For three days in August, four teenagers (including No. 4) and I hiked from Witless Bay to Petty Harbour along the spectacular East Coast Trail, past the Spout and through glacial valleys peppered with erratics. We had the most magnificent global-warming-ind-uced weather. I felt like we were camping in California. It was almost too hot to sleep inside the tents.
On our first day, as we approached the lighthouse in Bay Bulls, one hiker who I’ll call The Colt made an announcement to the rest of us.
“There will come a point on this hike when you won’t feel like hiking anymore,” said The Colt.
“You don’t know exactly when that time will be, but when it comes, I have some magic powder that will make you happy to hike again.”
My God, I thought. That boy has cocaine in his pack.
“What exactly is this magic powder,” I ventured.
“It’s a supplement called c4 explosive pre-workout.”
Whew, I thought. Potential arrest averted.
The c4 explosive is essentially an energy drink powder that tastes like watermelon. The Colt bought it at the Village Mall. It wasn’t illegal. It was good. In fact it was more than good; it was delicious. It certainly perked me up after I took my turn slurping from the sort of communal bladder bag that was full of the magic stuff.
As it turned out, The Colt was right about reaching a point along the trail where you just want to sit down and take off your boots.
On the first evening, by the time we had plugged in about 15 of our 40 km, two of the teenagers in my care were no longer happy hikers. In fact, they were ready to tip over. The problem stemmed from the fact that we couldn’t find a suitable camping spot in the area where we had planned to stop. We were forced to hike five km more than we had anticipated. In order to help those who had hit the wall, we made some backpack weight adjustments, took extra breaks and fed the hikers water laced with The Colt’s magic powder, and voila! We made it to the campground.
Once they had set up their tents and eaten hot Mr. Noodles spiced up with precooked chicken, they were revived — although one of the hikers, who I’ll call Danny, did sleep 12.5 hours without moving an inch.
The second day was less strenuous than the first, thank goodness for all involved. We had the excitement of The Spout, which was, on every second emission, spouting at least 10 metres into the air.
We also had one boot that fell apart and was duct-taped back together (never hike without duct tape). But all in all it was relatively easy-going. We arrived at our predetermined campsite well before dusk and cooled off in the river before supper.
By the third day, however, all four teenagers were tired after about four hours of hiking. They were no longer appreciating the journey. They charged on past a geocache camouflaged by a cairn of pink stones. They stamped past hoodoos that rival those we saw in Alberta. They bulldozed their way past driftwood-strewn beaches without turning their heads.
Their thoughts were not on the beauty of the Newfoundland landscape. They were focused on one thing and that was the destination and getting those heavy packs off their tender shoulders. It was Petty Harbour or bust.
And who was I to blame them? The Colt’s supply of Jungle Juice had long been exhausted and we had eaten the last of the jerky. I think we were down to one piece of naan and a few handfuls of Gorp (trail mix).
When we finally arrived at the top of the last big hill before Petty Harbour and met up with my sister and neighbour who had come in to retrieve us, No. 4 almost mowed them down — such was her desire to reach the end of the trail. The rest of us stole my neighbour’s ice water and took turns taking long slugs from the bottle.
I have to say that the two groups of two hikers who had only met one time before the hike to go over logistics made a splendid team, and their skills and talents complemented each other’s. The cousins told side-splitting stories that kept our minds off the steep inclines. No. 4 and her hiking partner can whip up a tent and cook supper in the space of 15 minutes. They are a superb hiking/camping duo.
You may wonder why they chose this pretty strenuous hike, knowing they’d come out of it tired and sore. The reason is to qualify for their silver Duke of Edinburgh Award.
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I have written about the Duke of Edinburgh Award in the past. It’s an international award program, founded in 1956 by Prince Philip, open to young people between the ages of 14 and 25. There are three levels: bronze, silver and gold, each involving four sections.
First, participants must provide service to their communities through volunteering. Second, they must learn a new skill such as guitar lessons or ham radio operation or even flying. Third, they must pursue a continuous program of physical fitness. Finally, participants must organize, train for and complete an adventurous journey for each level which often involves hiking, but may also be kayaking, canoeing, snowshoeing or bicycling.
All four aspects must be signed off by a qualified coach, instructor or adviser, and reports must be written for the adventurous journeys.
Although the Duke of Ed Award Program began in Canada in 1963, it didn’t come to Newfoundland until 1972, when a national field worker introduced it in several rural communities, explains Trudy Carlisle, executive director of the Duke of Edinburgh Award for Newfoundland and Labrador.
In 1974, the Newfoundland government formally came onside when then premier Frank Moores pledged the support of the provincial government during a visit by Prince Philip.
“The Newfoundland and Labrador Division of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award presently has over 3,400 youth participating in the award, with 80 groups operating throughout the province. These groups are run through schools and other youth-serving organizations,” says Carlisle.
The reason I chose to mention it again in my column is because as of Sept. 1, 2013 several changes to the program came into effect. For one, it is now called the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award.
Adding the word “international” to the title is important.
As of Sept. 1, there are age-requirement and monetary changes. Instead of paying a one-time award fee, Dukers will now pay a $30 administration fee for each level and receive a new book for each level.
Those who are already in the middle of a level will continue on with the current regulations until that level is complete.
There are many other changes. Participants are not permitted to start the Gold Award before 16 years of age, and this now includes the residential project.
“Anyone who has completed the residential project prior to Aug. 31 will be permitted to use it regardless of age and award level,” explains Carlisle, adding that if people have questions, they can contact their advisers or email her at email@example.com.
The biggest Duke of Ed change, though, for the hikers who were in my care, was the required hiking distances.
While on their silver overnight practice hike, No. 4, her friend Daniel and I argued over the distance they would be required to complete for their silver qualifying hike. As soon as we got home, I opened No. 2’s Duke of Ed book to page 17 (No. 4’s was at the Duke office for her bronze award) and there it was in black and white: the distance required for the silver qualifying hike must be at least 50 km.
That’s when Daniel took out his Duke of Ed book and turned it to page 17 and lo and behold, his page 17 was different from No. 2’s. His page 17 said he only had to hike a minimum of 40 km for his silver qualifying hike.
How can that be? I thought. It’s only been five years since No. 2 started his Duke Award. Now I know it has to do with internationalizing the award program.
Both No. 4 and Daniel were pretty excited about this distance reduction. (Bronze, which used to be 25 km, is now 20. Silver, which used to be 50 km, is now 40, and Gold, which used to be 85 km, is now 60.)
It meant that on their aforementioned silver qualifying hike they could finish their hike from Witless Bay in Petty Harbour rather than having to continue on towards Cape Spear. In fact, if they had to continue on to Cape Spear, I think they might have chopped me up and eaten me for supper.
So, for my sake, I’m happy it was 40 and not 50 km.
And I’m sure No. 1, who did his four-day gold hike on a frigid wet Thanksgiving weekend following hurricane Igor, would agree. He plugged in almost 90 crawling under and over trees felled by the storm wearing sodden boots and carrying a sopping tent.
Susan Flanagan would like to let Duke of Eders know that in St. John’s, both Outfitters and Alpine Country Lodge offer a 15 per cent discount off hiking gear to Duke of Eders who show their book when they purchase. Arthur James in Mount Pearl offers the same. Susan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.