The Camino de Santiago in Spain. The Gubrandsdalen Path in Norway. These are two incredible walking routes that have beckoned to me for quite a while now. They hold the allure of adventure, of physical challenge, of finding oneself on the trails of foreign lands.
For a restless and active soul like myself, these long-distance pilgrimages speak to me. One day.
But recently I started wondering what might happen if I filled my pack with warm socks, mittens, water and food and walked out my own door in Old Town Lunenburg. In search of the same intangible goals, but without the cost and headache of international flights, passport control queues, and currency exchange.
My friend Sara and I recently set out to find some answers. Putting one foot in front of the other we walked over familiar territory – marshy lowlands and mixed forests – all along the Rum Runner Trail, which stretches 119-kilometers from the Town of Lunenburg to Halifax.
Halifax is our ultimate destination on this journey. And our plan is to break off pieces of the trail that we can accomplish one weekend at a time for as long as it takes until we make it to the city.
Starting with a delicious coffee, we left Lunenburg at 9:30 am on the morning of Saturday, November 18, 2017. The sky was overcast, the wind was brisk and blowing from the northwest – a chilly reminder that winter is on its way. Two kilometers up the road the clouds cleared, and we were treated to bluebird skies the whole day.
At the risk of sounding completely cliché, this journey is not about our destination. After all, how many days have we spent working, living, studying in and commuting to Halifax? Too many to count.
This journey is about the journey itself. It’s about walking slowly along the beautiful South Shore of N.S, and finding out what happens when we do so. It’s about seeing familiar landscapes and locales with a fresh perspective. It’s about seeking a better understanding of the true distance between the places in our lives.
In 2000, as a 19-year-old woman I set off to join a Tall Ships race in Cadiz, Spain. I was living in Vancouver, my home city, and had just finished my first year of studies at the University of British Columbia. I took multiple flights and train rides to get to Cadiz. The trip was exciting and tiring.
But the thing that I remember the most about that formative journey to and fro across the Atlantic Ocean was how it challenged my notions of time and distance, and how fossil-fuel powered modes of transportation warp them.
My flight from JFK Airport in New York was eight hours long. Eight slightly uncomfortable hours crammed in a little seat in economy class and I was transported to another land and culture. Eight hours: the blink of an eye in the grand course of time.
Our destination on that sailing trip was Bermuda, approximately 3000 nautical miles from Cadiz. We sailed down the coast of Morocco, through the Canary Islands and then headed westward at 20 degrees north. Apart from some weather off of Africa, the winds were light all the way across.
It took us 28 days to reach Bermuda. Twenty-eight days to cover three-quarters of the distance that had taken me eight hours on the plane. I remember feeling gobsmacked the first time I made that comparison while studying a nautical chart of the Atlantic. I tell you – if you ever want to discover the true size of our planet, travel by wind or by foot.
And, if you ever want to discover the beauty of the South Shore of Nova Scotia, put on your sneakers, head out your door, hop on the nearest section of the Rum Runner Trail and start walking.
For Sara and I, walking 11 kilometers from Lunenburg and into Mahone Bay, a town that we’ve both spent countless hours in, was invigorating. I swear that the coffee and cake square that I ate for lunch tasted way better that the previous 80 I’ve eaten there over the past seven years.
Getting back on the trail after lunch and walking the scenic Dynamite Trail section of the journey was gorgeous. The late autumn sun sat low in the sky, and the birch trees cast long shadows across our path. We crossed trestle bridges over shimmering waters, chatted with friendly locals out for Saturday strolls with their families and dogs. We even discovered an installation for writing trail side poetry.
We felt completely disconnected from our daily business of rushing around in cars in the very landscape we were now walking. We often chuckled to ourselves because we felt like we had traveled hundreds of miles to get to where we were, and yet we were only a few kilometres off of Highway Number 3.
The landscape was stunning. And it felt as though the hard work we had done to get there enhanced the beauty we were experiencing.
We began to feel aches and pains by the time we crossed the road to Indian Point. But as the trail meandered along the tranquil waters of Narrows Basin our spirits were buoyed. We walked through the pain of blisters and achy legs, and seven hours and 33 kilometers after we left Lunenburg we arrived at Martin’s Point – our destination for the night. We ate a dinner of roasted chicken and vegetables by the fire, soaked our weary legs and feet and went to bed early.
Our destination the following day was Chester, some 25 kilometers up the trail. But when we woke to twoonie-sized blisters on the bottoms of our feet and on-coming colds, we chose to enjoy a cozy day by the fire and not head back on the trail for now. After all, we’re doing this for fun and discovery, not to torture ourselves.
And, in the end, it doesn’t matter. We’ll just pick up next time where we left off. The Rum Runner Trail is here, and it’s not going anywhere. And, perhaps, best of all, it’s very close to home. In fact, in a way, it is home.
I’m sure that Norwegian and Spanish pilgrim routes are incredible. I know that I will walk them one day. But for now, I’ll stay put here in beautiful Nova Scotia. There is so much to explore right outside my door.
So, whether you’re an adventure-seeking soul like myself, or you’re looking for a shift in perspective and a pathway to physical and mental wellness, strap on your boots and hit the trail.
Walk half a kilometer or walk 33. It doesn’t matter. Because it turns out, the adventure is right here.
Written by Britt Vegsund. Active Living Coordinator, MODL. firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally Published by Lighthouse Publishing, November 29, 2017.
This is a wonderful tribute to realizing what is outside your back door or front door if you just look. We used to live in Upper Tantallon, NS and we had the Rails to Trails right around the corner from where we lived. My husband had to use a motorized scooter to enjoy the trails and he would challenge me by putting the speed to max…we walked those trails in almost every season. He cannot go in the winter, but the trails are so rejuvenating and thought provoking. He is a great photographer, but almost always preferred to just go and be and listen and watch and understand that we were experiencing being with nature in all of it’s humble wonder.
My daughter and I used to walk that trail together…the one that would lead to Halifax on Joseph Howe Drive. We once walked to Exit 4, which is Hubley and Five Island Lake turn off. We were deep in conversation and didn’t realize how far we had ventured. It was incredible and soul reviving. Of course, we had to walk back and that was just another unexpected adventure on a Sunday afternoon.
I have always said that we should explore where we live and our surroundings and never underestimate the power of it all…thanks for sharing your story. A dear friend sent it to us and it was an uplifting read.
Hoping that all of your hopes and dreams come true. Don’t stop walking and discovering.