The Lost Land, tome I: The Awakening
190 pages
English

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190 pages
English

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Description

Nadine loves the hectic lifestyle she’s living in Montreal. She has finally retired, which allows her time to create and explore the world.
With her husband Alex, trekking has become a mutual passion that provides her with a change of scenery as well as a sense of wonder that fascinates her. Her artistic side enjoys it as well because she loves to paint, read, write and learn…
One morning in April, Nadine awakens in an unknown place, alone with her orange tent and her hiking backpack as sole luggage. Who has pulled the prank on her? Where is she? How will she survive with only five days of provisions?
While discovering the Lost Land, the hiker, whom the reader accompanies as a witness of her quest, shares her thoughts with us but also teaches us to reconcile with our humanity.
Nadine tries to understand at first, but in survival mode, she must focus on her safety, eating and trying to find other people with whom she can share.
Will this Lost Land allow her to find herself? When will her loved ones come to her rescue?
The Awakening is the first of six volumes in the lost land collection.

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Informations

Publié par
Date de parution 18 février 2016
Nombre de lectures 3
EAN13 9782895711599
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0075€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

The Lost Land
SUZIE PELLETIER
Tome 1
The Awakening
Translated from
Le Pays de la Terre perdue
Tome 1 Le réveil
To my parents, Claire and Robert, who taught me that life is all about living your dreams .
Cataloging-in-publication data with Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec and Library and Archives Canada
Pelletier, Suzie, 1954
The Lost Land
The entire collection includes 6 volumes
Summary : 1.The Awakening
ISBN 978-2-89571-158-2 (v.1)
I. Title. II. Title : The Awakening.
PS8631.E466P39 2013C843’.6 C2012-942845-0
PS963.1E466P39 2013
Translation :
Guylaine Gervais

(GG Translation & Professional Services)
Editing :
Ana Maria Heskin-Zuniga

(AZ World Translation & Interpretation Inc.)
Infographics for cover : Monique Moisan
Photographer : Sylvie Poirier
Editor :
Les Éditions Véritas Québec

2555, avenue Havre-des-Îles, bureau 715

Laval, (QC) H7W 4R4

450-687-3826

www.leseditionsveritasquebec.com
Copyright © 2015 by Suzie Pelletier
Library and Archives Canada Cataloging in Publication
ISBN
978-2-89571-158-2 printed edition

978-2-89571-159-9 digital edition
The Awakening
The technological security blanket that exists in today ’ s civilisation has erased, in the simple beings that we are, the landmarks which allow us to adapt to living in the wild …
How can we reconnect with our ancestors ’ genetic legacy which would allow us to go back to basics … with nothing and no one?
Chapter 1
Day 1 – July 15 th
A certain sweetness in the air, like a warm breeze, caresses her skin. Nadine moves her arm, stretches, then opens one eye, slowly waking. The sun filters through the now translucent fabric of the small tent. What? Still half asleep she springs up. Her head hits the camping light hanging from the ceiling. “Ouch!” Nadine brings her hand to her forehead where her fingers discover a painful lump, triggering once again, a yelp of pain. She falls back onto her pillow. This ultra-light lamp couldn’t possibly have caused such a lump! Seriously!
“This must be part of some sort of dream where I’m not quite awake yet. Wait for the alarm clock to ring … like every morning, then get up. Savour the peacefulness of the house, the smell of coffee…” she tells herself smiling.
She smells something odd, a summer countryside kind of smell. The birds? They are signing in all the trees, answering each other merrily. The orange rays slip through her eyelids. She opens one eye. She is cocooned in her trekking tent, the one that has only rarely been taken out of its travel bag over the past ten years. She recognizes that near suffocating morning heat from the tent having been zipped up and sealed for a while. Her small living quarters will soon feel like a greenhouse if she doesn’t let some fresh air in! Keeping an eye on the ceiling lamp so she doesn’t hit it again, Nadine gets up and crawls on all fours to get to the door.
It’s been at least ten years since she and Alex have done any camping with this tent. They carry it with them during their trekking expeditions, mostly for security reasons, without setting it up. Usually, they prefer to rest in small cottages found along the trails. These offer a certain comfort but mostly allow them to remain dry during their rest period. The tent, well tucked inside the slip cover, along with the floor mat, usually end up staying in Alex’s backpack. It’s very strange that her loyal companion is not sleeping by her side. Perhaps he is already up getting breakfast ready. What a darling!
Nadine tries to get a grasp on recent events. Last night? She looks around. She is confused. She recognizes the little candle-lamp hanging from the ceiling of the tent. She touches that bump on her head again, gently. Did she suffer a concussion? Has she lost her memory? A good blow to the temple… Mind you, Nadine has a pretty hard head! Something unusual is going on. There must be an explanation. “Wake up!” she yells, pinching herself on the arm. She shakes her head and rubs her eyes, just like she used to as a child. She is becoming more alert. Every object surrounding her brings up more questions. She needs to establish a link between what she is seeing and what she is experiencing. Nadine fell asleep in her comfortable bed, cuddled up with Alex, in their family home. She remembers the noisy, bustling mornings when their two children were being disruptive. An early riser, Nadine has always been able to steal a few moments of peace and quiet for herself before everyone else wakes up.
Nothing makes sense! She recognizes her sleeping bag, but her husband is missing. There is only one mattress, one pair of boots, one pair of socks, one set of clothes.
“Where is Alex? His things aren’t here…”
Nadine is astonished: “What am I doing here? How did I get here from Montreal? Did we plan an expedition that I’ve forgotten? Where is everybody? I must be losing my mind! That’s it!”
Everything is spinning and Nadine feels like her head is about to explode. That noise? She can hear the birds outside. There’s another animal also, bigger than a squirrel. What is it? She quickly puts on her clothes and sneaks outside quietly. Her gut feeling tells her not to make any sudden movements. Easy does it! Danger… “Wow! Incredible… Where’s my camera?” A little less than two metres away from her tent, a stunning caribou is nibbling away at the plants he has chosen for his breakfast. It turns its head, perks up its ears. Even though Nadine is completely still, her unexpected arrival surprised it and the animal takes off. “Too bad for the picture! Scaredy-cat! Now no one will believe me…”
Nadine looks at the animal perplexed. She actually did see a large male with an enormous rack weaving through the trees. That’s odd. Caribous usually lose their antlers at the beginning of winter and they grow back slowly to reach their maximum size for the rutting period in September. The animal she just observed had antlers typically seen midsummer, not the stubs seen in springtime. In April, its antlers should be much smaller. Today is April 24 th , right? Her watch would confirm this. She just has to get it from inside the tent.
Before re-entering the tent, Nadine tries to situate herself. The plants growing around her tent look familiar. She has the impression of a déjà vu. They remind her of the beautiful countryside of the Parc de la Gaspésie that she and Alex have explored so often. If she finds the cabana built by the meteorologists nearby, it would confirm she is on Mount Logan. She sees nothing in sight … despite doing a 360° turn. The little orange tent is the only familiar object around. Even the temperature is strange. It is awfully warm, and springtime in Gaspésie is never this early. This day is getting weirder by the minute!
Nadine is feeling a little confused. She must place her hand in front of her eyes as the rays of the hard beating sun are blinding her. She feels a sensation of dizziness about to overcome her … and this throbbing in her temples! She is thirsty; her throat feels like it is tightening more and more. She’s not dreaming. Does she have amnesia? Has she simply lost her mind? She screams, “HELLO”. A few birds fly off, then it is silent again. There must be some sense to this. There’s always an explanation. Remain calm. Breathe. “Gaspésie is 800 km from Montreal! How could I possibly have gotten here without being aware of it?”
Despite the ambient heat, she shivers. Even the date doesn’t make sense. Alex’s absence even less. This ill feeling is creeping up under her skin. Where could her partner be? He would never abandon her during a hike. There are no signs indicating that this time though, he actually tagged along.
Nadine is all alone in this unknown scenery. She spent the night in her orange tent in the middle of an isolated field, and has no clue how she landed here. This is pure madness! She must have simply lost her mind or something short-circuited in her brain, some kind of a painless drift. No… Nadine rubs her eyes. She starts hopping from one leg to another like a child, to see if she would bounce back. “Crap!” To reassure herself, she feels the need to hear her own voice. “You-hoo! Is there anyone out there?” Only a faint echo answers her, then heavy silence falls back onto her shoulders.
She returns to her tent wondering if, perhaps, she hit her head, suffered a concussion that would have caused her to have amnesia, or had an accident during her sleep that put her in a coma. “Perfect decor. Well chosen. I love it. There is everything here for me to feel comfortable in my own bubble, so that there is no need for me to return home” she tells herself. Although appealing, this idea doesn’t quite satisfy her. This type of perfect oasis is not what she would wish for at this time. “No way! Leave Alex? Forget about the children? Give up the people I love? Never! Why would Alex allow me to leave all by myself under these conditions?”
Trying to break the quietness of her surroundings, Nadine walks around the tent, starts running around in all directions, scans the sky, looks on the ground nearby and then in the distance. She yells, screams, tries to scare off the birds. She calls out for Alex. No one answers. Any humans or animal traces? She bends down to look where the ground is looser; there are no footprints other than hers and the caribou’s.
Is there anything visible? A park, a village, a road? At the north end of the horizon, she sees the blue of water; a large body of water. She thinks of the sea, like the one seen in Gaspésie. Is it really the sea? She’s not sure but this idea makes her feel better. It will give her a landmark. She barely dares hold on to that certainty. Nadine is not sure about anything. She feels unsteady. Despite the day’s heat, she shivers and thirst scorches her throat. A wave of panic is creeping up, making her sway between reality and imagination. Doubt sets in. What is she doing here? Why is she alone? Where is she? Is Alex going to suddenly appear from behind a rock?
“Clearly, I’m not sleeping. Unless… So many of my family and friends are pranksters. This must be a prank!” All the same, she thinks this is a really sick joke. The type that would require a huge, invisible team like you see in “ Candid Camera ” where the victim would completely fall for it. As a spectator, it’s hilarious … but when you are the guinea pig, the experience is rather unpleasant. That is exactly how she feels right now! The joke is on her!
“I hate this game!” yells Nadine with her hands by her mouth to amplify her voice. Even though she can’t see the cameras (which are probably well concealed in the trees), she refuses to be the deer in the headlight that everyone is watching. So … in order to catch them at their own game, she has to play along and surprise them by behaving as if nothing was bothering her. “These darn pranksters are not going to get me that easy! I admit they may have won the first round; I’m lost, frustrated and angry.” Nadine’s ego steps in. “I’m surely not going to make it easy for them to win this game,” she tells herself, casting away her fear. When it comes to survival in the great outdoors … she is one step ahead of the game!
“All right! The sun is already pretty high in the sky. I’m going to get my watch to check the time and then simply cook myself a nice breakfast… I’m going to show you who you’re up against!”
She enters the tent and searches through all the supplies to no avail. There is no watch. Disconcerted, Nadine notices that amidst all this paraphernalia, there are no modern gadgets. After emptying the tent of all its contents, she remains standing for a good period of time, stupefied; her arms limp next to her body. She looks around, takes a deep breath to try and calm the chaos inside her head and the resounding sound of her pulse. Her temples throb with each heartbeat. She feels a migraine coming on. Must eat something quickly.
“Come on guys … which one of you could resist the smell of coffee? OK then, one temptation at a time.”
Obviously, no matter where we are, there are a few fundamental things in life that don’t change, like hunger for instance. She has promised herself for years she would lose those extra 20 kilos. Easier said than done. Despite being very active, she loves food, which makes it very difficult for her to remain on a diet. This hide-and-seek game being thrust upon her just may create the perfect occasion, as she is willing to spend a lot of energy to make sure the pranksters fail. Her positive attitude now allows her to see the events from a different perspective.
Let’s see what’s on the menu for breakfast! One of the essentials for surviving in the wilderness is food! She searches through her backpack and finds dried food, a little camping stove with its gas container, a pot, cooking utensils including a fork, a spoon, along with a metal plate and cup. Surprisingly, there are supplies for only one person.
First let’s get some water heated up for coffee. She really needs some caffeine. There’s no milk. Nadine utters a few unkind words under her breath to the authors of this bad joke who forgot to put some powdered milk in her backpack so she could have it with her coffee!
She suspects her friend Bernard is involved in all this. He drinks his coffee without milk. Furthermore, he would be someone capable of setting up this kind of a sick joke. It’s surprising though that his wife Claudine would let him get away with this. She must not be aware, otherwise, she would certainly have objected.
Nadine now has to light up the camping stove; Alex usually takes care of this. Oh well, he’s not here! At least the pranksters didn’t forget to pack the lighter. Nadine figures it out through a process of elimination: attach the gas container to the little stove, crack open the tank, light it up. Bingo! Now! That’s technology!
She puts the pot on the stove after filling it with water from her flask. Then she takes out her cup and puts in a coffee bag. It won’t be as strong or tasty as the one she makes at home but she’ll have to make due until this game is over.
While waiting for her coffee, Nadine chooses her menu which she cooks in what’s left of the water. One must not waste a drop of water when out in the wilderness, especially drinking water.
Nadine checks out her surroundings while forcing down her bland meal of dried eggs and black coffee. The sun is slowly warming up the soil, still saturated with water. Since the sun has been up for a while, Nadine figures there must have been a recent abundant rainfall. Looking south, she can see a mountain summit, approximately 800 metres away. From where she stands, the summit appears to be a few hundred metres higher. Her tent is positioned 50 metres from a stream which formed itself between the stones, then cascades into a little lake. All around, the field is bare. Of course, as is often the case in the mountains of Gaspésie, there are more rocks than vegetation. She does notice, however, the abundance of lichen attached here and there in the shadows of the rocks. The evergreen forest becomes thicker 200 metres north, towards the base of the mountain.
Forgetting about her frustration, Nadine is touched when she realizes all of a sudden, how magnificent this scenery actually is. The pure air invigorates her lungs. She appreciates the surrounding echoes of nature: the chirping of the birds, the sound of the waterfall, the light breeze humming at her ears, the squirrels curiously observing her. For a moment, she finds peace. Her connection with this environment is both inspiring and soothing. It’s almost as if time is standing still. She sighs, thinking back to all these years spent racing against the clock where being able to enjoy a moment like this would have been a true joy. Peace in all its simplicity.
After breakfast, Nadine decides to organize her camp. She has to keep her spirits up. Time to think about what needs to be done. Her first priority has to be security. When in the mountains, hikers must always be aware of what is at their disposal. Rain or shine, this inventory can help you allocate your meals evenly, stretching your supplies longer if need be. Nadine empties her backpack directly onto the rocky ground to verify her survival gear.
Along with the kitchen articles, she finds five days’ worth of dried meals. Five days! This joke is getting more and more credible, although still unpleasant. They want to leave her here for five days?
There are spare clothes and two additional pairs of socks. At least the authors of this prank appreciate how important it is to keep your feet dry. There are also two short-sleeve shirts which she wears to sleep during long mountain hikes.
As she scrutinizes the content of her luggage, Nadine wonders if Alex also participated in this sick joke. If he did, boy is he ever in trouble!
In the backpack, there was also a raincoat, rain pants, her favourite outdoor hat, her sunglasses, a warm sweater, a compass, a water filter and a flask. In addition, she finds a small machete with its sleeve that can be worn on her calf. Let’s not forget her Laguiole utility knife, with a 20 cm blade and its casing which fits at the waist.
Everything she needs to stay warm and dry, guarantee access to drinking water and orient herself. Perfect! She will surprise them all … and will survive this sick joke. Fortunately, she is not intimidated by the forest that surrounds her. Her numerous trekking expeditions over the years have taught her to respect the wilderness and not be afraid of wildlife. She has caution and experience well ingrained.
Nadine remains puzzled despite her rational and creative approach. She realizes that the content of her luggage is exactly what she would normally bring in her backpack during any expedition but she would certainly have included a first aid kit and some hygiene products as well. The tent, the floor mat and the machete are always included in the gear that Alex usually carries. Normally, they would also add, to Alex’s backpack, the heavier articles like flashlights, fresh fruits and vegetables.
If Alex was watching her now, he would also find this bizarre… She without him, him without her, both of them so eager to be with one another. It is so weird to feel alone. Nadine loves walking behind him on the narrow trails, seeing his shadow moving silently then, reacting abruptly upon discovering a new treasure, and hearing him say: “Check this out!” just like a little kid. She pulls herself out of this nostalgia. A little solitude won’t kill her. Carrying on with her inventory will be much more useful to her … because her plan is starting to define itself.
In her tent, there is a mattress, a sleeping bag and a candle-lamp suspended by the ceiling. Yes, the one which probably gave her that purplish bruise on her right temple. She brushes the still tender area with her hand: “it should disappear in a few days…”
In front of her lay the objects she usually brings in her backpack. She can’t find her watch, iPhone, iPad or GPS. There are no books, no pencils, no paper. A little discouraged, she screams out her frustration.
“What’s the deal here? What am I supposed to do? Go back to the Stone Age? You guys are going to pay for this!” Once her voice fades out, her hot temper perks up. Beating them at their own game, that will make them pay. Her audacity takes over.
She is going to make these pranksters sweat bullets. They think she is patient and are probably wishing that she will stick around to wait for them; instead, she is going to leave! It’s obvious she will find a village along the river and perhaps even a small inn. She has no credit card or money; same goes for her identification papers, passport and driver’s licence, but she’ll figure things out once she gets to the village. There will be a bank, a police station, people who will listen to her.
So here’s the plan: pick up everything and head towards the sea. There is a good distance to travel from here to that beautiful blue expanse but Nadine has food for five days. Furthermore, she is used to hiking in the mountains for days in a row. Despite the ambient heat, she packs up the tent, her gear and supplies in less than thirty minutes. As she hauls the pack onto her back, she feels stimulated by the adrenaline rush. “We’ll just see if you can keep up with me…”
Chapter 2
Day 1 – July 15
N adine hoists her backpack onto her shoulders. “Wow! This is really heavy! “
Raising her head, fastening the straps to stabilize the weight, she notices the sun’s angle from the corner of her eye.
Crap, lunchtime has already passed! There are only a few hours left to hike today.
Nadine heads towards the forest.
She realizes that she has to stay sharp and use her observations to make the right moves. For example, use the sun’s trajectory to decide on what steps to take next. Nadine feels her strong “ coureur des bois 1 ” instincts coming back, but at the moment, it is not pride that she feels but a kind of dreariness. She misses having her family and the technology that she has grown familiar with, around her. Even if the goal of planned trekking is to live without technology for a few days, she always brings some of her precious tools like her watch and GPS to ensure her safety. Today, she feels like she is missing a part of herself. Is it really that essential?
She shakes her head to chase away the idea of depending on objects. “No! The essential in the forest is the ability to use your senses,” she repeats to herself. Nadine has witnessed many dangerous situations. She has the necessary experience to orient herself and to understand the environment surrounding her. Those two qualities are worth much more than all those gadgets invented by technologists for urban living. What if she took advantage of this forced immersion to truly return to basics?
This thought revives her for a moment. She walks a few more metres, breathing to the same rhythm as the lively pace she enjoys. Her thoughts start to wander and the solitude makes her heart grow heavier and heavier.
She misses Alex, who has been her trekking companion since they discovered this activity. Without him, his presence, his practical sense, his energy, would she have done all those magical hikes? This one … at this precise moment, she would have preferred that Alex be at her side. She would have liked for him to reassure her. It is so much more pleasant to walk in the forest together. She imagines him right there, next to her like in the past.
They walk one behind the other, down a path barely large enough for a gazelle. Armed with their walking poles, their large backpacks on their backs, there is no room for the familiarity. There is no room to hold hands like they would in their neighborhood. They don’t need this nearness. They are simply happy to live together in this fresh air. The universal harmony that reigns between them and nature brings Nadine closer to her partner.
How many times had she admired her husband’s broad shoulders while he walked in front of her, swiftly pushing away the branches blocking his path? He warns her about a rock or root on the ground that could hinder her progress. She remembers his face, full of tenderness when she approaches him and the shadow cast on the ground by his long body.
There are also all those moments of wonder, when they would take the time to examine a plant they had never seen before or flush out a small animal, whispering together so that all the details would be imprinted in their minds.
All they have to do is look in each other’s eyes to see all the love they feel for one another. Nadine shakes her head to chase away the melancholy. It is useless to think about Alex’s absence. He is not here, that’s all. Nadine walks faster, trying to get control of her emotions.
“OK, where’s the path?”
Those jokers, they must have come from somewhere. Alex couldn’t possibly have carried that entire luggage by himself to the top of the mountain; especially since the distance poses an additional problem because this site strangely resembles Mount Logan, located 800 kilometres from Montreal. Shouldn’t she see footprints? Maybe even some off-road vehicle tracks?
No path, no footprints nor any off-road vehicle tracks. At least, she doesn’t see any. As she loses her composure, Nadine walks frantically to the right and then to the left, looking everywhere to no avail.
While she races around, she notices dark spots. Almost like burns on the ground, a few metres from where her tent was. The remains of a fire? Lightning from a recent storm?
She is too restless to ponder on this any longer. Out of breath from all this exertion, she takes a long breath to calm herself. What’s the use of wasting her strength?
Starting once again, she decides to look for a path, hoping that walking towards the edge of the forest will reveal one. She doesn’t understand; there has to be a road. In spite of the heat, she shivers. As soon as her thoughts begin wandering again, the same question always returns. Had they brought her in a helicopter? That’s completely insane!
Her heart is beating so hard that she is scared it will rip out of her chest. Panic sets in. She must calm down. She rubs her hands, now cold from fear, to keep them from shaking. Even if it is at least 21ºC on this forest plateau, her forehead beads with sweat as a result of her stress.
What if they had arrived from the other side of the mountain? This could be the answer! It’s impossible that she can’t find any footprints. She returns to where her tent was set up. She puts the backpack on the ground to free her body from the weight. She goes around the area once again, walking slowly, carefully examining the ground, hoping to find clues indicating humans’ passage in the area.
Nothing. She raises her head to look at the mountaintop, located approximately 800 metres away. Without her backpack, it would only take her about half an hour to reach it.
No! She won’t make this amateur’s mistake. Especially since the circumstances are so strange. If someone were watching her from the trees, they would have plenty of time to remove her backpack while she climbed to the top. She will certainly not give them the chance of making her life even more miserable.
She hoists the heavy backpack onto her shoulders then raises her head towards the summit. She climbs slowly, in small steps, the 800 metres of a relatively gentle upslope. Her training is useful, allowing her to breathe at a good rhythm. She walks with her head down, her eyes on the rocks in her path. She looks for a marker, a piece of paper, anything. If only to better understand what kind of trouble she’s in!
Oops! A small obstacle is all that’s needed and her foot slides; she staggers, almost losing her balance. Windmilling her arms, she sweeps the air and manages to avoid disaster.
This path strangely reminds her of a track that she and Alex climbed a few years ago. They had been staying in Ullapool for a few days, when the nice weather and the sea’s fresh air prompted them to use their trekking equipment to climb Stac Pollaidh, a mountain in an isolated area in the northwestern part of Scotland. The pebbles rolled under their feet continuously, keeping them in a precariously unstable situation.
Here, she is not in Scotland. The flowering forest and the heat, affecting her even at the summit, contrast with the bare ground of that part of the world and the cold, humid winds that caressed Stac Pollaidh. She smiles. Wherever she is, she will not have to fight off the clouds of midges, those insects smaller than Quebec’s black fly that attack hikers with their incendiary bites.
At the mountain’s summit, Nadine takes a few minutes to look around. The view is open, without obstruction, for kilometres. The spruce forest completely crowns the mountain, 800 metres below. Under her feet, the rocky ground precludes off-roading. Only a few caribou graze on the rare Nordic grasses that manage to grow between the limestone rocks, where they are protected from the wind. On this barren ground, there are no traces of steps, not even those of large mammals.
Disappointment tightens her throat. There are no more prints here than below. Slowly, she turns around to head back to her tent; the best place to begin her descent towards the sea.
Suddenly her heart jumps. What if there is no one watching her? How will Alex know where to find her? She had just forgotten a fundamental rule of being in the forest. She must leave traces of her passage so that her friends can find her.
She would build a cairn, a heap of rocks that, on barren mountains, marks the passage of humans. She puts down her backpack and chooses a flat rock, slightly raised, to build it. Twenty rocks solidly placed against one another will suffice. Then, to ensure that Alex can find her, she uses rocks on an area of barren ground, to draw an arrow pointing in her direction.
Standing, hands on her hips, she admires her work. She had just taken possession of this territory. This helps her regain confidence.
Now that her marker shows her passage, she can head down the mountain. Without a path, the best thing to do is to use the compass.
Happier with her attitude, her backpack repositioned on her shoulders, Nadine starts walking, heading north. Even with the abrupt slope and the unavoidable zigzags, she progresses without too much difficulty. In a subdued step, she enters a forest made up of shrivelled trees that open up, a little further on, to a conifer forest which she notices is not too dense.
It’s strange that there is no snow; the temperature is too hot for April in Quebec. At least, last night was April 23. The mountain should still be covered in snow. The plants’ ripeness makes it look more like mid-July. The lower she gets down the mountain, the more mosquitoes there are and the hotter it is. This is definitely not April like she’s used to in the Parc de la Gaspésie.
So where is she? A climate like this? Somewhere in the South? In the United States maybe? In April, there is still a lot of snow even in the Adirondacks. What about the caribou she saw this morning? They are only found in northern Quebec and in Gaspésie.
It simply makes no sense. These trees look familiar. Relatively large. She can’t stop herself from looking at the patches of black spruce, squeezed tightly on the edge of the path, perhaps hiding a malicious watcher. She starts to look for areas where Alex, or one of their friends, could be hiding.
OK, there is only one way to understand and that would be to find civilization. Nadine gives one last thought to the jokers. She is furious. Sharply, in the challenge, she raises her left arm in the air in a middle-finger salute: “There! You’ll see! I’ll show you! I’ll get you guys in the long run!”
Her silhouette blends in with the coniferous forest as it progressively thickens. Finally, she finds a large enough path, seemingly maintained. There are a lot of animal feces from various types of animals, some of which are recent: moose, deer, wolves and lynx. She smiles upon recognizing the acrid and repulsive odours of these animals, which blends with the sweet smell of humus and wild flowers. Her friends Martine and Claudine would be heaving and she would laugh; she really likes this blended musky mix because it brings back good memories.
Humans have not marked the trail and this worries her a little. Animals usually use such a trail to travel from one food area to another or to get to a watering hole. But they rarely travel in a straight line. Depending on their needs, the animals usually make trails by meandering around the mountain; looking for easy ground, not the shortest route. So, Nadine has no idea how long this trail is and she’s not even sure whether or not she is actually going down the mountain.
From the top of the mountain, the forest seems endless, as far as the eye can see in all directions, except for a few mountaintops too high for such dense vegetation to grow. It would be very easy to get lost.
She remains thoughtful for a few moments, while all these options run through her mind. Her practical side evaluates the possibilities, the dangers and the need to succeed. All right, she will follow the moose trail. Her route may be longer, but it will likely have the advantage of being easier.
Quickly, the trail turns slightly west, but since she is still walking towards the bottom of the mountain, Nadine doesn’t worry. The spruce forest which surrounds her is now too dense to abandon the trail so Nadine continues to follow it, hoping that at the bottom of the mountain she will find a stream or a river, which will lead her to the sea.
Still watching her step, Nadine inspects everything around her. In a forest crawling with life, she gets the impression she’s being watched. Her friends? She notices a branch with a crook, which could very well hold a camera. She doesn’t see any wires, but these days, with solar batteries, anything is possible. How would they know which trail she would take? Really?
With barely contained anger, she walks the few metres separating her from the branch. She’ll break their camera! No. It’s only a bird’s nest. It probably belongs to the blue jay she just heard. Nadine walks away slowly, her anger suddenly replaced by weariness. She is furious at her friends and she would have liked to find a camera because it would have confirmed to her that, however ridiculous it may be, this was indeed only an insane adventure.
Her steps heavy with melancholy, she continues her hike. She drinks from her water bottle to slake her thirst. She repositions her backpack on her shoulders. She stops to lace her boots. She is trying to find a way to regain control of her emotions because frustration could destroy her sense of adventure.
The sky is blue. There are no clouds. The breeze makes the leaves of the yellow birches, spread here and there amongst the many spruces, sing. Although she cannot see them, she senses there are animals in the area. Experience has taught her that she has nothing to fear from forest animals. Most of them are scared and will hide from humans whilst the others will just ignore them. She makes enough noise to ensure she doesn’t surprise a bear, wolf or other more aggressive animals, especially if they have little ones to protect.
Preoccupied by the situation, disappointed of not having Alex by her side, scared of finding herself alone on a mountain, Nadine tries to comprehend what is happening to her. There is something important that she is just not getting. She doesn’t understand it yet and it makes her uncomfortable, just like the after taste left by a badly cooked meal, when you feel the nausea slowly builds.
She is incredibly angry with the ones she calls “the jokers”. Why go through all that trouble to plan something like this? This can only be a very bad joke. Maybe it is to celebrate her recent retirement? It is way too elaborate, completely sick! It is even mean! Seriously!
“How did they bring me here without me being aware of it? How did they manage not to leave any traces behind? I don’t remember anything.” Suddenly, a logical but inconceivable answer comes to mind. “They drugged me.” This thought alone makes her shiver. She will never forgive them for this.
After a while, her pace slows down because of the weight of the backpack but she finally reaches the bottom of the mountain. She is covered in sweat. The heat of the day, more pleasant at the top, feels like an oven in this deep valley. Nadine has effectively found a river, which probably runs north. Finally! The river is wide, shallow, and its banks are clear. The light wind that is causing a slight ripple at the surface of the water barely cools her skin. Nadine continues her hike, sometimes walking beside the river and sometimes in the river itself.
Alex, who understands her so well, knows that she will instinctively try to find a river. She keeps looking for cameras in the trees. Of course, there is nothing betraying their presence.
In route, she finds a particularly straight branch, approximately two metres long, recently fallen from a tree. Cleared of bark, it will make the perfect pilgrim’s staff since they did not remember to pack her walking poles in her luggage. She will use it to keep her balance on the uneven ground, to walk in the river or to whip away branches that are constantly getting in her way.
She will keep the pilgrim’s staff as a souvenir when she gets back home. Maybe she should use it to hit the jokers with? Nadine likes that idea. She gets a good grip on the stick, like she would for a Jedi sword in Star Wars . “May the force be with me!” A blow to the left! A blow to the right! Nadine wants to hit the air in front of her but a large branch gets in the way and knocks the stick right out of her hands. The brutality of the event has cleared her anger. Although the gesture helped her channel the fury she felt against her friends, Nadine knows only too well that she would never hit them. She despises any kind of violence. You can be sure, though, that she will give them a piece of her mind and look them right in the eyes when she tells them what she thinks of their insane joke.
Her backpack weighs more and more on her shoulders but she wants to keep going for a little while longer. Although she is a modern woman who appreciates city comforts, she is used to these trekking expeditions that she and Alex do regularly in the summer, accompanied by two other couples. There is Bernard, a childhood friend and his wife Claudine. There is also Claude, Alex’s friend and colleague and his wife Martine. Are they really friends? Today, she is not sure that she can call them allies.
The gurgles of her stomach finally bring her to stop near a large flat rock, at the edge of the river, where she drops her load. On the menu: nuts, dried fruits and water. This is her usual diet for a quick lunch, which also serves as a break. She will be walking another hour or two before stopping for the night, so she doesn’t want to overload her stomach, which would make the hike more strenuous.
Before swallowing it, she looks at the handful of nuts and dried fruits in her hand. Not quite McDonald’s hamburgers! She smiles and closes her eyes. Why is it that this baby boomers’ guilty pleasure comes to mind so often when she hikes? It has now become a running gag between her and Alex. When they leave for a trip, they play at who will be able to hold off the longest before mentioning this brand name from their urban lives. Then, with a heavy heart, she is once again reminded that Alex will not be with her for the next five days.
Of course, she took advantage of this stop to fill her water bottle. In the forest, you must always refill your water as soon as you see a river, a creek or spring water. She used her water filter to ensure its quality.
This thought gives her goose bumps. It would be horrible if she became sick. And what if she hurt herself? Would the jokers put an end to this insane challenge? How would they find out? Automatically, like she had done so many times that day, she looks at all the nooks and crannies around her. No camera. No one is hiding. An involuntary shiver travels all over her body. She crosses her arms and clasps her knees to her chest to make it stop.
As she is eating, Nadine thinks about her agenda for the rest of the day. She left the top of the mountain, impulsively, without really thinking it through.
Taking off like this, alone in the forest, goes against all survival rules. Normally, when people are lost, they should remain at the same spot, to better conserve the energy needed to survive. This allows rescuers to find the person lost in the forest more rapidly.
Is Nadine really lost? Even though the vegetation around her seems familiar, she is not quite sure where she is. Is this Gaspésie, a nature park in Europe or a national park in the United States, Canada or Quebec? She has a plan to find civilization, she has food for a few days; she can make fire and she has a tent in which to seek refuge for the night, therefore, she is not lost! Nevertheless, she feels powerless about this situation over which she has no control. Where will she sleep tonight? In her tent, of course, but she still has to find a spot which will allow her to put it up safely.
She starts to laugh out loud. She can only imagine having this conversation with her friend Marie, the one with whom she often discusses science fiction. Marie would look at her with her green and vibrant eyes.
“Come on! It’s obvious you are no longer on Earth.”
“You’re funny. What other planet would have such luscious nature and look so much like Gaspésie? Not Vulcan for sure! That red and hot planet from the Star Trek series is mostly covered by desert.”
“I’ve got it! You’re on Alpha Centauri’.”
“That can’t be! It’s too hot!”
“Well, then, I don’t know!”
Her strained laugh then sticks to her throat. Suddenly she misses Marie.
She remembers their last encounter. Nadine, newly retired, had just decided that she had to redo her wardrobe so it would be more fitting of her new life: more jeans and flat shoes, less skirts, jackets and high heels.
That day, the two friends had shopped all day. They had visited three shopping centres and the trunk of the Legacy was full with all kinds of bags.
Tired, Marie asked for an early end to the afternoon so the two women found themselves at a restaurant, each with a glass of wine, waiting for their men, Alex and Alain, to join them for dinner.
Marie was exhausted from all the running around. She had also laughed a lot seeing her friend get all worked up about the task at hand; Nadine would try on ten pairs of jeans to choose only one, then quickly go to another store and repeat this charade all over again. Marie was totally exhausted from just following her friend all day. Nadine, on the other hand, was still full of energy despite all the exercise. She was fidgeting like a school girl. Marie couldn’t believe it:
“Hey, Nadine! Don’t you ever stop moving?”
“It’s true. Retirement suits me. I feel so full of energy.”
“We’ll have to find you some kind of work for you to burn off all that energy. Otherwise, no one will be able to keep up with you.”
“You know that energy is my strong point. I never run out of it! Everything I do, I do with a lot of enthusiasm.”
Suddenly Marie becomes silent and her face shows a great deal of sadness. She looks at Nadine with her large green eyes.
“Marie, what’s wrong? Why so sad? Was it something I said?”
“No, I just realized how really lucky you are to have all this energy. One day, maybe, you might understand that things don’t always go so well.”
Nadine would have liked to understand her friend’s last statement, which gave her goose bumps. Was Marie ill, but didn’t want to tell her? Before she could ask, Alex and Alain arrived to join them.
The time for sharing secrets had passed.
Nadine has not forgotten and promises herself to ask her friend what she meant next time they meet.
Ouch! A branch has just fallen on her head. She should have thought about that when she sat near that big yellow birch. It is old and its wood is dry. With a simple gust of wind, the branch broke off from the trunk. Thankfully, everything is right; only a small scratch on her right arm; no bleeding. It would be completely healed by the time she gets back home.
Nadine is exhausted from all that walking, the weight of the packsack heavy on her shoulders, and this heat, which is making her dehydrate faster than she can drink water. There is also a certain tension she just can’t get rid of, which hardens her muscles; she is continuously on edge, listening to the sounds of the forest sounds she cannot always recognize.
This exhaustion is much more intense and deeper than the one brought on by a simple day of shopping, which finished in a restaurant with a glass of wine.
She does not dare think how the jokers, her friends, will worry when they don’t find her at the top of the mountain. It’s no one’s fault but their own! They shouldn’t have left her alone! They know her hot temper and her recklessness! It’s their fault, that’s all! Either way, by building a cairn, she has shown them the way to go.
In the meantime, she will continue her journey, following her plan to return to civilization all by herself.
If she was certain that she could soon find a farm, a shelter, or “why not daydream”, a bed and breakfast, she would not worry. But since she left the mountain, she has not run into anyone and the forest around her is becoming much thicker. Everything seems to indicate that she will be sleeping in the forest tonight. She is not happy, but because of these stupid jokers, does she have a choice? The best way to proceed would be to walk a little further, for an hour or two, then look for a good spot to set up the tent safely. She will have to be able to make a fire and have time to pick up enough wood to maintain it overnight. In the forest, this will keep away the hunting animals whose prints she noticed on the trails.
She must listen to the fatigue taking over her body and set up camp for the night as soon as possible. The area where she is at the moment is not safe so she must continue to look for a suitable place.
Nadine once again puts the backpack on her shoulders. Mechanically, she rubs her sore shoulders. She also rubs her legs vigorously, as fatigue has made her muscles tight. Pilgrim’s staff in hand, she once again starts walking alongside the river, following a twisted path that brings her, sometimes north, sometimes east, and which practically makes her turn around in circles. Normally, this route should take longer but the light flow of the river shows that the flat terrain will remain easy to follow. So, the walking distance might be longer but she should be able to make the trip faster.
Only the noises from the forest accompany her. She likes this atmosphere which calms her fiery and energetic nature. She enjoys this solitude, which reminds her that on a mountain trail, you can only depend on yourself. That is the reason why she and Alex always act with the utmost respect towards this untameable nature. The vastness of this forest reminds her how small humans really are on this earth.
Her soul is in perfect harmony with nature. While she walks, her head tilted forward, looking towards the ground to watch her steps, she sees the water foaming around her boots; she smells the strong odour of the black spruces; she hears the babbles of the birds perched on the high branches, the mist of the small stream flowing into the river, a squirrel running to hide under foliage, the light wind gliding along her sun-dried skin. Despite the fatigue, she feels at peace.
Nadine continues her hike; still walking along the edge of this seemingly endless river.
Finally, at a bend in the river, where sand accumulates, she finds slightly raised open ground, with a gentle slope towards the edge of the water. It’s an excellent and safe place to set up camp. It’s finally time to stop.
Through the yellow birches and the spruces, the sun can be seen slowly going down in the west. So, no time for breaks! Leaving her backpack where she will put up the tent, she quickly clears a space on the ground and creates a circle of rocks to contain the fire. She would certainly not want to burn down this beautiful forest! Then, without wasting any time, she goes on the hunt for dry wood and moss. She knows very well that she can put up the tent by the light of the fire but she wouldn’t be able to make a fire after nightfall.
Thanks to the lighter and because the forest provides some relatively dry matter, Nadine manages to light a fire quickly. This makes her feel better. With the sun still visible in the west, she walks into the forest surrounding the camp to search for more wood to stack up because there is a good chance her first night of solitude might be a difficult one.
Then, it’s time to put up the tent. Why is Alex not here? It is usually him that does this work while Nadine prepares the meal. Today, she has no one but herself to depend on.
She misses Alex a lot right now. Being in each other’s lives for almost 35 years, they still love each other deeply. They complete each other so well that sometimes they even finish each other’s sentences or predict the other’s needs. They only have to look into each other’s eyes to touch the other’s soul. In the forest, this synergy between their souls enables them to save not only time and energy but allows them to live intensely with one another.
They need each other. Today, the absence of her life companion weighs heavily on Nadine. She feels like any small thing, a discouraging thought, and weariness from this unjust fight could erode her moral.
Not used to this solitude, feeling completely exhausted after the long walk, she barely manages, to secure the tent pegs. Actually, if she was absolutely sure it wouldn’t rain overnight, she would simply sleep under the stars. Despite her fatigue, her recollection of an ad from Apple for “a weather app” makes her smile. What a teaser! She misses her iPhone like she never imagined possible. In Montreal, where she lives, she uses all the gadgets she possesses to find directions, what the weather is like, where the nearest restaurant is and even a phone number. Here in the forest, she can only count on her own senses and her knowledge of nature.
Once the tent is up, Nadine takes off her boots and vigorously massages her feet. Thankfully, other than the pain caused by tiredness, her feet are free of blisters.
Before the sun completely sets, she makes her way to the river to wash. She doesn’t have any soap, or facecloth or towel but the cold water manages to remove all the dust accumulated during her trek. She feels better and the tiredness caused by the hike lessens slightly.
Her camp is ready for the night and she has freshened up in the clear and cold water of the river. Now she can eat. She chooses the envelope containing sausages, mashed potatoes and yellow beans, which she will accompany with a few cookies and some tea. She is not really hungry but it is important, when trekking, to eat well in order to replace the energy spent during the day.
With the sunset, the noises of the forest intensify. That’s usual. The predators are up and about, hunting under the cover of darkness. They are far, deep in the forest. Even knowing that, she still feels like she is being watched. She knows that it’s normal. She would really like to be able to snuggle up in Alex’s arms and close her eyes. Alex would squeeze her hand and the fright of the night would go away. But here, by herself, she must remain vigilant and never forget that she is in a strange forest, in an unknown place.
Sitting on a rock between the fire and the tent, she slowly eats this unappealing meal necessary to her survival.
Hot cup of tea in hand, she looks at her bare feet in the grass. She never does that. She always wears something on her feet, whether it be shoes, sandals or at least socks, because she hates getting her feet dirty. Today, however, she has nothing but her boots to wear and they need to dry after a long day of hiking and walking into the river. She should feel uncomfortable but that’s not the case. She is quite surprised by this observation.
The freedom felt when she was a child, of running barefoot in the grass, that her sterilized life in the city made her forget is a very enjoyable memory.
She will have dirty feet, so what! Tonight she appreciates the feeling of the fresh wind caressing her toes.
The first shadows of the night envelop her and the tears, very slowly, start to fall. Drops become streams, provoked by the rage against these mean jokers that put her in this situation. She is ashamed that she doesn’t have the strength to stop the tears and is annoyed by this invisible life she feels around her. She knows that she is wasting a lot of energy by crying but it helps reduce the tension that accumulated in her body throughout the day.
There is still a part of this tension that she does not comprehend. Even so, this situation should not stress her so much. She knows that she can handle herself in the forest. But normally, these expeditions are planned ahead of time. They get maps, check landmarks and get information about weather and checkpoints. During their expeditions, even if they don’t see them very much, they know that there are always some park wardens nearby. A telephone call to the nearest checkpoint and someone comes to the rescue.
Here, this lack of planning and resources makes the solitude even harder to bear. Despite the stress of it all, she should find solace in her experience.
Last fall, following a survival course, Nadine and a few other students accepted the challenge to stay three days alone in the forest and find their own way back to a checkpoint. The idea behind the challenge was to learn to cope with the solitude and the fear felt when alone in a hostile environment. She was the only woman to take up this challenge and 25 years older than the oldest of the other students. Even her teacher tried to get her to change her mind. Of course, that only added fuel to her determination to complete this challenge.
Nadine was the one who coped the best. She never panicked, even when it started raining really hard during her stay in the forest. She managed to make it to the checkpoint without the help of the instructors. Of course, the risks were minimal because there was a GPS indicator in her luggage and the instructors could follow her path on a large map projected on a big screen. She also had all she needed to light a fire, build a shelter, eat, and stay warm and dry. She even had her iPhone in case of an emergency.
In short, her level of adaptation is normal and she should be reassured. She knows what to do and is quite capable of doing it. So, why is she so tense?
It’s almost like the forest is trying to talk to her, to pass on some important information, but she doesn’t understand its language. She can’t decode the signs or the message given to her.
Is this intuitive feeling crawling under her skin, warning her of some impending doom?
For the moment, she decides it’s time to go to sleep.
Another long day of walking awaits in the morning. She will be sore from today. She still won’t know where she is. But she will walk somewhere, towards this sea she caught a glimpse of but can no longer see. Her tears finally dry with the assurance of knowing that tomorrow, she will be doing something. She feeds more wood to her fire so that it will last at least a few more hours, then she enters her little refuge to go to sleep.
In the small orange tent, she lights the candle-lamp to remove the humidity, an old habit she and Alex acquired when hiking over the years. She puts her clothes and boots beside the bed and decides to wear a tank top to sleep, then slips her aching body into a sleeping bag. The camp mat doesn’t give her the comfort of a good five-star hotel but it will suffice for this first night of solitude.
She listens to the silence around her. Is she safe? Even if most of the animals will stay away from the fire, she wants to be able to defend herself. She puts her knife and machete beside her; the walking stick remains within reach, right outside the tent.
She turns off the candle-lamp and the blackness of the night swallows her, rendering noises even clearer, scarier.
Then, Nadine closes her eyes. It is time to sleep.
A roar. It is way too close to the tent. Nadine wakes up startled. With a shaking hand, she picks up her knife and feels for the machete with the other. Then she waits. She doesn’t hear the beast anymore but she smells its fetid odour. It’s some kind of wild cat, probably a lynx.
Lying on her back, Nadine doesn’t move. Despite her fear, she tries to distinguish the strange sounds of the night. Through the thin fabric of the tent, she sees the light of the fire. This reassures her even though she realized she hasn’t slept much.
She hears the animals and makes them out. There are two of them, maybe three, on the edge of the river. Nadine should have realized that the predators would come to drink in this quiet area during the night.
Can she defend herself against three lynxes? She doubts it. Will the fire keep them away? She hopes so with all her heart.
Nadine still waits. Even with the coolness of the night, she feels the sweat running down her body. She fights a shiver because she knows that even a small movement on her part can draw the animals to her.
Fear gnawing at her insides, Nadine holds back her scream and her instinct to flee into this dark forest. She doesn’t want to die here. She doesn’t know how long this wild watch will last. She sees the fire dying down.
She hears the animals moving away into the forest. She is relieved even though she is shaking all over.
The fire. She must keep the fire going. Quickly, she puts on her pants and her boots. Without making noise, she opens the zipper of the tent, listening closely to the forest. She sticks her head out and looks around. She doesn’t see anything other than her fire about to go out. In spite of her fright, she leaves the relative safety of the tent to feed the fire. Her gestures are sharp, jerky. Nervously, she adds wood to the fire to revive its orange colour.
For a moment, she looks into the dark night around her. She closes her eyes to get a feel from the forest. She is not totally sure but she seems to be safe once again.
Nadine returns to her tent. For the remainder of the night, her machete will remain attached to her lower leg and her knife to her belt. She keeps her boots on in case she has to make a quick escape.
Rolled up in her sleeping bag, shivering from fear more so than from the cold, her knife in hand, Nadine waits for dawn to push away the dangers of the night. She no longer tries to understand what she is doing there. She forgets that she would look ridiculous if Alex saw her this way. Her reality can be summed up in one word: survival…
Chapter 3
Day 2 – July 16
N adine welcomes dawn, finding it soothing while observing subtleties with wide-open eyes. She notices that the air is cooler than the previous evening and a light wind makes the canvas tent flap. The early bird songs mix with the rustling of leaves to create a soft concerto. She sticks her nose out of her refuge to see a clear sky and a dazzling sun that sparkles as it plays upon the water of the river.
What will she do today? Cover the greatest distance possible to take advantage of the nice weather but in order to do that, she must leave as soon as possible.
Her first movements remind her that yesterday was quite an ordeal. She is stiff and sore all over but must keep going. She only has enough supplies for four days, not much time to find civilization! Without a map, with only a compass and using tortuous paths, she is unsure of the distance separating her from the sea, which she caught a glimpse of in the north. Visual cues have been unavailable since she started walking in the valley.
Quickly, she revives the fire by stirring the still smoking embers. She puts the water-filled pot on the fire to make some coffee. The smell of coffee… She walks away, giving time for the water to boil, and heads to the river. Bathing will make her feel better. She would feel even fresher and cleaner if the people who packed her luggage had thought about packing a deodorant, some soap and a toothbrush.
“You guys aren’t even funny! This joke has lasted long enough! I want to go back to my life right now!”
The cold water brings her back to reality. “Hoping to be somewhere else is as pointless as trying to fight windmills,” she tells herself, shrugging her shoulders. To get there faster, Nadine must simply get going, walk and reach a village and then she can resurface. She moves with energy: cleans and folds the tent while her breakfast cooks. Her apple oatmeal is not that different from yesterday’s eggs and she eats the insipid meal without appetite. Regardless, this will sustain her for a long time and she will be able to hold on longer without feeling hungry.
She puts out the fire, puts on her boots and hoists the backpack like a hiking pro. With her hat on her head, sunglasses on her nose and her pilgrim’s staff in hand, Nadine starts off by following the edge of the river.
The stream gave her bearing, even with all the detours, in a northern direction where she should reach the sea. Following the river, as long as she can, will help her avoid walking in the dense forest where she sees no path and so would have to clear her own way with the machete. This plan will allow her to save her strength.
Nadine walks without being able to measure time. Without her watch, the sun becomes her new measuring tool. By drawing a 180 degree arch over her head, she can divide the imaginary line in 12 hours of sunlight. This is how she will measure the time needed for a day’s walk. Nadine estimates this first stage, since leaving camp, has taken about two hours. Of course, this is only an estimate but that’s good enough for the moment.
Nadine sighs. Two hours into this second day without meeting anyone. She has seen a few moose, an animal resembling a large cat, probably a lynx, three deer and a wolf. Absolutely nothing looking as if a human civilization has been here: no tops of fences, no old road, no boot prints on wet ground or even a piece of paper carried by the wind. Not even a shard of glass on the bottom of the river.
Is she really alone? To find an old chocolate wrapper, a piece of brought-in leftover fruit, anything! Today, finding such an object, which, in normal time would have made her grumble against brainless hikers or environmental polluters, would reassure her that she has not been abandoned by everyone.
Coming around a clearing, she sees a hint of the crests of some mountains through the trees. Are those the ones she climbed down yesterday? For a moment, she admires their bluish tinge under the sun. The odour of spruce mixes with the perfume of wintergreen. The forest breathes near her. She can almost feel its hot breath against her cheek. Alex?
She represses this thought without spending too much time on it. This is not the time to let feelings of absence and emptiness grow. A few minutes later, Nadine resumes walking. She tries to stay focused because any distraction could make her miss the details necessary to help her find her home. She notices a path, which seems to go north, heading towards the slope of the mountain. The cleared path is fairly large and the animal feces present confirm that this is indeed a moose trail. She heads down the trail relieved as it was getting more difficult to follow the river. The banks were getting steeper and steeper as a result of a fast and lively current. The tree line had taken over most of the banks. Nadine was now forced to go around the small green patches or find herself walking in the deeper parts of the stream.
The idea of climbing directly up the mountain following a well-traced path appeals to her. At least, she will have dry feet and hopes that once up there, she will have a better view of her surroundings. This way, she will be able to revaluate her strategy to make her way to the sea as fast as possible.
She swallows a handful of nuts, takes a few mouthfuls of water and adjusts the backpack on her already sore back. She starts climbing the hill. She feels and acknowledges her fatigue, but her energy, fuelled by that tenacity that has helped her so often in life, urges her to hang on to her objective. Therefore, her next steps allow her to get closer to her destination, which, for the moment, is the mountaintop. The trail becomes clearer and does not deviate from its straight line except to go around large rocks. It’s obvious the animals don’t mind making the trip between their feeding areas at the top of the mountain and the river, a water source.
The sun’s heat and the physical demands of the climb cause Nadine to sweat more than she would like. This path turned out to be more difficult to follow than the riverbed.
As the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, Nadine stops by a small mountain lake. The mountaintop seems within reach, so much so that she is tempted to continue. However, experience reminds her that water might not be available again beyond this point. It is smarter to stock up on water right now. She puts down her load and takes off her boots to refresh her feet in the freezing water. Although its invigorating effect feels good, she can only tolerate the freezing shock for a few minutes before numbness sets in.
On a hike, lunch is always frugal: it includes proteins that turn into slow-burning energy and sugars for an immediate boost, which is why nuts and dried fruits are a good mix. This “gastronomic meal” is accompanied by filtered water. Adding a few cookies to this lunch gives Nadine a feeling of pleasure similar to satiety.
After a while, Nadine put her boots back on and hoists the backpack onto her back to resume her climb. The mountaintop is approximately 300 metres away.
While her body warms up, thanks to the repetitive movements, Nadine’s brain goes into overdrive thinking about all the “unanswered questions”. She still doesn’t understand what happened. The same questions keep coming up in her mind. How did she get here? Where is she exactly? Where is Alex? Is this really a bad joke? Is she suffering from memory loss?
Worry grows within… Why is she here, in this forest?
She still has no clue and trying to imagine all the possible answers is giving her a headache. Stay or walk? Yesterday she made the decision to get to the sea. Should she have done that? Moving was her only choice, bringing on hope of finding a village if not a good explanation. So, Nadine just continues to walk.
Reaching a summit is always quite impressive. This time is no exception. Nadine discovers a 360 degrees panoramic view. In the east, there is a mountain range. Many of the mountaintops are completely bare over the tree line, an indication of their elevation level. If this was like in the Parc de la Gaspésie, it would indicate that the summits are more than 1,000 metres above sea level. To the west, the view is slightly obstructed by a bunch of mountains going down to the south. The north shows smaller mountains that allow a view of… Yes, over there! In this clear weather, she can see a thin line that is a little darker in the northwest. This looks like a mountainous bank on the other side of this arm of the sea. Is it perhaps a large river, an estuary or maybe an enormous bay?
She looks for a chimney, a rooftop or a village. No sign of human life. She sees no utility poles, no asphalt roads or any buildings. There are no ships on the water, and no planes in the sky.
If it’s April 25, in Gaspésie, why is there no leftover snow in the mountains? Why does it feel as hot as in July?
Once again, Nadine feels a sort of elusive pain, a discomfort that bothers her between her shoulders. She cannot find the source of stress, which amplifies her discomfort. She can massage her shoulders, rub her neck and relax the stiffness with a few movements but this persistent ache, like a doubt from within, feels like a dart. She hurts, her soul hurts.
She has to chase away these dark thoughts and continue to search for solutions. What is she’s not seeing in this new landscape in front of her? She sees the sea and this is a good indicator for survival. What is the distance? It is far; very far. It is obvious that Nadine cannot reach it in one day, although the forest seems to be less dense in that direction. She could access a more direct route using the compass. She estimates the gap between the summit and the sea to 15, maybe 20 kilometres, in a straight line, of course. The hike can turn out to be longer though because being able to walk in a straight line in a forest is rare, especially on a mountain. Realizing the long distance that she has to cover, Nadine decides to complete another leg of the hike right away so she can get a head start on tomorrow.
She keeps going for another full hour on relatively easy ground. Then, her steps start to slow down. Fatigue sets in. She decides it would be wise to stop early in the afternoon. Had she pushed further, she could have kept going for an additional five or six kilometres. On the other hand, it would be better not to use up all her energy and allow herself time to recuperate. She chooses wisdom over recklessness, which makes her smile in contentment. Common sense prevails.
A few kilometres further northwest, lower on the mountain; Nadine finds a small lake as well as enough space to set up camp safely. She decides to settle there for the night even though it is still early in middle of the afternoon.
Once near the lake, without even removing her boots, she spreads her raincoat on the ground and lies down on it, resting her head on the backpack. She is at peace, in an area she feels is welcoming. After a sleepless, fearful night, this break really feels good. Rocked by the music of the wavelets gently lapping the bank, she falls asleep as soon as her eyes close.
Nadine jumps up. Something is walking on her leg. Ah! It’s a red squirrel. It’s just beautiful and stares at her curiously without blinking. It’s not scared. Nadine stares back at him. Is it tame? Does it come from a zoo? One could almost believe that it is either seeing a human for the first time or that it interacts with them on a daily basis. The squirrel appears mostly interested with her boots, which it is inspecting shamelessly, trying to nibble the sole. As Nadine changes position to better follow the animal’s exploration, it quickly disappears into the woods, as though surprised that this blue thing can move.
The sky has swallowed another part of the sun while she slept for about an hour. In spite of everything she feels more rested.
Nadine estimates that the sun will go down in four hours. She therefore has time to wash her clothes and let them dry in the fresh air. This is how the trees around her soon become decorated like a clothesline, full of sweaters, tank tops, socks and pants. Since she has no soap, Nadine used a bit of sand to remove the mud encrusted on the rim of her pant legs. With the strong wind, the nylon clothing will dry in no time at all.
Then, Nadine sets up camp for the night. Rocks for a fire pit then dry wood and moss, which she finds in large quantity, to light the fire. Moss as dry as straw is an ideal fire starter. Nadine collects a little extra moss that she will put in her backpack, just in case. Funny reflex! It is the instinct of a “ coureur des bois ” that makes her do this, to ensure that she can light a fire even in bad weather. To keep the moss dry, she uses the bag that held last evening’s dinner. This observation makes her smile because it is another habit of the modern “ coureur des bois ” not to leave any garbage in the forest, even biodegradable one like an apple core. The preoccupation to keep the forest clean is supported by the idea that each little thing in her luggage must be used for her own survival! Far from civilization, this forest is not yet threatened. As for herself… That is a question that Nadine will have to evaluate day by day.
Even if she had hesitated the previous evening, she now finds it an excellent idea to reuse bags rather than to burn them. “We don’t throw anything away from now on,” she repeats to herself like a mantra.
Nadine then sets up her tent, prepares the mattress and the sleeping bag. This is only the second day and already, a routine has set in. Using a tank top as a facecloth, she takes a bath in the lake. Since she has no soap, she rubs her skin with a bit of sand. The dirt washes right off. Overpriced spas couldn’t offer anything better for an exfoliation! Refreshed, she feels the tiredness subsiding. What does she look like? The woman within awakens. The lake’s water could serve as a mirror. For whom would she fix her hair? She runs her fingers through her hair, still dripping fresh water. “The sun will take care of it,” she thinks.
Nadine pushes a strand of hair behind her ear. She has never coloured her hair. Her impatience seems to get the best of her when she visits the hairdresser too often and for too long. This has incited her to keep her natural hair colour. Ashy blond at birth, she started getting grey early in her adult life and for the last few years, her hair has shown more white than grey. She has let it grow to just below the ears, a length that suits her lively and spontaneous character; she just doesn’t have time to waste taking care of her hair.
Mistreated these last few days, her hair has lost some of its silkiness that the hairdryer had never altered. It is tangled to the point that she can’t run her fingers through it without finding knots. “Not a pretty picture!”
She brings her face closer to the water to see her reflection better. It’s a good thing she no longer needs glasses! Alex called her “coquettish” when she decided to have the laser surgery to rectify her myopia. He was partly right; she likes her figure without glasses, her pretty blue eyes being more visible. Pragmatic, she also appreciates being able to practise outdoor sports without having to worry about her glasses, which she had to clean regularly, breaking or getting scratched. Having fewer things to carry means more freedom.
Mechanically, she scratches her itchy hand. This adventure has really damaged them. Her hands are essential tools here and elegance really has no purpose. Her skin has lost some of its shine and is irritated by abrasions. There are red spots marking her fingers and her nails, usually kept short, are broken.
With one hand, she touches her face and feels the dry and gritty skin. Her main concern is mostly her complexion. Being a blond, she always puts on sunscreen to avoid burns, prevent cancer and keep her skin supple.
With a disgusted look, she disturbs the water with a small wave of her hand. The liquid mirror is broken.
“OK! Let’s move on to something else!”
She gets back up and walks towards camp to prepare her meal.
For her meal, Nadine picks an envelope containing dry chicken, rice and carrots. Her dessert will consist of a few cookies accompanied by tea. A guest suddenly invites himself for dinner. A very large moose with enormous antlers comes to feed in the lake. It ignores her. It is clear that this small woman with messed up hair and no makeup doesn’t impress the 700 kilo animal.
Nadine admires the Cervidae and watches as it dips its majestic head into the lake and comes out with its mouth full of plants. Her friend the squirrel also showed up after catching a whiff of the cookies, and discovers a few crumbs which he eats with appetite. Later, two hares scamper across the camp without even looking at her.
Nadine doesn’t feel as lonely. Nature is generous, small and big animals surround her. Each time she hikes, she reconnects with the desire to limit human invasion to these areas. What she has observed around her in the last two days seems to be a landscape free of all human presence. Nadine doesn’t understand how such a corner can exist on Earth.
From this high plateau, she catches sight of the sea very far away. The sun continues its route to the west, splashing this transient portrait with a million golden droplets. What a magnificent and enchanting presentation.
“Life is so beautiful.” Ah! If only she could elbow her companion, to tell him: “Did you see this? What a privileged moment!” How nice it would be to share this feeling with someone like Alex.
As contentment invades her, the tension from the last 48 hours is released. The absence of her companion saddens her more than she wants to admit. They are always together. Nadine thinks about what would happen to her if they had to live without one another. She has taken out her knife and peels the bark from her pilgrim’s staff. If only it was as easy for her to remove these dark, stupid ideas and her worries as it was to peel the bark. The pilgrim’s staff comes out polished as if sandblasted, while the questions keep hanging on to her brain like shreds.
“Who did this? Where am I? Where is Alex? Why is there still no sign of human life after two days? Are there still some corners on Earth where one can walk this long without coming across any signs of human occupation?” she yells in anger.
The rage makes her nauseous. Another question burns her lips, the question that she doesn’t dare ask … not yet.
The magic of this quiet afternoon then fades with the sunset.
Nadine has not found any answer. She tells herself that, if she keeps dwelling on this too long, her frustration will only get in the way of making the right decisions. “I have to stop looking in the rear-view mirror so much otherwise I might miss a hard turn ahead.” Her memory recalls many similar crossroads from her past and so, she feels she will be capable of making major decisions even under these conditions.
In her youth, after having completed two years of nursing at CÉGEP 2 , she had decided to stop her studies. She had chosen the wrong career and it was making her miserable. She had not hesitated making the decision to look in another direction for fulfilment.
This simple memory makes her smile. She can still see Mrs. Thériault, the only one who understood and encouraged her decision. She had stars in her eyes when the resourceful young woman that Nadine was back then, told her in a non-ambiguous tone:
“It is up to me to make myself happy! Socrates is right trying to bring us back to the essentials. I believe that in the universe’s abundance, we cannot make the right choices for ourselves if we do not know ourselves first. Isn’t it better to turn back when we see that our way brings us further from our destiny?”
In retrospect, she could clearly see how this conviction had had an impact on her life. Alone, under the star-spangled sky, she has to make choices once again. Walking was one. This time, she is not sure what she is aiming for: finding the sea, a village, an answer…
Like an abandoned child, she waits until the silence surrounds her and then, buried in her cocoon, she lets the tears fall.
Chapter 4
Quebec City, Spring 1975
T he orange tent looks like a mushroom, planted in the middle of the forest. The wind had risen and was whipping its thin walls. Nadine tosses and turns in her sleeping bag. The smells and noises from the forest easily reach into the small refuge, without waking its only occupant. Involuntary spasms provoked by the physical effort of the last few days cause the sleeper to toss and turn unconsciously. While her body reacts to the muscular impulses, her sleep is anything but restorative. Her small body twists while her dreams take her back in time.
Nadine finds herself in 1975, at the Laval Hospital in Sainte-Foy. She is helping Mrs. Thériault. The 78-year-old lady suffered severe injuries to both arms following a serious car accident and cannot feed herself. Nadine is studying to be a nurse and loves to take care of patients but feels this kind of work is not very rewarding. That day, however, she appears preoccupied.

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