The fifth leg of our Woods Explorer journey was, in a word, eventful.
For more than a month, we’d been exploring the beautiful Maritime provinces (two legs in PEI, a leg on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, and a leg in Fundy National Park in New Brunswick). We’d had an amazing time, but we knew there was so much more of the country to explore, and we were itching to check it out.
We actually had two legs in Quebec. This post will cover our first one, which took place in the Charlevoix region. Next time, I’ll cover our time in Gatineau.
Of course, being in Quebec – especially this part of Quebec – meant that we would have to navigate this leg of the journey in French.
Let’s talk about the French thing for a moment. I had largely pumped up my French speaking abilities in the selection process, and it’s true – I do speak French. I was born in Quebec and my mom’s side of the family has its roots planted firmly in la belle province. I went to full-on French school (not immersion) from junior kindergarten through to Grade 12. I even took a French course at UBC. But sometime after second year, I’d stopped speaking French almost entirely. There weren’t as many opportunities to practice in BC as there had been in Ontario, and I just sort of got lazy about it. Truthfully, I think I took it for granted.
Throughout my quarter life crisis of 2012, I spent a month in France, and during this time I became completely aware that though I had completely hung on to my comprehension skills, my speaking skills had decreased significantly. I can actually pinpoint the moment that I realized I now sucked at speaking French. I was visiting a wine store in St Remy de Provence. My parents were friends with the owner, and my sister had been the summer before. I was meeting the owner for the first time. He was incredibly kind (he later gave me two free bottles of wine!), but when he learned who I was, he said “Oh! Your sister had such a nice accent!”. OUCH!!!!!!!! I’d never had a particularly appealing French accent (try having a mother from Quebec, going to French school in Ontario, and having Acadian/West African/all kinds of teachers), but now it was full on ugly.
Despite my lack of confidence and repulsive accent, the fact was that I still understood French and spoke it well enough. It was terrifying producing French content for Woods, only because I feared the Quebecois audience (who were considerably unsettled about the fact that no Quebecois people had even made the top 10 that year) would tear me apart.
En bref, Quebec was a stressful leg because I felt like a lot was resting on my shoulders, since I had to do the in-front-of-the-camera French stuff and I had to lead any conversations about ordering foods, booking tours, calling information centres, etc. – and I didn’t feel like I was any good at speaking French at all, so my confidence was wobbly (at best) throughout all of this. We reached a boiling point on a day hike on the sentier Mestashibo near Mont Saint Anne. See this picture?
This picture caused A LOT OF TENSION! While I was busy stressing out over everything, Cedric was stressing out over snapping the perfect shot. He was repeatedly having me do things like walk across the same spot over and over and over. This is totally understandable (in hindsight), since our job was to produce content for Woods Canada’s social media channels. But I had been doing this constantly for over a month now, and on this particular day, things were just very stressful. I was already annoyed about something (funny how I can’t even remember what it was), when Cedric asked me to walk across the little bridge in that picture again. And again. And now with the tripod. And now with him in it. And again because our steps weren’t quite right.
I really lost it, and all the stress from the journey thus far came spilling out. It’s easy to remember my five months as a Woods Explorer as a fun, carefree time of traipsing across the country, but there were also tough times. This metaphorical eruption ended up being a very good thing, though. It allowed us to take a step back and realize that even though some aspects of this job were tough, it was supposed to be fun – not stressful. We realized that we could obsess over being perfectionists and worry about things we couldn’t control, or we could just live in the moment and do our best without beating ourselves up. From that point forward, whenever I got worked up, I’d remind myself to slow down and just enjoy the experience.
An odd challenge about this leg of the hike was finding the Trans Canada Trail. It was somewhat disjointed in this area and we had a really hard time finding out where, exactly, it was. After some sleuthing, we discovered that there was a 105 km trail called the traversee de Charlevoix that was part of the TCT. This trail sounded awesome, but it was a little weird:
- You could not camp along this trail. Instead, you had to stay in huts along the way.
- The trail went right by some really cool terrain, but the trail itself was flat and didn’t explore the surrounding mountains. This would be AWESOME for a multi-day cross country ski trip, but it was not so awesome for capturing compelling content.
- There was quite a bit of red tape to jump through in terms of bookings, fees, etc.
We only discovered the traversee de Charlevoix partway through our stay, and we didn’t have time to hike the entire trail. We came up with an alternate plan instead: make a reservation for the closest hut (a short hike in from where we could park), and explore hikes that ran off the main trail into some more scenic looking areas.
We proceeded with this plan, dropping our gear at our designated hut and heading out for a day hike up a mountain. The first part of the trail was great – it was relatively well-marked, the weather was fine (if a little overcast), and we had the entire place to ourselves. As we approached the summit, the clouds really started to roll in. We found ourselves staring into super dense fog – and then it started pouring rain. The trail was a loop, not an out-and-back, and navigating the second part of the trail was considerably more difficult, particularly when we were standing on a rock and couldn’t see more than a foot in front of us. Luckily, we ran into a lady and her dog (the only person we saw the entire day) who pointed us in the right direction.
We got completely soaked. The trail took us through thick brush that was covered in rain. Every step meant water dripping off leaves and into our socks. At one point, we pulled off our boots and wrung out our wet socks like sponges. It was also getting super cold, even though it was June.
After a long, cold, wet hike, we were elated to return to a dry hut – setting up a tent in this weather would have been utterly dismal. Cedric started a fire in the wood burning stove (bliss!) and I lay out the dinner we’d brought with us: saucisson, cheese, bread, and local berries. We changed into dry clothes and feasted like kings.
The sleeping quarters were in the lofted area of the hut. We climbed up and set up our sleeping bags, feeling that most wonderful feeling of being dry, warm, and comfortable after having been wet, cold, and decidedly uncomfortable. We switched off our headlamps and shut our eyes.
And then I heard it.
The pitter patter of mice. Mice in the walls, mice below us, mice very likely around us in the dark. You may have read this blog post about the mouse/squirrel invasion of my old house. As a result of this incident, I am uneasy about mice.
The mice were physically harmless, but they prevented me from catching a wink of sleep. It was a long, long night.
A few days later, we were wrapping up our Charlevoix leg and getting ready to take a road trip to Gatineau. Cedric had dropped me off in the old Quebec City while he went to find a filter for the camera in the ‘burbs. I moseyed through the tourist shops in search of the perfect ornament to commemorate our week.
When I saw this little guy, I knew it was PERFECT. I hate mice, but I love this one. It’s so cute – I just picture it skating gracefully across my sleeping bag in that little hut along the traversee de Charlevoix. Its little winter get-up seems appropriate, too.