I’d consider Maine to be the northernmost outpost of the contiguous US with the hardiest frontiersmen and the bulk of the state’s population focused in the southernmost tip on along the coast. We drove straight north towards Canada through a no-man’s land of dense forests. The roads were still lined with thick snowdrifts and rivers were frozen over with the ice and snow growing thicker as we made our way north. The drive was challenging with pouring rain causing visibility so poor that wearing sunglasses allowed me to see twice as far ahead of the car at a whopping 20 feet. All along the way, Sara was teased by the Moose Crossing signs but those animals knew better than us and chose to stay under cover rather than travel in the terrible weather.
Not knowing what to expect for gas prices in Canada, which turn out to be much higher than the US, we stopped in the last US border town to fill up at a salty 2 pump outpost. As we were pumping, darned if a FedEx truck didn’t stop in the middle of the road and start hollering at us. It turned out he was loaded up to head straight for Jacksonville, FL and was hooting about our University of Florida gator license tag. We chatted about the weather along the eastern coast and wished each other good luck going our opposite ways. It was a funny interaction and he seemed happy as a clam to be headed to easier climates.
While crossing the border into Canada, Sara and I realized our border crossing story needed some work. For some reason, the border agent didn’t take too kindly to us admitting that we were basically unemployed, homeless, and surfing on people’s couches who we hadn’t met yet so weren’t technically friends. We ironed it out explaining that we were honeymooning travel writers with a set itinerary and specific date we’d be returning to the US. The Canadian was thankfully forgiving and sent us on our way. The scene around us changed immediately after crossing the border going from nearly abandoned forests to densely populated towns with lumber yards on every street corner. The roads improved and signs changed to French and metric distances.
We rolled into Quebec City on a grey, cold day. The sunshine and t-shirt weather of Maine got lost in the mountains and instead of newly hatched biting flies buzzing around, we heard the persistent hum of spiked snow tires biting the city streets. Winter had not left Quebec City yet. We met up with our host who showed us around the town and prepped us for the tourist spots we shouldn’t miss the following day.
Quebec City is one of the oldest European settlements in North America and has a real castle downtown that actually helped to defend the city from the British, French, and Americans at different times. The city has done an outstanding job preserving historic buildings and streets and to such a degree that you can easily think you are wandering old streets in northern France. The food and beers support this feeling with croque madame and poutine and an obsession with Belgian beers. We had some outstanding food with our couchsurfing host as a guide and learned more uses for maple syrup than even I could concoct.
With heavy snow still in the area, we had the opportunity to go dog sledding on the Orleans Island just outside of Quebec City. I figured we’d be riding along in lazy river roller coaster style but instead they gave us a 3 minute tutorial of 1-here’s the brake, step on it hard, 2-lean left or right to try to turn the dogs away from ditches, and 3-if the dogs are going slow, hop off and push while jogging. I let Sara run the sled first while I rode in the sled to “figure out how to work the gopro”. Sara used her animal whispering skills to release the dogs hot out of the gate passing the sled team in front of us and prompting me to grab the oh shoot handle of the sled. We made our way across the fields and weaved through the forests in snow that was nearly waist deep. The dogs knew the track and were literally chomping at the bit to go. We travelled in a pack of 6 sled teams with 6 dogs per sled. Whenever the sled teams would stop, one dog would start barking then all 35 others joined in and made me want to hoot and howl too as you may hear in a few of our gopro videos…
Halfway through, Sara and I switched out drivers and I realized how much work it was to keep the team going straight and how out of shape I was despite Sara’s goading to Mush! Mush! Unfortunately, our dogs only spoke French so they didn’t get the meaning of mush and that responsibility fell on me. Jogging through knee-deep snow is quite challenging and I felt bad for the dogs who sometimes turned around to see what the heck was wrong in the back. I took the hint and hopped back onto the sled runners to let them do their thing. All in all, the dog sledding has been one of the highlights of our trip so far. I highly recommend Quebec City for a long weekend vacation if you want to get away to “France” for cheap and without losing precious time to continental travel. It’s certainly on our list to return to in the future in both the winter and summer.
My wife and I quit our jobs, sold our belongings and are hitting the road for nearly 2 years. We're blogging about our adventures, lessons learned, ideas, and recommendations. Take a gander at the content, leave a comment, or reach out to us to meet up on the road!