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To be active, to explore new trails and to socialize, join the organized outings of the Sentiers de l’Estrie walking club. You won’t be disappointed.
When I arrived in the parking area of the Mont Cathédrale trail head, in the municipality of Racine, my intention was to go hiking with 22 total strangers, all members of the Sentiers de l’Estrie. I felt somewhat intimidated, especially since, OH, Lord! I was three full minutes late for the set departure time.
As I got out of my car, I expected a discreet perhaps chilly welcome — “Who’s the straggler from Montreal?”—because, I did make them wait for me outside, in the cold. However, I was met with quite the opposite. Barely a few minutes later, these happy hikers integrated me in their group with their smiles and jokes. The result: As soon as our week-day convoy, made up almost exclusively of highly athletic retirees, started out, I already felt as if I was part of the clan. Our itinerary on this brisk Friday morning? To head up Mont Cathédrale, a small hill with its summit at an altitude of 403 metres. We will be taking an intermediate level 10 km trail covered with colourful leaves. Overall the outing would take 4 hours, including a lunch pause.
Juliette Larrivée, an employee of Les Sentiers de l’Estrie, sets the beat and leads the group while Carole St-Jean, a volunteer guide, stays at the back of the group so we don’t lose anyone on the way. If something should go wrong, we’re in good hands since both our guides have more than just their honorary titles, in fact they’re also trained in first aid. As soon as we set out, the well-marked trail offers us plenty to see. We first follow the very beautiful Ely Creek Canyon, before crossing a bridge that takes us over the canyon waterfalls. It’s so charming that I hesitate before writing about all this because I really hope to conserve the serenity of the area; A marvellous place to stop awhile, perhaps set up a hammock or to picnic with your family.
We then enter a hardwood forest where the leaves have all fallen from the trees and walk several kilometres until we reach a short climb up Mont Cathédrale, which overlooks Brompton Lake, in a sector that will soon be integrated into the Parc National du Mont-Orford, presently in the process of expanding its territory. Being Autumn, of course, the trail is fairly muddy, but nothing will slow down our hikers, nor are they the type to complain, they’re no wusses. Indeed, these swathe surveyors are quite proud of their dirty boots.
As we move on, there’s plenty of talking going on as well. No Sir, with these people—as Jacques Brel said: “chez ces gens-là”—there’s no tweeting, no sir, we don’t tweet, we talk! In fact, it seems only normal to end each of these hikes with a pint in a local bar where my new companions invite me to go as well. I wasn’t expecting as much!
During the hike, I took a moment to talk with Carole St-Jean, 59 years old, who changed her lifestyle after her fight with cancer. “This club helped me get back on my feet again and I was able to establish new friendships as well,” she explains. I then walked and talked awhile with Chantal, who rebuilt her life after losing her husband. “Walking relaxes me and allows me to empty my head. Thanks to these group outings, I’ve discovered mountains I’d never heard of,” says this nurse who retired about a year ago.
To prove that the Sentiers de l’Estrie are truly well adapted to the times, there are as many women as there are men in the organization. “A few years ago, there were very few men who participated in our outings,” says Carole. What changed? What finally attracted the male gentry? The outdoors trend, looking for fresh air and exercise or an appetite for an active social life … everyone has their theory.
The Sentiers de l’Estrie organizes 225 activities throughout the year (calendrier en ligne), including training programs. To participate, all you have to do is become a member of the Sentiers de l’Estrie or pay a daily fee of $10.00; Register in advance, enjoy the camaraderie and savour the joy of walking inside nature. One important thing to remember: make sure you’re there on time!