It is December 29, 2016, and I am sitting in my basement all curled up by a fire. It snowed overnight and we decided not to go out for a hike today.
2016 was the year of the hike for us. As a resolution, I set a lofty goal to walk the Bruce Trail end-to-end. The Bruce Trail runs for 900 kilometers in Ontario from Queenston near Niagara Falls to Tobermory, at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula.
I didn’t start out the trip as a seasoned hiker. In the later months of 2015, I worked on distance and endurance, tackling sections of local trails. This however really didn’t prepare me for actual long-distance hiking, as I soon found out.
I suck at hiking. I’m much better than I was when I started, but nonetheless I still suck. I am slow. I am not surefooted. I look at hills and I swear, a lot. I forget to enjoy myself at times. I get overly goal oriented which means I have pressed on in times when only the idiots are out.
But I’m a little wiser now too. Take today for instance. I could’ve, normally would’ve, been out there today. I stopped myself from taking the chance. We are now nearly 2.5 hours away from home now, and in a snowstorm, that could’ve meant unpredictable driving. I didn’t want to risk being on the road for 8 hours, hiking for 4, possibly in snow drifts. Worse, sometimes the parking is roadside, and in a snow storm the plows could’ve boxed us in.
I hate shoveling snow.
Other than how pretty it looks right after a snowfall, I think I hate snow altogether, but I press on.
Even though I didn’t make it to the end of the trail in 2016, I’m still feeling quite accomplished. Seriously, I would like you to click on another tab and bring up a Google Earth map of Ontario. Find Niagara Falls, and then look northward to the very tip of the Bruce Peninsula. Find that “visible from space” tiny green thread (otherwise known as the Niagara Escarpment) and follow that as it winds all the way up. Past St. Catharines, through wine country, Beamsville, Grimsby and Hamilton. Cross the 403. Head north east through Ancaster, Dundas, Burlington and Milton. Cross the 401 at Kelso and follow the headwaters country north east through Limehouse, Georgetown, Terra Cotta, Belfountain, and up to Orangeville. Cross Highways 9 and 89. Enter the hills of Shelburne and Melacthon and through Devil’s Glen. Climb the mountains near Pretty River and walk until you are close to the sands of Georgian Bay at Blue Mountain. Then turn southwest and walk all the way to the bottom of Beaver Valley and back up again. Turn west toward Walters Falls and then north to climb the cliffs near Sydenham. That is my completed trek to date. 700 kilometers so far.
To finish I need to round Owen Sound, go west to Wiarton and then complete the northward trek up the Peninsula.
What have I seen? Well for one, so many waterfalls that I’ve lost count. Then there are the dozens of varieties of mushrooms and ferns. The Trilliums in full bloom. Remnants of the once mighty Elm trees. The Escarpment faces at Mt. Nemo, Rattlesnake Point, and Kimberely. The apple orchards in the highlands.
Kilometers of blackberry patches. Kilometers of vineyards. Crops of potatoes, barley, soybeans and peas. Fields of turkeys, grouse and deer. Scotsdale Farm in the spring. Beaver Valley in the Fall. The lookouts from Beamer Conservation, Caledon Mountain, and Petun Conservation. The Cheltenham Badlands. The caves in Mono Mills and Singhampton. The remnants of the original Welland Canal. And the 498 steps of the Wentworth staircase in Hamilton.
And I would be remiss without saying that the trip has allowed us to experience the best food this country has to offer. The drive to and from the trail is full of good joints all along, with nice proprietors and the type of food that is satisfying to someone who has just hiked 10K. These places have bags of charm and are suitable for someone wearing muddy shoes. With over 60 hikes logged this year, I can’t mention every place we ate but here are my favourite 10:
- Memphis Fire BBQ
- Spirit Tree Estate Cidery
- The Mono Cliffs Inn
- The Bicycle Café,
- Champ Burger (our winner in the burger wars at Highways 10 & 89)
- Ravenna Country Market
- Kimberely General Store
- The Lowville Bistro
- Grand Oak Culinary Market
- Cheryl’s Chip Wagon (outside Maxwell Meats)
Why am I walking the Bruce? In part because it is there. In part because it is hard. And in part because despite my swearing and all, I am at my happiest being surrounded by nature and experiencing a national treasure.
So once this snow passes, I think you should try it too.