ECT Day 132 – High Effort, Low Miles, More People
Mont William-Price to Lac Matane
Tartar Moose Sunshow Camp to A Moment Is All We Are Camp
ECT miles: 13.5
Total miles: 2625.6
Elevation change: 5180ft gain, 5331ft loss
Until today, SpiceRack and I had encountered precisely zero other hikers north of Baxter State Park. Not that we expected to see any, especially in Maine and New Brunswick, sections of the ECT that hold little appeal to anyone not going for the whole enchilada, but three full weeks was easily a new record for us, and I was all the more grateful to be in SpiceRack’s company. Often times we wondered why we were out there, so there was no reason to expect that we’d run into a similarly crazed individual or group. However, now that we were in Quebec, on the infinitely more popular portion of the IAT, the GR A1, Spice and I began to wonder when we would finally meet another hiker and who they would be. Well, we met a few today, and while they weren’t the new best friends that we had fantasized about, it was reaffirming to chat with some other people who had chosen to live out of their backpacks. We might have been crazy for walking from Katahdin to Quebec, but we weren’t crazy anymore. No, now what we were doing was totally normal and acceptable. Working our butts off to climb up and down mountains all day, what’s weird about that?
The alarm buzzed at 6am, and I snoozed it at 6am. I’d slept great, but Spice, not so much. Our tent, even though it was pitched tight as a drum, vibrated intermittently in the free-blowing wind all night long, breaking up her rest into an unsatisfactory pile of pieces rather than a solid, rejuvenating block. However, at this northern latitude in the height of summer, there was no denying the day. The sun was already hanging high in the sky, seemingly badgering us to get moving. C’mon, c’mon, let’s go. The day’s a-wasting. I was starting to worry about my dwindling food supply, so I poured myself a few meager handfuls of granola and got to it. We were packed and hiking by 7:30am.
We tumbled down the northern slope of Mont William-Price through a soaking carwash of jungle ferns. The cool water in my shoes wasn’t even a bother in the warmth of such a brilliant day, and I hiked quite happily all the way to the Lac-Tombereau shelter, appreciating the glorious weather all the more for all the rain that fell yesterday. We met Roger at the shelter, our first IAT hiker encountered, having a leisurely morning. He was an old-timer, out to do things right, hopping the short distances between shelters one per day. He had a fire going and said that he probably wasn’t going to start hiking until noon, which struck me as an excellent way to hike. Even though we had never met before and weren’t likely to see him again, there was enough in common to share a moment of natural conversation, free from pretense or awkwardness. The wilderness removes those barriers.
After eating some peach gummies, we said goodbye and left Roger to his fire, following the trail down to a creek spanned by a bridge built of scaffolding. It was sturdy and got the job done, not to mention that it was probably being cheaper and easier to build than something more permanent. I was impressed by this Canadian ingenuity. On the far side, I led the way uphill along Ruisseau de l’Ouest past an ascending stack of tiny cascades. A single huge waterfall gushed and sprayed, but neither of us was in a waterfall mood, so we stayed just long enough to catch our breath. I pushed hard for the next few minutes when the steep trail became an astonishingly steep trail, trying to match the intensity of my hard pushes on the AT. Once I realized that I was hardly moving any faster, I backed off, a little disheartened and humbled.
An equally steep down followed the up, and my belly began to rumble. This rationing was either stupid or necessary, but I was committed, cutting one whole bar from my morning snack stash, going hungry today so that I might not go very hungry in two. And so when we crossed a different river and happened upon a dirt road prime for resting, I didn’t need to be convinced that it was time for lunch. My body knew that much, and I gratefully unfurled my pad next to Spice’s in the dappled shade of a single row of trees.
We ate a ton of oatmeal and a bunch of other things. By the time I pushed away my food bag for the last time, I had probably consumed more food in a frenzy of hunger than I saved with my rationing strategy. The system wasn’t perfect, that was for sure, but at least the seat was comfy. The gravel berm along the road combined with our pads to make the perfect recliners, and I lounged, content in every way.
The trail was surprisingly smooth beyond the road, and the two of us hiked separately, lost in our own worlds of motion and contemplation. We followed the flat ridge on a winding path through sunny fields of ferns and white flowers. There were even some views over the tops of young trees. Forested mountains rolled to the horizon, and I wondered which ones we would have the pleasure of meeting. That big one ahead? Almost definitely. When Spice and I reconvened after a few miles, we were both singing the trail’s praises. That section had been down right magical. While not one element was a standout, all of it combined to create a stupendous soup of good vibes.
An extended descent of the steep stuff more than made up for all the flat walking as we dropped down to the magnificent Lac Matane. A few cabins lined up near the large dam, but they had nothing for us. I focused on the green lawn ahead instead, hoping to find a trashcan and a privy. As we approached, two hikers got up from the grass and came over to greet us. They were arguably more excited to meet us than we were to see them, but that is neither here nor there. Both were hiking sections of the GR A1 solo and had found each other after being turned back by the next climb north. Despite the setback, they were in high spirits while regrouping for another attempt in the morning. That didn’t bode well for Spice and me, but their enthusiasm was infectious and we exchanged notes excitedly. I must admit that I enjoyed the ego lift when they expressed awe at our pace so far and my February start date down in Georgia. Seeing it their way, Yeah, wow. February was a long time ago. Have I really just been walking that entire time?
I dumped my trash and made use of the privy, then joined Spice to walk across the dam on the wide gravel road. The scene reminded me of similar moments during our hike on the Haute Route in the Alps, and that was a good sign. I find it really cool how steeply the mountains rise from an artificial lake, perhaps precisely because it looks intuitively unnatural. The long lake extended far into the distance, hemmed in by peaks of lush forest on all sides. It brought me peace to see such a large body of calm water.
Unfortunately, that peace didn’t last for too long. When the trail turned off the road, we spotted the chest where the trail association delivers the resupply boxes of hikers who want to stay on trail rather than find their way into town. With the remoteness of this portion of the IAT, this is an awesome service that enables hikers to greatly reduce their food weight. Even though Spice and I hadn’t arranged for a box at this location, we opened the lid to check it out. We saw a big box with Roger’s name on it and, what? Hey, those are our boxes. Uh oh. It was a good thing that we did take a look, because sure enough, our resupply boxes were sitting in front of us, not where we thought they’d be at all. It was a day and a half too soon. What to do? Neither of us wanted to schlep that food over the next section of mountains, but could we risk leaving it here? Hopefully, we could arrange for our food to be moved to the proper location in time for our arrival, but at worst, if we left it here, we could hitchhike back to collect it.
After some hemming and hawing, during which the mosquitoes got the best of our ankles, we decided to leave the boxes and hike on. A little further up the trail, I got a sip of cell service and made the call to Samuel. It was after-hours, so we left a message explaining the situation and our proposed solution. Just a few minutes later, a text confirmed that everything would be put right. Our boxes would be moved up the trail to the next food cache. Awesome, not screwed. Thanks, Samuel!
That quick fix obliterated my stress and lifted our mood for the rest of the evening. Now that the issue was resolved, it left me feeling deliciously excited and alive. Isn’t this fun, wooooooo. And the trail helped us keep a good thing going, even though it was pretty much all uphill until camp. It wriggled up the spine of a ridge, cutting a green hallway through dense growth that seemed to be one continuous bush. It was a fun ride as we climbed into the clear sky, with views expanding all around us.
By the time we topped out, it was the evening light beaming from the dipping sun that stole the show. Dramatic stripes of warm light streaked through the trees across a waving sea of ferns. There was no better place to be in that moment, and after a day spent mostly apart, Spice and I came together to recap and reminisce for the final muddy splash to camp.
Just like last night, we happened upon an old logging road at the perfect time. There was no water, but plenty of flat space, so I pitched the tent while Spice backtracked to fill up our bottles. Unlike last night, the air was clear and calm, and maybe even a little bit chilly. It was setting up to be a perfect night. Instead of an explosion of pink burning in the sky, this time the trees flamed dusty orange as our hemisphere turned away from the sun. It was a final colorful splash to cap a tough, but satisfying day. Looking at tomorrow, the stats were pretty much exactly the same, which was alright with us. High effort, yes, but the low miles kept things casual. Hopefully I could afford to eat more, but that thought disappeared as we tucked into a pot of couscous. Peanut butter and cookies capped the meal, followed closely by a nightcap of contented sleep.
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