By Julie Chatelain and Simon Lacroix
After a very rainy day off, we took the 8 a.m. ferry to Saint-Siméon on May 11. It was a cold morning and we opted to sit inside the lounge for the hour-long sailing. A young man seemed curious about the flags on our wheelie. We greeted him and he sat with us. His name was Elliot and he was a high-school teacher as well as an avid cyclist and hiker. He spoke of his desire to explore Canada with his dog. His companionship made the ferry ride seem short.
As the ferry approached the north shore, we anticipated the challenges ahead. The park trails were closed due to snow conditions. Our chosen alternative took us along Highway 138 and a few other smaller roadways to Beaupré (140 kilometres away and 50 kilometres north of Québec City), where we planned to rejoin The Great Trail.
Elliot recommended the smaller road toward Port-au-Persil. On our way out of town, we were mindful of traffic and managed our cadence to reduce wear and tear on our feet and legs. Port-au-Persil was breathtaking, but the roads were long and steep. In the past, when faced with similar challenges, we dug deep, took smaller steps and focused on proper form. Our attention split into two. Our analytical minds supervised our walking techniques, making sure we conserved energy by being efficient with each step, and our creative minds wandered in and out of daydreams.
We followed a small stream by the side of the road. It brought back memories for Julie. She played for hours in the stream by her family’s cottage, making dams and floating branches in the swift current. Later, we spotted some Highland cows. They reminded both of us of our trip to Scotland. In this dreamy state, we floated along, almost oblivious of the traffic. Focusing on these reveries, time became elastic.
On our approach to Saint-Fidèle, Simon spotted a sign for the Ecological Centre of Port-au-Saumon. In a flash, a 40-year-old memory came rushing back. He visited his sister Martine who had a summer job as a naturalist at the centre. Aside from the beauty of the area, Simon’s most vivid memories of that visit were the insatiable mosquitoes and his inability to even walk a short trail!
We spent the night in a cozy room in a ‘maison d’hôte’. Our host’s home overlooked the Saint Lawrence River. We fell asleep early with magnificent views from our bed. Next morning, as a special treat, we stopped at a local café and enjoyed espressos. The patrons asked what we were doing and suggested various routes and trails.
We arrived at Cap-à-l’Aigle and veered off the main road to enjoy a quieter loop. This township had many quaint homes and a welcoming park. We took advantage of this green space and had a snack by the stream. It seems that everyone was proud of their communities on the north shore. Landscapes and gardens were cleared of signs of winter, and folks were out painting their homes and fences. We saw old barns that had flowers painted on their doors or were highlighted with bright colours.
We arrived in La Malbaie around 4 p.m. and looked for a motel for the night. The sun and hills took their toll on us. We looked forward to lying down and resting our sore feet.
Pain has often been a companion on these treks; it comes and goes. We have tried to heed its warnings by walking shorter distances on difficult sections and taking rests when needed. But physical pain hasn’t prevented us from enjoying our journeys. We have gained a better understanding of our limitations. Our happiness comes from accomplishing challenging tasks together.
On May 13, we left the picturesque town of La Malbaie and headed uphill for over 5 kilometres. As we climbed, the views became more spectacular. We took a break at the observatory at the top of the hill. The walk to our next destination of Saint-Irénée was another hilly grind. The descent into town was long and the grades ranged from 12% to 18%.
Our bodies adjusted well to the demands of the hilly terrain. We were both gaining ‘trail shape’ and the physical phase of this walk was passing. The next phase in distance walking, called the mental clearing phase, was described to us by a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago years ago. When Julie reached this phase on other treks, she faced many old demons. Emotions came to the surface as did old doubts and hurt feelings. We both looked forward to what might come up this time.
By 11 a.m., we arrived in Les Éboulements. It was early and the only auberge was closed for the season. We decided to continue walking. It made for a long and very hilly 28-kilometre day.
We descended into Baie-Saint-Paul, where we would have a rest day. These walking days along the roadways were very pleasant, filled with majestic views of the Saint Lawrence, farmlands and quaint villages. Our legs felt reasonably fresh. We planned to go for a meal, after a bath of course!