Last weekend, for three days, we attended events commemorating the Battle of Gettysburg including lectures, a trip to the actual battle fields, and the reenactment of key battles. Because it was the 150th anniversary, the scope and size of this event was staggering: over 10,000 re-enactors and over 100,000 spectators flooded a farm south of Gettysburg to immerse themselves in this important historical moment.
It was a hot weekend, marked by a cloudless sky and, on the last day, a torrential downpour. The weather, in many ways, mirrored what the soldiers, medial staff, and towns people endured during the three-day battle that scarred the land and served as a particularly important moment in the Civil War.
From the grandstand, we watched the re-enactors stretch across the fields out in front of us, firing in long volleys that echoed across the smoky landscape. Cannons blazed and cracked along the ridge lines and men crumpled to the ground as their battalions reformed and marched on. It was impressive and sad. Seeing history come to life was at once marvelous, almost magical, and incredibly hard to watch at the same time. It made the struggle and the suffering and the death that much more real.
It left us quiet in a way we ought to be more often.
It seems, like always, that life has been busy here, but I am convinced this is a good thing. It means trying new things and seeing friends and family and cooking yummy food and exploring. I am happy that life is busy.
But this year for the 4th, we took the day off. We brewed (Blueberry Stout…can’t wait!). We sat outside. We grilled and ate ice cream. The fireworks in Carlisle were on the 6th so instead we went old-school and I got six (yes, this is a large number) packets of sparklers. It reminded me of standing in my own backyard as a kid trying to write my name as the stick in my hand glowed and sizzled.
We twirled and made electric orange circles in the dark. It felt silly and fun. Then, Lucas wanted to try to capture the fleeting light, northern lights-style. I wielded the sparklers and he snapped some pretty cool picture.
So, a little late, but Happy 4th of July!
The Adventure Continues…
Day five on the trail included a whole lot of wind! Wind, wind, and more wind. We started the day hiking along steep cliffs that dropped into the churning ocean. The trail hugged the coastline and wandered through wide open fields of heather, coastal grasses, and haphazardly placed boulders. It made me feel like a tiny speck compared to the landscape.
The wind pressed in around us, pushing us off the trail, and then back on, tossing us like toy boats. We saw no other hikers on the trail all morning and it made the power of the elements seem that much more intense. Here wind and water rule. They carve and shape the land.
The boulders, speckled across the horizon, also added to the magic of this sunny, windy day. The rocks looked like lost marbles dotting the land. Just before lunch we reached Motion Head, a small rocky point jutting out into the sea. I loved watching the waves pound this low-lying point. They crashed into the geometrically broken rocks and sprayed, several feet into the air, a wall of water fanning out towards the sky. Very cool.
In the afternoon, we ascended “The Big Hill,” aptly named. It offered us impressive views back down the coast, out into Motion Bay and took us through some of the prettiest wildflowers we saw on the trip. Waves of dancing, wind-swept pink.
At the bottom of the Big Hill, sits Petty Harbor, our favorite community link. It was spotted with bright-colored houses and friendly inhabitants and a little shop that sold us giant ice cream cones. We sat in the harbor, looking at all the fishing boats, sun on our faces, enjoying our treat.
The hike out of Petty Harbor takes you up onto another series of high cliffs overlooking Motion Bay. We enjoyed the views and particularly liked a little side trail that let us drop down into a tiny, rocky cove complete with a waterfall and clear, cold, blue-green water.
With all the wind, we settled on a narrow pocket under a clump of pine trees for our camp that night. And we heard the heavy gusts of wind plowing into the coast all night. We were glad to have found a sheltered campsite.
In the morning, amid overcast skies and a cool breeze, we set off for Cape Spear, the eastern most point in North America. We once again followed the coastline, seeing nothing but wide open space and endless views. We loved all the craggy beaches and little freshwater creeks that drop out of the coastal woods through the rocks to the ocean.
As we neared Cape Spear on our way to St. John’s we saw more day hikers, and got updates from the outside world, like the status of the Stanley Cup hockey series, and the weather. It is so interesting how you can just dip out of the world for five days, and I felt a twinge of regret as we realized we were headed back to “civilization.”
We took a lunch break at North Head, a spur trail on a large piece of land that bows out into the ocean. From here we could see Cape Spear, and the two lighthouses in the distance. I love that on this trail you can continuously see both where you have been and where you are going.
Cape Spear is an interesting mix of history, rugged coast, and tourism. We loved the old battery there and seeing the historic lighthouse, but it was strange to see fences and warning signs along the coast, keeping people back, putting the wild just out of reach.
Due to weather concerns we decided to make a final push on this day and hike the rest of the ECT. It would make for a long day, but I loved this last section of trail, especially once you reached the plateau that would lead us into St. John’s.
But first we wander along the coast, then headed up to the dummy fort on Blackhead, and passed through the tiny town of Blackhead proper. In this section I also spotted a humpback whale! A fellow hiker suggested looking for tour boats slowed or stopped in the water to help up your chances of seeing a whale, and that is just what happened. We saw a boat sitting ideal in the ocean, then scanning the area, I saw a blow. A few minutes later the whales back then tail. It is the first time I have ever seen a whale from land. Very cool.
We continued to curl down through a coastal woods and had small glimpses of the coves that pocket this section of the trail. In Freshwater Bay, we passed across “the gut,” a long stretch of rocks separating the fresh water from the salt water. It was tough on the feet and we were glad to head back along the coast.
This is where we went up and up and up. It was out steepest and most continuous climb of the trip, but it was also the first spot that we saw pitcher plants, the provincial flower, and something I had been really hoping to see. They are a strange and impressive flower with a deep pink and yellow belly and fuzzy “ears.” They seem a little alien. For the rest of the hike, we saw them in small clumps and standing alone on the edge of the trail like bright-colored jelly beans.
When we reached the top of the plateau you could see back to Cape Spear, out towards the harbor, and the distant ocean horizon. The sun poked through creating spot lights that dotted the landscape and as we crossed rolling rocks we passed through another section of beautiful, pink wildflowers. The landscape up here was very different from the rest of the trail and uniquely captivating.
Finally, we had to go back down towards the harbor, Fort Amherst, and St. John’s. It was sad to know that when we reached the bottom our time on the ECT would be over, but we were looking forward to a shower 🙂
What an amazing trip!
The Adventure Continues…
With clear, sunny skies, we continued down the East Coast Trail (ECT) past Cape Neddick to the LaManche Bride, a long suspension bridge that stretches across a quick-moving slurry of blue-green water. The bridge rocks slightly in the wind and offers some awesome views of the ocean and the river feeding into it.
Our next stop on the trail, and also camp #2, was one of my very favorite places, Doctor’s Cove. This pebble/boulder beach is tucked in behind a massive wall of rock and curls like a spoon before it opens to the sea. It was the perfect place for us to throw off our packs, set up the tent, and relax for the evening. We scrambled on the rocks, dipped our feet in the icy Atlantic, and had the privilege of spotting two seals at play in the cove. They spent as much time watching us as we did watching them! We fell in love with Doctor’s Cove.
The next day we tackled a long section of the trail (17.5miles) that included several community links. During this section we also met our first, and only, fellow thru-hiker. He was from Maryland, and it was fun to exchange stories and thoughts about the trail so far (he was headed south while we were headed north). During this stretch we also saw Gull Island, which was appropriately named, and swarmed with a cloud of birds so thick that without binoculars it looked like a heavy, gray cloud, crazy!
Today was also our first taste of the famous Newfoundland wind. As we ducked back onto the trail and pushed away from town we were tousled by gusts of wind as we soaked in long stretches of rocky beach. At Tinker’s Point it was so windy my shirt billowed out like a kite as I used the binoculars to search for whales. No luck with whales, but we enjoyed the 180 degree views. It is so neat to be able to look back at what you have already hiked and to look forward at what you will cross over in the future.
On this section of the trail we also loved all the deep narrow coves and the way the water rushing in pulled the pebbles up and back making a rock slide-waterfall kind of noise. It seemed like a day of endless beaches: rocky and blue and echoing with waves pushed by wind on a smashing collision course, overflowing with churning whitecaps.
But the section of trail right after the community link at Bay Bulls Harbor was probably our favorite of the day. By then the wind had pulled in clouds and it rained, heavy, then slow, then gave way to more wind and fog, but before the fog settled in we saw some amazing, massive rock sheets, broken in clean rectangular lines that stretched out until they disappeared underwater. It looked like giants had dropped huge slabs of rock into the water. These crazy rock formations lined the whole edge of Useless Bay. As we moved up the trail the fog rolled in. A thick layer the swallowed the sea and the coast and us. By the time we reached the Bull Head Light House, we couldn’t seem more than 10 yards in front of us. And we made a final push to Freshwater, the home of an abandoned village, marked now only by leftover stone foundations. We camped at Freshwater, happy to have a protected, flat space to sleep.
All night it rained and the wind gusted, but in the morning we woke up to sun and clear skies and an endless coastline. We decided to back track (without packs!) to see a few of the places hidden by fog the night before. The steep drops and sea caves at Dungean Cove were worth the extra hiking! We climbed up into the solar-powered lighthouse for 360 degree views and enjoyed seeing the same place in such a new way.
It was a day of warm weather (our only day in a t-shirt for the trip) and great views. At Sculpin Island we scrambled out on tilted rocks to get up close with a series of cascading water falls that dropped into the sea. We loved how these huge rocks lifted up towards the sky and then broke off and dropped straight down to the water. It was like standing on a chunk of ancient ruins.
As we continued down the trail we saw a series of impressive sea caves, a sea arch, and several huge sea stacks. The sun made the water a tropical-blue and we were a little giddy. Every corned seemed like another picture perfect moment. Our favorite sea stack stretched over a hundred feet into the air and was separated from the cliff by a small gap, like a missing tooth. The waves pounded the bottom and birds swirled around it calling to one another like white dots of confetti. As we skirted around it from the cliffs, we saw a bald eagle nesting on top of it like a wild cake topper. It was hard to stop smiling.
For lunch we pushed ahead to the Spout, one of the iconic features of the East Coast Trail, and it certainly lives up to that status. The Spout is a freshwater, sea-driven geyser that blows a hissing puff of cold water into the air every few minutes. It looks like the bed of rocks is spitting out a gulp of water. We sat just below the spray, listening to the waves crash below us and watching the geysers puff into the air. When the wind pushed in the right direction we were drizzled in icy drips of water.
At this stop we also met a work crew clearing the trail. The ECT was created by the East Coast Trail Association, a volunteer group who also continues to maintain and expand this amazing wild, coastline trail. It is pretty amazing that a group of volunteers can do such a great job maintaining a trail this long. During our 6 days on the trail we met several Association members and they were both surprised and pleased that a couple from the states was out backpacking on their trail. We also obtained our maps and some great travel information from this organization. Click here to learn more about the East Coast Trail Association.
As we continued down the trail, it was really neat to look back and see the Spout flair to life in the distance like a whale breath. We could still see it as a tiny speck when we reached our next stop, Long Point. Here we took another moment to enjoy the endless views, gushing wind, and soft heather underfoot. I never got tired of putting my feet up and just looking as I stretched out on the soft, spongy ground cover. We also watched the gulls “deep-sea fishing.” They would fly in a large loose circle then almost on command rocket straight down into the water, disappearing for a moment, and then reemerge. It was pretty cool.
From here we made the last push of the day to Minor Point campsite, the only established campground we stayed at during the trip. It has two sites, but we had the place all to ourselves complete with an ocean view. Lucas even found a crab buoy when we was exploring the rocky river that emptied into the ocean near our hilltop campsite. A great view to end the day!
Part 3 (our last two days of the trip) coming soon 🙂