The Northern Transcendence
Celebrating 375 years of Montreal
In the beautiful town of Yamaska, hundred kilometres from Montreal towards Quebec, it’s raining sheets outside for past three days when I step in this café, order a regular Poutine and request to deliver on the table as I hide myself in the deepest corner. I do not want to be seen. I use all my energy to take off my shoes-socks and tape to check blisters, that look like blueberries, just with a lot of blood. As café lady brings Poutine on the table, she sees me holding my foot; not a very pleasant site to be honest, when it smells probably worse than the bottom of a skunk. In a panic, she runs back to the counter and brings the whole pack of tissues “Please take care of these. You want me to call a taxi or something?” she goes. People gather around me, and in a sea of calm, I ask “Do you have a needle?” I couldn’t find one. Good thing, I’m trained in first aid. I take out hunting knife from my bag and slit open the blisters, all four of them, one by one. Blood drips on the floor, and I promise to clean the floor tiles once I’m done as I continue to wipe the blood off my toes. My feet are burning in pain, and suddenly, I collapse. I can barely hear people talking. In my head, I’m just reciting the name of the place I have to reach tonight. Realizing it’s getting dark, in a quasi-automatic gesture I open my eyes. The café lady is still standing next to me, now with some bandages and antiseptic cream in her hands. Unreal!
It’s the third day, I have run 220 km already. But, I’m not done yet. I still have more than 150 km to run in less than two days to make it to Old Port before Montreal’s 375th birthday. I am running 375 km, from Quebec City to Montreal over 5 days, to pay tribute to my new home, on her 375th anniversary. I recall when I was making this decision to first move here. So scared I was. Montreal is my first city to live outside of India and I barely knew any French. I spent one of the months here living with this old man in North of the island, and after 3 weeks of harmony, he threatened to kill me one night. I didn’t know how Quebec law functions, no case was reported but I felt I could trust people no more. So, running from Quebec City to Montreal – all by myself – in a quest to explore the province and meet its beautiful people was a very challenging decision. I still don’t speak much French. Will I be able to communicate with those I meet? Will I receive any kindness on the route? Rain was forecasted for all days planned. But that was too little of a discomfort to stop me from going for what I wanted to achieve. It was decided, I will run during the day, sleep in the night, and aim for at least 70 km per day. I will do this solo with a bag on my shoulders that will have everything: water, food, extra clothes, one extra pair of shoes, first-aid, route map and other important things. It weighed close to 9 kilos when I started and after all the rain, probably 10. I had it in my mind that for this journey, I would survive one day at a time.
On the first day, I couchsurfed in this beautiful village in Parisville, hosted by a lady named Nicole. When I reached her place, she was not there, so I was received by her husband. She had left a note in my room to meet me next morning. Her husband – during breakfast – had introduced me to her paintings and handcrafted sculptures in the basement. The next morning, I still didn’t know where I would be staying that night, so I wanted to start running early. I didn’t see her before I left. Later that morning, I got nearly crushed by a car on the highway. This car stops right in front of me; a woman gets off the car, walks up to me with a smile and says “Are you Gaurav? Hi, I’m Nicole”. She drove at least 20 kilometres down the highway just to see me, and give me Tourtière she had baked for me. I was in awe and surprise, how did she even find me? But, she did. And I was grateful.
The second day goes by in the same way as the first, rain, running, sleeping in a trailer. On the third day, I have succumbed to the pain cave and I’m counting bodies of animals died on the highway due to the flood. On the fourth day. I get up, feeling as though my body is destroyed and continue my journey towards Boucherville, the final checkpoint. I am being hosted by my friend’s mother tonight. I couldn’t sleep the previous night due to immense pain, so, I go fast as possible to reach Boucherville in time, which is still 70 km away. I was promised good food tonight, enough motivation to shut down the pain as I run in the rain with destroyed feet. Against all odds, I reach Boucherville after 10 in the night. Danielle, my host, had given up on me thinking I would not show up when I ring the doorbell.
She was following my progress for past three days through facebook, so, she modified her restroom into almost a clinic with everything she thought I might need, ready to use, on a big table and a warm tub with baking soda to clean my feet. All this, with my life’s most delicious meal – served fresh at midnight. I feel as though I’ve got my mother back, albeit just for tonight. Unlike other days, I get up late in the morning with a very sore body but much better feet. Quick breakfast and I am off to chase final 70 km of the day. She gave me a bag full of cashews and almonds to munch on the way.
375 km, 112 hours and 28 minutes later, I am finally dry sitting under the clock-tower at Old Port, in the cool breeze and bright sunshine of May 17th, where I’m elated and celebrate the birthday of my new home, Montreal. There are no more checkpoints to chase today, but, I do have my share of problems – like how am I going to get up?
As I head back home next weekend, I’m not sure where is this place called home? Some would say I’m lost. It’s here. And wherever I will go, that will be here. I am my home. On Sunday when I’ll board my flight to India, a part of me will stay behind in Canada as my footprints on trails, as memories and conversations with amazing people I met and as stories I shared – like tonight. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to run back on that trail. But, whenever I will return, I’d know I’m home.