Late last February I launched my new website and began publishing my “Thoughts”. Most of the posts have been written while we have been on the road, taking the form of a travelogue with photographs and occasional personal reflections. I knew there were some dedicated followers and I held some hope that the audience might grow. However, what has occurred has exceeded any expectation.

My website provides me with a continuously updated tally of the number of visitors, and a record of the the countries that they are logging in from. I can’t see who is visiting, but I can see where they are visiting from.

As of today 20,000 visitors from 61 countries have read my “Thoughts”. I know that professional bloggers would scoff at these numbers, but I am grateful for the time that each of you give to us.

We revel not only in the exploration of places, but in the forging of friendships and the discovery of new dimensions to our own relationship. For me this is a labor of love. Thank you for being a part of it.

Today we traveled from Baie Comeau to Sept-Iles on the north shore of the St. Lawrence. En route we stopped at the ferry terminal at Godbout and made a reservation for a Monday crossing to Matane on the south shore.

This is the farthest east ferry crossing available to us. The passage will take about 2 hours and the cost to transport us, vehicle and trailer is about $200.00. Matane is about 175 miles northeast of Edmundston, New Brunswick. It is at Edmundston that we will cross back into the United States at the northernmost tip of Maine. From there we will begin our slow return south and west to Kansas City.

Between today and Monday we will spend Thursday night camping in Sept-Iles and then travel on to Havre-Saint-Pierre where we will camp for two nights before returning to the ferry dock at Godbout.

The last few days along the north shore of the Saint Lawrence have been a spectacular mix of dense north woods, rolling hills, stark rock promontories and seaside vistas. We are given to understand that the best is yet to come. We look forward to sharing it with all of you.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: This area is a mecca for the generation of hydroelectric power. We stopped to view the dam at the Sainte-Marguerite River. Before the 1980’s traffic crossed the river on a narrow roadway atop the dam. A major bridge was constructed to span the river canyon. On October 30, 1984 tragedy struck. As a crew was laying the final pavement on the bridge deck the substructure failed and the bridge collapsed into the rushing waters 200 feet below. 6 workers lost their lives.

We endured a bone chilling day today upon the waters of the St. Lawrence. The cold was driven into our core by a relentless rain that became needle sharp as our 12 person Zodiac tore through the fog. By the end of 3 hours in that open boat our stiffened joints resisted movement. 180 minutes of cold, rain, fog… an unrequited bladder… and worth every moment! The whales didn’t mind either.

We were advised to wear every piece of warm weather clothing that we had before arriving at the dock. Once there we suited up into flotation foul weather gear, looking and feeling like the Michelin Man. I thought, “There is no way that I will be cold in this rig!” I was wrong.

The fog and rain merged the sky and sea so that they became indistinguishable from one another. At times it was like floating within the center of a ping-pong-ball. 36 participants were allocated 12 each into 3 small vessels. We were among 8 English speakers who were assigned together onto one boat. Our captain was accommodating and displayed a real enthusiasm for the excursion.

It took 15 minutes for us to enter the main channel from port. A 5 knot tidal current continued to propel us downstream even when the motors were at idle. We periodically paused to listen for the sounds of whales blowing. The deep rumbled “whoose’’ of huge lungs exhaling carried eerily across the water from every direction. The captain’s experience drove us time and again to the nearest creatures. Along with hosts of smaller marine mammals there were Beluga Whales, Finback Whales, and the magnificent Humpback Whales! Sightings became so common that I began leaving my camera in its case.

As it was calving season we remained a respectful and lawful distance from the Belugas. The Finbacks seemed endlessly long as they gently rounded above the surface. These are the second largest of all whales and one of the largest creatures to have ever existed. The captain estimated that the examples we saw today were easily over 20 meters (65 feet). Some have been known to reach 85 feet long. They are sleek and reputed to be the fastest of all whales. Regrettably, they were a bit shy and while the viewing was good the pictures were not.

The Humpbacks almost seemed to seek us out. These creatures can grow to 50 feet long, weigh over 65,000 pounds, and live up to 50 years. On occasion they paralleled our vessel nearly within an outstretched arms reach. We could watch them silently glide just below the surface, periodically breaking the surface, blowing, and gently curving back into the depths. At times they raised their flukes as if waving goodbye. The captain was able to identify each of them by their unique tail markings, telling us the creatures name, gender, and occasionally a bit of its history. This was an extraordinary experience in a trip that has featured extraordinary experiences.

Back at camp a hot shower and nap did much to restore my core temperature.

We capped off the evening with dinner at Chez Mathilde. We expected a meal but we were rewarded with fine dining and the smokey tunes of an excellent jazz duo.

Tomorrow we begin our day-by-day journey further down the St. Lawrence. Who knows what surprises await us… perhaps the Northern Lights?

Peace Everyone. Pete

The day began cold… 32 degrees cold.

We broke camp and traveled a short distance to a very nice roadside restaurant where Christine again took the opportunity to practice her French on the locals. She is doing quite well and building both confidence and excitement at being understood.

Our drive continued to the ferry dock on the east side of the Sanguenay River where it exits the Fjord and enters the St. Lawrence. Continuous ferry service with three carriers in rotation facilitates the traffic crossing of this wide expanse of water without needless delay.

While crossing we spotted a Beluga Whale playing near the ships bow. Unfortunately I was not in time to capture it with my camera. On the other side of the river is the town of Tadoussac where we will camp for the next two nights.

Our campsite is situated high upon the dunes that overlook the incredibly quaint and historic town of Tadoussac. This had been the site of Indian tribal trading long before Cartier first visited in 1535. A European settlement and Catholic mission was established in 1600, becoming a major fur trading post and port for French vessels.

The mission was staffed in the 1600’s first by the Franciscans and then the Jesuits. The mission church that remains intact on the site dates to 1747. Two of the founding priests are interred beneath the church.

We spent the afternoon walking through town. We were pleasantly surprised to find a microbrewery near the docks. Nicholas, who was on-staff, spoke excellent English and even better “Brew-speak”. He was able to give a comprehensive explanation of the current offerings, all of which we sampled. They were exceptional. He proudly highlighted the recent third place finish that they were awarded for their Red Ale in an international competition.

We returned to camp and reserved places on a 12 person Zodiac for whale watching in the morning. We will depart further up the St. Lawrence where there is an excellent chance to view a variety of whales including a recently sighted pod of Blue Whales. Blues are the largest creatures to have ever lived. Below is a larger group that we watched depart from the pier.

Our evening was capped off with an excellent camp-cooked Pad Thai entree, wine, and fireside companionship with a group of 6 Canadians from near Toronto. Our nighttime views of Tadoussac and the far shore of the St. Lawrence are stunning!

Peace Everyone! Pete

In 1878 Quebec City merchant Charles-Napoleon Robitaille was traveling upon the frozen Fjord-du-Saguenay when the ice broke. He along with his horse and sleigh were cast into the freezing waters. Charles prayed to the Virgin Mary that his life be spared. He survived, but as the horse was not a believer it perished (sorry, small joke!).

Charles soon became deathly ill from his experience in the freezing waters. He again prayed to the Virgin Mary, this time asking for 10 more years of life in order to raise his children and provide for his family. He again lived.

Charles vowed to create a monument to his two miracles. Thus he engaged the services of sculptor Louis Jobin. Using three huge white pine logs, Louis carved a statue of the Virgin Mary that was to stand nearly 30 feet tall.

While transporting the statue on the Fjord, it fell from the boat into the waters. Fortunately it floated. The three sections were towed 15km by rowboat to a location beneath the cliff of Cape Trinity where it was to be installed hundreds of feet above the Fjord.

The local 19th Century technology proved inadequate for the task, so 19th Century ingenuity was employed. The 6,000 pound statue was cut into 14 pieces and each piece was hoisted up the cliff where they were reassembled and covered with thin lead sheathing for protection from the elements. The Statue has stood overlooking the Fjord from the point of Cape Trinity since 1881. Tradition calls upon mariners who pass the Cape to slow their vessels and sound their horns in honor of the Virgin Mary and the memory of Charles-Napoleon Robitaille.

Reaching the statue by land is a moderately challenging 5 mile hike that involves a total assent of 1,500 feet. Allowing for some contemplation time along the way and at the top, the round trip takes about 3 hours. This trail is a part of the final section of the 215km pilgrimage walk that is presented in 14 sections from Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean to the Notre Dame du-Saguenay statue. Each section has a different spiritual theme.

Please enjoy these pictures of my experience upon the trail to the statue. Tomorrow we continue our journey northeast along the shores of the St. Lawrence.

Peace Everyone. Pete

It is a rare treat at my age (66) to be presented with the opportunity for a new experience. The pictures of Parc-du-Saguenay’s Via Ferrata were an enticement to me that proved more compelling than Christine’s disapproval. Her concerns are understandable given her own fear of heights and the death of a good friend who fell this last May while hiking in Scotland.

A Via Ferrata is a technical mountain climb along an established path that features permanently installed climbing aids (often of iron or steel) such as cables, hand holds, iron rungs, ladders, and narrow beam bridges. Harnesses must be utilized as the Via Ferrata ascends and crosses sheer cliff faces, often hundreds of feet above the valley below.

Via Ferratas are popular in the Alps, and are less well know in North America. The modern incarnations have their roots in the 19th Century as these aids were permanently installed along popular climbing routes in the Alps. The First World War saw the construction of Ferratas in order to facilitate the movement of troops along perilous mountain paths. It is believed that there are now over 1,000 Ferrata routes in Europe.

Parc-du-Saguenay’s Via Ferrata likely ranks as one of intermediate difficulty. It features very steep cliff ascents, in one place beyond vertical, traverses with minimal hand and foot holds, short passages across 4 inch wide beams, and precipitous rock scrambles. All of this takes place hundreds of feet above the valley below. It requires a fair degree of upper body strength and a constitution immune from fear of heights.

Finally, the real gem of the experience is the crossing of the valley by a 1 foot wide, 300 foot long open sided cable bridge.

The expedition is limited to 8 participants and an experienced guide. There were 7 in my group. The route took a little over 3 hours to complete, including the 30 minute assessment and training portion.

A short near ground course provides the guide with teaching aids with which he demonstrates the use of the equipment. It also allows him to assess the abilities of the participants. Any person who does not appear capable of competence, lacks sufficient strength, or displays excessive fear, is denied further participation. Everyone qualified in my outing, but I confess that I was initially concerned that I might “wash out” because of my age and my pronounced hand tremors (a life-long genetic condition that has worsened with age) which can easily be misinterpreted as fear or Parkinson’s disease.

As it turned out my “test” went very well. Throughout most of the journey I and a young couple from Belgium and France were placed ahead of our guide, Sebastian. He later told me that he frequently has to reject a candidate out of concern that their fear or lack of ability present a danger to all participants within a group.

The entire experience was beyond my pre-departure comprehension. At times it took on the aspect of an out-of-body experience for me… clinging to the face of cliffs, climbing ladder rungs where my head and hands were further out than my feet, which sought to swing free beneath me. There was little fear, virtually no adrenaline, only exhilaration. In this I may have been alone among my fellow climbers. I was the only member taking pictures and often hung hands free by my harness to point and shoot my camera. As I write this I remain a bit mystified at my reactions. Perhaps they derive from my trust in the equipment and those who designed the route. However, I did find an internal voice cautioning me to always make sure that one carabiner was firmly in place before repositioning the other. My life depended upon that small detail.

One of the members of our group was a young lady from France who might be 5 feet tall but only if she stands on her toes. She was situated ahead of me with her boyfriend in the lead. As we crossed the cable bridge the arc of the safety cable took it beyond her reach. At 10 foot intervals we were required to unclip from the cable and then reclip past each of the attachment points. She was unable to do this until in unison I and her boyfriend reached up and hung our weight from the cable, pulling it down to within her reach.

Although I was the sole native English speaker, a comradeship of accomplishment developed within our group. The combination of the interpersonal experience along with the physical and emotional challenges created an incredibly memorable experience!

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: Later in the day Christine and I traveled to place along the Fjord where a short hike rewarded us with some of the most astounding views of this incredible region.

Our entire day was spent enjoying an excursion upon the waters of the Saguenay fjord. We boarded a very large Zodiac-like vessel, departing from the dock at camp on the west side of the fjord. We traveled north about an hour at an estimated 20-25 knots and were treated to views of the magnificent cliffs and hills that glaciers had carved out over 10,000 years ago.

The fjord is fed by both a freshwater lake to the north, and tidal saltwater from the St. Lawrence to the south. The freshwater being lighter, in the central and southern reaches of the fjord it creates a freshwater layer that is approximately 50 feet deep. The saltwater remains below that layer, extending to the depths of the fjord which are up to 900 feet. A unique marine environment is presented that supports over 70 species of fresh and saltwater fish.

This is considered the ice fishing capital of the world. In the winter folks come from near and far with their mobile ice huts and assemble in 3 “villages” upon the ice. The locations depend upon the fish they seek, some dropping their lines deep for ocean varieties and others shallower for freshwater species. In all, over 1,200 ice trailers are arranged in grid fashion upon the ice.

Approximately 20 years ago the waters of the Saguenay became so polluted that pregnant women were cautioned not to consume the fish. Beluga whales, Peregrine Falcons, and many other species were threatened, including the rarely found Greenland Shark, the second largest carnivore shark after the Great White.

The imposition of environmental protection measures upon the municipalities and industries along the Saguenay have restored the waters and habitats, but it took 20 years for the pollutants to be “flushed”.

Our boat arrived at the picturesque village of Santa-Rose-du-Nord. We disembarked and enjoyed a pleasant stroll through the town.

We encountered a most unusual “Nature Museum”, founded and operated by a most unusual woman.

Approximately 50 years ago she began assembling an array of stuffed animals, samples of plants, molds, insects, and just about anything else that drew her fancy. The collection, which includes 2 stuffed Greenland Sharks, is contained in 6 rooms of her home. Ten dollars allowed us a tour and me permission to take 3 pictures. The experience was… odd.

Continuing our wandering we came upon a quaint little restaurant located in the lower portion of an equally quaint home. Maison-Mina is staffed by the incredibly charming Mina and her gregarious husband who does double duty as the town’s mayor. $16.50 each provided us with a fantastic 4 course lunch. Christine enjoyed a roast pork while I had a local favorite which is a version of “shepherds pie” made with salmon. Mina spoke no English so Christine reveled in the opportunity to recall her French. I got by with sign language and smiles. The entire experience was priceless.

We returned to camp later in the afternoon, in time to weather a brief evening rain shower, eat a light dinner, enjoy a campfire, and marvel at the clearing night sky. See if you can see the meteor that I captured with my camera!

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: Tomorrow I hike to the Via Ferrate des Geants. It is a 300 foot long open cable footbridge that hangs hundreds of feet above the valley below. The bridge is accessed during a 4 hour hike that includes portions where one must proceed by clinging to a series of cliff faces. The bridge is crossed one person at a time. Christine has decided that she will pass on this activity. Below is a telephoto image of the bridge I took from upon the waters of the fjord and some additional pictures taken during the cruise of the fjord.

In the course of our travels we have often witnessed various forms of risk taking behaviors. Stunts on motorcycles rocketing down the road, aggressive driving in other forms, and folks dangling their feet over the edges of cliffs are just a few examples. Most of these risk takers are under 40 years old. Folks in my age group (post-60) tend to be a bit more cautious and circumspect of their mortality.

In the last 3 months 7 of my friends and professional colleagues have died. 5 from illness, one the victim of a tragic accident, and this last week one the victim of suicide.

It was not so many years ago that encountering death among friends and acquaintances was rare. These days I am becoming increasingly aware that the odds in the lottery of life are slowly shifting against me and in favor of “the house”. My Mother recently remarked that Christine and I are blessed to have so many friends both near and far (we agree!). In the same breath she sadly noted that all of her long time friends are “gone”. Two weeks ago we celebrated both my father-in-law’s 100th birthday and our newest grandchild’s first birthday. One of the few things that those bookends of life share in common is that while they are both loved, they have few friendships. Little Lennon is too young to have yet made friends in this life, while Bill has outlived most of his. Lennon and Bill are at opposite ends of the Bell Cure of Life and Death. In our 60’s, Christine and I are approaching the peak of the curve. At age 84 statistics say that a flip of the coin has the same odds as whether we will be alive or not.

None of this is morbid or depressing to me. It is reality and much of the reason that I so passionately pursue travel. A judge once remarked to me that “Lawyers don’t retire… they just die at their desks.” There is some truth to that, although I know a few who are the exceptions and I long ago determined to be among those who would retire.

To you who are closer to my age I offer, don’t put off until tomorrow the things that you may find you are then unable to do. To you who are much younger I pray you will see your careers as a means to an end and not an end in itself. Have Fun, Do Good (as in both your best, and what is right), and Be Safe for the sake of those who love you. And finally to the few of you who silently despair of life each day, please share your secret with someone and be open to help.

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is a suicide magnet. In 2013 there were 46 who jumped to their death… in the preceding years it is estimated that over 1,600 have jumped with a 98% certainty that they would not survive. I read of a study where the author interviewed a number of those few who did survive. The thought that they uniformly held in common is that at the moment they let go of the bridge they regretted the decision.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. My friend Mark ended his life this last week. He was a brilliant scientist, a gifted athlete, and an incredibly caring and generous man. I count myself among the many who wonder why and wish that I could have intervened.

The Quebec City KOA provided us with a morning opportunity to do laundry before driving the 175 miles to Parc National Fjord-du-Saguenay. I shared the laundry facilities with Bob and Joyce, retirees from Valparaiso Indiana. They may be the last Americans that we see for a while as we proceed northeast into the more remote regions of Quebec.

“Urban camping” is decidedly behind us now. The drive ascended from near sea level into the wilderness hills of Parc National de la Jacques Cartier. The highway was sparsely traveled, wonderfully scenic, and abounded with warning signs cautioning of moose and other large mammals crossing the road.

3/4 of the way to our destination was the town of Chicoutimi and a Walmart. Entering the town we provisioned fresh vegetables at an upscale farm stand that displayed some of the most beautiful veggies we have ever seen. The fields that sourced the produce surrounded the stand. Prices were “special”, but then we are in an area where the weather can conspire against the farmer. $29 bought us 5 large tomatoes (this was $9 of the total), some potatoes, carrots, onions, and mini-cucumbers. Worth every penny, and as a bonus Christine managed her transaction in French. Walmart provided the rest of our shopping list. We found at the farm stand and at Walmart that English is less common in this region. When it is spoken it is decidedly a second language.

Leaving Chicoutimi we encountered our first sightings of the Saguenay River which will become the fjord as it approaches the St. Lawrence.

The Fjord-du-Saguenay is the largest fjord in the world to be found this far south. The cliffs in the park extend over 60 miles and are renowned as a nesting place for the endangered Peregrine Falcon. The waters are a habitat for Beluga Whales, and at the confluence of the St. Lawrence larger whale species may be encountered, including the endangered Blue Whale, known as the largest animal to have ever existed. Individuals have been recorded up to 100 feet in length and weighing 380,000 pounds!! We are virtually assured of seeing the smaller Beluga, and I am crossing my fingers to sight a Blue as we continue northeast along the St. Lawrence. We understand that we will also be approaching an area where night views of the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights) are common.

We will be camping in the Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay for at least 3 nights. The small but excellent campground provides electric and water hookups, a clean shower house, and most unexpected a washer and dryer. Our first night saw temps drop into the upper 40’s so a campfire was most welcome. The night sky was visible through gaps in the forest canopy and virtually exploded with stars. Tomorrow we have booked a day trip on a boat to explore the Fjord.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Quebec City was first settled by Jacques Cartier in 1535, but was abandoned the following year. It was again founded, this time by Samuel de Champlain, and became a permanent settlement in 1608. It is one of the oldest cities in North America. With it’s intact fortress and classic old European roots, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. A walk down any of the narrow winding streets will transport one back to France of an earlier time.

We made camp about 15 minutes from the ferry docks on the south side of the St. Lawrence. We left the car behind at the dock and $6.00 purchased both of us foot passenger round trip tickets to the old city.

This was our second visit to Quebec City. For us the charm has not worn off. By day it is a bustling tourist Mecca with shops ranging from inexpensive tourist kitch to high end (and high cost) haute couture. If one remains within the old city it is easy to forget that Quebec City is home to over 500,000 residents and it is the center of government for the Province of Quebec.

The side streets abound with small boutique hotels and restaurants. “5 star” accommodations and dining are center stage. Indeed, the skyline of Quebec City is dominated by the phenomenal edifice of the Hotel Chateau Frontenac. It resembles a fortress Castle by day, but at night it is nothing short of magical. It is considered the most photographed hotel in the world. Built in 1893, it has 600 guest rooms arrayed on 18 floors. The base rate for a room is $600 per night with the “Gold Experience” floors upping the ante to $950 per night.

We concluded our visit with dinner at Restaurant Saint Amour. A true gourmet experience. Christine enjoyed a combination Beef Wellington and Filet Mignon. I savored the house specialty of Fois Gras with accompaniments and a second plate consisting of smoked octopus served upon Risotto infused with its ink. Remarkable!!

The return trip across the St. Lawrence provided a mystical panorama of the stunning skyline.

Tomorrow we head to the fjords of Parc National du Saguenay. The promise is for incredible scenery, grand hiking, and whale watching.

Peace Everyone. Pete