The weather on September 24 was the worst of the trip. Fog covered the land completely and heavy showers of rain were frequent. I waited in my tent till 1:30 p.m. for the weather to clear, but it didn’t. So I packed up and cleared out by around two o’clock. Sleep had been hard to come by the previous night. Strong wind gusts and pelting rain had battered the tent and kept me awake for much of it.
I had hoped to climb inside Hawke Hill, the highest point of land on the Avalon Peninsula, on this last day of walking. However, given the severity of the weather, I decided instead to follow a series of gullies to the west of the ridge that constitutes the Hawke Hills. Staying close to these small bodies of water would be a useful means of tracking my progress in the fog and would keep me just below the high spine of the ridge where the weather was as its worst.
In the end, what was to have been a day of summitting and free enjoyment atop the Hawke Hills turned out to be one of fogbound and fastidious adherence to my compass bearings. Such are the vicissitudes of life out-of-doors. I counted myself lucky to have had so many fine days on this trip.
I was immediately struck by the awesomeness of the landscape on my way to the first pair of gullies. Numerous massive erratic boulders shrouded in fog lay between me and my destination. I had to choose my way carefully among these grey giants. With so much granite and fog, my surroundings appeared epic.
Nearing the first gullies I encountered a trail with fresh signs of ATV traffic. I crossed paths with a few other ATV trails that day, each one leading down from the top of the ridge towards gullies at lower elevations. None of the others seemed as recently used.
My second bearing took me past one of the larger gullies on the west side of the ridge. Walking north of this gully I exited the Avalon Wilderness Reserve. The blueberries in this area were amazingly abundant for mid-September. I guess that they might ripen a bit later at that elevation. Partridge berries continued to be plentiful as well.
While keeping my distance from the highest part of the ridge, I was nonetheless gradually gaining elevation as I proceeded north. Here and there I dipped down into small ravines along the side of the ridge. The land was barren, so the walking was good. After arriving at the last of the sizable gullies along my trajectory, I made for a patch of small gullies just southeast of the communications towers at Four Mile Hill. Along this bearing I saw a flock of thirteen geese and a group of small swift birds flying in tight formation. They promptly disappeared into the fog. The only other animal I saw that day was a solitary grey squirrel.
Soon my path intersected a well-worn ATV trail. I took this to be the main trail from which branched the other trails that I’d encountered that day. It led north towards the towers and the highway, so I decided to follow it. The trail was good, keeping mostly to high and dry ground. Along it there were signs announcing the Hawke Hills Ecological Reserve. Prior to this trip I was unaware that the Hawke Hills are home to a unique ecosystem: the most easterly alpine barrens in North America. A small reserve covering 1.3 square kilometres was created in 1992 to protect the local flora, many of which are not typically found this far south and east. Hunting, camping, and ATV use are prohibited in the reserve so as to protect the plants that flourish there from interference and destruction.
Four Mile Hill
Nearing the TCH I passed through more spectacular fields of fog-shrouded boulders. The hiss of tires on wet pavement came to me through impenetrable grey. I could not see the highway, but I knew it was close.
I descended then into a small valley. Through the gloom I began to see, on the opposite slope of the valley, tall metal poles, V-shaped and ominous, like the monster-robots I had seen in some cartoon as a kid. Beyond that, a building raised on a metal frame with a big soccer ball-shaped thing on top. I had finally arrived at the communications towers.
Soon I found myself in the midst of the towers. The fog was thick enough that I couldn’t see all of them at once. They revealed their weird shapes to me a couple at a time as I made my way along the gravel road. There was something unsettling and soulless about these structures. The precarious height of their skeletal forms and the unceasing buzz of the electrical equipment gave them an eerily threatening demeanour.
I felt uneasy among them, compelled to look over my shoulder, as if in danger of being attacked by petrified giants. Here was the modern world imposing itself sans flesh upon a bit of barren wilderness, a symbol and outpost of so much that I had wanted to be rid of for a week. The scene was fascinating enough, but I didn’t want to linger too long.
The fog thinned out as I descended the dirt road from the towers to the Trans-Canada Highway. The highway became visible: a busy procession of machines. The sibilant sound of wheels on wet asphalt and the roar of diesel engines grew more audible. At the end of the road I laid my pack down and was somewhat taken aback by the realization that the walk was over. At that moment of arrival I did not dwell much upon the tremendous expanse of wilderness that I had just passed through. Instead I felt the simple satisfaction of a walk well completed. It would take some time for me to consider what this walk had meant to me. I’m considering it even now, a year later.
And so I waited. I had already called my buddy to come get me. He arrived shortly thereafter from Holyrood with a bowl of his mother’s delicious chicken soup. I showed him on a map where I had walked and where I had spent my nights. He asked me if I felt tired. Honestly, I didn’t feel at all fatigued. It seemed, rather, that I was bringing some new energy back with me from that great wilderness.