I felt slightly alien tumbling out of the Orleans’ Express in the Gaspésie ‘border town’ of Saint-Annes-des-Monts. It wasn’t unpleasant. Feeling alien is feeling special. I busied myself unpacking and reassembling my space-age cycle in the de facto bus station / Petro-Canada parking lot with extra-terrestrial eagerness. I had the same feeling jogging in La Paz, Bolivia. People there work far too hard mining silver and farming cocoa, and hell, just walking home to their altitudinous neighbourhoods, that running for fun was unfathomable. The same sense of strangeness washed over the Gaspé locals. With the hills, and stretches of uninhabitable emptiness, it’s not easy to get around. Why would this space-age hooligan do it pour le fun?
After a 3 day preamble, my peregrination had finally, truly begun. Night was setting in, but I had to go for a ride. I surged forward through abandoned streets, cutting through the crisp, dark night with powerful strokes. Not going anywhere in particular. Riding for riding’s sake. Living for living’s sake.
Looking to exhaust myself quickly, I sprinted up the steep slopes towards Gaspésie National Park. Surely, the moose would be out in numbers tonight. Un orignal. Les orignaux. Sadly, this piece of french vocabulary, along with the beasts themselves, would prove elusive all week.
Turning back, I rushed down to the shore. A commotion of cars and voices caught my attention, down on the peer. The whole town was out, fishin’ in the dark. And they were doing well, too. Buckets overflowed with the writhing bodies of freshly hooked trout (?). It was almost as if the fish were leaping onto the peer of their own volition.
I made first contact on the peer, with a fishing father and son. The man had that affecting humility and honesty of someone who lives a tough life, but who accepts that he must. The reason for the fishing success, he explained, was that un banc des truits (a school of trout) were passing through. They would soon be followed by a hungry wave of morues, or cod, who feed on the smaller fish. He was a gold miner, working half of his days on some distant pile of ice and dirt in Nunavut. The other half he spent in the Gaspé with his young son. When I rolled up, the excited boy had just yanked out a fish. I was unable to mask my horror as this pitiless youngster ripped the hook straight out of the fish’s cheek. The cheek came with it.
Ce n’est pas gentil, I joked half-heartedly. My hosts glared back at me, almost offended. Here I was, this clownish city-slicker, importing my soft, liberal preconceptions out into the wild, where they (or I) had no place.
It took a few silent minutes for the tension to settle. The disfigured fish had almost stopped flopping around on the cement. As if realizing that he had made his point, the fisherman turned slowly back towards the fish. Picking it up roughly, he inspected it judiciously as it writhed in his gloved hand.
Trop petit, he mumbled.
Oh non! Ce n’est pas trop petit! The son protested, as his father discarded the fish back into the water.
It was a gesture of friendship, a moving concession calculated not to take pity on a helpless creature, but to put me at ease. My heart floundered into my throat. Not because that not-just-figuratively-faceless fish had been given another chance, but because I knew how tough it was for this man to be tender.
He turned to me, and flashed his warm smile. But understand me, he concluded playfully, en Gaspésie, on est sanguinaire.