Where the asphalt ends

Susan Flanagan
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Hiking is a great way to keep the family active, and blow those cobwebs away

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Last Sunday, surprise baby woke up and said: "It's a beautiful day today, Mommy." He says this every morning, even if the skies are as black as the back of a black-backed gull and sideways sleet is threatening to pop the double-glazed windows.

"We should go on a hike," he continued, "and see the instruments in the forest and make wishes at the wishing wells."

He was referring to the walk around Long Pond that we had done the day before.

Instead of doing the full loop of the pond two days in a row, I dropped my daughter and surprise boy across from the Botanical Garden and sent them walking towards the radio tower. I then drove around, parked the van at Pippy Park playground and ran around Long Pond and up the stairs to meet them at the top.

We descended Mount Scio, passed the Hooterville tree and stopped for a concert and snack at the Autism Centre's Musical Playground. Then we emptied our pocketful of pennies into the wishing wells - Surprise Baby wished for four Triceratops - and watched a chipmunk eat a peanut, just like in the cartoons.

Blue jays swooped along with us. Our cares melted away (although I doubt Surprise Baby has many). It was just what we all needed - a chance to get outside in the fresh air to clear the brain.

I know what you're going to say. It's impossible to get the family, or a fraction of it, out for a walk in the woods. Too many commitments. You've got a heritage fair project and taekwondo. You've got to scrub two bathrooms because Grandma's coming. You've got to pick up a new pair of ballet slippers because your daughter's darn feet won't stop growing. It's too windy. It's too cold. You don't have the proper footwear. The children say they won't go.

What you'd sooner do is curl up in a ball for a rejuvenating half-hour siesta before facing the rest of the day. Forget racing through the traffic to get the offspring to hockey, music, swimming or volleyball. Just a relaxing half-hour to contemplate life and what to make for supper.

I finally understand what my mother meant when I was young and she'd say: "They'd drive you to drink."

Way back then, I thought she meant she wanted to stick her head in the stream that ran behind our house and suck up some cold, pure agua. Now I understand that, come late-afternoon, some might need to turn to a stiff alcoholic beverage to calm the nerves.

Now I'm not advocating such a practice, of course. What I am advocating will prevent such desires. It is much healthier - not to mention cheaper, with better therapeutic effects.

All you have to do is open the door and take a deep breath. We only have a few precious hiking days left before the snow and ice obliterate the trails.

Whether you choose to walk around Kenny's Pond, which is now hard-packed and so perfect for strollers, or hike from Witless Bay to Tors Cove, it's all good.

If you're at a loss as to where to go, try the following directions: part way up Doran's Lane in Outer Cove, the asphalt ends, and a dirt road leads to a small trail through the woods. You can park your car just steps away from where The East Coast Trail Association has built a boardwalk through the trees so you no longer have to get your feet wet on the half-hour trek to Torbay Point.

The Klondyke, as I call this place, refers to the rock that juts up out of the North Atlantic like a strip of beef jerky. After a leisurely half-hour walk suitable for children, you arrive at the top of a hill looking northeast. The view is suddenly all there, laid out in front of you like a Renoir painting. Nothing but water and a few birds between you and the Irish.

The well-worn path looks like it ends, only to pick up again when you reach a point where, minutes before, it appeared you could go no further. You then meander through the dry grass, past overripe berries, then down a potentially ankle-twisting decline to the more exposed part of the adventure. This is where things can get a little hairy. Young ones and dogs must be kept in check.

You must stick to the trail, for if you venture too far off, the rocks drop to the ocean on either side. The trail draws you to the southern side of the Klondyke where you can sit and feel the wind on your face as you watch the westward-bound planes begin their journey to the big cities. Here you can sit and thank your lucky stars to be sitting right where you are.

This time of year you won't see the whales feeding on caplin, but you might see what we did on our last visit - low-flying seagulls dive-bombing an eagle. All I can figure is the eagle must have made a snack of some seagull eggs and now it's payback time.

Then, once you've infused yourself with the great outdoors, you call the troops together and have a snack before the slightly more strenuous but less hair-raising trip back to your vehicle, where the demands of supper and dance and hockey and homework await.

But at least you'll be able to face them with fresh air in your lungs, a smile on your face and a mind clear enough, hopefully, to have defrosted the meat.

All it takes is a stroll down Doran's Lane.

Susan Flanagan is an outdoor adventurer and mother of five living in St. John's. If you'd like to let her know how you clear your mind, email her at susan@48degrees.ca

Organizations: Botanical Garden, Autism Centre, The East Coast Trail Association

Geographic location: Long Pond, Pippy Park, Klondyke Witless Bay Tors Cove Outer Cove Torbay Point North Atlantic St. John's

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