Chelsea resident Derek Medland was at Lac Phillippe, a two hour bike ride away from his Chemin Loretta Loop home, on the afternoon of May 21 when he saw the storm rolling toward him.
“I did something dumb and didn’t check the weather before I went out,” he said.
Medland stopped halfway along his ride under a roof that shelters the Lac Phillippe barbeque area for a quick water break.
“Holy crap, look how dark it is,” he recalls thinking to himself when he saw the clouds rolling in behind him.
Medland wore only his lycra bicycling jersey and shorts.
“The rain just came down like crazy,” he said.
Within five minutes of the downpour starting, the wind was whipping up two foot tall waves across the lake. He paced around under the roof and jumped in place to keep warm for a half hour before the rain and wind subsided. Then he hopped on his bike and pedalled to Masham where he bought more water and two copies of the Low Down which he stuffed under his soaked lycra jersey for extra insulation.
“It’s an old cycling trick,” he said.
Thanks to the only paper serving only the Gatineau Hills since 1973, he kept warm on his wet ride home. That 70-kilometre loop usually takes him three hours, that afternoon it took him five.
Unfortunately, the Low Downs weren’t legible by the time he made it home.
“I got here and I could read the logo backwards on my chest in the mirror,” Medland said, laughing.
He said the only other time the Low Down has kept him warm is when he’s used old editions to start fires.
Some might have called it a day after that, but not Medland. He kept biking and saw the carnage on his ride back south. He had to haul his bike over trees downed across Gatineau Park trail 53 and the Chelsea community trail just to make it back. He could already hear a chorus of chainsaws on his ride down.
Medland hopped on Facebook and posted that he had a chainsaw and a willingness to help those in need.
He ended up spending the next few hours limbing and bucking trees that were down on his friend’s and neighbours roads, driveways, and even a shed.
Medland wasn’t the only one. People across the Gatineau Hills emerged from their homes after the storm passed to help their neighbours or friends. Some people even opened their homes to their friends who didn’t yet have power.
“I think everyone is trying to help others,” La Pêche Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux told the Low Down on May 23 about inviting over friends for hot meals, showers, and to charge their phones.
He said that municipal firefighters and public works staff were mobilized before the storm even hit so that they could make sure people weren’t trapped in their homes or cut off from services by downed trees or power lines.
On May 23, with no end in sight to the multiple power outages across the Gatineau Hills, he made the call to open up the arena in Masham to people without power. Lamoureux said it could stay open for days depending on how many people use it to shower, charge their electronics, and use the free wifi.
As of publishing date hundreds of residences were still without power, according to the Hydro-Québec outage website.