The Halifax emergency physician took a few days off to make the 110-kilometre trek from Grand Pré to Annapolis Royal via the recently completed Harvest Moon Trail.
Cajee and his walking partners -- spouse Fatima Cajee and colleague Dr. Suha Masalmah -- may have been the first to make the through-hike from east to west since the trail was completed and officially opened this summer.
Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald met them at the end of their adventure Thursday afternoon just after 2 p.m. They walked 15 kilometres from Tupperville that day. Ismail said his legs were a bit wobbly but they’d had a great time walking through beautiful country.
“What we saw was all the little towns that I’d never seen before,” he said, remembering a lovely restaurant in Middleton and good food all along their trek as they stayed nights in B&Bs and met a lot of great people.
He loved the trail west of Bridgetown most.
“It’s the most beautiful sight,” he said. “It has the big river, all the farms, rolling hills, the greenery – it was very beautiful. The scenery was very beautiful. I recommend it.”
“I think this is really a significant day, not only for the town of Annapolis Royal and for the … trail coalition, but also for these hikers that have come from Grand Pré hiking the 110 kilometres to bring them through to Annapolis Royal,” said Mayor MacDonald as he waited for the hikers at the trail head. “I’m really excited to hear the stories of their adventure, of their hike and the things that they liked and the things that perhaps need improvement. That’s the kind of data the coalition is interested in as well.”
“This is huge,” said Noah Scanlan. He sits on the board of the Annapolis Valley Trails Coalition and is also recreation coordinator for the Town of Annapolis Royal. He also met the three hikers as they walked into town.
“Just to hear about this taking place in a non-scripted manner or impromptu manner – to hear these people decided to make this journey and end up here and succeed -- it’s very exciting to me,” Scanlan said.
He thinks it bodes well for the future of the trail.
“I think people are going to realize more and more that this is something that you can just take a couple of days and have a really wonderful vacation in your backyard,” he said. “And it’s very much in line with what I try to do for the town as a recreation coordinator – to inspire people to take walks.”
For Suha, the long walk wasn’t just a fun thing to do. It was a healthy thing to do. It’s the type of thing she tells her patients to do. She thinks everyone would benefit from getting out on their local trails.
“They should really do it,” she said. “Even if they can’t do the whole thing in one go, they should take portions of it. Definitely it’s worth it.”
As a physician, she tells her patients that physical activity – walking -- is a cure for a lot of diseases.
“So just be active,” she said.
She also thinks it’s a great way to see and experience the province.
“There’s beautiful scenery everywhere,” she said of the Harvest Moon Trail. “Like crossing from the wooded areas, to small towns, to farms, to the Annapolis River, everything literally.”
And she said the people they met were great.
“Beautiful, amazing people,” she said. “Very, very friendly.”
The Cajees are hikers, but hadn’t done any great distances. Ismail said they decided that this year they’d take a few days off and turn a longer hike into a vacation
“We originally planned to try from Halifax to Truro just for fun,” he said. “But then I read the paper in May or so .. that there was a new Harvest Moon Trail opening here so we said this will be perfect because there’s the trail, just the right kilometres that we wanted to do.”
Those 110 kilometres were divided into 18 to 20 kilometres a day, depending on what community they were staying in that night. It was an easy pace and allowed them to see the scenery, meet people, and see the communities they were passing through.
On Oct. 3 Fatima post on Facebook that they had arrived in Kingston the day before.
“Hiking the Harvest Moon trail, from Grand Pré to Annapolis Royal,” she said. “We started on Saturday September 30. We've completed up to Kingston. Today we continue. Staying at B&B and inns along the way. Eating at local restaurants. Wonderful trail and a great addition to our province.”
“To my understanding this is the first hike through from Grand Pré here to Annapolis Royal,” said Mayor MacDonald. “We’ll have to dispute between Grand Pré and the Town of Annapolis Royal who’s the head of the trail, but certainly from our perspective we’re the head of the trail.”
Although MacDonald was provoking a friendly rivalry between the two ends of the trail, he believes everybody will gain from the pathway along the old railway bed.
“I expect that all of the communities between Grand Pré and Annapolis Royal .. are going to benefit from this. I understand these hikers have stopped at B&Bs, they’ve eaten at restaurants, the very kind of thing trails like this are intended to do – expand some economic development -- actually get people out and visiting these small little villages and communities.”
“We see this as the success of the trail,” said Grand Pré Trails Society chairperson Marcel Morin. “Our group worked hard to support the completion of the trail to Grand Pré. Now that it is complete, anchored by two National Historic Sites, and people are able to make use of it in their daily lives or as a destination, we look forward to working together with other groups along the trail to improve services and amenities for the user.”
And which end is the trailhead?
“My mother would say that Annapolis Royal is where Canada started so I won’t argue if they want to call Annapolis Royal the start of the Harvest Moon Trailway,” said Morin.
“I was trying to be present in every moment and enjoy the scenery,” said Fatima. “The scenery is just fabulous. It was one foot in front of the other – a wonderful, reflective time. And people go all the way to Spain to walk the El Camino. We have 110 kilometres here that maybe we could begin with and then move on to Spain.”
The Annapolis Valley walk was just as beautiful.
“Some spots just take your breath away,” said Fatima. “I think we all need more of that in our lives.”