My first weird encounter of the day showed up early: I walked along the beach between Motel Le Noirot (where I stayed last night) and Cafe de l'Anse (closed) where I came across a dead fish. About a metre long? Skin abraided, big hole in the back quarter. Looked like a miniature whale, looked like it had been harpooned. As it turned out, I was more right about the whale thing than I knew. Parks staff helped me identify it: it's a porpoise (which Wikipedia claims ARE whales ... they're definitely mammals, not fish). The park staff also wanted me to email the picture, because the local whale watch group tracks porpoise deaths and the park's staff member's kids had just reported another dead porpoise a few kilometres away.
I ended up having breakfast at Café Croque-Faim - the guy at Noirot had told me to go there in "Fox River," the next town over. Why the hell would he tell me that? Happily my rudimentary French was up to the task of putting his actively unuseful translation to use by realizing he meant Rivière-au-Renard ...
Café Croque-Faim is a genuine old-school diner. Not retro-trendy, just ... been open for 35 years(?). Holy crap, they didn't even have Wifi! (What is wrong with these people?!) Classic breakfast too: eggs, bacon, ham, toast, hash browns, and endless coffee. Surprisingly good coffee, and a good breakfast.
I wanted to stay another night at Noirot, but after they waffled and changed their mind twice, I checked out. I'm now in downtown Gaspé (and will be for two nights).
Have any beer drinkers heard of Auval? The bartender at Cap Gaspé assured me that if I brought bottles back to Toronto I could make VERY good trades: apparently their beer is award-winning and very well regarded, and the store actually limits you on how much you can buy at a time. Beer drinkers actually make bottle trades? So bringing Auval back to Toronto would be ... good? I hope to get there tomorrow during the day (although my schedule is always uncertain).
I worked my way through some of Forillon National Park's hikes from north to south. Sadly, the porcupines were no longer hiding in the rose bushes at the north end. I walked the very easy Prélude-à-Forillon - a 0.6km flat loop by the shore at the north entrance. Then, as I usually do, I followed the advice of park staff as to what hikes to visit. The first was a part of the Mont-Saint-Alban trail, but she recommended I hike it just to the observation tower. I wasn't paying much attention when she told me that it would take me 45 minutes to get to the tower, and 30 minutes to get back. She wasn't far off: I think I was 50/35. Keep in mind that that was a distance of 1.8km in each direction. Those 50 minutes gave me a lot of time to think about trail ratings, and I've decided that what's really needed (besides the already common distance and elevation change) isn't "difficulty," but rather "strenuousness" and "treachery." The path to the observation tower is very well used and very well maintained, but it's somewhat akin to climbing the CN tower: it's TOUGH. So that's strenuousness. "Treachery" comes from the "treacherousness" of the footing. I think we can come up with an almost objective measure here: when you're in motion, how much of your time do you have to spend looking at your feet? This trail is very low on the treachery scale, say 15%. Walking down a city street is 0%, walking over large loose stones approaches 100%.
photo: Forillon 'Land's End' seen from the observation tower
Wheezing like a bellows, I did in fact make the top of the observation tower. And HOLY CRAP, views don't come any better. Keep in mind I'm now the happy recipient of perfect weather: it was 18 or 19C, and beautiful sun all day. Imagine, if you will, the tip of the Gaspésie peninsula. The map is surprisingly reminiscent of a narwhal - and Forillon is the horn. This peninsula also forms the north side of a bay, with the town of Gaspé on the south side. Place an observation tower on a very high point right at the base of the horn, and imagine the views - the town of Gaspé is a little far away and hazy across the bay, but the rest of the horn is breath-taking, and so is the view of the "body of the Narwhal" behind you. I stayed up there half an hour. Outstanding.
photo: Celebrating climbing the observation tower with a drone
My next hike was "Le Castor," not so much a hike as a stroll - there isn't a marked path on the map, but it's 200 metres from the parking lot to a wetland with a beaver house in it.
Next up was "La Chute," a short downhill hike into a forest to see a 17 metre tall low volume and very mossy waterfall, quite lovely.
Then Fort-Péninsule, a World War II gun emplacement. Much better maintained than a similar thing I saw in Normandy - I suspect that's because we have perhaps three such items in the whole country, whereas the French have hundreds.
And I ended the day with the "La Taiga" hike in the Penouille section of the park. Flat as a pancake (the lowest rating on any strenuousness scale) and almost perfectly smooth (5% treachery - at most), the 4.5km round trip still took me well over an hour as I'd done my legs in at the observation tower. The boardwalk was nice if unexciting, but the Taiga part of the hike was interesting: a kilometre and a half of "Fragile Habitat [Stay on the trail]" as signs told us repeatedly. This consisted of spruce, deer moss, and various other hardy things desperately trying to grow on raw sand: not actually a good diet for plants, it makes for an interesting-looking space.
Something I've noticed about the forest undergrowth here: it's almost identical to Muskoka (bunchberry, ferns, blueberry, wild strawberry, a bunch of other plants I recognize but can't name) with a couple odd exceptions: almost no bracken and no wintergreen. Both are incredibly common in Muskoka. And a change in the trees: I think of Rowan trees as being deliberately cultivated, that's the only way I've seen them in southern Ontario. But here they grow wild all over, with their distinctive large bunches of bright orange berries.
It turns out I only got into Brise Bise last night because I arrived so early (around 1700). Tonight at 1915 the wait looked to be 20 minutes or more - the rest of the downtown (all one and a half blocks of it) is almost entirely dead. So I went to Cafe des Artistes where I had a decent seafood pasta (anonymous white sauce, but the damn thing had as much shrimp and scallop as it did actual pasta), Gadix (chocolate cake with hazelnut crunch, very good), and a Pit Caribou "Gaspésienne - Robust Porter." It was a very pleasant meal.
photo: technically a weak photo, but I still really like it ...