Nature's Transformative Power

Nature's Transformative Power

Dispatch by Lena Desmond
Photos by Will Allen

Vallée Bras-du-Nord is hailed as an outdoor adventurers mecca, so naturally Team Outpost had to stop by. Just 45 minutes outside of Quebec City in St-Raymond, there’s no want for activities: hiking, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, canyoning and mountain biking.

Like many of the places we visited during our stay in Quebec, the Vallée Bras-du-Nord has a community-based backstory. The trails are all maintained by a team of youth in an alternative education program who have struggled with social issues like dropping out of school, substance abuse and delinquency. The program aspires to improve their socio-professional integration by developing life skills through one of the greatest natural teachers: the forest. So far, it’s done so with great success. According to their website, 75% of the 140 participants have re-entered the job market or returned to school.

Nature Power 3

Riding across Vallée Bras-du-Nord

The program uses trail development and outdoor adventure as an intervention, a way to empower youth to find pride in their work. The kids maintain the trail. They’re charged with responsibility. They’re challenged physically. They work for a common goal larger than themselves, while in a setting far removed from the troubled place from which they came. In the woods, they learn tolerance, discipline, teamwork and perseverance.

On a smaller scale, on the duration of this trip, that transformative power rubbed off on me.

Upon arriving at Vallée Bras-du-Nord, we all gladly accepted the change of pace, swapping our road bikes for mountain bikes, our comfort zones for more rugged terrain. While our cycle through the Eastern Townships and Saguenay was on the straight and (hilly) narrow, without much chance to say, ride off a narrow wood bridge into a creek, mountain biking was a new endeavor for both Dan and I. The result? Full of awkward stumbles, tumbles, ego checks and many belly laughs.

I didn’t expect mountain biking to be as challenging as it was. I was smitten by the chance to bang up the trails… but as I skidded around the first corner I realized that, well, quite frankly, I sucked. At first, this got to me. I felt frustrated, but also determined. I didn’t want to slow the team down.

We were in this together. Patience, encouragement, resilience and vulnerability all emerged not just in our mountain biking endeavor, but in various moments throughout the trip. Perhaps there’s something about fifteen hour days, physical exertion and Quebec’s grand sweeping vistas that elicits this kind of connection in a travelling groupto each other and to the self. Perhaps that’s the appeal of group adventure travel, period. Everyone starts with their own personal history, with a goal related to the physical challenge, but it’s in sharing those histories in a novel setting that the transformative power of wilderness and an active lifestyle takes hold, the community is built and a common goal is realized.

As the trail ended and we came out the other side, I noticed I was charged with a new energy. I was sad the trail was over. I wanted to do it again. It was then too that I realized that our trip was almost over and how close we’d all become, how the dynamic changed, how we’d come together and how cycling rural Quebec had shifted a gear inside me. And then I thought for a moment about home and routine and how quickly it would come and how I’d have remember to take that new energy with me. And then I thought: mountain bikes are expensive. Thank goodness there’s Kijiji.

Nature Power 44

The power of a view


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