By Julie Chatelain and Simon Lacroix
We are on the seventh day of our latest adventure – crossing Canada. But like any long trip, it all starts with one step at a time. We felt a little apprehensive when leaving St John’s, but the first steps seemed easy; the Trail was well groomed, the grade was easy, and the weather clear.
It feels like we could write about every moment but four aspects describe the walk to date: the Trail, the landscape, the weather, and the people. All four are very unique aspects of beautiful Newfoundland.
The section of The Great Trail from St. John’s to Channel-Port aux Basques is called the T’Railway. This trail is managed by the Newfoundland T’Railway Council, a non-profit corporation dedicated to the development of a recreational trail using the former Canadian National railway line. Its mandate is to promote multi-use trail development and to preserve abandoned railway lines for future uses such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Other uses like dog sledding and snowshoeing may be appropriate in certain regions.
As the railway once did, the Trail connects the hundreds of communities and nature – we can see that first-hand because it is very well utilised. The condition of the trail is improving every year. Within communities, it is very well maintained as a groomed trail, ideal for afternoon walking. Between communities and in wilderness areas, it is of varied quality, but is easily accessible for thru-hiking.
The landscape also changed subtly as we left St John‘s. We are in the Eastern Zone and especially along the coast (Southern Atlantic) it is very ‘tundra like‘. There is also a significant amount of elevation gain, and the fact that railways go up and down a lot came as a surprise to us both! We gained over 450 metres at one point, and our legs felt it. Once we got out of the communities, lakes, ponds, bog and rock dominated the landscape.
The weather is unique, as all locals will tell you – and they have told us, over and over. We‘ve been promised summer-like temperatures, but even that isn‘t promising much – it seems! Today is June 20, and we’ve had one sunny afternoon with a high of 15oC. Otherwise, it‘s been around 8oC as a daily high and evening lows of -2oC to 2oC. This isn‘t a complaint – it’s just the reality of hiking in this beautiful and extreme place.
I saved the people of this land for last because this, as for most of our trips, is the highlight for us. As amazing as the weather, the Trail or the vistas can be, it is the connections we make with people along the way that make the trip worthwhile. This time was even more special because they are all fellow Canadians:
There were Kevin and the mayor of Avondale (didn‘t get his name), who came out of their house very early on a Saturday morning to unlock the railway museum and give us a private tour to visit. We appreciated seeing their pride in capturing this piece of their provincial and Canadian history.
There was Albert, the 72-year-young fellow near Placentia who displayed effortless fly-fishing skills that I (Simon) have tried to acquire through lessons and practice – and usually fail to achieve. He offered us breakfast and coffee and to taste some of his wife‘s turkey stew.
There was the manager of Arnold’s Inn, Donna, who arranged for the inn’s maintenance man to pick us up on the Trail and help us get to the Inn on a very stormy day.
There was a surprising number of others during these first few days of our hike who simply stopped us to chat and ask us: what the heck are you doing? We have to listen attentively to them due to their strong (some more than others) accent. We are enjoying the subtle differences yet deep similarities in the love we all feel for our country.