It was my third year of working at Circle Square Ranch, May of 1991. Our third horsemanship director had just been hired to run the horsemanship program. (We seemed to burn through a lot of horsemanship directors at that summer camp.) Paul was from the mainland and this was his very first time in the area of Conception Bay South. I had been there for three years and Bubba had lived there all his life. When driving through Topsail on his first Saturday there, Paul spotted the towering cliffs of Topsail Bluff and when gathered around the table that evening after eating something from a can, he told Bubba and I that he had to climb that hill. It was there and it must be climbed! I laughed at the eagerness in his voice and told him that I knew how he felt. Three years before when I first laid my eyes upon the cliffs I wanted to climb them too. Then Bubba spoke up and mentioned that all his life (probably as an infant being pushed down the road in a baby carriage and seeing the bluff for the very first time) he had planned to someday climb that 900 foot cliff as well. Since we had the next day off, and the forecast was predicting our best weather in days, Paul made up his mind that he would climb it then. Admiring his eagerness, excitement and enthusiasm, Bubba and I agreed that Paul would not climb alone. (Since in those days there was no internet, chat rooms, DVD’s, cell phones or Sunday shopping, we would be free.) It was the plan!
I can still recall collapsing at the summit of Topsail bluff after the three hour struggle uphill. It shouldn’t have taken that long because, we were told, there was a trail that you can follow, and reaching the top was fairly easy by using this path. We were instructed that we could find the entrance to this path a short distance in along the main walking trail. “Just keep your eyes open! You can’t miss it!” (It turns out that we could miss it, and believe me, our eyes couldn’t have been any more open then they were.) We were to learn, at a later time, that the point where the path uphill starts is across the main walking trail from a small field of grass. It is an open spot among the trees to both the sun and the ocean. There you can sit on the grass under the sun and gaze out at the water. Or, you can lay on a blanket spread on the green grass and look up into the deep blue sky as the waves laugh against the rocky shoreline. Still, if so inclined you can remove your outer clothing and lay on your blanket and drink in the vitamin D straight from the star Sol tanning your skin to various shades of red and browns. Even still, if you are female, or prefer dressing in ladies fashion, there is yet the option of laying there with the cotton strings of your bikini unleashed allowing you to tan without lines. Since this was one of the first hot days of the tanning season several young women eagerly choose that last option and as we approached along the walking trail, the heavy smell of coconuts in the air there reached our sense of smell. Knowing that coconut trees do not grow on topsail beach we investigated. We noticed the clearing and then we noticed the bright colors of the beach blanket spread on the grass and then we noticed the golden sheen of bare skin oiled and glistening with the reflection of sunlight, pure and unblemished. I told you our eyes were opened wide (and maybe our jaws dropped and there might have been some drooling.) Anyway, this is the reason we walked past the trail up the mountain, proving we could miss the path that couldn’t be missed if we kept our eyes wide open.
After a time with no trail in sight we decided to blaze forth with a trail of our own and make our personal and unique way through a forest of dull gray needleless spruce with branches of iron. Then we reached rock. During the three hour climb we had to double back in places when the cliffs ahead turned sheer and find other ways up. We hurried quickly when, as we had just paused to rest, came to discover a rare species of the cliff-dwelling fiery red rock ant had established a colony in the very place we rested our bums. There were places where we became stuck and while trying to get free, only the fact that a belt buckle hooked on a little rock saved lives and kept us from becoming one of those stories you see occasional on the NTV Evening News Hour with Fred Hutton, Lynn Burry and Toni Marie Wiseman. When one of us was climbing higher then the other, the lower climber would have to dodge rocks tumbling at our heads and other times catch them before they smashed a skull. In frustration we would throw the rocks back at the person who loosened them in the first place, only to have to dodge the same rock a second time. Gravity works that way. When the unreasonably hot weather dehydrated us during our ascent and the need for water was so great, in spite of the slimy greenish growth thriving in the trickle of liquid running down a cleft between the rock, we drank, after a prayer for inoculation. In places we climbed together and in places we climbed alone but three hours later I collapsed in a nest of blueberry bushes on the summit of Topsail Bluff, trying to remember how to breath normally. I remember, once my heart rate returned to resting, I looked out over Conception Bay towards Bell Island and the sun was shining off each wave, creating the illusion of a pathway of diamonds on the waters surface like a road to Heaven. (There may have been some hallucinogenic properties to the green stuff in the water we drank on the way up.) Regardless, it was one of the most awe-inspiring sights I can ever recall. Paul looked at me and said, “I am glad we climbed this.” I nodded and agreed. It was a day that I’ll never forget.
Bubba had never even showed up.
He had called just before we were going to leave on our climb and said he couldn’t make it. I forget his reason why, but in the end he was the one that missed out, the adventure of the climb, the view at the top and, oh yes, the bathers in the sun.
To this day, when Bubba relates this story, he claims I was the one who chickened out, and he was the one who climb the cliffs with Paul. Until he produces his own written account of this adventure to prove me wrong, I will stand by my claim, “I was There!”