Riusseau-Creux Refuge at Matapedia River
How to build a refugee camp at Skinny-Dip Canada Day Camp
ECT Miles: 20
Total mileage: 2559.4
Altitude change: Gain of 1988 feet, loss of 1995 feet
A night’s rest did little to allay the fears SpiceRack and I had about our ability to put in the miles and stay on track. All too aware of how long it took us to do 17 miles yesterday, the 29 miles we had on the schedule today was maybe 100. Either the trail was going to get easier, much easier, or we weren’t going not to do it. At this point, I think it’s worth mentioning that SpiceRack did a wonderful job preparing our Quebec itinerary, but it was almost an impossible task due to some recent changes to the permit system. New for 2022, the governing body of the GR A1 asks hikers to form a specific overnight route and book these campsites in advance. For hikers attempting the full 400 miles, this is a ridiculous requirement. The weather, an injury, a bad day, or even just going with the flow, make trash the best plans. Previously, all one needed was a backcountry ‘passport’, acquired with a one-time payment that allowed for infinitely flexible hiking. No need to book a specific site or refuge in advance. This unexpected change killed us and Spice took on the burden of planning our hike while I danced with butterflies en route north on the AT. It was no easy task estimating the daily mileage on an unfamiliar trail, but she scrutinized the elevation profile thoroughly and did the best she could with her limited resources. The fact that the trail has so far been as difficult as it was took us both by surprise. We had been warned about the Matane Wildlife Reserve and the Gaspésie National Park (and had planned shorter days accordingly), but those first few kilometers caught us completely off guard. Now there we were, screwed up with a heavy load of bureaucratic bullshit. However, we have been beaten, but not quite broken. Using our big brains and capable legs, we would think things through and get out of this predicament. We are fucking Americans (lol). We would find out. We had at.
The 6 a.m. alarm brought me back to our impossible reality too soon, but we had a long way to go and we needed to maximize our day. We lit candles and filtered water as our coffee cooked above the lightly humming jet of blue flame. Over granola, we shared a sober conversation about our situation. We were on the same page: the next 29 miles had to be either very easy or shortened. Looking at the map left the first mystery, but the second was confirmed. If we absolutely had to, we could walk down the road and cut miles. It wasn’t ideal, but it would make the masters of this hamster wheel of a permitting system happy. Understanding this was a relief. Now was the time to walk and see what had happened.
We watched a visiting moose circle the shelter through the many windows and then set off. The sky was overcast, spitting at us at times, but the morning was warm and not particularly threatening. Our first steps from the refuge we were on a light mountain bike trail. It was a good sign and a welcome change from the challenging single track the day before. Even though he started off at a steep angle, I could feel my optimism growing with every step. By the time it gradually stabilized, you could say I was hopeful.
The conversation continued from yesterday, and we joked about our favorite movies and commercials as we stepped over a chain across the road and into a wind farm. This meant we would have two of my favorite things, gigantic wind turbines and a wide gravel road. Despite the light rain that came to life, our spirits were high as we rode our first really fast miles since literally forever. The gravel crunched, the wind whispered and the turbines whistled. A good hour later, we sail into the hamlet of Sainte-Marguerite-Marie, satisfied with our progress and in search of snacks.
The little store escaped our initial search, and when we found it, there wasn’t much for our discernment food choices. They did, however, sell hot coffee, which was really all we wanted in this freezing gloom. We huddled at the bottom of the covered staircase, taking turns holding the hot paper cup, sharing bites of licorice and granola. So far so good to start the day.
From there we covered many miles of easy hiking through rolling countryside. It was everything we dreamed of yesterday, and again we had a great time on a mix of paved roads and quiet dirt roads. The surrounding land was a patchwork of fields and forests with little human activity, but it must have been used for something as the intricate network of roads was well maintained and expansive. A crossroads here, an endless stretch of orange land there, someone was using those green fields of poofy dandelion for something. We just couldn’t guess what. Seeking some insane entertainment, we pointed our hiking poles at the roadside white balls, snugly clinging to sturdy rods. It was a difficult task, and each explosion of miniature white parasails was celebrated with mental pump.
The clouds parted and the sun baked the soggy earth and us thirsty hikers. In no time we were hot. A break to cool off in the shade turned into a fry break and then a full-fledged lunch break, but what our bodies really needed was water. As we walked, I started to feel a little crazy, and I think Spice felt it too. We laughed as we made lyrical edits to some Taylor Swift hits, which should probably be listed on WebMD as a symptom of dehydration. No sober person could have so much fun in all innocence.
Listening to the water, we heard it gurgling beside the road in a deep gutter. The extraction was difficult, but possible, so we strained and thankfully gulped down our dose. And that was just the beginning of our recovery. In just a mile and a half, we were up the main road to Causapcal, a well-appointed little town along the Matapédia River. Stopping at the first opportunity to eat in town, we sat at a shaded table outside the Cantine Sportive. The fries were as delicious as we’ve come to expect from such establishments, and the iced tea made an appearance after the hot dry spell.
It was here, near the start of our potential alternate route, that we discussed our options for the future. While it’s possible that Spice and I could hit our goal of 29 miles today, we decided it was worth stretching our sights into the week ahead. There were unlimited unknowns, even potentially unknown unknowns, and we were keen to protect ourselves from another day like yesterday. It’s fair to say that the miles north of Matapedia scared us. For this reason, we made the difficult choice to replace 30 miles of official road with 10 miles on the highway. By saving 20 miles, we would have a buffer to protect us from the impossible days that might lurk in the mountains of Matane. Although this was an obviously smart tactical move, which immediately released massive pressure to put in the miles, I was a bit disappointed. The part of the trail we skipped seemed easy and quite scenic, but the opportunity was unparalleled. Twenty miles could very well be the difference between finishing this hike on schedule or having to sacrifice even more in a week. It made sense, and now it was time to move forward and not look back. If anything, I was upset with the aforementioned permit system for putting us in this situation to begin with. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice miles to protect our long-term health.
It took my body a few miles to let go of the accumulated stress and relax into the new plane. My mind, however, was happily distracted by the unexplained festivities that unfolded as we completed the walk through town and across. Our first clue that something was up was the grocery store closed. A sign in the window said something in French about closing for the holidays. Oh, Canada DayI guessed. It’s somewhere now. That explains everyone. And there were a ton of people, filling the parks, filling the river, asking us drunken questions. Entering the festivities ourselves, we stopped at the next Esso convenience store and treated ourselves to root beer and spicy dill chips. Live it.
The campground up the road was both too full and too expensive for our liking, so we continued walking along the shoulder of the highway, optimistic that a campground would appear. proper campsite. We were good people with a lot of good karma to spare, after all. We looked at a few hidden spots between the widely spaced houses, but then found exactly what we were looking for. A grassy road leading to a public boat launch disappeared from view from the highway before flattening out along the river. It was unmarked so seemed unpopular so we pitched our tent, took off our sweaty clothes and went for a swim. Even though it was still relatively early in the evening, we thought we couldn’t find better. In addition, it was Canada Day and we had made a bold move that had allowed us to breathe a little. We were supposed to have fun here, so why not have fun.
A chance to relax in the sun was a moment to be savored, and we did. A big pot of couscous followed which knocked us out before we could even think of watching a movie. Happy and satisfied, we fell asleep easily, more tired than we knew, more relieved than I imagined. We made this hike our own. We were back, and it felt good.