a group of runners & adventurers from montreal ran the full loop around the gaspésie peninsula, covering 1,000kms in a team relay format, embracing and exploring the beauty of their extended backyard, popping in to local communities along the way.

words: pierre-alexandre cardinal
shots: cédric bonel

Headlights on, it is a brisk but electrifying morning. It is 6 AM at the end of the pier in Ste-Anne-des-Monts, Gaspésie, Québec. The dim light emitted by a lazy sun rising over the hinterland mountains is sending out reflections of orange and pink on a clear sky. Clouds, like long undulating waves, paint a poetic continuous backdrop to the relentless ressac of the sea, and the start of an unconventional and unpretentious adventure. Unpretentious yet colossal; 10 runners and over 1000K to run on relay, on both roads and trails. Day and night, a group in one movement, for 5 days.

Frontier. Nature here is at its wildest, yet also its most pristine and most delicate. In our mythologies, it has created a yearning for the magnificence of the complex marine ecosystems and the surrounding old forests, and a profound reverence for the gentle and elusive arctic moss-covered mountaintops towering above us, where caribous dwell. The opportunity for our strides to tread on the rocky beaches and the sandy lagoonesque barachois that dot our path was a true privilege. Through knee-deep salmon-filled rivers, and deep, ages-old forests, we made our way forward towards the pointe at Land’s End.

Sea. The joke among us was – since we always followed the one road that circled the peninsula – “where are you?”, “Well I got the St-Lawrence/the sea to my right”. Because it was omnipresent. Always there, with us, at arms’ reach. The marine air was at a constant flow on the horizon. Wherever we went, it auspiciously carried us. Sometimes, it not-so-auspiciously blew against us at 40 miles per hour. Other times, it was chopped by the rhythmic “voom voom voom” of windmills, the local flora. Sometimes it went calm. In the Baie des Chaleurs the rougher northern environment gave way to a lush green canopy, as timid late-fall harvested fields slowly fell into steep cliffs sinking into the ocean. And we reached the very pointe at Land’s End and came back.

Connections. Relays are based on connections. Quite literally, there is a connection between runners at the end of every leg. But it also goes deeper, and those that have done long distance relays (TSP, Toronto/NYC, etc.) know what I’m talking about. Those long hours spent together in a RV, or at a basecamp… supporting one another, caring for one another. Learning to share a space with others, in an adventure that takes us to our limits, both physical and sometimes emotional. There is sometimes something transcendent to those connections; the hardships, pain, blood, sweat and tears, but also the laughter, the love, happiness, the memories created together. And Jean-Marcel Raymond. Don’t ask, just youtube.

Ecosystems. Yet, there was more to this adventure than what we could have thought. Connections between runners are one thing, but where difficult conditions and distance draw people together, there is always more. There is what is shared and what is felt between us and the ecosystem, of which we are only an infinitesimal moving part, and there is also that connection with the custodians of these ecosystems that live and breathe of the local sea and forests. And what they, together, share with us. These boreal shores share, in their plenty, and their humanity. Earth’s bounty and communities’ humanity are striking, even in their farthest and roughest reaches, when you know where to look for them. The generosity of local artisans, and of the forests that had been surrounding us from the beginning affirmed this ethic, firstly in giving us the privilege to undertake this adventure. But also in the stories shared, the places visited, the sea vegetables and mushrooms foraged. And the liters of beer…

Difficult conditions draw people together. Both from the inside, and the outside. At first glance, a 1000k relay adventure could have been considered crazy, but it wasn’t. It was just a circular movement toward Land’s End and back, but it was a true privilege to be a part of it. Humanity, from its early beginnings has been in movement, and has never stopped. And we indulged.

trip supported by tourisme gaspesie