It would not necessarily be an exaggeration to say that the Chic-Chocs Mountain Lodge is most scenic place I have ever slept. Situated amid what locals characterize as a “sea of mountains,” the auberge feels significantly more cut-off from the outside world than the two hours it takes to get there from the nearby town of Cap-Chat.
But shortly after my arrival in the Chic-Chocs, whose name derives from a word in the indigenous Mi’kmaq language, I found my attention consumed by something other than the endless evergreens, impossibly-high waterfalls and roaming herds of moose that surrounded me.
The culprit? Un homme qui s’appelle Jean-François.
Actually, it wasn’t Jean-François lui-même, but rather his sense of self-importance. “Those shoes are not appropriate for running on this terrain,” he dictated to me in English, although I specifically asked him to speak French with me so that I could practice. “Unless you have others you can wear, I can’t allow you to go for a jog in the morning.”
I felt like I was at a children’s summer camp, rather than at a semi-luxury mountain lodge where I was staying, presumably, on my own free will, the extent to which said “terrain” was tame notwithstanding. To the handsome (I’ll give him that) young man’s credit, my Urban Outfitters plimsoll sneakers were definitely manufactured for fashion over function.
But the fact remained that I had previously hiked through the Colombian jungle, all over Australia’s snake-filled center and up the second-highest waterfall in Africa wearing similar footwear and gone home unscathed, so I had little reason to believe that taking a jog through the nearly-flat area that surrounded the Chic-Chocs mountain lodge would be similarly uneventful.
“I appreciate your input,” I grinded my teeth, and faked a smile in the general direction of Jean-François. “But I am prepared to accept any consequences that should arise from my decision to jog in these shoes, so you don’t need to worry about me.”
“Perhaps I haven’t made myself clear,” he pushed back, now visibly irritated, “but I’m telling you that you cannot go jogging wearing those shoes. Do you understand?”
If it hadn’t been for the fact that our arguing had lasted well past my intended bedtime, and that I had planned my jog for the very early morning, I would’ve continued pushing back against his clearly overinflated sense of authority. But at that point I couldn’t really envision myself having the energy to run at 6 a.m., so I quietly conceded.
I rolled out of bed just past 8 to learn that Jean-François would be the leader of not one, but both of the activities I’d selected for the next day. I was initially disappointed, but he (mostly) held his tongue during the morning hike, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt – perhaps he’d just been having a rough night?
“Why aren’t you wearing a backpack?” he barked at me the moment I arrived in front of the lodge to meet the group for the second activity, an afternoon hike to the Chute Helène waterfall.
“Because I only have this,” I pulled my bottle of water out of the mesh bag the lodge had given me to hold loose articles on short hikes, “and this,” I pointed to my camera, which I couldn’t be bothered to take out of the bag.
“You need to have your hands free for the hike,” he insisted, and ran inside, obviously unaware that the mesh bag, which again was provided by the lodge, could be worn like a backpack. He returned almost instantly. “Put your things in this backpack so we can go.”
I laughed out loud. “Are you kidding me? This is a two-kilometer hike down an almost horizontal grade, and I’m currently wearing my existing bag as if it were a backpack. You really, and I mean this with all due respect, need to get off your high horse.”
A few people gasped audibly, and Jean-François stood in front of me looking shocked, as if no one had ever previously questioned his authori-tah. “OK then, Robert,” he said, and turned in the direction our hike would lead us. “You don’t need to wear the backpack.”
As we began the short trek, which was even easier and less strenuous than I had imagined it would be, I tried again, internally this is, to give Jean-François the benefit of the doubt. After all, the majority of non-journalist guests at the auberge were elderly and clearly hadn’t hiked to the extent that I had. And to be fair, if someone got injured on one of Jean-François’ hikes, he would certainly be held liable.
But on the other hand, I couldn’t shake how patronized I felt by the unshakeable authority he felt his position – since the Chic-Chocs Mountain Lodge is a public lodge, he was essentially a Canadian government bureaucrat – afforded him, i.e. one that superseded the repeatedly-stated will of a consenting adult.
Not surprisingly, when I returned from the waterfall later that afternoon, the only stress I’d experience was shock from having dipped into the extremely cold water at its base. Jean-François arrived back at the lodge with the rest of the group nearly an hour after I did, and didn’t so much as look at me, a pan-sensory silent treatment that defined the entire rest of my time at the lodge.
And I do mean entire: As (bad) luck would have it, Jean-François was leaving the lodge on the same bus as my little group, and even decided to serenade us the entire ride with whimpy, guy-with-a-guitar versions of songs I had once regarded as classics.
“Don’t be bitter,” another journalist urged me, as I was putting in my earbuds to drown the pathetic whining out with my current indie pop obsession. “He was just doing his job, following protocol. Can you blame him?”
“I sure the fuck can,” I fired back, and pumped the volume all the way up. I’ve worked my entire life to remove myself from the influence of bullshit authority and hierarchies, no matter where I am around the globe. Why would I want to succumb to them in a place that should be as far removed from the confines of civilization as you can get?