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A surprise day, three girls and a wheelchair

Harmony Le Reste
Professional photographer and videographer

If there's one thing that's important in the life of this great dreamer, it's nature and its beautiful landscapes. It was in front of Home by the famous photographer Yann Arthus Bertrand that, even as a child, Harmony imagined herself traveling the world to capture all its wonders, camera in hand. Today, as a professional photographer and videographer, she is committed to showcasing the Belle Province, her home since moving here from France in 2015.

 

We're heading to Laval today for a full day with my two friends Daphnée and Suzie, who have come all the way from France to visit me in Montreal. Three girls together, adventurous and a bit crazy, so far nothing special, except that I had to put together a tailor-made program since one of them, Daphnée, is in a wheelchair. Quite a challenge, which I overcame with the invaluable help of Tourisme Laval.

This was Daphnée and Suzie's first trip to Quebec. They follow my Canadian adventures on the Internet through my Barrons-nous project, but there's nothing like discovering the beauty of this fabulous province with their own eyes. To mark the occasion, I organized a surprise day for them that they won't soon forget. This morning, as we packed our bags, the questions came thick and fast: "But where are we going?", "I hope this isn't one of your thrill-seeking activities?!" (They really know me!), "Do we really have to bring our bathing suits?", "Shit, I haven't shaved my legs! For my part, I'm jubilant. My plan is working, and my incoherent words are only adding to the confusion in their heads.

It's already 9am. The bags are packed and filled with things that won't be used all day, but which have wisely clouded the clues. After blindfolding them, I immediately board my vehicle.

The first surprise

It took us just 30 minutes to reach the site of the first surprise. The journey was made in anxious silence. Strangely enough, Suzie is the most anxious. Daphne, on the other hand, is quite calm. I help them blindly out of the car and up to the front of the building. It's a funny scene. I push Daphnée's wheelchair. Suzie grips my hips behind me to keep from falling. A motorist who lets us cross on the crosswalk starts laughing as she sees us strolling along.

I laugh out loud a little nervously. "What if they don't like my surprise?" or worse, "What if Daphne unfortunately can't participate?" Yes, because I wanted to keep it a secret, I couldn't ask her about her physical abilities to see if she could do the activity. We'll have the answer very soon.

The girls are now settled in front of the facade decorated with a big logo that should quickly put them on the runway. It's time.... 3, 2, 1 ! Untie your scarves, girls!

I'll leave you to savor the moment...

My dear friends, hang on, I'll take you flying like birds at Ifly! Excitement is running high. None of us really realizes what we're in for. We enter the center and are greeted by David, the instructor who will accompany us during our experience. With his devastating smile and razor-sharp sense of humor, he quickly puts us at ease. We're jumping up and down in such a hurry that we can't wait to get into the tube. But first, he needs to have a chat with Daphnée to see if the activity will be safe for her. After a series of detailed questions about her abilities, the verdict is in. It's OK! *Soulagement x1000*! Despite her incomplete quadriplegia, Daphnée is physically strong enough to safely try the experience with us. Imagine the smile on her lips at that moment.

It's time for the obligatory mini-training session. David is accompanied by a second trainer who will help us get into the air (please don't read any other connotations into this ;-) ). In a separate room, we watch a short film explaining the activity. Excitement is mingled with a strange anguish when we see the film's protagonists throw themselves into the tube. Yet they seem quite serene. This is followed by a brief apprenticeship to communicate inside the wind tunnel. With the speed of the wind, the noise is such that it will be impossible to speak. So we have to learn a few basic gestures to understand our instructors' advice during the exercise, such as "stretch your legs", "lift your chin" or even just "relax, you're cool", to maximize the sensations.

We're already donning our suits, helmets and goggles. We're laughing as we look at each other, because these outfits make us look like astronauts conquering space. A few photos are obligatory to immortalize the moment. Daphnée equips herself with a special harness to keep her paralyzed legs in the right position. We're ready to go.

The hour has struck. We enter the airlock that separates the room from the wind tunnel. The machine starts up, and despite our earplugs, we hear a loud thud. Our hands are sweaty, but we're off!

Daphne voluntarily opens the ball. No fear. I knew she'd have a lot of fun, because despite her disability, this super-chick is a fan of unusual activities. Rowing, canyoning and even paragliding are all experiences she's already had.

The two instructors around her loaded her into the glass tube. She takes off and flies like a leaf! The harness holding her legs in place helps her position herself well. I can see a huge smile on her face, despite her wind-battered cheeks and big glasses. She's having a blast and it shows. The instructors even manage to let her go a few times. As for me, I'm covered in shivers. Not because I'm scared, but because I'm full of emotions. Daphne is my best friend. I was her roommate at the time of her accident, which robbed her of her motor skills. Seeing her fly away like a bird touches my heart.

My tear-filled eyes still manage to make out silhouettes through the glass of the tube. People, whether spectators, instructors or future parachutists for a day, also seem very intrigued by the scene, and with good reason. What could be more beautiful than to see someone soar like Peter Pan when life has deprived him of his legs? The scene is magnificent. A few seconds later, she enters the airlock. A thumbs-up confirms that she thought it was great. Learn more about harness flying in this video.

Now it's my turn. I throw myself into the wind tunnel. Having already done a parachute jump, I'm pleasantly surprised to find the same floating sensation. The wind completely covers my body. My instructor quickly lets go. I'm flying high! I'm even flying so high I can see out the windows. But what an indescribable sensation. You know when you're in a car on the fast lane and you stick your arm out the window? Well, a wind tunnel flight gives a similar sensation, but from your toes to the tips of your hair. I look at my instructor, who waves me on. It takes a few seconds for the information to sink into my brain, because with the adrenaline rush I'm getting in my face right now, I've already forgotten the signs I learned 20 minutes ago. "Ah yes! I'm extending my legs". A little awkwardly, I wobble left and right. My control isn't perfect, but I'm having the time of my life. David catches me. It's already over for my first jump.

It's Suzie's turn. As soon as she enters the tube, she's already flying like a fairy. Her "banana" position is perfect, and her slender figure is enhanced by the wind. She looks like a mermaid in her blue wetsuit. What grace! Everything seems to come so naturally to her; it's like she's been doing it all her life. She even manages to find her way around the wind tunnel. Left, right, up, down, Daphnée and I can't believe how deft she is.

We repeat our jumps three times. The experience is enough to already notice a better mastery at the end of the third. What a sport! Barely out of my third jump, I can already feel it tugging at my shoulders. I'm sure I'll be sore the next morning! David and his sidekick even give us a demonstration to round off the show. These men defy gravity with such mastery that they seem to mock the laws of physics. Circles, spins, rolls, they choreograph a spectacular routine just for us. WOW! A quick glance to the left and I see my two companions with their mouths wide open in admiration.

It's already over. The least we can say is that once inside the tube, time flies. We remove our caps and helmets. A general fit of laughter erupts when we discover our dishevelled heads. Photo obligatory to immortalize the moment. I wait impatiently for my friends' comments, even though I think I've already guessed what they're going to say. It's with great bursts of "It was sick!", "What a crazy experience!", "Too great!" that we leave the premises with memories full of head and some great photos to share with our loved ones. "My boyfriend won't believe it!" announces Suzie. First stage of the surprise day a success.

There's nothing like a good meal to help us recover from our (strong) emotions. We decided to eat at Trois Brasseurs, right next door to Ifly. The deceptively passive activity was certainly digging into our stomachs. Flammekuche for one, salads for the others; we spend a convivial moment debriefing on the incredible experience we've just shared together.

"But what do you have in store for us next?" The last mystery still hanging in the air. We have two options for our afternoon, but I prefer to talk to my friends to make the right choice. Between the Boeing 747 flight simulator or the kayak outing, this time we opt for the great outdoors. We spent the rest of the day on the river in the magnificent Parc de-la-Rivière-des-Mille Îles.

We're going kayaking!

We arrive at Parc de la Rivière des Mille-Îles. It's a place I already know. I'm sure they'll love this little piece of natural paradise close to the city. We're greeted by the park's technical director, who quickly explains the park's important wildlife preservation objectives. After parking our vehicle, he helps us carry Daphne in her wheelchair to the river's edge where Renard Souciant, our kayak guide for the afternoon, awaits us. Don't be surprised by his name. This friendly young man gets his nickname from his past experience as a scout leader! No doubt about it, we're in good hands. We put on our old life jackets for the sexiness and are already carrying our kayaks to the water's edge. For obvious reasons, Daphnée will be riding with our guide. I'll be with Suzie in a second boat.

But how do you carry Daphne into the narrow space of one of the kayaks? Fortunately, reinforcements arrive to help us carry her to safety. Like a princess, she is lifted by two valiant knights to her floating throne. But she's not about to let herself get carried away. Daphnée wants to take part and offers to tape her hands to one of the paddles so she can contribute to the activity. A few quick steps to find a comfortable position for her, and we're off without a hitch. Suzie and I take the front. As an avid canoe-kayakist, I've been out on many trips over the summer, so I'm in the best position to skilfully steer the boat between the thousand islands.

And off we go for the first strokes of the oars. We make good progress on the river, which is strangely calm for a sunny afternoon. We're practically alone on the water. Renard Souciant talks to us passionately about the special vegetation that grows in the park and the animals that frequent it. Not surprising for a biology student. We slalom between islands, skirting little beaches, passing through narrow places where weeping willows brush against our boats.

The activity is quieter than the morning surprise, but that's a good thing. We enjoy the green landscape. It's hard to believe we're so close to the city. All around us, everything is very calm and relaxing. "Suzie, you might have to help me row a little," I joke. Drop a photography enthusiast in such a beautiful place and you'll just have to paddle on your own until you get back to land. I tease her, but I'm glad she's enjoying it!

We pass under a small stone bridge where wild vines grow. Our friendly guide suggests we pick a few grapes. The fruit is small and acidic like a berry, but delicious. We share our modest feast when suddenly Renard Souciant asks if any of us are afraid of spiders. Hearing the word was enough for me to tense all my muscles and shiver. "Ugh, gross!" I exclaimed. No doubt about it, if there's one among the three who doesn't like insects that much, it's me! And there he was, taking the beast in his hands and explaining that it was a small female, given the shape of its eight legs. Surprising young man, you say? Further on, he shows us one of the park's worst-kept secrets: one of singer Céline Dion's former homes, which can be approached from the river. Just the thing to satisfy our "people" side.

The canoe trip ends in good spirits. The return trip to the mainland goes off without a hitch. We even came across a few ducks, one of them with a magnificent colored plumage. It's a diving duck. "The first of the season", exclaims our guide, ".... and surely the last, since it's already the end of September! We're lucky to get so close. A few more paddle strokes and we're back on the pontoon. As at the start of the activity, the two valiant knights return to our princess Daphne to help her to her two-wheeled steed. A brief farewell to our new friends, and we're back in our car.

"So girls, did you enjoy the day?". I ask, but I already know the answers. "Definitely! It was great!" All three of us agree. On the way home, I see Daphnée sitting on my right, already writing a post on her facebook page "1 parenthèse 2 vies" to recount her day from her mobile. In my rear-view mirror, Suzie has her head buried in her camera. We can't wait to share our wonderful surprise day with the world. Hundreds of photos, videos, messages on social networks, but the most important thing is the gigantic quantity of memories we've just created together, and which will stay with us for the rest of our lives. We're so happy. Paris held, PARIS WON!