This spring, Larry and I stuffed the REO Smithwagon with hiking gear, sleeping bags, camp food, our passports, and every jacket we owned, and headed north to Canada for our longest road trip yet - 800 miles each way.
The idea for this adventure started with a concert. We heard that Pearl Jam was going on tour in 2016, and thought "Hey, we should get tickets!" But they weren't playing in the DC area. The closest venues were in Philadelphia, PA (150 miles away) or Hampton, VA (200 miles away). Neither of those cities appealed to me, so we started looking for more interesting options. We love to use a concert as a reason to travel somewhere new. If you can't see a band play locally, why not drive to a foreign country to see them?
At the same time, I realized that my good friend from high school (who now lives in Canada) might be interested in seeing Pearl Jam, too. Pearl Jam was definitely part of the soundtrack to our high school years. I texted him and he enthusiastically responded YES! Larry and I jumped online the minute tickets went on sale and tried to get tickets for any of the venues in Canada - Toronto: SOLD OUT, Ottawa: SOLD OUT, Quebec City: 3 tickets available! With my heart racing as I fumbled through the timed check-out (those things cause so much anxiety!), I was able to secure the tickets. It was three minutes after tickets went on sale when I completed the transaction, and the seats were in the last row of the Centre Videotron. It would be a 13 hour drive for us, and a 9 hour drive for Matt, but we had tickets to see Pearl Jam in Canada!
We also started looking into stretching the trip into a week and exploring places along the way. We talked about staying in the Adirondacks or going to Vermont, but nothing really worked out with our route. That's when Larry looked at a map and noticed there was some green space just north of Quebec City. Green space always catches our attention, and this green space turned out to be Jacques-Cartier National Park. A national park?! We're big fans of national parks in the U.S., so we were excited by the idea of visiting one in Canada. (After doing some more reading, we learned that the province of Quebec calls its provincial parks "national parks". So it was sort of the equivalent of a state park in the U.S., though I've never seen a state park in the U.S. as expansive or scenic as this one.)
The pictures of the park looked beautiful, and when I started researching a visit, I discovered the park rents awesome modern cabins, called EXP Cabins. (Which I think stands for experience?) It seemed like the perfect plan - a chance to spend half the trip relaxing in nature and the other half exploring Quebec City, seeing a concert, and catching up with an old friend who I hadn't seen in 4 years. The park is only 45 minutes north of the city, so the itinerary worked out perfectly, and there was plenty of availability for the cabins during the first week of May.
On April 30th, we started our journey, stopping overnight just past the halfway point in Schroon Lake, NY. The next day, we crossed the border into Canada and made it to Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier, with just a few minor snafus along the way. Our phones and GOOGLE MAPS stopped working as soon as we crossed the border, despite verifying that Larry had an international cell/data plan ahead of time. Turns out you have to turn on roaming data, but before we figured that out a few hours later, we just stayed the course and kept driving north. Then there was the language barrier when we were buying groceries at the IGA and the credit card didn't work (once again, we had notified the credit card company of our travel plans ahead of time) and evidently none of the cashiers spoke a word of English. Yay for cash - the universal language! With a sampling of Canadian beer, fromage, and poutine-flavored potato chips loaded into the Smithwagon, we continued north.
We arrived at our EXP cabin (called Le Contre-Courant) after the park headquarters had closed for the day, but they had left the cabin unlocked for us and the key on the table. Larry and I love to stay in unique places, and these cabins were fantastic. We immediately wanted one for ourselves! The cabins are simple and modern, with lots of glass and a view towards the Riviere Jacques-Cartier. The genius of the design is that everything does double duty in the cabin - the dining table transformed into a "sofa", the beds had storage underneath for suitcases, a sliding panel on the outside of the cabin covers the windows for privacy. We started calling it the Ikea Cabin! Kudos to Sepaq (Societe Des Etablissements de Plein Air Du Quebec - the Quebec park service) for having the vision to build such unique park accommodations! I've definitely never seen anything like this in a U.S. park:
The sliding panel in action.
I adore modern architecture and cabins, so a modern cabin is pretty much my dream. (Seriously, how do I get one for myself?) The cabin is basically just one room, plus a tiny bathroom and it has everything you need: sleeping area, dining area, kitchen, wood stove, porch, fire pit, and incredible view. The website said to bring your own bed linens/towels, so I wasn't expecting any extras - we brought all the kitchen gear we needed, too, but it turned out the cabin had a fully stocked kitchen. (Perhaps I missed that they provided this because the confirmation e-mails they sent were in French?) They also provided dish towels, pillows (though we ended up using our own, because who wants to sleep on a rubber pillow?), firewood, TP, and even a hammock to set up on the porch!
Upon our arrival, we admired the cabin, set up our sleeping bags, unpacked the car, and walked down to the river, before settling in for a night of camp food and relaxing. Of course, I took a million photos, so here's a tour of our quarters and our little slice of the Canadian wilderness:
My pictures don't look as beautiful as the photos on the Sepaq website, because evidently May is 'dirty snow' season in Canada. But just imagine how cozy it would be to stay here with fresh snow on the ground!
(P.S. I have no idea how to type accents on an American keyboard, so apologies for butchering the French language. Again. I took three years of French in high school and never could get the hang of the pronunciation or remembering which words were feminine or masculine, or where those damn accents went. Je suis desole.)