Life's a lot more simple in the woods
I knew i wanted a lot of this trip to be spent in the woods and that portion was roughly aimed to start after NYC. The original plan was to go to Upstate for 2 or 3 nights and making our way to Montreal afterwards. The best part about not booking things in advance? You don't have to stick to any plans! Downside to not having anything booked? Showing up at 11pm in Quebec and not knowing where you're sleeping that night. But thats half the fun isn't it ??
Campsite #1 “Border”line RV’s only
I jokingly suggested that we just drive straight back to Canada after seeing a sign for Montreal and within a few minutes i was riddling off all the reasons why this would be our best option
All the drivings done then for a few days
We can go back to the canadian dollar and save money
Road trips are fun
Ive stayed in upstate lots before
Quebec has good pastries and cheese
Well before we knew it we were on the road and had a 8 hour drive ahead of us ! We looked some national parks and found a campsite near by - our arrival time was 11:30pm. Kind of just hoping they were opened and had a place for us to stay. Crossing the border at 10:30 we were tired and didn't have the energy to hunt for the campsite so thankfully my phone worked again and i just searched “ campsites near me “. To my surprise about 4 showed up that were 5 minutes away ! I guess we weren't the only ones who made this spontaneous decision. The first 2 were closed and not answering any phones or knocks so we called the last number we could find and someone answered! At this point i didn't care if it literally meant pitching my tent on his front lawn. We were welcome with open arms by a couple who run the offseason and live on site. They were watching the game and mentioned they usually stay up late so our phone call was perfect timing. It was raining the past few days so the site was pretty flooded but with our tarp we just found a flat surface and set up camp - it was like a water bed ! my 10 year old self would've been pumped.
Just coming from the US we had no CAD so he offered to drive James to the bank while i sat with his wife in their living room to keep dry. We chatted as if i was sitting with an Aunt i haven't seen in years and was catching up with! Offering water, wine, snacks.. A place to sleep if we didn't want to stay in the rain! We couldn't of been luckier to have found this place. With my head lamp and rain jacket off the tent was set and i was all dry and cozy listening to the rain fall.
Although it was mainly RV’s and Campers around it was such a positive experience that i wouldn't hesitate to go back if i was doing a late night or early morning crossing.
Campsite #2 The Real Deal
When we woke up and got everything packed away it was time to head to the mountains! Thinking about supper as i had my morning coffee i was excited for all the options when it comes to cooking over a fire. Craving a good burger i figured the best option would be to find a local butcher shop in Montreal and get some fresh ground beef, a brioche bun and some delicious toppings. We couldn't of found a more convenient one stop shop than Grinder Boucherie. The staff spoke perfect english and were more than happy to lend a helping hand. I mentioned we were hiking/camping and were looking for some quality burgers and a way to keep them cold until tonight. Without hesitation he made us our own ice pack by Vacuum sealing some ice and seasoning the burgers before also vac packing those. They had Brioche buns there with homemade BBQ, pickles, craft beer etc. It really was the one stop shop that puts others to shame. With a cooler filled with top quality burgers, fresh brioche and cold beers we headed to the mountains. Still unsure of our sleeping arrangements for this evening i decided to call Parks Canada and was quickly informed all parks are closed in Quebec and the mountain we were on the way to was actually under construction so it wasn't even accessible. Thankfully we were only 45 minutes outside the city so i called around and asked what was available in a 2 hr distance. I was directed to a provincial park by an employee and was told they were open for camping and had hiking in the area. Excited we turned around and headed 45 minutes in another direction! We got there eager to enjoy the beautiful day and once again was informed that despite the information provided by the women over the phone - this park was ALSO closed for camping. Our only hope was finding a private park. Frustrated, tired and sick of driving we pulled over for an hour , made some sandwiches and started our search. A lot of the private parks were geared towards RV’s and a fire was crucial because we had burgers to cook!!
Then everything came together. In a beautifully magical way. We found Camping De La Rivere Nicolet. It was 2 hours from Montreal but we didn't care. The man said the ground was wet but they had spots for a tent and a fire bit to cook our burgers so we were on our way. We arrived to a camp ground that didn't quite look opened but a van pulled up behind us and a young man hopped out and greeted us. The site was actually empty so we had a choice of whatever place we liked most for our tent! It reminded me a lot of camping back in Newfoundland. Surrounded by trees, green grass, a river and fire pits everywhere! Accidentally stumbling onto this place ended up being exactly what we were looking for. Because it was before the busy season and we had so much rain he offered us complimentary wood and water which saved us the hassle of hunting down dry wood and gave us quick access to some burger action.
The next day our host gave us a receipt for our stay to bring to the hiking trails near by to get 50% off ! ( you will need a paper copy - not email! ) He had maps of close by trails and local eats which included a microbrewery just minutes away! We decided to climb Mont Ham which was actually a mountain i joked about hiking on the way in because it was so big. Well. 2 hours later of rock climbing and trusting questionable ropes we were at the top ! It was 25 degrees so the strong breeze was welcome with open arms as we took in the 360 view of lakes, farms and towns that stretched across the land. We got out of the wind and ate our sandwiches - Montreal smoked meat with BBQ, spinach and cheddar on rosemary rye bread. What a way to spend the morning.
We climbed down in about an hour and a half and went to check out the microbrewery that was recommended , Moulin 7 . Everyone sitting was drinking Caesars which i found strange but decided after the Bloody Mary disaster of NYC 2018 i needed to cleanse my palate with a proper Canadian Caesar. I found i lacked spice and and was a little too sweet so i drank half, doused it with tobassco and ordered a beer and a poutine. At a brewery i guess the most important thing is beer so thankfully it was delicious!! I ordered a Belgian style white beer and James had their wheat infused with maple. It really was delicious so we ordered a few growlers to have that evening. My opinion on the Poutine is to come... on my post about the best Poutine in Quebec.. i'm so ready to have an excuse to eat endless fries and gravy.
For our last meal we decided to steam some fish on the fire with fresh ginger, herbs, butter and fire roasted sweet potato with corn in the husk. It was pouring rain so getting a fire started was a challenge but thankfully with close attention it was roaring and roasting away within the hour ! With little equipment and a pack of tinfoil we had ourselves a delicious meal. Cooking in the fire was something i really wanted to embrace on this trip and its becoming less and less intimidating with practice. Finding the "sweet spot" in the coals and the right flame for the char has been my task and with a result of sweet juicy cod and buttery corn i'm excited to see what i can learn next. ** tip ** frozen fish releases lots of juice this way and creates almost a stew in the tinfoil which is soaked up with fresh spinach at the bottom and a starch below that. It can warm up even the coldest hearts on a rainy day.
I've never been to a sugar shack before this trip. I pictured 4 walls and a pot over a fire for some reason. very cute and almost cartoon like. Well i was very wrong. James' fathers is from Quebec and some of his closest friends from his early twenties now run their own sugar shack of 2500 maple trees as a hobby on the side. With a quick phone call Fançois and his wife Denise welcomed us into their home for a hot meal and a place to stay but also offered us the option of sleeping IN the sugar shack. Who wouldn't want to sleep surrounded by maple syrup ? dreaming of sugar plums is over rated. That night i dreamt of maple candy dancing around.
After supper François brought us 15 minutes from his house and into the woods. The dirt road revealed a massive cabin where he gave us a full a full rundown of how their operation works. They have 3 lots. One is just to make syrup for family and friends in small cans and the other 2 are sold in stores by the barrels! The cabin held a wood stove and massive equipment to boil the sugar, filter the water and strain the product. In the rain at 10pm he walked us around the property showing us how they tap the maple trees and explaining why other species of trees are welcome on the land **Except christmas trees because instead of bring joy they bring shade which makes it hard for new maple trees to grow and give good sap **. We set up camp on the floor of the shack and toured an old sugar shack that was on the property in the morning. This shack was owned by a previous family and they had calendars tracking sugar bricks all the way back to 1963! It was left to crumble and be part of the experience which is a beautiful thing in a way. We packed up our things and drove away with a box of maple syrup in the back.
I cant thank Fançois and his wife enough for such an incredible experience