dimanche 28 septembre 2008

Day XXIV - Ends.

This morning we found out how it feels to be done with the Moisie.

Yesterday’s bonfire was still smoking when we woke up. As I was burning my second batch of scrambled muffin (the first one was spoiled by unpurified water), the kids started a brigade to take down the canoes and our stuff. The tide rose during he night, which made things a little more complicated. At least now it’s going down, which should help us get to Moisie.

I had the feeling to move even slower than yesterday. I don’t know if it’s because of accumulated fatigue or if Emily is slacking off, but anyways. I guess we’re all tired. After a few interminable kilometres, we finally made it to…

The Moisie ends here, in the Gulf of the St-Lawrence. All of a sudden, without any foreword or warning, the majestic cliffs flattened out and left room to an infinite stretch of saltwater.

So this is it.

A few hundred metres from the shore of Moisie, we recognized the silhouette of our beloved bus driver, Stan the man. He must have missed us, somehow. As he awkwardly dealt with the kids’ demonstrations of affection towards him, we loaded the bus in a hurry and made fun of the absurd quantity of Québec flags floating in the wind at each little house in “Moisie Beach”. We also made fun of the biker-looking guy standing proudly next to a native pride flag and a confederate flag. When everything was loaded, we lingered by the “danger dangerous wharf” sign and then strolled slowly towards the beach to dip our toes in the ocean.

As Marcus found a crab in his unsuccessful quest for a sand dollar, I strolled on the beach and tried to define the weird mixture of feelings I’m experiencing. I end up telling myself that I don’t really care about defining it and I beam at the now distant Moisie hills and at the storm cell we’ll never be hit by that hovers above them. My toes in the sand, my eyes on the river, I enjoy the very last seconds of the trip.

And that’s how the story ends.

Of course, the trip back to camp was filled with adventures and anecdotes of all kinds, such as:

- Luke and his high (in)tolerance to saltwater
- The food rampage in the Maxi in Baie-Comeau and the meat sweats in the bus
- The Sept-Îles Marathon that we randomly came across
- The resurrection of Marcus’ watch after 21 days of absence
- Finding out that there is a free Paul McCartney concert in Québec city at a corner store in La Malbaie
- Calling home from Baie-St-Paul as a helicopter is taking off next to our bus
- The beluga whales on the Fjord during the ferry ride
- My first flushable toilet in a month on the ferry
- The dude with the “breakfast included” t-shirt casually posing on the ferry
- The glorious drive across Basse-Ville and the excitement at the sight of known landscapes
- Watching Montmorency Falls (they're still pretty freakin' big, even after the Moisie) as I overhear Marcus’ tales of his trip to India
- Our arrival at my house and the priceless stares of my 80 year-old neighbours as we unload the bus
- The pool, the barbecue, the chocolate milk
- The lady at the grocery store disagreeing with our choice of granola cereal
- My dad’s hernia
- Finding out about Claude
- Needing a hug after finding out about Claude
- The empty, freshly painted playroom
- Nat checking out my dad’s woodwork in the kitchen
- The Chocolats Favoris, at last, after that place being so often part of our daydreams for the past month
- Listening to Paul McCartney from across the river and looking at pyrotechnic effects next to Frontenac Castle
- Buying and reading Le Soleil and even doing the crosswords. In French.
- The boys fighting for the sports section
- Nat looking like a hobo with his (beyond) filthy t-shirt and his garbage bag at the gas station
- The Motel Madrid and it’s ridiculous dinosaurs and bigfoot trucks

- Taking highway 20 instead of highway 40
- Marcus’ complicated statistics about trip
- The rated and commented burps
- The arrival at camp

But really, it is when I turned away from the ocean and looked for the last time at he remains of the Moisie cliffs stretching across the horizon line that I knew that it was really over.

I don’t know if I’ll ever come back here some day.

Maybe I will.

Day XXIII - Child's play and universal unintelligible drunken speech

Today was THE most famous, critical and important day of the trip:

The day started with me realizing that my "blister" from yesterday was some kind of foreign body inside my foot that had gone so badly infected through the night that I couldn't stand on it. Perfect. Used to the good old bactine-polysporin-excruciating scrubbing leitmotiv, I somewhat fixed myself for the day within a couple of minutes. If temporarily getting rid of infection was a job, I'd be president of the union. We left our campsite at the same time as usual (our intent to get out early being ruined by a temporary tattoo extravaganza) and embarked on one of the longest, most intense and best known series of rapids I’ve ever had a chance to see in real life. 6km of continuous CIII+ boosted with a water level I’m still not even sure about.

No one dumped.

It took us over 9 hours.

It more or less looked like this:

At least we’re alive.

For some reason I thought that our trip would end right after Train Track in a great apotheosis of saltwater and sand dunes. But really, the St-Lawrence river is still some 20km after Train Tracks. Quite anticlimactic, especially after 10 hours of stressful and demanding paddling. It seemed like the river was stretching on purpose before us so we would never actually finish. You big, watery bitch.

The return to civilisation was sudden and brutal. Our first plan was to camp directly in Moisie, but dusk fell and we had to camp up an absurdly steep sand dune. We set up a brigade and struggled to haul up all our stuff. Once on top, we were interrupted by a fairly intoxicated man in a jeep with his family that asked me in slurry French what the hell we were doing here and where we came from. After a few minutes of monosyllabic answers, he got bored and left. We found a spot that wasn’t too covered with ATV ruts for the canoes and set up our tents against a bunch of small trees, hoping not to get run over at night. As we started cooking dinner, we realised that we were camping a few hundred metres away from a gigantic bonfire that became quickly surrounded by pickup trucks and drunken locals on their ATVs enjoying this nice Saturday night. It was the first time I was aware of the day of the week since we left. Across the river, another bonfire with screaming people was going on. It wasn't exactly the nice, slow-paced, bucolic last evening I had pictured. We cooked gallo pinto (con salsichas) with record-breaking speed (after four times, the kids kind of got the hang of it) and I whipped out my last bag of candy to keep up the morale and the blood sugar at an acceptable level until dinner.

Just before I went to bed, two drunken men drove by on their ATVs and stared at us while uttering universal unintelligible drunken speech. I muttered something back in French and they returned to the bonfire without a word.

It’s going to be a long night.

Day XXII - "My dad just LOVES the train..."

Another pit day under the burning hot ☼ of the “southernmost” part of our trip. It’s funny how cardinal points can be relative sometimes.

Our lazy morning was particularly enjoyable. As trains rolled by and the sun started turning our tent into an actual outback oven, I rolled around a couple of times and enjoyed every minute of this only morning where 8h15 didn’t mean anything at all. Marcus had, as usual, deprived himself from sight and hearing for the night. For reasons I can’t really put my finger on, I always have the impression that he “turns himself off” for the night.

Around 13h00 we got the “cliff-hanger’s club” together and decided to venture on a new hiking expedition. This time, our project wasn’t quite as ambitious as the first one: we were going to hike up the hill across the stream from our campsite, hoping to get a good glance at train tracks and the surroundings. What seemed to be a pretty chilled out hike ended up being quite an expedition. From the ascent through a boreal jungle punctuated by improbable crevasses and sphagnum moss-covered boulders, we moved on to a flat-ish, rather uneven arid-looking summit infested (of course) with bugs of all kinds, from which we could admire our island and the minuscule star of human bodies sun tanning on the beach that we had left behind. Now we have a better idea of what the helicopters see when they zip by in the canyon. The descent was somewhat sketchy and perilous. I almost shat my pants when a part what I believed was ground but ended up being unsteady moss and organic matter collapsing under my feet, causing me to drop about 4 and a half feet onto a ledge. We are small, fragile beings on the back of a giant.

Marcus’ beard progressively caught up with his goatie. He boiled his clothes tonight in order to clean them a little. At least I’m not the only one that’s weird, I guess.

The bottom of my foot hurts like a bitch. Probably another blister.

The afternoon went by slowly as we made unreal burritos and I read a few chapters of the Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt novel I barely touched since the bus ride. I kind of wish I had a somewhat lighter book. Whatever.

We hung out in the sun as Nat told hilarious anectodes about his father and we took turns playing the guitar. Hayley went all the way from the 60’s to nowadays with different arrangements of her clothing.

Speaking of clothing, I just found out that Jacqui brought 9 SHIRTS on this trip.

I won’t even comment on that.

We had a late afternoon adventure as we took Sherman/Doug the inflatable shark for a swim down the C1 next to our campsite. Only Marcus, Nat and I were up for it. Upstream paddling isn’t my forte. The escapade took a premature end when the blunt end of my plastic river knife scabbard punctured the made-in-china skin of poor Sherman. I struggled to keep it at least partially inflated as I drifted towards safety and barely made it through the eddy line. Tragic end for the only pet we managed to keep until the end of this trip.

Our somewhat dry couscous dinner was highlighted by the usual boys vs. girls drama and by a driving range session of base-rock. Another random skill to develop.

There are weird echo effects around the island. I hear children giggling in the woods. That’s pretty fucked up.

We saw people casually strolling on the train tracks. I wonder where they came from and, sobre todo, where they were going.

Interesting chat (as usual) with Marcus tonight.

Tomorrow we’ll be in Moisie.

That’s fucking unreal.

I really want to meet Nat’s dad.

jeudi 18 septembre 2008

Day XXI - Storm cells and assholes.

Funny day today. Haha. I just wrote “Haha” to emphasize how funny the day was. Maybe it already was clear enough and I didn’t need to explain that, or maybe it was necessary but the additional comment on my hesitation to write the first comment was too much, or…

Moving on.

So our morning started with a conversation in the tent with Marcus about a few topics of interest until the few leftovers of a thunderstorm that occurred earlier in the morning dissipated. Our breakfast was brightened up by a debate on how we should get our revenge on the gros con that owns the pourvoirie and yelled at us yesterday. At lunchtime, Marcus will confess the evil plan he put in place in order to piss off the old fart:

“Custard pie for the yeti!!!”

My co-tripper is a criminal genius.

Other alternatives that came up during the brainstorm included:
- Writing “asshole” in giant letters on the cliff with broken parts of his lounge chairs
- Hide the chairs on rocks accessible only by canoe or motorless boats
- Actually take a dump on his chairs

After about 15 km we ended up at the gros cave’s basecamp. One of his clients said hi and asked how the thunder was the night before. As if he cared. Veux-tu ben me dire ce que ça lui câlisse? Ben oui, t’étais en dedans de ta p'tite cabane durant l’orage pis pas nous. Bravo. Tant qu’à ça, farme ta yeule, gros cave.

Our lunch today was probably a milestone of the trip : train tracks starting to run along the river, cliffs on either side, all the boats perfectly attached to each other, cynical comments and giggles about the girls’ « dirt loaf » (an attempt at making fruit and seed loaf that resulted in an unidentified material that was so dense it didn’t even float), Nick and I lazily steering us away from eddies and the odd occasional rock, the sun shining between storm cells, Marcus playing Santeria, St-Lawrence River and Cover This, everyone else chilling or napping, non-awkward silences, soy nut butter and strawberry-rhubarb jam stains all over our stuff…


And then of course came the rain and the wind.

The rest of the afternoon, we tried to keep moving between each storm cell.

Hail? What the…?

We remained entertained by a series of comical situations including:

- The collective rant about fruit cake (especially my grand-maman’s) and it’s mention later on in Passwort Deutsch I in the tent
- The first lightning drill with the rock throwing contest
- Pulling over at the last minute for a lightning drill when we noticed our hair was starting to stick out in the air by itself
- The apotheosis of the girls vs. guys during the second lightning drill

Hilarious. Too bad I don’t catch the last bit with Luke dumping water on Emily and Sarah’s heads with the bailer and them beating him up into the river on video.

Nat asked me how it was to be a tripper and if I always knew that I wanted to do that job. It reminded me of a conversation I had with Pope on the last day of my explorer… roles reversed, of course.

An aerial view of the campsite we are staying at (such as the one that can be seen from one of the millions of helicopters that fly above our heads since Salmon Ladder) would probably look more or less like that:

At least there is a beach on one side of the shingle bank so it’s not as hard on our backs as yesterday. The bank had no name so I kind of wanted to call it something clever and write it on the map, but all I could come up with was lame shit like “storm cell island” or, even worse, “trip island”. WAY too lame to stay for posterity.

I finally popped out the liquorice and jujubes out of my barrel today. Kids couldn’t contain their happiness. “I think I’m in love”, said Nat.

My ankle is still décâlisse, but at least my eye and lip are back to their normal size.

Je les aime bien, ces jeunes cons.

Tonight, I fall asleep with the rumbling of freight trains full of iron ore on their way to the distant north or back to Sept-Îles, the giggles of the kids around the fire, the melodies of the guitar, the first set of Train Tracks, and one of the hundreds of waterfalls we’ve come across so far.

I don’t wanna be anywhere else right now.

Day XX - Dans les petits pots les pires portages...

It's nice out!!!

Emily broke the water pump filter this morning. She was so sorry she couldn’t even speak. She also got burnt with flaming oil because Sam threw a perogie in the pan and she happened to be sitting next to it. It really was her day today.

I tried to fish and almost caught something, but then some dude came and yelled at Marcus in French for fishing with a stick and string on his pourvoirie. Asshole (dipshit). So instead of feasting on fish we had perogies made with unpurified water. It tasted pretty good…for giardiasis.

I got a Quasimodo eye because I got bitten in the eye by one of the 389 113 427 983 black flies on the campsite. I took Benadryl in a vain attempt to stop the swelling and spent most of the night combating the drug-induced drowsiness.

The 50m portage marked on the map sucked balls. It was more or less shaped like so:

We had a neat floating lunch today. I’d keep on describing it but the Benadryl is really kicking in now…

We had conversations about what the kids want to do for their paddle in the dining hall and about what it will be like when they come back to camp. I can’t believe we’ll be at train tracks tomorrow night…

Day XIX - "Nice bannock. Could use a little more concrete, though..."

Faits saillants

- Sam finding the “Indian Head” on the cliff (at least we think he did)
- Being on the water before 11h00 (10h45, but still...)
- The water as still as a mirror and the ludicrous cliffs in the morning
- Emily and Nick dumping in mysterious circumstances
- Having lunch in a derelict fishing lodge and the lunchtime anecdotes that included...
... A bottle of St-Émilion on the table (well, someone’s got taste)
...The rock-hard and yet partially raw bannock that met all the expectations I had when I saw it being cooked yesterday and the debate on the distribution of food
... The creepy 2nd floor I expected to find a dead body in
... The random display case with a statue of the Virgin Mary inside
... The surreal decaying boathouse with hundreds of dying butterflies on the porch and strange animal noises inside that alltogether looked like something Dali could have painted that I found on my way to pee.
- The continuous CIs
- The “poorly shat (mal chié)” set
- Screeing in the dunes in mid afternoon
- The clay war between Hayley, Nat and I
- The quicksand that greedily swallowed one of my Keens and nearly got away with it
- Cool conversations with Nat
- The pimped out fishing lodge where we met Liette (and a guy named Jacques and Molly, the small Pomeranian)
- Confessing to Liette that we stole chives and rhubarb from her and her telling us that we didn't even need to feel bad about it
- The weird heli pad indications (see diagram)... what is DRH supposed to mean? Is this some kind of UFO landing code or something I might get me to be stalked by men in black for the rest of my days?

- “Lucky” Luke and his injured ankle (THAT IS WHY you don't try to do 360s, as the guy with one arm in Arrested Development would claim)

- The glorious return of the black spruces (because of the sand dunes)
- The moose and its two calves we surprised along the river in the last kms (or was it the moose that surprised us?)
- The awesome, awesome curry... we've come a long way since day 3. Way to go, children.

- The ghetto campsite with out-of-control bugs
- Dinner while watching a breathtaking sunset
- Making strawberry-rhubarb jam

Random thoughts:
Irises and wild leeks… same thing?
The useless bag… before I forget how we ironically named it
We have two maps left. Almost done!
Reznick and his pimped out canoe… yeah sucka! God that kid is ridiculous...
The boys making bread for the first time and ending up with chapatti soup I won't even dare to classify in one of the food groups instead of legitimate bread
The girls giggling as they are playing "president" in their tent
Low on potatoes… how the fuck did that even happen?!?! Marcus must have been secretly shooting them up on his trips to the washroom...

mardi 16 septembre 2008

Day XVIII - Joyeux Calvaire. Quite literally.

Another slow but swell start with a good ol’poutine containing more cheese and gravey than potatoes (see comment yesterday on supplies we’re low on).

The view was gorgeous this morning. Cliffs are getting even bigger, just like the waterfalls flowing from them. There are rockslides everywhere.

We spent a good chunk of the day on relatively calm water with lots of current, spiced up with a few episodes of headwinds. Around a bend that I wouldn’t remember otherwise, Marcus spotted a porcupine chilling on a gravel bank.

Kids aren’t particularly energetic this morning. Everyone was napping during lunch. I got the UTM wrong for the map and we ended up being farther from the portage than I thought. Damn.

Today’s most important milestone definitely was

Yes, the goddamned Salmon Ladder, legendary portage for its cool and out of the ordinary aspect, but also for its brutality. In fact, to be honest, I was expecting apocalypse so I guess it wasn’t as bad as I thought, but it still was pretty fucking hard.

It was pretty much an all-inclusive package for hell.

A helicopter landed just like I was getting to the salmon counters’ cabin and forced me to drop the canoe that had started to vibrate heavily and was menacing to be blown away. It was doing a food drop for the two counters. All the boys came in running when they heard the helicopter because they thought Marcus was in some kind of death trap and had pressed the “911” button on the Spot. We made fun of them for thinking that:
a) Helicopters appear within 3 minutes when you call for help
b) Marcus had time to press the Spot as he was dying in a crevasse
c) Marcus was carrying the Spot on him while portaging a canoe

As the boys vanished back in the woods to get the stuff they had left back there in their panic, Marcus and I sat in the bushes and watched the helicopter take off. Pretty bad ass.

The portage went fairly well considering how hard it was. Bugs and batrachians of all kinds, shapes and colours abounded on the path. When I came back from sweeping the take-out, carrying the bucket, I knocked at the salmon counters’ door and asked them for a little info about the ladder and for the permission to go check it out. Richard and Denis, the two counters (by "counters" I mean that all they do, all day, is count how many salmons go up the ladder), were very generous with their knowledge and told me all kinds of cool facts about salmons. They were scandalized by the fact that we had not brought any fishing gear with us and insisted on giving us some wire and lures. As we went back on the boardwalk to go check out the ladder, Richard showed me how to tie a fishing knot and mentioned a couple of fishing tips and hotspots along the rest of the Moisie. When we came back from the ladder, they handed us a couple of freshly fished trout on a stick that we had for dinner with the pesto. They were delicious. This first encounter with human beings since Labrador City left me full of faith in man’s capacity to be kind and generous with strangers.

We are sleeping in a deserted fishing lodge tonight. Had there been the owners (Fred and Liette) around, we probably would have turned this in another pit day. They are well known for their kindness and have the reputation of offering food and hospitality to all paddlers that stop by. Despite their absence, they kept up their rep’: they had left a cabin unlocked for us on the otherwise closed down site. Not being particularly warm to the idea of squishing into a small and unnecessarily hot space again, Marcus and I decided to sleep in our tent anyways and to leave the cabin to the kids. Good call. It's like Shanghai at rush hour in there.

It took forever to set up the fucking tarp and to chop wood with a very unsatisfyingly sharpened axe.
The bannock will most likely taste like shit tomorrow. On the brighter side, dinner was delicious. Speaking of which; Luke and Nick nearly slept through dinner. They finally showed up after being yelled at several times. Close call, after such a long, demanding day, no dinner wouldn't have been a good thing.

I’d write more but I can’t keep my eyes open right now.

We stole chives and rhubarb from Fred and Liette’s garden.