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Tale of a winter warrior: 450 km by snowmobile

It’s Saturday, March 7, 2015, the day after my birthday (so now you know), and it’s 10 a.m. I get up, and gather my boots, mitts, helmet and luggage bags to prepare for the longest snowmobile trek of my life. I have a rendezvous with a bunch of people for an afternoon of ice fishing. A few days ago, I made a point of telling my friends about my plan: leave from home (Rouyn-Noranda) to meet up with the gang in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery. And every time, I got the same reaction: “So dude, you gonna unload your snowmobile in Amos or St-Mathieu-d’Harricana?” Me: “No, no...! I’m leaving on my Ski-Doo from Rouyn-Noranda, Abitibi-Témiscamingue!” I tried to coax my girlfriend to come. I admit I wasn’t exactly convincing in reassuring her about the trip: “You know where you’re going? Which way to go?” Me: “More or less...” Soon, it’ll be seven years that we’ve been together, and she’s never once seen me on a snowmobile. In a car, I have a reputation for managing the gas badly. When I was trying to convince her to come, I was aware she doubted my skills... And really I wasn’t so sure myself! 450 km dans le casqueIn my case, the line between self-confidence and recklessness is a fine one. Rouyn-Noranda–Amos return is a long trip for a novice. And since it was a first for me, I was okay with being a lone warrior. So now it’s a pleasant -7ºC, and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be... I’ve made sure I’ve got warm clothes and a lunch for the road. I took a quick look at my route, and everything looks okay. For the rest, I’m putting my faith in the signage. At 11:15 a.m., I hit the trail! Conditions de sentiers The trails are awesome, and the day looks like it’s going to be great. I turn off the Tour de l’île trail and take the 83 North, toward Cléricy. A bit worried about my gear, I try to keep my eyes on the trail ahead... GoPro 1er selfie It’s been a dog’s age since I drove a snowmobile last. I’m not going to risk a crash with the company snowmobile trying to shoot a video. Better to stop and take a selfie with my cheeks all squashed. Cléricy wears its name well: clair – clear, ici – here. Cheap pun aside, it is pretty clear here! White light is illuminating the greying sky for an especially dramatic effect. Cléricy I leave the hills and plunge into the forest with the pure glee. The trail closes in, the trees hugging me tightly in welcome. Several observation towers adorn the trails. It seems there are a lot of hunters out chasing moose. If I were sure I wouldn’t be late for my fishing date, I’d stop and climb every tower. In Preissac, I gas up quickly and get back on the trail, heading toward the junction of 83 and 307. Just then, a huge spray of millions of snowflakes flies up at me. It’s like a science-fiction movie... Speed with a capital “S”. And I wasn’t even going that fast! Nuée de flocons I travel along the esker near lac des Hauteurs, one of my top spots in all of Abitibi-Témiscamingue. Just after Saint-Mathieu-d’Harricana, I take a fork toward the east that will bring me to the lac Figuery recreational area on the rivière Harricana. Ice-fishing huts are scattered about. Carefully, I make my way to my gang waiting on the other shore. My family and friends are all there, gathered for my brother-in-law’s birthday. I’m just a little jealous... Barely minutes later, my nephew Alexandre gets his first catch. [caption id="attachment_2738" align="aligncenter" width="600"]1st fish Jade, Alexandre and little Luis with their small northern pike[/caption] For a short while, I watch the fishing lines out of the corner of my eye, then this passive fishing gets to me. I tease my brother-in-law. The windows in his fishing hut are newer than those in my house! Inside, I have a go at my niece:
“Who’s the huge roll of toilet paper for?!”
Jade et le papier Three hours later, the sun is off to bed. But that won’t stop the fishers from partying. My brother-in-law has chopped wood, and everyone gathers around the fire. Autour du feu But it’s already time for me to go. I have an appointment in Amos at La Virée légendaire for a night of tall tales and outdoor fun! (see page bottom) The brief twilight has the best light. And the trails between Saint-Mathieu-d’Harricana and Amos offer vistas that steal your breath. In an hour, I’ll be soaking in stories that will shape the night’s dreams... Couché du soleil Arriving in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery, I already have a lot of kilometres under my tail. But there’s no question of heading to bed... I have a lot of lost time to make up with the sister and brother-in-law who are putting me up. I take the opportunity to crack open the flask of scotch I’ve been carrying around in the bottom of my bag (I hadn’t touched it all day). Like my bag of chips (crushed to crumbs), the flask is in rough shape. The good news: the contents are frosty! So I put on dry clothes and plunk down in front of the TV. We howl at some film with Steven Seagal (playing himself, as usual). I’m a bit drunk... Il fait froid Sunday morning, I’d promised myself I’d leave early to make the most of the light. It’s already 8:30! I say goodbye to my hosts and hit the trail. It’s a balmy -20° with bright sunshine. Montée sur l'eskerA quick side-trip to Amos to fill up, and I’m on my way! I head off again toward lac des Hauteurs. Before turning toward Preissac, I take a few minutes to zoom up and down the esker to catch the view out over Rivière-Héva. Vue depuis les eskers On the way to Mont-Brun, clear-cuts have left tangles of trees forming huge mounds of snow along the sides of the trails. If I were filming a scene from Star Wars, this would be the place. No doubt you’ll see them in the pictures I took. On the way to Mont-Brun, clear-cuts have left tangles of trees forming huge mounds of snow along the sides of the trails. If I were filming a scene from Star Wars, this would be the place. No doubt you’ll see them in the pictures I took. The Parent Brothers In Cléricy, I meet Claude and Bernard Parent. I travel a piece with them. A bit later, we stop... My camera batteries are dead. And Claude has to swap the new snowmobile with Bernard (and vice versa). That’s when the two brothers told me their story. Their parents migrated to Abitibi-Témiscamingue when the region was barely teething. It was the Great Depression in Montréal. “Grinding poverty,” as Claude said so well. I’ve been in Abitibi-Témiscamingue for ages. I’m surprised to learn that, only about a generation ago, men and women came here to clear land around Mont-Brun. That was in 1935. The village was founded in 1936. Their father, who was 18, arrived along with other men to build cabins. His wife, aged 17, came that fall with their first kid. A lot has changed in a century! We’re a long way from there today... Still, meeting up with these two guys has an impact on me. I wish I’d met them at the start of my trip. I feel like they have a whole lot more to tell me... But Bernard has to leave. And I have to get home. Claude and I agree to continue on together for a while until we reach Rouyn-Noranda. We say goodbye around Lac Rouyn. On the horizon are many ice-fishing huts scattered over the lake. Walkers are out catching a bit of sun. The town is teeming. La motoneige à l'état pur Along the way, the temperature has had time to inch up a good notch. It’s -5°. My odometer shows 450 km (no mistake). I’m proud of myself. I feel totally happy as I make my way through town. I wave at people and have one last laugh with the patrol officers. It’s been a busy two days! But the weekend isn’t over yet... I’ve missed my dog. So we’re going for a walk in the fresh air together. Click here to read my blog about La Virée légendaire (French) Watch the video of my journey