This is it – it is the End

It’s our final day. In the morning the power is out, the wind is blowing hard and the sky is clouded over. And still I think to myself, this is good. A perfect day for hiking. We have less than 8 km left to hike, an easy walk by all accounts. I am filled with excitement.

IMG_6245By ten a.m. we are on the trail, dollar-store pinwheels planted in our knapsacks to catch the wind with a celebratory flourish and mark our final stretch. I feel like I want there to be a parade. Maybe, I think, we could blow our whistles as we walk the last kilometer. Not that I suggest it – I’m not sure it’s Marian’s style.

Behind us a group of three male hikers with full-sized packs is striding purposefully in our direction, quickly gaining on us. These are hikers in a hurry, and we let them pass. Today of all IMG_3276days our purpose is not to finish fast, but to savour. For one more day we will breathe in the smells of the forest, feel the soft carpeted trail beneath the pine trees, appreciate every mushroom and inspect every lookout. For three years we have been on this journey, a journey that so often felt like it would never end, but also a journey that taught us that progress is made step by step, slowly. As we approach the end and look back we see that we have walked far – clear across the province, almost 900 km.

IMG_6269When we reach the Visitor Centre, milling with people, and then walk on into town to reach the cairn, by now almost hidden from view by a row of parked cars, it strikes me how anti-climactic it all feels. There is no one to greet us at the end, no one to shake our hand or give us a certificate. Definitely no parade. It makes me glad that we thought to bring the pinwheels, and that we have a bottle of bubbly in the cooler in the car. We need to make our own celebration.

IMG_6272The saving grace, it turns out, is social media. As we toast our achievement on the bench beside the cairn, we post our photos on Facebook and immediately the messages of congratulations begin to pour in.

Maybe it is a parade after all. magdalena

Farewell to the Bruce: our next to last days

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I don’t know where to start on this blog post. It is supposed to mark the finish. Somehow it was easier to mark the start of this adventure, the first step, the anticipation, the excitement. Since then, as we have mused more than once in this blog, we have been travelling through a very long middle, day after day and walk after walk of slowly progressing through the many, many kilometers and through all the different club sections.

And yet, suddenly, it does happen. We are on the home stretch. A journey of 57 days, of 885 km, and we find ourselves in our final moments. It feels like our farewell tour, setting out. These are the days we will say good-bye.

By coincidence more than by design, we start the last three days at the very place where we left off on our first day of hiking way back in June 2011, the point where we cut short our hike because Marian twisted her ankle. And so it is that we begin our final leg by completing a section we had set out to do on our very first day so long ago. Even more déjà vu , at the end of Saturday’s hike we once again run into the problem of having no cell phone reception. We are coming full circle.

But any problems on this last trip turn out to be minor. The cell phone problem is  solved by walking two more km down the road until we find a signal, right by some roadside garbage bins.  On the trail a rattlesnake scared the s— out of me as it darted across the trail just in front of my pole, its rattle loud and alarming, but then it hid behind a rock and allowed us to pass.  Even the weather cooperated, giving us cooler temperatures and occasional breezes to chase away the mosquitoes, the rain holding off until evening.

Yes, after this weekend, these will all be memories. There will be no more planning ahead for the next trip, no more charting the remaining hikes, no more arranging of B&B’s or driving down remote country roads looking for our trail access. The feeling is bitter-sweet. Magdalena

Gallery

Endings

This gallery contains 18 photos.

  I have to confess that I have been having trouble feeling inspired to write about our last 5 day hike. Not for a lack of things to write about; the spectacular scenery, so many panoramic look-outs, evidence of bears, … Continue reading

Beginning the home stretch

IMG_5769

It seems like every end-to-ender we have talked to has told us the Peninsula is their favourite section of the Bruce Trail. “Just wait,” they say. “You`re going to love it!”  Well, we just completed 5 days there over the Canada Day weekend, and I have to agree. Definitely, the Peninsula has the most spectacular sections of the entire escarpment. Stunning. This was also the time that Marian’s son Evan was finally able to join us for a day’s hike. We had so wanted him to be impressed, and impressed he was (right, Evan?).

But the other thing people told us is that it was the hardest, and in that they were right as well. Some notes from my journal about the section through Bruce Peninsula National Park:

“Yesterday was hard. It was also beautiful, to the point of spectacular. And surprising. But hard. We walked a chunk of the section that the guidebook warns as being the most rugged and difficult on the trail. That was certainly the half of it. The trail was rocky, it twisted and turned, climbed up twenty feet and then back down again, up and down, over and over, then all the way down to the shore of Georgian Bay and back up to the top of the ridge. Sometimes we walked across immense stretches of beach rock, further taxing my feet. Nothing that in itself was beyond our capacity, but cumulatively it tested my stamina. Everything hurt by 2 o’clock and we were still only at the midpoint of our planned hike.”

And the next day: “The first half of the day was gruelling. The path climbed up

rock that was hard to walk on

rock that was hard to walk on

and down, over and over, and the climbs were tough, the kind where you search for handholds and footholds. Just as soon as we had climbed down we would see the next uphill piece, allowing no rest for our feet or knees in between. The trail surface was mostly pockmarked rock, like moon rock, rock you need to pick your way over with tight concentration and that you feel through the soles of your boots. The heat too was unbearable, sweat running down our bodies, the salt of it biting my eyes. Any time we stopped the bugs swarmed us, buzzing around our ears, landing on exposed skin.”

Yes, that was the hardship side of it, but the beauty? Oh my, the beauty. It was just indescribable.  There was the deep turquoise of the Georgian Bay, reminding me of the Caribbean and making the pull of the lookouts irresistible. There were the wild flowers – yellow lady’s slippers, wild geranium, orange lilies, Indian paintbrush. The songs of the birds, and the flitting of butterflies and dragonflies that escorted us as we walked. And most magnificent of all, there was the Grotto near Cyprus Lake. It was teeming with people, some arranged on lawn chairs on the rocks, families with toddlers in back carriers and kids practicing their climbing on the cliff sides, a young couple in matching striped t-shirts clambering over rocks and posing for selfies, intrepid types jumping from the rocks in the distance into the frigid waters. Amazing.

Yes, I came home with my first case of poison ivy and yes, the days were hard and hot, but the Peninsula is a gorgeous place and worth every sore muscle and itchy rash.

And now we are left with just 38.2 km, which is amazing in itself. magdalena

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Beautiful Colpoy’s Bay

It’s my job this time to describe the actual walking, but I cannot resist a remark or two about what it was like for me during our 9 month hiatus.

I wish I could say I passed the time with grace and good humour, but such has hardly been the case. I have been bristling with impatience. I found it terribly hard to be grounded during the best hiking season of the year, and to have to let go of the idea of finishing in 2013. It especially rankled because I had just retired and finally really had time to hike. And now in the new year, the ankle is healed, but our schedules are not in sync. Arrgghhh. I know there is a lesson here about waiting, about allowing things to unfold in their own time, about not rushing matters and I know it applies to the way we walk when we are on the Trail itself as much as to the length of time it takes us to get to Tobermory. You would think I would have learned this lesson by now but instead I push, I chafe, I chomp at the bit.

I should learn to be this tranquil

I should learn to be this tranquil

I read with envy about others like Joanne and Helen who accomplished the same trek in the space of a year. Thank goodness I found a group, informally called Friends of the Camino, who organize day-long walks through Toronto’s ravines every Friday. They help me channel my pent-up energy into planning and preparing for my Camino which I will begin in mid-September – 780 km of walking along an ancient pilgrim’s route from the French Pyrenees to Santiago in Spain.

But back to our own hike this past weekend, which took us around beautiful Colpoy’s Bay and ended with views of Sydney’s Bay.

Much of the time we walked along the crests of the many bluffs that surround the bay: Skinner’s, Esther’s, Colpoy’s, Malcolm, and Jones. From the top we had magnificent views of the turquoise water of the Georgian Bay and could see the ridge of the escarpment on the opposite side. It reminded me of when we hiked the Beaver Valley, though this time Marian was not tempted to take the shortcut across the middle.

Overall we encountered very few real challenges, and the ones we did face occurred on the first day. It started out so cold we were glad we had packed gloves (yup, Victoria Day weekend – it’s been that kind of spring). The Slough of Despond, a name on the map that had long intrigued us, turned out to be merely a bog with a simple identifying sign courtesy of the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority. It was up to us to imagine the plight of early settlers who had named the place. Our real hardship happened soon after. The trail entered woods and then turned onto Colpoy’s Range Road. We have learned several times that a road having a proper name does not necessarily mean it is passable. Such was the case here when the “road” was covered in puddles the size (and depth) of small lakes. We clambered around the edges, steadying ourselves with walking poles and clinging to branches of bushes to keep from plunging our feet deep into murky water. IMG_5389The first few puddles were manageable but they got worse as we progressed. We hadn’t studied the map closely for some time, and when we did we were convinced we had missed a turn, surely this river of a dirt lane could not be Colpoy’s Range Road – until we checked the description which said it was “a little used one lane road”. We were indeed on the trail, and thank goodness, because we certainly did not want to repeat all of that backwards.

Willie emerging

Willie emerging

For the rest, we only had to climb up or down the escarpment a few times, once down ladders along a steep cliff that landed us in the town of Wiarton, and another time up the spiral staircase on the other end of town. We stopped for a few pictures of Wiarton Willie at the beach, noting we had completed the Sydenham section at last and were left with only the Peninsula section to go!

verified as bear poop by the folks at Cape Croker camp

verified as bear poop by the folks at Cape Croker camp

The buds on the trees were still small, allowing lots of sunshine to bathe the forest floor so the wild flowers could thrive. There were mounds of trilliums everywhere, as well as trout lilies and violets and of course the beautiful but much maligned dandelion. Little chipmunks scampered into holes, we surprised the odd snake and grouse, and one time we appear to have just missed seeing a black bear, judging by the pile of fresh bear scat we found in the middle of our trail.

 

IMG_5425I mentioned our walking poles. Yes, for the first time we have added walking poles to our repertoire, something we had long resisted but now wonder why we were so stubborn.  It was my Camino pals who convinced me of the virtues of poles, how they help with body alignment on straight stretches and take the weight off the knees on inclines. This was my first time to use them on wilderness trails and I love how they help me navigate around uneven rocks and tree roots, providing extra balance. And they certainly were a godsend in getting around the puddles.

The poles Marian used have their own important story. They belonged to Phil Thomas, the husband of my dear friend Marilyn who joined us in Wiarton for the weekend and kept us company at the Wright House B&B.  Phil passed away not long ago, on April 18. He was one of those people who truly knew how to live life to the full in every sense, physically, intellectually, and artistically, and always with great humour. When he was still able to do so he thrived on all kinds of outdoor activities like canoeing, biking and walking. And so I am dedicating this post to Phil, to his memory, to all the many ways he has inspired me and all who knew him. Thank you, Phil. I will miss you. magdalena

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We’re Back!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Finally! After an almost 9 month hiatus, we’re back on the Bruce for the long weekend in May. It feels great to be back. Even so, there is some trepidation about how my ankle will hold up. I haven’t really practiced much, other than occasional short hikes around High Park and a recent 3 hour trek down a steep, rough mountain path in Nepal. I am also worried about keeping up with Magdalena, who has been rigorously training for the Camino which she plans to hike in the fall.
Getting to our starting point early Saturday morning, I am flooded with anxious memories of how our last hike ended. But my ankle is fine and we hike a total of 55 km over the 3 days, averaging about 3 km/hour. Not much by some standards but we are proud of our accomplishment this weekend. And we have reconciled ourselves to the fact that being slow is okay; preferring to take frequent breaks to enjoy the scenery rather than making great time covering long distances.
Physically and spiritually the breaks are as essential as the walking for me. I realize this especially now as I become more aware and respectful of the fragility of my body. One of the lessons that breaking my ankle drove home for me was that I needed “a break” from the rush and busy-ness of life. Doing nothing is a challenge for me. I have a compulsion to not waste time; to fill the void; do something, but I am slowly beginning to embrace doing nothing. I have rediscovered one of my favorite childhood “activities”; lying on the ground, staring at the sky, watching the ever changing cloud formations, listening to the sounds, feeling the grass and insects tickle my skin, emptying my mind and becoming one with the universe.
We finally completed the Sydenham section and are on the Peninsula section now; from all perspectives the most challenging part of the Bruce trail. The end is near. We now have only about 130km left to complete the Bruce trail and there is a sense of urgency to finish this summer, especially for Magdalena who is now focused on walking the Camino in the fall and prefers the neatness of ending one thing before starting the next. Planning ahead we figure it will take us about 8 days to complete, taking into account the logistics of limited road accesses. This should be attainable in 3 summer months, we think, but looking at our already packed summer schedules, we are cognizant that it will be a challenge to find a few consecutive days when we are both free. And so the adventure continues and we may be hoping for a mild, snow-free November … marian

Working title: Escarpment Odyssey

Those who can, as they say, do, and those who can’t, teach. Or, in my case, those who can’t, imagine they can and then they write a novel about it.

I’m talking about not being able to complete the Trail yet because Marian’s ankle is still mending. I’m feeling frustrated and it’s making me look for creative ways to deal with that. So last month, I decided to write a novel about the Trail. Yup, a novel. First novel I ever wrote.

Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResLet me tell you a little more. I was taking part in NaNoWriMo, something I’d heard about it for the first time last year. The deal was, write a 50,000 word novel, in thirty days. How exciting, I thought. Just the challenge for someone like me. Too bad I was still working at the time and that it was already mid-November, but wait till next year. Then I’d be retired and that’s when I’d really sit down and pound it all out.

I had visions of sitting at my computer with my fingers flying, the words pouring through the keys onto my LED screen. Characters would reveal themselves to me full blown, plot twists and dilemmas appearing from nowhere and carrying me forward. I read NaNoWriMo forums and found there were lots of pantsers, people who wrote by the seat of their pants as opposed to those who outlined every chapter in advance as they advised in Novel Writing for Dummies. In my head I was eleven years old again, all the girls in my class filling scribbler after scribbler with adventurous tales of heroines that looked a lot like Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew.

Then came the invitation to spend a week in Princeton. What to do? Well, no matter, the laptop could come along. And the first week, well, the word count started slowly and got behind quickly, but there would be time to catch up, right? Week two I did a little better, and I got to 10,000 words. I was starting to see that 50,000 was an awful lot. And where was I going to take my protagonist? Who was she really? She was beginning to sound a little boring, how was she going to carry me for 40,000 more words? What was her backstory? Had I even figured that out? I was starting to feel stuck. And the motif that was supposed to carry my story along, hiking the Bruce Trail as metaphor for internal journey and spiritual change, it was taking some more doing than I’d anticipated. I couldn’t keep describing every hike they went on ad nauseum, with trail heads and hills and fatigue.

Keep going anyway, the pep talk emails from NaNoWriMo said. Sit down and type and something will come. It’s always hard work and always impossible and yet that’s how novels get written every day and all the time. Jump ahead in your story to a place where you know what the action will be and come back later and fill in the missing pieces then. The advice kept coming and it was timely. How did they know exactly what I would be needing, I thought.

10 days to go and I was only at 25,000. Oh well, I said. I’m not going to make it, but it’s a lot more than I’ve ever done and I’m proud. Maybe, just maybe, I can reach 40,000. I sat down and typed some more. And then, on Thursday with 3 days to go, the day’s NaNoWriMo email said we’re all at different places, some of us do 2,000 words every day, some write once a week for 6 hour stretches and some, it said, do 15,000 word sprints. Could I? my inner voice whispered. Could I?

By Friday night I’d churned out enough words to be in striking distance of 40,000 and then the doorbell rang, my brother dropped in from Sudbury and the laptop had to be shut down. Saturday morning I was back at my writing table with my laptop open, cup of tea by my side. I texted three of my BFF’s: 40,000 words and counting. Deadline is midnight tonight. Can I hear some cheering? And I started to type. I wrote and I wrote, and I texted at 1,000 word intervals. Bam! they wrote back, and, You can do this! You’re picking up speed! There were 2,000 words to go when my family called me for supper. I ate and headed right back upstairs to type some more.

It was 8:48 pm when I wrote the last words: “Now let’s get going, shall we?”  I had 50,217 words, 121 pages.

Is it a great novel? Not by any means. But there’s some stuff in there that makes me think I want to work at it some more in the new year, make it better, fix it. I think that’s called editing. magdalena