Keep walking on

Back on the road again. And again!

Back on the road again. And again!

Yup it’s true. Cecilley and I just can’t get enough of this walking thing. After three short days of relaxing and nothing planned for the next little while, we decided spending our extra time in Santiago could be much better spent than trying to find cheap transportation into Portugal. Being as close as we are we figured why not visit Portugal? That and having an open invitation to visit an albergue (that’s Spanish for hostel) on the Portuguese Way also helped.

So it’s off to Portugal we go! But getting there, that was the question? Our transportation search was falling short so we decided to get there the best way we knew how. Walking!

The Camino has routes all over Europe and one route actually takes you out of Santiago all the way through Portugal to the very south part of the country. It was like it was meant to be. So when I told you Cecilley was going to burn her sneakers at Finisterra I lied. And it’s a good thing too. She may have found it hard walking barefoot or in flip flops. Although after the blisters poor Cecilley faced, barefoot might be the better choice.

The last arrow at Finisterra. But not the last for us to follow!

The last arrow at Finisterra. But not the last for us to follow!

Once in Portugal we’ll let the route of The Way take us where it will. We will walk on to Porto, a city of influence on the Camino, and spend time in awe and reflection. Walking for 40 plus days, eventually we’ll need to stop somewhere. But it’s interesting now looking back at the beginning having our year of travel somewhat mapped out, the Camino really shook things up for both Cecilley and I in a way we did not see coming. I know for myself I needed clarity and answers to questions like “what the hell am I really doing?” having this pilgrimage come to a close I think I might now know the answer. Or at least I feel closer to finding it. I am in a better place to figure it out then I was before.

This chapter’s close was a much bigger close on many different levels. I have found proper completion with my grand voyage. The Camino has given me that sense of completion and I can return home happy knowing I have completed something from start to finish. After all this time, that’s what I needed? Go figure! I suppose that’s why they say “there are no coincidences on the Camino”.

It’s also been said, time and time again, “the Camino will give you what you need and not what you want”. Let me tell you how true it is.

So after all of that the next, next adventure will be?? It’s starting to look like Digby, Nova Scotia of all places.

Finisterra aka. The End of the World

Standing at the end of the world!!

I’m standing at the end of the world!!

Well, I can officially say I have now been to the end of the world and back. Literally. Cecilley and I walked the 4 extra days to Finisterra and stood at the world’s edge. The wind was blowing and the rainy days seemed to last forever each day we walked. But it didn’t stop us, this was our real test. Making it to Santiago was nothing compared to this, but our 36 days of walking prior kept us on track we were ready for anything now. When we arrived, that was a whole other rush of its own entirely. We cheers-ed to our achievement, as good pilgrims should, naturally.

This time around the walk was very different. There was a sense of lightness and less stress about it. We walked with ease knowing the grand part of our journey was behind us. Our walk to Santiago was the big achievement, but afterward we both felt lost and a bit empty. We were excited of course, but there was still an unsettled energy to the whole experience. It felt wrong to have our pilgrimage come to an abrupt end in Santiago (both emotionally and physically). After completing the trek to Finisterra I understand why pilgrims keep going. There needs to be an end to the end. You need closure from the journey, from the achievement, and from the act of walking each day, everyday. Or, if anything else, it’s fun to say you know what the end of the world looks like!

There are no more km to walk we made it to the end!

There are no more km to walk we made it to the end!

So now what? What’s next on the traveling agenda? What are Cecilley and I to do now that we have been to the end and lived to tell our tale? We caught a bus (yes, an actual bus, oh my moving transportation!) back to Santiago to relive the magical moments of Compostela we were too out-of-it to take in, or too teary eyed to see. Hanging around Santiago for a few extra days wouldn’t hurt anyone. So that’s exactly what we did. It’s finally time to take a break from walking and do some sightseeing. We’ll figure out the rest later.

Santiago de Compostela, I made it!

Cathedral de Compostela! I finally made it!!

36 days and 867km later I have arrived! Exhausted from the heat, the lack of greens in my diet, and the soreness in my aching bones (it was enough to make me break), but I have arrived! Cecilley and I started this journey on April 13, 2014 and now we can say we have done it. And what a feeling it was to march that last 5km into Santiago to the Catedral de Compostela. I walked with pride, saddness, and slight confussion. All of a sudden this epic pilgramage has come to an end. The one thing I’ve been thinking about for so long was standing there in front of me. I can honestly say there hasn’t been anything in my life that I’ve done (at this point) that can compare. This was beyond what I have ever could have imagined it to be. I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster of a lifetime.

My adult Browie Camp and kind of Amazing Race (or as close to the Amazing Race as I am going to get) has come to a close, so now what? The people I have met over the past 36 days have changed me in a way I can’t explain. And I can’t express how gratful I am for each and everyone of them.

But after walking all this way what does one do? They walk to the end of the world that’s what! So Cecilley and I are walking another 4 days to Finisterra (aka. the end of the world) where we will jump in the ocean and burn our clothes! Well maybe not, but her shoes will not be coming back with us that I can promise you.

See you on the other side!

My Way to Saint James

One of our last sunsets in Montesquieu. Has nothing to do with my pilgrimage, it's just stunning!

One of our last sunsets in Montesquieu. Has nothing to do with my pilgrimage, it’s just stunning!

Now that a week has past since the marathon Cecilley and I have had a few days to unwind and think. More sight seeing in Paris lead to perfect evenings picnicking in a park, dinning over lunch in the coolest of places, then leaving the beautiful city to do the se time in our next favourite city Bordeaux. We’re now approaching our 6 month travelling anniversary – I know I can’t believe it either! – I’ve been mentally and physically all over the place looking back at the time that’s past. Bali was a huge wake up call, Tokyo made me cry it was so cool, London took my breath away, and Paris stole my heart. With each new stamp on my passport comes stories and experiences I’ll take with me to my grave. But each place also came with its own struggles, personal hurdles, and time to reflect. Which is exactly what I want and need at this half way point. I need a new challenge one of personal gratitude and self reflection. I need to find my way.

What else am I to do? What does one do now, now that her marathon is over, perhaps needs to shed some access weight because of her new French lifestyle, and then realizes how close Spain actually is to France? The answer came to me one night in the tiny village of Montique after a movie night at Little French Retreat. After watching the 2010 Emilio Estevez film The Way. She decides to take on the voyage many pilgrims before her have done. She walks. She walks El camino de Santiago.

The last supper in Bordeaux. Things I will miss on the trail!

The last supper in Bordeaux. Things I will miss on the trail!

April 12, 2014 will forever be the day Cecilley and I started our own historic pilgrimage. Trekking the scenic coast of Spain all the way to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela we will stand before the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great himself. This grand journey should take us about month and a half. If all goes according to plan. Only time will tell, it’s a long road ahead. But one we’re both ready for!

And so, I bid you all adieu as it’s hard to say when I will have internet access again. I will give updates along my way when I can. But I will promise another full story in the end (another to add to the list!). It’s time to turn off distractions and dive into the world around me. Feet first and one step at a time.

Bon voyage!!

Hiking the East Coast Trail, Part 4: Petty Harbour to St. John’s

This counts as a whale sighting, right?


Be sure to check out parts one, two and three first!

Petty Harbour: After we checked in, made dinner (curry supplied by Shelley) and passed out at 9:30 (which felt late compared to our usual 8-8:30 bedtimes!) We woke the next morning to more rain and a plan: A complete rest day. We had the room in the schedule, so why not? We ate lunch at the restaurant next door, Chafe’s Landing, and watched terrible television. It was delightful. (Day 12: ok) We made arrangements with Shelley to get a ride to the end of Blackhead path, meaning we’d hike 14.5k the next day — in the opposite direction. This made the most sense, because it meant we could walk back to the apartment when we were done, instead of trying to finangle a ride back to Petty Harbour at the end of the day. And we could hike with just day packs! Bliss! Blackhead has about one building, but it has horses, so don’t expect anything here. Bernard pointed out a whale in the harbour before we took off, upping our whale count to two!

Blackhead Path: This path was great. It was one big up and then one big down over 3.7k but gave us great views of Cape Spear and took just over an hour.


Cape Spear lighthouse!

Cape Spear lighthouse!


Cape Spear Path: We spent some time exploring Cape Spear and being impressed with being on the most eastern point in North America before continuing on this 11.5k trail. The first 8k was easy, well-maintained (except for a few tricky river crossings) and gave us great views of all the peaks we have hiked in the past week. After about 8k, the trail changes: it becomes woodsy and there are a few tricky passages as you scramble over rocks. For most of the trail, a woman was following us, so we chatted with her and helped her over the river crossings. This paid off: her husband gave us a ride back to Petty Harbour! (Day 13: 15k)


St. John's!

St. John’s!


Deadman’s Path: The next day, Shelley gave us  ride to the same spot we were dropped off the day before. Deadman’s Path is the final path into St. John’s and it’s rated “difficult” and now we know why. This path encapsulated all the trail terrain we experienced over the past two weeks: shrubs, woods, cliffs, beaches and tricky climbs. Once you hit a difficult to cross beach, there’s a 1k climb to the top. This was our longest climb of the trip, but not the hardest (those were on Cape Broyle Head Path). After that, we walked over lots of shrub and exposed rock, got a view of St. John’s and started a tricky descent into Fort Amherst, where the trail ends. Overall, this trail was unremarkable, decent and difficult, but not particularly memorable. Again, a trail angel (whose name was Bob Angel, I kid you not) ended up behind us for about an hour. We got chatting as we walked into Fort Amherst and he offered us a ride to our hotel. Thanks Bob! (Day 14: 11k)


We did it!

We did it!


St. John’s: This city is TINY, but adorable. It’s so colourful and the harbour is so interesting. I can’t wait to come back during iceberg season. Over the course of the two weeks, JK and I became obsessed with getting pizza at the end of our journey (pizza was our Snapple), but once we were in the city on the prowl for pizza, we couldn’t find it anywhere. We ended up at the Yellow Belly, discovered they had pizza and went all out: pizza and nachos and beer. We also ran into two guys we met on the trail, who were in town for a wedding. Then we walked around town, got ice cream, and headed back to our hotel to watch some design television before passing out early (a habit I still haven’t kicked, despite being home for a few days.)


In sum, while I was disappointed our tent broke, the Harbour House gave us the energy we needed to make these last few days enjoyable — especially since we still managed to hike into St. John’s with our packs, as we always imagined. It was a necessary break. JK was a champ these past few days, as her knee situation was scary, but it all worked out in the end.


We’re raising money for the Nature Conservancy of Canada — the hike may be over, but the fundraising isn’t. There’s still time to donate! You can donate to our campaign here. And if you’ve already donated — thank you!



Hiking the East Coast Trail, Part 3: Burnt Cove to Petty Harbour

The view from the Whale Watcher B&B.

The view from the Whale Watcher B&B.


If you missed them, check out part one and part two of my east coast adventure.

Burnt Cove: Part two ended with me and JK crashing at the Whale Watcher B&B, after a confusing transfer from Flamber Head Path to La Manche Village Path. The La Manche Vilage Path is the only path on the East Coast Trail where the community links count as part of the trail system. Weird. We took the morning off at the B&B to do our laundry and relax. The B&B had an amazing view of the Witless Bay ecological reserve. Around 12:30, we headed out, finishing up the La Manche Trail Path.

Tinkers Point Path: This 5.1k path, connecting Burnt Cove to Tors Cove, was pretty easy and we completed it under two hours. A lot of it was on a cart path.

Tors Cove: This was another teeny community link and it kicked off one of the best paths on the trail — the Tinkers Point Path. This trail was relatively flat and easy and had gorgeous views of the islands off coast. We even saw an island with sheep grazing on it and enjoyed lunch watching waves break over the coast.


Red rock!

Red rock!


Mobile: We came out of Tinkers Point at Mobile, a community link that wasn’t very long, but involved looping up to the highway, then scrambling over a beach to find the entrance to the next path. We didn’t need supplies, so didn’t spend any time finding out what Mobile had to offer. Just before the next trail head, we ran into two surveyors asking about people’s East Coast Trail experience, but we were going the wrong way to be statistically useful! So sad!

Beaches Path: This was another easy, enjoyable path. The trail was still tricky and narrow, but in a way that makes hiking enjoyable, not terrifying. The path is well-named, as there were lots of beaches we could access (for viewing, NOT swimming) and towards the end of the trail, we found a great camping spot by a beach and a river and set up for the night. (Day 8: 13k)


River crossing!

River crossing!


Witless Bay: Our camp site was only a kilometre from town, so we were done by 9:30 and got breakfast at the Irish Loop Cafe. Witless Bay felt gigantic compared to the previous towns. As we walked through town, a woman stopped and offered to give us a ride to the trail head, which we happily accepted. She saved us about an hour of hiking!

Mickeleens Path: This was another path that was surprisingly pretty and surprising easy — they all kind of blur together, these three days paths. We were in high spirits these three days and kicked out the kilometres rather quickly.

Bay Bulls: Way back when, we had dreams of kayaking in Bay Bulls. We threw this plan out the window when we realized how tired we were and that rain was coming and we wanted to be done the tricky 16.3k Spout Path before the rain came. Instead, we hunted for the Foodland, stocked up on supplies and walked the long community link to the Spout Path head, as we knew the next day was going to be a long one: the Spout Path is a long and difficult trail. We camped in the Spout Path parking lot. (Day 9: 16k)

Spout Path: The first 6k of this path is amazing. We saw a whale and had ocean views the entire time. The next 5k is horrible, a throwback to the difficult, hilly trails of our early days of hiking. JK’s knee went ballistic on this trail too, so instead of finishing the entire trail, we chose to camp at the Little Bald Head campsite about 11k in. The weather was great, so we spent the afternoon reading and stretching and freaking out about JK’s knee, which she stretched and acuballed and rested like a champ. (Day 10: 11k) Overnight, that’s when our trip hit possibly it’s lowest point yet. (Well, it contends with the Flamber Head  rainy day. Rain is a hiking evil.) The rain, which was supposed to come at noon, came at 3am. And it filled our tent, because we failed to secure it to the tent platform properly. Then, when we tried to move our tent at 7am, in an attempt to salvage a few more hours of sleep and a dry place to wait the rain out, our tent pole broke. We had no choice: we had to hike to Petty Harbour, 11k farther than our plans for that day (we originally wanted to hike the 7k to Miner’s Point Campsite once the rain let up), with our fingers crossed a B&B would have room for us that night. Once we committed, it was okay. JK powered through some serious pain and despite the terrible weather and change of plan, it was obvious how pretty the rest of the Spout Path was. The Spout itself was pretty cool and I’m disappointed we didn’t get to enjoy it more thoroughly.

Motion Path: Why the Spout Path and Motion Path are broken up, I will never know. There’s a 6k “access trail” where these two trails meet, but why walk 6k on a crappy cart path when you can just hike a few extra kilometres? Who knows?! When we reached the cart path, it wasn’t raining at the moment and JK felt pretty good, so we chose to power on. Here’s the thing about the 13.5k Motion Path: had I hiked it under different circumstances, it would probably be my favourite path. I loved the views and the terrain, which is all open and shrubby. There are a lot of climbs and descents, but they added interest to the day, not fear. Around our 5th hour of hiking, it started to POUR. JK and I got soaked. We tried to keep our energy up and took our time. The last few kilometres were cold, brutal and took forever: there’s a huge ascent, then a very tricky descent, which we couldn’t assess properly because the fog hid everything ahead of us. We had no idea how far were were from town or what was ahead of us, but we kept climbing. We had no choice.


Petty Harbour, the day after the rain.

Petty Harbour, the day after the rain.


Petty Harbour: We arrived in Petty Harbour soaked and exhausted. Petty Harbour is gorgeous, though. We called all three places to stay here and only Harbour House had room — but they also had a three night minimum. Given that our tent was broken, we didn’t have a choice. We said yes. I’m so glad we did. Our one-bedroom apartment was $135 a night, was in the centre of town and came with two lovely owners, Shelley and Bernard, who brought us groceries and offered to drive us to the trail heads once we figured out our plan for the rest of our trip. Amazing. (Day 11: 18k)


In sum, while we had struggles during these four days, these are the paths and towns I’d recommend others to do. We met a lot of people on the trail doing Petty Harbour to Bay Bulls as a weekend trip. That makes sense to me — you get the two best trails of the East Coast Trail (Spout Path and Motion Path), two interesting towns to explore, and two dedicated camp sites you can rest at.


We’re raising money for the Nature Conservancy of Canada — the hike may be over, but the fundraising isn’t. There’s still time to donate! You can donate to our campaign here. And if you’ve already donated — thank you!



Hiking the East Coast Trail, Part 2: Calvert to Burnt Cove

Pretending I am in a Newfoundland tourist ad.

Pretending I am in a Newfoundland tourist ad.

Check out part one of my east coast adventure (Cappahayden to Calvert) here.

 Calvert: Part one ended with us camping in a church parking lot, exhausted and low on water. Our first priority the next morning was to find water. The fishing wharves were nearby, so we asked the first person we saw where we could get water. Apparently, our only option was to knock on someone’s door, but this lovely fisherman drove us to his house (which was near the trail head!) and let us fill our water bottles before our big day of hiking. He had a thick accent and remembered Newfoundland “before Confederation” and was generally delightful. We never got his name.





Cape Broyle Head Path: This path (which is 18.3km) was the WORST. There’s no other way to describe it. We have taken to calling it the “conifer clusterfuck” because for several kilometres, we were pushing past fir branches, unable to see the trail or what lay beneath the trees. Often, it was tree roots or rocks or some combination of both. I wore my sunglasses, not to protect them my eyes from the sun, but to prevent branches from poking me in the eyeball. This trail is in desperate need of some TLC. We stopped at the Long Will camping site en route (about 11k in) for the night. It took us seven hours to hike 11 kilometres, that’s how difficult and mind boggling the trail was. There weren’t a lot of great views, either, the trail was mostly inland. However, it was the first time we saw other hikers — a group of 30 kids were doing some weekend hiking education class and we shared the campground with them. (Day 5 total: 13k). The next day, we continued beating our way through the trees, scrambling over rocks and doing dangerous ups and downs. We ran into a guy doing the trail the other way and he confirmed that Cape Broyle Head “sucks” but promised us it would get better from here. We had faith.

(Note: just don’t do this path. It really sucks. We had great weather and felt relatively refreshed and even in ideal conditions, I don’t think it’s worth it. The conditions are too dangerous and the pay-off isn’t there.)


Our Cape Broyle campsite. Don't mistake the look on my faith for contemplation -- it's pure exhaustion.

Our Cape Broyle campsite, after we completed the trail. Don’t mistake the look on my faith for contemplation — it’s pure exhaustion.


Cape Broyle: And it did get better: a giant grocery store (well, it felt giant) greeted us just a few minutes from the trail head. We stocked up on groceries, disposed of garbage, picked up drugs (at this point, I had developed a head cold) and were, in general, just grateful to buy Skittles and ice cream and Gatorade. We splurged. Then we walked further into town and came upon a restaurant, the Riverside. We had lunch there, which wasn’t all that great, but I didn’t care. We had tables, chairs and a place to charge our phones (although, I didn’t get reception at all during this trip, so charging my phone was probably a waste of time.) Refueled, we walked to the end of town (which took forever and involved a pit stop at Home Hardware  so I could buy the world’s largest air mattress. This town has a hardware store! It is basically heaven) and set up camp around 4pm (Day 6 total: 18k). This was possibly our best campsite of the trip: it was sunny and calm and had a great view and I spent several hours napping and reading Night Film by Marisha Pessl and living the life I expected I’d live on the entire trip, not just for a few fleeting hours.




Brigus Head Path: This was the path where we felt things would turn around. It was a “moderate”  6.5k and we powered through in a couple hours, saw a handful of other hikers and, in general, really enjoyed the morning. It had challenging elements, but was the clearest, best maintained path we’d seen yet.

Brigus South: This was the best community link of all, mainly because it was pretty and was less than 500 metres long. We ate lunch at a picnic table by the ocean.





Flamber Head Path: And this is where Day 7 went straight to hell. Flamber Head Path is  14.5k of “difficult” trail. And it was difficult — we did quite a bit of bouldering and climbing. I fell twice, jamming my knee the first time and bruising my sacrum the second. (It’s been a week and both still hurt.) But what made the day a bad one was that rain was coming and we really didn’t want to be scrambling over wet rocks. When we reached the camp site, Roaring Cove, where we planned to stay at for the night, at 1:30 in the afternoon, we knew what we had to do. We had to keep going to try to beat the rain. It was supposed to come at 7pm. It came at 3pm. I spent the entire rainy afternoon terrified I was going to slip and fall or that the wind would blow me over. The trail was beautiful — mossy landscapes overlooking imposing cliff faces — but I couldn’t enjoy it. I wanted to be done and be safe. When the trail ended at La Manche Village (above), we were disappointed for a bunch of reasons: everything was wet, there were no interpretative signs explaining what the village was, and we still had to hike at least 2k to get anywhere. This trail ends, literally, in the middle of nowhere. Somehow, I managed to convince JK to push on, with the belief there would be space at a hotel in town that night. There was. 2k turned into 5k when where we wanted to stay, the Whale Watcher B&B, was not right by the trail head. But it was bright and cheery and warm. It had food we could eat, beds we could sleep in, and a washer and dryer we could use. (Apologies to our fellow guests for the rank smell we brought inside with us.) It was a magical, wonderful place and for $99 a night, I highly recommend it to any aspiring East Coast Trail hikers. It saved us, in more ways than one. (Day 7 total: 25k)


In sum, I’d say the second part of our trip had some of the highest highs and lowest lows we experienced. We saw some of the best trails and some of the worst, had loads of energy and felt completely depleted. These three days probably encapsulate the entire trip better than any other. And they proved that there is nothing better than emerging from the wilderness to civilization, whether it’s a roadside grocery store or teeny B&B with room for two more.

We’re raising money for the Nature Conservancy of Canada — the hike may be over, but the fundraising isn’t. There’s still time to donate! You can donate to our campaign here. And if you’ve already donated — thank you!



Hiking the East Coast Trail, Part 1: Cappahayden to Calvert

The beginning! We had so much energy and hope.

The beginning! We had so much energy and hope.

JK and I got back yesterday, after 14 days of hiking the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland. It was a long trip, filled with highs and lows of the emotional, physical and literal kind. To keep this recap manageable, I’m breaking the trip up into four parts: Cappahayden to Calvert, Calvert to Burnt Cove, Burnt Cove to Petty Harbour and Petty Harbour to St. John’s. And I did’t keep a journal (I had to throw it out, Cheryl Strayed-style to lighten my pack) so if I get any details wrong, hopefully JK can correct them in the comments. I’ve also estimated our daily walking totals, which includes backtracking and mistakes we made along the way.

First up: Cappahayden to Calvert!

Getting there: We flew in late on Saturday, August 3rd and stayed at the dorms in Memorial University. Southern Shore Taxi came recommended by the trail association and on Sunday morning, $220 got us a ride from MUN to Canadian Tire to pick up camping fuel, Dominion to pick up fresh fruit and bagels and down to Cappahayden to begin our adventure!

Island Meadow Path: We were on the trail by 12:30. The first path was the Island Meadow Path (10.1k), ranked moderate by the ECTA maps we bought. We powered through this trail easily. It felt like a solid starter trail, not too hard, not too long and not too dangerous.

Renews: We took a break in Renews to stretch before powering through town. Renews has nothing — we saw what might have been a convenience store, but it was closed. About halfway through town, it started to pour. We decided to hike as far past the town as we could and find a camp site for the night if/when the rain let up.

Bear Cove Point Path: We camped on this 11.6k path about 2k in (Day 1 total: 17k), after scrambling over some wet cliff faces — the first of many times I thought we could possibly plunge to our deaths. Finding a decent campsite on this trail was tough, as it went through a lot of dense, uneven forest. We camped, completely wet, and woke up in the morning to more rain. Our Day 2 plan was to finish this path and see about getting dry when we got to the next down. The path continued to be muddy, dense, hilly and uneven — more than once we asked “THIS is moderate?” We emerged around noon, soaking wet, in Kingman’s Cove, where we encountered our first trail angels — Jenny, Don and Eileen.

Kingsman’s Cove/Fermeuse/Port Kirwan: There IS a convenience store in town, but we didn’t need to go to it, thanks to Jenny! We emerged from the trail just as they were getting home from an adventure of their own, took pity on us and invited us inside to dry off and have some tea. Tea turned into lunch, which turned into dinner, and when the rain wasn’t letting up, turned into an invitation to stay overnight. Everything we owned was soaked, so this was so, so, so appreciated. (Day 2 total: 10k) The next morning, Jenny filled us up on her son’s power porridge and even drove us to the next trail marker! This was an amazing turn of events and I can’t thank Jenny enough for the warm food, bed and great company.

Berry Head!

Berry Head!

Spurwink Island Path: Our third day began with perfect hiking weather, which was good because we had a big day ahead of us: we wanted to get to Aquaforte and camp there for the night. Spurwink Island Path (17.1k)was the first “difficult” path on our trek and difficult it was — the trail was very up and down, was wet from all the rain and was hard to navigate. When we weren’t in the woods, we were hacking our way through bushes. The ECTA markers (white triangles) aren’t as frequent as they should be, but someone — smartly, thankfully — posted neon tape more frequently. This trail went inland a lot, but it had enough highlights (Berry Head, Bald Head) to make it almost worthwhile.

Mudder Wet Path: Spurwink Island Path ends near a highway, but there were a lot of clearings for decent camping. We were low on water and it was too early to stop, so Mudder Wet Path (2.9k) was next on our list. The “easy” ranking this trail gets is a LIE. It involved a high climb and hacking our way through more bushes (there are a billion blueberries in Newfoundland — I recommend picking to save berries on any trip. We had blueberries in our oatmeal almost every morning). It didn’t help we were exhausted from our long day.

Aquaforte: Aquaforte is teeny. When we realized how small it was, we collapsed in a field across from the house. (Day 3 total: 20k) The family in the house saw this and invited us in — we filled up our water bottles, took a quick shower and got permission to camp in their field. The next day, when walking through town, we found a convenience store and bought a Gatorade. It was magical and delicious. We missed the trail head and ended up walking about a kilometre past it before we realized what we did — let’s pretend we were just making up for the kilometres we missed thanks to Jenny’s ride.

Sounding Hills Path: This 5.5k path was less up and down than others, but the conditions still sucked — narrow pathways, mud everywhere, exposed cliffs and high shrubs made it an adventure.

Ferryland: Ferryland is the first town with stuff. There was a Foodland, a few B&Bs, a tea room and picnics at the island (which we didn’t get to do because you need to make reservations months in advance). We had lunch at the tea room — it was okay — and filled up our water bottles. We were confused as to where the Foodland was (it was before the trail) and didn’t want to climb a giant hill, so even though the next trail started right by the tea room, we opted to keep walking through town in an attempt to find amenities and shorten our day. When we realized we were 2k PAST the Foodland, we had to backtrack. Which we did. But the fresh fruit we acquired was worth it. I think.

Caplin Bay Path: This “easy” 5.2k path was confusing and a waste of time. Some of it is in Ferryland, some of it takes you through the woods along the highway and some of it we could not find. It got so confusing around the school and the cemetery that we said screw it and walked on the highway for a bit. When we found the trail again, the 2k of trail we did end up doing wasn’t worth it — there were no ocean views and a huge climb at the end.

Calvert: When we finished the Caplin Bay Path, we were exhausted. The hiking wasn’t the most challenging, but we were super low on energy. (I don’t think we were eating enough and had yet to reconcile our expectations with reality.) We just wanted to find some water and a place to camp. Calvert is another town with no amenities (stock up in Ferryland!) and we ended up camping in a church parking lot because the thought of hiking 4 more kilometres to the trailhead seemed overwhelming (Day 4 total: 15k).


In sum, the first four days were wet and tiring and lacked basic amenities to keep our hopes and energy up. We didn’t hike as far as we originally planned on ANY of the days. The the trails were in rough shape and the views were too few and far in-between to make these muddy slogs worth it. We also didn’t see ANY other hikers in these first few days, and felt very isolated. However, Jenny and her family saved the day, kept us dry and filled with hope that the rest of the trip would be filled with magical moments.

Tomorrow, check back for the recap of Calvert to Burnt Cove.

We’re raising money for the Nature Conservancy of Canada — the hike may be over, but the fundraising isn’t. There’s still time to donate! You can donate to our campaign here. And if you’ve already donated — thank you!


A Walk in the Woods: Hiking the Rouge River Valley

JK and me ready to hike. JK has yet to get the memo that bright colours = better fitness.


JK and I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed this summer and both came to the same realization: we needed to do a hike like that. And soon. After some research, we settled on a time (the last two weeks of July 2013) and a place (the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland). There was only one problem: neither of us were big-time hikers.

Sure, I’d done the day trips in high school biology, with my dad and Envirothon. I even lived on an island in a tent for a summer for a summer job during university. I knew we could do it. But we wanted to get some practice in first in order to avoid a lot of the problems Cheryl faced on her journey. It’s far better to discover your boots are too small or your sunscreen gives you a rash on a 10k day trip than a 220k adventure.


Riverside hiking! Don’t fall in!


We set the day for our first trip — September 29 — and thanks to the Toronto Hiking website, settled on the Rouge River Valley trail path. Depending on the route we took, it would be anywhere from 8k to 12k and would range from easy to a little bit difficult. Pals Steph, Anita and Aaron decided to join us and we were off. Aaron drove (thanks Aaron!), which made finding the trail pretty easy — it’s right next to the zoo.


A map of the trail network, courtesy Toronto Hiking. We didn’t cover all of it, so we’ll need to come back!


And we were off. We kept a brisk, but manageable pace. The trail started through a meadow, then turned into woods after a kilometre or so. We eventually ended up down by the river and followed that for a while. After taking one too many wrong loops, we settled by the river for lunch, then retraced our steps back to the car. Overall, it was about 2.5 hours and we probably hiked 10k. We saw other people, which was reassuring because it meant we weren’t totally lost, but never enough people that it was crowded or overwhelming. Rouge Park felt like a wilderness gem in the city, and I was grateful to have found it.


JK and Aaron chowing down on homemade cookies (thanks JK!), granola and other hearty hiker foods.

It doesn’t get much better than this.


There’s something about being in nature that is soothing. It helps me return to my roots, anchor me. We are all part of something bigger, and that’s amazing. Too often I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the city, of my career, of publishing. Places like Rouge River Valley remind me that nature isn’t far away at all — I just need to go seek it out. Make time for it. Bring it into my life. This epic hike next year is an extreme reaction to this need, but it can be done in littler ways everyday. Than you, Rouge River for reminding me of that.

And for giving my legs a killer workout.


How to stay fit on a cruise


Last week, Matt and I took a cruise. We went to the Caribbean on the Grand Princess, to be exact. Now, once you get over the fact that two twenty-somethings went cruising (and, weirdly, freakishly enjoyed it to the fact we’re probably going to do it again), the following questions will enter your head: But, Erin, aren’t cruises decadent? Aren’t the food options not very healthy and totally overwhelming? Aren’t you on a boat? How do you stay fit on a boat?


I was on a boat! This boat, to be exact.


The answers to those questions are, respectively: yes, yes, yes, and why let me tell you!


1) Take advantage of the fitness centre


The fitness centre! Not bad, eh?

Every cruise ship has a gym. The one on the Grand Princess has a weight room and a general assortment of exercise machines. Cruises are very much about routine, so if you get in one early (ie. tell yourself “I’ll go to the gym every morning at 9” then actually do it), fitting in fitness isn’t all that hard. Because I was “tapering” (aka being lazy), I didn’t hit up any of the machines. But lots of people did.

2) Sign up for classes

Our cruise had two kinds of classes: drop-in classes that cost $12 and free classes. The $12 classes included yoga, pilates and spinning. The free classes included stretching, Chillax (which is a code name for yoga), and ab work-outs. If you don’t want to pay the top-up for the special classes, don’t! I enjoyed the Chillax classes more than the paid yoga classes. They were 30 minutes long, offered on port days and — for some reason — no one goes to the free classes. I took Chillax three times and the largest class was five people.  One day, there was two of us in the class. Where else can you get an almost personal fitness session for, essentially, free?!  Mind you, the space for the classes was right next to the treadmills, so it felt like doing yoga in a Goodlife, and not in a proper yoga studio. But there was a snazzy view of the ocean.

The yoga classes were after the ab classes and before the pilates class. I didn’t do them, but I got to watch. Those classes could easily kick your ass.


3) Choose active excursions


Me, hiking! Thanks to my lovely fellow hikers for snapping this pic without my knowledge. I was learning things from our guide. Jon Angelo. Exercise can be educational.

Most excursions involve trolley tours or museum tours or boat tours. But some will involve diving or snorkeling or golfing or hiking. Choose those excursions. They are usually smaller (one of the benefits with cruising with a less mobile generation) as well as fun. In Aruba, I signed up for the Hiking/Swimming/Shopping excursion. We were bussed out to Arikok National Park and did a 5k loop through some scenic landscapes. I learned a lot about Aruba’s history and ecosystems and worked up a good sweat while doing so. (It was 37 degrees that day, which probably aided in the sweat production). It was just like Envirothon, but with more cacti. Then we went to the beach, where I did laps in the roped-off swimming area. Swimming in the ocean is awesome.


You can also climb trees at the beach. It totally counts.

4) Eat smart

This is probably the toughest thing to do. There is food everywhere! The secret is to be smart at the buffet. Take the smaller plates inside, not the giant plates they hand you at the entrance. Head straight for the salad bar. Do not linger at the stations where they cooked potatoes 87 different ways. You will end up eating only potatoes. Most mornings, I made a fruit salad. Most lunches, I made a regular salad. For example, on taco and burrito day, I made a taco salad with lettuce, corn, peppers, tomatoes, beans, salsa, guacamole and corn chips, even though it wasn’t technically on the menu. Easy! The vegetable offerings were plentiful, so I could make a different salad every day. When I wanted a snack, I popped by the buffet and grabbed a banana or an apple to munch on.

Dinners were a bit tougher, but eventually Matt and I gave up on the sit-down dining experience to eat at the buffet every night (hint: of the four nights were did this, three had the exact same menu in the dining room and the buffet). The in-room dining options were not veg-friendly and the dining room options were often too heavy for my liking. By choosing the casual buffet, I got to sample what the kitchen was making without overloading, complement the meal with a salad of my choice and — bonus! — eat outside. All the traditional dining options on board are indoors. But the back pool? The deck emptied once it got dark out, and no one, except Matt and I, seemed to enjoy dining al fresco. It was win-win.

And stay away from the dessert buffet. It’s not worth it.


5) Drink smart

I drank A LOT on this cruise. But you’re supposed to, right? I  was on vacation, after all. Matt and I stuck to the classic “get drunk and stay awake” concoction of our choice: rum and cokes.  They were perfect in the Caribbean heat and — bonus! — are much lower in carbs and calories than our beloved beer. (If you want to be really smart, don’t drink at all. But that’s not my style.)


How do you stay fit on vacation? Share your tips with us!