In the beautiful town of Yamaska, hundred kilometers North-East of Montreal, it's raining heavily outside for past three days when I step in this cafe, order a regular Poutine and request to deliver it on the table as I hide myself in the deepest corner. I do not want to be seen. I use all my energy to take off my shoes, socks and tape to check blisters that look like blueberries, just with a lot of blood. As the cafe lady brings Poutine on the table, she sees me holding my foot; not a very pleasant site to be honest, when it smells probably worse than bottom of a skunk.
In a panic, she runs back to the counter and brings whole pack of tissues "Please take care of these. You want me to call a taxi or something?" she goes. People gather around me, and in sea of calm, I ask “Do you have a needle?” I could not find one. Good thing, I am trained in first aid. I take out a hunting knife from my bag and slit open the blisters, all four of them, one by one. Blood drips on floor, and I promise to clean the floor tiles once I am done as I continue to wipe blood off my toes. My feet are burning in pain, and suddenly, I collapse. I can barely hear people talking. In my head, I am just reciting name of the place I have to reach tonight. Realizing it`s getting dark, in a quasi automatic gesture I open my eyes. The cafe lady is still standing next to me, now with some bandages and antiseptic cream in her hands. Unreal!
It is the third day. I`ve run 220 km already. But, I`m not done yet. I still have more than 150 km to run in less than two days to make it to Old Port before 375th birthday of Montreal. I am running 375 km, from Quebec City to Montreal over 5 days, to pay tribute to my new home, on her 375th anniversary. I recall when I was making this decision to first move here. I was so scared. Montreal is my first city to live outside of India and I barely knew any French. I spent one of the months here living with this old man North of the island, and after 3 weeks of harmony, he threatened to kill me one night. I did not know how Quebec law functions, no case was reported but I felt I could trust people no more. So, running from Quebec City to Montreal - all by myself - in a quest to explore the province and meet its beautiful people was a very challenging decision.
I still do not speak much French. Will I be able to communicate with the people I meet on course? Will I receive any kindness on my route? Weather forecast predicted rain for every day planned. But that was too little of discomfort to stop me from going for what I wanted to achieve. It was decided, I will run during the day, sleep in night, and aim for at least 70 km per day. I will do this solo with a bag on my shoulders that will have everything: water, food, extra clothes, one extra pair of shoes, first-aid, route map and other important things. It weighed close to 9 kilos when I started and after all the rain, probably 10. I had it in my mind that for this journey, I would survive one day at a time.
On the first day, I couch surfed in this beautiful village Parisville, hosted by a lady named Nicole. When I reached her place, she was not there, so I was received by her husband. She had left a note in my room to meet me next morning. Her husband – during breakfast – had introduced me to her paintings and handcrafted sculptures in the basement. The next morning, I still did not know where I would be staying that night, so I wanted to start running early. I didn`t see her before I left. Later that morning, I got nearly crushed by a car on the highway. This car stops in front of me; a woman gets off the car, walks up to me with a smile and says “Are you Gaurav? Hi, I am Nicole”. She drove at least 20 kilometers down the highway just to see me, and give me Tourtière she had baked for me. I was in awe and surprise, how did she even find me? But, she did, and I was grateful.
The second day goes by in the same way as the first - rain, running, sleeping in a trailer. On the third day, I have succumbed to the pain cave and I'm counting bodies of animals died on highway due to the flood. On the fourth day. I get up, feeling as though my body is destroyed and continue my journey towards Boucherville, the final checkpoint. I am being hosted by my friend's mother tonight. I couldn't sleep the previous night due to immense pain, so, I go as fast as possible to reach Boucherville in time, which is still 70 km away. I was promised good food tonight, enough of motivation to shut down the pain as I run in rain with destroyed feet. Against all odds, I reach Boucherville at just past 10 in night. Danielle, my host, had given up on me thinking I would not show up, when I ring the doorbell.
She was following my progress for past three days through my Facebook updates; so she modified her restroom into almost a clinic with everything she thought I might need, ready to use, on a big table and a warm tub with baking soda to clean my feet. All this, with my life`s most delicious meal – served fresh at midnight. I feel as though I`ve got my mother back, albeit just for tonight. Unlike other days, I get up late in the morning with a very sore body but much better feet. Quick breakfast and I am off to chase the final 70 km of the day. She gave me a bag full of cashews and almonds to munch on the way.
375 km, 112 hours and 28 minutes later, I'm finally dry, sitting under the clock-tower at Old Port, in cool breeze and bright sunshine of May 17th, where I'm elated and celebrate the birthday of my new home, Montreal. There are no more checkpoints to chase today, but, I do have my share of problems – like how am I going to get up?
I'm not sure where is this place called home? The place where I was born and brought up, or the place where I discovered myself? Some would say I am lost. It's here, and wherever I will go, that will be here. I am my home. A part of me has stayed behind in Canada as my footprints on trails, as memories and conversations with amazing people I met and as stories I shared – like this. I do not know if I will ever get to run back on that trail. But, whenever I will return, I would know I am home.