Fort Fairfield to Red Rapids, New Brunswick
So Much Rain Camp to Gas Station Camp
ECT miles: 23.7
Total miles: 2367.1
Elevation change: 794ft gain, 1053ft loss
Human resilience is a remarkable thing. The previous day was as mentally taxing as any that I have experienced in my life. The bugs, the mud, the rain, the misery. It was all a lot. However, today was a new day and we signed up without hesitation. Even though yesterday’s rain and sweat still saturated our clothes, we dragged them on and kept hiking northward. More bugs, gloom, and rain awaited us, yet on we walked, happier and more optimistic after a recharging rest. Unfortunately, while there were triumphs throughout the day, including reaching Canada for real this time (not to mention the most epic of sandwiches), we ended the day in even worse shape than the night before. The second soaking day in a row had taken its toll, jeopardizing our schedule and brining up the gut-twisting question, “how can we keep moving forward?” We had some ideas, none of them good. In the morning, we would reassess and choose.
Unsurprisingly, I slept hard. The darkness of the shelter prevented my circadian rhythm from being duped by the early-rising sun, and I awoke feeling rested, if curiously damp with moisture. Condensation? Sweat? Humidity? It didn’t matter. The general dampness covered all, and I accepted it. It seemed a minor thing after yesterday, and I was pleased to find that my barest of minimums had been met. I could not squeeze any drips from my clothing anymore. That would have to do. SpiceRack dragged her night out a little longer, but by 7am we were up, and by 8am we were back in The Slash, kicking through dewy grass under a gray sky.
A half-mile later, we followed an overgrown road west, away from Canada and away from the horrors. Our navigation app indicated that we could shortcut our route by following The Slash all the way to the border crossing, but we weren’t even considering that option at this point. We were neither crazy nor stupid. Instead, we walked around a gate and onto a paved road. It was the greatest feeling.
We sped around our miles-long semi-circle, passing a smattering of scattered homes and fields while the sky spit at us. An audiobook about Danish happiness kindled our craving for candles and blankets, but really we were cruising and feeling fine. A right turn pointed us straight towards the border, unmistakably perched halfway up an inconspicuous hill of green. Empty logging trucks groaned with us uphill, while full loads of bundled logs flew by on gravity’s dime in the other direction. Not enough trees in Maine, I guess.
Spice and I were clearly fish out of water as we approached the border station. There was nothing to indicate that anyone expected humans to walk between countries, and I was grateful that at least we were the only ones, motorized or not, interested in crossing at this particular moment. I expected to be redirected out of the middle of the road as two guards approached us from the US station, but instead they just asked us about our hike. This was not official business, just genuine human curiosity.
We might have chatted for a while, but when the two friendly fellows informed us of the time change between Maine and New Brunswick we suddenly lost an hour, which meant we had just four minutes to make it across the border before our applications expired. D’oh! We jogged the 50 yards to the Canadian station, pulled out our passports, and handed them to the next border guard. Again, we were asked about our hike, although I got a sense that this was legitimate make-sure-the-homless-hippies-are-going-home-eventually questioning hidden under the guise of friendly conversation. Still, we got no grief and were soon in Canada, officially this time. Posing next to the “Welcome To New Brunswick” sign was a trip. The last time I’d been to Canada was in 2015, where I’d finished my PCT thru-hike after crossing the border in similar fashion, dirty, soggy, beat-down, and happy, with a backpack on my shoulders and mixed-emotions in my heart. There was more adventure ahead this time. I hoped that I was up for it.
Memories of the messy Slash faded behind us as we continued on the road over the top of the hill and into the gloriously flat smoothness beyond. It was road all the way to town. No beaver bogs would flood the trail today. Even the mosquitos seemed to avoid the pavement, and though my feet could feel the unforgiving hardness through my shoes, I couldn’t have been happier to be on a road. I think that Spice agreed. We ambled forward, letting our gaze and mind wander across the land that was the same yet felt so different. As little as I knew about Canada, I knew even less about New Brunswick. What would we find? What would we learn?
The amish vibe was strong all the way to Perth-Andover. Children in functional and fashionable bonnets and hats roamed in giggling packs, staring and waving at this pair of strange travelers walking on the road. We waved back, not recognizing the local language or obsession with hanging laundry to dry on a day that threatened rain. Maybe they know something we don’t. It was a good omen. The adult locals sawed wood. We hiked. Horse-drawn buggies clopped past, outnumbering the cars that now seemed alien and terribly fast by comparison.
A torrential shower drenched my shirt and undermined our trust of Amish weather forecasting as we approached the outskirts of town. Then the hot sun broke through the clouds and turned the world into a an immense steam bath. The pavement clouded and hazed behind the rising mist. I wasn’t stoked about being drenched, but this was pretty cool. I followed Spice through the golden air, feeling like warm steam myself.
In my opinion, a Taco Bell is the mark of a great town. While Perth-Andover came up empty in this regard, it did have the next best thing, Subway. Spice and I followed our noses through the double doors into the frigid, air-conditioned room, hungry for food and hungry for power outlets to charge our phones. We weren’t in any particular rush, and so settled in for a restful break protected from the elements. I was flattered when one particularly insightful employee said that I reminded him of Christopher McCandless, which was kind of the best compliment he could have given me. Rain blurred the parking lot in sweeping waves of fat drops as Spice and I exchanged sidelong glances each time a new accent floated to our ears. Being dry was good an all, but the highlight of our stay (and the day) were the sandwiches. Spice worked some crazy magic, somehow pulling together two, hash brown(!) marinara veggie foot-longs. Hot, messy, delicious, and kinda good for us. Awesome. Canadians don’t know how good they have it.
A closer look at our route convinced us that we needn’t resupply until tomorrow, so we finished our traverse through town by crossing the wide Saint John River on a silver iron bridge. The town was small, yet bustling enough to make us glad to turn off the main road and onto a gravel ATV track next to the river. We were ready with our rain jackets for the next drenching shower, but were soon soaking wet anyway, courtesy of the humidity and dirty puddles. This wasn’t the first time that I wished that I’d kept my umbrella for the IAT, and I wasn’t fool enough to dare hope that it would be the last. This flat road-walking was perfectly suited for umbrella hiking, but instead we trudged on with rain running down our faces and arms.
The easy walking gave us plenty of time to ponder our aches and pains, as well as what was mottling the surface of the river like a 2-dimensional version of a blobular lava lamp. Currents? Wind? Mermaids? We turned right along the Tobique River and kept going, flat as ever in front of and behind astonishingly peaceful homes and gazebos. I picked up a good throwing rock when we passed a mean dog and negligent owner, but otherwise we were left to ourselves.
My feet started to ache from the unending damp and uniform gravel pounding, but Spice was in far worse shape. Her blisters were out of control after the days of abuse and constant soakings. Each step seemed agonizing from my perspective, and she splashed through the puddles rather than avoid them by walking on the slightly angled edges in a bid to avoid irregular pressure on the afflicted corners of her feet. It was hard for me to watch, but what could we do?
Her condition deteriorated significantly after a short break. The only ones refreshed were her nerves who now protested louder than ever with each step. I watched her hobble ahead at maybe a half-mile per hour. This was ridiculous, this was stupid, and it hurt my soul to watch it. Meanwhile, I felt like an asshole for dancing around the puddles. Eventually, I began plunging through the miles of puddles with her. I couldn’t take away her pain, but I could join her in the sloppy struggle.
The mood lightened a little, and the rain stopped for the time being, leaving a threatening sky and hazy sun in its wake. Now it was just a matter of making it to the convenience store before it closed. Picking up the pace, Spice gutted it out, and we made it to the gas station just before it closed at 9pm. The owner wasn’t overly friendly, but took pity on us by agreeing to let us camp on his lawn and fill our batteries and water. Too tired to think about our full resupply, we bought some oj, chips, and ramen, thanked him, and retired to our tent.
Something was infected on Spice’s foot, for sure. Perhaps it was inevitable after wading through nasty beaver bogs and endless puddles with open wounds. I’m usually the one with stinky feet, but her’s were something else this night. I silently wracked my brain for a way forward while Spice did what she could for her feet. It seemed unlikely that their condition would improve if we kept hiking the same number of miles, if we even could now. Maybe if they just dried out everything would be alright. Could we afford to take a zero day? Would one even be enough? Quebec’s stupid, inflexible permit system was killing us now. Our itinerary was set starting in a week and we were already behind schedule with something like 170 miles to go. Damn! Could we get her a bike?
There was nothing we could do tonight. Nothing to fix. After discussing our options, we decided to eat ramen and sleep on it. Tomorrow, we’d switch shoes and try for five miles. Hopefully, my slightly larger shoes wouldn’t cause Spice’s blisters so much pain. Hopefully, her slightly smaller shoes wouldn’t kill my feet. After five, we’d reevaluate, deciding either to keep going or hitch back to Perth-Andover for a rest. Eat, sleep, rest, observe, adjust. That pretty much sums up thru-hiking right there. We’d done it before, and it would get us through this challenge too. What other option did we have? However, hiking will fix this, my usual mantra, didn’t apply here. Sunshine will fix this, is what I believed instead.