Québéc, New Brunswick, Maine - Gaspé, Percé, Cap-Aux-Os
After about hour six of busing I got to Gaspé. There I happily jumped onto terra firma again. Oops - no, it wasn't to be just yet. In asking the driver where I might find my hostel, I was corrected to get back on the bus. Tarnation! Apparently it'd be another 45 minutes to get to my REAL destination (and the only hostel around) at Cap-Aux-Os. Thanks, driver! That would have been an awfully long walk.
Meanwhile, as it now was just the driver and I on board, this at least made for a great Gaspesian chit chat opportunity (to me, anyway, but he was game enough). We managed pretty well, or I should say that I did - it was his language, after all - although... I did find myself asking him to repeat more than I had gotten used to of late. Had I regressed?
Nope - here was yet another accent variation, my personalized welcome to the Quebecois of the Gaspesie. Sometimes I looked forward to the challenge, sure, but other times it could be awfully tiring. Nevertheless, cultural exchanges made, I soon felt more prepared to settle into Cap-Aux-Os after such a debriefing. Not a bad use of time while taking the unexpected and roundabout way about the Forillon Peninsula.
True enough, and just as the driver warned me, the hostel was about the only game in the boonies of Cap-Aux-Os. I instantly accepted that my dining plans would be limited. Fortunately, though, on that account I'd have no worries - I quickly heard that the hostel's grub was notably of high quality. Yay!
This was a particularly good thing: in Campbellton I chose this to be the time to (belatedly) reward myself for that 180km run. These things can't be simply glossed over! In this case I'd do myself the honors by ordering a table d'hote ("Captain's Table" is probably the best translation) meal: a three+ course, French-styled affair. It was no less than fabulous; I patted myself vigorously on the back, leaving copious grease stains for all to see and appreciate.
That the meal was surprisingly good was especially so given the lack of competition in the area. It's not like they had to bother with such a captive audience. In similar situations I'd found things resembling what would be best described as prison fare. Not here - and kudos for that!
Detailing the menu, one would find nothing extraordinary. But, au contraire to that impression, the taste of each proved stellar. I happily rewarded my gullet with orange-carotte soupe,salmon au beurre d'affrumes with rice and veggies, crème brûlée and coffee. The entrées proved so good that it gave me impetus to look into the feat of doing so myself, jotting down as many of the details that I could remember... before passing out. My body still wasn't completely done with those 180km even if my stomach now officially was.
The following morning, it was time for my leg's muscles to be worked out in a different fashion. As a yin to the bike's yang, I planned a big hike to Land's End (Cap-Gaspé), starting on foot from the hostel. Beyond the serendipity of beginning a hike at your lodging's door, I also learned that if one entered the park proper on its entrance road, C$7.80 was the amount you'd be relieved of for such a pleasure - car or no. A bit expensive for a random stroll, seemed to me.
Fortunately, though, a staff woman I'd befriended at the hostel desk gave me another idea: I should enter at a crossing trail further up the road. This would lead me to the top of Mont-Alban as a something of a bonus compensation for the effort; there I could take in a 360-degree view of Forillon Park and the entire peninsula. For free - my favored price exactly.
From the lookout I could then walk down to the coast, entering the park in a perfectly legit manner minus the fee. Really, as regarded that, it made no sense that this was an okay means to enter free while walking on the road incurred an expense - but there it was. Within the park's boundaries I could next follow the trail on to yet another incarnation of the "end of the world." (Hadn't I been there in Ushuaia, Argentina? Or Punta Arenas, Chile? Or... or... never mind!) Sold.
Trying to hitchhike the little bit of road to get to the trail crossing, however, was mostly a bust. Eventually, however, a car with a Dutch woman and son returned my way after first passing me a coupla times. They couldn't find the very crossing I was on my way to. "Let me be your guide!" I proferred. Not that I exactly knew where the spot was, of course, but for my (accurate) guesswork I was now saved the final 1km of walking the road.
In exchange, I got a fellow hiker - the mother - for the bargain. Company was usually good, of course; fortunately this would to be the case here. We made our way the 6km to the lookout straight off, then we continued together for the other 2km down to the coast, all the while exchanging Euro-American politics and American continental history.
Not that all was perfectly rosy. For not-considerable efforts we also were repeatedly compelled to simultaneously swat back mosquitoes every time we entered a patch of shade. What relentless opportunists, these bastards! Still - at least they didn't like to tan... and we weren't completely against the idea ourselves on short order. Meanwhile, we HAD heard of many bear spottings in the park, too. On that score we'd have no such (bad?) luck.
At the coast, a jagged thing of stratified rock slabs and cliffs, I left my new friend Gertrude behind. Now I turned to walking the remaining 8km to the cape alone. That worked particularly well, as early into this new trail segment I ran into some remaining historical bulidings-turned-museums. There I'd find reason to linger as I took a focussed interest into their helpings of on-site history. I never knew when the mood was going to hit me to delve into what a museum had to offer, but one thing I'd learned was that that was the only time to go to them.
It wasn't long before I became a self-proclaimed expert on the historical fishing commerce of Gaspé's environs and its accompanying hard life. (No thanks to that life, by the way!) That the buildings were both well-preserved and informative, and lying in their original location, was a huge plus. That dose of authenticity went a long way in conveying the story.
Meanwhile - but of course! - I also saw the smaller houses outside of their historical context. Wouldn't they make ideal artists' studios-with-a-view to play the trumpet? Yes! How could I get the authorities to let me use one for, say, a summer...? Always thinking, that Triptrumpet! Beyond that, it needn't be said that I would've joyfully also done my part eating the cod and other assorted seafood necessary... all while playing "guide" more than passably. I dreamed on.
Hiking further, my next several kilometers coincidentally would mean that I was completing the final section of the IAT, or International Appalachian Trail. Not that I knew it as it was happening, but I soon learned that the IAT picked up exactly where the famous AT (Appalachian Trail) left off, at Maine's Mt. Katahdin. Huh. So said a plaque at the end of the trail, at the cape, where it also said that some wacky American had already hiked the entire sum of both parts. He had done it in eight months back in 1997. Huh... and huh, again.
That heroic clown had actually even made it harder than that. Not satisfied with taking on an already-huge trek, he started in Key West, Florida. Yikes ! - that was a zillion miles before the actual AT's start, in the Smoky Mountains of North Georgia. That deserved a TRIPLE huh! For my part, I was content with knowing that I could now check off the last kilometers of the IAT from my list, should I ever try it. A load off of my back that was, let me tell you. Whew. Or - huh.
Such grandiose trekking postponed, I walked back from Cap-Gaspé. I'd had my fill of views, plus I had eaten my way completely through the assorted grub I had packed. Back at the hostel I had decided yet again that it was time to wipe out all of my food stocks I had been carrying. It was time to force the issue of a new travelling menu, something deemed necessary from time to time. Why I'm relating the detail? Less so, admittedly - call it context and let's move on, shan't we?.
Now I returning the first 4km back from the cape on the gravel road that paralleled the trail. Immediately following that, the paved part of the road picked up again. Would there be a possibility of getting a ride back? Only one way to know: it was a ripe time to hitch again. Moreover, I gauged the situation as safe in daylight with piles of tourists about the area... and it'd be awfully laborious otherwise! Those hitchhiker horror myths of the '70s certainly had ruined a good thing to always have to consider it so seriously, but that was no longer here nor there.
This time it didn't take long before a young Quebecois couple from Riviere-du-Loup lugged me back near the park's entrance. Shortly thereafter my luck continued, when a Quebecoise woman shuttled me back all the way to the hostel. It felt good to only have positive hitchhiking experiences, myth-busting in action.
My latest benefactor was, coincidentally, a cyclist who would shortly be doing the North Cascades Highway traverse in Washington state. This was something I had done a few times in recent years - I was happy to share what I knew. In her case, she would then would be continuing on through to Idaho. It felt good to have something to offer - however meagre - in return for the generous ride.
As a consequence to putting in 25km or so hiking for the day, unsurprisingly my efforts made for an early night. My muscles felt fine, but I had an overall feeling of fatigue nonetheless. Biking and now hiking had done their part in making me more-than-sufficiently exercise for a spell.
Unfortunately not all things would conspire to necessarily help me out. A trio of snorers, an unrelated threesome I had sooooo enjoyed the previous night, now gave way to a duet for this night's entertainment. Lucky me. And now, whereas the three had effectively worked together as a devil's chorus, this night's pared-down duo would have an altogether different style. For the night's festivities I would get to revel in a call-response dialogue, one which would consist of succeeding crescendos which would suddently stop to start all over. Verrrrry engaging stuff, and no need for opera glasses!
Sigh. For the second night in a row my earplugs proved an invaluably prescient purchase. Ah, hostel life! This time around I barely had gotten to know my room compatriots at this place, mostly playing the role of a lonely bookworm and horn player. Such were the moods of sociability; for once I was keeping my yap closed.
I was ready to head to the next town of note, anyway - Percé. That was an appealing place I had passed on my way to Cap-Aux-Os before almost getting off at the wrong stop. Checking out the bus schedule the next morning, I found only one midday option to get there. Hmmm - that would preclude being able to check out Gaspé town on the way (where I HAD actually temporarily disembarked). Crap-O-la.
Not knowing any better, I still assumed it worthy of a looksee - if only because I didn't foresee a return visit to the area. So... back for a third charming time of "stop"/"autostop"/"faire la pouce" (hitchhiking, in Quebecois and/or French). I stationed myself outside of the general store, trumpet in hand, hoping for the best.
"Stationed" implied "stationary", I sound found. After 1-1/2 hours of blowing sweet harmonies to nowhere, this romantic travelling musician concept was getting me nowhere. Where was the love? Sigh. Finally, Simon the Swissman rolled up to save me - woo hoo!
By coincidence Simon was my roommate from the night before. Oh yeah - way back then! He had actually passed the night in the bunk below me, but we hadn't exchanged a word until now. A ride was certainly a great chance to say "Howd'yado?", however. Pleased to meet you, Simon! I really was!
In no time we proceeded to zip over to Gaspé. This only took something under 30 minutes (half the bus time on the schedule), actually - how efficient a private/rental car can be, I was reminded. In Gasp@eacute; I modestly thanked Simon with a coffee and a croissant at a bakery. That was the least I could do - I might still be playing the blues at the side of the road if he hadn't decided to stop.
Now we had this wondrous opportunity to check out marvelous Gaspé and... alrighty! We both summarily agreed that Gaspé had approximately less than nothing to offer. With Simon itching to move on and willing to cart my sorry ass forward, I was more than a little glad to have this convenient continuance to Percé.
Mosying along again, we soon passed by numerous red cliffs dropping steeply to the sea. We soon received different views of Percé Rock (an island famed for its arch) and Bonadventure Island in the distance, too. Black-winged seagulls were in abundance to add some color while we taking to such scenery, providing a new flavor on an old brand for me. Here I thought they came only in one size and color, silly me.
In the meantime we had also picked up a third person: Harry the Englishman. By coincidence, he, too, had been in our same room the previous night. How odd - what was with those four walls? Or, perhaps more realistically, it could be said that the hostel mind was hivelike, apparently.
Soon arriving in Percé, we quickly settled into the perfectly-located Maison Rouge hostel. Literally - it was just about at the cliff's edge facing Percé's main attraction (the rock/arch). Completing our luck, the hostel was well set up in every classic hostel sense, ranging in terms of homey charm, facilities and more. "And more" included, for example, an itinerant and true troubador musician - Sylvan, originally from Montréal.
Sylvan had taken up an extended hostel residence as the on-site bien-vol (volunteer to clean up the place for free R&B). Not a bad way to travel, I agreed, when we took to chatting away. Beyond the yapping, too, right away the two of us had the opportunity to play together. I wasn't going to have much choice from the start.
Indeed, upon seeing my trumpet case, he repeatedly exclaimed "A blower! Man, you rarely see those on the road. A blower!" No, this was not my favorite appellation (for obvious reasons, I hope! - "hornman" worked better), but fine - "blower" it was. It wasn't like I was going to explain why I'd choose something else. In such a situation it helped greatly that French was his first language, as respectable as his English otherwise was.
Soon we were playing tunes out of his Quebecois and rock-n-roll (read: The Doors) repetoire. Fun stuff, I found, though hardly my typical milieu of musical genre. Meanwhile I learned that this guy had been pulling it off for some 30 years as a musician hobo - he had many a story he wanted to share in between songs. Fortunately, I was game to listen.
Personally, I was most jealous of his having met Dizzy (if you have to ask - Gillespie!, you neanderthal). The gist of the tale was that Dizzy had asked Sylvan for (and received) a cigar some years past. Dizzy had been warming up by the men's room when he chanced by, evidently evidencing a possible supply of cigars. Ahhhhhh, what a tale! He shook Dizzy's hand! He talked to Dizzy! I swooned.
Beyond that slight escapade, Sylvan's conversational focus was on other histories, however. Those came especially from the 50s/60s/70s rock scene, anything regarding his beloved Doors, and even the beatnik scene. Both of us being well-read in the Kesey-Kerouac vein meant that there was a lot to share even if we didn't offer each other new facts. Such is the way of chat between kindred spirits, no?
Instead we gave our impressions of the men and their what they brought to the world in attitude if not accomplishment. One thing we strongly agreed on: we would have sold our souls to see Bebop in its infancy as Kerouac did, the lucky bastard. All the while this was going on, my new friend's philosophy - of busking just enough for the next day's bread and bottle of red wine - appealed to me. Here was a busker somehow managing to live the life of the Bohemian! On the gabbing went; I felt as fortunate to listen as he perhaps felt in spinning the yarns. The man had experience. BUSker experience.
Also at Maison Rouge (a fair appellation, it WAS a red (farm) house), I ran again into Mark - the Ottawa cyclist I had briefly met in Campbellton. By now he only had the tiny leg to Gaspé left, making for one very happy guy. I'd understand the sentiment that much better in a month, probably.
Next I met another cyclist, one who was nearing the end of his across-Canada trek. This perhaps was better termed The Great Canadian Road Trip, much like its The Great American Road Trip counterpart. One thing I quickly learned, although I hadn't given it thought: always start on the west coast! It's good to have predominantly TAIL winds. Ah - that I understood!
He had started all the way back in Tofino, BC (on Vancouver Island). Wow - that certainly WAS a haul. Anyway, I appreciated the tenacity of this nice guy, but... but. Perhaps it was only too telling that he mentioned his being a former racer for Team Canada in the Olympics some years past in his first or second sentence. Next came his superior bike and almost non-existent baggage. I got the message, picking up on that type of drift rather quickly. Yes, I was a mere mortal in the presence of a god... and I didn't have the heart to tell him about the clunker I was traveling on. Somehow it managed to cover those same roads, however much more slowly.
Also joining our merry bunch this first night was Anais, from near Québéc (city). Now, SHE did impressive me. Here was a 17-year-old girl walking some 20km a day around the Gaspesie peninsula, practically only with her mouth harp and a great attitude. Impressive! Percé was only the latest rest stop for this dreadlocked hippie chick, one who charmingly laughed warmly in about every sentence. It should be noted, however, that this was done in the RIGHT way - not the future loonie-bin ha-ha way. You know what I mean.
It wasn't long before yet another cyclist rolled in, this time from Ottawa (technically Gatineau on the Québéc (province) side of the city). Percé was his terminus, slightly different than the other two's goal of Gaspé for some reason. Whatever - he couldn't stop grinning over his completed task, a welcome attitude after getting to know Team Canada. Quite an animated and funny character, he added a lot to our growing party over the next few days.
Beyond these more notable travellers came even a few more people to the hostel, this former-now-converted barn. In all we formed a small bunch numbering toward a dozen at best. We had all come to gaze at the nearby rock and stroll through the very touristy "main street" section of Percé. Tourists have no greater thing to do than be tourists, it seems the world over.
Still - only a dozen or so at the hostel? When it could hold so many more, in prime season? Hmmm. The price of gas - recently doubled over the last year - was the best reason we could figure for having such a relatively small group on a Saturday night. Maybe it really WAS the end of the world. But so be it: we would do our part to down the necessary liquor and make some noise.
The next day I barely budged from the hostel outside of provisioning. Simon and I had made dinner together the night before, so between leftovers and "free" (left behind) food in the kitchen, I was up for a leisurely day of reading, writing, and "blowing" (playing trumpet, thank you very much) with my new friend Sylvan. Plus, the accoustics dedans (inside) were great - I was willing to play all day until I got complaints. No such luck - I got requests instead - so there you had it.
Looking at the road forward, Simon, Harry, and I agreed to drive on together the following day to Campbellton. The time appeared ripe: everyone else at the hostel would be leaving the following morning, too. More importantly, all the pieces were in place for a final blowout night of festivities.
First, however, I decided to work up a little appetite by checking out yet another lighthouse. I was a tourist - I had no choice! This one lay only 1-2km away, fortunately, but it'd provide yet another nice view of Percé Rock from afar.
Okay - ho-hum - but this lighthouse thing was cute each time around, somehow. Then again, after only some 10 minutes marveling at the thing - enough with the lighthouses, already! Besides, I was much more of a mind to get back and cook the fish Simon and I had picked out. That'd be complemented with all kinds of fresh veggies and wine, probably making my healthiest meal of the trip. My egg-toast-coffee breakfasts were starting to give me a bad-diet-guilty complex by this time. After a month it was bound to happen, no?
Returning to the hostel, we also took to the other task at hand while cooking up a fine fish. Immediately our crew set the Gatineau biker off to get firewood while the rest of us all hung out on the balcony. We had some drinking to get going on!
For her part, Anais was quite a proponent of Trois-Pistoles beer... and it was hard to say no to such a fun girl with such an infectious laugh. Ergo, we downed some of those first to watch the sun fade on the ol' rock. Oh, and a fine fish was had indeed. SO healthy with a few beers to wash it down, assuredly.
Later we went onto the lawn and got a bonfire roaring. For fiery accompaniment, I played a few tunes to blister the night a bit. (Only later I would find out that they carried over the entire town on that still night, but fortunately were said to be enjoyed.) At 11p.m. things had already moved on beyond a dull roar, even if the trumpet was being kept to a controlled throttle. In any event, that wouldn't matter: the hostel owner came out in his PJs to tell me stop playing - he was strict about music after 11p.m., per hostel rules. Party pooper! He ignored the obvious fact that the entire hostel was at the bonfire, hardly in bed t'at all, but no matter.
Should I digress? Certainly. This conundrum never failed to amaze me, even if it happened sometimes at other hostels as well. Still, with people out and enjoying the music, why would someone want to kill that best part of the hostel "spirit" (people getting together) in favor of an abstract rule? Obviously his vote (and most likely, his sleep) would be the only vote that counted, so there it was.
In any case, he'd receive a comeuppance, anyway. That'd occur much later, when a few locals would come drunk driving in their truck up onto the hostel's extensive lawn. They caused quite a ruckus as they peeled around four-wheeling. They even hopped out for a bit to get us to "party" with them - while each of us probably only wondered how long it'd be before a fight broke out.
Meanwhile, whereas the manager had no problem approaching me, he didn't dare to come out to quiet these party-crashers down. We couldn't figure out why, frankly, with such a massive difference in volume that they generated. Perhaps it was only because I had been far nicer, more approachable. It's always so easy to be a-pickin' on them thar musikers!
After some minutes of tumbling about the lawn, and hopping in and out of their truck, their rousting was ultimately accomplished by Sylvan. He emerged from the hostel like a bat out of hell at some point to send them off fishtailing into the night and onto the main road, pedal to the metal. Was this a good thing?
Probably not - it would have likely been safer to have just let them ramble on at the campfire, us others agreed. But with Sylvan raging apopleptic, we more concerned that HE wouldn't have a heart attack than that the drunks wouldn't run somebody off of the road. Fortunately there was almost no one out on the road anymore at the late hour. Oh well, the problem was solved in any case - and we could finish our beers in peace.
Harry, Simon, and I were off to Campbellton the next morning as agreed. We had also concurred on trying to make a grand adventure of it, but that went far less according to plan. The intentions of stopping at places along the way were certainly there still at the outset, but once we got going that didn't seem to materialize. We just kept cruising along, not overly tempted by the scenery offered.
Perhaps it didn't help that the Cap-Gaspé to Percé section far exceeded the Percé-Campbellton section in beauty. However, even accounting for our small lunch stop, it still took an hour or so longer to get to Campbellton than we had thought. Altogether it was around four hours of driving on a two lane highway to do the trick, a situation that didn't lend itself to being improved if the traffic didn't allow for it.
It was still way better than the bus, though. And, come Campbellton, I knew that this detour to the peninsula had done what it was supposed to. I was ready to rejoin my bike again. The legs itched to ride.
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