Thursday, December 9, 2021

Trail Angels, Chocolates, and the Joy of Bakeries : Sherbrooke to Magog

We awoke to a wet, cold, dark morning and a very large murder of American Crows outside our window, bringing to mind scenes from an Alfred Hitchcock movie.   However, things immediately started to look up when we visited the nearby Boulangerie Les Vraies Richesses to buy breakfast and some supplies for the trail.  


In my opinion there is nothing quite as good as being enveloped by the warmth and delicious smells of a French bakery.  This one was no exception, and it's glass counters were filled with artisanal bread, quiches, sandwiches, and pastries that made our mouths water.  

I admit I over spent.  I admit I over ate.  I admit I loved every moment of this bakery!

Our breakfast of chocolatines was scrumptious, but we didn't realize the full extent of our good fortune until we tasted the raspberry almandine during a break later in the day.  Needless to say it was very hard to leave this amazing Bakery this morning!

Feeling much encouraged by our breakfast, we headed back to the wide, flat, crushed stone dust pathway that wound along the river.  Everything was wet from the rain last night, and the coppery beech leaves, emerald green mosses, and golden tamarack seemed to glow in the dim light.  Crystal clear water droplets hung like jewels from the bare branches, and the few maple leaves that were still hanging on in defiance of the fading autumn season seemed to burn like flames above a carpet of fading oranges and browns. 


The excited honking of a White-breasted Nuthatch filled the still, cold, damp air and all of a sudden a small group of Black-capped Chickadees descended into the shrubs around us.  I held out my empty hand and almost immediately a tiny chickadee landed on my fingers, looking to see what goodies I was offering.  When it discovered my palm was empty it let out a series of vigorous and indignant complaints before taking off to forage in the nearby white birch. This didn't stop several of its companions from checking out my hand in rapid succession. 

A little farther down the forested trail we passed a small weir, the water making an elegant white curtain as it rushed over the top. A small group of Mallards was swimming in the smooth water just above it, casually feeding right at the lip as though daring to see how close they could get without getting swept over. 

Too soon the beautiful forested pathway ended, and we found ourselves following a paved road lined with multi-family dwellings.  Few trees graced their tidy green squares of lawn, and everything seemed very neat and proper.  This neighborhood was followed by a treed area where the homes were spread farther apart, giving us the sense of being back out in the rolling, green countryside.

We passed a large concrete making factory, trekked across another very short section of wooded trail, and then came to a small community with a very long and partially English name: Rock Forest-Saint-Elie-Deauville. Older homes, each with a unique design and character, were set back on well-landscaped lots filled with mature trees.  One side of the street was lined with waterfront homes that had access to the river below us. 

As we made our way through the charming little community we passed an ice cream shop (closed for the season), several small family businesses, a marché, and a beautiful old stone church with a notice for an upcoming Christmas Market in a week.  How time flies! An older lady out for a walk stopped to ask what we were up to and wished us well with a huge smile. 

We followed the road along the river as it began to weave and climb, at times rather steeply.  Just as we were beginning to wonder what had happened to the nice flat rail trail we had been so enjoying, we heard the loud and repeated whistles of an approaching train, as if in answer to our question. Apparently the train tracks, which we crossed several times over the course of the day, were still in use!

Shortly after this the trail wove down to the Parc de la Plage Municipale in Petit Magog.  Although there aren't too many dedicated resting places for cyclists on the road stretches of the Route Verte, the route does take trail users to municipal parks whenever possible, which we really appreciate.  This treed park had several picnic tables, washrooms (sadly closed), a playground, and a beautiful view over Magog Lake.  

Here a few kilometers away from out destination we were hit with a brief but sudden downpour of ice cold rain which gave us little time to prepare ourselves or our gear.  As a result we were soon drenched and shivering despite the unseasonably warm weather.  It was at this point – when we both felt and looked our worst - that an elegant elderly black lady and her young granddaughter road up on their bikes and stopped to ask us in crisp clear English “ why in Heaven’s name are you walking at this time of the year in the driving slush and rain?  It is a little silly at this time of the year no?”  I was so shocked, that rather than giving the now usual answer I responded honestly “I’m walking the Trans Canada Trail to encourage youth to reconnect to nature by disconnecting from their electronics.  Out here we don’t get to pick the whens and hows.  We are simply privileged enough to get the moment and the chance to do the best that we can with it.  It’s what we do.  And it’s a wonderful honour.”  She smiled, gave me a huge hug, then dug out two freshly baked chocolatines and a bar of French dark chocolate from her backpack for us before riding off.  Sometimes kindness is like that, it comes upon you so quickly and leaves just as quickly.  I never even got a chance to thank her and was left feeling more hopeful than I have in weeks.  How can one not love a region where the trail angels whisk up on bikes and distribute French chocolate and pastries? 

Over the past few days, a combination of things had begun to wilt my spirits, yet the suddenness of this lady’s question and my unprepared response immediately reminded me of everything that was important in this trek!  All was again right with the world – as happens so often our mindset determines so much of how we see the world – thankfully things were clear again.   


Able to smell the chocolatines the local lady had given us we took a break at one of the picnic tables munched them down, then still hungry I opened the last of our pastries from the bakery this morning and had our raspberry almandine croissant. It turned out to be one of the most delicious pastries I've ever tasted.  The combination of almonds and raspberry purée, together with the buttery flavour of the croissants will live in my memory along with a certain fruit tart we found in Aubrac, France while walking GR 65 from Le Puy-en-Velay to Roncesvalles.

It was a wonderful and decadent 5 minutes which I thoroughly loved ... until I realized that I had now eaten all the pasteries that we had for the day.  Fuss and bother! 


Venturing on we soon came to Lake Magog which is approximately 11 km long and 2 km wide, and it contains eight privately owned islands, two of which were constructed by people. The lake was created by four hydroelectric dams in the area, which control the water levels and rate of renewal.  As we stood on its shores small patches of blue sky were beginning to appear in the sky overhead, but over the far shore the distant hills disappeared into the mist and low hanging clouds.  The treed shores of the lake were also shrouded in patches of fog, giving the grey waters a soft look.  A small group of Mallards were swimming near the shore, and several Canada Geese were resting farther out. 

After a short break at the picnic table we continued down the road once again, making our way through another neighborhood of multi-family homes until we came to the busy highway 112 at the north end of Lake Magog. As we skirted the edge of the lake on a paved cycling lane we had a stunning view across a cattail marsh to the sunlit waters of the lake, which were just visible under a railway bridge.  The blue hills disappeared into the distance on the far shore, creating a beautiful scene. 

We briefly paused at a sheltered picnic table nestled into the trees at the edge of the marsh before following the cycling trail through yet another neighborhood.  Shortly afterwards we picked up another section of forested crushed stone dust trail.  Although we could hear the sounds of the highway and a nearby industrial park for the first part of the walk, we were sheltered in our own densely forested world of conifers.  The sweet, spicy, Christmasy smell of balsam firs filled the cool, fresh air.  It felt like we were walking in a tunnel of dark green spruce and balsam fir and brilliant yellow tamarack.

When we reached the edge of Magog we walked along a road through an industrial park, and then along a stretch of river that looked like typical Canadian Shield country.  The dark waters of the river were bordered by forests and exposed shield, which made wavy reflections in the smooth surface.  Mallards, Canada Geese, and Common Mergansers paddled along the shore, and brightly coloured Blue Jays flew along the banks.  On the other side of the road a row of homes faced the beautiful river bank.

By early afternoon we reached the edge of Magog, which is a small touristy town located at the confluence of Lake Memphremagog (which extends down into Vermont), the Rivière aux Cerises, and the Magog River.  Magog was named after Lake Memphremagog, which is derived either from an Algonkian word meaning 'where there is a big expanse of water' or an Abenaki word meaning 'a long and large sheet of water.'  Either way, these are both accurate descriptions.  

The Abenaki were the first to inhabit the region, and the current town was founded in 1776 by British Colonial Loyalists who emigrated north from Vermont.  Ralph Merry is generally considered the founder of the town, because he bought much of the land surrounding the lake, and became the mayor, judge, and chief developer of the new settlement.  Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries Magog's economy was dominated by the textile industry, predominantly the Dominion Textile Mill, and it wasn't until the 1970's that the economy diversified to include other things, like tourism and hospitality – which they excel at! 

We stopped to investigate the uniquely designed library, which was located in an old church, and then made our way down the well-landscaped brick main street, which was lined with bakeries, restaurants, boutiques, and trendy shops.  


We stopped at the Au Fou du Roi boulangerie, where we enjoyed some of the best coffee we've ever tasted, and a mouth-watering cherry-cheese Danish.  The extremely friendly and helpful owner was a backpacker who had walked around south America (presumably scoping out delicious coffees to import later on), and it was wonderful to exchange stories.  Perhaps we've overdone it today with the croissants, especially since we only walked around 25 km, but it has undeniably been one of the most delicious days on the trail so far, and tomorrow we will presumably burn off some of those calories climbing to and through Mont Orford. 

Following our afternoon break we made our way to our auberge, which very happily offered a laundry service!  

With some of our chores done and a few hours of writing and photo editing under our belts, we headed out to a small local establishment for dinner.  It is a wonderful feeling to sit beside the cozy fire, surrounded by happy diners, enjoying a good meal.  We are certainly grateful for another wonderful day on the Route Verte and the Sentier TransCanadien here in Quebec!


 

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