ECT Day 143 – The Turning Tide

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.

Le Grand Ruisseau to Reviére du Petit-Cloridorme
Roadside Sea Chalet Camp to Road Is Life Camp
ECT miles: 20.7
Total miles: 2810.6
Elevation change: 3622ft gain, 3727ft loss

Moods can swing like the tides. Whipped by wild winds of raw emotion, pulled by the deeper gravity of the rooted self, or rising slowly like a long-traveled swell of nurtured passion, waves can crash with exuberant reverie or dousing distress along the cliffs that border the human consciousness. Alternatively, they can ebb to wallow in the depths, leaving the jagged reefs and smooth sand beaches of the psyche exposed, inviting the scrutinizing elements of introspection. These can be sunshine or rain, depending on one’s mood. To flow with these tides is to be human, something that I was reminded of today when SpiceRack and I were faced with a literal high-tide on our wonderfully changeable journey to Cap Gaspé. A quiet, prickly part of me that normally lives below the surface was exposed to the morning, but then a tide of abundant joy brought by a town feast and beach walk splashed misting plumes of elation high in the sky. Then, by day’s end, the happy waters ebbed once more, leaving a puddle of resigned discomfort after a tough afternoon back in the trees. It was a wild ride, one that left me all the more grateful for both the highs and the lows, and for Spice’s company to help me float when I need to, or sink in without fear of losing myself.

It would be easy to blame my morning grumpiness on an earlier-than-expected wakeup call, and so I will, while staying open to the likely truth that it was linked to something deeper that had been troubling me for longer. Perhaps I had just been grappling with it in my dreams when Spice bumped me awake, innocently pulling me from my slumber to greet the day with which she had already become enamored. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t ready to deal with it. What’s going on? It’s not even 6am yet? Why the rush? It was petty and stupid, but I was tired and petty. I rolled over, frustratedly grasping for the doorknob that would take me back into the land of the dreaming. The search was futile, and I soon gave it up as hopeless, sitting up to start the day. I willed myself to be in a better mood as Spice and I traded granola and coffee before packing up and hefting our near-empty packs.

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A beautiful morning to be grumpy.

The clear, sunny morning had turned cloudy by the time we got hiking at 7:30am, but the overcast wouldn’t last long. The quilt had its edges and the wind was speeding it on its journey east. I could see whitecaps texturing the sea, and could feel the same force that created them pushing at my back. I could hear it buzzing in my whirling pinwheel. Spice pulled ahead as we hiked along the highway’s shoulder for a flat two miles. Still feeling funky, I wasn’t in the mood for being social or for pushing hard, so I lagged behind, happy that at least I wasn’t pulling Spice down with me. I let my body dictate the pace and my mind grasp for a safety line.

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A grand view of Grande-Vallée.

The climb out of my moody soup began at a picnic area that overlooked Grande-Vallée. Just as the clouds were breaking and letting more sunlight through, the beautiful scene cracked my icy shell, letting in the warmth and beginning the thawing process. The valley was indeed grand, wider than any of the coastline so far and hemmed in by lower hills. The town that nestled next to the water had more space to breathe, and thus seemed lighter even though it was larger. I looked to the beaches ahead, straining my eyes to see if there was enough land for walking. The tide chart called for an impending high, unfortunately timed to coincide with our beach walk, but we weren’t sure if that would make our passage impossible or not. Still too far away to see from here.

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This might be my favorite picture that anyone has taken of me. So happy. #spicepic

A long descending arc in the road pointed us through town on the main street. Cowboy silhouettes on each utility pole invited us to visit the local hardware store, but we declined, instead turning into the first grocery store. We pushed a cart around the narrow aisles, thinking hard to keep our protruding packs from knocking items from the narrow shelves. There wasn’t much in the way of backpacking provisions, but we did gather a bountiful collection of town food, and escorted it to the outside benches. Sure, it was only 9:30am, but when there is bread, hummus, cucumber, bell pepper, coffee, watermelon, roasted potatoes, soda, and oj, then it’s a darn-near requirement to indulge. We hiked away full and nourished, but I was most proud of my torso-sized bag of bbq popcorn. It nourished my soul, if not exactly my body. Stuffed to the gills, we waddled on stiff legs to the next store, which was less charming and cutesie-wootsie than the first, but more practically stocked. We had no trouble filling the remaining gaps in our resupply.

Plenty of beach for walking at high tide.

On the far edge of town, we turned off the road through a bustling cantine, and stepped across a wide lawn to the beach beyond. It was just past high-tide, but it still looked like there was plenty of land for us to walk on, so we went for it, stepping from grass to driftwood, driftwood to pebbles. The wind-swell crashed in small breakers on the reef and did not even come close to threatening our dryness. As we crunched around a point, the houses disappeared, and it was just us on the beach, between sea and trees. The wind was our only other companion. Pushy and impatient it sped us forward with consistent gusts at our backs.

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Check out this cool rock stuff. It’s good for walking.

I was juiced that tide had allowed us to walk the beach rather than the road. I’d looked forward to this for days, if not weeks, as it struck me as one of the truly unique and special parts of the ECT. The piles of rocks, driftwood, and seaweed conspired to challenge our ankles and pace, but it was unquestionably worth it to me. The dry seaweed, crispy and sunburned red, crunched under our feet. The long grasses rimmed by driftwood rippled with the gusts, audibly sizzling like a passing plate of fajitas. The waves crashed constantly, seemingly at eye-level, yet fizzled out well before climbing to meet us. For long stretches, the pebbles gave way to the frayed edges of layered rock, rising from the ground like the closed edge of a monstrous book. These straight tracks of soft shale were the easiest surface to walk on, more like a sidewalk than anything else.

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Green hill, green house, green water.

We bounced between coves as the miles ticked by. Perched on the hills of some was the occasional home or campground, but as we continued, the cliffs to our right grew higher until the steep slopes had no top that we could see. A rugged forest of conifers and stone trapped us on one side, the sea on the other, and we were utterly alone. This beach was ours, and we lurched from stone to stone, sand to pebble, seaweed to shale. I always looked for the next smooth sidewalk, sunken and soft between razorbacks of a more durable rock.

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Higher cliffs mean a lonelier beach.

A couple of times, Spice and I stopped to sit and take it in. The smooth boulders were warm to the touch, and made excellent seats for my weary behind. We shared some bread, and skipped some rocks. Gradually, the hills shrunk again, which meant that we were getting close to our exit. A huge white party tent came into view around a point, and in about a mile, we were there. To celebrate, Spice donned a birch bark crown of silver curls that had washed ashore or survived when the rest of the tree had rotted to dust. It was a good look. A great look, even, one worthy of the occasion. The beach hike had lived up to my own internal hype, and we had survived. Both good things.

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Curled in a corner, grateful to be out of the wind. #spicepic

Both of us were full-up on pushy wind, so when we climbed away from the water and into the small town of Petite-Vallée, we were delighted to find the harbor refuge unlocked and functioning. It was a bright and sunny day, but the wind, for all its untamed energy, had sapped ours. We just wanted to be inside where it was calm. We unfurled our pads next to the wall and sat with our backs resting and legs outstretched. We again tore chunks of baguette, and I again fell in love with my titanic bag of popcorn. With a toilet, power outlets, and potable water, the building had everything that we could want, so we settled in to recharge and reset.

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The forest portion of the day started with such promise.

I was feeling refreshed on the roadwalk out of town, but I felt the weight of my heavy pack. The baguette and fresh goodies were worth it, but the day after a full resupply is always a grind for all that delicious, heavy food on one’s back. We soon turned off the highway, this time pointing away from the sea and into the sea of trees, which at this point, didn’t bother me in the slightest. I’d had enough of the ocean’s energy for the day. It was relentless, it was exhausting. The trail from there was full of promise, following a wide dirt road under a high canopy of glowing green leaves, through what seemed like a deserted resort. There was an old entrance building and plenty of signage, but it was all rundown and peeling away, shedding its skin.

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Hiking through an old resort has its perks, and this was one of the few.

Unfortunately, the nice road terminated at Lac Long. There was a picturesque gazebo and a small dock, but where did the trail go? Oh wait, there it was, behind that bush. The disappointing reality soon set in as we pushed beyond, into the secret world of bushy ATV tracks. The trail was steep and overgrown now, everything I hate about east coast hiking. Spice and I bemoaned our situation, wishing for a smooth dirt road like we had yesterday afternoon. There was no excitement today about hiking through our own little forgotten world. The day had been so good to us so far, and I really didn’t want it to end this way, but the trail did not heed our calls for reason, shooting us skyward while bobbing leaves tickled us from ankle to shoulder. The unrelenting wind wooshed through the treetops above, bending trunks and shuddering boughs, shaking leaves loose to twirl and glide to our level. Spice eventually checked-out, receding into herself to focus on her internal struggle. I took the hint and kept quiet, trying to find the positives of each moment for myself as we trudged up, over, down, and around through a maze of old roads and dense forest. There was no sky, there was no sea. Only the trees.

At an inconspicuous junction, a sign pointed uphill to the “Dificile” route. It was little more than scratch up the hillside, but there was a blue rope to guide the way. As hardy mountain folk, we were not worried about the difficulty of the trail, focusing more on getting this climb over with as fast as possible, so it was a no-brainer for us. We grasped the rope, and started up. About halfway, I determined that “Dificile” was the right adjective. This climb was steeeeep, and hopefully that meant that it was short. At one point, a small tree lay across the pathetic gouge that we were calling a trail these days, and I kind of felt like I was swimming as I used my arms to pull and push through the needles and twigs. I tried to disentangle it from the other trees in time for Spice to climb through, but to no avail. She swam and kicked just like I had, fighting through the grabbing branches. By the time we reached the top, I was over it, not at all proud to be where I was. I was sure that Spice was with me, although we spoke no words, and just hiked on into the claustrophobic woods.

We skipped the next shelter as we began to feel the tightening of our schedule and the impending darkness. Even on the downhills, invisible roots and angled rocks throttled our speed and slowed our progress. At this rate, we would be hiking well after dark to make our miles, which can be pleasant in some places like the wide open desert with nothing but the bright stars above, but not in a forest like this where the shadows were deep even in the midday sun. After a particularly discouraging descent, we sat side by side to eat a bar and make a plan. How could we fix this?

That’s where our old friend, the map, saved our butts. Like we’d done on our first day in Quebec, bewildered and beaten by a pointlessly brutal trail, we found a road alternate. The black line on the map looked a little bit longer than the trail, taking a less direct route, but it would no doubt be much faster. Relief washed over me after a second look with a satellite picture confirmed that the roads we needed actually existed. Thank goodness for logging roads. After a short swampy section of trail, we left it to struggle through the forest without us, and turned right onto a wide gravel road who’s likes we had come to love so well.

We flew around Grand lac Alphée, cruising fast, finally free to let our minds off the hook. There was peace in all of the space, physical and mental, which allowed us to take a deep breath and relax. Still, we were anxious to beat the darkness to camp, and I had to kick it into gear to keep up with Spice over the smooth rollers. The clouds turned pink. We hiked. I noticed that the wind turbines on the adjacent ridge weren’t spinning. Strange, too windy? We hiked.

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Down the final hill to camp, ready for the end of the day.

Color evaporated from our world as dusk deepened into night. We gathered water for the final time from a roadside gutter, then walked down the final hill, back to the trail. At a wide junction of fuzzy green roads we pitched our tent by headlamp, with bugs streaking like lightning through our beams of light. We quickly zipped in, closing our world to them, removing ourselves from theirs. Next up was dinner, and the beans laid me flat before the cookies knocked me out. We’d made it. It had been a long day, rewarding and challenging, awesome and beautiful. And when it got tough we turned the tide using our big brains to help out our hearts. Though the wind still whistled through the trees above, the crashing waves of frustration pulled back and smoothed to glass, reflecting the empty peace of the stars above and the blinking curiosity of a few lazy fireflies.

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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