ECT Day 145 – One More Hard Day

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 Zephir Refuge to L’Érabliére Refuge
Whale Porch Camp to Hegge Hobbit Camp
ECT miles: 14.8
Total miles: 2846.3
Elevation change: 1946ft gain, 1243ft loss

One more hard day. As if to prevent me from getting too nostalgic and gooey-eyed as SpiceRack and I inched closer to Cap Gaspé, today was an unmitigated exercise in discomfort. A nauseating level of dehydration knocked me down in the morning, and an absolute drenching of rain soaked us through in a matter of minutes after lunch. All day I floundered, struggling to regain myself, body, mind, and stomach, and it was Spice that pulled me through. Without her support, this short day would have shattered me, and I leaned on her heavily to do the thinking, to get the water, and to keep us moving. So instead of writing the day off as a complete disaster, despite the discomfort, I am able to look back on the whole of the experience fondly. That dastardly hindsight has an insatiable tendency to spin positives out of hardship, and it was given plenty today. Self-inflicted wounds helped me to appreciate feeling normal again. Hiking through swimming pools of rain made the evening fire rapturously cozy. Morning nausea was the divine spice that brought afternoon snacking to the next level. And above all, there were the whales. Whales are cool.

How? How did I let this happen again? I knew as soon as I woke up that I was screwed. The throbbing stab behind my left eye wasn’t the cute reminder to drink a couple gulps of water that I had grown accustomed to. Nope, the time for quick and painless remedies had passed like a whale in the night. I’d felt this way enough times before to know that I was in deep and would be climbing out all day. Fuuuuuuuuu, was all I could think after rolling over and feeling the blood slosh inside my skull. The world was too bright even in the dark refuge, and I felt like dog shit.

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Thanks for the brew, SpiceRack. #spicebrew #spicepic

I got up to take notes and sip the coffee that Spice had brewed, sitting at the table with my back to the bright windows. The caffeine helped, but it was only a band-aid. I needed gallons of water. Understanding this, Spice left to fetch some from a creek somewhere, bringing back a bountiful load so that I could chug with impunity. I ate a square of chocolate, testing my stomach, which made my tummy turn and roil. I need to be outside in the fresh air or I was going to lose my meager meal.

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Le Zephir and le meadow.

I packed hastily, leaving Spice more than her fair share of tidying up, to push through the chest-high carwash of dripping plants and down a steep slope of gravel to the beach. The air was a little bit fresher down there, but the morning was calm and muggy, providing little more relief than a steamy bathroom. I sat on the gravel bank, feeling terrible, trying to hold down the contents of my stomach, and wishing for a breeze. The smooth water in front of me shimmered the reflected silver of the overcast sky without even the slightest hind of moving air. Besides the gurgling Zephir Creek behind me, the morning was as quiet as they come. Not a bird in sight. The peace, at least, was working in my favor.

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Don’t throw up, don’t throw up, don’t throw up.

Then there was a slap. It was obviously loud at the source, but distant enough that it didn’t make me jump. I snapped my eyes from the stones at my feet to the water ahead. A rubbery white monolith waved above the water, then smacked down on the surface, sending up a spray of splash. The noise was delayed half a second, but then there it was again. Slap! A whale, it must have been a whale. Doing what, I didn’t know, but what a treat. I forgot my discomfort and watched the fin flap side to side, distributing echos across the sea to bounce off the cliff behind me. Another fin joined in, and they both drifted slowly east before disappearing into the mercurial pool. Then a mighty breach. One of the humungous mammals hefted its massive bulk into the air, twirling to land on its back with the loudest splash yet. My mouth dropped, and I heard a “Woah!” from the direction of the refuge. Awesome, I was delighted that Spice had witnessed that too. Then it happened again. Another huge splash. What magic. When Spice joined me, we shared one another’s excitement and watched the whale friends slap their way along the coast. Then it was our turn, and I groaned with the effort of getting to my feet, trying to get stoked for the final miles of beach hiking.

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Ahhh seaweed, is there a more nauseating aroma?

Finding my footing was tough on the slope of stones, and I moved slowly, feeling like each step was a bonus above and beyond just standing. My body and mind no worky good, so I just accepted what they could give me. Spice was patient, giving me space to struggle, losing herself in the cool, stripy rocks over which we traveled. All the while, the whales opened up their lead, even with all their slapping. While they had looked slow when I was sitting down, they were leaving me in their wake. They’re better at swimming than I am at walking. Piles of seaweed were not the best thing for my nausea, but Spice gave me a soggy cough drop that refreshed my belly and spirit. I focused on the cool peppermint and trudged on.

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Anybody know what is going on here? #spicepic

After two miles, we said goodbye to the water and beach, turning inland through a small community of homes and grass. One two-story cube was oddly perched on four jenga-towers of hefty wood for some sort of renovation, or maybe in anticipation of sea-level rise. It was confusing and cool, and appeared precarious just like my own fragile shred of comfort… which was obliterated on a tedious climb along the highway. The stifling humidity quickly sucked the essential moisture from my body and deposited it on my shirt. Spice pulled away, moving well, opening a gap that grew with the rising grade. Flying cars made me feel like a whale out of water.

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The hill that crushed me.

At the top we took a break on some perfectly timed chairs arranged around a fire pit outside of a motel/campground. At this point, it wasn’t a given that we would keep hiking just yet. Town was just a short hitch away, and maybe had a good place for me to recover for a few hours. However, after swallowing an activated charcoal capsule and sitting for several minutes, I decided that I would prefer to keep hiking and get this short day over with rather than extend it. I was confident that I would feel better eventually if we kept hiking and I kept drinking. Short term pain was the name of the game.

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Well, if we’re gonna do it then I guess that we better do it. Time to go. 

With that decision behind us, we used our maps to put together a route to our refuge that stuck to dirt roads the whole way. While overlapping the official trail for many of these miles, we were grateful for the option to avoid the narrow tracks through the dense forest. Not that we needed any more excuses to avoid that sort of misery, but my compromised condition and the already breathless humidity ensured that we wouldn’t lose our minds and heroically take on the trail for the sake of purity or ego. The road was our best friend, and knowing that it would carry us all the way home was a huge relief to my achy brain.

The afternoon scrolled by without offense on our mindless treadmill of dirt and trees. We followed it as it first wound up into the hills, then wound down the other side. Spice played us a podcast about climate change, then we discussed our own roles in reducing our carbon footprint. When the mosquitoes attacked, I had no patience for them, and so called in the nuclear option, asking Spice to douse my legs in DEET. Unfortunately, the ironic timing of this insecticide was lost in the cloud of synthetic chemicals and fumes of sweet justice. Clearly, my compassion for all living things and aspects of nature did have a limit, and its name was Mosquito.

After much cruising, I was feeling much perkier, almost human again. At the bottom of a hill, we turned onto a wider dirt road, following it up a wide river valley, past a wide reservoir to a wide junction of other wide roads. There we stopped for a break. I was pleased to notice that I actually had an appetite for the first time today, so we called it lunch and dug into the deepest corners of our food bags. That meant dates, chocolate, cashews, and a lot of popcorn. Everything the body needs for a swift recovery. It felt good to eat, and good to feel good again. As we were finishing up, it was clear that it was time to go when rain began falling in sheets with little prelude. The forecast was calling for a thorough soaking from now through tomorrow morning, so we didn’t dally in actions or spirit. We pulled our rain jackets on, and mentally prepared to wear them for the rest of the day.

As we finished up our meander along the river, the rain’s intensity increased in leaping bounds until it was a consistent downpour. After the final jump, I almost instantly felt soaked through, which was confusing because my rain jacket was, like, supposed to be the best rain jacket ever, and was super expensive (never trust what you read on the internet). At first I thought that I might just be feeling wet, but when a drop dripped a chilly line down my chest, I admitted that there was no preventing it. I was going to be soaked and pruny by the time we were done for the day. Gosh, I wish that I had my umbrella. Like a fool, I had heeded the advice of a stranger on the internet, leaving my trusty silver umbrella in the van after summiting Katahdin. Dozens of times already on the IAT I had wished that I hadn’t, and I kicked myself again for listening to some hiker named Jupiter. With all the roads and all the rain, it was impossible to imagine a trail to which an umbrella could be better suited. (Unsubtly, bring an umbrella if you hike the IAT in early summer.)(Also, never trust what you read on the internet.)

The road ran with a steady flow of chocolate milk, and I added to it as my body finally processed the tremendous amount of water that I had consumed. I could have sworn that I was peeing myself into a net-negative in liquid consumption for the day, but I had to trust that my biology knew what it was doing. Briefly back on the red line, we crossed a rickety footbridge above a river that prickled with exploding drops of water. Then we followed a lesser dirt road up and up for miles in the bottomless deluge. I continued to pee every ten minutes while slowly getting more and more bummed about the cold rain. I saw the same transition in Spice’s expression every time we came together. Even though there was a cozy cabin in our future, that fact was doing us no good in the present moment. Warmth and dryness were becoming abstract terms and were of little use to us now.

A sharp left in the road indicated that we were only a mile from home. We splashed through deep puddles with the recklessness of those with nothing to lose, but stopped when confronted with a moose. It was safely distant and alert to our presence, so we watched in fascination as it considered us, then disappeared into the undergrowth. The animals indifference to the rain was inspiring, but that feeling faded quickly.

After one more jig-jag,  L’Érabliére Refuge appeared through the trees. The empty building was of the same design as all the others, and so it was like Le Zephir had transported here while we hiked. As we stepped onto the porch and through the front door, it was familiar, almost as if we had been there before. That was where we’d eaten many lunches and breakfasts. There were our candles. Here was the same pile of firewood. We stripped our sodden clothing and hung it to dry, relegating one corner of the main room to be the puddle spot. While Spice went outside to collect water, I started a fire and cranked it up. I wasn’t going to be tender with this one. If anything, I wanted to open a window if needed.

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Is this a really bad picture, or is it art?

And so at the early hour of 5pm, Spice and I were done hiking for the day, feeling cozy AF. The rain had made the afternoon kind of sucky, but it was all worth it now as we stretched in front of the crackling fire, relishing the dry heat on our clammy skin, trading chapters of Lord of the Rings. The worst of the rain appeared to have passed, but I pretended that it hadn’t, letting the illusion heighten my sense of comfort as the pain of the earlier hours baked to dust in the exuberant glow of the fire. Our ramen tasted better than usual, and my sleeping pad felt more cushioned. My only hint of discontent stemmed from the realization that tomorrow would be our last full day of hiking together for a very long time. Yikes. It curdled my stomach to think about the end, and we had reached the point where every action or thing could be the last of its kind. The last night in a refuge, the last fire… This finality was inevitable and familiar, and I only allowed it a moment’s thought, preferring to be swept away by comfortable sleep than fruitless dread.

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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