ECT Day 142 – Keeping It Casual

If you’re just joining us or are confused about what is going on (ECT, what’s that?) then check out my intro article for a thorough explanation. Sometimes even I need to read it to remember what I’m doing next.

Ruisseau Blanc to Le Grand Ruisseau
Lost And Found Camp to Roadside Sea Chalet Camp
ECT miles: 22.4
Total miles: 2789.9
Elevation change: 2785ft gain, 3150ft loss

After all the unexpected and unwelcome excitement of the previous day, neither SpiceRack nor I had any appetite for more nonsense as we continued our swing east along the Gaspé coastline. Fortunately, there were no confusing twists or turns in the trail, and we were sufficiently cautious after yesterday’s gaffes, sticking together like peas in a pod. And for those reasons, today was unremarkable in the best way. It featured sights, snacks, and trail styles that were all familiar to us by now, linking and mixing them with enough frequency to keep us interested and happy. We got the sea and forest. Pavement and dirt road. Chips and fresh french fries. Throughout it all, we hiked easy, letting the day flow, mimicking the calm and reserved weather. There was nothing crazy and we did what we had to to keep things casual. It’s the way to be.

I slept like the dead and only woke up when the heat of the morning sun became too much for my body’s climate control system to handle without conscious intervention. There were high clouds quilting the entire sky, casting a light shadow across the whole world, but the air was heavy and thick. When the sun did find a hole, I quickly overheated, and started stripping layers and panting. I couldn’t get out of the tent fast enough, gulping down a few mouthfuls of granola and coffee before hurriedly tying my laces and scooching out of the sweatbox. Some minutes later, SpiceRack and I were packed up and back on the trail, without a clue about what the day would hold.

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Reliving the good ol’ days.

We were gifted a chance to relive the confusion of last night as we followed the familiar dirt road past our water source and the mile beyond where I had tried in vain to find a good campsite. A night of rest and reflection had not yielded anymore insights stemming from these events, but maybe we had already learned enough: stick together and over-communicate. At least the stress had melted away, and we could now recount the frantic moments with hints of amusement. We were both relieved to leave the memories to lay fallow after extracting value from the turmoil.

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Don’t trip.

In just a short distance, the dirt road terminated at that same old coastal highway. We scooted across the double lane, then stepped over the metal guardrail to walk above the water along the concrete curb. The road was empty and the sea eerily calm. It rippled like mercury, heavy and reluctant to splash, with nary a wave nor whitecap to crack the metallic mirror from our feet to the horizon. The water, air, and clouds were all united in their dense and purposeful presence. Nothing moved with haste or hinted at change. I followed Spice as we walked a narrow sidewalk ten feet above the water. Thinly covered below was a solid shelf of rocky reef, and it was clear that a fall would end in more of a crunch than a splash. Don’t trip, I thought. “Don’t trip,” joked Spice before immediately tripping on a small stone. It was laughable because she easily caught her step, but my gut clenched for a split second. I wasn’t sad when the concrete ran out and we were forced back to the road. Enough excitement for me.

We filtered water where Riviére de Manche-d’Epée flowed from the hills to join the St. Lawrence at a shallow scoop of the coastline. Here, there was a small cluster of homes on a grassy point above a pebbly beach, taking advantage of a small break in the steep hills. It was a quiet place, but we were glad to have a man splitting logs for a witness when I walked squarely into a stationary Spice while I scrutinized the hills to our right. He laughed and we laughed. Even the road had its dangers and comedy transcends language barriers.

On our walk through town, we decided to stick to the highway rather than follow the official route back up into the hills. This replaced eight miles of forest walking with three near the coast, but it wasn’t cutting miles that appealed to me. In fact, not cutting miles was the only argument in favor of taking the trail. I just didn’t feel like returning to the green tunnel so soon with the sea right here at our feet. I appreciated the people who routed the GR A1 for doing everything in their power to keep us off the main highway, but sometimes their dedication to this goal resulted in a route that felt contrived. The highway was more direct, potentially more beautiful, and not prohibitively busy. Spice and I were on the same page. We’d seen plenty of trees on this hike already, and walked by our turn without a second look.

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A bowl worthy of our raging appetites.

The roadwalk to the next town was a breeze, but it didn’t avoid the trees. Oh well. We sailed along the shoulder over some gradual undulations through the forest until the hardwoods disappeared in favor of fields and homes. On the outskirts of Madeleine-Centre, we dived into the first cantine that we spied, ready for a rest and snack. Le Secret Casse-Croûte was empty, and we were welcomed by Danielle who offered us a table next to the window and two menus. We didn’t need them though. We knew what we wanted, coffee and the biggest plate of french fries that he could make us. He smiled, then disappeared into the kitchen. The news played on the large TV, like a window into a different, scary world. Overwhelmed, I went to the bathroom to wash my hands, and when I returned, our feast had arrived. Danielle had done us one better than we asked for. Instead of a plate, we had before us a giant bowl of fresh fries. Quality and quantity.

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Is that fence really short, or am I standing on a bench?

It took some effort to turn down the free ice cream that he offered us as we left, but we held strong and bid farewell to Danielle as we returned to the road. Back on the official route at this point, Spice and I followed it through the sprawling countryside on the edge of town. Vast fields of flowery grasses slowly disappeared as the buildings became more dense near the small downtown and marina that we had read about on so many roadside billboards. At one rest area, we were once again treated to the wide view of the water that I had come to treasure. We both stepped up onto a picnic bench for a better vantage point above the trees so that we could catch the entire arc of the beach. This was the largest town on the largest bay that we’d seen so far, and it was worth taking a minute to soak it in. Looking ahead at the map, it looked like we were returning to the hills, so I basked in the fresh breeze and wide view like my life depended on it.

On the far edge of Madeleine-Centre, there was another opportunity to hike on the road instead of the trail, cutting ten miles to five, but this time I felt called to stick with the official route. Without a specific reason, it seemed right to follow the dirt road into the hills this time. Perhaps I felt guilty about shortcutting once today already. Perhaps I had seen enough of the sea, or maybe I was curious to see if anything in the forest was different now. Perhaps it was a combination of all of those things. Spice was indifferent, so we followed my instincts, turning off the pavement to follow the historical path of a doomed railroad.

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Why build a railroad all the way up here? Because the operator could not get the rights to build along the river.

The beauty of railroads is that they can only ascend or descend gradually. What was once a narrow train track was now a wide dirt road, but the legacy of smooth climbing had been preserved. Spice and I hiked side by side once more, letting a podcast smooth out the miles even further. Near the top of the ascent, we were rewarded with some interesting informational signs about the railroad, and a pretty sweet view back down the valley to the ocean. Reviére Madeleine squiggled through the mottled green tie-dye of the forest canopy, larger than any river we’d seen since Gaspésie.

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Well-timed to keep us out of the rain.

We visited the next shelter for a late lunch, finding it a little off trail, in a secluded corner of an anonymous part of the world. It was dark inside, so we lit a few candles to light our snacking. After eating, Spice napped and I sat without thinking, listening to the light rain come and go. Through the sliding door, the world got darker, then brightened as the gentle dousing drifted beyond us. By the time we were hiking again at 5pm, there were some blue cracks breaking through the solid overcast, and even though I hadn’t felt low, my mood lifted at the thought of the clouds moving on.

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This road wasn’t put here for us hikers, but we’re the only ones using it now.

The rain had left a pleasant coolness in its wake, trading humid air for damp ground. A fair bargain, in my opinion. Spice and I again hiked side by side on the wide dirt road, listening to music and enjoying the unspoken company and peaceful monotony of the green tunnel. Even when the trail crests pointed us onto what I hated the most, an overgrown ATV track no longer fit for use, the mellowness of the day carried my mood aloft of all the damp underbrush that soaked my legs and socks. For all that I found annoying about the forgotten road, the very fact that it seemed to exist outside of memory and knowledge was cool to me. Whoever built it was long gone, their purpose forgotten. Now it was a private path for just us hikers, who’s secrets only we might know. Not that there were any secrets worth keeping. Just busy mosquitoes and stagnant lakes.

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A grand exit from the trees.

For the last time today, we were once again deposited on that same strip of pavement, snaking along the wild edge of the world. Perched high on the hillside, the view to the water was grander and more desolate than we’d seen since the morning. Aside from the road and brightly colored signs, there was not a human creation in sight, which was saying a lot. We could see very far indeed. The evening glowed with a touch of purple that reflected in the calm water, even though we were over an hour from sunset. The weather brooded, unsure of whether it should clear or remain sticky. With a deep breath, we took up our posts on the road’s shoulder and marched forward in grateful anticipation of what was yet to come.

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A mixture of clouds soaking in a mixture of colors.

Thirsty and hungry, we dipped off the road for a fuel-up at a creek, before rejoining our path for a humungous swoop and swing in the road to a prominent shoulder high above the water. Just in time for the final sun show, we found a patch of grass between the road and cliff to pitch our tent. A strange fuzzy slug of a cloud, wispy and soft, caught the full orange of sunset first before the other eclectic remnants of the storm filled their bulges and bellies with a vibrant load of pink. Spice’s exuberance was limitless, and her smile was the highlight for me as she pointed through the quaking aspen to the dim, burning orange of the sun as it finally touched down after its long trek across the sky.

When the curtains had pulled shut and the world turned gray, we loaded into the tent for the final meal. Cookies and peanut butter were a suitable appetizer, followed by big portions of beans. Spice’s were hot, mine were cold, all were delicious. Sleep got the best of me then, as it always does after a full day of walking and eating. The lights of passing cars glowed through the tent fabric and I pulled my beanie low to cover my eyes. No more seeing today. No more of anything besides sleep.

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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