“Why are you punishing yourselves,” asks Makhudu in his inimitable manner. It’s clear he finds our quest slightly ridiculous. We amuse him.
But his question lingers today, as I approach the one-year anniversary of starting this journey with Marian. Last year, 2011, was my year of discovering my body in the latter half of my 50’s and finding its strength. It was the year of half-marathon walks, discovering running, earning medals for my first-ever 10 km runs. If I could do this, I reasoned, I was capable of doing anything.
It was also year one of starting to hike the Bruce Trail. When we started last year in Lion’s Head I was still basking in the flush of my accomplishment on the Mississauga Half-Marathon walk. With 3 other women, I’d trained for weeks, meeting on Sunday mornings for ever longer and faster walks. We walked through snow and sleet and pouring rain. On the day of the Marathon itself we joined a throng of thousands. As I completed those final steps across the finish line and accepted my medal – that was heady stuff. I am woman, I am strong!
But the Bruce Trail, as we were to learn, is not the streets of Mississauga. The Bruce is rugged, wild, mountainous. On the Bruce you learn to appreciate any level stretches as opportunities to make up time, because you know the next kilometer will be craggy, or steep, or both. On the Bruce you must watch how you place your feet or you’ll discover, as Marian did on that first day, that you can very easily injure yourself.
Since that first day in Lion’s Head we have learned that 20 km on the Bruce is ambitious. We scaled back our goals to 15k, 16k. We learned those were respectable distances and we were happy with them. Well, we were happy, that is, until the day we met up with Charlie and his Friday hikers on the beer patio in Milton. Dang those Friday hikers! Four of them, they were, 3 men and one woman, well into their 60’s and possibly into the next decade, and they’d just hiked 22k and spoke of it as an everyday distance.
Suddenly our 15k seemed paltry, as did our rationalizing that distances marked on the Guidebook maps were less than the actual km that we walked. We are still perplexed by that point. Based on my pedometer watch, which on flat surfaces in the city is known to under-calculate distance, we regularly walk about 10 to 15% further than the maps would indicate. We speculate that the difference lies in the fact that the maps don’t take into account the 3-dimensional aspect of distance, i.e., the climbs and descents. In any event, we are convinced that the 347 recorded km we have accomplished are in fact much closer to 400.
In making our plans for Beaver Valley, we aimed for 20k per day. We looked forward to being able to walk as far as we were able, and then to call our pickup drivers to take us back to our car without deciding in advance. Our decisions were to be guided by physical fatigue as well as by road access points.
Day 1, we were pleased to find, we walked 21.7k. Day 2, 20.2. So far so good. Then came Day 3. Tom, our B&B host and driver, gently encouraged us to choose our end point and leave our car there. Cell phone reception would be unpredictable in parts of the valley, he said, especially around Hogg’s Falls. The problem for us was that this meant we had to choose between Eugenia Falls, a mere 14.1k, and Hogg’s Falls, at 20.4k. There was no access point in between.
We chose Hogg’s Falls, dropped our car there, and had Tom drive us to Old Baldy where we’d left off the day before. The day started out well. We were in good spirits, energized. The trail was typical Bruce – ups and downs, craggy stretches interspersed with flat and easy. Around noon we hit Penstoke, part of the Eugenia Falls generating station, which required a long very steep climb up and around the silo-like towers at the top of the hill. By then, my knees had begun to complain. I’d already been using a walking stick as a “third leg” on the hills, distributing my weight between my upper body and my legs, but the pain was becoming more acute. We rested for lunch and resumed. By the time we got to Eugenia Falls we knew we had to make a decision. Do we carry on? We could, and we would probably make it. The bigger question was, what was the wise choice? Marian’s knees were also hurting. We’d done 2 long hard days in a row already. At what point would this become real injury?
Back to first principles, I like to remind myself in situations like this. 20 km is merely a number. This trip, this adventure, this project, is supposed to be about so much more. It’s about being healthy, it’s about enjoyment, it’s about working away steadily at a long-term goal. It’s not about needing to prove ourselves. If it starts to become that, then we will have lost our way.
I am also realizing that if the lesson I needed to learn last year was that my body was capable of much, the lesson this year is that my body has its limits – limits that I must heed and respect.
We did finally choose to stop at Eugenia Falls and Tom was happy to pick us up and deliver us to our car, but it was a decision we wrestled with. It was hard to let go of the notion that we would do 20k every day this week, which is ironic considering the many philosophical discussions we’ve had on the trail about the whole concept of detaching and letting go, and how liberating it is. Maybe we’re just slow learners.
Why are we punishing ourselves, indeed, Makhudu. Let’s raise a toast to that! magdalena