When we left Forillon, it was a little strange to be following the highway signs ‘west’. We’d been chasing the ‘east’ highways with some occasional ‘north’ and ‘south’ since we’d left Calgary. But generally, we were always heading eastwardly. Now we were, without a doubt, beyond our eastern exploration and pointing it back to the west.
We were also heading across Québec without a reservation or a concrete plan. We enjoyed the northern coast of the Gaspésie with fabulous views of the St. Lawrence and the small towns that bordered it's shores. The parks located more inland were enticing and areas that I would one day love to visit, but if we didn’t keep trucking, we weren’t going to make it back for school start.
So our quasi plan for the day was to head to one of the Ferry terminals and cross the St. Lawrence. We would sleep on the north side, and then hopefully drive on to La Mauricie National Park. It had been on my radar on my first pass through, but I wasn’t able to secure a site because it had been booked up. We still didn't have a reservation but I thought that without la Semaine de Construction, we'd be able to get something.
When we arrived to the first ferry that crossed over to Baie Comeau, it wasn’t running that day. It was strongly recommended to make a reservation, but as luck would have it, the terminal was closed when we got there. I dialled the reservation line, but it too was closed, and we couldn’t book online because the bike rack on the back of the van required that reservations be done in person or by phone. So if we chose to stay, we could lose an entire day sitting at a ferry terminal and not even get on the next day's 3 pm crossing.
When it was clear that we couldn’t secure a spot, I could see that Matt was getting frustrated. He grumbled that if we’d only had a plan, this wouldn’t be a problem. Indeed he was right, but I countered with the notion that this is all part of the process of an unplanned trip.
Besides, it makes for good story telling.
But I knew that he didn’t love it. Finally we decided to drive on toward the next terminal in Rimouski. We'd just drive down the line until something worked. As Matt drove on, I got online to try and book the Rimouski ferry. It, too, was a fail. The ferry didn't accommodate vehicles more than 7 feet tall and Black Betty was towering at more than 9.
Matt was clearly aggravated.
With all fairness, we’d hoped to explore the northern route of the St Lawrence and now our plan was forced to change. It is a part of the country that is rarely accessible to us, so a plan would've ensured seeing it. But alas, we hadn’t planned. And, to a certain extent, I enjoy traveling like that. It means that you don’t always see everything you intend to see, but when things go sideways, you make the best of it anyway.
It was getting late in the day so we had to come up with another plan. We decided that it would probably be best to grab a hotel in Rimouski, and ditch the ferry crossings altogether. But for the second time through Québec, it became a problem to find a hotel or a campsite to pitch a tent. The provincial parks that I phoned while Matt drove, were full. We stopped at several hotels and motels for a room, but there was no vacancy anywhere. Rimouski was completely booked up. I can assure you that this did not help Matt’s frame of mind. He wasn't enjoying the predicament of the unplanned: where to rest our tired selves.
We eventually stopped at a motel for dinner. We satisfied our grumbling tummies and thought about our next move. We discussed our choices: we park it in a parking lot and try and sleep five in the van, or we knock on someone’s door and ask to pitch our tent in their yard, or we take turns and keep driving through the night. With our bellies filled, we opted for driving through the night. Shortly after deciding to drive through the night, a motel appeared along the highway and their ‘no vacancy’ sign wasn’t lit. Could it be true?! So we tried this one last stop to inquire.
Success! There was vacancy! In fact, they had a suite with two bedrooms for $160.00 and I made sure to jump on the opportunity. I came bouncing out of the motel with a victory thumbs up and I could hear the kids in the van cheer for our awesome find.
Then we went in.
The suite was in the basement of the motel. I will admit that I don't know much about motels, but I wasn't sure that the only tiny window in the bedroom, barely big enough to fit a child through it, was 'to code' in case of a fire. The entire toilet shifted when you sat on it, and the kitchen sink faucets didn’t turn off. Yet, it was a roof over our heads and we were thankful for that because it started to rain outside.
After checking the sheets for bugs, I got the kids settled for the night. Matt was still griping about the unplanned and so he got online to book our next couple of days. He went onto the Parks Canada website and booked the two following nights at La Mauricie.
I was excited to be heading to another National Park. We hadn’t been disappointed yet. We didn’t waste any time in the fancy dungeon suite in which I found the door to the exterior wide open in the morning. We got up and piled into the van. Once again, I was happy that I was going to be back in the tent, in my very own dirt.
After a yummy lunch in Shawinigan, we continued to La Mauricie and settled onto our site. We had a plan for the next day. We would rent a canoe and spend the day on the water.
We put the two older kids on the junior kayaks with a tow rope ‘just in case.’ It was good foresight to pack the rope, because the kids weren’t up for such a long paddle. We tried different ways to get across to the beach. Eventually, I ended up on a junior kayak. It just barely sat afloat as I sat in a pool of water, trying to maneuver the kayak. It wasn’t an easy task. For one, I was practically sinking. For two, it was anything but efficient. Every stroke made the nose of the kid kayak turn too far. It was impossible to put in a power stroke. It took forever to get across the lake, but the kids and I laughed and we enjoyed the most inefficient way to float across the water ever. Still we thoroughly enjoyed our day.
I was happy that we made it to La Mauricie after all. I was also happy that we got to see more of Québec this time around. It truly is a beautiful province. And a great place to brush up on your French. I do believe, however, that to really enjoy Québec, it would be wise to book in advance to see the things you want to see. Their parks were incredibly busy and hotels were nearly impossible to secure. Having a French-speaking person in the group is also an asset but not necessary.
We still had one more stop in Québec before we would leave it. We were heading to the Gatineau area to spend some time on Meech Lake with good friends!
And we were getting excited for that!