ECT Day 141 – The Wisdom Of Crunchberry

Mont Louis to Ruisseau Blanc
Endless Sunset Camp to Lost And Found Camp
ECT miles: 15.9
Total miles: 2767.5
Elevation change: 3245ft gain, 2818ft loss

The weather was beautiful, the hiking smooth, and the scenery charming. Goodness, I wish that today were this simple. However, that was not the story of the day. Nope, in conjunction with the excellent walking, SpiceRack and I learned just how excruciatingly precise we need to be with our communication when we split ways, no matter how briefly. Not once, but twice we lost one another, and although we found each other again, that sickening question mark that settled in my gut when things didn’t go according to plan was a pretty nasty feeling. Filled with relief, we were able to use pb&j’s to put the first instance behind us, but that only made the second more destabilizing. One might think that it only takes one miscommunication to learn of the need to over-communicate, which was exactly what we thought too before it all went wrong again. Spoken language is a powerful, yet imprecise tool. After reuniting the second time, I hoped that I could take that to heart.

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I guess we need to finish all of this food before we can leave. #spicepic

The day began innocently enough. Spice was up early, around 6am, leaving me so that she could wander and soak in the town spirit, which she has found is less guarded before residents and passers-thru have gathered their wits with a second cup of coffee. I snoozed, then dug into a bowl of French Toast Crunch while watching beaver videos on Youtube. My evening fascination had not been misplaced. Beaver are incredible animals, almost unbelievably so. After that, it was business time. I backflushed our filter, and packed up my food bag, never far from a fresh bowl of cereal. When Spice returned, feeling and seeming much more alive than she had yesterday, we demolished the remnants of our town food, the veggies, baguette, and tub-o-hummus. Finally, at 11am, we could delay checkout no further and lugged our packs outside. Time to hike.

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How do I look so filthy after spending two nights in a motel? #spicepic

The hitching was slow, but it was hard to complain for the amazing weather. It was a perfect beach day. A deep blue sky hung aloft and a fresh breeze rippled my sleeves. After several minutes of rejection, I took the hint and hid behind the motel sign while Spice remained curbside with her thumb outstretched. That worked like a charm, and in no time we were zipping back around the base of Mont Saint-Pierre with a Mont Louis local. They dropped us off at the market with bare shelves. Badda-bing, badda-boom. Back on trail.

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What magic is this?

Soon we were on the far side of town after following the sidewalk along the beach, leaving it when a point of land jutted out to complete the tip of the crescent. There, we turned off the highway, leaving it to follow the coastline at sea-level as we joined a dirt road that carried us up a gradual incline parallel to the water. This might have been the old main road before the causeway’s construction and it suited our needs perfectly. It was all but deserted, so we hiked side by side without fear or bother. From the raised vantage point a couple hundred feet above the water, we couldn’t see or hear the traffic below us, but we could see and hear everything else, not that there was much. The breeze whispered through the treetops and our steps crunched on the gravel. I kept scanning the calmly rippled sea for signs of passing whales, but saw none. It was just us out here.

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A good place to ride out a storm.

Eventually there appeared a few homes to share in the wide vista. Their tall empty windows gazed from rims of colorful paint with disinterested indifference, blank and emotionless like the faces of those that were too cool for school. They’d seen much, so much that nothing could now surprise or impress them. Good for them, I thought, but I bet that they were prime for a storm watching party. Not today though, and for that I was grateful.

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Back on the highway.

A gradual downhill brought us back to the paved highway on the other side of the small lump of land. Unlike the other small bays of Saint-Pierre and Louis, there wasn’t a town here, just a collection of nice homes. That meant no unexpected snacks for us, but we’d come prepared. Near the outlet of Ruisseau Des Olives, we hopped down to the beach for a break, and spread our pads amongst twigs of driftwood on a bed of broken shale in the shade of a salty old tree. The flat, black stones were thin with rounded edges, perfect for skipping and perfectly adequate for sitting. Spice pulled out two pb&j’s from a bag smeared with peanut butter, and we cheers-ed them before taking that first satisfying bite. While we munched, I considered the urchin skeletons that had somehow survived intact the same forces that sanded the stones smooth. Also curious was the quiet. Not a squawking gull in sight. Where are all the birds?

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Back on the beach. Not a bird in sight.

After our lunch break, our route again left the road to hike up and over the next jut of land while the highway skirted around the edge. Sure, give cars the easy way. This climb was a more significant hump than the last, and I was quickly slowed and panting as we crunched through a tunnel of aspen. Lac de l’ansi Pleureus was already small below us by the time it came into view, lending legitimacy to my legs’ protests. And with just that unremarkable part to play in our story, the water disappeared behind some trees, never to be misspelled by me ever again.

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Bye, Spice. See you soon…

It was near the top of our unidentified summit that Spice and I decided to split for the first time since starting north together from Katahdin. The red route ducked off the dirt road to skirt around the edge of whatever prominence we were on top of, returning to this very same dirt road after a mile and a half. By sticking on the road, however, the distance to the same spot was only a quarter mile. Spice was taking the shortcut, and I kind of wanted to go the long way. What if there was a view? I had to know. With Spice’s encouragement, I turned left into the trees on a single track, expecting to see her again in about 40 minutes. In the back of my mind, I could hear our buddy Crunchberry warning that “bad things happen when you split up.” He was right, of course, as our record on the CDT had proven, but this was just a mile and a half. What could go wrong?

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Worth the extra mileage?

I boosted, giving everything that I had to give short of breaking into a run. If I thought that I was sweaty before, then I was absolutely drenched now as I sped through the dense jungle, the only breeze in the still air my own wake. My effort was rewarded with a couple views along the coastline to the west, but the true surprise was the mosquitoes that waited for me among the trees. Now, finding aspen so close to the sea yesterday was a pleasant shock, but even more unexpected were these dastardly bloodsuckers. They had no business being here, or so I thought. They seemed to be thriving, causing me to boost even faster. Eco-boooooost. Quebec was full of unfamiliar combinations of familiar things.

Pleased with my speed, I let out a few yips and yells as I approached the prearranged meeting place. No reply. Rounding a bend, I could see the junction, empty and dreary. Hmmmmmm. As I swiveled my head looking for Spice, I soon realized why she wasn’t there. The mosquitoes were dense and aggressive, biting freely and not easily discouraged. I turned my gaze to the ground and slowly walked up the trail. Sure enough, there were Spice’s unmistakable footprints squelched in the mud, purposefully placed where they would leave the best impression. Cool, she kept going. I still had plenty of pep in my step, so once again I boosted, this time in hot pursuit.

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Eco-boosting to find Spice.

The old road was shady and flat for a few miles, but I couldn’t catch Spice even at maximum speed. Every now and then, just as I was losing faith, I would spy another reassuring footprint that proved that we were both still on the same path, but that was all. Eventually, there was a sharp U-turn at another junction. The trail sign that pointed me left was high and to the right of the trail. After hiking thousands of miles with Spice, I grew immediately suspicious. This is exactly the kind of place where she would go the wrong way. I thought about waiting there for a little bit, but decided to keep going to the nearby shelter. If she wasn’t there, then I’d know what happened.

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No Spice at the shelter. Shoot. But there are worse places to hang around.

Sure enough, I found the shelter empty and let out a groan. Ugh, so she’s lost. What to do? I ambled over to a sunny bench overlooking the sea, sat down, and switched-off airplane mode on my phone. To save money, Spice and I had decided that we only needed to activate an international plan on one of our phones, but reception was good and incurring a small fee would be a small price to pay for finding one another again. I decided to wait at the shelter for an hour, and settled in to either receive a call or see her walking my way. I tried to relax, but didn’t do a very good job. At least it was sunny and warm. She has food, water, and strong legs, nothing to worry about.

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The band’s back together again. #spicepic

Mercifully, I only needed to wait twenty minutes before I heard Spice’s signature call in the distance. I yipped the appropriate reply and moved in her direction. The calls got closer and louder, finally leading to a firm embrace and wide smiles. Goodness, it was good to see her. We headed back to the sunny bench for a debrief over the next round of pb&j’s, and we each told our tales. Turns out, my intuition was pretty much spot on, and we both laughed about the perfect storm of bad mosquitoes and bad timing that created this mess. The obvious takeaway was to acknowledge the importance of contingency plans. If we had just decided to wait for one another at the shelter no matter what, then most of the stress could have been avoided entirely. Oh well, it all worked out and we’ll get it next time.

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Back together and feeling good about it.

Feeling good about life, we hiked close together in and out of the trees on an overgrown utility road. The walking was smooth and carefree once more and the occasional view ahead revealed an endless coast of cliffs and coves. On the outskirts of Gros-Morne, the road led us through a neighborhood that was full of bad vibes. Barking dogs, abandoned homes, and a tornado of dirt bikes made us feel exposed and unwelcome, but we made it through without drama, if a little bit confused. So far, all we had seen on the prime real estate of our coastal walk were expensive-looking, well-kept homes. What was different about Gros-Morne? A park next to the water in the center of town felt like a safe place to take a break, so we popped off our shoes and exchanged foot massages while eating vanilla taffy and considering answers to this question. Despite our misgivings about the town, it was time to fuel and limber up for the final push of the day.

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Finally some peace after the dirt bikes disappeared.

We were dogged by more dirt bikes as we churned out of town on a wide dirt road, again leaving the water to cut over the hills. They farted by, kicking up dust once, twice, but then were gone, leaving us in peace. As the sun sank low, getting ready for its watery splash, it was water that was on our minds. There was a perfect spot for camping amongst a field of flower-tufted grasses, but with just a few sips between the two of us, we couldn’t call it quits just yet. The backlit petals glowed welcomingly, but we left them behind, straining our ears for splashes or gurgles.

Over the crest of the hill, we found what we were seeking. We pushed deep into the face-high overgrowth and found a pooling stream of clear water. Awesome. Eager to get settled in camp, we agreed that Spice would filter water for the both of us, and I would look for camping while remaining within earshot. That sounded like a solid plan. What could go wrong?

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I crashed back through the bushes to the road and continued on my merry way, looking with discerning eyes for the barest hint of a flat spot. I struck out big time, and it took me a mile to find a small patch that might, maybe be okay, just as long as whoever owned the driveway didn’t need it for the next 12 hours. I dropped my pack to wait for Spice.

A minute later, a blue pickup truck bounced up to me. The driver rolled down the window, and with severely broken english informed me that Spice was very far back. The family seemed concerned, and I tried to ease their  fears. Yeah, yeah, that’s fine. She’s coming. Still I got the feeling that I should head back in her direction so I picked up my pack and started hiking back uphill, expecting to see Spice coming my way any minute.

But before I found her, the blue truck caught up with me after turning around. With an english speaking relative on the phone, we came to an understanding. Spice was waaaaay back, and actually hiking away from me. Huh? Confused and concerned, I accepted their assistance and hopped in the bed of the truck. Ten minutes later, I was properly bounced and shaken, but there was Spice. Sure enough, she was pretty much where I’d left her. I leapt from the truck, still confused, but happy to see her. Immediately, however, I could tell that I had screwed something up.

The families pleas for us to accept a ride into town so that we wouldn’t be eaten by bears was a funny distraction from the real issue at hand. They clearly cared and were afraid for us, but we successfully and politely declined any more assistance. I wasn’t worried about bears. I was worried about the next ten minutes, and genuinely confused. What did I do? The family finally left us, their taillights disappearing around the bend. It was just us on a hilltop, under a beautiful sky streaking with enough reds and oranges to make the Grand Canyon jealous.

Soon, it all made sense. Spice and I had fallen victim to a vicious misunderstanding that left Spice in a tricky situation. Where I had interpreted “within earshot” as “within earshot of the road”, Spice intended it to mean “within earshot of where I am right now, in this moment.” So yeah, I disappeared, and she had no idea where. Scary stuff at this time of the day. She was understandably freaked out, and even the realization that it had been an honest mistake couldn’t wash away the cortisol and adrenaline saturation in an instant. I felt terrible. I was shocked by how such a small difference in how we interpreted the same statement had had such a major impact. Not once did I even consider that there was an alternative to my understanding. I was blinded by certainty. And as long as Spice didn’t stop speaking to me forever, I thought that this was a pretty cool lesson to learn.

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It took longer than expected to reach this spot, but we made it, maybe a little bit wiser after our ordeal.

Exhausted, we backtracked the short distance to the flowery meadow and pitched camp on an adjacent road that appeared unused. It was a beautiful spot, a perfect place to take some deep breaths and reconnect. The sun finally dipped below the horizon as we shared cookies and ramen, while examining what happened and learning from it. Eventually, when we had extracted every bit of value that our tired brains and hearts could manage, we laughed about what good ol’ Crunchberry would have to say when he heard about this. “Bad things happen when you split up.” There was no denying it now, and I fell asleep hoping that we wouldn’t need to learn that again.

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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