Crossing the Chic Chocs
I’m typing in my soggy little pup tent somewhere in the Chic Choc mountains of the Gaspe Peninsula. It’s 8:01 pm and I’ve been in this tent since mid-afternoon, burrowed in my heavy down sleeping bag, watching the silhouettes of slugs ooze across the outer tent wall.
I’m wearing two pairs of socks, long underwear bottoms, ski pants, a long-sleeve polypro shirt, a windbreaker, a thick fleece and a wool hat with ear flaps. I’m not cold, but I’m not exactly warm either.
Since I started writing this post, I’ve sneezed three times.
Overall though, I’m doing OK. I’ve got two jars of peanut butter, most of a whole wheat bread loaf, half a block of Mozzarella cheese, a full water bottle and a Snickers bar, which I’m saving for later.
Considering the weather, I covered some pretty good ground today.
Until yesterday, I hadn’t decided whether to continue cycling around the Gaspe peninsula on the coast road or cut through the Chic Chocs on Route 299, a 150 km stretch of highway that passes through the heart of the Parc De Conservation De La Gaspesie.
I made my decision at about 10 pm last night in the town of St. Anne Des Monts, in a bar where I couldn’t seem to figure out how to order only one beer at a time.
I was sitting between two absolutely gorgeous French Canadian girls, one tall and slim like a yoga instructor with short blond hair and a Lonely Planet guide to the Patagonian Andes in the backseat of her car, the other with dark-hair and twinkly, mischievous eyes who was wearing a satiny white blouse and giggled as she tried teaching me French verbs.
After several rounds of Labatt Bleu the brown-haired girl sighed and put her hand on my arm.
“Ah – I am so excited,” she purred. “Tomorrow I go to Quebec City to see my boyfriend! It’s been a whole month.”
“Marie is lucky,” she continued, reaching behind my back to poke the willowy blond in the shoulder. “Her boyfriend lives right here in St. Anne Des Monts!”
And then they got up and wiggled onto the dance floor, leaving me sitting across from a scraggly, thick-bearded man with a long ponytail.
“I work in the park,” he told me. “In the interpretation center.”
“That’s about 40 minutes up Highway 299, right?” I asked.
“Yes, almost at the top of the pass.”
“Any chance you could give me a ride as far as the interpretation center tomorrow?”
“No problem,” he said. “Be ready to leave at 9.”
I spent a fitful night throwing cats off the futon in the over-heated apartment where I was couchsurfing and woke up with a stuffy nose to steady rain on the window glass.
“Maybe the weather will be better in the park,” said the bearded man, whose name I can’t remember.
And it was better – marginally.
The rain had slowed to a drizzle. White mists rose from the hillsides to mingle with low-lying gray banks of cloud. I strapped my pack to the back of my bike and started pedaling uphill.
Once in a while I was passed by convoys of pick-up trucks hauling ATV trailers and little shacks, like ice-fishing shanties, with stove pipes and tar-paper roofs – hunters bringing camp to the mountains.
Mostly though, I had the road to myself. It was a peaceful ride – looming mountains wrapped in wispy clouds, streams and beaver-dams at the roadside, fall color all around.
Someday, I’d like to come back and explore the Chic Chocs. There are herds of caribou in the high-country, salmon in the rivers, and little cabins with wood-stoves at the trailheads. Today, though, I just wanted to get some distance under my belt while the weather held.
In three weeks I need to be back home, and Halifax is still a long ways away.
There isn’t much more to tell.
I crested the pass about noon and flew down, down, down, singing “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash at the top of my lungs as my tires whizzed over the wet asphalt. Then the road flattened out and followed a river, one of the most beautiful trout streams I’ve ever seen, all smooth dark currents and rocky rapids. Green canoes were tied up at intervals along the river bank, but I didn’t see a single fisherman.
About 3 it started to rain. I wheeled my bike off the road and under some pines, sat down on my helmet and tried to wait it out. I got sleepy, tucked my head under my arm and tried to nap, but water kept dripping onto my face whenever the wind blew.
This is ridiculous, I thought. Might as well make camp.
So I did.
And here I am.
Labels: Montreal to Halifax