It was Monday and my feet felt itchy. They longed to be back on the trail so I headed for Crawford Lake with my friend Christine Guzman, a poet. After our walk Christine put her pen to paper and she has allowed me to share her poem here. magdalena

Crawford Lake Musings

bare trees 2Hiking in

early December

grey, threatening skies,

trees bare of their leaves

nature in reflection

between two seasons.

The bounty of colours have left us

drawing attention to life’s bare bones

brilliant green moss carpeting rocks,

096cedar trees, roots as fingers grasp at boulders

finding moisture in cracks and crevices

cling on to life

and flourish against all odds.

Tree stumps

ghosts of their strong pasts

with ripples

that demonstrate nature’s adapting

a wire fence

integrated into the tree’s growth.

Another tree fallen,

094with roots scattered wide, yet flat

demonstrate that roots

need to grow deep

to hold on during the turbulances of life.

As nature pauses

and adapts

in myriad ways,

I reflect, so can I.

by christine guzman


Hello, Oak Ridges Trail Association

HPIM3757Friday November 2, 2013

As you can probably guess, it’s not been easy for Marian and me to find ourselves benched during our favourite hiking season of the year. Marian broke her ankle on the trail in August, and we are currently on an enforced hiatus while her ankle heals. It’s been frustrating to sit by as the leaves turned colour while the temperatures stayed warm, not to mention the fact that the mosquitos are gone. Marian will need to tell her own story some time about what it’s been like to be immobilized suddenly — there`s lots of material for “musings” there. For me, I’ve had to find my own ways to be outside, to be active. That too is a creative process, and has its own rewards.

One of my new things to do was to finally connect with the Oak Ridges Trail Association (ORTA), an organization that developed a trail system in the Oak Ridges Moraine area north of Toronto. I’ve purchased their trail guidebook, a binder not unlike the Bruce Trail Guidebook with pullout maps showing the network of about 300 km. of trail. I was happy to learn that the Oak Ridges Trail now connects with the Bruce Trail just north of Mono Mills. It made me feel I was among friends!

And finally, last Friday morning, I woke up knowing I was about to pull on my hiking boots again. The wind was howling outside, which seemed fitting. It looked like it was going to be one of those invigorating days that thumbs its nose at fair-weather folks, the kind that always energized me. As we drove to our starting point near McCowan Road and Aurora Side Road the skies were grey and full of drama, a perfect counterpoint to trees poised on the edge between seasons, a few remaining leaves still brilliant orange but many already bare and wintery. I was with my friend Lyn and we had found a group hike listed on the ORTA website that seemed like a good introduction to the Oak Ridges trail. The group turned out to be small, only 8 people including ourselves and the hike leaders. Our hike took us through a crazy maze of interconnecting trails, white, blue and unmarked, one we would not have designed ourselves but a good 2 1/2HPIM3768 hour workout. I want to be honest and say I did miss the limestone and the ancient cedars and the awe-inspiring lookouts of the Bruce. The Bruce is incredibly special and always will have that place in my heart. But there were a lot of similarities too, like being on marked trails, connecting with a community that shared my love of the woods and of hiking, and was also committed to the preservation of an important nature land feature. With my new guidebook I’m looking forward to more explorations ahead. Magdalena

with thanks to Frank Alexander for the photos


I’d always wondered what would happen should one of us got hurt. It was a good conundrum to chew on as we walked, one of those things you can talk about as the hours stretch on and you are passing over potentially dangerous ground with fissures and mossy wet rocks. What if? What would we do? Would we have phone reception? Would we be able to get the injured person out?

Well, as readers will already know from Marian’s post yesterday, this past week we had a chance to find out. Once we got home we each wrote up the story. This post gives the experience of the one who was not injured…

Crossing the stile into the farmer’s field where the accident happened, our attention was drawn to the warning sign that was posted there: “there may be a bull in the field – you may wish to use the alternate route using the roads”. It was not a question – of course we chose the actual trail. Ninnies we are not.

And thus it was the bull that was on our minds as we headed out across the open field,  a stretch of rocky pasture covered with dolomite outcroppings, ancient apple trees, and long dried grasses. Because we’d been hiking for hours already through dark damp forest and uneven ground, the sunshine and the dry rocks felt like a break. We were even treated to our first sightings of Colpoy’s Bay, a promising sign that we were getting close to the Peninsula Section.IMG_3992 As for the bull, we did see hoof prints and fresh poop, and figured we’d best not catch him by surprise. With that in mind we decided to make noise and started to sing, nice and loudly, “It’s a long way to Tobermory…”

It was in the middle of the song that I suddenly heard Marian scream. I turned to find her on the ground, clutching her leg, rocking back and forth as the spasms of pain wracked through her.

I could see she was hurting, and hurting badly. We waited until the initial intensity of the pain subsided, and then waited some more, to give it more time. We had passed a road access point about 15 minutes back, and there was another one ahead, though it wasn’t clear how close, or what kind of terrain lay between us and the next road. Could we make it there? Marian said she wanted to give it a try. She stood on her good leg, tested the injured one.

“I think I can put weight on it,” she said. “That’s a good sign, isn’t it?”

“I think so,” I said, though really I had no clue.

I gave her my walking stick and let her lean on my arm with her other hand. She took a few steps but with every one she was hurting more. We went 10 more paces, but she was in agony. I realized I needed to know how far ahead the next road was, to see what we were dealing with. I told her to stay put while I scouted. I hurried forward, scanning for the bull, seeing even fresher manure and hoof prints. The trail kept going, 10 minutes, 15 minutes even at my now very fast pace. There was no way Marian would make it. We needed help, more help even than our B&B host, who was going to pick us up at the end of the day, could provide. I tried several times to call Marian on her cell phone and finally she picked up.

“We need to call EMS.”

“EMS? Really?”

“We have to. You’re never going to make it to the road. It’s too far.”

I arranged with her that I would make the call and was about to hang up when I heard her say, “Oh no – I hear something… ”

With visions of a disabled Marian communing with a very large and menacing black bull, I made the call to 911 and then hurried along the trail back to where Marian was. When I spotted her, one leg raised and resting on a fallen log, she looked alone and defenceless in the empty field under the big blue sky.

“I took my boot off. Look,” she said when I reached her.

There was an enormous swelling on the outside of her right ankle. But, there was no bull, and she still had water and snacks, so I figured for the moment she should be fine. I dropped my knapsack beside her and told her I needed to go back to the previous road to wait for the ambulance. I had no idea if I needed to be fast or if I had lots of time (how long does it take for EMS out here?), so I played it safe and hurried. I tried to remember where we had spotted poison ivy, and hoped I could find the trail and its markers again, not easy in an open field criss-crossed by many cow-paths. On the way I passed the broken walking stick that marked the accident scene. I saw again the beautiful views of IMG_0643Colpoy’s Bay, and it made me realize how everything had changed from when we had stopped there earlier to take photographs. At the time we were feeling excited and eager, proud of the day’s progress and looking forward to covering a record distance before quitting. And now? Now any chance of more hiking this week was over.

I found the stile with ease and climbed over to Kemble Rock Road, seeing it too with new eyes. It was nothing but a dead-end dirt lane, really. I hoped EMS would find us.

I paced the road, looking both ways for signs of EMS, when I heard voices. Up the hill came two elderly women with walking sticks. We greeted each other. They were doing a loop around the concessions. They were the first hikers I had seen all day. They commiserated with our troubles and we shared stories, and once they were assured we had water and food and working phones, they carried on with some parting advice to tell me the ambulance would be arriving from the south.

“The other side has been blocked off for some years already.”

“I think that’s the direction I gave them,” I said, wondering… I waited some more and finally in the distance I could hear the sound of vehicles, and then one by one they appeared, pickup trucks with green and red flashing lights mounted on their dashboards – first one, then a second, and a third, and a fourth. From having been alone and isolated, I suddenly found myself in a road filled with trucks and flashing lights.

They parked their trucks down the hill and jumped from their cabs, pulling on their heavy yellow coats and their yellow firefighter’s pants with the red suspenders and donning their firefighter’s hats, all the while talking busily into their walkie talkies.

“Where is she?” they asked.

“Out in the field, somewhere between 500 meters and a kilometer in.”

For what seemed like the longest while they just seemed to be milling around on the road, assessing the situation amongst themselves and talking into their radios with their colleagues about how they were going to have to find a way to get the ATV in. Finally one of them looked at me and asked if anyone had gone in yet to see where she was.

“Is she alone?”


“Well, then, some of us better go in to see her.”

And so it was that I found myself leading a posse of firefighters back through the field, across the rocks, through the long grasses, stooping under the gnarled apple trees, until finally, at the back of the field, we came upon Marian who was still looking small and vulnerable and still sitting with her foot raised, but now looking tremendously relieved.

What a difference it made to have the firefighters on scene. Now we knew we were in good hands and that we would make it out safely. More than that, though, they brought with them a wonderful cheerfulness. They were all volunteers, one having cut short his fishing, another dropping his after-work beer half-drunk and his cigar half-smoked, yet another leaving his workplace, all to come and rescue us. Yet none of them complained and they were all more than happy to come help us out. It still took a while for the ATV to arrive, but now the time flew by, both of us laughing and enjoying the company of this crew.

here comes the ATV

here comes the ATV

We finally saw the ATV with the ambulance personnel arrive in the distance, bumping over the ground, making its way toward us. They stabilized her foot with a pillow and ice, and lifted her onto the stretcher and onto the ATV. She looked like a queen with her entourage, as the ATV departed. The rest of us started the walk back across the field to the road and the waiting ambulance.IMG_4016

It was an adventure we had hoped never to have, and it has set back our plans for finishing by a good 6 months or possibly more. At the same time, I should remember that when we set out we gave ourselves 5 years to complete this. Maybe we were more prophetic than we’d realized? magdalena


Thwarted! (or, How we met the volunteer firemen of Grey County)

This gallery contains 2 photos.

August 26-27, 2013 Sydenham section I did the unthinkable – I broke my ankle on the Trail! And it happened on the very day that I had decided to focus on walking meditation. It was day 2 of what had … Continue reading

We’re back!

Sunday, Monday August 11&12, 2013; Sydenham- Owen Sound area

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Finally! It’s been over 3 months since our last hike and summer is already winding down. We’ve both been so busy with traveling, company, work (for me only since Magdalena is now happily retired) and family commitments, that we’ve been unable to find any free time, until now. We’ve eked out a two-day trek and our friend Mary (who hiked with us several times last year) joins us again for this venture.

A newer friend, Marissa drove up early Monday morning to join us for the one day. Marissa is also an avid Bruce Trail hiker who heard about us through our CBC radio interview last November, checked out our blog and then contacted us. We met her and her hiking buddies during a snowstorm in January and have stayed in touch. She’s been eager to join us on a hike.

What a great feeling, being back on the trail. It’s like coming home. This is where I belong. There is a sense of familiarity, comfort, peace. The sights, sounds and smells of the trail are like old friends welcoming me home. A few deep cleansing breaths are all it takes to fall back into the rhythm of the trail. The weather is glorious both days; a bit cool for August but ideal for hiking. The gigantic, puffy clouds occasionally threatened rain, but other than a brief few drops, our own sweat was the only thing that drenched us.

There is something magical about being in the forest. I am often acutely aware that there are many creatures hiding in the shadows, watching us, but we rarely spot them. Thus when we are granted a sighting, it is always a privilege to connect, however briefly, with this living being and wonder about its essence. Today, within moments of entering the woods, we are greeted by a toad. Much later on the trail, we meet a second toad, who poses patiently, while we madly click away with our cameras. IMG_0492
This is our first exposure to toads on the trail and so I wonder about their significance to us this day. According to Shaman traditions they are symbols of the earth, so are they reminding us to stay grounded? Or to keep focussed on the earth below our feet because that was definitely required, given the challenging terrain we traversed these days.
Over time, there is an element of repetitiveness to the views, flora and fauna, but the miracle is that as we become more attuned to the subtle changes in the seasons, weather or locale, we always find something novel to capture our attention and compel us to take too many photos. IMG_3726Like the patches of bright red toadstools, reminding me of my favourite childhood fairy tales about the little people who live here; the cedar trees that wrap themselves around the rocks in eternal embraces; the vibrant greens of the spongy moss covering the giant boulders that seem so precariously placed.

But mostly, it is the escarpment itself that takes my breath away. Photos just don’t do justice to its majesty and intricacies. I am in awe, as we squeeze through narrow passageways, past sheer walls of layered rocks that look like they’ve been intentionally cut and built by a skilled tradesman.

We leap over gaping fissures in the ground and recognize how easily one wrong step could be disastrous. The crevices are very deep and dangerous. According to the guidebook “caution is advised”. In hindsight, the toads at the beginning of our hike now make sense to me. I have constant flashbacks to the movie based on the real life story of a young man who falls into a similar crevice and is wedged there for 127 hours before he is finally rescued.IMG_0530
Luckily, our only misadventures were minor. I had a slight tumble (a reminder to watch the ground instead of looking up); we stepped into a patch of poison ivy (again the same reminder) and we got lost in a farmer’s field. I’m still not sure how this is possible with 4 pairs of eyes on the lookout for blazes unless we were all focussed on the ground here. Nevertheless, despite the lost time in having to backtrack, we finished our second day in record time, averaging about 3.5 kilometres per hour, thanks to Marissa, who is definitely not a dawdler and generally set the pace a few notches higher than our norm.

In total we completed 38.4 kilometres on this 2 day hike. We now have only 205 kilometres left to finish. The end is approaching and with that a whole range of emotions…marian

Poison Ivy – the definitive identification guide

One of the neat things about being part of the Bruce Trail Waterfalls Walk was the opportunity to spend two days with Beth Gilhespy and Marsha Russell, Executive Director and Director of Marketing and Communications for the Bruce Trail Conservancy.  Beth and Marcia

You learn things when you are in the company of these women.  Important things, like how really to identify the bane of hikers, Poison Ivy!

All my life I’ve been stumped by poison ivy.  People tell me it has three leaves – do you know how many things in the forest have 3 leaves?  Or I’ve been told to look for something vine-like.  Well, in the end, not particularly helpful either.

So when Beth promised me the definitive method, I was all eyes and ears (and camera).  Here’s the trick: the leaf structure has the three leaves we all know about, but with poison ivy the centre leaf is slightly extended, with the other two directly across from each other.  It can still be confusing.  There are different kinds of poison ivy – sometimes the leaves are smooth-edged, sometimes jagged as in the photos below.  But the common feature is that leaf structure.

Hope that’s as helpful to you as it is to me.  Thanks Beth! magdalena


A prayer for Bruce Trail hikers

Thank you to Alan Emarthle of the Six Nations Reserve for this prayer.  I wanted to include it in this blog because it sets such an appropriate tone for experiencing the escarpment.

Great Spirit Prayer

Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind,

Whose breath gives life to all the world.

Hear me: I need your strength and wisdom.

Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.

Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.

Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.

Help me to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards me.

Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.

Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping others.

Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me.

I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy:


Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.

So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.