My first day of cycling in the Gaspésie consisted of an 80 kilometer round-trip to Gaspésie National Park, home to some of the highest points on the peninsula, the lumpy coccyx at the end of the Appalachian Mountain range spine. As a big fan of outdoor ‘biathlons’ (see my posts from Mount Loki in the Kootenays), my plan was to hike up Mont Albert on wobbly post-cycling legs, and see the famous 14 square kilometer plateau that stands in place of its peak.
My closest brush with death on the trip came that morning. A cop car whizzed by me and gave me a sharp warning honk. As I do with most drivers, and their sensitive proprietary feelings on the road, I just ignored him. But it turned out that the cop was escorting a lurching, heavily-laden semi-truck. The behemoth roared by me moments later, carrying a titanic blade for a future éolienne (wind turbine). The Gaspésie is investing heavily in wind energy, which perhaps a cyclist should take as a bad omen. Despite the enormity of the blade, it was the closest of shaves. I did everything wrong. First, every muscle in my body froze up in panic. Second, as I stared with mesmerised terror at this awful piece of aerodynamic architecture, I naturally started to veer towards it. I came out of the experience alive, but was more than flustered that suddenly the world was tilting its windmills at me.
Terror was not the sole acquaintance I made that day. Approaching the base of Mont Albert, I encountered a crew of cycling Cegep kids also planning to climb Mount Albert. Soon we were exchanging cycling anecdotes and snack food at the base of the mountain. I built trust with the Quebec natives by speaking with them in their local tongue and pretending to delight in their gustatory delicacies, which included spooning gobs of creton (lard) straight out of a jar.
The travellers were an impressively care-free and motley crew. Most of them sported dreadlocks, and clothes that had uniformly adopted the grey and brown hue of the road. Their bikes were even motley-er. I wouldn’t have trusted a single one of those beaters for urban commuting. One of the girls was actually carrying her gear in a wicker basket attached to her handlebars. Despite their apparent disorganization, they were ambitious travellers, who had left from Quebec City with little money and no return date. While I enjoyed their company, I felt both ashamed and jealous: Ashamed of my high-tech gear and excessive supplies of dried-fruit and chocolate; Jealous of their autonomy, their self-sufficiency, their nomadic community.
The hike was beautiful, and I finally had a moment to take photos. The weather deteriorated when we reached the summit, so we spent a few hours holed up in a shelter. The hike guestbook was full of memorable contributions:
(Sylvie – France (clearly)) – Pas de caribous…:(
(Stephanie – Montréal) – On marche contre la loi spéciale!
(Christophe – Un peu partout) – Venu chasser mes démons intérieur. Je n’ai trouvé que de la brume.
In the heavy rains and warm winds of the way back, I hoorah-ed triumphantly with my new biker gang each time we were klaxonné and eclaboussé by a passing semi-truck. It was thought-provoking to be on an identical journey as these youths, but to have come to it with such different aims and attitudes. Greedy for mileage, I soon had to abandon my new friends. I also hungered for solitude, a state now seemingly so rare in my life, and (like all things rare), so valuable. Not to mention, they were slow…
Rilke ,‘Letters to a Young Poet’, on solitude:
Il n’y a qu’une seule solitude, elle est grande, il n’est pas facile de la supporter, et il arrive ça presque tout le monde de vivres des heures qu’on voudrait bien pouvoir échanger contre une quelconque compagnie aussi banale et peu choisie fût-elle, contre un semblant d’accord minime avec le premier venu, avec la personne la plus indigne…Mais sans doute sont-ce là les heures où croît la solitude; la croissance, en effet, est douloureuse comme celle de l’enfant, et triste comme le début du printemps. Mais que cela ne vous abuse point. Ce que est nécessaire, c’est seulement ceci: la solitude, la grande solitude intérieure. Pénétrer en soi-même et ne voir personne durant heures, voilà ce à quoi il faut être capable de parvenir Être seul comme on était seul, enfant, lorsque les adultes allaient et venaient, pris dans des affaires qui semblaient importantes et considérables, puisque les grandes personnes avaient l’air très occupées et parce qu’on ne comprenait rien à leurs faits et gestes.
Laissez cette grandiose solitude accomplir en vous son travail, solitude qui ne pourra plus jamais être effacée de votre existence, et qui, dans tout ce que vous aurez à vivre et à réaliser, agira continûment et de manière discrètement décisive, telle une influence anonyme, un peu comme en nous le sang de nos ancêtres court sans cesse et se fond avec le nôtre pour produire un composé unique qui ne se répétera jamais.
There is only one solitude, and it is vast, heavy, difficult to bear, and almost everyone has hours when he would gladly exchange it for any kind of sociability, however trivial or cheap, for the tiniest outward agreement with the first person who comes along. But perhaps these are the very hours during which solitude grows; for its growing is painful as the growing of boys and sad as the beginning of spring. But that must not confuse you. What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours — that is what you must be able to attain. To be solitary as you were when you were a child, when the grown-ups walked around involved with matters that seemed large and important because they looked so busy and because you didn’t understand a thing about what they were doing.
One can only wish that you are trustingly and patiently letting the magnificent solitude work upon you, this solitude which can no longer be erased from your life; which, in everything that is in store for you to experience and to do, will act an anonymous influence, continuously and gently decisive, rather as the blood of our ancestors incessantly moves in us and combines with our own to form the unique, unrepeatable being that we are at every turning of our life.
Pictures of the hike can be found here, or on facebook: https://plus.google.com/photos/118115170831642013861/albums/5764485798265790241?authkey=CIfVp776mKygfA