Sheilagh and I have just landed in Badger. This story is interwoven with fly frustration and incredible beauty.
Mosquitoes, black flies, stouts, and sand flies love heat or seemingly the right heat. I wonder out loud if they are attracted to my blood type. People love talking about the flies - "worst year ever". But, for the most part, they have not bothered me along the way but for a few outright battles where, honestly, kilometres can disappear in battle. You suddenly walk out of a cloud and poof, they're gone.
Our first night together is preceded by my first (new found) friend who joins me to walk. Elaine Huxter jumps on at Deerlake for a leisurely 15km to Howley. I'm so excited to have company and to stop talking to poles and frogs (although I'll be back to that shortly). Her husband Bob thinks it'll take us the day but I boldly pontificate and say 3 hours. We walk, and walk, and walk some more. We reach the dam and Elaine suggests we're half way. In the meantime we've already walked 13 km. Turns out to be 26km. We are baking in 27 degrees. I'm willing to jump on an ATV several times but Elaine keeps me pure and Bob meets us with Ginger ale. I bet they were glad to see the back of me! People are loving and kind and Elaine is my hero.
Sheilagh and I together again. We set up camp and even roast marshmallows. We have her car and the luxury of a hatchback to organize our essential bits and count out food and snacks while I make sure we don't bring too much. The Gaff Topsails is 101km and reputedly closed the Newfoundland Railway with weather impasses. We must travel light, but appropriately. After a successful review, we snuggle into the tent (Hubba Hubba NX - best tent ever) and no sooner are we in, than the rain begins. It rains, and rains, and rains some more. Then the thunder and lightning begins. I am bolted from a half stupor with the loud crack above us. Little sleep but bone dry in the morning.
A cool day meets our first 23km. Perfect walking weather. I feel trepidation and excitement. People’s jaws drop when you tell them you're doing The Gaff Topsails. The first day on the trail everyone that passes stops - this is a first. You begin to get a glimpse of the tribe that travels up here. We rest at river crossings. You get a sense of the landscape opening up in a way that has not been before. There are a few cabins scattered along but it is sparse as we climb the 30 kilometer road, the old woodcutting way in. Every time we stop we are food for bugs. No odds, it keeps us going, creating our own wind. At kilometer 23, a few past Kitty's Brook, we camp at the orange caboose (as suggested by Valerie and Roy), close to water and shelter. Sheilagh builds a fire, we eat peanut butter sandwiches and crawl in just as the rain shower begins. Hundreds of eyeballs stare at us. Mosquitoes speckle the space between the fly and tent. No pee in the middle of the night for me.
Having another human with me now takes some getting used to. There's someone to break camp, fold the tent, get water, and talk to!!! I feel so happy to have my best friend. I keep thanking the Gods over and over. Sheilagh's presence means I slow down and there's less of a push to reach the destination. We are here to see and experience what is. Today is mystical. We are travelling uphill for the second day. The Gaff changes dramatically around us. It becomes the big country I have heard so much about. You can see swirling, twisting sky, and the wind moving the multiple greys around its palette. The skyline is gaining on my eyes. You feel, see, smell, hear, and taste the rain threat. Just as quickly the sun shoots rays through your heart. As we arrive at The Gaffs, we are greeted by a couple who has been expecting us. Woosh, we are scooted in through the door and fed. Minutes later it begins to pour. And pour it does for the next 16 hours. We stay put across the way. We are lucky. There are five people here today.
We awake to dense fog. Almost as quickly it clears off. We enter another land. All four Topsails are in view (Main, Mizzen, Gaff, and Fore). Sheilagh is tripping over her jaw. Her medium format camera is in her hand for the next number of hours. We cannot believe the day that unfolds. We bow down and worship this barren, expansive, textured, breathtaking landscape - we walk on.
We meet a guy walking! He is swirling in orange. It turns out to be his tent not his robes. He's from Gainsville, Florida. He has come from St. John's. Our exchange is too quick and I long to ask him the questions going around my head just five minutes after we wave goodbye.
We cross the Mary March River and just on the other side we find the perfect little camping spot near a spring. We set up seamlessly, the rhythm between us finally in sync. A rehydrated meal (which was freakin delicious), a fire and a suit of Gor-Tex keeps the mosquitoes at bay. We turn in, thanking our blessings. Life is so simple - food, shelter, water, a wee fire and a spot to lie down.
We know the day will be hot, 27 degrees is predicted. We want to walk 25 km but we're weary of baking to death. We set off at 7am (cause no matter how hard you try it takes two hours to break camp), and set a strong pace. We find a beauty of a river in which to soak our feet about three hours in. Ice cold water and lush greenery - Heaven. Sheilagh's presence means we break more and my body is better for it. The pack is 35lbs (remember I chucked 5 lbs way back when?). Moments later, we sight our first animal, a caribou lying down on the trail. We follow her for a couple of kilometers. A beautiful animal who seems so very curious about us. I'm so happy to share that moment with a companion. (yes, I settled in and appreciated the gift Marc :-). We arrive in Millertown junction at noon and head immediately for Joe Glode's Pond. We strip down to our underwear, no one around. Mere moments later we are human again with only a few fly bites to show.
Have I talked feet at all? Every band aid comes off my feet from the dip so it’s a total medical moment. My feet are toughening up but I have baby feet, no two ways about it. Only saving grace is I have become a very good nurse. And, for the most part, I am un-phased by blisters.
We wander back to the lawn mower we hear to see if we can gather a little local lore about where to camp. We want to walk another 10 km putting us about 15 k from Badger. It is STINKING hot. We meet Mont Lingard, author of five books on the Newfoundland railway. His railway room is famous as is his lodge here at the east entrance to the Gaffs. Before we know it we're having a lunch and listening to stories. By mid afternoon he's convinced us to not walk in the heat and spend the night. You've got to take these opportunities that are handed to you. We enjoy a lovely meal with him and Nelson, the other resident of Millertown Junction. We hear so many stories of the winterland that few experience. Fitfully I fall into a bed dreaming of my return to the Gaff Topsails.
Today (July 15) we depart at 6:30am. We are taking a quick 25km to Badger. Downhill, they say, but full of pot holes. The terrain starts easy but pebbles dominate. We see a moose and a momma on the track. She gazes in our direction and as we get close I give a blow of the whistle and they boot-er’ into the woods. By 10am we are once again exhausted by heat. We take to the shade as much as possible but the 31 degrees is staggering. You can warm up if your cold but its hard to do so if your hot. We imagine rivers to no avail. We stumble (I seem to do that a lot) into Badger at 1pm.
101 kilometers for Sheilagh!!! 400 kilometers for me.
Tomorrow its Grand Falls-Windsor...