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Come hell or high water

by Sarah McMahon-Sperber September 25, 2012
Come hell or high water

Simon Walls just added a rather important feather to his cap. Musician, check. Traveler, check. Teenage mentor, check. Walked across Canada, check. And now he’s an author; a raw, honest and introspective writer.

This week, he launched his newest baby Troubadour des Temps Modernes – or modern day troubadour – published by Montreal-based Éditions Dumont.

The book recounts the incredible ups and downs Walls experienced during his nearly 705,684 km, 9 month journey. If you think bears, wolves and cold weather were his biggest enemies; think again. The storm was, in fact, on the inside.

Simon Walls is, in actuality, Simon Gervais. He’s a 26 year-old from Napierville and he likes to walk. After having tackled the Compostelle path in Spain (a 1050 km-long trek that follows the tracks of 12th century pilgrims) Gervais decided he needed a bigger challenge. Canada is bigger, he figured. The wheels started spinning and an ambitious project surfaced; to write an album, a book and shoot video footage over the course of a trip across Canada. The result: his touching album, Klein Blue and now – Troubadour des Temps Modernes. Throughout the book, Gervais digs further and further into his own mind and heart to learn some pretty important lessons. His descriptions are simple, beautifully illustrated and marvellously evocative. You know that hollow feeling you get when you’ve been on the road for quite a while and you start missing your family? Take that feeling and imagine it on foot, walking long and flat prairie miles with hardly anyone around to talk to.

Over the course of his book launch, he stood candidly on stage and told the audience about some of the rawest moments of his trip.

“There was a point when I got to Antigonish, Nova Scotia where I thought I just couldn’t do it anymore,” he tells us. “I called a few people back home to get their advice – some of those people are actually here tonight. And then I found some strength, I locked myself in a room with a TV for three days and then I hit the road again.” That moment, he says, is what prompted this song – and he launches into a generous version of his track, “Smell of Blue.” Steady at his side for months now has been Jean-Yves André, who harnesses Gervais’ enthusiasm on the Peruvian cajỏn with his reliable beats and steady back vocals.

He also spoke of the incredible generosity and eccentricity of the people he met on the road. He read a passage that describes his deepening gratitude in the face of even the smallest act of kindness – a sandwich, a chat, a place to crash for the night (one much cozier and warmer than his tiny tent.) His book betrays his great admiration for the stories he heard along the way and many of those stories are featured in Troubadour, in which he paints such simple portraits that you can’t help but be soaked in. And once you know the backstory behind his song “Dear Traveller,” you’re unlikely to ever hear it the same way again.

You might think accomplishing such a big project would mean it’s finally time for a rest, but not with Gervais. He is currently working on a video piece about his journey and looking to tour with his book. And, of course, it’s probably a safe bet to say he’s cooking up another expedition or journey already.

Troubadour des Temps Modernes, $24.95, is available from Chapters Indigo and other book retailers.

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