Text & photos — Anouck Serra-Godard
A journey that almost didn’t happen
I’m a COVID optimist. In this crisis, I see an opportunity for humanity to question itself at all levels; to reinvent itself; to learn from past mistakes to become greater, stronger, and braver. I’m calm in the face of this forced pause: it brings us back to the essential — the here and now — lets us get to know our neighbour’s name and a little of their story, invites us to plunge our hands into dirt to experience some wonder and then into dough to feel pride at cracking the crust of a fresh, home-baked loaf of bread.
Before COVID-19, my family’s springs tasted of coconut water, savoured between surf sessions on the coasts of Central America. It’s the perfect time for us to take a long family vacation: right before peak shooting and production season for me, and right after my boyfriend’s sprint in winter snow park design. Our little Lilou — her passport already heavily stamped for her 18 months of life — was eager to catch some waves with her dad. But our travel plans were cancelled, like those of so many others. Our spring was spent between four walls as we searched to strike a balance between working from home, parenting, renovations, time for ourselves, and intimacy.
Nomads at heart, we dreamed of getting away in order to maintain our fire for life. Two facts quickly became evident: One, Québec’s vast natural landscapes were a logical extension of our exemplary confinement where we could continue to keep our distances. Two, wilderness camping would give our family the freedom to explore our province.
Our post-apocalyptic adventure kit was ready long before the government gave the green light to travel between regions. The day they announced the partial reopening of campgrounds, I was 4,500th in line on the Sépaq site to reserve all our campsites in the brief seven minutes allotted to each person. I also prepared a self-reliance plan to present to private campgrounds, which were at first refusing tents because the toilet blocks were closed.
Never mind, Isle-aux-Grues, Parc national du Bic, Parc national de la Gaspésie, Percé, Bonaventure, Sainte-Flavie, here we come!
Before becoming a mother, I judged the people who unloaded a whole mini village to camp. Now I’m one of them.
A surfboard, a stand-up paddleboard, two bicycles, a bike trailer that converts into a stroller, a tricycle, a baby sling for hiking, a well-filled cooler to ensure our self-sufficiency, a reserve of non-perishable food, a propane stove, a folding table, kitchen utensils, dishes and two collapsible containers for washing them, a shower, a portable toilet, a drinking water tank, a tent, three mattresses, a travel playpen, a mosquito net, an inflatable boat and ball, a bag of toys, three wetsuits for swimming in cold water, and two bags of clothing to face all the vagaries of the Québec weather.
The bare minimum, when you have a child, is a lot more than I’m used to packing. Add to all this the inability to access certain resources in the context of a pandemic, and the list of essentials grows even longer. Luckily, my boyfriend is a Tetris champion: thanks to his meticulousness, our station wagon becomes bottomless — but it’s hard to hide the fact that we’re vacationing!
As we set off to explore areas that had been so little affected by the pandemic, we were a little apprehensive about how the locals would react to strangers who risked contaminating a region that had been so well spared. Yet we quickly realized that everyone was eager to socialize, us included. It did us good to connect. It helped quell the distrust of others we’d all unconsciously developed. People have a visceral need for human interaction to thrive.
We’d hit the road early in deconfinement and enjoyed a magical momentum. It was almost as if the rest of the world remained indoors while we dashed east.
We passed through many charming little ghost towns on the way, cycled the Isle-aux-Grues circuit on deserted paths, climbed Mount Albert without meeting another soul, took our showers naked in broad daylight, fell asleep listening to birdsong instead of an anecdote told far too loudly one campsite over, sampled the region’s haute cuisine in brown paper bags passed out the restaurant’s kitchen window as if it were Prohibition, and surfed the best swell in the history of the St. Lawrence River.
We appreciated every moment of this extraordinary new freedom. Lilou taught us to travel differently, setting aside packed itineraries and performance goals in favour of the present moment and wonder for the little things. We took our time and planned our route in segments, mapping out our stops along the way with as much care as our destinations. We discovered gems in places we didn’t know existed. With full awareness, we savoured every moment of our post-confinement freedom. These circumstances are not likely to happen again anytime soon. It was an historic opportunity to have these treasures all to ourselves. Under normal circumstances, this trip never would have even happened! And yet, with so much beauty here in Québec, one wonders why you would ever need to take a plane to the other side of the world.
Travelling zero waste with a baby
To be perfectly transparent, when we were planning our summer itinerary, we didn’t think we would be camping for 14 consecutive nights with our little Lilou — but in the end, we could have continued roaming awhile longer. With a baby, the beginning of each trip begins with a floating period as you search for your rhythm and question all the energy you’ve invested in such a demanding experience. Not to mention that when you get back home, you need to be prepared for a readjustment period: rough nights, inexplicable tantrums, and relearning good habits.
But between these two brief storms, you learn a lot. There are many smiles and fits of laughter, first times, little feats, pride, a healthy dose of culture, and countless precious memories.
It’s a privilege to bring a child into the world, as well as an obligation: you need to offer them the best of yourself in order to make them a good human being. Children learn a lot by imitation. Parents have to lead by example in their daily lives and smallest acts. Since Lilou’s birth, we’ve been fine-tuning our zero-waste routine at home and trying our best to maintain this lifestyle on the road. It takes a lot of organization up front, but once you’ve made it a habit, it becomes second nature. For anyone just starting out on their zero-waste journey, vacation is a good excuse to experiment. The key to creating lasting habits is to take things step by step and be gentle with yourself.
Here are 13 tips to enjoy life and respect our planet while travelling:
01. Put together an eco-friendly care kit for the whole family: shampoo and conditioner bars, chewable toothpaste tabs, bamboo toothbrushes, a solid cleansing balm for your face, konjac sponge, menstrual cup, stainless steel safety razor, reusable Q-tips, and biodegradable dental floss. Stay up to date with the latest developments in the green revolution at your local bulk store!
02. Bring along your cloth diapers, towels, washcloths, and liniment, along with several odour-resistant diaper bags to transport your used ones until you have access to a washing machine and are staying put long enough to dry them. Otherwise, use disposable but biodegradable diapers and wipes for extended stays in the bush.
03. Plan your menu ahead of time and make everything you can in advance. Calculate your portions precisely when you cook to avoid leftovers that won’t keep well when you’re on the move. Some great camping meals include a dried mushroom risotto (use the soaking water as a broth), bibimbap (make your sauce ahead of time), or shakshuka with a tasty loaf of bread, fresh from the oven right before you left!
04. Prepare a variety of sweet and savoury baby snacks before you go. That way, you won’t get stuck and be forced to buy nibbles to tide the wee one over in non-recyclable packaging. Some snack ideas include energy balls, mini veggie omelets made in muffin tins, and homemade popcorn.
05. Stock up on dry bulk goods. Pack them in Mason jars to bring with you on the road, then purchase fresh local produce at farmers’ markets as you go.
06. Have a large container of drinking water to fill your bottles. Collapsible camping water containers are very practical, especially when you’re travelling and space is limited.
07. Bring reusable bags for your groceries, mesh bags for loose items, snack bags, reusable beeswax wrappers in various sizes, a few extra empty Mason jars, a cheese bag, and a bread bag.
08. Stay in one place a little longer and get to know the land better rather than burning up gas accumulating mileage. Go for quality over quantity.
09. Do green activities at your destination that are good for your body and mind, like cycling, hiking, paddleboarding, and surfing.
10. Limit your campfires: they contribute to air pollution. When you do build a fire, mix business and pleasure by using it to cook your evening meal.
11. Wash your ever-dirty baby clothes with environmentally friendly laundry soap in the same containers you use to do your dishes. Hang a clothesline to dry them.
11. Pitch in and help clean up the riverbanks. Parc national du Bic and some places along the Bonaventure River provide bins. Make it a family activity.
12. Bring biodegradable garbage and recycling bags and a big Mason jar for compost. For the love of nature and out of respect for others, leave no trace!
Anouck Serra-Godard holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and political science and a master’s degree in international relations. She is a researcher and freelance production manager. Born in the Laurentians, she moved south to make her family nest in the Eastern Townships after a beautiful 12-year love affair with Montréal.