Monthly Archives: May 2012

Back to first principles

“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.

All of which is to say that, thanks to the Friday hikers, a new bar had been set.  Several times last year we did reach 20k and we’d raise a toast to Charlie and his group.

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


People of the Beaver Valley

“Just to prove to you that I have a good heart,” says Tom, having picked us up from Eugenia Falls mid-afternoon, a good 6 km short of where our car is parked at Hogg’s Falls, “I will take you on a different route back to your car.”

As if we still needed to be certain about that good heart.  Tom is kindness itself. A retired farm veterinarian and professor at the veterinary college at the University of Guelph, Tom and his wife Darlene operate Maxwell’s Cabin, one of the B&B’s listed on the Bruce Trail website.

inside the cabin

They like most of the listed places offer pickup and drop-off service for hikers, a real boon given the challenges of navigating between the trail ends and our car every day.  Tom tells us he can no longer hike much himself, given his age and his physical condition.  Instead he supports hikers like ourselves, providing not only ride service but also advice, information, and humour.  He knows all the backroads, he loves this part of the country where he has chosen to live his retirement years.

He is the perfect team-mate for Darlene, whose strengths are played out in creating beauty and comfort for us in the cabin.  Her artistic soul and her nurturing spirit are evident everywhere.  They are so well suited to each other and to the role of B&B hosts.

the view from Ravenna Hills B&B

They are a contrast to Gisela, who runs the Ravenna Hill B&B where we stayed the first night.

The B&B itself was very beautiful.  Gisela’s husband Jurgen, an architect, designed their home on the hill to take full advantage of views of the stunning valley.  The guest bedrooms and sitting area are on the lower level, conveniently separated from their own living quarters but still offering the grand views.  Yet Gisela seems out of place in the valley.  She is a self-confessed urbanite who cannot get used to the country ways.  She tells us so herself.  She’s been here 16 years, but she’ll always be a city girl.  Everyone knows everyone else’s business here, she says, and she has learned she has to be careful.  She finds the maze of country roads totally confusing with their concessions and sideroads and lines, constantly changing their names as they cross township boundaries.

Then there are Betty and Vernon, two elderly people we chanced to meet because they happened to live right on the part of the day’s trek where we had run out of water.  It was the first time we found ourselves in such a predicament, not anticipating when we packed that our 3 bottles would be far too little for the 30F temperatures on Sunday.

Betty & Vernon

They were relaxing in their yard under their trees, and immediately offered us lawn chairs to rest our weary bodies.   Betty filled 4 of our bottles with ice cold refreshing water from her kitchen and while we rested they told us stories about living along the trail and of other hikers they have rescued over the years.  University students drenched by rain, their knapsacks and contents thoroughly soaked, whose clothes Betty dried in her dryer, and who ended up sheltering from the rain overnight in their garage and were fed breakfast in the morning.  They had more than one story about hikers who had lost their cars, confused about where they had parked early in the day, and Betty had ended up driving them around the country matching any clues they could provide to her knowledge of the trail access points and the country roads themselves.

I’ll end with Rose, an octogenarian from Collingwood who was out hiking the trail with her two friends.  We had crossed paths with them as we were catching our breath after a very steep climb, but one came back to fetch us.

Marian posing with Rose and friends

They wanted us to see the little patch of lady’s slippers just off the side trail behind us.  When we told them about our quest to complete the end to end, Rose told us that she had done this years ago.  It was the best thing she’d ever done, she said.

With that word of encouragement, we pressed on. magdalena

A Bruce Trail Morning

Marian’s posts have wonderfully captured these last 4 hiking days. So much to see and to experience.   Meanwhile, I have been doing some musings of my own about hiking in Beaver Valley (a misnomer of course – we are not hiking in the valley at all but on the ridge which surrounds it).  It’s kind of fun to record the different perspectives.  I will begin with my reflections on staying at Maxwell`s Cabin on night two….


Last night – big thunderstorm, pouring rain.  In awe, listening, I am snug inside this 1850’s log cabin in Maxwell in the Beaver Valley.  I never knew there was a place called Maxwell in Ontario.  It’s one of many places I now know.  Ravenna.  Duncan.  Maxwell. Feversham.  Those are 4 we just learned about yesterday.  Duncan – it’s a dot on the Grey County map, and has its own – bolded – town name.  On the road it’s a 1905 Union Church converted to residence and a former general store.  “Salute to Duncan,” says Tom, our driver today, as the car speeds past.

maxwell’s cabin

Tom is also our B&B host for 2 nights along with his wife Darlene.  Our quarters, Maxwell’s Cabin, consists of an original log house converted to an artist studio for Darlene in 2000, and then to a guest house for the summer months in 2008.  The little home is uber comfortable and artfully decorated with period furniture and artifacts plus a few of Darlene’s paintings here and there.  She has stocked our fridge with food for breakfast and lunch, and they provided a bottle of their home-made wine (“White or red,” they ask.  “Shiraz or merlot?”)

The one drawback here is the plumbing.  The cabin comes with an outdoor shower and a composting toilet (indoors), both of which are adventures in their own right.   There is no plumbing actually inside.  Sweaty and tired from our 20k hike, what I am really longing for is a good soak in the bathtub with my Epsom salts, not a primitive stand-in, no matter how appropriate to the spirit of the cabin.  Darlene promises that the shower has plenty of hot water.  It’s attached to the back of the cabin.  She’s even left us each a pair of sanitized flip flops and a robe.

My need to be clean outweighs my apprehension and once we’re left alone I decide to grit my teeth and get it over with.  I disrobe in the adjacent bedroom and, naked, I step outside.  I am instantly transported.  Apart from the privacy frame around the shower, there is nothing between me and the elements.  The hot shower streams over my skin, my scalp, and I am one with the trees and the birds and the sky.  It is a completely sensual experience.  It is like my spirit is released, freed of its clothing, freed of walls, opened up and blessed and kissed and touched, open to be, open.  Just open. magdalena

To be continued…

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After a good night’s sleep our bodies are recovered and ready to forge ahead for our final day. Despite lots of photo ops, we make it to Hogg’s Falls in 2 hours and 20 minutes and decide to take advantage of the Falls as a perfect backdrop for a picture of us in our matching rain gear since it doesn’t look like we will be needing it on this trip. We are very proud of this overpriced, yet practical MEC purchase which folds into a small matching pouch.

posing in front of Hogg’s Falls in our matching rain gear

After lunch we continue onward through the boggy southern section of the Beaver Valley a 2 km loop (which we could have easily skipped except for Magdalena’s scrupulousness) before starting north on the western side of the Beaver valley.  The terrain is similar here to the eastern side except for the magnificent, gigantic, old maples and beeches we encounter. Many are so old, huge limbs have broken off and their trunks are completely rotted out, probably housing numerous critters but still they are standing, majestic and proud; sentinels, gurus to the young saplings surrounding them.  Another “favorite thing”.

a picture just doesn’t capture their majesty

Finally, we come out of the forest into a meadow with a spectacular view across the valley, all the way to Old Baldy and the Penstocks where we were just 2 days ago.  This visual gives us an incredible sense of the distance we have hiked.

We reach our car at 2:29pm, completing 29,839 steps or 21.18 kilometres according to Magdalena’s watch in a respectable 5 hours and 26 minutes. However, according the official Bruce Trail map we have only hiked 13.8 kilometres. This significant discrepancy between the BT map and Magdalena’s watch suggests to me that the maps do not accurately account for all the vertical distances but regardless of which numbers we use, we are proud of our achievements over the past 4 days and already planning our next hikes as we head back home. Good bye Beaver Valley- until we will return  …marian

Is it Failure or Wisdom?

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We had a great sleep last night, each in our own queen size bed listening to the thunderstorm. The sound of the rain on the tin roof of the cabin was particularly mesmerizing (one of my favorite sounds).

After 2 successful days of hiking, we start out on our third day at 9:47am with high hopes and some trepidation. Tom insists on taking our car to a designated end point and driving us to our start despite our protestations that we do not want to commit to an end point, especially today when we have to decide between 14.5 km or 21.2 km as there is no road access in between. Reluctantly we agree to aim for 21 km rationalizing that we have done this in the past 2 days so it should be attainable.

Our starting point is on top of Old Baldy. It is cooler than the previous 2 days, the fog is thick and the trees dripping wet. It feels like it might rain but we are prepared with our new matching orange ponchos tucked in our knapsacks.  Because of the fog we do not have a clear view across the valley but we take advantage of the fog to take some interesting close up shots.

We make good time on the road for a while, but then miss a blaze and have to back track. Luckily it is not too far back but it is frustrating. Back in the woods the trail becomes gruelling with lots of steep inclines and declines. The fog clears up but it is quite muggy.  By the time we arrived at Eugenia Falls after 5 and a half hours (27,371 steps/19.43 Km according to Magdalena’s watch), we are exhausted and our knees are screaming at us. We take advantage of the local general store here in downtown Eugenia to grab a fresh coffee and rest while we debate whether to quit or forge onward. It is a difficult decision to quit – according to the Bruce trail map we have only travelled 14 kilometres, but we remind ourselves that this isn’t a race or contest; we are hiking for many reasons but #1 is personal enjoyment and pushing ourselves past this point is counterproductive. Also we had been forewarned that the stretch to Hogg’s Falls would be very challenging and likely take more than 2 hours. So we succumb to the wisdom of our aging bodies and call Tom to pick us up.

Once made we agree that it’s a sensible choice; it gives us the opportunity to relax, play scrabble and enjoy the cabin and wood burning stove as well as the company of our gracious hosts Tom and Darlene over a relaxing bottle of wine. Again we are in bed early and sleep soundly from all the fresh air and exercise….marian



This gallery contains 21 photos.

Our second hiking day starts off at 9:24am at kilometre 21.7 where we ended yesterday. Soon we are in the enchanting Kolapore Uplands walking through groves of cedars. The path is soft and spongy underfoot, the smells are intoxicating, the … Continue reading


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Day 1 of our 4 day hiking adventure into the Beaver valley. We left Magdalena’s house around 8am and arrived at our starting point; Maple Lane on the ridge of the escarpment overlooking the Blue Mountain ski resort where the Beaver Valley section of the Bruce trail officially starts just after 10am. After parking the car, organizing ourselves and taking our requisite pictures and a video for Joan (who has leant us a video camera to film some of our hikes for her documentary) we are off.

We are eager to see what we can accomplish in 4 continuous days. This will be a small measure to see what we are capable of doing over an extended trip of 6 weeks on the Camino; our next goal. We have arranged with our B&B hosts to pick us up from the trail, which allows us the flexibility of walking until we are tired and not having to anticipate where we will end each day.

The day is hot already when we start out at 10:20am, but we are equipped with loads of energy, enthusiasm, sunscreen, hats, 3 bottles of water each, as well as enough lunch and snacks to keep us going for a while.

The trail presents itself to us in its usual Bruce trail fashion; lots of climbing up and down craggy rock formations and steep inclines, some easy stretches along country roads and of course the many spectacular vistas.  We are hot and sweaty and run out of water somewhere around kilometre 13. It is too early to quit already so we are hopeful we will find a house along the road where we can get our bottles refilled. Sure enough we see Betty and Vernon sitting on their front yard on 6th line and approach them. Betty happily fills four water bottles and we sit with and listen to their stories of others whom they have encountered travelling on the Bruce trail. It is tempting to stay and relax in the shade, but we still have energy and are eager to do cover some more territory now that we again have water to sustain us.

By 5:20pm we have hiked 36,000 steps/ 25.66 km according to Magdalena’s watch (21.7 km according to the Bruce trail map), and are ready to quit for the day. We call Gisella our B&B host for the night as previously arranged, but apparently she has misinterpreted my email and has gone to look for us at another location.  After several more anxious telephone calls and a bit of a wait Gisella finally arrives to pick us up, get our car and take us to Ravenna Hill B&B which is perched high on a hill, providing a stunning view of the surrounding countryside and Georgian Bay. The place is well equipped, clean and private. We quickly change and drive out to The Dam Pub, in Thornbury for dinner and a beer. Dinner is slow to arrive and the one beer is having a strong impact on us. We head back to our B&B  just in time to see the sun set over the horizon and are in bed before dark.