Fresh snow on the trails, not a flake was displaced.
By Eric Baudouy, Utra-trail runner & Insane cross-country skier
And so our winter outings began on Dec 26th as we all arrived at the rendezvous point with the predetermined 10 minutes lateness that I have accustomed everybody to. Our core group now a quartet welcomed Miss Afia back to the snow from a 20 year hiatus.
Afia not being accustomed to the cold, showed up with layer upon layer of clothing. We all spontaneously and simultaneously shook our heads in disapproval: “Oh no, no… this will simply not do.” To her grudging dismay, Afia accepted only a few of the changes to her wardrobe while still holding on to her fear of the cold. Ahhhh so young and naïve!
And so we were off, with yours truly again the regularly designated chauffeur with a heavy foot making sure we arrive to beautiful Esterel with time to spare. Afia was especially silent during the drive probably wondering what she had signed up for as the rest of us were chattering with excitement at the prospect of reuniting with our favourite trails. We listened to our Road Trip playlist - Chantal now accustomed to regular bouts of Country Music – and made our regular coffee stop at “La Porte du nord” with a much-needed fill-up of windshield washer fluid.
And then there we were all in one place…..a generation lost in snow……with all time left to start again…….
Aahhh Ski de Fond Esterel: a pure delight to the senses, fresh untouched trails and renewed friendships with Luc and Sidonie. We were the third car to park and we took in the newly renovated wood heated chalet. What a change from two years ago where we were greeted by a mobile trailer and an outhouse for personal needs. We congratulated the couple on their accomplishment, reassured a bundled up Afia that all would be good and headed out into the wilderness.
The late morning was uneventful, just the way we like it. A sweet escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday city life. One foot sliding in front of the other with a rhythmic motion leading to an inner stillness. The trails were just as we had left them the year before….hmmm….as if they belonged only to us….;-)……and every corner, ascent and descent were as we remembered: a welcoming haven of snow and elation.
With each descent getting longer and steeper, I sweet talked Velcia with stronger conviction that this one was shorter and flatter than the previous one. Just making sure she wouldn’t regret not having done something I knew she was capable of. After all, friends don’t let friends skip out on workouts! The way I see it, it would have been totally selfish to keep all the fun for myself!
As we glided through the different trails leading up to our lunch stop, I recognized the back country trail without its markings, the infamous #17 La Coyote…...the uncharted territory silently calling me towards it was very enticing. As I smiled to Velcia: “you know we are coming back after lunch with my back-country skis” She smiled in despair thinking Boys and their Toys. Yeah, it was settled! We would be back for a second round.
As we rounded over the last mound, le “Vieux Shack” of Lake Bibelle came into view. I was looking forward to our picnic lunch prepared by our very own Mobile Chef Chlala. Being the first to arrive, we fed the fire, dressed down to allow our clothes to dry off as we waited for Chantal and Afia to join us. And there she was, like red riding hood emerging the woods Afia smiled and collapsed to the ground with a big sigh: “we made it”. Hmmm….Afia you do have to go back.
As we sat down to enjoy our gourmet picnic, Afia steamed away from snowshoe exertion and the overlaying coming back to haunt her. Quickly we forced her to get rid of the sweat filled layers and replace them with the extra dry clothes Velcia and Chantal had packed. Yes, experience over age!
Gluten free bread, homemade hummus, gourmet beef, freshly cut crudities, gluten free coconut brownies…..and oh yes, some delicious Xmas punch. Here’s to living it up in the wilderness!
So here I was happy, filled tummy, legs rested and ready to conquer “La Coyote.” The return to the start came faster than expected since we usually take the longer way around via #13 Orignal. Quick pit stop to change skis and off we went. We took the shortcut to get there skipping the trails we had taken the morning. And there it was again, totally unexplored since the first snow flakes had touched the ground and just like a mermaid’s enchanting call: quite impossible to resist!
The first 50 feet were perfect and then the real work began. I was battling just to stay atop of the snow while going uphill. Velcia seeing me sink & slide at each step decided to allow reason to kick in and continued on the groomed trails. Saying our adieus, I slowly moved away with resolve that I would ski backcountry!
To my surprise, approximately 3 to 4 feet of snow turned my resolve into an expedition in some lost countryside between poles to the West and skis to the East. I slow trudged my way up the first hill to a welcoming view of an even snow covered plateau. Sliding slowly but surely in the paths of my memory, I managed to keep afloat. Up and down the Merry Do Go Around and there it was, the dreaded up, up, up coming to sight.
Step-Step-Turn at an angle, Step-Step-Turn….ooohh #$*&.......breathe! Poles keeping me from sliding backwards, I angle at every turn and begin snowshoeing with skis. Oh well, my hip flexors really are in for a good ride today. There we go, conquer the top and my favourite section would follow: a tight knit corridor of pines and maples.
Lost in my thoughts on an unmarked trail, I slowly edged along with a new technique I invented - backcountry ski-oeing - and enjoyed the quiet solitude. Recognizing the surrounding area without knowing where the path was, I scanned the layout and made my path by way of the opening of the trees. Every slight incline humbling me with a knee depth of snow, I am grateful that the trees are close and that I have squat strong legs! Mental note: gaiters and proper boots are a must for this kind of snow.
As I finally saw the welcoming chalet where the Ladies were waiting for me, I was covered in snow from hip to foot, drenched in sweat and boots full of liquid snow. Yup, this is exactly what I had signed up for and YES, given the choice I would definitely do this again. As my daughter Summer-Rose would say: “That’s my Daddy!”