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The people of the North Coast

mouth mask for skiing
From heroes to scapegoats in one day
March 26, 2020
skitouring in fresh snow
White obstacles
April 17, 2020
 

Tuesday February 11th - Sept-Iles


We are seven hours in the bus and ten days of skiing away from Quebec City, we are in "le gran ville" Sept-Îles and it is time for some rest days. Olivier's feet don't look and the pain can be read from his grim face. We take three days of rest to get our feet recovered. We have been received again by lovely people, Edmond and Kathy, who make sure we eat enough food and align a few new contacts for us. Everybody knows everybody and the entire Nord Coast is called with the news of "le deux skieur". Sept-Îles is the last large village on the north coast of Saint-Laurent and "after this there is nothing anymore" are the words we regularly hear, "but the people are very friendly there". Edmond also has a contact with TVA, a popular channel on the white coast. Our story travels in front of us.

On Tuesday we are standing on the trail with fresh feet, full of second skin plasters and sports tape. A camera films every action we take to prepare the sleds. We replace the wheels for the skies. A handy swap truck, which seems more useful than we had previously thought. With the wheels we can easily move ourselves in villages and cross a bridge. During the interview we are accompanied by Edmond and Norbert. We met Norbert four days ago on the trail. He passed us on his ski-doo, the brand name used for a snow scooter in Quebec, and stopped for a chat. Impressed by the fact that we slept in our tent, he was motivated to find us a nice place. He drove ahead and came back to tell us that there was a beautiful spot next to the river not far from here. A bit surprised by the fact that "not far" was really not far, we found the beautiful spot along the water. With an opening in the ice under the bridge, it was also ideal for fishing water from the river. A lot faster than melting snow and therefore a lot earlier to bed. Six o'clock the clock ticks when we close our eyes and six o'clock when our eyes open again. We now know the techniques, we have learned tricks and each of us knows their task. Surprised of our own speed, we can manage to get ready in two hours, a record. When we are on the trail for 10 minutes, Norbert suddenly comes walking towards us. “Do you still know me? I am the ski-doo man from you yesterday. I have breakfast for you! ” Zoë speaks less than the basic French but has now developed a good ear. With a big smile and her hands pressed on her heart, she received the package with mandarin oranges, chocolate and a delicious cookies. “Thanks, Thanks !! Ne parle pas, mais merci merci !! ” Inside is also a card from his wife. "Have a good trip, keep us informed" with the email address added. Now Norbert is here at the interview, to say goodbye to us.

It are eight to nine days of skiing to Riviere-au-Tonnerre where we will be welcomed by Michelle, one of Edmond's contacts. This must be our longest stretch. We prepare for eight consecutive nights in the tent at -30 degrees. On the trail it is busier than usual, after all we leave from the "gran ville". We focus our days on 20 kilometers, but after 19 kilometers a surprise awaits us. There is a container on the other side of the track that serves as a shelter. There are three snow scooters at the door and inside the owners are warming themselves by the wood stove. "Bonjour!" We join them and soon we are talking. "Do you think we can sleep here?" Zoë asks in english. One of the men comes from the Route Blanche, our goal later on the trail. There, one village is in French, Francophone, and the next English, Anglophone. Of course we are allowed to sleep here and the men enthusiastically share the conveniences that this entails. “There is wood! And with the stove it is nice and warm tonight ”. All three men work in the steel mine 250 kilometers up north, where iron ore is dug up, transported by train and loaded on ships here on the coast. They are then shipped to large ports such as in Rotterdam, they tell us. Of course the men also know Norbert, because he was a train driver on this route and off course they also know Edmond and everyone else we meet. Who doesn't know who? It is the North Coast, one road, to the left or to the right, everything above it is the far wild north, everything south is the sea.

We are very happy with our shelter for the night. The container is full of rotten spots and the floor has not been swept in years, but after a few days the tent such a cabin is extremely luxurious. What the men do not know is that the convenience of this warm place also makes it easy for us to boil water quickly without cold hands, our food doesn't freeze while we eat, we don't let the shoes fall in the snow and save a lot of “dam it” this way, we can wash our pans again with warm water, we save our gas, we can leave our mess everywhere without the need for perfection and routine in order not to lose anything in the snow, we don't have to think about strategies to get out of our sleeping bags without being exposed to the cold air for too long, we aren't snowed in in our own tent, we don’t have a frost layer on the sleeping bag in the morning, we don't get frozen hands when packing the things, Olivier can tap its blisters without frozen fingers and we have a table and a chair to read our book by the fire.

Olivier reads the book "everything is f*cked" and we discuss one of the lessons that values do not arise from words, but from experiences. Many long and short experiences. We philosophise back and forth and decide that even a night in a "rotten" house where it drops to -5 degrees at night despite the wood stove contributes to those values, because this house would never have been luxurious if we hadn't had all those experiences. We had plenty of extra time and all the comforts, and we enjoy the next evening in the tent, our home, where we know all the little tricks that we have learned ourselves. There was another experience, only 7 nights in the tent left.

The trail gets tough. Suddenly the rolling landscape changes into a sharp terrain of up and down. We decide not to use the skins under our skis. Although they help us climbing up, they also delay our descent and flat parts. We decide to take off our skis as soon as they lose grip, walk up and put them back on our feet to slide down. This whole thing is very heavy. The legs are sour, the climbs are sometimes as high as 20% and count the 40-kilo sleds on top of that. When we are at the top, the arms shake of holding the skis and poles and the hands sometimes run out of strength to close the bindings. Once in the skis, the slopes are actually too steep to descend. The trailer gives us a delayed push with every bump so we have to bend through our knees well to cope with the extra speed. It goes on for three days and we are exhausted, but motivated, our mind knows it will be still five days like this. It is quiet on the trail and we have been alone for a long time, so we are even more surprised when suddenly Norbert and a friend drive past us. He opens his helmet, laughs and says, "you are on the wrong trail!" He parks along the trail, we slide next to the ski-doos, what a surprise!

Norbert says there's a emergency shelter nearby. "But first I have a soup for you" he says as he prepares the cups. "We have a chainsaw with us. After the soup we go to the hut to see if there is wood and to check the distance. We ensure that you have enough wood to survive the night!" Norbert taps his Ski-doo “sit down, you are standing all day. Heated seats.” The carrot soup is delicious and their company heartwarming. After the short break they go to the shelter and an hour or two later they are back for a new soup. They can tell us that it is exactly 8.5 kilometers, although, according to Norbert, his ski-doo it is 9,3 kilometers, and Andree says there must be eight and a half. After a photo together we wave goodbye for the last time, not knowing that they are left us beers, water, maple syrup, mandarins and a hot meal in the warm chalet.

 

No, we are not alone. No eight days. We are again fantastic helped and invited by so many people from the Cote-Nord. People receive us with incredible love and there is always a new experience, a new story or a new lesson in every living room. Everyone has something special to inspire us. Denis taught us about his sport pickleball (a combination of badminton, tennis and ping-pong), Ilya inspired us to cross Canada in his self-made canoe at the age of twenty, Sebastien and Marie-Claude travel with their young children on bicycles and buy the bike in the country itself, Edmond helps men in mental difficulties, a service that exists in NL and BE but what we never realised. Michelle tells stories about her house where famous poets, politicians and kidnappers have followed in their footsteps. All great stories that we can be part of, and we just started on the North Coast. Because "hereafter there is nothing, but the people are very friendly there."

When we are back in civilisation, we see the recording of the TV news. Quote "The couple sleeps in the tent or finds refuge with the citizens in the rare villages they will encounter in the coming weeks".

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