Welcome / Bienvenue

The 125 miles (171 km) in New Brunswick Canada we walked proved to be a welcoming experience, just as advertised.

The most common sign in New Brunswick is “Welcome / Bienvenue” which seems to not only be a slogan but a north star for most Canadians. In our week-long Beyond Borders Walk walking journey along the Coastal Link Trail in New Brunswick we were fortunate to have experienced, many times, what Canadian hospitality and friendliness is all about. 

All public signs issued by the federal government, but only those issued by the Province of New Brunswick, must be in French and English. This area values its tourism and its importance as a melting pot for all making their way east and west or even north and south from the U.S.

A Welcome Promise

Our excursion into Canada was a direct result of a welcome pledge our group was given four years ago. At that time, Loredana Delucchi, a member of our U.S.-based FreeWalkers, walking group, crossed the border with Ken Kurland And Nancy Jonap to St. Stephen to present Mayor Allan MacEachern a Canadian penny, a New York City subway token and a knitted bear doll as a gesture of a special friendship and their accomplishment of walking along the East Coast Greenway from New York to Canada over a period of years. Borders were crossed and lives were changed by reaching out. That effort culminated in a promise by the mayor, in turn, to not only welcome them back again but to build a new pedestrian trail along the St. Croix River.

Going Beyond Borders … Again

Our plan was to walk the 125-mile (171-km) newly charted Coastal Link Trail from Saint John ending in St. Stephen. We started our journey walking across the U.S./Canadian border in St. Stephen where Cherie Stewart, Implementation Manager of the Coastal Link Trail waited to drive us for over an hour to Saint John where we would start our week of walking. We had just driven over 12 hours to the border. Without her help to get to the start, the entire walk would not have happened. 

Beyond Borders Walk – Jul 31 – Aug 6, 2022 – Canadian Coastal Link Trail

Canadian Hospitality

Tracking us throughout our journey was Susan Hill, Executive Director Charlotte County Tourism. From the start, Susan tracked our movement throughout New Brunswick. About a third into our trip, she met us in Pogologan and popped up occasionally all day long to check in on how we were doing. She was there to see us off, invite us to her home in Penfield and show us the harbor and fishing industry in St. George, where her husband and many of the population worked. Susan became our guide about the area and the fishing business that has become the most successful industry in the area. Now, it was time for tourism to add even more to the economy.

Welcomes are most obvious when staying at a B&B. One host couple in St. John was eager to share their story of the dream of immigrating to Canada to create a better life over a generous breakfast.

Another host, Dave, proudly talked of his days working in radio and his love of rock music easily displayed in walls of vinyl records. Dave and I both shared a passion for the music of Bruce Springsteen, a New Jersey icon, who often transcends geographic, generational and cultural boundaries. Dave was also kind enough to lend me his bicycle to ride around the town, saying “Don’t bother locking the bike!”, backed by lessons learned years living in this area.

Don was the welcoming, thoughtful and philosophical B&B host. This old Victorian home in the Chamcook area where we stayed was filled with curious pictures, furniture and curios that spoke of mystery and a different time that was still treasured. He represented an interesting dichotomy of the old and new. He respected the old but was an advocate of building new trails and opening up the area to tourism. He was even kind enough to drive us a few miles into St. Andrews for dinner and pick us up while giving us a brief history of the resort town and the places to see. 

Just as noticeable were small gestures of friendship along the way: Kathy and Junior opened up the Musquash Rec center to provide water, a friendly ATV operator, Stephen, stopped to see if we needed help, the EMS tech that helped get Ken to the hospital after a muscle spasm, the restaurant owner Rachel from Comeau’s Seafood Restaurant who gave us free lunch, the Taylor’s who shared water, their art and their life story, the St. Andrews retiree, Hans who said although his job had taken him all around the world, there was nothing better than where he was now, or the golfer’s surprise at seeing me accidentally riding a bike onto the Algonquin course at Joe’s Point in the middle of his teeing up and just saying, “Isn’t it beautiful? But, you know beauty can be found anywhere, if you look hard enough.”

A St. Stephen Welcome

On Saturday, August 6 we met  with Cherie and Mayor Allan and other trail officials for a casual walk on the new pedestrian path that the Mayor had led over the last four years. In addition, the mayor led us to a large mural that was in the process of being finished. To our surprise, the artist would paint into the mural both the image of FreeWalker Loredana and Mayor Alan walking together on the newly created riverfront trail. 

FreeWalker Loredana Delucchi and Mayor Allan MacEachern at new mural wall

The trip was about fulfilling a promise to return, renew friendships and walk the new trails of New Brunswick. We had become the first group to walk the full Coastal Link Trail, a trail that now connects the enormous Trans Canada Trail system with the East Coast Greenway in the U.S.providing access to thousands of miles (or kilometers) of walking, hiking, and biking trails.

We discovered that what we all cherish most is more access and less borders and obstacles that keep us apart.
Ken, Paul, Loredana and Tom @ the U.S. / Canadian Border in St. Stephen

The Saints: Come Marching In

We were coming to the saints – to march from one to the other.

It was a long, twisted journey that seemed to grow out of reach. Our objective was to walk in New Brunswick province Canada from Saint John to St. Stephen, a distance of approximately 125 miles. We seemed to be “The first group of walkers to travel the newly created Coastal Link Trail on foot.”

Loredana Delucchi, a friend and experienced fellow Freewalker (freewalkers.org), had struck up a relationship with the mayor of St. Stephen, the Canadian border town, a few years ago when she fulfilled an obsession of walking to Canada from New York City. She somehow convinced others to join her along the way. You can begin to understand how this happened reading her personal story called The Return of the Canadian Penny.

To be brief, I got sucked into the new extended challenge in Canadian territory along with her traveling companion Ken Kurland and a mutual friend Tom Glynn. We were all experienced long distance walkers who had walked similar distances before; even internationally. It seems much of the world appreciates the benefits of walking as a great exercise, form of social communication, travel experience and personal challenge. We were here to do it again but in a new place.

Why the Saint Cities?

Mayor Allan MacEachern had noted in the past that Canadians were excited about the new Coastal Link Trail and others that connected their country through the huge Trans Canada Trail system and appreciated the fact that the East Coast Greenway in the U.S. ended right at the border of Calais, Maine and St. Stephen, NB. It gave the small city hope and focus for revival not only by increasing commerce but improving the health of the community.

So a new challenge was born we called the “Beyond Borders Walk.” Connecting trails means more places to walk and more opportunities to connect to others, even across borders. We soon began planning our walking event, not really understanding the challenges ahead.

Is the Trail Ready for Us?

First, there’s the logistics of the walk. The Coastal Link Trail is pretty well defined but as in most early trail efforts their are lots of questions as to where it goes, traffic, conveniences, lodging and even trail marks that show the way. Loredana worked with the trail group to iron these things out but we are pretty sure we are in for some surprises along the way.

Getting to Canada

We all know that Canada is one of the friendliest countries in the world and usually easy to cross, but this is a Covid time with a wierd business cycle. It turns out we figured the Covid restrictions were eased before we went although they do have a strict protocol for tracking vaccinations. The value of the US dollar is even stronger than ever. But one obstacle that we did not foresee is the airline problem.

About three weeks before our travel, Air Canada cancelled our flights to Saint John from Newark via Montreal. We were left with a grand detailed plan but no way to get there. We quickly scrambled to find a rental car and drive the 600+ miles to Calais, the last U.S. town before Canada. With the help of a Calais resident, Bruce Killian, we were able to leave the rental and get a ride to the border where we crossed on foot. On the other side was Cherie Stuart, of the Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission, to meet us and drive us over 100 miles to Saint John where our “walking adventure” would just begin.

The Journey Begins

We arrived in Saint John at about 10:30 p.m. after starting our journey around 6:00 a.m. Loredana and Tom were registered to do a half-marathon in the morning. While Ken and I could at least sleep-in.

But tomorrow would be the first day of our seven day walk which starts July 31 and ends Saturday August 6. The first day will be relatively easy with a walk of only 7 miles. But Tom and Loredana will already have run 14 miles as their part of the marathon. I don’t envy them.

While walking or running great distances can be an extreme challenge it would be impossible without the help of all the trail staff, local politicians, friends and dreams of trail visionaries and dreamers like Loredana. Kudos to you all.

For more on the Beyond Borders Walk follow our website at BeyondBordersWalk.org

Walking with Walt

Learning life lessons from the Ambassador of Forbidden Drive.

It’s not uncommon to meet people along a trail when you are on a walk.  My theory is that there are almost always interesting people there to meet, if you care to engage. Walkers are not alike but we all understand the benefit of a good long walk.

Colleen and Me
Colleen and Me

Fellow FreeWalker, Colleen Griglock, and I, along with a couple dozen other FreeWalkers and EverWalk members were strolling a drop-dead gorgeous trail on a beautiful Fall day this past Saturday. It was  the last few miles of the FreeWalkers (13.1 half) Marathon Walk on the outskirts of Philadelphia.

The trail we were on has ironically been known as “Forbidden Drive” since the 1920s when automobiles were first banned from this gravel road. Now, it’s a popular wide trail that follows Wissahickon Creek Northwest of the city. It was recently named “Trail of Year 2018” by Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources. And, it’s a most inviting trail to pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians with plenty of room for everyone.

Used to be a busy bridle path
Forbidden Drive

We approached a gentleman walking briskly and confidently with a cane and struck up a conversation. There was something about his smile and energy that belied his years. (Hey, I just joined the Septuagenarian club and and am curious when I sense someone has a secret aging process going.) Walt Dinda is an 83 year-young, long time resident of the area and a regular walker on these trails. I would call him the Ambassador of Forbidden Drive.

Walt Dinda
Walt Dinda, the Ambassador of Forbidden Drive

As an attorney, he and his wife raised a family of 6 children which has now grown to 19 grandkids, with the hope of great-grandkids in the near future. I can relate to all this having 6 grandkids myself and looking forward to the possibilities.

Walt is wearing his Penn State hat he says he “borrowed” from his son. Everyone seems to be connected to Penn State here, including most of his family. As Colleen suggests, most fans make the pilgrimage to Happy Valley (Penn State) this time of year. Maybe, one not so big secret here is Pennsylvanians love their communities.

Walt began telling us about the trail and the area before greetings came from others along the way. It seems Walt has been walking Forbidden Drive for years. He even credits this particular walk for much of the good things in his life.

“Walking this trail has taught me more about life than any classroom or degree I ever got. And I continue to learn from it.”

Walt has met hundreds of people of all types on the trail over the years and he has gotten to know and care about them. Walt’s parents were Eastern European immigrants that came to this country and settled in the area. His father initially had a hard time finding work and his mother worked as a domestic for a wealthy family in Philadelphia. Walt goes on,

“I’m basically a conservative guy, but I have learned to accept and embrace others.”

It appears there are many regulars on the trail that he checks in on, or asks about. They are true trail buddies whose lives revolve around the trail.

Making friends along the way.
One of Walt’s buddies asks about the health of an 87 year old mutual friend.

So, the trail is Walt’s extended family. Add a couple dozen of these trail friends to his already large family and the complexity of relationships in his life is astounding. But, I believe it might be the secret to his longevity, or at least his happiness. Walt goes on to say,

“If only the rest of the world had more caring. Caring like we have with friends and family. Most of the problems of the world could be solved or would not exist if we saw each other as part of a family.”

I think it’s fair to say that Walt had a certain personal chemistry that attracted people to him. Or, maybe there was something about walking this particular trail. But, I was fascinated by his story. After talking to him about careers and kids for 15 minutes or so, his daughter in law and grandson showed up giving each other a great big hug. This is what we all want – love and understanding. Walt has earned it in spades and has reminded me how best to grow old.

Tammy, Connor and Walt
Tammy, Connor and Walt on Forbidden Drive

%d bloggers like this: