Gros Morne National Park trails: Green Gardens. Learning to hike the hard way.

Gros Morne National Park: The Green Gardens trail – sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t…

When Carl and I were honeymooning, young and stupid, we decided to hike the Green Gardens trail. In those days it was a 20-kilometre loop. It is no longer a twenty kilometre trail, in part because dumb people go unprepared, get lost, suffer from exposure or have to be rescued. We didn’t get lost, exactly, but it was a miracle we did not suffer from exposure. We thought it sounded like a nice thing to do for an afternoon. It was heart-attack rugged.  We traipsed up and down mountains, valleys, rock falls, shorelines and so on. I think we brought a bottle of water and nothing else. We were young and stubborn. Even when we knew we were in trouble, we just kept going. It was cold, drizzly and we were not wearing raingear, although our windbreaker jackets were euphemistically called “water-resistant.”

At the beginning of the trail, about two kilometres in, we encountered a young British doctor who was doing a locum in Corner Brook. A young woman accompanied him. She wore shorts, pretty sandals and appeared soaked, sad and cold. As Carl and he talked, she conversed a little, shivering in her thin clothes. She was from Corner Brook and was flattered to be asked to hike with the handsome young physician. I could tell by the looks of resentment she flashed at him, the glamour was quickly fading. We said our good-byes. The Doctor appeared a little crestfallen. As we left we could hear them arguing. We encountered them on the next couple of kilometres as you do when you are on a trail. Sometimes we would stop to rest or wild-pee and they would catch up. Then, they just stopped catching up. I suspect the good, young Doctor’s hope for a bit of sexual recreation that evening may have been in jeopardy.

We persevered. I became cranky as my out-of-shape legs and lungs struggled with the jagged terrain. I startled when we encountered lots of poop on the trail, which turned out to be sheep, not the herd of bears I feared. They look nothing alike (the poop or the animals) although I did not know that then, newbie as I was to hiking in deep Newfoundland woods. Carl knew the difference but I didn’t believe him, because, well, the Green Gardens hike was endless and we had no more water and I wasn’t in a mood to trust very deeply. Finally, we came to an interpretive panel which said, “You have hiked ten kilometres.” We patted each other on the back and generally felt elated, then screamed “Nooooo! That means it’s ten kilometres to go back!” Soon it would be dark. It began to rain. Parched, I opened my mouth to catch drops. I remembered my Canadian Armed Forces Reserve training from two summers before which taught us that fast moving water was safer.  We decided to drink from the first fast-moving stream we could find. As we filled our lone bottle from it, a moose regarded us calmly a hundred feet away or so. Thirst slaked and bottle filled, we moved as fast as we could. Kilometre nineteen brought on semi-delirium with visions of sheep-bears sneaking up behind me. We staggered out, gingerly packed our aching limbs into our tiny Datsun and took the Woody Point Ferry (which no longer runs). We collapsed in our tent. After we had a bite to eat, we marshalled up the energy to have showers because we were filthy and cold. Carl had a lovely long, hot shower. The women’s shower ran only cold that evening. He emerged looking like he stepped from the Sears catalogue. I simply emerged, growly. Suffice to say, the English Doctor wasn’t the only one who missed out on recreation that night.

Like most stories of foolishness and/or hardship, this one became a favourite of ours, a kind of marital talisman tale. About every five years Carl and I would challenge ourselves to do the twenty-kilometre loop again. I am proud to say that we have always managed to finish it. We enjoyed, even relished, the newer experiences because we brought food, water, dogs and good gear. I will not lie, there have been times, particularly when I was recovering from cancer, when I thought the helicopters may have to come and pick us up. However, I still managed to stagger out. It has been a kind of “touchstone” hike for us. To finish it means all is well with us, with each other and with Newfoundland.

 

The rigour of the trail continued to confound other travellers as you can read in this CBC article, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/ontario-family-hikes-gros-morne-in-the-dark-1.3696696. Possibly for this reason, as well as some upcoming needed pricey trail maintenance, Green Gardens has been modified to a nine-kilometre trail and is still rated as one of the top five wild flower trail hikes in the world. You can see forest, shoreline, volcanic stacks, valleys, streams, steep cliffs, grassy fields, marshes, wetlands, mountain tops and more. The sheep seem scarce these days, but there are plenty of moose, and probably bear, to keep you company.

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“Sheep on Green Garden’s Trail” by Natalie Lucier, (Creative Commons)

Gros Morne National Park: a UNESCO World Heritage Site for lots of reasons

 

Many years ago, Carl and I spent our honeymoon in Gros Morne National Park, where, as you would hope, we fell even more in love with each other. What we did not expect was how deeply  we would fall in love with Gros Morne National Park. I had trouble writing this post because it is so very difficult to convey into mere words such astonishing beauty. A combination of mountains, a freshwater fjord, the highest waterfall in eastern North America, salmon rivers, deep lakes, ocean seashore, dense forest and the occasional misty field make it a stunning buffet of panoramas. The multiple options available to explore these make it a struggle to choose your daily adventure!IMG_0280

Gros Morne is a UNESCO heritage site partly because of its picturesque splendour, but also because of its unique geological features. Orange, naked, mineral dense, weathered rock from the middle layer of the earth called the Tablelands, has been thrust up next to beautiful, forest-covered mountains through the stresses and strains of plate tectonics over 500 million years. You can walk on some of both in the span of a day. The geological tectonic thrusting about combined with glacial scouring during the last ice age to create interesting mountain cliffs, valleys and a freshwater fjord.The Tablelands of Gros Morne is one of the few places on earth where you can see, touch and walk on the Earth’s mantle. Every time we go to Gros Morne I need to walk on the Tablelands, lay my hands on the wrinkled rock and just breathe. It feels like holy space to me. At Green Point, seaside cliffs are layered with markers of deep time. Fossils mark the boundary between the Cambrian and Ordovician periods. This is a geological benchmark for the rest of the world, referred to as “Green Point Time.”

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Green Point: plate tectonics make interesting patterns. All of these, including the section that looks like a castle “wall,” were sculpted and cut by the earth’s crust .

If you camp, time seems to bend at Gros Morne. The five campgrounds are well maintained with clean comfort stations and good showers. You can choose from forested areas, shoreline or mountain views. Newfoundland is one of the last bee, bat and bird havens in eastern Canada. Since it is an island, the diversity of mammal population is more limited than that of the  Canadian mainland. You will notice that besides the occasional moose, there is very little roadkill on Newfoundland roads. There are no porcupines, racoons, snakes or gophers. Campsites therefore remain relatively unmolested by wildlife. Even bears tend to keep themselves scarce.

The hiking at Gros Morne is, I was told by global hikers, world class. There will be a separate blog describing some of the trails. Suffice to say, there are nineteen trails that explore unique aspects of this part of the world. There are many guided walks and some really excellent interpretive centres. You must get out and move around in Newfoundland to truly meet her. Luckily, when you get there, the land calls to you and you can’t wait to get your walking shoes on. Having said that, be prepared. Newfoundland is rugged and the weather changeable.

Tabletop mountains

Tabletop mountains

Many journeys culminate in Gros Morne National Park. Salmon make their epic voyage home to Gros Morne from their travels in oceanic parts unknown. You are able to fly fish in the Park, an activity that Carl says would beat any kind of meditation, yoga and mindfulness practice in terms of total body-mind relaxation. There are several companies that offer boat tours, kayaking tours and ocean fishing. Rocky Harbour is a tiny town inside the park which has certainly grown since we honeymooned in Gros Morne. You can find just about anything you may need there.  It has a fish store where you can get the world’s most delicious scallops and lobsters, often brought in that very day. If you prefer a cooked meal there are several restaurants.

We were told last summer about a really good fish-and-chip place in Rocky Harbour so we dropped by at about noon. Usually if a restaurant is good, there will be lots of people in it. I was one of two customers so I wondered if we were in the wrong place. I looked at the waitress and asked, “Where is everybody? There’s no one here.” She put down her cloth, looked over her glasses and said, “They strikes about 12:30.” It took me a moment to realize she meant that’s when the customers come. Newfoundland has a famously unique dialect. Often phrases or words refer back to fishing.  I remembered that when lots of fish start biting the fishing lines they are said to have “struck.” Also, on that note, most Newfoundlanders expect a real lake to be gigantic (by Mainlander standards). Most bodies of fresh water tend to be called “ponds.” When we first moved to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland thirty-three years ago, we saw Dollar Lake, shook our heads and Carl said, “I scoffs at dat. It’s a pond, b’y.” With that in mind, to explore Western Brook Pond requires a substantial trip in a large boat, which is well worth doing.

Explore local culture in Rocky Brook and other nearby towns. Newfoundlanders are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.

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Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore created this piece of art that invites people to listen to the land. You can find it at the edge of Green Point.

 

 Contact Information for Gros Morne National Park

http://www.pc.gc.ca/grosmorne

email: grosmorne.info@pc.gc.ca

Mail: Gros Morne National Park of Canada, P.O. Box 130, Rocky Harbour, NL, A0K 4N0

Phone: (709) 458-2417

Reservations: http://www.reservations.parkscanada.gc.ca, 1-877-737-3783

 

Gros Morne National Park: the journey includes a ferry and adventure

The Newfoundland Ferry. I would be lying if I said I ever got used to it. The first time I boarded it was December 31st, 1974. We had been living in Pickering Ontario where my father had worked for a couple of years for Ontario Hydro after leaving the Canadian Air Force. Never one to be content in one place for long, he set his sights eastward, accepting a job with Eastern Provincial Airways in Gander, Newfoundland. The fall of 1974 was full of anxious conversations between my mother and father, in the kitchen, on the phone, in their bedroom, in the basement. My mother was not a happy camper. She did not want to leave her province of birth or her brothers. At 15, I was the oldest of 3. None of us wanted to go either.

We moved a great deal when I was a child. Dad had a strategy. Since he always moved first and we followed several months later, he would under-promise and over-deliver in terms of describing quality of life. In pre-internet days, all we had was Dad’s first-person descriptors. When we arrived we were always so relieved, even joyful, that things were so much better than we imagined. Somehow, pre-move we always forgot he did this. Did Gander have a library? Yes, my father said, but it consists of books sent in cardboard boxes by plane once a month (not true, Gander had a lovely library). My mother’s face blanched at this. She read a book a day. Books were her oxygen. What were the people like? Friendly, but you could hardly understand them. They speak a strange language (a tiny element of truth). Mom’s brow furrowed. That didn’t seem right, everyone in Canada spoke English or French. How do you get there? By boat, but sometimes it takes weeks (only in the rare winter when the weather terrible) . I despaired at this. Always one to get motion sickness at the slightest of rocking motions, I envisioned days with my head in a bucket for days on end. Dad also had a flair for the dramatic. January 1st would be the day we began our new life in Newfoundland he declared. Numbly, we packed up our big red pickup truck and hit the road a few days after Christmas. Most of the furniture went by company moving trucks. We took ourselves, some luggage, my mother’s copious collection of houseplants and the budgie, Bluebird. How that budgie survived that frigid trip is beyond me.

We boarded a small ferry on New Year’s Eve.  We had a cabin with 4 bunks and crammed ourselves into them. All of us were either scared or cranky. The boat was small, unlike the big, comfortable ferries they have nowadays.  The crossing was rough and we envisioned being engulfed in our sleep in dark, salty water. I was pretty convinced I was going to die. No vomiting occurred because my mother very wisely doped us all up with gravol. She was probably more grateful for the sleep-inducing effects than anything else. When we awoke, the sun was just coming up and the ferry was slowly gliding into Port Aux Basque. I peeped out of the window and observed the pinkest sunrise I had ever seen. The tiny town of Port Aux Basque was covered in fresh snow, pink, iridescent, warm, magical. This was a new land unlike anything we had seen or imagined. Snowy rocks perched upon snowy rocks. We climbed downstairs and took our place in the truck. A couple of hundred feet off of the ramp, we saw a man in thick coveralls walking along the road. Dad stopped to ask directions. To our mainlander ears, he did speak a different language. Part Irish, part English, part Lord of the Rings. Directions collected, Dad drove us to the Irving Station where all who have ever endured the ferry land to eat hot stacks of pancakes and gulp down coffee whitened with canned milk for the long Trans-Canada highway trek to Gander.

How did we make out? Gander is famous for its warm, 9-11 hospitality extended without question to stranded travellers. It is immortalized in the Broadway play “Come From Away.” All I will say here is that hospitality is a way of being in coast-bound Newfoundland; the young town of Gander is no exception. After 34 years of living away from Newfoundland, I still consider it my “home.” That tells you something about how we were welcomed and embedded. The warm coals of that early morning welcome still burn.

We go back every year because Carl’s family live in Deer Lake. Every single time we cross on the ferry I am reminded of that first sunrise of ’75. There is a tourist chalet just outside of Port Aux Basques where I need to get out of the vehicle to touch my hand on the land in gratitude, to feel its energy go into me and to breathe the always crisp air. Every single time something in my soul meets the soul of the land. Your soul needs to go there.

Gros Morne Green Point Time

Gros Morne, Green Point Time

If you are travelling by camper or RV to Gros Morne National Park, you will need to take the ferry to Port Aux Basques. Rest assured, they are new, big and less inclined to make you motion sick than in the olden days. There are lovely reclining chairs in rooms where televisions abound with movies playing. There is an area where you can rent special, very comfy reclining chairs for ten dollars. Most people don’t rent them, so there are few people in that lovely room of cool air and wide windows. There is also a cafeteria, a gift shop, and a few food kiosks.  You can rent a cabin if travel overnight, which many do because it means less travel in the dark. This is not just a matter of convenience as MOOSE abound in the night. The chances are pretty good that you will hit one if you travel long enough in the dark. The cardinal rule is, in an argument between a vehicle and a moose, both will come out damaged and someone usually dies. So, travel in the light. Finally, this is REALLY important: you must make your reservations months in advance. Do not expect to just show up and be able to cross.

 

Gros Morne National Park is about a five to six-hour drive from the ferry. Take your time. The people are hospitable, with a penchant for self-deprecating humour. The scenery is astonishing with a Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings kind of epic adventure beauty.

Newfoundland Ferry website

Marine_atlantic_blue_puttees_august_2011 by Hayden Blackney

“The Blue Puttees” Newfoundland Ferry. Photo by Hayden Blackney

 

Forillon National Park: Acknowledging the territory

A few years ago, I was invited by two congregants to preside at their wedding at  Gespe’gewa’gi First Nation reserve near New Westminster, Québec. One of the brides grew up there. The other bride, Diane who is Anishinaabe, grew up in Newfoundland. The wedding designed by the couple was a weaving of Christian and indigenous spirituality. It took place on community sacred grounds. At the time pictures of the hunters who provide meat for the community had been posted around the circle. I was very moved by the gaze of these elders as the women spoke their words of love and commitment to each another, the gathered community, the earth and God. They were and are a beautiful couple. It was a striking wedding celebrated in the midst of a loving community. I will never forget the gracious welcome we received.  As Carl and I moved through the community I was struck by spiritual, social and commercial vitality. I mentioned this to Diane who told me that the reserve was not as affected by the residential school system as other reserves were. They still had to endure centuries of racist and colonialist policy and colonizing, violent, day schools, but the devastation of the residential school trauma did not reach as deeply here.

For me, this wedding was one of the most deeply spiritual experiences of ministry. The warmth of the community and the beauty of the land made Carl and I determined to come back to explore the Gaspé. And so, we did.

Take time to visit the Micmac Interpretation Site of Gespeg when you camp at Forillon National Park. It is a fascinating education centre.

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Micmaqugespeg Interpretation Centre photo:www.micmacgespeg.ca

There are often interactive activities. Their excellent website describes several options for immersive experiential activities (http://www.micmacgespeg.ca). If only we had had more time…. Although the woman who managed the information centre and gift shop had limited English and my French is worse, we managed to communicate enough for me to be able to pick up some printed resources. I was unable to determine whether the territory is ceded or unceded. One of the resources I picked up, A Journey Back in the History of Gaspé (Corporation Berceau du Canada: 2010) states:

The first humans to occupy the territory were the ancestors of the Micmacs (!) more than 8000 years ago. These nomads lived according to the available food resources, fishing in summer and following game in the winter. A seafaring people, the Micmacs knew the territory and its many rivers very well. We owe them for the name ‘Gaspé’, the name which the Europeans adopted on their arrival. “Gespeg” in the Micmac language means ‘the end of the land.’

The St. Lawrence Iroquoians arrived several hundred years later. A nomadic people, they were attracted by the abundant resources. In the 16th centre, these Iroquoians matched their trips to the peninsula with the arrival of the European ships, with whom they regularly traded.

The Park is situated on in un-ceded Mi’qmak land.

Forillon National Park has a shadow side. One of my colleagues who has worked in the Gaspé told me that the land was expropriated from people in order to create the Park, some of whom were indigenous. All were given a pittance in compensation. In 2011, the Government of Canada formally apologized. However, my colleague noted, no money was forthcoming.

Forillon National Park recently received some money from the Federal government which is earmarked to help the Park tell the stories of the Mi’kmaq people with some integrity. We can only hope.

 

 

The tent shelter: a truck camper’s second room. (Carl Yates)

What’s Old is New Again

As we prepared for our trip to Forillon National Park in the Gaspe penninsula of Quebec, we recognized that a dining tent would be in order.  We have used dining tents in the past when tenting and saw the benefits again with a truck camper as it got us outside to fully experience and appreciate nature during meal time. Eating and sitting outside helps us get to know our neighbours, which is a wonderful part of travel. It also, of course, keeps the rain off and the mosquitos out.

I checked out a few models but found them all to be too heavy or too bulky to be carrying around in a truck camper where space is a little more limited than that found in a fifth wheel [our previous RV].  I almost bought one in July when all the tents went on sale but still didn’t see a model that caught my fancy.  Finally, I said to Linda, let’s just use the old one that we stored in the basement as it could fit nicely behind the front seat of the pickup truck and wasn’t too heavy.

After we were settled into the campsite at Petit Gaspe, we decided to put up the dining tent.  As we unpacked it, it did not seem familiar so we took out the instructions to guide our assembly.  Although it was a two person job to assemble, it surprisingly went together well and was quite functional.  We couldn’t however, remember when we put it together last and as we inspected it more closely, realized it was brand new!  After racking our brains, we recalled that we bought the tent just before our son Matthew and wife Sarah got married.  It was bought just in case the weather was bad and we needed a little more space for the rehearsal party (cheaper to buy a tent than rent one!). As it turned out, the weather was good and the tent did not get erected for the celebrations.  The erection in Gaspe was the first time it was put up.  In essence, we won one on account of being picky and having a bad memory!  We now have a brand new tent that will do nicely as we travel about in our truck camper.

Oh you ask, what kind of tent is it?  It is manufactured by Roots and is 12 feet by 12 feet with an entry on all four sides which can be covered with a flap fastened by velcro strips or rolled up and secured.  The entry openings are all equipped with a mesh that keeps the bugs out and the breeze fresh.  The roof has a mesh with an additional fly to put over the top to keep the rain out.  During the few rain showers we had, it performed great.   Interestingly enough, if I went looking for a new tent, I would buy this model as it is very functional with lots of flexibility to adjust it to take wind direction and rain into account.  The only challenge, as mentioned above, is the support frame requires two people to assemble it without cursing.  I suspect one person could manage it as long as you don’t mind that the neighbours could hear a few choice words.

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Or, you could go to the Park shelters and recreate with some new-to-you friends.

Gaspé: you can tell how the living live by how they treat their dead

“Your communities will never really accept you until they see how you treat their dead.” These were the words of Rev. Dr. Shelley Finson. She peered at us over her glasses, pencil stuffed snuggly in her ponytail. She reached for it and tapped the eraser end on the desk beside me whose occupant was sleepily contemplating the ceiling tiles. The class paused for a minute while my fellow student’s eyes quickly engaged hers. She continued. “The people you serve will watch how you wait with them as their loved one dies. They will listen to your words, not for content but for compassion. Then, at the most vulnerable, difficult moments of their lives, they will observe what you do with those words at the funeral when, along with them, you remember the significance of a life. Afterward, the people will wait to see if you stop to take time to mention the person’s name in their presence. Until you take care with these things, you will never be ‘in.’ How you take care of a community’s dead says a lot about who you are. How do you care for the dead?” My peers chimed in with their wisdom.

I remember being somewhat skeptical twenty years ago sitting in the midst of my Pastoral Studies class at the Atlantic School of Theology. Surely, after so many hours spent absorbing history, theology, social analysis, experiential learning and so on, success in a community cannot possibly come down to the death response? When I got out of school and was thrown into the midst of living with people amongst their grief and joy-stoked lives, I learned that Shelley was absolutely correct, as usual.

I would add my own corollary to Shelley’s wisdom. How the living in a community treat their dead says a great deal about how they live. I have observed that unkempt or hazardously managed cemeteries usually indicate a community in some kind of trouble. Either they have lost community capacity for building social structures or there is such dysfunction that they cannot come together to care for their dead. Well-kept cemeteries, particularly if they are volunteer-run, indicate the opposite. It takes a community of some spiritual capacity to come together to figure out and implement a vision as to how the resting place of their loved ones will look and function.

 

When we took the 132 south from Mont Joli you would come around bends or be in the midst of hollows and a small community would just suddenly pop up. Occasionally you would see nicely kept cemeteries. Sayabec is the tiniest of villages and yet it had a lovely community sign surrounded by a robustly gardened area. Its cemetery was stunning. A stone chapel, constructed of local, unique, beautiful stone greets you as you pull into a level parking lot. The most astonishing aspect of the cemetery is the 14 stone cairns enfolding it. On each is a depiction of stations of the cross, (the story of Jesus’ crucifixion). Near the station which depicts, I think, the time a man is voluntold to carry Jesus’ cross, a man’s family took time to erect a small display with his picture and some biographical material next to his grave marker. Not for the first time, I cursed the limits of my primitive high school French. I wondered that a family or community felt a need to highlight this man’s life. In the centre of the graveyard is the corpus (the body of Jesus on the cross) with Mary and another standing vigil.  The unusual volcanic rock of the area supports both of them. The whole has the effect of declaring to the visitor, “This is our impervious, irregular, beautiful faith-rock. It is us. Pain abounds, but resilient love matters most.” I wonder about a community who take such care with their dead.

 

 

Postscript: Dr. Pat De Meo volunteered to translate the words on the plaque. We both agreed they were lovelier than we could have imagined.

(Photo shows a man who has walked to the top of a mountain.)
At the summit of my life, I thank you for having walked with me along the path of love with its joys, its beauty and its obstacles.
Today, my journey continues with you in your hearts.
Be happy and love, for that is the beginning of your path towards love.
I love you, Zita.
I love you, my children, my grand-children, my great-grand-children.
All of you who have walked with me, I love you.
I am watching over you with my gaze of eternity.
Dominique

The Gaspe Peninsula-Ultimate Truck Camper Test (by Carl Yates)

In late July, Linda and I spent a week in Forillon National Park as a full trial run of our new truck camper, a 2017 Livin’ Lite, Camplite 11.0 purchased from Jerry’s RV in New Minas, Nova Scotia.  The 11.0 model is 20 feet long with a slide and weighs in at a dry weight of 3400 lbs.  As a result [you guessed it], it requires a long bed, one ton truck to carry it.  In this case, the one ton is a Dodge Ram 3500 with a 5.7 litre Hemi engine.  After the week, I can safely say, the truck camper is a blast and performed well on and off the road.   Although the Gaspe is rugged with an abundance of twisting roads and steep grades, the camper contents stayed put for the most part and the ride was smooth.  Some contents did slide towards the front when Linda stopped abruptly; she is learning that even with the excellent brakes on the Ram, the truck does not stop on a dime. The ride did of course benefit from the rear air suspension installed on the truck and are highly recommended when carrying or towing heavy loads.

Once set up at the campsite at Petit Gaspe, we got to try all the amenities, including the microwave!  We decided to continue to eat healthy [there is no excuse really with a fantastic propane stove and three-way fridge, both manufactured by Dometic] and made a couple of grain bowls to sustain us as quick, healthy travel meals for a couple days.  Our grain bowl consisted of a protein cooked on the BBQ [beef, chicken or lamb], stir fried mixed vegetables [bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes] cooked in olive oil and mixed with a healthy grain [brown rice, bulger or quinoa] cooked with chicken or beef broth.   I mentioned the microwave earlier as it served to heat up the grain bowl leftovers for lunches, after the first feast at supper time.

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Hills and valleys everywhere

The dinette slide on the truck camper benefits from a rack and pinion gear arrangement and was very easy to set up including the table.  The table has a solid base stand but not as stable at the top where it rests on the post; a double post system would be better or table attached to the wall.  The north south bed exceeded our expectations with a three inch memory foam over the standard queen mattress.  The comfort was as good as home and when the nights were a little too warm for sleeping, the air conditioner did the job on the low cool setting.  Some think you rough it in a truck camper; I beg to differ.

After initially thinking the leak in the hot water tap on the outside shower was fixed [see previous article], a slow drip was evident [see attached photo].  Fortunately we could still use the hot water system as water was available directly from the Park system which is brand new this year.  The tank capacity is excellent on the Camplite 11.0 with a fresh water tank at 28 gallons and grey and black tanks holding 30 gallons each.  We only had to dump the tanks once during the week and it was very easy to pack up and dump at the station near the campground entrance.

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Outside shower leaking

After a week in Forillon where we enjoyed breathtaking scenary and hikes with our two Jack Russell terriers, we packed up and left for Montreal via the north coast.  And if you thought the south coast was rugged and spectacular, you should see the north coast which has more twisty turns and even greater changes in elevation.  Not to worry, the truck and camper were meant for each other and the drive was splendid.

Forillon National Park: exploring the parks out of the back of your car. Meet Nicholas.

Forillon National Park: Nicholas Madden, explorer

Perhaps you think you need a truck camper to explore all of Canada’s National Parks? I would like you to meet Nicholas Madden who is living out of his small car as he adventures through all of the Parks. We were puzzling out which version of the Mont-Saint-Alban trail the perpetually-psyched-for-a-hike dogs could tolerate with their short legs, when he joined us at the display map. He was tall, young and laden down with all kinds of camera paraphernalia. This caught my eye. It is rare to see someone younger than forty carry imaging equipment in an era of smart phones. Nowadays phones can take better photos than your average human with a fancy camera and a trunk full of camera paraphernalia. He looked directly at us and asked if we had done the climb before. No, I replied and then asked him what he was doing with so much imaging equipment which was admirably arranged all over his knapsack and himself. I silently rebuked myself for being so bold and possibly scaring away a young adult. They are scarcer than bears in these Parks crawling with seniors and Boomers. A spacious smile and then he spoke his story.

Nicholas Madden is 23 years old. He is travelling to as many Parks as he can get to in 2017. He has a degree in Environmental Studies. He was feeling a little burnt-out from constantly being at school and decided to take a year to see the environment close-up and personal. He is living out of his car as he travels across Canada. He is friendly, knowledgeable, adventurous and smart. He will meet his Dad in Alaska where the two of them will embark on a North-South odyssey of epic proportions exploring United States National Park. I totally get why Dad is going, beyond the bonding, fun and adventuring. I would have ten heart attacks a day imagining my child travelling solo, sleeping in the back of a car as he checks out American wild places. I found myself experiencing a total body relax-response the minute he said his Dad was accompanying him.

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Nicholas Madden

Nicholas is vlogging his journey which is why he needs to take so much recording equipment. He takes pictures, sound recordings and video recordings of the environment he loves so much. We talked for a while about the necessity of recording these shared natural spaces before climate change and human greed impact them. Because Carl and I can never stop being parents (damn!) we encouraged him to continue his environmental studies. I told him what I say to our son Matt who is working on a Ph.D. in biology at Concordia. In an era of assault on the environment and popular animosity toward science and data collection, devoting one’s life to science and scientific method is a slow but critically important act of resistance. Not many can do it, so the ones who can should.

Check out Nicholas’ vlog and Facebook site. When I asked if he had a name or title for his site he simply said “Google me.”

Forillon National Park Hiking: We encounter a Canadian lynx who may have thought Pax was a potential snack

One of our favourite things to do, whether we are camping or not, is to hike. We discovered this on our honeymoon in Gros Morse National Park 34 years ago. We were 22, grossly out of shape, unprepared and kind of stupid. We decided to hike the 20 kilometer Green Gardens trail. It was astonishing we emerged from that particular hike at all. When we recovered three days later, we had to admit we liked the experience of walking through vast expanses of nature, observing and/or dodging wildlife and challenging ourselves to push a little farther than we thought we go. We were hooked. We have been hiking pretty much weekly ever since.

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Petit-Gaspé trail

Every journey to a camping site is a commitment on our part to hike as many trails as we can. We prefer hikes that are a minimum of 6 kilometers to a maximum of 15. We have done longer ones but it is difficult to take the dogs as Pax has a bum leg. Given those parameters, Forillon was somewhat of a disappointment to us. Despite being called a “hiker’s paradise” it did not have many trails that fit within this range. You mostly needed to be a super-ninja hiker, that is 20-35 km hiking) or a slow leisurely walker kind of hiker (.6 to 3 km). Nonetheless, we did the few that fit us best and they did not disappoint.

First, it should be noted that Forillon is famous for being the mainland tail-end, or the beginning depending on your perspective, of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT). As you travel through Forillon Park various trails and roads are marked with the IAT symbol accompanied by some information about trail section length and difficulty rating. John Brinda from Washington State hiked the entire trail from Key West in Florida to Forillon in 1997. There is a nice plaque and information kiosk about this at near the lighthouse on the L’Anse-Aux-Amérindiens trail. As you travel throughout the Appalachians in the Gaspé you can often see these IAT signs.

The Petit-Gaspé Beach trail, a 7.2 km loop, was busy with friendly, hiking campers. Many groups included children and dogs. All were affable and seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was a well-groomed trail which culminates in an impressive observation tower at an elevation of 283 metres. The view is gorgeous as can be seen in the image below. There were several interpretive panels which were helpful as were the sporadically placed benches and the famous “red chairs.” These scarlet adirondack chairs are placed by Canada’s National Parks in the locations with the best views. They are ideal places to take a breath and let the beauty flow into you.IMG_0062

The most memorable event occurred on the L’Anse-aux-Amerindiens trail which we took from L’Anse-aux-Améridiens to Cap Gaspé. That hike gives you the option of walking on a dirt road or the IAT trail that runs alongside. As it was towards the end of the day and I simply did not feel like mountain-goating up hillsides we took the nicely banked dirt road. At this point I should confess our failings as dog-owners. Despite attendance at many obedience classes, we cannot get Pax to heel when hiking. Or ever, actually. She is 11 pounds of muscular feistiness. She is less unruly when she is able to trot ahead of our other dog Russell. She was not lead dog a number of times on this hike. When she is behind him, she is heart-broken and irate which means she emits sounds akin to that of a dying animal.  When we arrived at the lighthouse, the apex of the hike, I was looking at the ocean, while Russel growled and barked next to Carl. This is unusual for Russell.  Carl said, very quietly, “Linda, turn around.” There was a HUGE cat that was intently observing us about 50 feet away. It had come out of some tall grass, then crossed the lawn as it coolly surveyed the dogs. It disappeared into more tall grass. We think it is possible that it was following us because of Pax’s incessant wounded-animal cry. We had a little family meeting. We decided that if we are attacked by a bear or a Canadian lynx, Pax may have to make an honorable sacrifice to the carnivore gods if we cannot scare or beat the bear/lynx away with our hiking poles. Russell could not speak, but we feel strongly that he would be on our side in this matter.

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Cap Gaspé, after the Canadian lynx

We also saw seals and many different kinds of seabirds. Whales come by there, but we did not observe any.

We did several iterations of the Les Graves beach walks. These were always lovely. It amazed me though how humans need to constantly re-arrange the environment. Rather than leave driftwood as is, there were constant piles and structures being made by visitors. One evening, however, I do think God looked back at me from one of these, as yet unorganized, pieces of driftwood.

 

 

 

Trails

Prélude-a-Forillon:  .6 km loop – easy – universal access trail (boardwalk)

La Taîga:  3 km return – easy – observation blind, view of marsh, boreal forest, fragile environment

Les Parages:  3km loop – easy – Grand-Grave heritage site

La Chute:  1km loop – moderate – 17 m. waterfall, boardwalk and stairs

La Graves:  various possibilities from 6.4 km to 15.2 km, all return – moderate – coves, pebble      beaches, Cap-Gaspé, marine mammals.

Mont-Saint-Alban:  two possible loops from Petit-Gaspé beach and Cap-Bon-Ami – moderate – sea and cliff scenery, observation tower at 283m, 360-degree panoramic view

La Vallée:  9.2 km return – moderate – L’Anse-au-Griffon river system

Le Portage:  20 km return – moderate – connects the north and south sides of the peninsula

Les Créte:  35.4km return – difficult – wooded, mountainous, backcountry campsites

Les Lacs:  36.6km return – difficult – park highlands and wilderness lakes, back country campsites

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forillon National Park, a review by soundscape: pebbles, birds, children, RV washing (what?) and silence

I wish I could record the soundscapes for this park. First among the recordings would be the sound of walking on the pebbles of Grande-Grave beach. Pebbles is not quite the right word. It is more like a vast natural collection of flat, grey stones. Take the sound you remember as you walked along a pebble beach and add ethereal percussion.  The pebbles, wind and ocean is why Europeans came to this part of the Gaspé beginning in the 16th century. It was ideal for laying out cod to dry on the beach. A great fishing industry built up which was managed by a kind of fish mafia from the Jersey islands. They laid claim to the world’s “best” cod, although I know some Newfoundlanders who might dispute that. Sadly, over fishing means that cod is now the “white rhino” of the edible sea. The Park does an excellent job of animating this history with Hymans and Sons General Store. There is also a fisherman’s house, the Blanchette homestead. I thought I knew a lot about cod fishing, but there was still a great deal to learn in the well laid-out display upstairs in the General Store.

 

 

The second sound I would record is the that of birds. There were so many that I could not identify. It is encouraging. I wondered if the Park is experiencing the same horrific downturn in bird population as the rest of the world. I also wondered what kind of bird sounds the Mi’kmaq heard as they occupied, used and respected the land for over 8,000 years. A sound I could not record if I wanted to is that of mosquitos. This was a nice surprise, reprieve even. You learn to live with the constant whining of mosquitos where I come from.

The camp grounds are laid out in a let of 5 (A, B, C, D, E).  Four are all grouped together in kind of a skinny-leaved four-leaf clover. There is also a group campground. We were in one of the new 31 semi-serviced campsites (running water, electricity).  I was impressed that the Trudeau government was doing what they said they would do – investing in our National Parks after a decade of cuts by the other guys.

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Home at Forillon National Park

The third sound I would record is that of children. When we arrived almost every other site was occupied by massive motorhomeswho were part of an American tour group. This meant that they took off together in the little cars they towed for trips during the day, then retreated into their palaces on wheels when they got back. The only time we saw them was when they washed their motor homes which happened with a surprising frequency considering the motor homes never moved. All of the occupants were seniors who seemed terrified and/or suspicious when we said hello.  I really missed the sound of children’s voices so when I jogged in the mornings would choose a route through the other tenting campground areas. When the big motorhomes moved out en masse one morning, they were replaced that by families with children, Boomers in smaller motorhomes and just few Big Rig Seniors. They all had dogs. Children’s voices and dog barking vitalized our campscape. Thank God.

This Park infrastructure is prepared for children and families. There are modest playgrounds. There were a couple of offerings a day, often in French (as is appropriate since French is the first language of Québec). These too seemed more oriented toward adult experience. The shower areas are combined with recreation places that have a couple of wood stoves and several wooden tables suitable for board-game playing and family dinners. There is also a place to do supper dishes for Tenters. Much family conversation, negotiation and bonding happens when doing those dishes. I would sometimes linger, being the inveterate people-watcher I am.

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Lovely comfort centres are part of the shower and bathroom buildings

Another sound that I might record is that of Yates’ pounding on doors. The biggest interpretive centre is L’Anse-au-Griffon Visitor Centre. We really wanted to visit this on our way out. We arrived at 8:30am but were dismayed to find out the Centres all open at 10am. Almost all of the animated display centres also did not open until 10am or 11am. Mid-morning seems a strange time to open, but perhaps they found campers did not get themselves together until then.

The final soundscape would consist of a total lack of sound. The great asset of the Park is the combination of different eco-systems that can be explored. There are unique beaches, ancient human habitations, wooded trails, mountainous trails and cliff-walking. In a world of light pollution, the Forillon Park night sky is very dark, for those who like to explore the heavens. If you settle in your chair by the crumbling ashes of the fire and tip your head back you can imagine yourself in the depths of space, where there is no sound. At all.

 

Vistor’s Guide to Forrillon National Park:

“Located at the northeastern tip of the Gaspé Peninsula, Forillon National Park safeguards an are that is representative of a terrestrial natural region, the Notre_Dam and Mégantic mountain ranges, and of some elements of two marine natural regions, the Laurentian Channel and the Magdalen Shallows. In other words, it protects a segment of the Applachians and the adjacent waters as well as the fauna and flora inhabiting this area.”