I get up, and I walk

If I’ve remembered correctly I’ve now been in maine for over 450 miles. Well, I’ve actually just finished Maine! What a state. What a big state. The AT itself only goes through 280 or so miles of it but as we know I started walking from lands very far north of there. Very far north of the Canadian border even. What a hell of a ride it’s been so far, and boy is it nice to cross a new border. New Hampshire! I’m here! I’ve made it! Looking at a map of my progress thus far is very surreal. To see that I’ve traveled over 1,200 miles south so far feels good. That line I’ve drawn on a map from Quebec to the Keys represents so much. All of those that have traveled it before me, everything in between, and an unimaginable amount of experiences to be had. I’m not even a fourth of the way into my walk and yet I’ve met so many wonderful people, and seen so many magical things. I’ve come this far, there’s no stopping now. There’s a story before me waiting. From the very start there was no stopping. A sprained ankle wasn’t an excuse to quit, it was an excuse to try harder. Reform my technique, and pay closer attention to myself. To be more consistent, and to not allow myself to let the fire dictate where I land. My body is king, and this journey is long. My pace is fast, but with every day I learn. Including all my planning and preperations, there never was quit in me. There is only a footpath before me, and a fire inside me. Today I walk, and with every step I get closer to that dream of key west. An almost laughable dream. To walk 100 or so miles of roads through the southern most point of Florida. The dream is engraved in my brain. I may not think of it daily, but the thought appears often. I cower almost to the point of crying. One step at a time. I’m on my way.

Since I finished the International Appalachian Trail and started the Appalachian Trail I’ve had people tell me how difficult the terrain in maine is. How this mountain would crush my will. I’ve been both shot down and lifted up when mentioning my goal. I almost question now if I should even bother, so I typically just respond with “I’m going all the way.” Now that I’ve finished this long and lonesome track through Maine I’ve concluded that none of those passes were nearly as hard as I was told. In the end their experience reflects more about them, than the actual trail. I’ve concluded that really only the final 10 or so miles of this state are of any real concern. Boulders that dwarf men, trail resembling something closer to a creek bed, and an endless supply of roots. The walking has been arduous. Like dancing in many more ways than walking. I step around, I step over, I step on top of, and a couple times I’ve even gone under rocks. Rocks of all sizes and shapes. Difficult? Maybe not so much, a slight annoyance? I’d say that’s more so the case. A man with long legs who likes to stretch them I’ve slowed my miles. From 30s and beyond down to 20s. Soon though, my big days will return.

Although still doing more than most per day it’s been very comfortable. It’s all a matter of time. 2 miles per hour? Less? Wake up earlier. Stop walking and set up camp later. My rule is, don’t stop until 7:30. The beginning of sunset. Beyond that and I find myself walking in the dark. As I often do. 7:30 is only the time in which I allow myself to start looking for camp. I have however broken that rule a couple times. Town stops when I’m hungry and tired, the Kennebec River where I needed a ferry man to cross it(two lovely ladies out birding picked me up and took me across!), or that time I met a cool New Zealander going by the trail name “Bad Decisions.” His bad decision that day was deciding to walk with me the next day. 20 miles, multiple passes, and the hardest terrain in Maine. Locals just out for the day told me that my plan before dark was out of question. I walked away, took my new friend with me, and we did it anyway. Live free or die. I’ll only ask for the weather from now on.

That section was the Mahoosuc Arm, and the Mahoosuc Notch. I’ve heard horror storries. Supposedly the Notch is the hardest, or most fun section of the AT. Most fun is indeed true. It was a jungle gym. Everyone I asked that day said it took them 2 hours. About 20 people that was. It only took us 50 minutes with a stop for water and photographs. Jumping from boulders, crawling under them into caves, climbing up and around them. It was awesome. The Arm however we went down. It was a 2,000ft decent purely on a sheer rock face, slick as can be. One slip and you’d be in trouble. Going down still is in my mind the way easier method of doing it. Going up would have been endless. Step up, slide down. I was happy to only be sliding down. Often on my ass.

There’s three seriously memorable moments I’ll have of the AT in Maine and that’s Saddleback mountain, the knife edge trail on Mt Katahdin, and the Mahoosuc Notch. We’ve already looked at the knife edge, a thin ridge of sharp rocks connecting peaks. Saddleback Mountain however is new! It was a recent climb, and I was fortunate enough to enjoy it with a good dude I met out here by the name of 2Taps. The weather was strange, forecast showed rain for the morning, and then clear skies all day. This was not the case. The rain was true but that was followed by extremely high winds. Most hikers hid in the lean-to shelters that litter the trail but 2Taps and I pressed forward. The climb was wet and slippery up rocks, eventually breaking out from treeline. The wind pressed against us as we entered the alpine territory. Beautiful sweeping views of the mountains around us and the lakes below us. I remember some saying about Maine and lakes. Whatever that is, it’s true. They really are everywhere here, and I frequently find myself navigating around them, or sitting on their beaches. This time though I’m fortunate enough to be looking down at them from an exposed ridge. For three miles this lasted. Walking across the rock face on top of the world, with the wind knocking me from side to side frequently pushing me into the grass. We were told it was 74mph and that was still walkable in my opiniom, but at a slant. Feet planted firmly and still being forced aside or simply to walk with a serious lean. It was cold, but wonderful. That mountain I would do over and over. We were the only two out there that day.

The theme is clear. I wake up, and I walk. Every morning I pack all of my things up and I move forward. I aim for 20 or 30 and see where I land. Sometimes in the rain, sometimes the sun, and sometimes up in the clouds, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll still be out there. Getting wet, sweating, breathing, sun beating, low visibility, high visibility. I’m out here day after day. And it’s wonderful.

Since I’m doing 20 or more miles a day I don’t often or ever see folks more than once and that may be a downside but I love the path I’m on and really wouldn’t change anything. I’d like to do more per day if I could but that will come in time, with more experience, and with easier terrain to walk upon. I’ve met a lot of awesome people, and one benefit is that I’m never in the same bubble of folks. I get to see everyone! Maybe by the end, someone will be foolish enough to hike my hike, but that’s not what this is about. Everyone is on their own path, and doing their own thing.

I camp alone almost every night so I only really get to know other hikers in towns. On trail most congregate around the wooden shelters, but I find the land surrounding them uncomfortable and overused, opposed to the soft bed of leaves or pine needles I usually wind up in. Staying inside the wooden huts would be nice in the rain but if I think the ground around them is bad then I would certainly find the wooden flooring worse. Not to mention the mice that have grown accustomed to the trash left behind or the tidbits of food that spill. My little havens alone in the woods off trail just seem more appealing most nights.

Two towns I’ve stayed in recently left a mark. Monson, and Rangely. In Monson I was pleasent surprised to find that Petes Place, a local restaurant caters to vegans with black bean burgers. More interesting the owners have ridden horses from maine to southern texas. They did it for charity and it took over 8 months. Certainly a very unique experience and it was nice to talk to them about it. I stayed the night in the local hostel, The Shaws. Forever will I hold other hostels to a bar the Shaws have set. The owners Poet and Hippy Chick where amazing and former thru hikers. The help was awesome, the beds comfortable, everything there was nice. In a town without more food than a grocery store they also have a full stock of things hikers like. Poet was or is an English teacher, I’d like to say high school AP, and he even recited to us a poem in old english. Basically another language is what he was speaking.
Rangely is the other town that stood out, but it wasn’t the town… I actually didn’t even go into town. I walked 0.3 miles down the road off trail to The Hiker Hut. A hostel that operates off the grid. No electricity, no cell service. It was a restful and relaxing place next to a stream. I showed up very late and felt quite bad about it but they fed me a vegan dinner, vegan breakfast, and I was the only one there. I sat and talked with the two owners for hours. Steve was a professional triathlete back in the mid 90s and might have even raced in the Tour De France once. Like me, he sees hiking as a sport, treating it the same way you would long distance running or anything else similar. Some go for just 5 or 10 miles a day and that’s cool but he could tell that’s not my game. I’m out here to walk, and he had some very good advice for me which I’ll take to heart. Maine and New Hampshire could be injury central for me, and I suppose the gist of what spoke to me was that I should take it easy until I reach Vermont when the trail eases up. Easy for me is 20 so that’s what I’ve been up to, and I’ve been feeling great! So I think it’s working. The Hiker Hut and The Shaws were both wonderful places to stay, and should I ever hike the Appalachian Trail again I will certainly make my rounds to see these great people again. They really give off the vibe like they want to help you achieve your goal, unlike some others that seem far more money hungry. That vibe meant a lot to me.

So now I’m in New Hampshire. It’s been a long time coming, and although I loved Maine I’m really excited for what this new place will bring. Crossing the border the change was very apparent. The trail is marked slightly different. The way it’s routed is different, and the mountains ahead are promised to be some of the most beautiful this path has to offer. We shall see! Im really looking forward to the White Mountains. For now I can only hope I hit them during nice weather. Or else I’ll cry… or not, I’ll probably just keep on walking.

Oh and I’ve decided to keep clean shaven, because every guy out here looks the exact same as every other guy out here.

“If it ain’t fun, make it fun.”

– Jupiter

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Weebles wobble….

Just 4,000 miles to go!

When I left you last I was preparing to finally leave the province of Quebec. Limping. Although the last 200k had been through the valley and physically very easy with mostly rolling hills, beautiful views of the French Canadian country, I was forced to take it slow. Which I guess isn’t the worst of fates? I found myself searching for a cheap hotel to rest my tired bones and soul. Staying in the quiet town of Matapédia was my best option before entering the next frontier of New Brunswick. So I did. 3 days of ice, elevation, lots of food, and soaking my ankle and feet in the river. A bit dissapointed in the results I was seeing but the stagnation, my wallet, and pull of southern lands meant it was time to move on. I got a long way to go till Florida!!

My last night in town I was graced by the company of a young couple who just finished touring the gaspesie via bicycle. A trip of 1,600km along an extremely scenic highway that circumnavigates the peninsula. A classic Quebec vacation I have been told, that when you visit this is what you do. Most by car but you may remember I’ve now met close to 10 folks who were walking that highway. Seems like a lot of pavement…. then again when I say walking they more than likely hitch rides frequently. Anyhow, this french Canadian bike touring couple and I met in the local B&B (the BEST meal in town,) and they invited me over for drinks! I had greeted the young fellow with bonjour and later he told me he had actually thought i was french! I guess i was getting better. Another couple was there as well, and after not long rain began to pour. Spirits not dampened, and alcohol flowing, they sung french pub songs to me for hours. Through the rain and thunder their voices towered over. The campground was silent, and then there we were. I’m sure the entire town was listening.

An early start the next morning, happy to be on the move again, even if it’s not going to be very far! Still travel slow, burdened by the end of my injury. Crossing the border of the two provinces was awesome still. Over 400 miles in Quebec and now it was on to new things. The sign was in both in french and english, as I am now entering a new world where I can hopefully speak freely again. Met some folks I surely won’t forget in the north, and saw places so far removed, places most will never see. And really, I hiked with some seals man. Thru hiking a long trail and walking along side seals. Not to mention the snow, the rocky mountain tops above treeline, everything. Quebec was good. Looking back it’s without a doubt the gem of the International Appalachian Trail, and will be remembered as one of the best parts of this hike I’m sure.

Crossing the Restigouche river at the border, a little taste of what’s to come. No more trail signage, and really no sign of trail. So the highway I walked. 7 miles into the town of Tide Head, and I’m greeted by a friendly old man sweeping dust from his driveway. We get to talking and he clues me in to a multi use trail just down the road that’ll take me a very long way to the next town. Sounds like what I’m lookin’ for! A side note, dude is in his 70s and still manages to ride his bicycle 2,000k a year. Even more impressive considering how far north I am, and how little time you really have that isn’t blistering cold for activities such as this. So cold that this giant river I’ve been walking along completely freezes over and locals go out and do donuts around the ice on their snow mobiles in the winter.

About to leave town and head down that lonesome track once again i soak my feet one last time. Although this time is different. Lifting them out and moving again i feel way better. Like all my rest and healing finally caught up. I truly believe soaking or icing is the secret to injuries of similar nature. Still with aches in my ankle but no longer full of pain. To add to my joy the trail I’ve now started on directly follows a pretty river with many campsites abound. I dream of stopping and making a fire, but for those that know me, i truly hate stopping before sunset at least. This pleasent land unfortunatly didn’t last, although nearing pain free walking again my path which was exceptional is now an old railroad bed, and has no where to set up my tarp. A soggy bog to both sides of me, and directly off the trail where my guide tells me to camp is nothing but gravel. Because you know, old railroad. So sleeping on gravel it is, unable to pitch my shelter in the rocks I cowboy camp, and pray it doesn’t rain. Wishing I just stopped at the river earlier instead of walking into the night, but that’s my game. Stopping before darkness feels wrong.

I woke up to rain. Naturally. And made my way down the path less followed. Again the river pops up and i follow it for the entire day, over bridge after bridge, past swimming hole after swimming hole. What a ride this would have been back when this was a rail road. A path cut through the mountains, often it’s just me inbetween giant walls of rock peaking out to walk along the waters further. All day is like this and my pain is now almost completely gone. I truly attribute it to the daily soaking. My roll starting to pick up again after going so slow for so long. The forward motion and the feeling of progress is extremely enjoyable. Today I actually get in some good miles. Back into the land of twenties with higher numbers on the horizon.

After being alongside a flowing stream for so long to my surprise it ends abruptly. The guide for New Brunswick is nothing like what’s available for northern Maine, or what I was using in Quebec. Just a sheet of paper that gives next to no info, and an extremely crude map I printed so I had a better idea of where towns were. Despite this I’ve fallen into the routine of carrying next to no water for any given stretch. Easier on my body considering how heavy water is. Although now not having any to drink for miles and miles it’s not so easy anymore. My best options become beaver ponds with the very occasional river flowing outwards from a beaver pond. Stagnant with taste of giant rodents. I purify it but question all the times in the past I havent. In Quebec I only filtered my water twice the entire time I was there. That was fresh, clean, beautiful, and tasted wonderfully consistently. Then again it takes about two weeks for a stomach bug to kick in so who’s to say I just haven’t felt it yet?

Rolling into the town of Saint – Quentin my plans are to grab food for the next 6 days at the grocery and roll out to camp. Already having traveled 18 miles to get here I notice something different. My once quiet trail is now full of ATVs passing me. Too many to count. Easily 30 or more pass, I wave, and smile. No one stops, but I doubt they see walkers often, if ever. Getting into the outskirts of town a man is riding the streets on his dirt bike doing wheelies, and the power lines are embellished with little colorful flags. I don’t know where the store is, and being this is the biggest little city I’ve been to in a long while I make a quick phone call to my mom for some extra directions. The grocery stores parking lot looks empty, maybe everyone’s too busy riding around on their all terrain vehicles. Nope. It’s closed. At 4 o’clock? Nope its 5, New Brunswick is on some new time zone and I’m behind on figuring this out. Way behind, almost halfway through the entire province. But 5 seems a little early for a large store? It is. However… today is New Brunswick day. They closed 10 minutes ago. 6 days of food from a gas station it is. Happily they happen to fig bars and other things I like. Leaving town I follow the NB trail, what I’ve been on this entire time. Its a multi use trails system that goes through the entire province. After an hours walking something irks me, I haven’t once seen a sticker for the IAT, which isn’t so out of the ordinary for NB but still strange, and really gives me the feeling I’m going the opposite direction from where I should be traveling. All hopes dashed of getting some real milage in today, the sun has set, and now I’m an hour outside of town on the wrong trail, confirmed again by the MVP that is my mom. My guide didn’t mention that I would no longer be on the same path. Apparently I was supposed to take to the highway. Whoops. Laying down in the bushes of someone’s property just deep enough in there so at first glance I may not be noticed I curse the night and set up to retrace my steps in the morning. A lame deer plagues my camp to the point i consider just getting up and walking all night. I move a mile away as a compromise. Now in someone else’s bushes.

Maybe judging from my map I could have guessed but this next section was mostly a roadwalk. 80 miles of roadwalk. Funny thing is I go right through Mont Carlton Provincial Park. On the road. Not some back road, but a highway. 80 miles in a little over two days. Sleeping in places I definitely shouldn’t be. However leaving the park to continue my pavement pounding I’m stopped by a game warden. If he was American what he said to me would have sounded more like “What the hell you doin’ out here boy?” But he’s not, he’s French! Thus far more polite. Very nice guy! The days are so hot now that it’s August he offers me his ice tea from lunch and I very happily accept. This drink was pretty crucial, because again I found myself in a spot without water for close to 10 miles. Middle of the day, walking a highway, in direct sunlight. His name is Richard and it was very nice to meet him and speak for a little while. Certainly a highlight of my time in New Brunswick, aside from all the beautiful rivers that are here and there.

At this time I was approaching a man’s home who’s a big supporter of the trail and as it happens is a legendary canoe builder. From picking the tree he’s going to carve to the finished product, everything about his boats are hand made. Miller Canoes if you want to check it out. I was dreaming of stopping at his house, as he is known to let hikers sleep on his lawn, charge my phone, learn about his craft, and get some water. Approaching his home I was bummed to find he wasn’t home. The rest of the day I curse my timing, hoping he would see me walking the road and stop to say hello. No dice. I slept in someone’s yard hidden between two trees, feet propped up on one, head against another. Not the best fit, but again I walked my 30 so I didn’t care. Not many options if you don’t want to pay to camp at an RV park. Which I refuse to do.

Finally the roads are over, word is after the town of Plaster Rock I pick the ATV path up again, and follow the Tobique river all the way to the US-CA border. The town is small and beautiful. Cute in everyway and full of everything a hiker could want. I don’t stay but stop for more groceries and fresh fruit to eat down by the water. A big storm brewing in the direction I’m going. Lightning crashing in the distance, I hustle to gather my things and hit the trail instead. Despite the storms ominous direction of travel, somehow I don’t get hit by a single drop of water. Feet in the river I eat my pineapple, blueberries, and raspberries… sit back and relax. Back on the trail and off the roads tonight, I can make some bonus miles. I walk until 10, again sleeping in someone’s yard. This time though, an old man sees me laying in the bushes the next morning. Damn this other timezone. Waking up at 5 am in my mind was actually 6. The guy said nothing, walked on, and life is good.

Today I will cross back into the US. It’s been a long time coming but finally I’ve made it home. In Canada I was only able to truly wash my clothes outside of a stream once due to no laundromats, rarely could I keep my phone charged as there just were never any electrical outlets to be found, Internet could only be had if I could find wifi, my phone calls back home costed money, and most everyone spoke french! For the vagrant that I am these little things meant something, as we know all i pretty much got is walking and what the weather is doing. Creature comforts become a big deal at times. As does speaking the same language as the locals… The US is gunna be great! No longer will it matter if I smell, this is America, we all smell! Walmart here I come, you have the cheap foods I want, the electricity I need, and the demegraphic of people I fit in with. Canada has been awesome, but I haven’t been on a real single track trail since Quebec and it’s time I get off the old railroad beds. The last 4 days have been 30s, I’m no longer in pain, and I’m ready to hit some mountains again. I’m ready to show this body crafted on the IAT, to the hikers of the AT.

Crossing the border was interesting, and I was somewhat unclear of how that would go, other than follow my guide step by step, leading me nowhere, and calling my mom again for real direction. You may have thought it would be some obscure trail I’d have to be escorted across into the new land but no, I did it the same way the cars do. In fact I got off trail and stood in line with all those cars. I waited for the light to turn green, and I walked up to customs with passport in hand. “Ya’ll dont get folks on foot often now do ya?” They dont. A few questions to determine what I was doing, and I was on my way. Surprisingly no drug dogs, no pat downs, no making me unpack all my things. Here I am, a guy with a backpack walking across the border. I guess Canada was just as ready to get rid of me as I was to leave. 25 miles into my day I had been so excited for this moment it was still early. I called border patrol to let them know until 8pm I would be walking the line. They understood what I was doing and wished me luck with the mosquitoes. Little do they know I’m from florida. Mosquitoes know better than to fuck with me.

Between Canada and the US there’s a 20 yard swath of land where they’ve cut down all the trees and erected little stone monuments every kilometer. As we know, the US celebrates itself quite well. Even in this remote and untraveled area. It was truly an experience to have the opprotunity to walk that line between nations. Rolling hills and beautiful views of farm land. Canadians on my left wondering what the hell I’m doing, Americans on my right… also wondering what the hell I’m doing. Streams I forded that crossed the imaginary line between the countries, and some swamp land as well. For the most part easy walkin’. Even after already going so far earlier in the day I was fresh. 40 miles in total I walked, and now back on home soil. I think it was the happyness that propelled me so far. Dained but smiling, physically feeling on the top of my game.

In Quebec, frogs and toads were everywhere. At a time I counted them every day but I would always lose track. I hear that’s a sign of a healthy environment. In New Brunswick it was slugs. Every morning slugs would congregate and pray to this new deity that had been resting on their land. They would slime up all my gear and generally were annoying enough to actually drive me insane while plucking them off my things each morning. Now in maine, both were gone. It’s now mice, squirrels, and chipmunks. Or generally just small varmints scurrying around making noise in my direction as i approach. I liked the frogs of Quebec best. They don’t try to steal my food like the mice do.

Now in Maine I’m greeted by towns almost daily, and being I’m walking more than a marathon during daylight hours sometimes multiple restaurants between waking up and falling asleep. Aiming for 30s I try not to stop at everyone of them, but looking back I missed one or two that really might have been worthwhile.

Everyone has been super cool in Maine. I don’t think most know what I’m doing, but a few figured out I’m not exactly homeless. Only mostly homeless. Walking an ATV path along rivers again a couple passes, I smile and wave. The same couple later passes again, slows down, and stops. I suppose I don’t look dangerous because before i know it theyve invited me over for snacks and drinks at their home! Which just so happens to be a mere 200 yards off the path I’m following. From their house I get the greatest gift of all aside from their hospitality. My first view ever of where I’m going. Mt Katahdin. Days away and there it is. The end of the International Appalachian Trail, and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Magnificent, and lit like a candle she sat on the horizon. Almost far enough to be out of sight. This older couple was so very kind, and the gentleman even told me stories back from the 80s of climbing those mountains. Likely way beyond the difficulty of today. Trail? More like taking a baring off of rocks and seeing how it goes. Things are so well traveled and documented these days all you have to do is commit sometimes. Takes the risk out of it in ways.

After that couples home I went to the nearest lean-to to sleep in. My first of Maine, and my first in a while as there were none in New Brunswick. To my surprise, anger, and bewilderment it was beyond trashed. The firepit was overflowing with garbage, plastic all over the geound, cans around the corners and backside, and the every wall vandalized with names of those I imagine were too lazy to pack out their own garbage. I could go on for days about how much this bothers me but I’ll only say a little. These are our public spaces, our wilderness, and trails to explore. If we don’t use them, they will be taken away. If we decide to trash them, they deserve to be taken away. Please for the love of the outdoors. Don’t leave your trash, leave nothing. Pretend as though you were never even there. I fell asleep hoping the animals local weren’t so accustomed to the food strewn across the ground that I would get a visitor in the night.

After this section I was once again greeted by roads. About another 80 miles of them. Making swift work, as I do, but still less pleasent than walking through the forest. Graffiti under a bridge mostly what you imagine is going through a 13 year old child’s head, this time actually said something of interest. “What will you be remembered for?” A thought that echoed.

After miles, actually days, of pavement I pass a few small vacation camps and enter the woods again. Away from cell service now, phone dying, and dangerously close to Baxter State Park. In the last town I picked up new shoes as my others had developed a massive hole so I’m ready. Ready to finish the IAT, and start the next leg of this journey. The Appalachian Trail. Where hikers flow more freely than the rivers, and I will no longer have to walk roads again for the next 2,200 miles. At least. The trail is now on a cross country ski track and it’s pretty sweet. Rivers to cross, and soft ground to plod along. I come across a sign advertising a shelter just off trail, decide to stop by and at least sign the trail register for other future IAT hikers to see. I was once here. No one saw me, but I was here.

Surprisingly this was not your typical hiker lean to. It’s already kind enough of the locals, or the trail organizations to build these homes away from the rain for us, but this was not normal. This was truly a cabin. On a lake. A door, windows, bunks, food coffee and tea inside. Magazines, and more amenities than I as someone who hasn’t showed in a week deserves. Sadly though, I’ve only walked 5 miles today, from my bed in the leaves. Guess I should have gone the extra distance yesterday. Isn’t that always the case. I move on.

A sign directing me off trail for hot meals only 1/4th mile away catches my attention. Across a beautiful bridge and onto a property along the river with beautiful wooden cabins littering the grounds. A man looks at me, as I yell a greeting with a smile. Sure enough he is the manager here! Apparently, although this is what I consider prime season to be in maine, when it’s not under snow, this is his off season. The place is empty and he is just here taking care of things. Apparently in the last 4 years I’m only the 5th hiker to ever come off that trail to visit. My friend Sycamore being the one prior to me!! Sometimes I feel like I’m walking in his foot steps……. This time, last year. The guy is mega friendly, and unlocks the dining room so I can come in, talk, and relax. The place is furnished to the max, and simply beautiful. It’s really a wonder why no one would be here. Trails behind the place, a river just feet away… seems like the perfect summer spot. He says people prefer lakes? And naturally so far away no cell service is a small downside. However those other places I’ve passed have no where near the class of this location. He sends me off with some peanut butter crackers, and as many sodas as I could carry. 4 was the magic number. Definitely happy I stopped by, even if they aren’t exactly doing anything special in the off season. During winter however the place is supposedly bumping! Currently he’s baiting bear with… trail mix (no wonder bears like hikers!) And dunkin donuts. Who knew that’s what the bears crave. In the winter thousands upon thousands of miles worth of snow mobile trails bring people from all over looking to spend big bucks. Broke hikers aren’t exactly a concern, however he was extremely nice to me, and from the sounds of it he’s been very good to every one else who’s stumbled across that bridge!

Wasting far to much time at the cabin, and the snowmobile camp, looking at the prospect of night hiking a few extra miles to meet my mark. I’ve been walking 30 miles or more ever day since Saint – Quentin, about a weeks worth of that if not more, not exactly feeling like breaking that chain. Tomorrow however is a very big day, and likely extra important i walk the bonus. Tomorrow I officially finish the International extention to the Appalachian Trail, and continue my way south along the mountain chain, and begin a new trail! Climbing my last mountain of this area, Deasy, there’s a side trail to a fire tower I pass in my haste as the sun sets, and lower down the way a creepy decrepit home crushed by time, that once was the fire wardens shelter. Making good time, almost at a slow jog, unfortunately a large river to be forded in the valley slows me down, and forces me to call it early. Meaning I’ll be losing sleep to begin my long walk to the top the next day. The hardest climb of this entire 4,800 mile route across the country. Mt Katahdin, at 5,200 feet or something it’s size is deceptive. It’s truly a rediculous climb. Boulders that dwarf men, and hours upon hours of arduous upwards (hardly forwards) motion.

4am. It’s time. 15.7 miles away I get up and go. Mouse ate my snack that I accidentally left out but it’s ok. Maybe he was hungry. 5 miles in I’m pressing forward with everything in hopes I can pull off a not so typical 30. Why? Because I have no reservation to stay in Baxter, I have no permit, I’m coming in on some unknown and very random trail, and plan to pass through the entire park in one fell swoop. My last IAT trail marker is a wooden sign, and it brings a massive smile to my face. This is the official end to the International Appalachian Trail. I did it. Quebec, a sprained ankle, New Brunswick, and northern Maine. What a ride it’s been thus far. Still yet, just the beginning. I’m only getting started. This may be the official end to the trail, but you’d be a fool to stand 10 miles from this magnificent mountaim, and not climb it, so I think everyone besides the state park agrees the top of that is truly the end. Entering the park on a trail that’s massively over grown, short shorts doing me no justice, legs getting torn up. Powering on I see a moose! My first moose in QC scared the hell outa me. She was with a child and wasn’t budging. This is now the 7th, and I barely slow down. The moose sees the steam rising from my feet, the fire in my eyes, and it runs away from me as though I’m holding a rifle. Today there are no breaks. Today is a big day. I connect the Katahdin Lake Trail, to some parking lot, walk a short road to another parking lot, and begin my real ascent up the Helon Taylor Trail… which leads to the Knife Edge of the mountain. The rain has already started to fall, and I see my first hiker, he just finished the Appalachian Trail, what I’m about to begin. I ask how it is up there. A blank stare. “Windy.” I have no back up. It’s up and over.

A family I pass slowly making their way up, in another two hours I’ll see why they’re not going to make it to the top. Rock climbing, boulder scrambling, and crazy weather is no hike for a child and two parents. Me? Up and over. After hours of climbing I’m now in the clouds, the wind is blowing strong, and I’ve reached the knife edge. Aptly named due to the sharpness of the ridge that you scramble across. I sit down at the top, question what I’m doing for a few minutes. The clouds clear for a mere second and I see someone else on one of the multiple ridges ahead, quickly again shrouded by nothingness. Looks safe enough. I slide down a clif into a little pocket of rocks, carefully, and slowly making my way to the base of the first miniature peak. Climbing up the next, and the next. The knife edge is just a mile but what an experience. Wind doing you no favors, visibility at an all time low, and hand over hand physical action. You’re litterally on the edge, looking down 5,000 feet. Walking, crawling, edging, and sliding across rocks jutting in all angles. This is the coolest thing I’ve done since I was in Gaspesie National Park in Quebec. Truly reminding me a lot like those trails. It’s maddening in the best way. The scrambling, and rock hopping truly awesome. If only more of the trail was like this. I pass a girl, who maybe I should have asked if she’d like to hike the last bit with me. She was almost there but in the clouds it’s near impossible to tell beyond pure feel. This wasn’t quite the place to pass someone, but I wasn’t exactly planning on stopping for a breather. Reaching the end, I never did see her up there. I think she must have turned around. That was cool. That was the most fun I’ve had this entire trip. One mile of pure adrenaline. The top of a mountain, walking some ridge way beyond trees. Just you, careful footing, and rocks. Pick your own poison, how best do you wish to get across these rocks. That’s what I loved. Not so much a trail, but more a route of your own choosing. What looks safest to you? What’s most doable. I hear the white mountains in New Hampshire are pretty cool. I can only hope they’re half as cool as that.

Reaching Baxter Peak I could hear people well beyond the point in which I could see them. And there it was. That wooden sign so many know so well. The northern terminus to the Appalachian Trail. What folks walk 2,200 miles to get to. Me? 755 miles on trail, but 800 in the books since I started due to my added road walking into and out of towns. If you remember, this trip is about a lot of things. One thing being human powered travel. No hitch hiking. A constant stream of footsteps from Quebec to Key West. This sign is surrounded by people, some on day hikes to the top, some who just finished the long walk from Georgia, and me. Some strange guy with a Canadian flag who came outa nowhere. Wide eyes, and bothered by the crowed. I just want a quick photo. I still have 15 miles to go today, and it took 4 hours just to get up here. It’ll take another 4 to get down the other side. “Hey kid, my battery is dead, and you got one shot. This better be good.”

Down I go. Briefly cell service enough to call my mom, let her know I’m good to go, and then my phone dies. The next 115 miles I have not a single photo. You’ll just have to trust me but the lava fields and dragons flying above truly made for an interesting few days.

31 miles and Mt Katahdin in one day. Finishing after dark camping just outside of park boundaries. I planned just 3 days for Maines 100 mile wilderness. In total between the next town I would be in, Monson, and my last town, Patten, it’s about 185 miles of food I had to carry. Or in my delusional mind 6 days. Well I’m in monson now, and it took 7. In the 100m wilderness I was greeted by rain for 3 days, and although in my opinion, besides the infinite number of rocks, roots, and general trickery I thought it was pretty darn easy. My last day I met a guy who just hiked the trail from Georgia to here, and he was just starting what I just finished. Destination Katahdin. He made some remark congratulating me on completing this section, and I mentioned back. I thought it was really easy. The look on his face said, I’m going to come over there and hit you. Although what he actually said was, “There hasn’t been a single part of this trail that I thought was easy.”

So now on to the fun stuff. Southern Maine, and New Hampshire should be the hardest parts of the AT. Excited to begin, excited to slow down. Although this is more of a… I think I have to slow down, rather than… I’m just chillaxin. I don’t think I’ll be doing much of that. Likely really difficult days ahead.

I went from not seeing a single hiker in 400 miles, to passing close to 50 a day. It’s really strange, and actually slows me down considerably. Although it’s nice, they’re all up to date on the weather ahead, water sources coming up, and general trail info otherwise I would be surprised by. Sometimes surprised in a good way… sometimes bad. Still, the amount of hikers out here is amazing.

The International Appalachian Trail is now thru, and I’m onto new things in this long and lonesome walk. One thing I must mention. The AT has been around for maybe 80… 100 years. The International AT, has only been aground for 20 at most. They need our help, as a trail community. As hikers, as locals. Our support really goes a long way. A membership to the International Appalachian Trail is fairly cheap, I’d say 15 dollars and it would mean a lot to me, and to the trail organization I’m sure, if more folks signed up. The trail has SO much potential, and SO much beautiful land it passes through. But they need help. The trail is still new. If you’re local to northern Maine, New Brunswick, or Quebec, I really encourage you to reach out to them.

In other news, I’m still moving fast, I’m moving strong, and I’m going to keep on trucking. It blows my mind that I’ll be in New Hampshire soon, and shortly I’ll be reaching 1,000 miles into this trip. It’s been wonderful.

Jupiter
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Day 14thru26 – The USA Calls

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.

Jupiter
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Day 12 & 13 – Leaving Gaspesie

I come across a woman very late in the day. Strange, mostly because everyone is already in camp by 3 or 4 here. I’m the only one out walking late, even though it’s not dark until 9pm. I ask the prerequisite question, “Are you hiking the SIA?”

No, unfortunately just a long day. I crave other thru hikers now, what’s the trail like ahead? Only they know. Although she tells me of her friend Marie-Anne who is, and how we should be running into each other very soon. This makes me happy.

Sleeping under my tarp for the 3rd time this trip is weird. I really don’t even need a shelter for both the Appalachian Trail and the International Appalachian Trail. Up here there are wooden refuges, and lean-tos every 10-15k, and on the AT there are shelters every 10 miles or so. It’s incredibly convenient. I don’t have to set up anything, I can roll in very late, dump out my things, go to bed, and pick up in the morning takes about 10 minutes to get going again. I’m totally hooked, and really I do love my tarp. These shelters are just so damn nice. No rodents either! Very unlike the AT.

In the morning it’s raining, and sure enough here comes a smiling face. I ask, of course, if he’s hiking the SIA. He is! We share secrets of the trails ahead, since I’m heading in the opposite direction as everyone else this works perfect. He is now the second person to tell me that Matane, the wilderness area I’m heading into, is BRUTAL. I still am reluctant to believe for whatever reason.

Moving on, the rain still falling, I seek refuge in a shelter to dry my feet a little. Moving on again, the wind picks up, and the clouds roll in. I can no longer see very far in front of me, but here again comes two folks. Still in Gaspesie but on the very outer edge at this point it’s unlikely, in this weather, and this place, that they’re just out for a couple days. Sure enough, they two are hiking the SIA.

It’s a father and daughter, and I’m not sure the dad speaks english because me and his girl are trying to exchange words and he keeps motioning to keep moving. As if they’ll find another hiker ahead to get this valuable info from. Maybe he just thought I was crazy. In this storm all I’ve got out currently is my tiny umbrella. They on the other hand, rain pants, rain jackets, and pack covers. Maybe I am crazy.

The dad wins and they leave me. I figure it’s time I get out my poncho before I reach the top of the mountain and it’s really bad.

The wind picks up again, and I’m pressing forward to the peak, questioning again my sanity. Poncho now blowing every which way, although still managing to keep my dry and warm. Yelling into the storm like a true madman, grinning ear to ear. Reaching the top, only to find its somewhat of a dangerous ridgewalk. I crouch lower, and plant my feet down, making my way past the edge, catching my breath again as I come across little patches of total mangled trees. The wind made them this way. I’m to stubborn to let the wind do the same to me.

Naturally this isn’t the end, as I cross more talus like the other day, up and up. Following cairns. Any other trail marker that had been installed up here is long since destroyed. Remembering a friend telling me about the amazing views off these mountains. I wouldn’t know, it’s all white.

Eventually leaving Gaspesie the trail finally goes down. I made it. No longer up in the clouds, no longer is the wind trying to blow me away. The trail is now straight down, without relief. I’m now in Matane. It’s now time to see if what I’ve been told is true. Will this be the most harrowing section of the International Appalachian Trail?

Arriving at my campsite for the night, it’s 8:30 and I scare some love birds who almost look as though they’re living in a tent here. Big cooler full of food, bags full of food. A coffee press. Everything. And no offer to me. Oh well. Beans for dinner again.

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My phone was mostly dead for the next couple days, I apologize for the lack of photos.

Day 11 – Moose & Squirrel

Sending a package to Canada from the US is really expensive. Maybe 50 dollars extra, it’s hard to remember. Nonetheless it had to be done. I won’t see a town for another 140miles.

The desk clerk at the visitor center looks me over, and says I’m the first thru hiker of the season to come through. Taking me down into the depths of their basement I’m worried. I sent all sorts of shit in this package to another country that you’re definitely not supposed to send. Batteries, multiple different kinds of liquids, unmarked bags of strange substances. Was I being brought to the arms of an officer or has everything gone smoothly?

My package is in good shape, and I’m happy to see it again. Food from home. Dehydrated fruits, and plenty of things I’ve been missing.

I do some quick calculating and figure I can hang out and try to charge my phone for another hour and still make the distance I want. A young family gets talking to me, and I mention that shortly I have to leave, otherwise I won’t have time to for 20 more miles today. They’re astonished, but I smile. I’ve already gone 5, it’s just a matter of time.

Making my way through a sea of tourists, this mountain is much harder to climb. Massive, fast flowing rivers, a result of snow melt I’m sure. Plenty of water in the form of lakes, and water falls as well. Bridges over streams, and large boulders to traverse.

There is almost no trail here, it’s just rocks. Hopping from one to another. It’s a ton of fun, although I’m sure a slip and fall would spell doom.

Earlier I saw a display case showing off medals for an ultramarathon that circumnavigates this mountain. Thinking of friends back home, and how much fun they’d be having doing this. It’s Mont Albert that I’m climbing, and the views are surreal. 360 degrees of rock formations poking up into the sky. Surrounded by giants, and here I am making my way to the top of one.

In the distance I can see more snow fields. This time not so docile either. To the left they drop straight down the mountain to certain death, and on the right they drop straight down into rocks, certain death. Unbeknownst to me just yet, the trail asks that I climb straight up.

No thanks. A little to far out of my comfort zone just yet. I’m from Florida, ya’ll. I’ll get there, but alone, and right now I’d rather not take a silly chance, and fall or put my foot through the melting snow into the rocks underneath. I find my way around to a much easier path up the ice. I can feel people watching me from great distances away, wondering what the hell I’m doing.

I make it through safely, and scale my way up talus as fast as I can to the top of the mountain. Everywhere here you’ll find signs saying to stay on the tral. It’s a very sensitive environment, the Quebec caribou are endangered, you’re up above treeline, and what do I see? At the top finally and way off trail I see a couple bathing in an alpine lake.

Making my way across the top of the barren landscape, and loving it. Just me, some rocks, lakes, and nothing else. If only the entire trail was like this, that would be absolutely fantastic. Has me dreaming of the Pacific Crest Trail, or the Continental Divide, or Colorado Trail….. those would consistently be a treat to be walking.

Down into the valley, now walking across boardwalk after boardwalk through a pretty meadow. I hear something over the podcast I’m listening to (thetrailshow of course,) I start filming just in case, and turning a corner what do ya know it’s a big moose munching on some grass. My first moose of the trip. I had been seeing thousands of their foot prints, I guess it was just a matter of time until I actually spotted one.

Getting closer to see if maybe I could pass by freely, that’s a big nope. She moves slightly, and my eyes get a great view of a baby wandering around behind her. Now everything I’ve read, and heard, except for one story from another hiker, has told me that moose are totally chill animals. All the locals say it too, especially during this time of the year they’re very well fed and won’t be a bother. But a big moose and it’s child? Again, not exactly a risk I’m willing to take right now.

I talk to it softly hoping it moves off. It doesnt, so I hang out and watch briefly, until she stomps her hooves a couple times, and makes some loud noises. I take that as a good reason to back off and give them space.

Sitting maybe 200 meters further away now, I question how long I should even wait, or what I should even do. Waiting here forever, another moose is bound to come up from a different direction, and I’d be stuck. After about 30 minutes I slowly creep forward, yelling greetings into the woods, hoping that gives the animal warning to move on.

It’s painfully slow going, and nerve wracking, but for my own personal piece of mind it has to be done.

No moose, good. Back to my normal pace, I come across a campground I was going to blow by, but instead I’m greeted by a backpacker wearing the same shoes as me. A good sign! Everyone else out here is wearing big heavy boots, and all I’ve got are these flimsy tennis shoes. We chit chat, and he’s very nice. The first to tell me that after I leave Gaspesie National Park, the next wilderness area is a total bitch. I kinda laugh it off considering all I’ve went through. He also confirms for me that I did the right thing, with my moose and child encounter.

The day is done, 25 in the book, and I’m camped with two other dudes down the trail. Being around so many people in this park has been nice, but I think I’m ready to see some thru hikers. Weekenders just aren’t on that same journey.

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Day 10 – Life is too short

Down the mountain, passing through land of Christmas trees it’s clear I’m the only one to be out here. Spider webs litter the trail, and within an hour of starting my day I look as though I belong in a Halloween exhibit.

Taking off my hat produces a sound much like peeling an orange. Maybe it’s a testimony to how dirty I am, but I think it’s due to the sticky webbing I’m covered in. Looking down at my shirt I realize it isn’t spiders, it’s caterpillars! And now they’re inching their way across my clothing instead of hanging from the trees. I imagine going to sleep later and waking up with butterflies fluttering out of my sleeping bag the next morning.

River crossings with wooden pallets lain across as a makeshift bridge oddly reminds me of the work I used to do. Easy walking, it’s bittersweet to be walking away from the coast of Quebec. I won’t see the ocean again until I am in Florida, but today is made special because I enter Gaspesie National Park! Well maintained trails, and people to talk to are what I look forward to now.

Met with a public bathroom to set things off I try and charge my phone until a park employee approaches me. Neither of us speak the same language, but I try to explain I’m hiking the SIA (Sentier International des Appalaches) and I’m going up those mountains over there shortly. He furiously taps his watch as if I’ll never make it in time. I smile and go back to my phone.

Instead of having a single track trail from the parking lot to the mountaintop, they have a shuttle that takes tourists 3km to the very base of the first big mountain so the hoards have an easier time. It’s the tallest in the park at 1,268m (Mont Jacques Cartier – 4,160ft) and I refuse a shuttle. Hopping the fence, and making my way up the graven road along a river something big is coming my way fast. A yellow school bus blows by me, easily going 50mph on this winding mountain road. Both beautiful and scary.

The climb was easy, and I make quick work. Nearing the top I go above treeline and the scree begins. No dirt, no grass, just small rocks that make up the trail. In the distance I can see people, a small tower at the summit, lakes below, and many other mountains in all directions.

Leaving the people behind, and their neatly organized trail. I descend the otherside. The rocks are far larger here, and I hop across them no longer following trail markers but instead cairns made by those that have come before me. Large stacks of rocks, like connecting dots. Hopping and climbing, treating myself to the views in the distance, and the beauty in my movements across this strange terrain.

Snow on many of the mountains ahead of me. Odd for July, even more odd for this southern boy. With great joy, the trail even crosses some of these snow fields! I slipped and slid a little but I suppose thats expected for someone without much experience with snow. Alls good, I learn more everyday! Happyness is learning, gaining experience, and forward progress.

Day one in Gaspesie and this trail continues to surprise me. This time not with bad conditions, but instead the most perfect trail ever. Ridge walking, above treeline, across small snowfields, and when I got lower in elevation the trail was still equally as fantastic. Cute meadows, healthy plants and animals, many boardwalks, and here I am feeling great in everyway to fully enjoy all of it.

I stand on a ledge looking back at a mountain I was just on, valley below with a waterfall crashing all the way down, and my day is almost over. Tomorrow I pick up the only package I’ve had sent to Canada. Full of food from home, my tent stakes, water purification, bug spray, soap, knife, and lighter. Yes, 10 full days without these things. I was worried they’d get taken away in the airport, and I don’t need that hassle. Goes to show how little gear you actually need to backpack. Much less than you’d think.

Full of joy I run down the last mountain. Swiftly passing a couple, and dissapearing into the trees. To my amusement there are three already camping where I end up. The real amusement comes when I’m told they’re vegans from New Brunswick, and they have way to much food, and insist that I have some. Vegetable Chili, rice, and flat bread.

Life is too short, not to be doing what you want.

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Day 9 – An Easy 16

Leaving my new friends at L’Amarré was hard but it must be done! I have miles to make, and a trail to hike.

I was told the next mountain I woukd be hiking was going to be very beautiful and they sure weren’t kidding. One big climb up and over into the next town. Amazing views off the top and a really cool trail going down the side. Totally exposed with panoramic views of the valley, town, and ocean below.

On the top there were a couple strange platforms of wood built. Flat, right on the side of the clif, and leading to certain death. It didn’t dawn on me at first but while making my way down I realized those are for hang gliding! This town offers hang gliding services, and I’ve been told they have a sister company…. down in Florida!

I had accidentally walked away with the hotels room key, and was very fortunate to find someone in town I recognized to bring it back. For a little while I was considering how I could package and send it back via the postal service. Oops! Sorry guys, but I’m very happy I was able to return it.

I grabbed a quick soda from the grocery, and made my way down the trail. Immediately I was following a river through the valley and it was so very peaceful. Sharing the trail with mountain bikers for this small section I was happy to find the trail was extremely well groomed.

I leave the valley and start climbing up what is in the winter likely a snowmobile path. Up and up for maybe an hour and a half without stopping. The trail slims down from a road into a double wide track. For the next 20k the trail is like this, without much climbing, or descending. Occasional views of my surrounding I’m now on the top of the mountains.

On my way to Gaspesie National Park! Something good is a brewing, I’m not going down anymore. Just ever so slightly climbing. Seems as though I’ll stay at this elevation until I’m in park grounds. The next few days I’ll be going over some of the biggest, if not the biggest mountains in Quebec!

Then after that into Matane Wilderness Area for some more carnage. The National Parks spoil me.

Actually looking forward to seeing some people out hiking. The solitude is nice, but so is companionship!

I’m camped at a refuge up in the mountains. The guidebook says I’m supposed to have views of the valley, maybe that was true years ago, now where my view would be is obscured by trees that have grown big and strong.

One more day until I get my resupply box, the only one I sent to Canada. It has my tent stakes, bug spray, water purification, and other things among food for the next stretch. 6 days worth if I remember. One of the most remote sections out here is coming.

I have the woodstove burning in the refuge in hopes it will quiet the rodent living in the walls. Maybe he’s cold too?

In other news I’ve been filming a whole ton of video, and it’s been coming out great! I don’t know what yet I’ll do with it because I don’t exactly have the time to edit, or upload from the trail, but know eventually there will be pretty videos of what’s I’ve been going through out here. One day…. I’ll continue to film. We shall see.

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Day 7 – Feeling lucky

My alarm is set for 4am, I did this before I left for the trip. At least to wake me up, and hopefully to get me hiking early in the day, because as we know big miles means big smiles. That and the sunrise is beautiful or something.

Today I woke up at 3am for whatever reason instead. Went to the campgrounds rec room to grab my phone, which I left charging all night there, and decided to pack up and get out.

Grande Vallée to me didn’t feel like home. I planned 11 miles to the next shelter, but by the time I got there it was so early I decided to keep moving, and look for a real town to relax in for a day.

Once walking I didn’t stop, just keeping an easy pace. My trail paralleled the highway, and took me through the mountains next to it. The following town was also small, and with my soreness gone I continued forward hoping to come across something better. Although a beautiful view of the water, and another lighthouse with coffee, it wasn’t quite right, and the day was still young.

At times I was on the road, thrown back into the woods briefly, and again on the road. It was mostly easy walking. My sights set on a Gîte in the village of L’Anse-Pleureuse, 40 miles from where I started. What would be my longest day hiking ever. (I have done a couple 38s, and such under that but I seemed to be stuck at that number.)

I think a Gîte is like a bed & breakfast, or maybe just an extremely fancy hostel, I’ve yet to stay at one but it was all I could think about. Not getting to take my day off I was bent on getting there.

My pace quickened with darkness approaching, but by the time I arrived, I came to see the place had closed down. 40 miles for nothing, and rain had begun to fall. Now I had little choice. Still set on resting in a bed, I decided I’d push to the next town. 7pm with an hour left of daylight, and just over 4 miles to go, I wasn’t sure I could do it. What if I got there and everywhere was booked? To late now, I was going to try.

Up old rural roads into neighborhoods not many ever go, getting strange looks, and cars driving past extra slow, the trail takes me back into the woods. Past rusted broken cars, and old appliances in equally as bad of shape. This must be the make shift dump. Some ATV path high above the water, and the highway.

Plodding along, the markers designating I was still going the right way dissapear. Dissapointed, and not prepared to turn back wasting another 20 minutes I take a fork that is pointing the direction of the ocean and the main road. Without pause there the markers are again, but coming out from some other location. Not interested in repeating what just happened I aim for the road anyway.

Beautiful asphalt, easy motion, and the sea right beside me, I’m glad to be on way again.

The rain continues to fall, and being so close to my destination I choose just to use my umbrella, instead of wasting time looking for my poncho. Clothes getting wet, the village now in sight, it almost doesn’t matter anymore.

Walking past the RV campground, trying to read french signs in the rain, attempting to decipher whether any given building might house me or not. Comparing words in my guide to those I see it’s not much luck.

Tired of walking, and ready to lay down I see a party overflowing outside a cute pink home. I walk up and am greeted immediately by a nice man asking if I need to crash. It must have been clear in my face, my damp jacket, and my flimsy umbrella I was done for the day. Swiftly greeted by the co-owner and shown my room, life is good again.

44 miles, and finally I get what I want. A hotel. Not just any hotel, just my luck, this one only opened a few days ago, and I would be it’s 20th customer. Not yet online, not yet in guides, I somehow stumbled on what is likely the only place with rooms available for many many many miles around.

The party was pivate and mostly friends, a celebration for the new business, and they welcomed me with open arms. The desheveled english speaking tourist. I was fed, they gave me drinks, and it was all on the house.

Even one of the bartenders took time with me to help me learn some basic french, and get me up to speed on some Quebec history. I really had no idea how important knowing just a little bit of their language would be. From here on I will be sure to use her teachings to good use. I was so caught up in planning this 6 month trip I hadn’t taken the time, and that is my mistake.

I met just about everyone, and they were all so very kind and generous. Here I had just come out of the blue, and was met with the most wonderful people in the land.

The former mayer of the city over was there too. He’s a pretty good singer. Johnny Cash must have been on his mind.

Mont Louis is my home today and tomorrow. Sometimes things work out.

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Day 6 – Grande Vallée

Town day! With yesterday’s foolery behind me I’m ready to grab some food, and hit this trail with a fresh mind.

Still 10 or so miles away from the village I quickly learn some rumors I’ve heard are true. Some areas of this trail are so steep the trail organization has installed ropes to help folks like me get up or down. In this case it’s down. About 100 yards of rope strung down the mountain. More fun than it sounds! And surprisingly so much easier on my knees and ankles than just descending typically would have been.

I pass a couple beautiful lakes, which happened to have small boats with paddles, unnatended, with no signs telling me not to use them……….. but I was too stoked on town so I kept moving. I know I know, shoulda done it!! But I swear the second I step foot in one of those things I betcha the owner would have come by!!

As I approach my beach walking for the morning, a local comes out of his house, obviously aware of the trail I’m following. Apparently today I’m not so lucky and the tide is high. I’ll be walking road as the alternate. The beaches are hit or miss. Or well timed.

Passing a small town along the way I start to see signs for some festival that’s going on. I see nothing going on, but in such a tiny village could you even tell if there were a party?

Arriving in Grande Vallée, a larger town on the coast, but still probably under 1,000 residence. I start scoping out the hotels. That one is too small, probably no wifi, that one I’d have to camp at, and then all the way across town I see the perfect one. Fully booked. I should have called ahead and reserved a spot. Like a month ago. The festival apparently, along with now being tourist season. My hopes were because it’s the middle of the week I’d be solid. Hopes dashed and destroyed!

Back the way I came, that one’s full, that one only speaks french but I think they’re full too, and then the RV park…. I’m camping I guess. Not exactly the town day I had in mind. I set up my tarp, spot a couple other tents, and hopes are high those are more SIA/IAT hikers. Off to shower and do laundry, charge my phone, and get food for my stomach and the next stretch of walking. I’ll check back on the tents later.

All Quebec towns wouldn’t be complete without a small roadside french frie restaurant. So fries, and salad for dinner it is.

Back at my campsite someone has set up their tent next to me so I say hello. He is a young Quebec man who is walking highway 132 from Quebec City to Gaspé. About 600km I think, and he has the beef on the other tenters staying here as well. They too, are also hiking the 132! How strange I think. You have this trail through the mountains yet all these people choose the busy highway with its infinite sixteen wheelers hauling trees. It’s a beautiful highway I must admit, but I feel this says something about the trail I’m walking. Maybe it’s not well enough known, or maybe it’s too difficult. Sadly, highway tramps, instead of dirtbag hikers like myself.

Having my tarp pitched is strange among all the RV’s, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done it. However I’d like it to be the last time.

I’m setup down by the beach, and am informed it’s going to be a very cold night, about 5* Celsius. Which I guess translates to upper 30s in Fahrenheit. I had actually been aware that these temperatures were present at this time before I left for the trip, and was selecting gear. Although an unseasonably cold July for them, I had no idea. Despite being prepared I guess the flimsy 5×9 poncho tarp I use for shelter doesn’t give off a great impression. The campsite owner approaches trying to give me all sorts of warm gear to help. Naw I’m alright.

It was a cosy night for me, not once feeling like I was cold. Despite the winds whipping off the ocean in my direction.

Not exactly the town day I wanted. Not a comfortable town vibe for me in Grande Vallée, and certainly not the comfort of a hotel room with my feet kicked up resting sore bones. Dreaming of actually taking a rest elsewhere I fall asleep as the sun sets.

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Day 5 – It’s not supposed to be easy

Starting from camp, wondering where the two hikers ahead of me stayed, starting to question if there are even hikers ahead of me, or if I was told a farce. The trails tread tells a story, and it does seem to reflect that others have been here recently. The ground in places is desheveled in ways that doesn’t appear to be from animal activity. Some of the plants that extend up into the trail, are crooked, and crushed. My brain clearly wants to believe.

Leaving the trail for the beach, oh yeah! The coast! This trail takes you across the beach 4 times in total, if your timing is good, or if you’re lucky. So far I’ve been lucky, because the tides dictate your passing. High tide could mean swimming. Me being lucky means I didn’t ask.

Beach walking here is a lot of fun, and equally as technical due to the rocks and the strange footing to get across them. Really, I think the beaches have been my favorite walking of this trip so far. This beach was different from the last too. This beach had bigger rocks, the sea was calm, and there was no wind. On the last one the wind was so strong, all the flies eating the seaweed were being whisped away and pelting me in the face. To the point in which I actually put my glasses on as a shield.

I skip across the rocks, careful to avoid those that are wet, and likely slippery. Making my way, and enjoying my day. Everything looking as though I’m off to a good start. Walking closer to the waters edge to get a photo with my self timer, and I notice something in the water. Trash bobbing around? No, it’s seals! Maybe 30 yards off shore checking me out.

I walk on, and the seals follow for a while. Watching me, as I watch them. After a few miles of this, and enjoying the little ponds of water stuck on shore I approach another small village. In the cove it appears to be low tide, as there are two boats that look as though maybe they should have been anchored further out… totally bottomed out, and probably suffering damage.

With nothing in the village to do I move on, and the trail takes me up away from the coast on a logging road. Miles and miles up into the mountains, until I get to dart off into the woods again.

Here on the IAT it’s not uncommon to see very few trail blazes marking the path. At times I only see one every 15 minutes, or sometimes they’re everywhere. It’s hit or miss, and typically if I don’t see one, I don’t worry. 15 minutes goes by and I’m reassured by the white and blue sticker I’m still going in the right direction. Then another 15, 20, 25… climbing higher and higher. Eventually getting so far up, only to find the trail I was following impassible, and the last blaze I saw was a forgotten relic of the old route.

Back the way I came, up to the fork in the path I had missed, only to have forgotten which way I had originally come. Bah. No real signs, and frustrated already I make a choice. The wrong choice. Overall wasting over an hour, and a lot of brain power.

Finally making it down to the valley below, and to a refuge. The trail register is old, the shelter although full of cool furniture and strange paintings… is void of life, and so I move on. Just 11 more miles to go in what will be a 22 mile day. Tomorrow I get to resupply on food in Grande Vallée and am already thinking about a zero milage day.

Leaving the shelter, the trail is overgrown and wild. It winds down to a small river in which I’m asked to follow, and cross once or twice. Into the woods I’m confronted by a wall of vegetation. Somewhere in there I think is where I need to go. It’s now lightly raining, and all the plants scraping at my clothes are acting to soak them through, and chill me to the bone.

My last big climb of the day, and at this point I’m certain I’ll be staying an extra night in the next town. All the way up my movement is slowed by years worth of plant growth. Finally at the top I’m greeted by a wind farm, and my trail has now become a sea of ferns up to my nipples that I’m now wading through, hoping not to trip.

Tired, frustrated, wet, and ready to go to bed, the wind farm manages to cheer me up, and the trail provides. Easier tread to walk on, a road. As if it knew I was having a hard time and needed something.

Lasting just long enough to get me back up to strength for the last few kilometers into camp. Naturally, walking along a log placed over a muddy area I manage to roll my ankle.

Only 22 miles but it sure felt longer. Only 10 more until I’m in town tomorrow, and it’s all on the beach. I couldn’t be more thankful.

The trail here is very new, as I’ve been reminded. Without decades of foot travel to let it maintain itself. The beauty of the IAT outweighs the momentary lapse in support. In time, this trail will easily be an amazing extension to the Appalachian Trail of the south, as if it already isnt.

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