Monthly Archives: September 2012

A salute to Dufferin end-to-enders

Saturday, September 29, 2012.  Pine River area.  As I was parking my car at our endpoint this morning I met one of the Dufferin section volunteers who told me, “Be forewarned, you’re going to see a lot of hikers today.  This is our section’s end-to-end weekend .”

I’ve always been curious about end-to-end weekends advertised on the Bruce Trail website.  Last year I was advocating that we join one of them just to get a section done and also to see what it was like.  Marian was not particularly enthusiastic so we let it drop, but today I got to satisfy my curiosity with a close-up view as we crossed paths with about 50 hikers heading in the other direction.

Our first encounter was with the hiker in the lead.  He was sweating hard, moving at a frantic pace and barely giving himself time to offer a quick hello as we moved aside to let him pass.  By the time we met him he was already more than 20km into his hike.  He had a strong lead over the next few hikers, who also were clearly striving for speed and were grateful that we stepped off the trail to let them by.  Soon we came to a checkpoint station, where volunteers offered fruit, drinks, home-made brownies and encouragement, all of which they were happy to share with us.  Over the next hour we encountered many more hikers, with varying degrees of speed and attitude.  We found Graham here, the contrarian in the crowd who actually stopped to enjoy the view and even offered to take our pictures. We like your style, Graham!

I would say end-to-end weekends remind me of my experience with marathons last summer.  Both have a great element of athleticism, with those who push themselves to achieve a personal best, and those who come (I was one of these last summer) just to see if they could do it, or, in my case, half of it.  It’s a good challenge even for the ones who opt for the slower pace — with 55 km in two days, the second day through the Boyne River area with lots of steep climbs, it’s arduous.  Yes, I’d say it’s like a marathon, but instead of pounding Toronto asphalt you get to hike through the amazing beauty of the escarpment and Dufferin County in late September.  Hmm…  not bad.

It looks like a neat thing to do.  It’s just not for us, at least not at this stage.  We like to think we should pay attention to the signs around us, and today they told us to be SLOW!

A couple of final notes about the rest of the day.  It started with the beauty of the drive up this morning. Many people make road trips at this time of year just for the views from the car, but most don’t have the added element of the magical quality of the light in that first hour after the sun rises.  So many moments along that drive took my breath away.    I’m especially loving Airport Road north of Hwy 9.  We also learned first-hand what Jennie and Howard meant about Centre Road being more like a dirt path than a road (see previous post).  Rugged, narrow, and twisting, we were glad not to meet cars in the opposite direction.  magdalena

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What are the chances….

Sunday, September 16, 2012   Boyne River

Boyne River

We had a crazy coincidence at the end of today’s trip.  It was that kind of coincidence that’s so unlikely, if you ran across it in a film you’d complain it was contrived.  At the same time, it’s a safe bet that most of us can recall having had this kind of thing happen at some point in our own lives.  It all got me to thinking it would be fun to try to tell this story cinematically.  So with apologies to the film-makers in my life (you know who you are), here goes:

The scene opens on a middle-aged couple, Howard and Jennie, who are driving along a country road on a brilliant September afternoon.  They’re on their way back from a weekend in Collingwood and they are indulging in their favourite pastime, exploring Ontario’s most out-of-the-way places and roads.  Close at hand in the car are their two essential items – Jennie’s digital camera, and a well-thumbed copy of Back Roads of Southwestern Ontario.  Their drive takes them from the village of Dunedin along Centre Road, which is more like a winding gravel path than an honest to goodness road, and they find themselves in the middle of Escarpment country.  When they spot the blazes that mark the Bruce Trail Howard muses, “Hey, I wonder if Marian’s been here yet.”   The car rounds another curve, exposing an unbelievable view, and Jennie says to Howard, “Stop, stop, stop – I need a picture of this.”  They stop, Jennie steps out and she starts snapping photos – first the vastness of the valley below, and then close-ups of the goldenrod and asters at her feet. Howard happily waits while she shoots, she gets back in the car and they continue their slow and pleasant journey.  They come to an intersection marked on the map as Whitfield.  There is an old brick church with a steeple on a small hill to the right.  In the parking lot there is one lone car.

Cut to:  Three hikers, Marian, Magdalena and Mary.  They’re hiking west along County Road 17, their boots crunching gravel on the road’s shoulder.  You can see by looking at them that they are at the end of a long day’s trek, completing the final weary steps to their car, possibly with visions of a nice cold beer at a country pub before heading home to Toronto.  All three are sweaty, they’re moving in single file, conversation halted by the traffic noise. What you can’t see by looking at them but is conveyed through a flash-back, is that they have just come a section with astonishing rock formations of Rock Hill Corner.  They had tried to capture the rugged beauty with their cameras, knowing as they did so how imperfectly the images would register the play of light filtering through the trees, or the solid density of the boulders and the sheer depth of the crevices.  The women continue to walk steadily along the road, and soon they spot the steeple of the little Anglican church where they had left their car early that morning.  As they reach the corner and cross the road, a car can be seen approaching from the north.  They raise their hands in a friendly country wave, when suddenly, Marian turns and shouts, “Hey!”

Cut to:  A close-up of Howard throwing open his car door, embracing Marian in an enormous bear hug, with Jennie jumping out of the passenger side screaming in delight, “I can’t believe it!  I can’t believe it!”  All three of them are jumping and dancing and hitting their heads in unbelief, when finally they remember Mary and Magdalena who look on in bemused wonder.  “These are my good friends from Hamilton,” says Marian.  “Jenny was my best friend in high school.”

Howard, Jennie, Marian, Mary and Magdalena

And so ends this incredible little story of how two sets of people, connected not only by a friendship but also by each of them having chosen to savour the journey over the destination, converged in one moment of time.  Had the hikers not lingered in Rock Hill Corner, or had the back roads couple not stopped for photos, the moment would have passed and none would have been the wiser.  But they did linger, and they did stop, and so they did meet.  And therein lies the magic.  magdalena  

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September reflections

Sunday September 9, 2012.  Mono Cliffs

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Today’s hike takes us into the Dufferin section.  Amazing how long it takes to drive to our meeting point — well over an hour.  With a pang, I realize how few day hikes we have left.  Once we complete this section – and it’s a short 55km so it will be over all too soon – we will be left with overnights.  I will miss these day hikes.

I’m finding it’s such a mirror for this time of year.  It’s early September, still technically summer, but there are signs all around to remind me that it is coming to an end.  There is a delicious nip in the morning air, and the fields are filled with goldenrod and purple asters. Cattails and the milkweed pods are bursting with seeds.  Canada geese are flying south in formation.   I’m loving this, but I can see that winter is on its way.

If I want to get maudlin – and what the heck, let’s be self-indulgent – it even mirrors how I feel about this stage in my life.  Being in my late 50’s, I can’t escape the fact that my own summer is over.  What I am experiencing now feels like a suspension between stages, no longer young but not yet old.  I can still delight in this adventure, and enjoy energy and good health.  At the same time life gives me daily reminders — like  the friend of a friend with Alzheimer’s in her 70’s, or another friend whose husband’s Parkinson’s has plunged them into frailty much too soon — that tell me I need to cherish this for the precious gift that it is.

This is just the kind of thinking that permeates so many of our conversations on the trail.  It brings me to  thinking about pilgrimages, in part because Marian and I plan to walk the Camino  together once we complete the Bruce.  I keep noticing that hiking the Bruce is itself a pilgrimage. We’ve become seasoned as hikers but we have also become participants in each other’s transformations.  The long hours together on the trail have given us time to seek each other’s wisdom, to share ever deeper secrets and to help each other sort out life’s transitions.   We are not the same people as when we started, nor is our friendship the same.

Marian’s friend Mary joined us again today and she’s a good fit for exploring this spiritual side of the journey.  She teaches us about yoni trees and shamans.  When a porcupine appears and waddles purposefully across our path and off into the woods she challenges us to consider its message.  It’s all spiky on the outside protecting its personal boundaries, but it has a soft underbelly.  While we have lunch we watch a hawk soar high overhead and we reflect on its beauty and its ability to see great distances.

At day’s end we’re back in the hamlet of Mono Centre where we’ve left our car and we leave such lofty thoughts behind.  Mono Centre, despite being a tiny little place, only about 10 houses altogether, is among our best discoveries in escarpment country.  The village offers some great surprises.  First and foremost is the Mono Cliffs Inn, a pub and restaurant where we hoist our après-hike beer with a plate of delicious calamari.  This Inn has one of the best outdoor patios ever on its side veranda.  My favourite feature is the large table built to fit around a living tree.  It’s designed for sharing, and both times we’ve been here we ended up in conversation with the party occupying the other end.  Then there is a pretty little gift shop across the parking lot from the Inn.  And, if you follow the flagstone path through the perrennial garden you get to the new Mono Community Centre.  This, we have decided, is where we must hold our grand celebration party when we complete the trail.

Just look at us now – we’re starting to taste the end! magdalena