PORT HARDY—While hiking and hitchhiking their way through North America, a pair of British tourists have been treated to their first trip in the back of a highway patrol car and several backyard campouts.
But last Friday was the first time they were invited to take part in the judging of a rural community fair.
Port Hardy schoolteacher Richard Starr was on a routine drive home from Port McNeill Friday afternoon when he spotted Phil Watson and partner Angie Colston alongside the highway at the Port Alice junction.
On his way to meet his wife, Angelika Starr, to serve as judges at the Mount Waddington Regional Fall Fair, Starr stopped to pick up the pair. After hearing their story, he invited them to join in and lend their expertise.
Watson, 50, and Colston, 51, in the midst of a global hiking vacation, were up for the challenge.
“It’s been all small towns and rural areas in America and here in Canada,” said Phil Watson. “That’s the best way to meet people.”
Only Watson’s silver hair belies the couple’s ages. They look a decade younger, and appear as fit as most half their ages, the result of walking half a continent while taking only mass transit and rides offered by friendly strangers.
They camp in their tent on the trail, though they have been offered back yards in Vancouver and in Campbell River. Friday night, they were treated to a stay at the Starrs’ home before heading out for their hike of the North Coast Trail.
The couple, who both served as veterinarians in England’s Lake District, left their jobs late last year to set out on a low-impact sightseeing tour of the Western U.S. and beyond. With no vehicle and no firm itinerary, the pair arrived in the desert Southwest to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the U.S.-Mexico border to its northern terminus.
“We met a Canadian while we were walking the Pacific Crest, and he said, ‘You’ve got to hike the West Coast Trail,’” said Watson. Once on Vancouver Island to take on that challenge, the pair was informed of the Cape Scott-North Coast Trail. Without so much as a bicycle, Colston and Watson began thumbing from Bamfield to Port Hardy.
Ten rides later, they found themselves in Port Hardy’s Civic Centre and Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena, perusing offerings entered in the Mount Waddington Regional Fall Fair and marking down their selections.
Ironically, perhaps, Colston agreed to serve as a photography judge while Watson, who has taken hundreds of scenic and landscape photos on their journey, tackled the sampling of baked goods.
“It’s ideal for someone who’s hiking,” Watson quipped. “You need a lot of calories.”
When judging was completed, the pair were treated to a sampling of wines entered in the fair.
From here, the pair is headed to Alberta. Eventually, they will make their way back to Seattle, then take a train to Michigan for a two-week break to visit family.
From there, it’s off to Fiji and New Zealand for more hiking.
“Eventually we have to go home,” said Colston. “But we don’t have a return flight.”