Lost in the Woods of Quebec

Print this entry

SOMEWHERE IN THE EASTERN TOWNSHIP, QUEBEC, CANADA — We left Boston after four days and headed north through New Hampshire and Vermont just barely into Canada, to a pleasant village called Sutton in what is known as the Eastern Township. It was settled in large part by colonists loyal to the British crown during the American Revolution. French remains the dominant language, however.

I had decided to splurge and rent a BMW SUV. When I arrived at Logan Airport to pick it up, the rental clerk informed me no BMW SUVs were available and offered a Buick SUV. Really? A Buick and not a Beemer? As we talked, we stood next to several large BMW sedans.

“How about one of those?” I asked. He conferred with the manager and soon I was driving away in an $80,000 car that was considerably smarter than me. For example, I had a devil of a time getting it into “park” and figuring out the various bells and whistles. Most I just ignored. The Beemer would automatically lock and unlock as I approached or walked away if I had the key in my pocket. The steering wheel rose when I killed the engine and sank down into place as I got in the seat. As I said, it was a seriously smart car. I was a remedial driver behind its wheel.

I picked my Beautiful Mystery Companion up at the hotel, and we headed north.

When we reached the border four hours later at Stanstead, a pleasant Canadian border guard looked at our passports and pecked on a keyboard while staring at his computer screen. Prior to leaving, I had filled out the required ArriveCan forms online and scanned in our passports and proof of vaccination.

“Why are you going to Sutton?” he asked with a smile.

“Have you heard of Louise Penney? I replied. He grinned again and waved us ahead. Penny is a renowned murder mystery novelist whose works are set in the Eastern Township of Quebec, including Sutton. More on that in a future installment.

We arrived in Sutton on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, a major holiday in Quebec, where Catholicism is the dominant denomination. The sidewalks were filled with revelers in town for the festivities, taking advantage of the three-day weekend. Our hotel room was above a restaurant/microbrewery that was quite busy all weekend. We managed to grab a table for dinner that first night. My BMC and I both sampled poutine, which consists of brown gravy and cheese curd heaped on French fries. Not fans, we quickly decided, and ate our salads and drank excellent beer.

The next day, the plan was to go hiking. We headed toward a noted environmental park, but not before visiting an alpaca farm on a beautiful piece of land with the northern extremes of the Appalachian Mountains in the distance. It warmed up quickly as we toured the farm, watching the alpacas, with their adorable faces, graze and on occasion accept a clump of grass from my BMC’s hand. We started to perspire. The idea of hiking up a sweat became less attractive. After all, one reason we escaped Texas was to get a respite from the infernal heat.

“We can sweat in Texas,” I said. “Let’s go to Sherbrooke.” She readily agreed. Sherbrooke is the second-largest city in Quebec, behind Montreal, and the home of my mother’s side of the family. I visited several times as a kid, meeting my great-grandmother who was about 4’10” and seemed rather grumpy, plus some distant cousins. grand-uncles and aunts. Off we headed, relying on the BMW’s navigation system since we rarely had cell service once we got out of town.

The car directed us to a chemin that led out of town. A chemin is what we in Texas would call a country road. Chemins were packed gravel roads barely wide enough for two cars to clear each other, with an occasional one-lane bridge thrown in for excitement. The Beemer’s navigator led us down one chemin after another for miles. We began to wonder when we would actually end up on a real road. Sherbrooke, which was purportedly 55 miles away, is a city of 160,000 people, not insubstantial. There ought to be more than one highway leading into it, not just an endless series of chemins in which the posted speed was 50 kilometers. Siri informed me that 50 kilometers equals roughly 30 mph.

The chemin finally petered out in what looked like Quebecois “Justified” territory, with tumbledown houses and mobile homes that had seen better days. Deep ditches were on either side of the chemin. There was no place to turn around. I was forced to drive about a half-mile in reverse on a road that left about 1 foot to spare on either side. One mistaken turn of the wheel, and I would have a lot of explaining to do to the rental company and my insurance agent.

“Honest, guys, I was headed to Sherbrooke, not to my Canadian drug dealer when I ran the car off the road going 3 miles per hour.”

I finally got to where I could turn around. We headed to town, started over, and this time used my BMC’s iPhone navigator to find Sherbrooke, where we had a pleasant walk downtown, followed by a dinner of fish and chips with a few cold brews.

We deserved it after that experience.

Second in a series

Print this entry

Leave a reply

Fields marked with * are required