Today’s Costume: Backpacker

….or A Cape Chignecto Caper

  I got back yesterday from my annual physically challenging adventure with my friend Lynn. I was  supposed to get back tomorrow. C’est la vie – more on that later. We had decided that after five years of running Not Since Moses it was time for a new adventure. My knees aren’t getting any younger and running in mud or over a slippery ocean floor is just asking for trouble. Lynn suggested hiking the Cape Chignecto coastal trail which a friend of hers had done and enjoyed. The rest, as they say, is history. The plan: rent the park cabins. Arch Gulch first night, Big Bald Rock second night, and then back to the Gulch for the final night then back to the car. Here’s a little of how it played out:

The trail started at Red Rocks for 1.5 km along the beach. It was a great beach worthy of a visit in itself; bountiful in driftwood and flotsam but no garbage. Of course it was a lot more beach once the Fundy tide dropped the usual thirty feet.

Then up a flight of 60 steps which we laughed at thinking then we were at the top of the hill. But there came more stairs. Then no stairs but more up. Then more up and up and up and up. The up was relentless. I was puffing and blowing and running out of steam. Did I mention it was a very hot sunny day? We mostly traveled in the shade. I think I would have died of heat stroke were we in full sun. We went up some more. Down was only a relief for a short time. It made my old knees sing a song of woe. Down was also relentless but did not take away the breath. And then it switched again and there was even more up than before. My knees rejoiced, my lungs were outraged.

I took no photos. The effort required to get my camera from my pocket would have risked using the last bit of energy I had left. (here’s a link to another blog with lots of great photos) I was almost apoplectic. I developed a pattern: 25 steps then stop for for 2 full breaths. It was quickly reduced to 12 steps. I noticed a look of concern on Lynn’s face when I got down to 6 steps followed by 10 breaths. Baby steps at that. We stopped for a long rest. I was the colour of a lobster boiled in beet juice and couldn’t cool down. Every pore was pouring. I considered licking my limbs to get back the precious electrolytes I was losing. I spared my water along.  And then I got up and we went up some more. And then some. We were unsure of how far it was to the cabin. And then the blessed level ground. And then the cabin. “I could just cry” I said on seeing it. Well, actually the outhouse was what we were looking at. Pleased to say that it was not the kind of outhouse that could make you cry. Relief was in sight. No more up-hill. No more down-hill. Today.

We wined, we dined, we enjoyed the scenery when it wasn’t obscured by fog. I finally cooled down.

We sat on the steps and watched the daylight fade.

I was more than a little concerned that I was having difficulty just doing the three cabin stairs, knowing that the leg to Big Bald Rock the next day was twice as far with more ups and downs. We read the guest book and commiserated with the writers. I was pleased to see an entry by my friend Jim.  He got out alive, I thought, surely I can too. My hips cracked and groaned. My knees creaked and moaned. We took the party inside.

The cabin was cozy and spacious and a wall between us muted my snores. It took a long time to get to sleep; I fussed with my teeny tiny pillow. I rolled on my side, on my back, on my other side, all the time grateful that I wasn’t going up-hill. I dreamed about an East Indian dinner party. I woke at four in the morning shivering. Oh my God, I’ve got cat scratch fever! I thought with alarm. I’m going to lose a limb before they can get me out of here. (I had sustained a deepish cat scratch on my arm a few days ago) I went back to sleep and dreamed about a circus strong man named The Great Recaldo.

We rolled up our bedding and made the decision not to go on to Big Bald Rock but to turn back. I knew my knees would not tolerate another two days of those inclines even with all the Advil in my pack. I rationalized. “We’re not quitting, we’re just cutting it short”. “There’s no point in getting an injury just so’s I can say I didn’t quit.” “We can blame it on the rain.” I got a little emotional when I called the park office to say we no longer needed the cabins. I could sense that the staff person thought I was calling for a rescue when I said “I’m afraid the trail is way too much for us” and could hear the sigh of relief when I said “We’re coming out.” I don’t for a second regret the decision. I have to get at least another thirty-five years out of these knees and if the shortness of breath were something other than just being winded it would be a heck of a place to stage a rescue. There is always some shame in returning home via the hospital after the ride in the basket of a helicopter. Leaving Lynn to walk out on her own. With both our packs.

The walk out was easier than the walk in. I paced myself. I took a load of Advil. I used my poles to full advantage. It poured rain even though they had forecast 30% chance of showers and only 1 to 2 mm. I laughed, I sang, I had zen mind. The scenery was just as beautiful in the rain but the trail slightly more tricky being wet. Every flat stone looked like a piece of glass, broken sticks looked like small flashlights, wet rocks looked like buttons. The green of the hardwood section which was carpeted with fern was never so green. We were so cheery under our bright ponchos.



Runner 3


By the time I was walking back up the beach I knew that cutting the hike short was the right decision. It was only half the distance that I would have had to go if we went as planned and I was almost all in. I craved Advil and dry socks. So what did I learn from this experience? Believe it when they say “Very challenging”. Train. There is no shame in a change of plans. What worked? Our gear. We packed appropriately. What Advice can I give? Read Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild”. Buy good gear. My new pack was never a burden. It may have added to my weight of course, but I was rarely conscious of it. Get shoes with a roomy toe-box. Your toenails will appreciate it when you are going down hill. Get proper hiking socks. They prevent blisters and wick away sweat. Enjoy every moment, up or down-hill, rain or shine – nature is the world’s best entertainment.

By the way, I looked up in my dream dictionary what it means to dream about a strong man. It said “A strong man is a sure sign that you are setting your sights too high.”



I truly enjoyed your story about hiking Chignecto.  I wanted to be right there with you and yet my knees were aching just reading about it!


Thanks Cheryl, you would have been good company. We could have commiserated about our joints while Lynn went for help. Whenever my body makes me change my plans I am reminded of that classic picture of the old sailor with his cane standing bowlegged on the end of the dock looking out to sea. I’m not there yet but I definitely need to readjust my expectations. So much of the world yet to enjoy. – Judy

© Judy Parsons 2017

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