Pulling out of the campground is no easy feat; these tourist are hard core. I put on my game face, squinting to pick up on the timing between vehicles as they whizz by. My internal stopwatch takes note that the next car approaching is moving a little slower. I jam the pedal down, the engine roars to life, a bit of gravel gets spun out from under the tires, but I catch the opening and I am on my way. Whew!
Once outside of Carleton Sur Mer, road congestion fades and I am back in holiday mode. I can tell tourism is a big deal in Gaspesie. Every few minutes I see a sign with the name of a municipal park, and below it, stick figures indicating the presents of toilets and picnic tables. Roads have wide shoulders designed for two-wheeled travelers. I have already passed several cyclists, their road bikes loaded down, with overstuffed panniers draping across front and back wheels. Riders are helmeted and dressed in highly visible jerseys of fluorescent yellows and oranges, straining against the pedals to pull themselves up and over the inclines of this landscape.
Maria is barely ten minutes away, and is my first stop of the day. The guide book says I will find walking trails, bird watching, a monolithic sculpture and a giant natural rock frame. As I am closing the door of the truck, I am hit by a chilly breeze that raises the hairs on my arms so I reach back in and grab my sweater. It is not a beach day but the artist in me needs to see these pieces for myself.
My footsteps knock along the wooden boardwalk, taking me past planter boxes and an interpretive plaque written in French. A flight of stairs to a lower platform, with change rooms. Here I have a choice, I can continue on the boardwalk along the top of the beach, or walk across the coarse sand.
My eyes draw a line from where I stand to the nature stone frame. I give a tug on my zipper, pulling the collar of my fleece tight about my throat. I tuck my head down against the breeze and track my way across the loose footing up the embankment towards the frame. On a beautiful sunny day it may outline the coastline and capture its beauty, but today it is just seems out of place.
A giant molar, advertising dental services across the road, is the kind of a fun roadside attractions I like and I can’t resist a picture.
I make my way back to the truck. I may be imagining it but the clouds seem to be lifting. I really want go for a hike and Chutes du Ruisseau Creux sounds like just the place. I set my GPS to take me to Saint Alphonse .
It is only twenty minutes till I see a sign: Chutes De Ruisseau Creux 2.5 km. The pavement ends, dropping the truck down onto a gravel road. It is mostly smooth but occasionally pitted with ruts and potholes and out of respect for my old truck I slow my speed to 35 km an hour and swerve cautiously around the hazards.
I notice chains looping from posts, restricting access to private cottages or camps far in the woods. The road divides and narrows, rising up to the left and sloping off to the right, I head down. The final 200 meters are rough and washed out, the truck vibrates over the washboarded section. It ends at a wide gravel area. Two vehicles are parked, both give a hint as to the kind of person attracted to this place. The first has a black cargo carrier on the roof, and two mountain bikes strapped to a rack. A kayak is lashed onto the second vehicle.
It has been eleven months since I shouldered my pack and hiked alone into the woods. I double check I have adequate water, snacks, band-aids and bug spray. No cell service gives me a bit of stress. A flood of memories of being alone with a broken leg has me trembling, but I know I have to make new post accident memories, or I will be stuck in the loop of life before the accident, and during the accident. I cinch the straps on my pack downward, then check my camera is secure and hike across the suspension bridge over the Bonaventure river.
I don’t speak French, but because most signs and packaging in Canada are written in both English and French, I am familiar with what French words look like and I can generally get the gist of what is being written. From what I can read, there are two paths to the falls. One is a walking trail through the woods. I set out on it but within 50 meters I find I am hesitant to proceed, it is a little to dark and isolated.
I return to the wider bike path which will have to do for this year’s inaugural hike. The trail is 4.9 km, I have my ankle taped and my mid-high hikers well tied, they feel supportive. All I have to do to is be careful of my steps so I don’t wrench my ankle, watch out for uneven ground and don’t rush.
I see a large patch of flowering bunch berry taking over the undergrowth. With the sun to my back I stop for some photos hoping to capture the rich greens of early summer.
The trail veers towards the river. A wide spot gives a pretty view that no photo could duplicate.
Further on I come to a back-country lodge. I remember seeing it on the website, you can book it for hike-in overnight stays. Another 1.5 km left. On the last ridge I can hear the falls but I can’t see them. The trail take a plunge over a cliff, ropes are strung to help the hikers down the steep path. I am very hesitant to go down, it is slippery and I keep thinking if you hurt yourself there is no one here to help, and you can’t crawl 5 km back. I have to face this hurdle or I may never get past it. I have come this far, I know I am brave – I have to make sure I am not reckless.
Every nerve in my body is shaking with fear my legs are quaking I don’t know If I can step securely on them. Several wooden ladders take hikers down the last bit to the final landing.
The last steps are wet from water leching down the side of porous rock. I make it to the landing, my reward is a clear look towards the falls. They have cleaved a tunnel through the bedrock as they receded back. Chutes du Ruisseau is beautiful, I am glad I have made it but getting here is only half the battle: I must make it back safely.
While I am snapping pictures, playing with my shutter speed and aperture settings, I hear a noise behind me and with my nerves already on fire, I jump. A man and his son come up behind me. “Forgive me I didn’t mean to startle you,” he says. I smile and say “I didn’t hear you approach.” We chuckle. “Would you take my picture?” I ask with a tilt to my head. He agrees and I hand him the camera and he take a few pictures.
He and the boy proceed to a lower ledge. There is no path, it is just a straight jump down. I hadn’t even considered it. Before I broke my leg, none of this would have even crossed my mind as being difficult, now I think of consequences. “What if….?”
Grateful that I got to see this beautiful place, I don’t want to push my luck. I head back up the stair way. As I make my way slowly up the trail, the man and boy catch up to me, but are too polite to pass. I am comforted in knowing they are close by, but I can’t hold them back so I step aside to let them go and they thank me. Once again I am reminded of my limitations, now I know what every inch of ground feels like before I put weigh down on it.
I notice they have on sneaker not hikers. A small back pack, but I see no water bottles. Now about twenty meters ahead of me, they are talking and are not paying attention, and they turn left down the winter snowmobile trail. It is not the main trail. I stop before entering the woods and yell out a “Hey!” The boy looks back and says something to his father in French. Both take a quick look around and seem to realize they have gone off trail and head back towards me. I once again move aside to let them pass, the father nods giving me acknowledgment that I have prevented them from making a wrong turn.
Within 10 minutes they are far ahead and out of sight. I keep my steady pace, talking to myself. “Just get back safe Kelly…one foot in front of the other.” When I see the suspension bridge I am relieved and liberated. I have completed my first solo hike.
I plunk myself in the front seat and rip open a granola bar, then remove my hikers. I pause to rub along the now faint scar, where the plate was inserted. I may never hike as fearlessly as I once did.
I rustle with the paper I printed off , a general itinerary of interesting places to see. Tomorrow I head to Saint Elzear for a caving expedition. I punch the name of the town into my GPS. Looks like it is about 50 minutes away. I will find a campground close by so I can be on time for the 9 am tour.
Please join me for part 3. La Grotte de Saint-Elzear. Happy travels from Maritimemac