Hiking on the edge

In 1996 Emma and I had just finished university. Emma took off for Canada for Christmas and I followed soon after meeting up with her in Toronto. We visited a local library one day where I pulled a book off the shelf called ‘Hiking on the Edge’, about Canada’s West Coast Trail.

I was instantly smitten by the glorious pictures of tall old growth temperate rainforest, wild surf, suspension bridges, cable cars and river crossings. ‘We have to do this’, I said to Emma. So we did. That April we headed over to British Columbia where we found ourselves living and crewing on a yacht, the Thane, that took pleasure cruises out of Victoria Harbour on the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Here we bided our time until hiking season opened on the 1st of May.

As soon as the trail opened we were off. The trail was everything ‘Hiking on the Edge’ promised it would be and I fell in love with the remote, wild and rugged landscape. Emma recalls that we came across a family walking the trail. I don’t, but I do recall getting to the end and announcing that I wanted to come back and hike it with our kids.

When these twelve months of roaming the world came around, one of the first things I seized upon was the chance to fulfil that nineteen-year-old whimsical wish, the chance to go back and hike the trail again. This time with Amy and Oliver. A visit to Vancouver Island became a fixed stop over point along our way. Emma’s dad Ian picked up on ramblings about where we intended to go and what we intended to do and decided that the West Coast Trail would be a good goal for him as well. His training started more or less immediately.

Nineteen years after the fact, my memory of the hike was all gorgeous scenery, exciting ladders and cable cars and the joy of being somewhere a long way from anywhere. It seems likely now that my commitment to walk the trail was made with a significant glossing over of the challenges it actually presents – to anyone, but particularly to a family represented by three generations. Sixty-one years separated the oldest and youngest amongst us this time around.

Parks Canada say that, ‘The West Coast Trail should not be considered by: children under twelve’ or ‘those with little stamina or recurring knee back or ankle injuries’. Amy is eleven and Oliver is nine and a year ago Ian was having trouble getting through eighteen holes of golf due to a bad back. Hmm. I kept telling myself that Amy and Oliver were really closer to twelve and ten.

According to Parks Canada more than 100 hikers are evacuated every season due to injuries. ‘Many sprains, fractures and dislocations happen because of a slip or trip and progressive ankle and knee injuries are also common and over a period of days may become so sore that hikers cannot carry their pack’. Did we know what we were getting ourselves into?

Foul weather is also an issue. One website warns:

You must have grit, the ability to weather quite a bit of misery on the trail. It’s tough in a way that expectations realise and don’t understand. It’s wet. Wet all the time. Wet in a way that saps enthusiasm. When you are on the trail and it’s raining, you are waking up in a damp tent in a fogged in beach. Your stove won’t start and you feel heavy before moving.  Remember, you have to have true grit. It’s wet and cold and miserable all around.  But you are full of excitement and strength. Of course it’s raining today. If it wasn’t it wouldn’t be the West Coast Trail. Make sure you wake up to this mindset. Because if you don’t, well…

The reality of all this grew on me in the days leading up to the hike. Sure we had hiked to Annapurna Base Camp and trekked for five days through the highlands of Iceland, but on those occasions we had guides and porters and friends. Here however, we were going it alone. No Andrea and Peter to lead the way and no Nepalese strong men to carry our load.

But still, the dice had been rolled. We had charted our course and there was no turning back. Ian had undertaken a serious training program and flown out from Australia specifically for the purpose and we had been gearing up for months buying new boots, camping mats and the like.

We flew into Victoria on Vancouver Island and met Ian shortly afterwards at the Strathcona Hotel. Two pleasant days in Victoria followed. Emma and I found the ‘Thane’ still operating out of the central harbour. We stopped by for a chat with the new owner, a photo and a trip down memory lane.

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The ‘three hour sail’!
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We found Grandpa, and ice-cream!

We also got down to business prepping for the trip. We made multiple trips to the local outdoor shops, buying freeze dried dinners and other miscellaneous odds and ends. Emma and I visited the grocery store, purchasing around $400 worth of food, supplies for five people for eight days. As we piled six bags of muesli, one of granola and a bag of oats into the trolley we looked at each other and mused over how it was all going to fit in our packs. The two of us would carry the bulk of the load in an effort to lessen the load on our older and younger companions.

The night before the bus to the trailhead I slept very little. I tossed and turned and pondered how we would go coping with the 40-50mm of rain forecast for the day after we set out, or what we would do if one of us got sick or injured. The mandatory Parks Canada briefing at the trailhead covered what to do when confronted by bears, cougars and wolves and did nothing to lessen my anxiety. We told Amy and Oliver we were unlikely to come across any, but apparently bear sightings were a daily occurrence…

I felt much better when we finally got underway. Our packs were bursting at the seams. Scales at the trailhead put my pack at around 30 kg (the scales were a bit dodgy), Emma’s around 24 kg, Ian’s around 20kg and Amy and Oliver at 8 kg each. My pack was so full of food I had to strap the tent horizontally across the top instead of carrying it inside – never had to do that before.

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Ready to go, with Peter, Tobin, Sydney and Andrea

‘Blisters and Bliss’, the West Coast Trail guidebook, describes day one of the walk as ‘a stroll to grandmas’, twelve kilometres that can be knocked off in three to four hours. It took us five, maybe six and Ian commented ‘that was about as hard as I expected the hike would be’. Hmm, I thought. At least it didn’t rain.

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Enjoying hot drinks on the first night

It did rain that night though. It came down in buckets and was still flowing when we climbed out of bed the following morning. I stole a moment with Emma, a little knot of anxiety churning in the pit of my stomach and said ‘we’re going to get soaked’. We had thirteen kilometres to hike that day and the joyful prospect of packing up in the rain.

If only Andrea and Peter were here I thought. Hiking with another family provides a certain silent assurance that comes by virtue of not being the only ones crazy enough to take their children to wild and remote places. As it turned out however, Andrea, Peter, Sydney and Tobin really were with us after all.

Back in Toronto we received a parcel from the Douglas Grants in the mail. It was, in Andrea’s words, an ‘unabashed attempt to make it into another (8)itchyfeet episode.’ It came with a freeze dried meal (delicious), gaiters (essential), dehydrated peanut butter, maple syrup lollies (candy for the north Americans out there) and candy bracelets for Amy and Oliver.

We were lead to understand that the care package demonstrated:

‘an extreme level of care and devotion. Many days were spent dehydrating food in the sweltering outdoor kitchen… It was also not expected, though perhaps it should have been – as we are in Canada, that the first version of this package would be literally wrestled out of the jaws of a racoon and his mates. Ok so not actually wrestled. But they did eat it, and I did hear them fighting for it and I did make Peter go at them with a bat. He was too late. This is the second package’.

The package also included photographs of the four of them taped to chopsticks with instructions that they were to be placed and photographed at particularly scenic locations, around camp and with places to be set for them at meal times. It was good to have their faces looking back at us from under the tarp as the rain poured down. This was just the kind of crazy thing they would do to.

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Dinner from the care package – not sure Peter liked it…

With rain gear on, the track got tougher. The first of many mud lakes opened up before us, there were many ladders, some up to 65 rungs high and suspension bridges to be crossed. If Ian was phased by the reality of day one he hid it well. Judging by his demeanour, he had spent the previous night developing a steely resolve to see the trail through which only seemed to grow day after day.

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Grandpa and Amy up front
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Log climbing with instructions from Amy

Still, for all the thoughts that filled my head about how Emma and I would shepherd our crew safely through, the wonders of the trail also began to unfold. They were an antidote to my anxiety, a salve for the soul and welcome reminder of just why we do this sort of thing in the first place. The old growth spruce, hemlock and cedar of the West Coast Trail is serene and peaceful and beautiful. It is one environment where wet and grey truly serves to enhance the view. Wet is how it is meant to be.

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Enjoying the forest… or the mud?

Massive trees, some twice the span of my outstretched arms lined our way, all of them covered in sphagnum moss and ferns. Ecosystems within ecosystems. Creeks, rivers and waterfalls cut across our path in shallow and deep gullies and all the while the roar of the wild west coast was somewhere just off to our right.

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A nice smooth bit of trail

Hiking in the forest was interspersed with hiking on the beach when time and tides allowed. Sea lions could be heard long before they were seen on rocky haul outs. Rock pools presented all manner of sea creatures and wild waves crashed to the shore even in the light seas. Rocky headlands adorned with cedar trees silhouetted themselves against a sky painted in endless shades of grey. It was postcard picture perfect, despite the weather.

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Endless shades of grey

The rain eased as we hiked on. Emma smiled at me and said ‘we’re doing it’. Emma is, to borrow a corny saying, my rock. A pivot point around which my wildly erratic emotions of wonder, excitement, fear and worry oscillate and I love her for it.

It stayed wet and grey into day three. Ian, Oliver and Amy had the occasional ‘lie down’ as slippery surfaces did battle with their preference to remain horizontal. Walks on the beach became a continual search up and down looking for sand that didn’t sink an inch and a half with every step.

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Searching for hard sand

As we walked we stopped and chatted with hikers travelling in the other direction. Like Emma and I years ago, the average age of trekkers was undoubtedly twenty something. To a person every one of them did a double take at the sight of Amy and Oliver before offering words of unabashed admiration. Towards the end of the hike we came across a group of track builders who declared them to be the youngest trekkers of the season.

People were less surprised to find a gentleman of Ian’s vintage out and about, but to my mind his achievement was greater than the kids. If Amy and Oliver tired, it was only mentally as demonstrated by their running and leaping off logs or continual combing of the beach for firewood at the end of each day, regardless of how far or long we walked. Ian by contrast seemed as content to be still when the day’s walk was done as he was determined to see it done in the first place. After up to nine-hours trekking at a stretch, no-one begrudged him his seat.

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Intrepid Grandpa – nice simple bit of trail

We sent Ian out as the pace maker the majority of the time giving him the chance to pick his way along at the pace that suited most. The terrain on this hike is hugely varied, but predominantly exceedingly rough, especially in the latter stages where our progress was slowed to less than a kilometre an hour by ladders, mud, roots, fallen trees and slippery surfaces. If Ian was a little slower over the rough terrain, he was unstoppable on the smooth flat stretches of boardwalk and beach, leaving us all scrambling to catch up.

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Grandpa – miles ahead through this stuff
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Boot sucking mud
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Quality bridge crossing
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A little bit of log balancing
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Boardwalk helped avoid the mud… sort of
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And just a little bit of driftwood to navigate

As things went, Ian was followed by Amy, Amy by Oliver and Oliver by me. Emma brought up the rear. In addition to pack mule, I took on the role of story teller, to stop Amy and Oliver thinking about their feet.

We spent three days recounting the American space program and one of my favourite stories, the flight of Apollo 13 before moving on to William Wallace and finally the Hunt for Red October. If I paused for more than a minute or so Oliver would without fail open his mouth to politely and cheekily say, ‘and ah now keep talking…please’ to prompt me along. Andrea’s maple syrup lollies and candy necklaces brought me some story telling respite. You can’t talk with a mouth full of Canadian deliciousness.

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They remembered to take them off at night… no bears found them!

By the end of day three we had hiked 42 of 75 kilometres. Excellent progress, except for the horror stories on the state of the trail that lay ahead and the Parks Canada briefing that said it will take just as long to get from kilometre 54 to 75 as it will to get from 0 to 54. Amy’s anxiety grew with all the tales of the trail ahead.

I reassured her that most people just love to ‘talk it up’ and was in turn reassured when this turned out to be true. The trail did deteriorate. It was continuous mud, ladders and twisted gnarled tree roots, but of course was not impassable as some would almost have had us believe. Amy’s mood lightened the further we got into the hardest part of the trip and she and Oliver revelled in the adventure presented by ladders which descended more than a hundred metres straight onto suspension bridges and cable cars which whizzed across ravines.

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Straight off a ladder onto this suspension bridge
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One of the many ladders
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Grandpa enjoying a proper sit down
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Cable cars were an arm workout for sure

The weather on days five, six and seven of our trip turned out to be magnificent and we all revelled in the sunshine. Clear skies lightened the mood and bright sun dried out sleeping bags, socks, boots, tents, fly’s and ground sheets. Oliver took to collecting firewood and he and Ian soon had us a blazing fire each evening. It’s hard to describe how much happier it is to be in a camp warmed by a fire. We sat around for hours drying socks that would be soaked through within twenty steps the following morning.

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So nice to hike in the sunshine
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Sunshine!!!
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Only resulted in a few singed socks
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Enjoying a fire

Peter, Andrea, Sydney and Tobin took on many useful campsite roles, sterilising water, cooking, helping with the fire and reading books.

 

 

Our confidence grew as each day passed and it soon became clear that the shortest route off the West Coast Trail was the route which would take us to the end. Failure was not an option! Still the trail had a few twists and turns before it would let us see it through. The campsite on our last night was on a beach some 230 metres below the trail itself. A one kilometre side trip separated the two and it had to be ascended again the following morning.

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Our last night – before the rain

The rain also returned, and saw us once again packing up under the tarp on our final morning. We woke early, 6.00 am, as we often did to make sure we had sufficient time to traverse our route. This was especially important on the last day given the last ferry across the Gordon River and back to civilisation departed at 3.00pm. The guide book suggested it would take around five-hours to go the final five kilometres.

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A little over the rain by now

We made it by 12.45 pm, wet through but uncaring. We did it. We did it. I’m not sure how… but we did it! I was filled with relief and a large amount of pride. Relief and pride that our unusual little team of trekkers had successfully finished one of the most gruelling walks in the world. I had dismissed the title before we begun, but think now it may be a reasonable estimation.

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We were so ‘done’ this was the best photo we could manage

The burgers and beer at the Port Renfrew Pub were amazing and the bus ride back to Victoria like being whisked out of one universe and into another. Ian had booked us into the Monaco Spectacular, a grandly named and suitably well-appointed apartment back in Victoria with views across the city. Its creature comforts were most welcome after our eight days in the wilderness.

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A bit different to freeze dried!

The West Coast Trail the second time around was not the easiest project we have undertaken and significantly harder than it was when Emma and I tackled it solo nineteen years ago. It will however undoubtedly be one of the highlights of our year, up there with the La-ha-ha-ha trail and the Annapurna Base Camp trek.

It will be a highlight because it wasn’t easy. A little bit of a paradox perhaps, but therein lies the appeal. It’s the achievement that makes it memorable as much as the scenery, not to mention the wonderful and rare opportunity to do such a thing as part of a family group of three generations. I hope that in time to come Amy and Oliver will look back and understand just what they have done and how marvellous it is.


 

Now here are a few additional photos because it was just so picturesque!

Coast

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These sea lions were huge!
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West coast sunset
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Found a float – doubles as a soccer ball
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We got here at low tide – yay
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Enjoying the sand
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A lovely day
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More grey coastline
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And the sun came out
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It was pretty special
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Tidal pools and driftwood
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Small river crossing
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Cuddles on the beach
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Just a few seagulls
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Some more coastline
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Carmanah Point lighthouse
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Slow going here
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Wild west coast
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The view on our last night
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The view on our last night

Trail

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He really doesn’t like his photo being taken
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The ferry at Nitnat Narrows – there was a grey whale in there too
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Some nice boardwalk
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A bit of log balancing
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Some mud climbing
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A happy hiker
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You could go under or over…

Boots

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Boots Day 1
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Oliver’s foot looked like this every day
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Boots Day 7

Resting

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Kicking back lunch early on – note lack of mud on boots

 

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We found chairs one day – came with a foot spa too
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Snacktime
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Lunchtime
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Not sure what Greg is up to here
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Putting our boots back on after crossing a river

Ladders

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This one was at the weirdest angle
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The rungs were often well worn
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We could never get the series of ladders in one photo
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Amy and Oliver found the ladders easy
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This was ladder number 100 – Amy counted them all

Fun with the Douglas Grants

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Fried apple granola – Andrea is hiding at the stove
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Andrea helping with powdered peanut butter
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Enjoying a fire
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Mud!

 

 

Tu-high, tu-right, tu-left… Tulo!

‘Too right… too left… too high… Tulo!’ This the crowd chanted as Troy Tulowitzki of the Toronto Blue Jays stepped up to the plate. Bases were loaded as the Red Sox pitcher wound up. He threw a fast ball (I think. It could have been a ‘slider’ or a ‘changeup’. It’s hard to tell from the top deck) which whizzed through the air at close to a hundred miles an hour. Tulo rotated at the hips, shoulders following as he heaved his bat.

Moments later an ever so pleasing ‘tock’ raced up to greet the ears of 47,000 Blue Jays fans. The ball arched forwards and upwards, sailing clear over the head of left outfield and clearing the fence. Anthony and Jill (Emma’s cousin and her husband) and Emma and I leapt to our feet screaming in delight. So did the rest of the stadium with the exception of Amy and Oliver who were I think still trying to work this baseball thing out. The players below jogged their victory lap and the game lurched on, the Jays once again in the lead.

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Anthony explaining what just happened

The commotion died down and Anthony brought me another beer. Amy and Oliver were counting them as they kept coming. Maybe it was the beer talking, but live baseball was fantastic fun. Especially when the game mattered and the whole city had come out to show its support.

From our seats high above the field (the only ones we could get for less than a king’s ransom) the view was awesome. The field of the Toronto Skydome (aka the Rogers Stadium) was laid out right at the foot of the 457-metre-high CN Tower. It was a cultural experience, right down the to the yellow food groups on which we dined.

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Perfect day for a ballgame
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The CN Tower from our seats (the crowd is still arriving)
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The Blue Jay
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We wondered why most of the Red Sox didn’t have red socks…
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mmmmmm
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Culturally appropriate yellow food – alas there were no crackerjacks
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Toronto Subway all the way to the ground and back

The Jays lost in the end which disappointed me greatly. I expected a similar reaction from Anthony who surprised me by shrugging with an, ‘eh, it’s just a game’. I expected the loyalties of a city resident would be stronger than my own brand of temporary ‘blowin through’ support.

For ‘blowin through’ is what we were doing in Toronto. We always intended to visit but according to our original schedule, not until the end of the year when we hoped for a white Christmas with our Canadian relatives. The Canadian Department of Immigration and Citizenship however gave us cause to reconsider our plans.

One fine day back in Europe somewhere Emma had been researching the visa requirements for Australians visiting Canada and discovered that they had changed the entry requirements for dual citizens such as herself. The upshot of this was that when we planned to return to Canada later in the year they would not let Emma in on an Australian passport. Emma had to renew her Canadian passport or risk being stopped at the border.

I find this hilarious. Let the Aussies in no worries but don’t let in the Aussie who is also Canadian! Of course getting a passport is never a straightforward business, especially when you don’t have an address in the relevant country. With Jill and Anthony’s assistance however and documentation sent out from home Emma had soon dotted the ‘i’s and crossed the ‘t’s.

She took the paperwork in on a Thursday morning and picked up her new passport on Friday afternoon. Remarkable turnaround time – almost enough to forgive the fact that they had made rules which would have let us in and kept her out. I am now afflicted by a serious case of passport jealousy. I feel just as Canadian as Emma. I want one too!

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Feeling relieved

As a result of the politics of international travel we spent five days all up in Toronto, but it was so much more fun than passports. Jill and Anthony are wonderful hosts. You can’t stay at their place without having a good time and feeling totally relaxed and at home. When they weren’t at work they were taking us out for flaming cheese on ‘the Danforth’, or hanging out with us in their cosy basement watching CNN coverage of the US presidential race, the Blue Jays or the Fantastic Mr Fox, or sitting around helping us plot a passage through the USA and the remainder of our year.

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Harry the cat was such a great help
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He eliminated whole parts of the country for us

Oliver and Jackson (Jill and Anthony’s son) could mostly be found up on the third floor playing the Playstation or in the back yard attempting to master the ‘rip stick’ – a skateboard like contraption, but there was also chess and ping pong on the dining room table. Emma’s Aunt and Uncle also dropped by for a long lunch and it was great to see them.

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So much better to photograph than Playstation games
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Note the ball boy
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Strawberry shortcake

While Jill and Anthony worked we explored the Canadian big smoke, including spending exorbitant amounts of money summiting that iconic Toronto building the CN Tower. It is a big tower. For many years, and right up until sometime in the 90s, it was the tallest building in the world. The glass elevator whizzed us to the top in exactly 58 seconds. I know this because they told us multiple times. The views from the top overlooked the massive Lake Ontario and entire Toronto city area. It was summery and green and quite a contrast from the winter view I remembered from when Emma and I were last here many years ago.

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View from the CN Tower

Still better than all this was the new addition to Jill and Anthony’s household. Rosco the dog. I’ve never met a more instantly lovable beastie. We’d already been discussing the possibility of getting another dog when we eventually make it home. Now it’s more a question of where can we find a breeder that makes dogs like Rosco?

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Rosco and Amy at the market

So Toronto turned out to be so much more than a bureaucratically driven stopover. We had a ball and are really looking forward to returning for Christmas. A huge thanks to Jill, Anthony and Jackson for their hospitality, generosity and for showing us a great time.

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Cheers! Great photo by Jackson!

 

More opinions than horsepower

Our time in Nova Scotia was awfully interesting. I found it to be fascinatingly different from home in many ways, yet not so different in so very many more. Having said that there was nothing that occurred in the days in which we toured around that makes for a terribly fascinating story, no dramas or hiccups and no adrenaline pumping events.

I therefore find myself in the rather unusual position of having had a wonderful and stimulating time but without a whole lot to tell. Still, for the benefit of anyone who may be interested in what we did and what we saw and what we enjoyed by all means read on. If you feel otherwise, then this is your chance to walk away from your computer, switch off your phone, or tablet and wander outside and enjoy the sunshine.

We left Lockeport with some regret. Ten days of lounging around, reading, strolling, swimming, taking photos and watching DVDs was seemingly over before it began. Still, it was over so we piled into our Buick Encore and set off.

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More opinions than horsepower – the Buick Encore

The Buick Encore, by the way, is a terrible car. Don’t get one. I hate cars that tell me what to do and the Buick Encore never misses an opportunity to tell you what to do. Don’t have the seatbelt on? Bing, Bing, Bing! Open the driver’s door without fully removing the key from the ignition? Bing, Bing, Bing. It drove me nuts.

Emma remarked that my capacity to continuously get annoyed rather than alter my behaviour made me less trainable than a dog. I wasn’t sure if that was a complement or an insult so chose take it as a complement. I think I just derived some pointless satisfaction at shrieking frustration to the uncaring universe.

In any case, we drove north in the car with more opinions than horsepower. Nova Scotia was substantially larger than I had anticipated. It was a three hour drive up to Peggy’s Cove, one of Canada’s most photographed sites and ‘an icon for the Maritime Provinces’. It’s pretty. Really pretty. A white lighthouse perched on a domed granite outcrop sticking out into the sea.

On the landward side is the pretty little cove itself, although that superlative doesn’t seem quite enough. Lobster boats take shelter moored beside rustic pastel coloured sheds and jetties. It’s idyllic. We spent a good two hours in the tiny village leaping about the granite boulders, eating ice cream and adding to the incalculable number of photos already taken. Unfortunately, our laptop died on us a few days later, before the photos had been uploaded to the ‘cloud’ and so we lost them.

This upset me. At one stage I took about 20 photos of the one same scene, adjusting the zoom and angle just so, to make sure I captured exactly what I was looking for. The light was good, the boats sitting just nicely, the granite boulders presenting themselves in just the right way. I got over it, eventually, but have nothing to show for my efforts so you’ll just have to use your imagination, or google up any of the other 3.5 billion photos that are likely to be available on the web.

From Peggy’s cove we drove to Halifax, to visit the Mountain Equipment Co-op store. Emma and I decided boots would be needed for our impending trek of the often times excessively muddy West Coast Trail on the opposite side of the country. So boot shopping we went. Oliver got over it quickly and made up his own little song of silent protest. It went something like this…

‘Here we are at the camping shop,
the camping shop,
the camping shop.
Here we are at the camping shop
and here we’ll stay all day’.

He sung it to a nice little ditty and in just a low enough voice and with just enough legitimacy to the sentiment to avoid my wrath for impertinence.

New boots in hand we piled back into the Buick Encore which infuriated me again for having a navigation system which wouldn’t allow you to enter a destination address. The icon was there, you just couldn’t click on it half the time. Fortunately, Emma is unusually talented in the ways of Google and associated maps and with thanks to her and not the Buick we made our way over a bridge over Halifax harbour and were off to the north. We stopped for the night at a very pleasant camp site nestled in amongst the trees. It was great, if eerily quiet. It was just us. Where was everyone?

The next day we made Cape Breton and camped at a campsite with a power outage, before making it to Baddeck and the start of the Cabbot Trail. All of Nova Scotia has been packaged up into tourist trails. We chose the route that headed around Cape Breton as our preferred trail up which to linger. We visited the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, learnt about his invention of the phone, hydrofoils and obsession with tetrahedral kites. Afterwards, for lunch, we experimented with powdered hummus and decided it was pretty good.

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Camping near Baddeck

A little further on we made it to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Here we took a walk, Emma and I in our new boots, out on Middlehead – a thin peninsula jutting kilometres out into the ocean. We spotted bald eagles and the cutest looking squirrels. Squirrels are, I suspect, to North Americans what eastern grey Kangaroos are to Australians – a dime a dozen. I however still think they are quite gorgeous.

Amy and I looked patiently through our lenses through the thick undergrowth and were very pleased with the outcome of our photographic endeavours.

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Aren’t they cute!!

Along the way I also came to the somewhat upsetting realisation that I had purchased the wrong sized boot. ‘Well really, what kind of a fool buys boots a size too small’ I thought to myself as part of a thorough self-flagellation.

When we were underway again in the opinionated Buick, Emma decided it would be good to listen to an Anne of Green Gables story ahead of our visit to Prince Edward Island, home of Lucy Maud Montgomery and setting for the Anne of Green Gables tales. Amy was pleased, she has and had been listening to all seven of the audio books over and over again and was only too pleased for all of us to share her beloved tale.

To my surprise, I got right into it, although I think deep down I am a little jealous. With apologies to the literati out there and English teachers who will no doubt know far better than I, the remarkable thing about Anne of Green Gables is that it is thoroughly engaging yet very little actually happens. The language employed, the characters and the passionate description of the place in which they live is however more than enough to compensate. I was rapt.

Oliver less so. I think I heard a little ditty similar to the one from the camping store emanating from the back seat before he dived quickly back into an audio book of his own involving owls, magic ones of course.

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We interrupted our story to eat lunch here
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Climbed up a waterfall from the beach

It rained for two days solid as we rounded the top of Cape Breton. We camped at National Park HQ, attended the nightly ranger talks on geology of the area and coyotes. Apparently the rift valley that runs through this Park is the same rift valley between tectonic plates that we visited back in Iceland. Who would have thought? That was a nicely personalised experience of just how connected the world really is.

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Life through the car window…

Between (and sometimes during) showers and down pours we went walking in the hills. On the sparsely wooded plateau of the Skyline Trail Amy was the first to spot the mighty antlers of a browsing moose. It was a little intimidating with no fence between it and us, but fortunately it had no interest in anything other than filling its belly and didn’t so much as flinch as we passed by.

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Rain and backlighting aside – he is pretty cool
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Skyline views
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Amazing light on the water
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Striking a pose
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Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Prince Edward Island was next. We were a bit over making and unmaking camp each day by now, so decided just to spend three nights at the one place over on the ‘Green Gables Shore’. We continued our now well practiced routine of having a camp fire each evening and indulged ourselves in the North American delicacy called s’mores.

A s’more is a lightly toasted marshmallow sandwiched between two graham crackers and adorned with a liberal slathering of choc chips. You get the choc chips between the crackers by rolling the half toasted marshmallow over a plate of choc chips before completing the toasting process.

We did it without the choc chips the first couple of times before our North American cultural advisors, aka Peter, Andrea, Sydney and Tobin, informed us via pointed text message that it was an offense to Canadians everywhere to leave out the chocolate. They had a point. It was good without the chocolate, but it was significantly better with it. Obviously they are called s’mores because you always want s’more… obviously.

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Cool National Parks beaver fire places
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S’more!
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Not a tidy treat

I loved Prince Edward Island though I struggle to say exactly why. As Lucy Maud Montgomery once lamented

‘I had always a deep love of nature. A little fern growing in the woods, a shallow sheet of June bells under the firs, moonlight falling on the ivory column of a tall birch… all gave me… feelings which I had then no vocabulary to express’.

I still have no vocabulary to express, hence the afore mentioned jealousy. If you haven’t already, read Anne of Green Gables and you too will perhaps fall in love with the lovely island. It’s not mountainous, it has no spectacular ravines or tumbling waterfalls. It is rather a patchwork of forest and field, babbling brooks and lakes, red beaches, estuaries and sand dunes.

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PEI scenery
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Even the hay was interesting
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Laneway in the PEI National Park
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PEI National Park
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Red sand at sunset
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Cavendish beach sunset
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Cavendish beach during the day
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View from Cavendish beach
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Trying to recreate a photo we took in Aus 5 years ago

When we weren’t eating s’mores we visited all things Green Gables including ‘the lake of shining waters’, ‘the haunted wood’ and ‘lovers lane’ and of course Green Gables itself which Emma’s cousin Jill later described as a ‘frumpy little house’. I guess it was really. Still, it inspired a tale which made Lucy Maud Montgomery a person of national significance and that somehow makes it rather special.

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A carriage ride with Mathew around the Lake of Shining Waters 
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Everything about LMM is celebrated and made into a tourist attraction
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Green Gables
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Lovers Lane
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The Haunted Wood
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Meeting Anne was a highlight for Amy
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Someone had to do it!

We packed up after three nights at PEI and piled our stuff into the back of the Buick Encore. At least we did after I cursed and swore at it again because the boot wouldn’t unlock at the same time as all the other doors. You’d think I would have adjusted to that after ten days, but apparently not.

We drove straight to the Halifax Shopping Centre and on to the Apple store where we proceeded to spend the next three and a half hours. Oliver, Amy and I played all the various sample games on offer on the various MacBook’s, iPad’s and iPhone’s while Emma did serious techie stuff with the serious techie people. I dropped by occasionally to make unhelpful but well intentioned interventions, before disappearing back to the games again.

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With another ‘good’ Andrea at the Apple Store

 

Amy and I also snuck out for a while to explain to the people at Mountain Equipment Co-op how it was that I had managed to buy a size nine pair of boots when I really needed a size ten. To my surprise, and great relief, this apparently was not a problem. I swapped them for a larger pair and we were on our way again.

To summarise, Buick Encores stink, moose and squirrels are good, Peggy’s cove is gorgeous but we can’t show you the photos, s’mores without chocolate are an offense to Canadians everywhere and I’m jealous that Lucy Maud Montgomery became of person of national significance by writing a story in which nothing happens.

Yep that about sums it up. Thanks for sticking with me. See you next time.