My 160 Kilometers on Horseback
Dorothy Hénaut | January 1, 2015
I have had the travel experience of my dreams! I just got back from a 160 kilometre trip on horseback in the Chic-Choc hills on the edge of the Gaspé. I have to admit I’m proud of myself just for making it through to the end, because it was very long days in the saddle, but I had a smile on my face the whole time. But let me tell you more:
Sunday, August 6, 2006
Pleasant drive to Métis sur Mer, just after Mont Joli on the Lower St-Lawrence coast. Picnicked at Kamouraska for lunch, then visited the crazy sculptures by Marcel Gagnon in Ste-Flavie – summary humans in cement come out of the sea and up along the shore, and there are also sculptures on log rafts which float at high tide. The sculptor calls them Le Grand Rassemblement – the Great Gathering. This always hits both my funnybone and my imagination.
By six p.m. I was at L’Auberge une Ferme en Gaspésie, near Métis-sur-mer, which is the rendez-vous point for the horse brigade. They had had a bit of a drama earlier in the day – the horses had all gotten loose from the pasture and gone tooling down the road. However, neighbours pitched in and rounded them all up. Unfortunately, we got there too late to be part of the posse. Had an excellent dinner, and managed to sleep some, in spite of my excitement.
Monday, August 7, 2006
We had quite a bit of territory to cover to get to our next Auberge, so there was lots of trotting and cantering. The trotting was no problem, as I’m good at posting, but Toffee’s canter was so bouncy I’m convinced he thought he was a kangaroo. I think I have been spoiled by the horses I ride in my lessons every week – most of them are as comfortable as rocking chairs, and my bum never leaves the saddle. I certainly couldn’t sit Toffee’s canter, so I did considerable harm to my butt before I figured out I should stand up in the stirrups while cantering.
We traveled on paved roads, dirt roads, logging roads, through many types of forest – birch and aspen, spruces of various kinds, mixed brush, broad open fields of wild flowers, huge hay fields, alongside blue oat fields (you can’t let your horse eat grains in the field, they could make them sick). The rule was that you could let your horse grab a bite to eat (except for the grains) as long as he did not stop walking. Toffee was an expert at grabbing grass, leaves, flowers, anything, while not quite stopping. He made me laugh.
My thrill of the day was when Pierre announced that we were about to do our first (and easiest, he said) ROLLER COASTER of the week There was a swath of beautiful grass that wound up and down and around among the trees in the forest, and we tore off on a fast canter, zooming around bends and up and down hills, and I started to get a taste for speed, which I had never had before. It was thrilling, and I was roaring with laughter by the end (in spite of my sore butt).
Pierre’s horses were fabulous – lively and responsive, but absolutely bomb-proof. They ignored the farm dogs who chased after us, the various vehicles that passed. They were steady and sure-footed, because some of the footing was not easy – fragile, slippery slate, rocks, sticks and roots sticking out, lots of puddles – who knew how deep? – we crossed rocky river beds, marshy areas. Nothing distressed those horses. Which was particularly nice for me because I was able to relax about the footing, instead of worrying about it constantly, which I have a tendency to do.
Pierre stopped us for about fifteen minutes every hour and a half. Combination pee stops for the humans and a chance to graze for the horses. They were well fed, and he was very careful to keep them happy and healthy.
The first day we left at 9 a.m. and arrived around 5 p.m., having had a very long lunch in a sugar shack owned by friends of Pierre’s, and we were able to buy some wonderful maple syrup and maple butter for very reasonable prices. Pierre’s wife Bonnie had brought an excellent lunch to us, and she carried our maple syrup away to be picked up back at the Auberge une Ferme en Gaspésie the last day.
It was a glorious day, but by the time we got to l’Auberge du Lac Malcom, every muscle in my back and legs hurt and my butt was raw. I was far too exhausted to dive into the lake, which was lovely. Two beers and then a bath. Fortunately there were big bathtubs in the rooms, and I poured a cup of Epsom Salts Suzanne had packed for me into the bath and hopped in for a soak that I planned to take half an hour. But I fell asleep immediately, and slept for over that. Fortunately I had put down the non-skid rubber mat, so I didn’t slip under the water. This bath really paid off, as the next day my muscles were not too bad at all. It took another day for my butt to improve.
Tuesday, August 8, 2006
The second day we continued to travel through very varied terrain, climbing up into hills and down into valleys, along logging roads, back roads, paths through the forest, galloping through fields (I felt like a cowboy from long ago), the scenery constantly varying before our eyes. We had lunch in a delightful little cabin run by a woman who has a very successful blueberry operation, and I was so tired I actually nodded off on the couch after lunch. This day’s ROLLER COASTER was even more exciting, as it went up and down a bit more, and the footing was a mix of grass and rocks, but by then I was really getting a taste for speed. I had figured out that if I stood up in the stirrups and held onto my horse’s mane with one hand and the reins with the other that I would be perfectly safe, so I had a gas going at quite a speedy canter. By 4 p.m. we had arrived at Le Ranch des Collines Chic-Choc, Pierre’s spread, a beautiful view of distant hills and horses grazing (which I painted at sundown), and a cozy bed and breakfast. Pierre’s wife Bonnie and their younger daughter Courtenay gave us a warm welcome. Again another epsom salt bath, a beer with dinner, and to bed fairly early.
Wednesday, August 9, 2006
The third day Pierre rests both his horses and his riders. We rode for an hour and a half to a fish hatchery, and had fun fishing in a pond for the fish we would eat for dinner that night. We then had a good lunch, and after lunch we stopped not far from there at a swimming hole under a waterfall in the river. The water was not even that cold (18 degrees), and I rolled and floated like a porpoise for some time. It was absolutely heavenly – and very healing. Then back for a leisurely ride to Pierre’s place again. We got back early enough that I hitch-hiked off to paint from a spot a couple of kilometres away, where I had a view of fields, forests, windmills and the St-Lawrence River , which at that spot is referred to as the sea. The windmills are huge white shapes of incredible elegance. I just love them. For dinner we ate our catch of trout, perfectly fresh and beautifully cooked, and then prepared for the long ride the next day.
By then my butt was mostly healed, and I was feeling better and better. This was the day we rode to the top of the highest hill/mountain in the area of the Chic Chocs. Our roller coaster today was through dense forest while climbing up the mountain, so it was particularly exciting as we really couldn’t see where we were going. But the horses knew the path, and they loved the excitement of cantering up the mountain too, so we all had fun.
After going through some areas that had been very carelessly logged – pretty messy approach to land stewardship, I’d say – we reached the top of the mountain, and picnicked on a point looking out over rich agricultural land, with golden wheat and blue oats, forested hills, past the windmills and finally the St-Lawrence coast and the sea. It was magnificent. And I had time to do a small watercolour of the scene – Pierre had made sure there would be enough room in my saddlebag for my smallest painting equipment.
After lunch we still had quite a distance to go before landing back at Lac Malcom. We went through different territory than before, but it was all extremely varied. Some of the logging roads went past what looked like slate quarries. The slate was in beautiful shades of burgundy red or blue, and I was itching to take some home with me to make stepping stones in my back garden, which is very muddy right now. We also rode through cow pastures, and you would be surprised at how curious cows are, rushing over to find out who we were and what we wanted.
This time when we arrived at lac Malcom, I had enough energy to go for a swim in the lake – before my beer! Again another good meal, and then to bed early, because the last day will also be the longest.
This is also the day I confessed to Pierre that I was 70 years old. I had lied about my age and said I was 65. He wasn’t a bit phased, and said he had had 75- and 80-year-olds on the trip. I felt like a youngster! And I can keep on doing this for a long time!
Friday, August 11, 2006
We were in our saddles by shortly after 8 a.m., because we had quite a distance to cover. From Lac Malcom we headed up hill and down dale toward the St-Lawrence, stopping at lunch time at an organic farm, where we were served wonderful quiches with fresh vegetables from the farm, asparagus and leeks and onions. An extraordinary woman runs the farm with her husband. Not only do they have vegetables but sheep, pigs and chickens, as well as ponies for their 7 or 8 adopted children, all younger than 10, whom they have rescued from bad situations. I don’t know how she does it. But the children were obviously loving being in the country, messing about in the dirt, and they also seemed to be getting along very well together.
We continued on towards the sea, passing right under some of the gigantic windmills under construction in the area. I can’t remember how tall Pierre said they were, but something like 30 or 40 stories high.
Pierre has a personal relationship with the owners of all the lands he passes through, and we would occasionally stop while he chatted with the farmer or the farmer’s father. Most of the terrain we passed is through forest and farm, and we seldom had to take the local roads, except for brief distances.
We eventually crossed highway 132 – a very busy highway, might I add, but finally it was not too hard to find a gap in the traffic – I had been apprehensive about that. We passed through the village of Baie des Sables, and headed for Métis sur Mer / les Boules, along the shoreline. Although the shore is actually quite rocky, there was a sandy edge we could travel on. It was high tide, and the air was beautiful, and it was a gorgeous day.
We finally came to the area of the Seashore Gallop – not in the soft sand itself, too hard on the horses, but through a field on the water’s edge, with a huge hedge of wild roses between us and the sea. The Gallop is two kilometres long, and was thrilling. I can’t tell you how happy I was!
After the gallop we came to the edge of Métis sur Mer, and then headed inland to our old starting point, l’Auberge une ferme en Gaspésie, at 5 p..m..,where we again had an excellent meal, but not before feeding the horses all the carrots I had in the car for them.
I really felt as if I could take a weekend’s rest and start out all over again. All I needed was the time and the money…..
The trip had been a dream come true.