Sometimes, it takes serendipity (aka luck) to upend misfortune, bringing about a happy ending reserved more often for fiction than life. This story involves the Avon Trail, a pandemic and the kindness of strangers. As an Avon Trail Maintenance volunteer, I helped prepare and introduce an Avon Trail section that helped bridge an overland connection from Road 122 to Line 20 south of the Periwinkle Loop.
While working on a portion of this section in the early summer of 2020, I noticed that my smartwatch was missing from my wrist. The band had come loose, and it slipped off. I retraced my steps that same day. I could not find the watch. Day after day for a week, I returned to the section and walked it looking for the missing watch. I did not find it.
Fast forward to January 1, 2022. I received a call from my brother in Toronto informing me that a caller from Australia claimed to have found my watch. You could have knocked me over with a feather. John (my brother) provided me with a phone number (a 519 area code) to call for more details. This is where the story took on a new dimension.
The person at the other end of the extension said, “G’day, mate.” I explained to him how I had this number and why I was calling. On the line was Spencer Smith, formerly of Stratford, now living with his girlfriend, Sian Lefebvre, outside of Sydney, Australia. This is where the pandemic enters the story. As Spencer tells it, he and Sian were living in the Cambridge area and looking for ways to stay active as the Covid Pandemic unfolded in Canada in 2020.
“Sian and I had no interest in being cooped up, not when outdoor fitness activities were still allowed.” That is when Spencer re-discovered the Avon Trail. Born and raised in Stratford, he and his family spent plenty of time at a friend’s farm near Camp Bimini. “We would see the occasional hiker coming through on nice sunny spring days while boiling maple syrup with my father.”
So, he thought, why not find out more about the Avon Trail? Spencer and Sian began their investigation, with Sian finding the ONDAGO app on the Avon Trail website and pulling it down to her mobile. “Sian,” he said, ” is the planner in the relationship. We both thought it would be cool to hike the trail. We had done lots of hiking previously, but this was exciting to do in our backyard”.
Spencer managed to find a topographic base map with a layer containing “a ton of trails” for his GPS. “I used the GPS as redundancy,” he said, ” and as a way to practice using the features of a tool that can get one out of a pickle.”
Hiking the Avon Trail end-to-end was too good an opportunity to pass up for the two of them. They lived in Cambridge and drove Highway 7/8 to and from Stratford so many times. For Spencer, the chance to walk a distance that many people consider a mundane commuting route was a way to view it through a different lens. “To see our familiar local area in such a new and different way was awesome.”
They began hiking the trail starting at the eastern terminus in Conestogo on May 25, 2020, and completed the course at the terminus of the west in St. Marys on June 25, 2020. (See their E2E log here) Again, Spencer was surprised by the extent of the Avon Trail. “It’s amazing how the trail is discreet, ” he said. “How could I go my whole life without seeing or understanding the little white rectangles on the hydro poles, then suddenly see them everywhere?”
Remember how this story began with my watch that went missing on a trail section? Spencer spotted it while heading from km 35.9 overland through woodlots to km 40.4 on Road 122 (Alas, this section is no longer part of the Avon Trail’s current configuration. Just a few months later, it would never have been found. Now that is what I call serendipity (aka luck)). When he arrived home for the day, he realized that it was a smartwatch, but he did not have a charging device that would activate it.
He and Sian relocated to Australia later in 2020. He had packed the watch, and other possessions in boxes shipped ahead to his new destination. Then, sometime in late 2021, he met a friend who had the same Skagen smartwatch and asked if he could borrow the charger.
He could open it and see my phone contact list containing my brother’s phone number when the watch charged. “I still have a 519 area phone that I use to keep in touch with my family”, said Spencer. That is how he placed the call to my brother on New Year’s Day, and we were able to connect. Since then, he has shipped the phone to my home address. I charged it up. It works. Thanks to Spencer’s kindness, a pandemic and the Avon Trail. It’s a small world.
Tom Kimber, editor