Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Cabano to Parc du Mont Citadelle

When we set out today it was through a cold, windy morning. The sun was fighting for supremacy in a sky filled with fast moving clouds that ranged from small and fluffy to large and dark. It was anyone's guess who would win. In the end, the day was a mix of sun and clouds, some of which deposited a few stray snowflakes.

At the edge of town we walked past the Auberge de la Gare, which is an Inn and Restaurant located in the old train station. It was interesting to see the beautifully painted building, with its flower boxes, deck chairs, and Acadian colours outside. We've walked past old train stations that have been restored and now serve as museums or tourist information centers. Other stations have been transformed into galleries or event rooms. A few have not been restored and are gradually being reclaimed by weeds, trees, and nature. Still other stations, like this one, now serve as B&Bs. It is strange to think how the buildings we now use in one way may serve a different purpose in the future.

We continued down the beautiful treed corridor of the Petit Témis, very grateful of the wind break the firs, trembling aspen, and white birches on either side of the trail provided. A short stretch of walking directly beside the Trans Canada Highway gave us a renewed appreciation for just how important tree cover is for wildlife, and for us.

Just before we reached the creatively named town of Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! the first snowflakes of the year swirled past. We refused to acknowledge them, although it was more difficult to ignore our frozen fingers. Something in the wind has shifted from an autumn chill to the icy breath of winter.

Although the trail did not take us directly into the town of Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! it nonetheless gave us food for thought. How did this enthusiastic and overly jovial name originate? There are various theories. The most common story is that Ha! Ha! is what French trappers said when they founded the town - an expression of joy and awe at the beautiful surroundings. Another explanation is that the name derives from the Huron word "ahaha", which means "road". In the 17th century, the word "ha-ha" was used by the French to describe an unexpected obstacle. The nearby Lac Témiscouata may have been a formidable obstacle to early travellers, giving the town its name. So, swear word or expression of joy? Hmmm. Either way, this is supposedly the only town in the world with two exclamation points in its name.


A few kilometers after passing Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! we came across one of the designated camping spots on the trail. In addition to the covered picnic table, garbage can, and toilet, there were four wooden platforms for tents at this site! This is truly the way through hiking should be :)

Just opposite this deluxe campsite there was a grassy track leading up to the Aster Observatory. The facility was closed, but apparently the observation dome is equipped with a 410 mm robotic telescope for viewing celestial objects in the night sky. Not only that, but it also houses a 152 mm solar telescope for safely viewing our own star, the sun. Interpreters are present to help visitors direct the telescopes and explain what they are seeing. Yet another place we would have loved to visit, if only we'd been here during the summer season!

During the afternoon the trail took us through more open countryside. Several of the rolling fields and pastures, which were dotted with picturesque barns and farmhouses, housed herds of curious cows. Their black, brown, and light coloured fur looked thick, like they too were preparing for winter. Many of them stopped their methodical grazing to watch us with big brown eyes and mild curiosity as we passed by.


One of the exciting parts of this afternoon was finding two geocaches. Sean spotted both of them as we passed by, and neither was a premium cache, so we could log them both. This covered our goal of logging at least one geocache per province, and it was our 500th find!

We spent the entire day gradually climbing up into the hills. We kept up a steady and fairly quick pace to cover 33 km in 7 hours of light, and by the afternoon the climbing and stiff, icy headwind were starting to take their toll. In addition, we came to a section of trail that hadn't yet been cleared after the storm of a few days ago. We passed the trail crews who were hard at work clearing downed trees, but we still found ourselves climbing over, under, and around more than a dozen large trees.


It was still an enjoyable walk as we climbed. We left the sounds of the highway behind, and found ourselves passing an unusually high density of beaver dams, some with 2 or 3 lodges in the resulting ponds. As the afternoon progressed we noticed ice forming at the edges of the ponds, but there was still a flock of Hooded Mergansers paddling about in one of them.


As we stopped to watch the mergansers a flock of noisy and boisterous American Robins landed in the mountain ashes behind us and began feasting on the bright red berries. They were soon joined by a small group of Black-capped Chickadees. As we continued down the trail, we spotted a White-tailed jackrabbit crouched under a cedar, pretending to be invisible.


Around 3 pm we turned off the trail to head up to the Parc du Mont Citadelle. This is one of our last nights on the trail for this season, the predicted temperature for tonight is -9°C, and we decided to treat ourselves by staying in a yurt. This turned out to be a fantastic decision!


When we reached the park we headed to the office to check in. We were greeted by a very friendly, English-speaking lady who saw that we were frozen and suggested we go upstairs for something hot to drink and eat in the restaurant/bar before checking in. We enjoyed a hot coffee and a delicious veggie pizza with a homemade crust, artichoke hearts, spinach, cauliflower, black olives, cherry tomatoes, and a particularly tasty cheese. Best of all, we found ourselves in a large chalet with a wood burning stove and a wall of windows through which to watch the sun set over the surrounding hills. It was quite lovely.


When we went to check in we discovered that the staff had gone up to our yurt and lit a fire for us so that it would be warm, and they gave us a ride up the hill to the yurt. Such amazing kindness!

We were delighted to discover that this is one of the nicest yurts we've ever seen! It has a wood burning stove, a full kitchen, a bathroom with hot running water and a shower, and a separate bedroom with bedding included! It is fantastic. We feel incredibly lucky to be here, and this is definitely one of those evenings to remember. As we fall asleep, cozy and warm, we can see brightly shining stars through the skylight in the middle of the yurt.

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