ECT Day 146 – Forillon, Pronounced Four-Yone

L’Érabliére Refuge to Les Crêtes #1 Campsite
Hegge Hobbit Camp to Bear Pole Camp
ECT miles: 19.8
Total miles: 2866.1
Elevation change: 3468ft gain, 3360ft loss

Today was our last full day on the IAT, and tonight our last night. After so many of both, stretching in a long line behind us, it is hard to comprehend that the end is just a half-day of walking ahead. And honestly, I tried to keep that thought far from my mind as SpiceRack and I hiked today. The lighthouse at Cap Gaspé that I had for so long envisioned and hoped to reach is now practically in sight. It’s thrilling to be so close, yet today I refused to get ahead of myself. Thru-hiking is about the journey, not the destination (or so I tell myself), so it was my goal to remain in the present moment as much as possible. The endless supply of moments has nearly depleted, so each mile, laugh, and cookie break held more weight than usual today. Each one was warmed by the glow of pre-nostalgia. Even the morning raindrops caressed more gently and soaked less thoroughly. The steeps burned less in the knowledge that eventually this one would be the last. So yeah, the present was sweet, especially so near the end, when the hard work is all but complete, with the goal all but assured. The stresses of the unknown and unexpected relaxed their grip, even if they didn’t release me completely, and I could begin to bask in the sense of achievement while still enjoying the journey. It was a rare perspective and privilege to have both.

I am excited to reach the lighthouse, to touch the white walls at the edge of the world, but not as excited as I am for the final miles to get there. After our last resupply run, SpiceRack and I entered Forillon National Park and climbed along the spine of the narrowing cape, soon seeing water nearby both to our left and right. It was obvious that we were running out of land on which to walk, that the vast landscape of possibilities lying at our feet had dwindled over the days to an inescapable and specific end. It was also obvious that this would be one of the more epic places to finish a thru-hike. Like Gaspésie before, I had faith that this national park was going to be special, and after days of imploring the rain to give us a clear finale, it seemed like the weather would grant us this one final wish. We’ve given so much in this pursuit already, and gained so much more. Now that we are facing the end, what more could we ask for than one more opportunity to give ourselves to the experience, and for the openness to accept what comes? Sunny skies. I can always ask for sunny skies. I’m open to anything as long as there is sun. Well, here goes anything…

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The last full day. Hmmmmmm. #spicepic

Anything is possible after such a fabulous night of sleep. The refuge floor held me comfortably, and the smoldering fire held the temperature warm, but not too warm, all night. I woke up gradually, relieved to find myself hydrated and headache-free, and eventually moved to the table for breakfast, splitting the remaining portions of granola, chocolate, and coffee with Spice while watching the trees bob in the wind through the front windows. I couldn’t remember the last time that we had felt rushed, but this morning was particularly care-free, and we read a few chapters from the Lord of the Rings before making our final arrangements to leave the refuge. I pooped and packed up, then squeezed my feet into the same pair of saturated socks that I was wearing yesterday and laced up my soggy shoes. A joy of the trail to be savored.

The clouds above began to sprinkle as soon as we stepped from the protection of the refuge, but it was a delicate rain, and we didn’t even put on our rain jackets. Besides, the weather was supposed to be improving. How long could it last? Back at dirt level, a confusing collection of signs failed to adequately describe a detour ahead, but Spice and I avoided this drama entirely by backtracking to our trusty dirt road. It had gotten us this far, and would rejoin the trail in a couple of miles. This was the HomeSpice detour. The tall grass and low brush gave our ankles a bracing wash with each step, making sure to dump gallons of water in our shoes and giving us permission to splash directly through the puddles that lay across our path. It wasn’t my favorite sensation, but it was one that I would remember fondly before too long.

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Beaver sure are cool.

The trail joined our road where a family of beaver had cleverly used a footbridge to support a 4-foot tall damn. The bridge was now covered in an unwalkable pile of sticks, but it was easy to hop across the restricted flow of the throttled creek below. This was not what had been intended, but the system worked. Without getting our feet any wetter, we were on the other side, again impressed by beaver ingenuity.

The road was much wider from there, which meant that we were speedier and dryer as we cruised between the high hills of damp green. We tracked shallow footprints across the gravel, treading lightly, leaving nothing else in our wake and keeping nothing that could not be carried within. This was a calm sense of purpose. I understood my place in the world, what I needed to do and how to do it. If I kept walking forward, I would get where I was trying to go.

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“The big triangle?” “No, the small one.” Because the opportunities to do silly things are going fast. #spicepic

It began to rain just hard enough for us to stop and put on our rain jackets, and rained just long enough for us to stop and put on our rain jackets. Even after it petered out, we kept them on as we followed the road during a long, wiggling descent through a wide cut in the trees. Parallel rows of power lines stretched into the distance, heading our way, shortcutting our meandering path and effortlessly cresting the ridges in front of and behind us. The impending climb looked intimidating, so I was pleased when a sign pointed us to a narrow road that skirted around the mountain instead of going over it. The only obstacle in this direction was a locked gate, but Spice and I were able to bend and flex through a triangle-shaped gap, defying the laws of physics to do so (Spice’s crazy idea). Sure, we could have just walked around it, but where was the fun in that? This was penultimate day shenanigans at their silly best.

Soon after, we were at the paved highway that bordered Forillon National Park. There were more homes than I had expected, but that didn’t really matter. Homes or no homes, we had our final resupply to figure out. Although we probably could have made it to the end of the trail with the food that we had left in our packs, we had the time and means to make it a blow out, so we hiked up the road to a campground to see what they had in stock. There, we discovered that unless we wanted to live off of marshmallows and marinara, we would need to scrounge further afield, so we got back on the road and stuck out our thumbs.

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Back on trail after our ride in a spaceship, with chips for days.

A lot of big noisy trucks kicking up plumes of spray zoomed by, but after fifteen minutes, it was Alain in his silent electric Hyundai that pulled around to give us a ride. The car was part spaceship and much too nice for us, but we crammed in with our packs between empty child seats and settled comfortably. And everything worked out better than expected. Alain had a quick bit of business to attend to near the grocery store, so we were able to leave our packs in his car while we shopped (after taking a picture of his license plate). He was back outside and waiting for us by the time we exited through the sliding doors with our heavy load of food. Fifteen minutes later, we were back on the side of the road at the trail, standing on a soggy lawn, richer in food and spirit than we had been an hour before. We waved our thanks to Alain, for his kindness and commendable tolerance of our funk, and plopped down to eat as much of this extra food as we could. We managed to crush a liter of chocolate milk and some epic sandwiches, but it was soon clear that my 1-pound bag of potato chips was overkill. Chips for days.

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Forillon sure does look pretty cool.

Down the road, we turned into an official Forillon parking lot where a rudimentary park map put it all into perspective. We were damn close to the end, and walking into a pretty cool-looking national park. Could this one live up to the beauty and wonder of Gaspésie? Tracing the dotted line to the ever-sharpening point of land, I had a feeling that it would. Past the cars, a widely-mowed track around a meadow welcomed us back to well-maintained, national park tread. The roads of the previous few days had been good to us, but I was excited to get back on some quality trail.

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What is this, trail maintenance?

At the edge of the meadow, we reentered the forest, turning sharply uphill with the wide trail. It was steep, but Spice and I were able to easily walk side by side through the open trees, and so passed the hardest part of the day together. We pushed through our sandwich-induced logy with a podcast about fire management, and though the humidity tempted me, I didn’t complain about the effort (too much). This wasn’t our last big climb of the hike, but it was one of the last, and for some reason didn’t seem worth moaning about. Perhaps it was grace given to all things national park. This trail could do no wrong now that we were hiking somewhere that existed specifically for our type of recreation. No logging roads or wind farms out here. I trusted that this trail wouldn’t exist if it were not worth hiking.

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Now that’s some good gloop.

Our route grew marshier as we topped the ridge, then slowly plunged downhill through a wide valley. There were a few pools of mud to contend with, but still, the maintained tread kept us cruising. And so did the mosquitoes that buzzed behind us as we skirted around some nearly invisible lakes. We stopped at a particularly buggy campground for a snack break, seduced by the bench and flat tent platform, and I made a small dent in my heavy bag of chips. Then, I prevailed in a whisbone-esque cookie-pulling game, claiming a towering heap of sugar, palm oil, and peanut butter from a disappointed SpiceRack. Lucky for both of us, we had plenty more where that came from.

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This was not how it was supposed to work, but I was cool with it.

The cloudy sky threatened to rain at any moment, but it never did. For that I was grateful as we continued on the speedy trail. At one point, we stopped when I spied a swimming beaver in a lake, but that was pretty much it for a couple hours. At this point, Forillon was nothing special apart from the buffed-out trail, but it was wild. Even though the viewless forest wasn’t my favorite place in the world, a subdued joy warmed my belly just from knowing that these trees would never be clear-cut, that this beaver would never be hunted or pushed from its home. Hikers like us, hooting like fools, trying to provoke a tail-slap, were the most intrusive human influence that this environment would encounter. And that was worth something, even if I couldn’t claim to feel an electric connection with this place. It needed nothing from me, a visitor just passing through.

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National park life.

We filled up on water for the evening at a modest footbridge, then crossed a road onto even better trail. I trailed behind Spice as she demolished the next climb, considering myself lucky for just about everything and stopping to bask in the imagined warmth of the evening sun when it briefly broke through the thinning clouds. The forest glowed for a few glorious minutes, like it hadn’t in days, and I felt my subdued joy spike higher with the dancing light.

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Hey, Gaspé Bay.

At kilometer marker 26 (that’s 26km left to go), two wooden viewing platforms straddled the ridge. On one side we could gaze north across miles of forest to the St. Lawrence where it poked through a gap in the hills. From the other platform, there was an epic view of Gaspé Bay, heretofore unseen on the IAT. I wasn’t sure if this spot was supposed to feel significant, but I got the sense that it was, even if I was too tired to appreciate it in the moment. It was definitely cool to see water on both sides of us for the first time, but part of me also knew that it was nothing compared with what we would see tomorrow. This was like watching a Taylor Swift concert from the back of a stadium. Cool, but nothing like bebopping in the front row. And tomorrow, we were getting on stage.

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Birch tunnel cruising.

In the soft evening light, Spice and I cruised down the gentlest trail yet through a pleasant tunnel of birch. Allowing herself to think ahead to the AT now, she asked me a few questions about my hike from Springer to Katahdin. Each step forward carried her closer to her own AT thru-hike, a journey of such magnitude that it was hard for me to conceptualize even though it had been my home for the majority of the year. I tell you what, after hiking close to 2,900 miles this year, I was grateful that there weren’t anymore sitting on my plate just yet. The southern 2,000 miles of the ECT would come in a few months, but that felt like a lifetime away. I was excited for Spice, and even a little bit jealous, but deep down, I knew that I didn’t have the appetite for the AT. As beautiful as they were, the northern Appalachians of Maine and New Hampshire would leave me just a quivering smear in the mud if I were to wade in too far anytime soon. Could I handle it physically? Slowly. Mentally? Not a chance. I was ready for a break, and the next few months of not hiking would pay dividends for the final push to the Florida Keys.

Confused about this ECT, AT, Florida nonsense? That’s alright. It’s confusing. For clarification, please consider reading my ECT intro post.

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I’m going to miss this.

There was no wooden platform at Les Crêtes #1 Campsite, so we pitched our tent on the flattest spot of ground that we could find, directly below the bear pole. Once we were set up and cozy, I excitedly pulled out the Lord of the Rings to pass the time while our thai noodles cooked. The warming food and tale of adventure carried us past sunset and into the night, distracting me from the unsettling thought that this was my last night on trail for quite a while. I took it as a good sign that my feelings about this were bittersweet, but even the good couldn’t distract my fear of the bad. The fact of the matter was that I would miss hiking all day and sleeping outside, a lot, no matter how badly I enjoyed the time on the couch. And to lose Spice to the trail as well was doubling down on a major life shakeup. The transition was going to kick my butt. Yeesh. No wonder I didn’t want to think about this stuff. And maybe it wasn’t time to think about it yet. There was still one more day, after all, and it was looking like a good one.

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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