When I left you last, dear reader, I had just finished walking through Gaspesie National Park and entered the Matane Wildlife Reserve. After being warned three times about this new section of trails extreme difficulty I was very skeptical. You’d think by the third time I’d believe it. Well I probably should have.
I keep a small personal journal somedays, just quick notes to later recall greater detail later. Well my first day in Matane, day 14 of this trip goes like this:
Aiming for 48k, it was clear within the first mile, that was going to be difficult. Boarder line rockclimbing. 13 waterfalls. Stupid steep, welcome to Matane. Was warned, didn’t believe. Demoralizing to see the giant mountains ahead I’m about to climb. Of course it’s not the small gradual ones. Straight up, straight down. Mud, feet soaked, prune/raisins all day. Thunder storm climbing mountain tops, and 6 miles of misery. Start of my day 4am, end of my day 9pm. Few breaks. Darkness. Stretch, protein, food. Do it all over tomorrow. Get me out of Matane.
Bleak? Maybe, but that’s backpacking sometimes. I was mentally crushed while writing that after such a long day. Rolling into camp just before 9pm, hoping no one was already there, because they certainly would already be sleeping. Stepping up a mountain, sliding back down the slippery rocky sloap. Very arduous movement. Going down was no different. Constant without relief, often overgrown with plants, unable to see my own footing. Wet, and muddy. Seemingly better off to sit on my ass and slide down.
I could, as I do, stay positive and mention how remote and beautiful this section was, as that’s very true. Looking forward at the peaks I was about to scale might have been a harsh reality but looking back seeing everything I had just come across was very rewarding. Right in a line, I could see the ripples in the skin of the earth, all of which I just passed in the same day. During this area I also found a very large moose rack. Easily weighing 10lbs. Very surprising the weight of those things. The lakes as well we’re very special, one specifically comes to mind, Lake Matane of course. One hellish descent followed by an equally as hellish climb, but in the middle of the valley a beautiful cabin in which I stayed the night, and an incredible very massive body of water. The sunrise here was surreal, and of course my phone was dead.
A side note… Andrew Skurka is a very well known long distance hiker (and national geographic dirtbag of the year,) if you don’t know him you really should look up “sea to sea route” or “great western loop.” Both trips well over 5,000 miles long taken by foot, and done extremely fast. This excerpt is taken from his website about the Matane Wildlife Preserve….
“The next contact from Andrew came in the form of a message on the answering machine, “I made it through the Matane Reserve and I am still alive.” As parents, this was an alarming message. He called later in the evening and reported that the Cap-Chats and the Matane Reserve was the most challenging terrain he had ever hiked. The trails go straight up and straight down. He slogged through swamps at 1000-meter high peaks. The rivers were swollen from all the rain and he had to ford where bridges had been washed out. His hands and feet are a mess from all the moisture and the shoes are shot. He did question why the trail had to climb every peak in the Cap-Chats.”
Andrews experience although years before mine is clearly very similar. Fortunately Matane is only a 70 mile section. Very beautiful, but when the walking itself ain’t fun, then I just can’t get down. So how to make the walking fun again? Just one more long day. For me, the forward motion is one of the most enjoyable aspects of long distance hiking. The constant feeling of progress, knowing that youre actually doing something. So naturally when my motion is impeded, I want to break free. So I did. 70 miles in 2 and a half days.
Despite the pain and all that, while up on one of those mountains I was looking down at a small lake. Then in that lake I see something. A large object, and then a smaller object. From way above I’m looking down on two moose walking across. A sight I won’t soon forget. Minutes pass and they dissapear into the nearby forest. Questioning, is that where my trail is taking me?
I later ran into another french hiker, who although didn’t know much english, I understood well and clear that she was saying, “Matane is the devil for me.”
I left that area with a gift, the gift of pain in my ankle. Now during this trip I’ve experienced knee pain, ankle pain, all sorts of issues. They all went away eventually. I hoped this would too. 200km later it hasnt, and yes that 200 hurt, and yeah I cried once. But huzzah! I’ve taken a couple days off before I officially enter NB and continue on, letting my body heal, the smart choice to check myself…. although admittedly late. This next stretch is mostly dirt ATV paths (roads) so I would kind of like to not further agrivate, or re injure myself on the hard packed ground, and instead be on my game, ready to enter Maine moving strong.
So what else have we missed? Matane screwed me up mentally, so I kinda fell off the bandwagon with daily blogging. If you have nothing good to say…. so they say….
* I’ve seen a porcupine(first time ever for me!) climbing a tree. I told that fat little guy that I was going to sit there and wait until he came down so I could get a photo. He called my bluff, and after an hour of eating way to many snacks while watching him, and the tree he clung to sway in the breeze… I left. Stubborn they are.
* I’ve been kicked out of a restaurant. I think it’s because I’m American, and probably mostly because I don’t speak french. I had just showered so there’s no other reason I can imagine. They gave me one look and shooed me off. For those that know me, you know I’m pretty friendly, I smile, and all that. It was surprising. However at the next restaurant over the waitress got an extra large tip. I was sure to thank her profusely for dealing with me even though I don’t know the lingo.
* I made friends with a homeless man, as you do. The trail left town and came to a fork, a 5 way fork, with no markings as to which way to go. I see a dirty man with a long beard… my people. We chat a little, and I make my way. An hour later somehow winding right back where I was standing before. The man was still there and we get to talking. As it turns out he lives in these woods. Apparently when he first wandered into the area and found this park he was blown away, and knew instantly that this would be his home. He’s lived there ever since, just outside of the town of Amqui. He actually gave me some directions that led me to where I had missed the trail before, and again I was on my way, but this time on the right path. Homeless people are great, he even offered me a beer which I declined, but it was very nice of him.
* I met three more thru hikers! One of which was a french man with a pack twice the size of his own body. I remarked as a joke after thinking this was the gear of multiple hikers
.. not one, that it’s never to late to start ditching things! As he surveyed all of his stuff that was taking up the entire refuge, he told me everything he has is just too useful. His favorite piece of gear was a pair of mechanics gloves, because “sometimes I’m on my hands and knees hiking this trail!” The other two folks I met I was actually contacted by before I left for my hike, and here they were! Two artists from Montréal who are hiking the 650km of Quebec and doing a photography project as they go. They’re carrying lots of cool camera equipment, and from the sounds and looks of it are getting a lot of really amazing shots. When they’re done I’ll be sure to share any more info I can get about this. The area up here is really incredible so to have a professional such as Sara and her partner Drew come thru and document it will really be something special. Especially considering so few do this trail, they’re work will be totally unique.
* I’ve finished walking through Quebec! The first, and most difficult part of this trip is over. I’m now 650km into the trail, or 700 if you count the 50k I walked from the airport… to the trail. I always said, if I can survive this section, I can do this whole thing, and peoples, there is no quit in my mind. I did survive, but as you now know, I’m recovering in town before starting again for what is supposed to be an easy 250 miles to Maine. After a couple days here I’m feeling a lot better, and I say tomorrow I’m ready to move on.
* Here in the town of Matapédia on my last day I meet some folks, they share beer with me, friendship. They are going out on the river with a guide for burgers and ask me to join them but I decline. I just wish to relax! And… get some sort of big veggie dinner across the street. I was hanging out down by the river soaking my legs in the cold water when they started talking to me. This town is known for its salmon and the Matapédia river which is very large, for my florida folk think the Suwannee River but faster flowing. Then that feeds into the Restigouche! A much larger stream, and it’s kind of this towns name to fame. I figure they get a whole lot of money from tourism because everywhere is plastered about kayaking, canoeing, guided tours, fishing trips, camping, and as it happens less folks know but this is also the trailhead to the beginning of the IAT/SIA which I’ve been hiking. Some colorful folk in this town. Seemingly half speak perfect english, and the other half no english at all. I kind of like it here. Quiet mostly, yet with a train that runs right directly through the center of everything. I love trains, so that actually adds to the fun! So here I am, my guide says free camping, but it’s not, it’s 20 dollars. Not the first time the guide has old information. Sandra! My master guide book friend from home…. again I am reminded of the amazing work you and John do every year to get people information about trails and services.
Anyway, none of the pain I could go through during this trip compares to how much I miss my cat. Seriously Canada has some issues. I’ve only seen two whole cats so far. The USA better have their shit straight, cus I’m going to be there soon, and I need some kitties in my life.
Signing out. Likely I won’t have Internet for a little while. My next 250 or so miles are through New Brunswick and northern Maine. I’ll be getting a new pair of shoes via mail, my 100 mile wilderness food, and rumor has it…. a different backpack. Stay tuned. The Appalachian Trail is quickly approaching.
Oh and…. there is no quitting in thru hiking.
Wait, a different backpack? You ditching the beloved Burn? Guess I’ll have to stay tuned to see what you pick up.
Your writing is improving greatly! It wasn’t bad before but this last post was very engaging! Love the small details and vulnerability. Keep it up! Thanks for taking us in this journey with you.
Congrats on finishing Quebec! I’m really enjoying your blog- thanks for sharing your journey!
Well done on surviving Matane -albeit barely. Amazing accomplishment in and of itself. And to think that you are just getting warmed up! Thanks for the canoe pic. Btw aren’t porcupines in the cat family?
Those boats are all hand made. Rumor is a legendary canoe craftsman is on my route… and is a big fan of hikers who dare to come so far north. From picking the perfect tree to putting the vessel in the water everything is hand crafted except the nails. Thought you’d enjoy that tidbit! I’ll be sure to get pics from his workshop if he’s around.
James, you are lifting my spirits with your most excellent and captivating adventure! Aunt Janie and Uncle Len will be thrilled to know that Lorne is with you!! You are so smart to take a little time to heal from that nasty section of trail. Wishing you lot’s of kitties and maybe a puppy or two.
Ok! Amost Seven years later. I can’t tell you how much I hope you got some kittehs in your life. Touching comment actually