Nomad and John O: AT Thru-Hikers
International Appalachian Trail

Week 1

Wednesday, May 24, 2000
Trail Day: 1
Trail Mile: 5
Location: Cap Bon Ami Overlook, Forillon National Park, PQ Canada

Arrangements have been made for Benoit (Ben) Gagnon, an interpretive wardenat Forillon National Park to drive us to the cliffs at Cap Gaspe, thebeginning/ending of the Senier International des Appalaches/InternationalAppalachian Trail (SIA/IAT). John O says good-bye to his son Sean, who haddriven us to Canada and we're off to the Cliffs of Forillon. It seems Ihave been waiting so long for this adventure to begin and I am filled withboth excitement and nervous anticipation. On the way Ben talks about theseaged and timeless Appalachians and he explains that the mountain we areapproaching is one of the oldest of the old.

The IAT wastes little time getting right to our initiation. As Ben drops usoff the harsh wind is driving bitter-cold rain from the Sea of St.Lawrence. In my last conversation with Dick Anderson, President SIA/IAT, hehad urged me to be careful in desceding to where the mountains meet the sea.I remember the last 100 vertical feet to be over rock and shale...a verytreacherous beginning but both John O and I are determined to begin thisodyssey at the water's edge where the mountains plunge to the ocean floor.We arrive without incident to pluck some pebbles from Gaspe (Land's End) andat 3:00 p.m. we depart for Key West, Florida and the southernmost point of theeastern North American Continent.

Thursday, May 25, 2000
Trail Day: 2
Trail Mile: 17
Location: Lea Cretes Trail near Le Portage Trail, Forillon National Park, PQCanada

The rain and wind continue as we break camp. The sea and mountains allaround are in the shroud. As I pass I pay little more than a nod to the observation tower atop Mont Saint-Alban. From here on a clear day can be experienced one of the most spectacular vistas anywhere along the entire Appalachian Range. I try not to be disappointed but descending with the swirling gray drear comes the funk nonetheless.

As we climb to the ridge west of PQ132 we get into big-time snowpack and progress slows to near a crawl. As the rain continues the eggshell-thin crust decays to little more than a veil. If I can manage to claim the crown of the two-to-five foot drifts I have much better luck staying atop the crust, but as the afternoon wears on I am breaking through with alarming and annoying regularity.

John O is a big man, a retired career police officer from Brick, New Jersey. We met last year at the ALDHA Gathering in Hanover and have since become very good friends. After my presentation at Dartmouth John became very interested in the grand amalgamation of trails that comprise the Appalachian Mountains Trail (AMT) and the Eastern Continental Trail (ECT) and as a result has kept in close contact with me. So here we are together hiking the mysterious and far-off trails of Canada . . . in perilous snowpack up to our armpits!

As the day wears on and the rain continues it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find a stable path and I become concerned for our safety. John's combined weight with pack has got to exceed mine by 40 50 pounds. There is just no way with the deteriorating conditions that he can be having anything but a fit of it behind me, so at the gravel road leading to L'Anse-Au-Griffon I pull up to wait.

To my surprise John is only minutes behind and with both of us equallybushed we decide to call it a day. The rain continues in steady patters, and we pitch for the evening. At least we are out of the snow and on level ground for the time. Moose tracks and other forms of their presence are all around.

Saturday, May 27, 2000
Trail Day: 4
Trail Mile: 62
Location: Home of Ubaldine Dae, St. Yvon, PQ Canada

Yesterday was a very long and tiring day. It was good to get out of the snowpack, off the mountain and into Fox River to a warm room, hot tub, and supper at Dixie Lees.

We're out early this morning, headed straight into the wind and rain tobegin the roadwalk to Mont St.-Pierre. Most folks don't care much forroadwalks, but I like them just fine, and this roadwalk is one of the finest in my book. But alas, it won't last, as trail building crews will be working all summer to move this SIA/IAT from the road to the ridge. Currently the trail follows PQ132 along the St. Lawrence Sea past delightful French Canadian villages. To me, it's like going back 30 50 years in time. The folks who live here take great pride in their homes although almost all are very modest. The colors these folks choose to brighten the drear and cold of the harsh winter monochromes are a riot-an absolute jolt to the visual sense. White with fire engine red is predominant, but it's not unusual to see orange, purple and wild neon shades of blue, green, and yellow mixed in. Clotheslines on pulleys are by every house as are the universally staggering stacks of firewood. Up here you can still charge things at the little mom-and-pop grocery store and they'll deliver to your home if you can't get out. People here help each other and these kind and generous people are as happy and joy-filled as any group of folks I believe I've ever met.

Walking the road you get to meet and interact with the people, on the ridge you just don't have that opportunity. I like nature and I suppose I like the mountains and woods just about as much as anybody, but I like meeting the folks along the way just as much if not more, so this boy likes his roadwalks!

And so this day is shaping up to be a most remarkable day, for the very reasons just discussed. Towards evening the rain intensifies and the wind is kicking hard and cold. The little motel we had hoped to find open in St. Yvon has weeds growing around and a"for sale" sign in the window. For some reason John O is drawn to the first house he comes to, to inquire about accommodations further along the way. A kind lady greets John O and invites him in. When I arrive moments later I am also invited into her warm, cozy home. Here we meet Ubaldean Dae, who promptly serves us grand slices of Gaspesian sugar pie along with cups of steaming hot coffee. After the second cup my fingers start working again and I can now manage the fork to manage the pie . . . yummmmm! Ubaldine speaks excellent English and after pleasant conversation over the pie and coffee she is delighted when John O and I accept her invitation to stay the night as her guests. Ubaldine also insists we permit her to prepare breakfast in the morning, so the deal is that she permit us to treat her to supper. After both John O and I enjoy the luxury of 15 minutes each in her Jacuzzi, we are refreshed and ready totake Ubaldine to supper.

What had shaped up to be a hard pound-it-out day has turned to a most remarkable and memorable day, because of the kindness of this stranger
along the way . . . Ubaldine Dae!

What are they carrying? Check out John and Nimblewill's gear lists and pack weights.


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »