Amqui to Riviére Towagodi
Better Than Subway Camp to Sleepy Strawberry Camp
ECT miles: 18.9
Total miles: 2594.4
Elevation change: 2172ft gain, 2139ft loss
Whatever misgivings and confusion that I may have harbored yesterday about shortcutting some miles shriveled in today’s heat and lighthearted cruising. The larger existential crisis, although certainly not completely resolved, was far from my thoughts, and everything started to make sense and feel right. The plan seemed solid, our bodies felt strong, and the trail was cooperating. We were ahead of our itinerary, and the flexibility that afforded was reassuring. I hiked out of Amqui ready, dare I say excited, to finish up our traverse through all things named _______ du Matapédia, and to reach the mountainous spine of the Gaspé peninsula. It felt like we were in control of our hike again, strong and ready to meet the hard stuff on our own terms. How long would that feeling last? I had no expectations, but I did have hope.
Hotel sleep doesn’t usually do much for me, but I woke up this morning feeling great. Fully rested, body and mind. SpiceRack hadn’t slept so well, so while she snoozed, I entered the bright outside and wandered up the road in search of final town treats. At the nearby Timmy’s, I had one heck of a time ordering with my pitiful understanding of the French language, but either out of charity or impatience, the bilingual customer behind me made it work with a blur of indistinguishable chatter. I waited in the empty cafe, using Google to learn the translation of “oat milk”, then eagerly herded our food back to our room, playing the part of breakfast hero.
In the aftermath of our sandwich extravaganza, there was an above average amount of tidying up to do before we could get hiking. I tossed our makeshift cereal box plates, wiped the condiment smears from the table, and crammed as much of the leftover lettuce in my mouth as possible. Turning my attention to the pile of resupply food, I organized my share, wondering if it would be enough. It had been a while since I’d carried food for so many days. It looked and felt like a lot, but not when I considered that it would need to sustain me for the next four days. Spice was in the same boat, and neither of us could judge with certainty. Whatever, we’re not going to starve to death.
At 10am, we dropped our room keys at reception, and carried our heavy loads back through the park and across the covered bridge to our familiar hitching spot. Catching a ride was a little more difficult this morning, not for lack of traffic, and once we realized that we were standing at a stop sign, the situation became less confusing. Why are so many people stopping and ignoring us? Do we smell that bad!?! And just like last night, all we needed was one kind stranger to offer us a ride. This time, it was in a car bursting with house plants. I let Spice work Google Translate to communicate our needs while focusing on breathing in the rich, oxygenated air. Before I knew it, we were back at the cul de sac, looking into the unknown.
A nice shady mixture of old ATV roads carried us away from Lac Matapédia, deep into an overgrown jungle of ferns, maples, and pine (and probably some other things too). This is where the mosquitoes were lurking, and they had their way with us before we realized what was happening. A couple pumps of DEET did the trick, but only after Spice and I had each picked up several new itchy welts on our legs. We’d had a pretty good run of bug-free hiking for the past few days, and so took it literally in stride.
We left the bugs behind when we got dumped onto a hot and dusty dirt road. They wilted in the bright sunshine, as did we, now that the day was well on its way to being a scorcher. Heat-shocked into submission, we dove into a muddy patch of shade alongside the next creek to cool our jets and refill our fuel tanks. In the chilled pleasantness, we made pesto and mayonnaise pizzas on rounds of naan, and gorged on chips and peach candy. Unsurprisingly, I felt disgustingly full when we started hiking again. I followed Spice’s footprints as we returned to single-track at a trailhead, feeling my distended belly burble and ache.
The soft tread of the trail was a treat, and it was fun to follow the low tunnel cut through the dense web of cedar limbs. Then, true to form, we headed up. Once again, Quebec was proving that trails only exist to guide walkers up and down steep things. Roads are for flats, trails are for hills. I was losing faith that we’d ever meet an easy trail again. However, while steep, this trail was at least beautiful. A high canopy of maple leaves glowed overhead, dimming our world below to just intermittent splashes of wavering light. These trees were bigger and older than we’d become accustomed to during our trek through these regions of heavy logging, and it was reassuring and humbling to feel the presence of their old wisdom.
On top of Les Trois Soeurs, a bench on a tent platform provided a welcome resting place to sit in the shade and enjoy the view of the expansive Lac Matapédia. The climb was short and the reward worth it. We sat for a brief breather, then continued on into bonus mile territory. Spice had originally scheduled us for a short day out of Amqui, ending here at this campsite, but we were on a different itinerary now. More miles hiked today meant making the impossible possible somewhere down the line.
We got cooked after leaving the summit, even traveling downhill. My thermometer was reading 85°F in the shade and we gratefully refilled our bottles at an unexpected stream flowing under the ATV track that we were currently following. This proved to be an essential stop as the path widened to a full-blown logging highway, pointing just-so so that there was zero shade in which to hunker. Spice and I drifted apart then, and I opened a gap as she swatted away some fat flies that had presumably been waiting just for us on the empty road.
We reconvened at the next junction, then turned down the long straight to Saint-Vianney. This road was undergoing some major drainage renovations, made obvious by the massive trenches cutting deep into where our walking shoulder should have been. Fortunately, this was either a sleepy town or a sleepy day, and we pretty much had the packed dirt all to ourselves. I could hear Taylor Swift pumping from Spice’s earbuds and matched her steps with my own, feeling the nostalgia that Taylor Swift never fails to bring to the surface. A long dirt road walk next to SpiceRack, hot sun at my back, and Taylor Swift. This could have been so many other moments in my life. I was lucky to keep reliving them.
As expected, there wasn’t a whole lot in Saint-Vianney. A look around the gas station convenience store instantly made me glad that we’d carried the extra weight from Amqui. Pickings were slim. Spice and I split a root beer and bag of chips while we sat in the outside planter box with our shoes off and feet up. Through some miracle of coincidence, the concrete trough running along the shop wall was also one of the most comfortable seats that either of us had ever used. I couldn’t stop talking about it as we chilled in the shade and slowly regained an acceptable level of hydration. Meanwhile, the hectic lives of humans swirled around our tiny bubble of serenity. A yappy dog made sure everyone knew that he was the toughest dude in town, several swimsuited families showed up for refreshing beverages, and a there was a curious handoff of a child and his possessions from one couple to another. None of them paid us much mind, but we minded them. Endless entertainment.
We shouldered our packs and hiked out in the evening cool. It was 7pm and just starting to feel comfortable in the sun again. Cow pastures gave way to a patchwork of logging scars as day transitioned to night, and we cruised on good ATV roads, sometimes up, but never to the point that we huffed about it. Finally, it was time to call it a day. The sunlight lifted from the land to climb aboard the clouds where it warmed, then faded. We pitched our tent in a gravel pit, but not before being distracted by a mat of wild strawberries that we eagerly plucked while crouching uncomfortably with our packs on. I lay down on my foam pad, amazingly tired after a relatively easy day. I felt fried and just wanted to cool down. Also fried, was our couscous, which we burned like rookies. No matter, the pesto we added reduced the char to a pleasant, smokey flavor that cast an illusion of fanciness. Or maybe after all these miles and nights in the dirt, we were forgetting what it meant to be fancy. Had we ever known? Fancy, now that’s a funny word. Must be French.