The sound of sirens came up from behind me. And before I knew it, I was surrounded. I wasn’t speeding, but I think I knew what this was about. I took a deep breath and pulled over. Getting stopped by three police SUVs was not how I pictured this road trip going.
But here I was, an outlaw in the town of Stanstead in the Eastern Townships and it was only day two into my road trip with Lazy Campervan.
You’re reading a guest post by Carla Bragagnini
“I’m a travel writer, just a tourist,” I told them as I handed over my driver’s license – doing my best to flash a friendly smile, even though nothing could cover the smell of fear emanating from the vehicle.
To be honest, it’s funny to me how I even ended up in this town right on the border between Quebec and Vermont. You see, I was born in Peru, but grew up close to the US border on the other side of the country – in British Columbia. I had been travelling for a few years and when the pandemic hit, I decided to trade my one way ticket to New Zealand for a more domestic one – and that’s how I found myself living the van life in Quebec.
As a long-term traveller, I’ve been to my fair share of border crossings. But to me, Stanstead has one of the most interesting ones in the world and that’s what lured me here. First of all, there are sections of it that not exactly well secured (hence the heavy police presence). You can literally look across the street and watch as people in the United States go about their daily lives. It’s fascinating watching those little green Vermont license plates zoom by, from the comfort of Canada.
There’s even a library that is right smack in between the two countries – the Haskell Library and Opera House. And how’s this for identity confusion? The library has a stage in Canada, while its theatre seats are located in the U.S.. But if you lurk around the town for too long, as I did, you’re bound to be stopped, questioned and yes, even fully searched by the police – you have been warned.
I was detained, but as soon as my story checked out, the cops let me go. They even played tour guides for a moment, giving me directions to the location I was after – Canusa Road. Canusa Road is a drivable road that straddles the border (hence the name, (CAN-USA Road) – the right lane is in Canada, while the left lane is in Vermont. They left me with a final word – “Whatever you do, don’t turn left at the end of the road.” When you do so, you cross illegally into the U.S.. Having had enough action for one day, you better believe I made the most intentional right-hand turn I have ever made in my life. U.S.A., see you next time.
Before you get escorted out, make sure you check out the Stanstead Stone Circle, which is made of local granite and resembles Stonehenge (time it for the solstice like I did for a truly magical experience).
As I left my experience in the rearview mirror, the scenic drive from Stanstead to Coaticook calmed my nerves. The rain-filled clouds gave way to sunshine and the picturesque landscapes were sprinkled with dairy farms, fromageries and rounded barns that characterize this region. There’s a legend about how the barns’ circular shapes are due to someone having made a pact with the dark side, which didn’t allow edges. As exciting as that story is, it seems the constructions allow for easier logistics for animal farming. Nevertheless, these devilish barns are very unique to the Coaticook Valley.
That evening, I camped at Parc de la Gorge. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting the park to be so extensive, otherwise I would have booked more time there! The park boasts over twenty kilometres of hiking trails and has trails for mountain biking, and even its own farm, which are all included in the camping pass. The camping sites are really well distributed and isolated and I secured a piece of prime real estate by the river. In the evenings, the park hosts a magical light night show called “Foresta Lumina,” which lights up the forest with an enchanting multimedia spectacle.
I spent one very stormy night at the park, during which I was very grateful to have a roof over my head (thanks Lazy Campervan!). The next day, I planned on continuing my trip, but I couldn’t leave with checking out North America’s longest suspended foot bridge, right in the park. At 169 metres long, it soars 50 metres up above the gorge. There was no need for coffee that morning – as an early morning activity, the views below are sure to get your adrenaline pumping.
I left the park and drove to the town of Baldwin Mills in the Coaticook region, in hopes of tackling Mount Pinacle (not to be confused with the other Mount Pinnacle, which is found further west in Frelighsburg!). I pulled up to the general store, where an employee pointed me to the hidden starting point, halfway up a street that, according to the smell left behind, seemed to be more trafficked by cows than by cars (this is Coaticook afterall!). I parked the van next to a little church and started walking towards the trailhead. I was pleasantly surprised to find the first part of the hike located in a sugar bush, a tapped maple tree forest, which had functioning tubes set up for maple water collection.
The free hiking area of Mount Pinacle has 7.8 kilometres of hiking trails and even spots for rock climbing. I opted for a pleasant 4.3 kilometre loop hike that takes you up a moderately steep climb to a stunning lookout point over Lac Lyster within the first 45 minutes. And what a view! I prepared a picnic at the top and pulled out a book, as falcons flew overhead. This moment was as zen as it gets. The loop continued up to another breathtaking lookout point, where I lingered a little too long, reflecting on my trip and not wanting the experience to end.
I hesitantly returned to the parking lot and embraced the final day of the road trip, while preparing myself to make the long drive back to Montreal. As I opened all the van doors and started cleaning out the cooler and sink, I heard this excited voice behind me.
“Wow, super van. Le rêve!” a woman exclaimed as she peeked inside the van to get a better look. She was right. The trip, the van, the adventures and even the misadventures, all of it – it really was a dream.
If you want to rent the dream…
Collaborator @ Lazy Camper Van
Carla Bragagnini is a freelance creative with a background in writing and illustration and a focus on the travel and food sectors.