Walk Across Canada – Days 13-17

This post is a compilation of my daily field notes on Facebook.  If you would like to see them daily, you can follow me here.

Day 13 – Walk Across Canada

Once again, thanks to Paul Thellab for putting me up in a hotel last night. And what a great breakfast. I had to waddle down the road for awhile, I was so full.

I started out in the rain this morning, the kind of rain where, when I lifted my head to see where I was going, it felt like someone was stabbing me in the face with needles.

I walked about 60 kms today. I hadn’t intend to, not because I didn’t think I could do it, but because I’m being hosted tonight by Richard Plourde and his family, and I didn’t think I could walk 60 kms and not be a bumbling idiot at the end of it. At a minimum, I thought I would be a very poor guest.

Wildflowers in bloom along the highway

But I got inspired when I saw the sign on the highway that said, Timmy’s in 21 kms. That was only 3 1/2 hours walking. If I didn’t take any breaks, I might make it there before my pickup time.

Of course, no sooner did the thought enter my mind, Mother Nature laid down a wicked headwind and pouring rain, angled at my poor little body.

Of course, this did nothing but to double my resolve. I curved my lips into a snarl, lowered my head, and pushed Kitty right through it.

Mother let up on the rain after a couple of hours, and put the headwind at half speed. But with the wind and a few unusually steep hills in the city limits of Edmunston, I still had a pretty good workout.

I am staying at the home of Richard Plourde and his wife, Jocelyne, in Edmunston, New Brunswick. Yesterday strangers, and now fast friends. Richard is a very charming, likable man, an optometrist by day, published novelist and aspiring giant pumpkin grower by night. He’s a wonderful storyteller and has a keen interest about everything. Just a great guy. Jocelyn makes the best carrot cake I’ve ever had. And it’s possible two pieces slipped past my lips. Mmm. Their two children are also incredibly talented. Such a fine family, and I am so honoured that they have invited me into their home. Thanks guys!

Richard Plourde preparing the perfect cup of coffee.

Tomorrow around noon, I will cross into Quebec and a new time zone and say goodbye to the Maritimes. Sniff.

See you on the other side.

By the way, how many of you curled your lips into a snarl when you read that line, just to see how it felt? Felt good, didn’t it? Hehe.

Day 14 – Walk Across Canada

Once again, many thanks to Richard Plourde and his family for opening up their home and hearts to a weather-worn traveler.

Richard and Jocelyne made me a coffee this morning. They are coffee connoisseurs. 19.5 grams of New York Stumptown coffee, dripped for exactly 28 seconds, frothed with milk using a two-point tip into a delicious latte. I honoured my first sip of coffee with a sigh, as it deserved.

Al and I had a conversation as we crossed the border into Quebec.
Me: Al, do you speak French?
Al: Not at all. How about you?
Me: Maybe just a couple of words.
(Long pause)
Al: Well you do all the talking then.

Leftover Greek pasta, thanks to Jocelyne.

As I had hoped, I was stopped on the highway by the Quebec police. I had wanted to confirm that my planned route would be ok with them. As luck would have it, I was stopped by probably the nicest police officer in the force. Yes, I was illegally walking on the highway. He asked for my story and myncredentials (I gave him my driver’s license and veterans card). “How long from Halifax to here?”
“Fourteen days.”
“Whoa!”

Apparently, the stretch of highway from the Quebec border near Edmunston to Rivière-du-Loup at the St. Lawrence River is not what it seems on the map. It looks like a single highway, but it’s a series of major and secondary highways all linked together. It’s illegal to walk on highway 85, a major highway.
“It’s the only way to get to the St. Lawrence,” I said.
He nodded. “I see your dilemma.”
The officer (oh I wish I’d learned his name) got on his cell and talked to his boss. I could discern that he was trying to get permission for me to walk to St. Louise-du-Ha! Ha!, where highway 85 turned into 165, a secondary highway. The answer was obviously ‘no’ because he cursed and hung up.
“Do you want me to drive you to Rivière-du-Loup?”
“No.”
“Can I drive you to Cabano (where I told him I would take a hotel. I mean, I couldn’t tell him I was stealth camping)?
“No.”
Then he went on Google maps. “Up ahead two kilometers is exit 24. You can take secondary roads to Cabano.” And then he proceeded to show me on his phone. “But after Cabano, you can’t walk on the highway for 12 kilometers to St. Louise-du-Ha! Ha! Unfortunately, there is no bypass road. You will need to get a ride or take a taxi. I’m sorry, my friend.” And he genuinely looked sorry.

The officer said he would drive me to exit 24, even though it was only two kms away. He couldn’t allow me walk it. “Really?” I asked. “You would drive me there?”
“Oh yes. All part of the service,” he beamed.
I asked how we would get Kitty into the police car. “We will find a solution!” he said enthusiastically.
And we did fit her in, although we had to remove her front wheel to do it. While the officer was helping me unpack Kitty, he suddenly stood up and said with feeling, “You have courage!” I looked up at him and he tapped his fist against his heart. “Courage!” I thanked him for his kind words.

In the car, we talked about his family. He’s married to a police officer he met in Basic Training. They have two children, 5 and 6. We talked about the risks of being posted apart, about the challenges of his working the night shift for 7 days, followed by his wife working the night shift for the next 7 days. He asked me about my military postings.

When we finally got back around to exit 24, he pointed at the lake. “Lac Temiscouata. It is 42 kilometers long. It is my favourite lake in the world. I have a little boat I take out on it in the summer. This is my place. I want it always to be my home.”

After he dropped me off and helped me put Kitty back together, I took a photo of him by his favourite lake. And then he took one of me.
We left one another a bit sadly, I thought. It seemed we both just wanted to go for a beer and talk about life. He is a very likable fellow.
I was very happy to meet this officer. He had nothing in mind but to help me solve my problem of getting from point A to point B. He was courteous, friendly, helpful, and a real joy to be around.
And by the way, the reason I’m in a motel in Cabano right now is because I told him I would be. Integrity intact.

A fine example of a police officer and a credit to the Quebec Provincial Police.

So it looks like I am going to gain a 12-km advantage tomorrow by taking a cab to St. Louise-du-Ha! Ha! The only way around it is to try to break the law, but what would be worse is that I would be dishonouring a fine police officer who went out of his way to help a traveler, all the while struggling to communicate in his second language. What a fine man.

So yes, I’ll gain two hours walking tomorrow, but that is the nature of the trail. Even long-distance hikers must sometimes get a ride around forest fires. It is what it is.

For others who are considering this type of walk, I recommend just getting a ride from the Quebec border direct to St. Louise-du-Ha! Ha! You will gain the better part of a day’s walk, but you’ll bypass the trouble area completely and then you won’t have any trouble using secondary highways thereafter.

After the officer dropped me off, I walked through a village called Notre Dame du Lac. A car pulled up beside me and man asked me about my trip. “I saw you this morning way back in Edmunston,” he said. His name was Albert (which he pronounced Al-bear). He asked if I needed anything. “You are doing a very good job,” he said. I thanked him and he drove off.

So far, the people in Quebec have been fabulous. What a great day!

I needed a protein bar to make it to the top of this hill. Hehe.

Today is the two-week point in my walk across Canada. I’ve walked over 770 kms in 14 days, about an average of 55 kms per day. Since I only need to average 41 kms per day, I can only say that I’m pleased how well my body is adapting to the stress I’m putting on it so far.

On long-distance hiking trails, such as the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail in the US, thousands of people attempt a thru-hike every year, but only one in four will make it to the end. Think about that for a second. Fully 75% who start out won’t finish.

About 40 percent of those people who start will have dropped out by this time at the two-week point for various reasons – discomfort, blistered feet, poorly equipped, no money, loneliness.

The next most frequent time that people quit is by the one-month mark. These would be the people who should have quit in the first two weeks, but held on through sheer determination.

And the third most frequent time when people drop out of a long-distance hike might surprise you. It is the half-way point. Psychologically, they think about how much work it’s taken to get to that point and are unwilling to do the same again.

Statistically, the odds are still against me. Still, I’m pleased that I’m at the two-week point and still on the road. My body feels strong. The few blisters I’ve had are healing nicely. My mind feels healthy and determined. And I’m meeting supportive friends along the way.

It feels great to have come so far. And there is still a very very long way to go. I try not too think about the distance still to be covered because that only disheartens me.

I’m not infallible. I suffer from the same fears and anxieties as everyone. I try to avoid pain and mental anguish. Walking 55 kms on sore feet, up and down hills in the pouring rain, while battling a wicked head wind the whole way, would test the mettle of any human. But it’s not like that every day, and it’s only discomfort. And when we face discomfort, it only makes us stronger.

So yes, the odds might be against me, but I have an ace up my sleeve. It’s the same ace I’ve been using since day one of this trek.

When I woke up this morning, just like every morning since I started, I said, “Dave, you only need to walk for 8 hours today.” And if I do that enough times in a row, slowly, over time, the odds will turn in my favour.

Day 15 – Walk Across Canada

I’m sitting at the hotel enjoying a massive continental breakfast. Three bowls of cereal, two sandwiches, fruit, yoghurt, juice, and coffee. Whew!

Fields, forest, and the open road. Sigh.

Well, I don’t have to take a taxi to St. Louise-du-Ha! Ha! today after all. My friend, Derrick Steeves, alerted me to an alternate route south along highway 232 to Maine and then west to the St. Lawrence. On a road map, it looks like highway 232 dead ends at Maine near a town called Rivière-Bleue, but it actually skirts the border to a town called Pohenegamook. (Yep, that’s the name). From there, it’s about 65 kms through the forest to the St. Lawrence River. The route will add another 15 kms or more to my original route and I’ll have to backtrack down a kilometer or so to access the highway, but it’s certainly viable.

I walked all the way to Rivière-Bleue, about 30 kms, without a break. On route was a smorgasbord for my visual sense, all rolling hills, houses, acreages, and farms. When I passed through an area called Saint-Eusebe, I came across a house whose yard was filled with children’s toy vehicles – trucks, cars, trains – all placed so as to be pieces of art. As I was taking some photos, an old man with no teeth stepped out onto the porch to shake out a mat. We exchanged ‘bonjours’ and then he said something I didn’t understand. He laughed as he swung his arm out, indicating his works of art. I laughed with him, then gave him a thumbs up for his artistic flair and carried on my merry way.

Artistic flair in one’s front yard.

I was disturbed from my daily daydream of nothing in particular by a strange thing. It was a horse staring at me. Yes, staring. Didn’t his mother teach him any manners? After I passed by him, he ran off to his friends “You won’t believe what I just seen, boys. I can’t explain it, but I tell you, it was something.”

Later, two cows wandered up to a fence to stare at me.
Cow 1: What in tarnation is that, Mable?
Cow 2: Why, it’s a man walking down the highway pushing a stroller.
Cow 1: Is he? Mable, is he talking to a…a…bobble head?
Cow 2: Yup. Looks like it.
Cow 1: Shhh. He’s looking at us.
Me: Moo
Cow 1: Moo
Cow 2: Moo

I liked Rivière-Bleue. It’s what I hoped to see in small-town Quebec, cute little houses and shops encircling a main town church. And not a McDonalds to be seen anywhere. Paradise, although seemingly without a grocery store.

Near downtown, a car stopped near me. A gentleman from Quebec City named Aurele Turcotte stepped out and asked me about my adventure. His brother had seen me a couple of days ago back in Grand Falls, NB, and Aurele had seen me near Edmunston.
“Could I take your photo,” he asked. “I want to send it to my brother.”
Aurele told me it had also been his dream to walk across Canada, and he thought he would do it in retirement. But knee surgeries have quashed that dream; now he can only walk 2 kms before he has pain and his knees swell up.
After he took a couple of photos of me, he invited him to stand behind Kitty for a photo. “You may not be able to walk Across Canada, my friend,” I said. “But you can have a small taste of the experience.” He loved it, and although he’s not a Facebook man, we will connect by email. As he departed, he said, “You have courage, David. God bless you!”

Pohenegamook was much like Rivière-Bleue, only smaller. Even the church was smaller. Longer name, but smaller everything else. I like it.

Lac Pohenegamook

It’s still a few hours before I’ll stop for the night, but the cell coverage is sketchy around here, so I’ll post this now.

Day 16 – Walk Across Canada

Well, it turns out Pohenegamook is way bigger than I thought. It actually curves half way around this giant lake called (are you ready for this?) Lac Pohenegamook. There’s a church at both ends of town. Long name, long lake, long town.

I walked five hours without taking a break, from the forest to a town called St. Alexandre. This is where I turn south and eventually meet up with highway 132 which follows the St. Lawrence.

There’s not much in St. Alexandre. The only restaurant looks like it’s been closed for twenty years. And something else that’s strange. No grocery store. In fact, I haven’t seen a grocery store yet in Quebec. Where does everyone buy their ju jubes, for goodness sake?

Every village in rural Quebec seems to have a main church.

It rained most of last night and most of this morning. There was a strong tail wind which whipped the icy rain into the back of my legs. So me, being whiny and uncomfortable, finally donned my rain pants for the first time.

The morning was all wind, cold, and rain. There were lots of hills too. On one particularly ginormous hill, I told myself I would reward myself with potato chips when I got to the top. When I finally got there, I remembered that I had already eaten all my potato chips, at times when I hadn’t particularly earned them, and so I settled for a drink of water. Sigh.

I have a deep blood blister on my left heel that is bothersome. Every step feels like someone is jabbing me with a needle. Not a sewing needle. More like a knitting needle. It’s like walking all day with a tiny stone under your heel that you can’t shake out.

I blame Feet, of course. They will conspire to do anything to get me to give them a rest. At this morning’s meeting, Feet asked me why we keep walking the first five hours of the day without a rest. I told them management decides the schedule based on a complicated mathematical formula Feet wouldn’t understand. (I winked at Al). And then Feet snickered. They were up to something. And now this blister. Well I have a surprise for them. I’m just going to keep walking to spite them. Hehe. Let’s see what they do next.
Union? Never!

The walk from St. Alexandre to Saint-Pascal was as flat as a pancake, and although it rained a bit, there was a gentle tail wind. It would have been a lovely walk if not for me being terrified from cars flying by only a couple feet from me. Really, the major highways are much safer.

I passed through a town called Ste-Helene. And lo and behold, it had a grocery store. So I stocked up on the essentials – ju jubes, cookies, chocolate, and, um, oh yeah, that other stuff that’s good for you – fruit.

I get a little tingle of excitement when I see the church of the next town and I know I’m getting closer to it. I wonder what the town will look like. Will there be cute houses? Will there be a restaurant? A grocery store? Interesting people going about their business? Children squealing with delight in the playground? A soccer field? It’s all so exciting.

Cute house

At the moment, I’m in Saint-Pascal having a veggie pizza. I’ll post this from here and then put in another hour or so of walking and find a stealthy place to camp.

Enjoy your day, my friends. And for goodness sake, please send some sun my way. PLEASE!

Day 17 – Walk Across Canada

If I ever write something to the effect of “I really enjoy putting on cold, clammy clothing in the morning”, then please call the sanitarium and have me removed from the road. I will never enjoy that moment of removing myself from a warm sleeping bag and putting on damp clothes. NEVER!

Despite that, I woke up all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning at 5am and was on the road by 6am. I couldn’t really linger because I had stealth camped within site of the backyards of a couple houses. The morning was sunny, with no wind, and there were only a handful of cars that passed me by in the first two hours.

My arteries were thankful this place was closed.

I thoroughly enjoy walking through these small Quebec towns. So picturesque. I am surprised, however, at the sheer number of rural properties that are for sale. I bet it’s a buyer’s market right now.

The blister was easing up a bit, so I thought I would reward Feet with a break at the 3-hour point. It’s good for management to look out for the best interest of the front-line workers, so I sprinkled some cookie crumbs on my toes. I could hear Feet sigh.

I was going to save my cookies for a time when I really earned them, but it looked like the route would be mostly flat, so when I came to the top of a hill (well, you can’t really call it a ‘hill’, more like a ‘rise’; truthfully, it was more like a little pimple on the landscape, the kind where you climb but your heart rate doesn’t go up). At the top, I thought, well, I guess I earned those cookies.

So when I arrived in Saint-Pacome and climbed up and down 13 percent grades, I once again settled for water as my reward.

I got my first glimpse of the mighty St. Lawrence River this morning, and now I’ve been walking beside it since I turned onto highway 132. Impressive.

Late morning, the wind picked up, and I spent two hours waking into a vicious headwind. The traffic also picked up. On these secondary highways, I try to walk on the asphalt to keep my speed up. When a car approaches, I move onto the shoulder. Today, though, the problem was that the shoulder was all muddy from the rain, so it was like pushing Kitty through sand, which was becoming increasingly frustrating. Finally, I’d had enough and walked with two wheels on the asphalt and the other in the mud. Cars would simply have to go around me like I was a bicycle. And so they did.

I stopped at a sign that encourages cars to keep their distance from cyclists. While I was checking my phone (aka going for a pee), I noticed Al translating the sign for Kitty. Aha! I knew it! I knew he could speak French. (But, psst, shh, he doesn’t know that I know.)

It’s rained all afternoon. It was supposed to be a rain-free day today, but no luck. Very dreary. Not the best weather for morale. I think from the start, there have only been two or three days without rain, and not a single gorgeous day yet.

Escaping the unrelenting rain and wind on the porch of an info centre.

Around supper, the sun peaked out over the St. Lawrence. It was gorgeous and my spirits rose. But then the clouds rolled back in and it started raining again.

It was one of those days. My morale went up and down like a yoyo.

It ended on a positive note. I found a great camping spot among some mature pines. Beautiful piece of ground. And now I’m comfy in my sleeping bag.

Long day. I walked for 10 1/2 hours. Whew.

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