Bike & Hike on the Southern Shore
“Let’s ride to Port Kirwan, park the bikes, shed layers/change footwear, and hike to the Berry Head Arch”. It seemed like a good idea at the time, so good in fact that I convinced several people to follow me in this endeavor. I’ve since apologized profusely, and I think it might be next summer before anyone goes along with my ride plans again.
It started enjoyably enough. It was a nice – if chilly – ride up the scenic Southern Shore, turning off in Fermeuse and heading to the end of the road in beautiful Port Kirwan. We packed our riding gear into our panniers, strapped on backpacks and headed for the trail. Oh, how outdoorsy are we!
The beauty of the area was enchanting right from the start of the hike, and many pictures were taken. The trail started quite mildly, which was deceiving. “This is no big deal”, thought I. “Boy, I’m sure glad I went for an 10km run this morning, because this won’t be a workout at all”.
At around an hour into the hike, the trail started to get rough. It was muddy, wet, hilly, and we were being eaten alive by flies but we pressed on…and on…and on. It stopped being fun around the same time that both feet became thoroughly soaked from walking through wet bog and marsh. Worn-out sneakers do not make good hiking shoes, but I was happy that at least I had a change of socks waiting for me at the bike. A little foresight goes a long way.
I had done a little (though not near enough) research beforehand, and read that the arch was approximately 6km from Port Kirwan. Not being a hiker, I failed to realize that this 6km was going to feel a lot longer than my Saturday afternoon strolls downtown. Without a GPS, we had no idea how far we had actually traveled (it felt like 8km but was probably 4) and it seemed like we were getting incredibly close to Ferryland. This led to a sneaking suspicion that we had somehow ended up on the wrong trail…though I later found out that we hadn’t…we were just really slow.
When we were close to the two hour mark, we were struck with the realization that we still have to hike BACK over the same trail to get back to Port Kirwan. At this point we were getting fatigued and our feet were soaked and uncomfortable. It killed me to give in, but we admitted defeat and headed back to the bikes. We didn’t get to see the majestic Berry Head Arch, what was supposed to be the point of the whole trip. We slogged uncomfortable kilometers through bog and across gullies, and I could’ve kissed the ‘Strom when we finally made it back.
I’ve taken several lessons from this experience. When a trail is listed as “difficult”, it IS difficult. Hilly, muddy, slippery, wet. You know, difficult. I’ve learned that just because I’m a well-conditioned runner, that doesn’t necessarily translate to being a good hiker. I’ve learned that having appropriate equipment matters. And I’ve figured out the reason why I have not seen much of Newfoundland’s world-class East Coast Trail: because I don’t enjoy hiking as much as I thought I did.
I’m going to get to the Arch one of these days. This time next year I may have forgotten how hard it was, or maybe I’ll splash out on some decent footwear. I don’t take defeat easily, and so the Arch is now on my bucket list for sure. Maybe I’ll do some trail training and RUN it!
You’re probably wondering what’s so spectacular about Berry Head Arch that drives people to hike for hours to see it. My friend Mandy happens to be an experienced hiker, and she and her friends actually made it to the Arch that day. She took this picture: