I am forever changed - thank you Anticosti Island

Have you ever gone on the most amazing trip/vacation and taken hundreds of photographs – eager to share with everyone back home. Upon showing the photographs you realize that no one seems to be understanding the extent to which it was all so amazing?! This has happened to me more then once. I can’t seem to find the right words or list of adjectives to evoke the emotions felt upon seeing; the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, Mayan Ruins, Sagrada Familia, the Vatican, the Cote D’azur, The Swiss Alps, The Rockie Mountains, Lake Louise, The 7 mile beach, Percy Rock, The tulips in Holland, Napa valley, Golden gate bridge, Statue of Liberty, Martha’s Vineyard – there are more landmarks to list but I’ll stop here. You get the picture.

Over the course of the years I have travelled moderately, not extensively like the millennials do today, but I have a few dots on the world map. I have always been a nervous traveller. I remember my first flight to Europe with Kunal, when I was about 22 years old and I almost squeezed the hand right off of him as the plane taxied down the runway. Always in tune with my own mortality – I thought dying in a plane crash is the worse way to go (but I digress because that is not what I want to talk about here). So let’s just say mama bear has the perfect cocktail to calm her nerves before a flight.

Once I arrive at my destination I feel calmer until we start to visit the local attractions, national museum, popular restaurants – all those places where we are herded like cattle waiting to get in. I hate crowds because I don’t trust people in an emergency situation. When in crisis mode it’s every man for himself. I feel vulnerable.

After having children my fear heightened – my mind constantly in a state of “what if’s” ??? What if something happens to me then who will take care of my children? I had actually become so fearful about leaving my children that the week prior to a vacation I would exhaust myself simply thinking negative thoughts. I never expressed this to anyone in great detail so I would appreciate if you kept this between you and I. You’re probably wondering then why go? Well I have a marriage that I cherish and want it to be healthy (not merely existent). Like I said I go away in an attempt to recharge my batteries and reconnect with the hubby. Actually once on the beach of our beach vacations, I am zen (unless they are calling for tropical winds then that’s a whole other ball game).

For the past few years Kunal has been invited on a fishing trip to Northern Quebec. Knowing my excitement would be close to nil, Kunal has always declined the invitation, until now. After asking me year after year for the last 4 years I decide it’s time to say “YES” to all the things I fear. I can’t let the plane ride scare me because it is the safest form of travel. That’s what I tell myself when I fly. I watch Instagram stories on how the celebs fly here and there in small private jets all the time. If they deserve those types of luxuries then so do I, I tell myself. I know once I say “yes” there is no going back and I have to deal with whatever fears I have.

I have no idea what 5 full days of fly fishing and rooming with a cottage full of strangers entails but I am up to the challenge. If I can endure 6h44m in a triathlon covering 70.3 miles, then I got this. I remind myself that this is for my husband and he will recognize and appreciate my efforts. Before our departure I work valiantly to put our team of sitters together for the kiddos. I have to ensure the fridge is stocked, the dog food is made, medication on hand, camp transitions worked out, money left for supplies, lists made, emergency numbers on hand, back up plans in place and reminders handed out. Mama bears you know the drill – dot the i’s and cross the t’s. I got to pack what I think I need and pray it all works out in the end. Lord help me.

For my closest friends who ask about my upcoming trip I tell them I have a 500 page book that I intend to read. I set that as my goal for the week. I am determined to stay positive, be on my best behavior and make my husband proud. We leave the house super early for our flight from Quebec City to Port Meunier which is said to be a 2 hour flight. I tell myself to pretend that the airplane is the closest thing I will ever get to flying in a private jet. Yes, I try to find the light in things. A few minutes after we arrive at the hanger our pilot comes in and we quickly introduce ourselves. He starts to talk to me about the weather (all is clear), flight time, altitude, gas consumption, weight, cargo etc. The more information I collect the more it calms my nerves. He seems like a nice guy. Then I ask to have my photo taken with him? He complies. WOW – I wish I could meet all my pilots. Then the other 9 travelers show up and we introduce ourselves before we take flight. There is one guy by the name of Michel and he loves to laugh, you can call him the jokester of the group and his presence helped me feel more comfortable.

To sum up our travel day; Kunal and I leave Candiac to drive to Quebec City (2.5 hrs), we hop on a flight from Quebec City to Port Meunier (another 1h45) and then it ends with a (1.5hr) long Ford 250 ride, on gravelled covered roads, to the cottage. Phew we have arrived. A 6 bedroom, rustic log cabin atop of a small hill beside the pristine Jupiter river. Beyond breathtaking! We are quickly whisked to our rooms to settle in then out we go for a few hours of fly fishing. In groups of 3 we travel with a guide who is our driver, coach, fish whisperer and lunch time cook for the duration of the trip. It doesn’t take us long to fall in love with Phillippe who is our incredibly passionate guide. He has been working on the island for the past 12 years doing exactly what he wants to do with his life which is fish, hunt and make people happy.

Once back at the cottage everyone washes up to sit down to a feast made for kings. The food at this place is unbelievable. I eat things I don’t normally such as; fish, lobster, cold soup and baked Alaska – delish! Afterwards we sit down for a cocktail and our hostess Joanne, records the number of catches of the day. Audrey day one = zero fish caught. SURPRISED?! Not really. I say to myself tomorrow is a new day. I’m rarely a natural at anything so I know it’s going to take me awhile to get the hang of fly fishing.

The next morning, we are out with Phillippe who is teaching us the technique of fly fishing. Within the first hour and a half I catch my first fish - ever. You would swear I won a marathon I am so excited. What a thrill!!! To anyone who fishes, I admit, I get it now. The thrill of the catch. On that day we catch 2 small salmons each. We are triumphant.

Our days begin bright and early. We head out at 9am for a day of fishing and return around 8pm. Sounds crazy, boring and long. It is anything but. In fact, it is the opposite of that. I find it to be calming, challenging and fun. Out of the 3 of us in the group we are only allowed to cast 2 lines in the water at once. So at times I sit on the side of the water watching for deer, looking for fish, collecting rocks, taking walks or watching the fish being reeled in. The water is crystal clear – shades of blue, green and turquoise. The river floor is a mass of rounded rocks of all shapes and sizes. I want to drink from it but I don’t.

The trees are mostly evergreens, dead at the bottom and lush on top. The deer eat them up. The island is over run with deer and out of the 200 000 that live on the island about 10% perish every year due to the harsh conditions of the island. Anticosti island has merely 218 inhabitants year round and for 6 months out of the year the island is mostly visited by people interested in fishing and hunting, a few who simply want to visit/camp. The number of visitors to the cottage, where we stayed, is a grand total of a mere per year. All the statistics of this island are incredible to me. Salmon under 22” can be kept and those over are “catch and release”. We quickly learn that fishing the bigger salmon is where the sport of fishing is at. I am beyond ecstatic to when I catch a 28” and 29” salmon. For my first fishing experience I catch 16 in total (large salmon, small salmon and Trout). Let’s say that our basement freezer is filled to the gills with fish ;)

As I take in all the beauty the island has to offer I don’t even realize that the stress of my life is melting into the river, the trees and all that surrounds me. For the first time in my life I am being served – people are taking care of me. I have no worries and no fears. I am breathing the freshest air, sitting in the quietest of places and feeling my body, mind & soul surrender. All this is happening without me realizing.

The people who were once strangers have now become friends. We sit around a table sharing stories and laugh until we cry. There is admiration, respect and even love in the room. Kunal and I cannot believe our fortune for having the privilege of experiencing all of this. The last night I try to express my sentiments, to our wonderful host, Louis-Marie and Joanne but I break into tears…tears of gratitude for having had such a magical experience. I gather myself and continue to give thanks.

What was suppose to merely be a trip my husband wanted to go on turned out to be the best trip of my life. I was taken aback by my reaction to Anticosti Island. I entered into this without expectations and allowed myself to let go. For the first time in my life I felt truly and utterly at peace. I cried the morning we left the island – overwhelmed by everything I had experienced. I hope these words convey – the beauty of what is a true national treasure – ile d’Anticosti you have forever changed me. Thank you

© 2018 Audrey Burt

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