June 12, 2015
For most travelers being greeted by three rambunctious dogs, one of whom peed on the wooden floor in the lounge within minutes of our arrival, would be a sign of trouble. But for Linda, this small act of urination surpassed the luxuries of the truffles delivered to our door at the Gran Hotel in Mexico City, the working fireplace in Latuvi, even the in-room massages at the Shangri-La in Shenyang. “Three days with three dogs, this will make me happy.”
I was less persuaded by the canines and their exuberant welcome ritual than by Chantal, our host, the panorama of mountains on our (admittedly longer than I had planned) fully-laden hike from the Centre-ville bus stop and the fact that we would be the only guests at Le Pimbina Bed and Breakfast for the next three nights.
Mont Tremblant is not easy to get to without a car. There’s a commuter train to a bus to the aforementioned 20 minute hike, but once you’re there you have access to an enormous national park. Or at least you do from June 20 through the winter skiing season when a bus runs from the center of town to and around the park, a good 30 kilometers north. Fine, if you have a bike with a billion gears, like everyone else in Quebec, or a car, like any traveler who had been able to decipher the town’s French-only chamber of commerce website. We had neither.
After some brave French Googling, we found the only rental car in town: a white Nissan Sentra with an interior fragrance of years-old cigarette smoke that cost more to insure than it did to rent. We had our wheels and into the park we went with enough food for a mountaintop picnic.
For the first day we chose a moderate hike up a mountain that promised vistas of the lake below and the surrounding peaks. But there’s a reason, Mont Tremblant’s peak season is winter. Bugs. On this first hike, the vistas were delivered as promised, but we were unable to stay as swarms of gnats and worse, black flies (which rather than pierce you skin like a mosquito, serrate it to take chunk away), prevented more than a few minutes of rest at each stop.
Undaunted, we returned the next day, the bugs were unpleasant, but not miserable and the black fly bites, while unsightly were not painful or itchy. But this next day was the day of the stupid hike. There are hikes that prove more challenging than you anticipated, hikes that fail to deliver the vigor or beauty that you expected and there are hikes that present conditions that prevent the full experience. Each generally has some positive attribute either through process or goal. But then there is Peak Johansson in mid-June– a stupid hike.
Peak Johansson was already our second choice. The ranger had recommended Peak Diable, but the first 3km of that hike is through what most now call a wetlands, but which, I will choose, just for today, to call a fucking swamp. The mosquito quotient passed from unpleasant to miserable to unbearable within a few minutes, when the nasty little creatures started entering our eyes and mouths, as our ears were already occupied by their friends and relatives.
Peak Johansson appeared to offer higher ground earlier in the hike than Peak Diable and thus we surmised less tiny winged predators. About 40 minutes in, Linda decided she’d had enough of Peak Johansson’s bug population and returned to the car. I pressed on.
I do not, usually enter into a hike for the sake of challenge, to compete against either the mountain or myself, that is to accomplish something. Rather, I lean toward process to enjoy and absorb the nature around me and the joy of a walk for a walk’s sake. But on this day there was no choice, it was simply get to the top so that the bugs could not keep me from getting there.
While less than the teaming masses of our first attempt, the mosquitos of Peak Johansson are ever-present. There is no possibility of stopping or the risk of 4 or 5 instantly landing on any uncovered flesh and 4 or 5 more less intelligent ones seeking a way through denim or polyester. You can’t rest, you can’t eat, you can’t pee. There is only forward and up or be a bloodmeal.
The volume of bugs along the way was in direct inverse ratio to the beauty around me. Just as I had made it through one particularly infested section, the trees opened up and presented another nearby mountain, the best shot of the day. But within seconds of pulling out the camera, they were on me and I was on my way again. At this point, for a moment I had thought the path had ended and was not at all disappointed that I could return down the mountain, my goal accomplished. But then I saw a new path, and realized I had not reached the summit. I could have started down and begun the relief process, but for whatever reason, none of them good or well-thought, I chose to continue to the peak.
It was then that it started to rain. The damp ground turned to puddles. I continually praised the person who had come by within the last week to lay down guiding neon ribbons to lead the way around the more flooded parts of the path. Until, I slipped and both feet landed in deep mud. Mud-caked feet, rain-soaked outside of my poncho and followed by a gaggle of bugs, I made the top at 2:18pm. And the top was, kindly, mediocre. The trees at the top remain in place, the lookout is blocked, the clearing looks like any other section of forest, nothing at all picturesque. This was a stupid hike.
The only relief being, now, I could find my way down, through the mud, the rain and the bugs. The first two lessened with the decent, but the third, the worst element only increased. By the time I reached the difficult terrain at the bottom, I was swatting, but also slipping, down a rock here, into a stream there.
Linda, the intelligent one, in our party had spent the day reading by the side of a lake. She had better photos, dry socks and a sense of a fulfillment. I had numerous bites, ruined shoes, and a sense of regret.