However, it wasn’t hot yet. The first few miles were as pleasant as highway walking can be. The traffic was still quiet as the local population recovered from yesterday’s festivities, and a consistent breeze cooled my face, bringing with it the earthy, dry aroma of summer. Spice and I hiked together until I stopped to pee, then I followed her lead, thinking about nothing in particular. Not to say that I was bored. I have found that walking, and especially road walking, is a form of moving meditation for me. Thoughts come, and thoughts go. Memories rise from mental purgatory, neither forgotten nor remembered, to become renewed in the sunlight of passing recognition before fading again into the endless depths of the psyche. Most of the time, I barely notice this ecosystem of my mind, but sometimes the memories leave me with something.

Today, I was given a riddle. As I chased Spice around Lac au Saumon, I felt the glow of nostalgia calling me back to summers long past. This feels familiar, but why? Was it the smell of the water or the warmth that wafted on the wind? There was some deeply embedded hook in my subconscious that responded to this environment like it was tied to a kite that danced above me on a rising thermal, connecting the past to the present. A hypnotist might have unearthed a specific memory, but instead the feeling passed unexplained, leaving behind a tickle in my nose and a smile on my face.

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The not-so-famous, official Amqui welcome sign. Amazing how far we still needed to walk to make it into town.

With the heat rising, Spice and I stopped for a shady lawn break to filter water and eat some snacks. From there, the innocent morning was officially over as the traffic thickened consistently for the final four miles into Amqui. The outskirts of town were not built for pedestrians and so our journey became fraught with busy holiday traffic and parking lots. We walked on in silence as loud cars and louder motorcycles exchanged barks and growls like a mannerless pack of toothless wolves. All bark, no bite, all annoying. Why do humans have to be so loud?

As we navigated through the parked cars outside of the Metro supermarket, a mountain of a man preparing to mount one of these motorcycles commanded us to wait while he dug through a backpack filled with raw steaks. He explained in broken english that he had seen the two of us walking along the highway and handed us a few packets from his fresh box of electrolytes. The gesture was touching, and I walked away relieved to be alive. Eh, motorcycle people ain’t that bad. An hour later, Spice and I sat on a curb outside the well-stocked store, trading pints of mixed bean salad and vegan ice cream. This was living. When we finished, we loaded our packs with our heavy resupply, and returned to the hot streets of Amqui to find our way to the motel. Fresh produce dangled from Spice’s pack and I carried four small baguettes in my arms.

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So much food that it doesn’t even fit in our packs. What have we done?

The motel was more of a hotel, fancy and expensive, but it was the only one in town so we swallowed our reservations and reserved a night. Showers came next, followed by the.freaking.dankest.sandwiches ever. We layered all the veggies with vegan mayo, cheese, and cold cuts, putting every other sandwich in history to shame. In the aftermath, I kept our momentum going by starting a load of laundry. Meanwhile, we lay in bed, grateful for the air conditioning and the mindless entertainment of North Woods Law.

As tempting as it was to hunker inside until checkout tomorrow morning, that risked squandering the entire advantage that our reroute had earned us. Instead, with some difficulty, we pulled on our fresh clothes to hike a few more miles. The evening air was tremendously cooler than the midday heat as we made our way through a city park and across the river on a covered bridge. Then, on a corner curb in a quiet neighborhood, we stuck out our thumbs to catch a ride to the end of the road. Traffic was light, but we only needed one.

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Why cover a bridge?

A local named Emily soon picked us up in her purple minivan. Although we shared just a minimal understanding of one another’s language, it was clear that she was a super person, and we did what we could to explain our strange journey. We struggle to make the complexities of our flip-floppy thru-hike clear to even masters of the english language, so who knows what the French speaker thought we were up to. Still, a hearty merci and bon voyage helped our gratitude transcend the language barrier as we unloaded in a cul de sac on the shore of Lac Matapédia. At just four miles north of Amqui, we were a few short of where we’d hoped to reach by car, but we didn’t let that bother us. This was bonus mile territory. Every step from here was making tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow easier.

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The best evening walk to help us digest the best sandwiches.

The evening stroll back into town was even more pleasant than the morning’s walk. With the lake and a few homes on our right, and picturesque farms to our left, the scene was gloriously bucolic. The setting sun reflected golden light off the smooth water and stretched long shadows from our feet. With just one nearly empty pack between the both of us and a mighty urge to poop, we were light on our feet and made great time back across the bridge, through the park, and back to the hotel.

Inside for good this time, it was bowls of cereal and more TV in bed. However, the trail eventually crept back into mind, and we took a look at the days ahead, forming a plan that we agreed looked agreeable. Time would tell, but each of us was feeling better about our chances on the GR A1 after the abundant food and rest. And we weren’t done either. For our final act, we revisited sandwich heaven, letting these exact replicas knock us into a food coma that would carry us into tomorrow.

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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