By Julie Chatelain and Simon Lacroix
We completed our crossing of the ‘Massif de Charlevoix’, averaging 20 to 25 kilometers a day walking along the highway. Our off-season training proved invaluable as we crossed this stunning mountainous landscape with ease. Within a kilometer or two of starting each day, we checked on how our feet, legs and backs felt. Lately, our answer was always the same: “I’m feeling good…”. We didn’t bother reporting minor aches, unless they developed into something more persistent. These trifling aches were simply in the background and we learned to live with them. They resolved themselves naturally throughout the course of the day.
A routine slowly crept in. We woke up around 7 am, had coffee and breakfast around our trusty Ohuhu wood stove, and started walking around 8:30 am. This was later than on our previous walks. We were in less of a rush to get started as the mornings remained cool (some would say cold) and we felt surprisingly more relaxed about the schedule.
Walking along roads from Saint-Siméon to Saint-Joachim was hard on the feet but, given the snow conditions in the mountains, it was the lesser of two evils. Several communities such as Saint-Fidèle, La Malbaie, Baie-Saint-Paul, Saint-Tite-des-Caps were still sleepy and void of tourists. Many businesses had signs reporting ‘closed/off season reopening in early June’. Tourists swarmed these towns during summer, crowding artisan galleries and restaurants.
The hill out of Baie-Saint-Paul was epic and remained in our thoughts for some time! We climbed for five hours that day and camped by a Hydro Québec remote station at the summit of the ‘Massif’. The spot was flat, and the trees provided some cover from the wind and cold, but it was in no way secluded or picturesque.
The next morning, we followed a moose along a fence line for several kilometers. He was thin and his pelt had grey patches in it, indicative of a tick infestation. He probably had a difficult winter. He was aware of our presence and ran ahead, stopped, and periodically doubled back to check on us. We were an oddity in his world, and he was just as curious of us as we were of him.
Later, we strolled into Saint-Tite-des-Caps, a very scenic village tucked into the south end of the Massif de Charlevoix. Alain at the Auberge du Sportif opened-up his establishment just for us. We were very grateful for his hospitality. We had a lovely conversation with him. Alain oversaw the local trail organization and hoped to help revitalize their town.
On our last days on highway 138, Simon thought about his early retirement. He was still tied to his old work life somehow. While walking, he spent hours forming strategies for organisations he used to work with. Slowly, work thoughts faded as he slipped into a meditative trance. He forgot about traffic and work habits, drifting away into a reverie where he saved some animal from a misfortune, won a motorcycle race, or simply thought of nothing! Simon’s determination and motivation aided him in accomplishing these long-distance hikes.
Julie felt strong. She tackled the hills without ‘bonking’ (extreme muscle fatigue – what else could it mean!). She was on fire! She thought of her family and wished they could join her on one of these treks. Distance walking was like a drug for her. She had found her strength and the resultant bliss. She looked forward to sharing the trail with her friends later this summer. She would work on her family some more. Maybe next season one of her brothers would join them.
Descending the last big hill into Saint Joachim, the trees and farm fields were much greener. Flanking the river, Avenue Royale was a snapshot of days gone by. We crossed historic towns enjoying the bucolic scenery. Simon spotted some plaques on old houses that named the original pioneers of the region (mid seventeenth century). Pierre, Mathurin, and Jean Gagnon were amongst these settlers. These were Simon’s ancestors on his mother’s side.
We walked along a bike path that meandered aimlessly through an industrial area. Time seemed to slow to a crawl during the last few kilometers into Québec City. We arrived in the old section of town tired and hungry. We decided to have lunch in a restaurant. This is when we realised that our last wash was 6 days ago! Out of doors, our state had not phased us but being in proximity to well washed and groomed folks made us self-conscious. What did these people think? But the restaurant staff were friendly and professional. Julie even chatted with another patron about the Great Trail and camping.
After lunch, we walked the last eight kilometers to Simon’s sister’s home in Sainte-Foy. We both looked forward to a family visit and a rest. We were ahead of our schedule by about five days and would take advantage of Andrée and Jean’s hospitality. A visit to the old part of Québec City was on the agenda and we planned to connect with Augustin, Simon’s nephew. We felt blessed to have the love and support of such fine people.