When we left the coziness and warmth of our yurt it was to enter a magical, snow covered world. The air was a cool, crisp -9°C. As we walked down the hill and made our way out of the Parc du Mont Citadelle the sky was filled with huge v's of migrating Canada Geese. Their calls carried across the otherwise muffled landscape, somehow seeming to call us to follow.
We walked out of the park and back to the trail, to find it covered in a thick layer of fluffy new snow. Right by the road it was completely untouched. The flakes lay thick on the conifers on either side of the trail, and made small caps on the reeds, grasses, branches, and bright red berries. There is something about walking on untouched snow that appeals to my two-year old inner self, while at the same time making me feel slightly guilty for messing it up.
As we continued along the trail we noticed a huge variety of different animal tracks. Some animals walked for a few kilometers down the trail, obviously using it as a corridor. Many, many others criss-crossed the trail, the larger ones leaving distinct impressions on top of the snow, the smaller ones tunneling beneath it. We were very impressed with the number of animals that used the trail since it snowed! I really wish I could identify tracks better,and have resolved to try and learn about this over the winter.
Around 10:30 am a rather large, heavy, dark grey cloud we had been keeping an eye on turned into a full scale blizzard. It was snowing so hard it was difficult to see, as the large fluffy flakes made their way into our eyes. We had some fun catching them on our tongues as we walked - again indulging our inner two year old selves.
We stopped many times throughout the day to admire the contrast of dark, black streams and pools of water against the white snow cover. As the afternoon progressed we began to notice that the edges of the ponds and streams began to freeze, creating sharp lines, curves, and softly textured patches of ice.
One of the highlights for today was coming around a curve in the path to find a large, healthy, deer posed in the middle of the trail. Its warm, reddish brown coat contrasted beautifully with the green and white of the woods. It stayed put, allowing Sean to get quite close while photographing it before it bounded off. It made some truly impressive leaps and bounds before disappearing into the trees.
By early afternoon we came to what at first seemed like an alarming set of signs. The first one indicated there was construction up ahead on the trail. The next one said the trail was closed to cyclists for the next 7 km. Then we reached a barricade, and yet another sign suggesting we should walk down the highway instead. It was a busy highway, full of trucks, and we'd watched several snow ploughs go in the opposite direction. We paused, wondering what to do next. In the end we decided to stay on the trail as long as possible, and see what would happen.
As it turned out, the work involved redoing some of the culverts along the way, doing some clearing, and a lot of road work beside the trail. We were able to stay on the trail, with the exception of a small detour along a parallel snowmobile trail. It was uneven, and we were lucky the ripped up trail surface was frozen, otherwise it would have been very muddy. We were grateful to avoid the road walking and to not have to backtrack.
After the construction the trail turned up north to go to Saint Modeste. It was a five kilometer walk up to the tiny community, and a five kilometer walk back down to continue heading west. By this point the temperature had dropped again, and we were quite cold. We also had tired legs from trudging through the snow along with very sodden clothing and shoes. Google Maps indicated there was a cafe in Saint Modeste that was open. When we finally got up there we found the cafe closed for the season. This was a great disappointment, and not the first time Google has given us false hope of nourishment.
As we approached Saint Antonin the landscape opened up, and we found ourselves walking between rolling agricultural hills. The roads, paths, and hedgerows made beautiful lines through the snow covered fields. In the distance the Appalachian mountains appeared as rows of dark blue ridges that disappeared into the distance. It was very picturesque, but very cold and we soon realized that we did not have the energy to trek another 15 km into Riviere du Loup on top of the 34 km we had already walked today.
The beauty of today, and of the winter landscape is tempting us to stay on the trail, and continue on across Quebec. The temperature will dip to -17°C tonight. Our gear is not up to it, and so we will spend just one more day on the trail. It will be so very, very hard to bring this adventure to a close for the season, but we know we will be back in spring.