Two months ago, we asked the question,
“Can a toddler hike the East Coast Trail… BY HERSELF?”
So that her efforts count as a supported through-hike, “The Rule of the Hike” is simple: Amélie has to take every single step of the 316 kilometres of coastline separating Cappahayden from Portugal Cove. When we’re done walking for a given day, we carry her back. To resume an interrupted hike, we carry her to the point where she stopped the day before.
We first tested the possibilities by getting Amélie to climb the Tolt in Witless Bay, which is basically right behind our house: When she made it without too much fuss, we decided to make a formal attempt at it. After 25 days on the trails with Amélie totalling over 60km and the completion of 4 of 26 trails, we now know it’s possible. But it requires a lot of patience.
…but especially patience.
Toddlers walk at their own pace. They don’t “set goals.” They don’t feel pressured by time. They don’t gauge “success” in grand terms. They live in the moment. In other words, they have a lot to teach us.
Walking the trails with Amélie, we’re constantly reminded of how “rushed” our everyday lives are, and how much more productive we would be if we took the time to stop and smell the roses (both literally and figuratively.
Pasted below are the blog posts that we wrote on each of our first 25 days on the East Coast Trail with Amélie. At the very end of this post is a map of the progress made so far.
DAY 1: OUR HOUSE TO ALDER HILL
It took an hour to get ready. Which shoes should Amélie be wearing? How are we going to tell if she’s too warm in her many layers? Are her hands going to be cold in those wool mittens? Is Évangéline going to be warm enough? Too warm?
When we finally make it out the door, it’s 5:30pm and the sun has already gone down quite a bit. It’s already starting to be too cold for the clothes we’d put on Amélie. We aren’t even at the top of the hill next to our house when Amélie looks up at her dad and said, “Papa, can you carry me?”
Séb manages to convince her to walk up the rest of the hill, where we call it a day. With only 150 metres between our house and Alder Hill Road, this is a very discouraging performance for the first day. But it’s a first attempt at establishing the necessary routine and getting Amélie to understand The Rule of the Hike.
DAY 2: ALDER HILL TO BEARS COVE INN
We leave the house at 11am, with Séb carrying Amélie up to Alder Hill Road, where we’d called it quits the day before. We manage to get to the house nicknamed “The Tolt” before Amélie asks Séb to pick her up again. This time, though, Séb explains that he’ll pick her up if she makes it to Lower Pond Beach. She happily walks the rest of the way, looking forward to playing with the rocks.
After a few minutes on the beach, we manage to coax Amélie to walk a little way further by asking her if she wants to “see the picture of the baby Polar Bear” on the sign at Bears Cove Inn. That’s as far as we got.
The 30.7-kilometre uninterrupted Spout Path / Motion Path combination is definitely intimidating at this rate. Two days in, we’ve managed to walk about a kilometre – on flat pavement! But right now, it’s not about putting distance behind us – it’s a matter of establishing a routine that Amélie enjoys & looks forward to. Well. That’s what we tell ourselves anyways… 🙂
DAY 3: BEARS COVE INN TO THE TOBIN MEMORIAL
Walking from the Bears Cove Inn to the trailhead is relatively painless. Once at the trailhead, we get Amélie to hug the signpost bearing the distances to be overcome. She’s puzzled, but she complies. We get her to hug the next few markers too, trying to establish a ritual she can look forward to.
Five minutes in, Amélie asks to be picked up, but we explain that when we pick her up we have to turn back. She doesn’t really understand, but she happily walks some more, insisting on holding both her dad’s and my hand.
Progress is slow, but Amélie’s happy to be outside. Évangéline is sleeping soundly, bundled up in her carrier.
We manage to hike up to young Tobin’s memorial marker, which is about one kilometre into the trail. Amélie sniffs the plastic flowers and points to the letters on the epitaph. Séb tells her about the little boy who died here a long time ago, and explains that the metal cross was placed here by someone who loved him so that people would think about him a little bit each time they see it. Visibly puzzled by the explanation, she gives the cold cross a hug, then curls up at its base to admire the flowers from up close.
The hike back to the trailhead is lightning fast, with Amélie in Séb’s arms.
DAY 4: TOBIN MEMORIAL TO OTTER COVE
Leaving the house, we explain the Rule of the Hike to Amélie again. She’s puzzled about why Séb picks her up at the trailhead, but she happily grabs on to his neck and enjoys being carried up to the Tobin memorial.
This part of the trail is soggy at many points – there’s still bits of snow on the ground in many parts of the trail, after all – and Séb and Amélie both get one of their feet wet walking in a spot that didn’t look as bad as it really was. Amélie doesn’t seem to mind, but the little faux-pas means that we won’t be able to stay on the trail very long today.
We get to Otter Cove, where we unpack the little snack we’d brought along – crackers, dates, nuts, and Fruit-to-go. We’re both impressed by how well our little hiker is doing, and realize the importance of having a “special” snacks during these hikes as a reward for her efforts.
DAY 5: OTTER COVE TO UPPER RED COVE
The stepping stones that are placed by the East Coast Trail Association to make walking through bogs easier (and drier!) are placed one “standard” pace apart. Toddlers’ strides are much, much shorter than “normal” (about 30cm on flat ground). On flat ground, Amélie probably takes three steps for every step we make. On the trail, it’s probably closer to four or five. The tripping hazards that line the trail (tree roots, loose stones, dead branches, muddy spots, etc.) are more like tripping guarantees for Amélie, who takes at least one spill every minute. But she’s a trooper and carries on!
The terrain between Otter Cove (where we started today) & Upper Red Cove (where we finished) is VERY difficult for short little legs. While there wasn’t much distance put behind us in terms of mileage (about 1 kilometre), Séb and I are delighted about the progress!
DAY 6: UPPER RED COVE TO SOUTH HEAD
Today is one of the days we’ve been dreading for the past week: the half-way point between the Witless Bay and the Bay Bulls trailheads. We have to carry Amélie more than three kilometres to the start of her hike, knowing that we’ll have to carry her all the way back from wherever she finishes.
We were definitely hoping for a great performance from our little trekker.
That didn’t happen.
When we got close to Upper Red Cove, the fog came in and it got cold. As soon as Séb put Amélie down, she asked to be picked up. Séb and I looked at each other to try and figure out what to do. Go back right away? Give her a snack? Distract her? Option #3 seemed best.
“Amélie, do you see the Xs on the logs? They’re so that we don’t slip!”
“Amélie, do you see the red rocks on those cliffs? Aren’t they beautiful?”
“Amélie, look – another hill! Do you think you can climb it?”
“Amélie, do you see that black-and-white marker ahead? Do you see the white triangle? Where’s the next one going to be?”
She was miserable. Utterly miserable.
And vocal about it too. She was wailing. And wailing. And wailing. It didn’t get better until Séb spotted a tiny caterpillar, whose appearance drastically de-escalated the situation. The five-minute distraction helped her forget her discomfort.
When we started off again, she wasn’t wailing anymore, but she was still not happy. So ten minutes later, we called it a day at the dreaded spot: the half-way point at South Head.
We placed her in the backpack, where she was very happy to stay. We decided to walk towards Bay Bulls instead of going back the way we came, which ended up being a much longer route, since we walked all the way to the Robin’s Donuts on Maggoty Pond. Thanks, Riley, for the ride back to our car!
Six hundred metres of progress is still nothing to scoff at on this terrain 🙂
DAY 7: TRAIL #1 of 24 HAS BEEN CONQUERED!
After six days of slow progress, we thought we’d figured out Amélie’s speed and stamina, but today, she shifted gears and DEMOLISHED the second half of Mickeleen’s Path in one go!
When we set out from the Bay Bulls trailhead, we were so sure that Amélie would quit early on that Séb didn’t bother bringing the kid carrier. Séb started regretting not having brought it when she hiked all the way to Island Cove without a single break.
There were many distractions helping us keep Amélie interested in the hike – a humpback breaching in the harbour, dozens of squirrels’ territorial rattle calls, and a training exercise between a Cougar Helicopter and the O’Brien’s tour boat. The helicopter hovered just above the boat for nearly ten minutes!
Despite the rough terrain, Amélie kept on truckin’ all the way to South Head, where we had a snack.
Séb carried Amélie in his arms back to the trailhead.
Thank you, Peter & Mary for the drive back to Bay Bulls!
AMÉLIE’S PROGRESS (DAY-BY-DAY)
- 0.150km (Our house to Alder Hill)
- 1km (Alder Hill to Bears Cove Inn)
- 1.65km (Bears Cove Inn to Tobin Memorial)
- 1.5km (Tobin Memorial to Otter Cove)
- 1km (Otter Cove to Upper Red Cove)
- 0.6km (Upper Red Cove to South Head)
- TODAY: 4km (South Head to Bay Bulls Trailhead parking lot)
- Amélie’s total progress: 10.1km/316km
- Distance walked by the
adults today: 7.6km
- Total distance walked by adults: 31.1km
DAY 8: BAY BULLS COMMUNITY LINK – TOURISTS IN OUR OWN BACKYARD
It was calling for rain today, so we decided not to venture into the trail. Instead, we’re walking from the Bay Bulls trailhead of the Mickeleen’s Trail up to wherever Amélie can get to.
It’s a lucky break, since we spot a young humpback whale feeding at the head of the bay. It comes up a few dozen times during our walk around the harbour, and Amélie is very excited about trying to spot it before we can!
DAY 9: THE BULL HEAD LIGHT
Dressed for the pending rain, we set out to start the Spout Path from Captain Wayne’s. We’re unsure about how far we’ll get before the rain begins. Évangéline is fast asleep by the time we get to the trailhead, and Amélie is excited about splashing in the puddles. We meet a few people who are coming back from the lighthouse, they stop to say “hi” to Amélie, impressed that she’s hiking it herself.
We were impressed too, since Amélie just kept on walking and walking and walking. Amazingly, she made it all the way to The Pulpit before showing any signs of wanting to take a break. Five minutes later, she was fresh as a daisy again, eager to make it to the lighthouse.
She was excited when we first saw the Bull Head Light in the distance. Lighthouses are magical places in so many of her books!
Séb and I were excited to see that the lighthouse’s door was open so that we could have shelter – it was starting to rain.
Amélie eagerly climbed the staircase (with her dad right behind her!), right up to the top. She looked at the light, wondering out loud why it wasn’t on, and kept insisting on trying to find the light switch. I doubt she believed us when we told her that it was the sun that turned it on and off.
The drizzle stopped twenty minutes after it started, and the hike back to the car was painless, with Amélie stuffed in the carrier, happily chomping on crackers.
DAY 10: THE GRAND CONCOURSE
Since we had appointments in town today , we decided to try doing the Deadman’s Bay Path, which starts with a sharp climb up the South Side Hills from Fort Amherst. When we got to the trailhead, we realized that this hike would be very unpleasant given the conditions – this morning’s rain had turned the trail into a fast-flowing stream.
From the trailhead, we decided to instead do the community link between the two trail sections: the Grand Concourse.
This was an easy walk – before she began to peter out, Amélie managed to walk all the way from Fort Amherst to The Battery – 7.2km!
After a lunch made up of nuts, watermelon, and lobster (for Mother’s Day!), Amélie announced that she didn’t want to go home yet – she wanted to hike some more.
We decided it would be best if we called it a day, but were happy to see that our little trekker could put that many miles behind her in one day, since some of the trails will require it!
DAY 11: COMMUNITY CLEANUP DAY
Today’s hike took on a very different form. After a morning of assisting the Kinsmen in coordinating the annual Witless Bay Community Cleanup and transforming a huge pile of garbage into a humpback’s tail, we left the house heading south and cleaned up the roadway as we walked towards the trail. Progress was very slow since we were stopping every fifth step to pick up cans, coffee cups, and candy wrappers. We picked up three full bags of garbage and still managed to walk over 1km, up to Harrigan’s Convenience, off Gallows Cove Road.
Thank you, Shaun, for the ride back!
DAY 12: HARRIGAN’S CONVENIENCE TO CAMEL BEACH
This was another community cleanup day.
Amélie started hiking from the trailhead at Ragged Beach and made it to Camel Head Point before the rain started. We plunked Amélie in the carrier, put up the hood, and ran back to the car fearing a downpour.
When we got back to Gallows Cove Road, the sun was out and the wind had pushed the clouds away, so we walked the entirety of Gallows Cove Road, back to Harrigan’s Convenience, and closed the gap on what we hadn’t yet done in Witless Bay. We managed to pick up two more bags of garbage on the way.
Hiking the East Coast Trail from Witless Bay to LaManche should be relatively easy for Amélie, since the terrain is kinder than the terrain on much of the remainder of the trail. The paths are all short, often with multiple access points, and they’re well-travelled and well-maintained.
One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced so far is the weather. Although the rain doesn’t seem to phase her, we’ve noticed that Amélie loses much of her drive as soon as it gets cold – even when she’s dressed for it. So we’re hoping for a warm summer!!!
DAY 13: MOBILE BEACH TO HERRING COVE
This must be one of the most gentle hikes on the East Coast trail. After walking over the landwash at Mobile Beach, the first 500 metres of the Beaches Path is an old community cart path leading to Nolan’s Meadow, where the remnants of an abandoned settlement are still visible. The most impressive part of this settlement still visible today is the extensive work done to make the community accessible. Alongside the path is an old ditch and series of covered ditches serving to ensure that the path remains dry. The rockwork lining the ditches dates back a few hundred years, and is still in great shape in many spots.
Amélie’s now quite used to the rhythm, and she looks forward to the hikes. The next time we’re on this trail, we’re hoping we’ll be able to finish it!
DAY 14: DEFEATING THE SOUTHSIDE HILLS
One a rainy, drizzly and foggy day about a month ago, we’d decked out the entire family in rain gear and had made our way to the Deadman’s Bay Path trailhead, only to discover that the heavy rains from the previous days had turned the trail into a river.
Attempt #2 went fantastically. After enjoying a fantastic dinner in Town, we decided to make a go of it again. The climb was just as intense as we’d feared, but Amélie breezed through it unphased. Although we only made 500 metres of progress today, it was a grueling 500 metres that Amélie doesn’t have to do again!
DAY 15: THE BEACHES PATH HAS BEEN CONQUERED!
Today was a busy day on the Beaches Path – we met a handful of through-hikers and dozens of day hikers in addition to the 6th grade class from St. Bernard’s Elementary and hundreds of high schoolers from Bay Roberts Amalgamated.
It was a busy day for us too, since this was the first time we had a special guest hiking along with us: Father Jocelyn, visiting us from Québec for the week. Jocelyn is Amélie’s godfather, and he wanted to see “what this hiking thing is all about.”
We set out a little late on the trail, and the sun was already beating down hard when we got to Herring Cove, the spot where Amélie had quit on our last hike here. Amélie was very happy to see all of the kids hiking, and a very nice lady from St. John’s helped out the fairies by hiding treats to encourage her.
The last kilometre (between Breaking Point and Camel Beach) was slow, since Amélie had started to peter out. But after a long break and tons of water, her godfather promised her ice cream once we were out of the woods. The discussion about the choice of ice cream occupied her for a full half-hour. Jocelyn kept asking what kind she wanted, suggesting all different colours and varieties. Strawberry? Raspberry? Orange? No – “CHOCOLAT!!!” was her only answer. “CRÈME GLACÉE AU CHO-CO-LAT!!!” Amélie literally ran to where we’d left our “flag” the last time we were on the trail.
We finished the trail, and made our way to The Rental Hutch.
Amélie got strawberry ice cream.
She was beaming.
DAY 16: MOBILE BEACH TO CAPE CANINE
Tinker’s Point Path is a fun hike with (mostly) gentle slopes and tons of stepping stones and walkways over marshy ground. Since it’s so flat, and since there’s a significant proportion of the trail that takes the form of old well-worn cart paths, it’s a breeze for even our short-legged hiker.
There was no question about the identity of today’s “Song of the Day,” since Amélie belted it out over and over and over again:
Stepping over stepping stones, 1, 2, 3.
Stepping over stepping stones, come with me.
The river’s very fast and the river’s very wide,
And we’re stepping over stepping stones,
To reach the other side!
Once we got to Cape Canine, much of the trail was exposed to the Western wind and it got very cold (the wind from the water was much cooler than the inland temperature). Despite the fact that Amélie still had tons of energy left in the tank, we decided to play it safe and head back.
DAY 17: CAPE CANINE TO THE CRIBBIES
Since Father Jocelyn was hiking with us today, we decided to drop off Séb and Amélie at the Mobile trailhead and drive up to Tors Cove to hike back towards Mobile and meet them half-way. Séb plunked Amélie in the backpack and must’ve jogged to Cape Canine, since they managed to get to Nicks Cove before Jocelyn, Évangéline and I met up with them.
Father Jocelyn encouraged her to keep moving forward despite the heat by running ahead, hiding, and taunting her, “I’m hiding, you can’t find me!” She loved it. They literally played escape-hide-and-find all the way from Nick’s Cove to the Cribbies.
Despite the fact that there were only a few hundred metres left to complete Amélie’s third trail, we decided that the harsh sun and the wind hitting us on the open barrens were reason enough to call it a day, and we carried her back to the Tors Cove Church.
DAY 18: THE CRIBBIES TO BURNT COVE BEACH
Amélie woke up this morning talking about going hiking, so it wasn’t hard to convince her to leave the house. We drove up to the Cribbies, where I dropped off Séb and Amélie so I could go feed Évangéline at the decommissioned Tors Cove church 600 metres farther. Twenty minutes later, we were doing the community link together.
The short path from Tors Cove to Burnt Cove has no East Coast Trail signage, so the fairies had to adapt their method of delivery. Instead of leaving treats on the signposts, the fairies placed the treats on the large rocks that dot the rough ATV trail.
Amélie hadn’t slept very well the night before, so she started to peter out sooner than usual. The hot sun probably had the same effect on her. To encourage her to walk a bit more, we promised her cookies from the Ocean View Bakery. She got peanut butter balls, Séb got shortbreads, and I went for the chocolate chip cookies. The cookies powered her to just a little past Burnt Cove Beach, where we celebrated having an air conditioned car for the first time this year.
DAY 19: LAMANCHE BRIDGE TO HERRING COVE POINT
Friends of ours are camping in LaManche for the next few days, so we organized a hike in the area with them. Séb was very eager to see the Flamber Head Path, since this is one of the hikes he has never done and he wondered about Amélie’s ability to deal with harsher terrain.
Amélie LOVED hiking with her friends. They laughed, sauntered, and held hands. She even shared the treats left by the fairies for her. When we got to the suspension bridge, she ran up and down and up and down and up and down it over and over again. The sides are completely fenced in, so there’s no danger. It’s a pretty impressive structure – definitely worth seeing!
The start of the Flamber Head path is just as taxing as promised – tons of elevation gain, a few gruelling climbs, and rough terrain. Séb said it isn’t as bad as he’d feared, but we’ll definitely be in good shape after we carry the girls into this trail over and over until Amélie manages to finish it!
We made it to Herring Cove Point before Amélie showed signs of tiring. She had a lot less distance in her since she’d already hiked the access trail (which doesn’t count towards her ECT mileage, unfortunately!). She really didn’t want to quit, but it was obvious from her demeanour that she was crashing.
We were really happy with the 800 metres of progress, since this trail is a tough one for tiny folk.
DAY 20: RIVERSIDE RESTAURANT TO CAPE BROYLE WHARF
On a bright sunny day, we decided to take a Sunday cruise to Cape Broyle’s nice Riverside Restaurant. A hot turkey, a steak, and a cheeseburger platter later, we went for a short stroll on the seaside. Not much of a hike, but it’s still a kilometre’s worth of progress to check off the list!
DAY 21: BAULINE EAST WHARF TO LAMANCHE BRIDGE
Another BEAUTIFUL afternoon on the trails.
…but it sure didn’t start out like that!
We had a REALLY rough start to the hike. Driving to the trailhead, Amélie dozed off a little in the car. When we got her out of the car, she broke down crying. Hysterically. After a few minutes of coaxing, we slowly started the hike. Fifty feet later, she had broke down again. We waited it out. It was a very long five minutes, but she eventually decided that she wanted to hike… We walked a few more metres, and she asked for a drink of water… then she spilled a few drops on her shorts. Her reaction was apocalyptic. Battery acid wouldn’t have bothered her as much as those four drops of water. Thankfully, we were well-prepared, with two extra pairs of pants at the ready… which… she didn’t like. So she decided to keep her “wet” shorts.
Then Séb offered her a juice box…
…and the world once again began to spin on its axis.
That was all she needed in order to hike nonstop all the way to the LaManche bridge, almost three kilometres further. Well. Not quite nonstop – we stopped at every brook, every stream, and every puddle to throw in a twig or a pebble, we stopped at every walkway to stomp on it, and at every line of stepping stones to jump from one to the next with both feet together.
When she saw the LaManche bridge, she was very excited to once again throw twigs off of it and watch them get swept by the current.
Amélie was having so much fun hiking that she didn’t want to go into the backpack for the way back. We had to tell Amélie we were going to put Évangéline in the backpack for her to (immediately) accept climbing in.
We stopped for ice cream on the way back home.
DAY 22: THE BATTERY TO THE QUIDI VIDI VILLAGE PLANTATION
The hike from the Battery to Quidi Vidi Village is part of the community link (the Grand Concourse) which ties the northern and the southern ends of the East Coast Trail together. This is a very well-travelled path – many hundreds of hikers, joggers, and runners can be spotted here on most nice weather days.
And this was definitely a nice weather day!
Amélie was full of energy when she started the hike, despite the very hot weather. She was excited to see so many people on the trails. And the boats in the narrows. And the ducks. And the pigeons!
When we got to the top of the Lady’s Lookout, there was A LOT of wind. So much wind that Amélie and Séb played at being “blown around” for a good long while before starting back down towards Quidi Vidi.
Since the terrain is so well-travelled, Amélie managed to scramble down to Quidi Vidi village in record time. While we ambled along the harbour, we saw throngs of party-goers dressed up to the nines coming out of the Quidi Vidi Brewery.
We called it a day when we got to the Plantation, where ten artists create, demonstrate, and sell their various crafts and artworks on textiles, woodcuts, woven products, ceramics, etc.
DAY 23: THE QUIDI VIDI VILLAGE PLANTATION TO BAWDEN’S HIGHLANDS
This is the most strenuous bit of trail we’ve seen yet.
The climb is especially difficult for Amélie, since there are hundreds of spots where her two-year-old legs are much too short to step over the large boulders that make up much of the path. But the incredible views are well worth the effort.
Not to be discouraged by a challenge, Amélie trekked onwards, encouraged by the fairies who left candy for her along the path.
Helping out the fairies was a wonderful young couple on vacation in Newfoundland from New York City. They were very good at telling the fairies where the “best” spots to hide the little pieces of encouragement would be!
In a little less than two hours, Amélie has climbed all the way up to Bawdens Highland, overlooking Cuckold’s Head and the Quidi Vidi Lake, where the St. John’s Royal Regatta is held every August (“the oldest sporting event in North America”).
DAY 24: CAPE BROYLE WHARF TO THE OLD ADMIRALDS COVE CHURCH
On this very windy day, we decided that it would be best to avoid going into the trails (in case we needed to turn back quickly), and opted to continue our progress in Cape Broyle.
When we got to Cape Broyle, however, we realized that this might not have been the best idea. Despite the wind coming in from the West (from land), the gale was so strong that it made walking difficult. Thankfully, once we got to Shores Cove Road (turning towards Admiralds Cove), the wind was at our back and a lot less unpleasant.
We walked all the way from the Cape Broyle wharf to the old church which now houses Nikki and Andy’s “Pagoda Projects,” where we stopped for a quick but really nice visit.
DAY 25: BURNT COVE BEACH TO THE BAULINE EAST WHARF
Another very hot day.
The car’s thermometer reads 27 degrees.
We only had a couple hours to spare, so we decided to do the rest of the community link between Tinkers Point Path and LaManche Village Path. The two kilometres we had left we spent picking wildflowers along the roadside. In no time, Amélie had made herself a bouquet of buttercups, lupins, daisies, dandelions, fox-and-cubs, and hawkweed. The then stuffed the stems of the bouquet in her jeans pockets and walked around with her hands up until the flowers were nothing but a wilted mess.
With this little bit of community link done, Amélie has now officially completed FOUR of the East Coast Trail’s 24 paths (Mickeleens, Beaches, Tinkers Point, and LaManche Village) in addition to the Grand Concourse and Cape Broyle community links! In terms of straight mileage, she has now completed 19% of the trail.
The most challenging bits are yet to come.