Tales from the trail

27 Jun 2012

By Susan Flanagan 
The Telegram
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Chris and Declan Flanagan stand overlooking Stiles Cove during the recent East Coast Trail Tely Hike. — Photos by Susan Flanagan/Special to The Telegram

Our eldest son was still seven the first time he hiked to The Spout. It was early August and the whales were thick as black flies. The humpbacks were so close to the coast near Bread and Cheese in Bay Bulls, you could smell their breath. Which wasn’t too fresh, I may add. A pure caplin diet and no mouthwash does not a pleasant odour make.

Because of No. 1’s tender age, the plan was to spend the night on the tent platforms near The Spout and hike out to Shoal Bay in the Goulds the next day. Near the mid-point of the trail, my husband started chatting with a couple who were doing the same hike but in reverse, and he lamented how he would have to hitch back down to Bay Bulls to get his truck. The couple bemoaned the same fact. They would have to hitch from Bay Bulls to Shoal Bay to get their car. That’s when my husband, ingenious as he is, tossed his truck keys to these trail happy strangers, described the truck and where it was parked and asked them to kindly leave the keys under the mat when they got to Shoal Bay.

I know what you’re thinking. This story is going to end in disaster. But brace yourself … not only did the couple deliver the truck to Shoal Bay for easy retrieval, but when they came out of the woods, they worried that some kids playing street hockey nearby would notice they were leaving keys in an unlocked vehicle and go for a joyride. Not that teenagers in the Goulds would take a truck for a joyride, but you don’t want to tempt a person. So they took my husband’s truck home, parked it in their driveway overnight where it was safe and brought it back to Shoal Bay the next morning. We only know this because they left a note explaining what they had done. How’s that for service from strangers?

The East Coast Trail is like that. You never know what kind of adventure you may have. I’m talking beyond the whales, moose, sea otters and wave-driven geysers. One day I was driving to a meeting at a downtown hotel when I spotted two young guys with heavily laden packs trudging west along Water Street. I sensed right away that they were headed to Fort Amherst and probably had no idea how long it was to get all the way down Southside Road. And I somehow doubted they’d find the footbridge that would save them several kilometres. So I picked them up and drove them around the harbour. They were thrilled with the ride and I fared them well as they set off up the foot of Southside Hills.

Once I finished my meeting and got in the van to drive home, I noticed a large, expensive super-zoom Nikon camera on the back seat of the van. “Oh dear, I guess the Germans who had flown across the Atlantic just so they could hike the East Coast Trail for three weeks aren’t going to have many photos of the first stretch south of St. John’s.”

That evening, after supper, we loaded up the kids and Grand-dad and headed out in search of the hikers. We did see three moose, but nar sign of the Germans. I knew by the size of their packs they wouldn’t get beyond Petty Harbour in one day, so we called in to see Teresa at Petty Harbour Convenience and left the camera with her.

Three days later, she told me months later, two haggard-looking young Germans called in to the shop. When she saw them, she said: “Did you guys lose a camera?”

They were gobsmacked.

The children have hiked hundreds of kilometres of the Trail over the years. Even when we lived in B.C. and only got home for visits, one of the first things we did was go for a hike. Now we still try to do chunks of the trail every weekend.

What’s really fun for the children is seeing where they’ve hiked on a topo map ($10 at the Howley Building on Higgins Line, next to the City of St. John’s Animal Care and Adoption Centre). We highlight sections of trail we’ve hiked together. This brings it all together for the children, who often don’t have a sense geographically of where they’re being toted off to. All they know is they’re going to have fun in the woods.

Susan Flanagan has been a Lifetime Member of East Coast Trail Association since its inauguration in 1994. She recommends buying a set of ECT maps before you head out on the trail. A complete waterproof set costs about $40.

That works out to a toonie per map.

Email to the ECT at information@eastcoasttrail.com or call (738-HIKE 4453).

Susan can be reached at susan@48degrees.ca