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Late Summer on the Gaspe Peninsula

by John Robinson

Twenty-two hours of driving from Virginia will get you well into Quebec. Of course, we had that problem with the blown out tire in upstate New York. Rolling on the tiny temporary spare, we limped to the nearest garage and spent the rest of the night camped out in the vacant lot behind it. I had brought an extra un-mounted tire, tied to the roof, for just such an occasion, and early the next morning a bemused fellow by the name of Butch showed up, mounted the tire for 5 bucks and sent us on our way.

Later that morning found us entering Canada by way of New York’s picturesque “Thousand Island” region and then into an impressive Montreal traffic jam. Northward we continued, pausing at Quebec City for a taste of maritime France, then ferried across the St. Lawrence River onto Rt. 20 North. Now we’re getting somewhere.

“Oh yeah, Adam, you’re definitely going to need a raincoat.” Oldest son had forgotten his, and from the looks of the sky and the rain steadfastly pouring out of it, this weather may be here for a while. Adam politely approaches the maintenance man at the roadside picnic area and inquires about a heavy-duty trash bag. Merci!

Mr. Style is soon sporting a sleeveless rain vest, made from said garbage bag, and it holds him in good stead for the rest of the trip. On the trek north to the Gaspe Peninsula proper, we pause to inspect the world’s largest oscillating wind turbine. That’s the kind that looks like a cook’s whisk or egg beater, and it stands about 100m high. The rain continues.

Our primary destination on this seat-of-the-pants road trip is Parc de la Gaspecie, a provincial park featuring granite peaks and sub-arctic flora. Trails that must be classics traverse the mountains, and we aim to get a taste of them. The summits are as high as 4000 feet, and with the sea, in the form of the St. Lawrence Seaway, being so relatively close, the topography is striking.

It’s our first day on the trail, and it’s raining of course. We’ve been hiking for several hours and I am identifying the breaches in my rain coat, as the wet spots grow on my flannel shirt. But it’s spectacular scenery, even with the limited visibility, and all members of the crew are in good spirits. In fact, I am always amazed at their undampened, shall we say, enthusiasm for most everything.

Two days later, we’re well into a lengthy day hike across the range to the summit of Mt. Jacques Cartier and back, about 16 miles. It’s a stout hike for one day so we don’t dawdle. On the summit is a small lookout tower which affords expansive views across the compact Chic-Choc mountain range. Since the rain left us yesterday the sky is bright blue and the clouds racing by billowy white. It’s invigorating. As the kids build a sizable rock cairn I’m struck with that good-to-be-alive feeling.

We pause beside an alpine tarn on the return hike, confident that we can easily get back to camp before dark. Lounging in the sun, sardine can peeled open, we contemplate Jacques Cartier and his explorations of Newfoundland, Labrador, and the St. Lawrence Seaway in the sixteenth century. As we munch more peanut butter and jelly and raisin sandwiches, Frank reads from the still-damp guidebook about how Cartier named this country Kanata, “Land of the Huron.”

On the road around the Gaspe Peninsula we find one majestic scene after another. We camp in cool, secluded sites. We hike out skinny peninsulas to isolated lighthouses, we sit on bare expanses of granite and watch whales in the bays, we marvel at amazing rock formations along the ragged coast. I enjoy practicing my college French, even if I don’t get far beyond a few everyday pleasantries. It’s a joy to hear fluent French, and to feel that, no, we aren’t in Virginia anymore.

“Sure, I’ll go in if you all do!” I bluff as the kids contemplate a dip into the freezing water of a calm bay near the town of Perce on the Atlantic side of the peninsula. Before I know it the youth are peeling off clothes down to their shorts and diving in. And hooting and hollering. There’s only one thing worse than jumping into freezing water in concert with a group, and that is being the last to join them.

 I tell you, these kids are gonna kill me.

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