In this post I dearly hope to convey the full depth of meaning that this past weekend has had in my life. I apologize in advance for the photos, some will be repeats of what I’ve already shared on this blog via Instagram.
A bit of background first, most of which will cover familiar territory: I was a member of the Bruce Trail Association (as it was then called) way back in 1992, when the BTA was celebrating its 25th anniversary. I eventually let my membership lapse.
Fast forward to 2013: for whatever reason I decided to become of a member of what is now the Bruce Trail Conservancy. I don’t know what led to my renewed interest in hiking; suffice to say it was likely a combination of various factors: a new interest in physical activity due to all the weight I’d lost, and a wish to find new hobbies that didn’t involve sitting for long periods of time (something I’d once done: extended sessions of Dungeons and Dragons with friends, far too much time playing World of Warcraft and numerous games on the consoles that I used to own). I needed something more fulfilling to do in my spare time. By April of this year (2014) I had about 87 kilometres to go in the Iroquioa section and I decided to go for it and complete the section in one big push that would involve four hikes. This has been detailed in earlier posts so I won’t go into the details here.
As for this past weekend, I don’t recall when I first made the decision to take part in the end-to-end (E2E); it can’t have been any later than the beginning of May. Now the picture is set: all of the Iroquoia hikes that I did on my own and the two organized hikes (led by the intrepid Bob Humphreys) had me ready to tackle the 50 kilometres of the Toronto section in one weekend.
Showing the Way
After all of the preparation and anticipation the day had finally arrived. I left home at about 6:20 AM, having set my alarm for 5:40 to have sufficient time for breakfast and a last-minute check of gear and such. Voluntarily getting up on a weekend at such an early hour seemed like total lunacy, I must admit. I arrived at the school in Limehouse early, and thus had plenty of time to sign in, say hi to people I’d met on the Niagara E2E series of hikes (another BTC member named Brent, and Anisa, who is a registered nurse), and get all my gear in order. We boarded the buses and were on our way to the drop-off at the Toronto/Caledon border, somewhat behind schedule but full of anticipation. I was seated next to a woman named Mary Anne, who had decided she’d like to add another Walking Fern badge (earned only by doing this organized E2E event) to her collection. We arrived at our destination and, once my hip belt was tightened, hat donned, and trekking poles locked, (and fleece stored), I was on my way with my fellow Brent.
Near Terra Cotta
The first part of the day’s hike was along a stretch of road; we passed a number of people before the pavement ended and we were on what I think of as proper Bruce Trail: dirt, rock and roots. Not long after that point, Brent and I were bunched up behind some slower hikers who had difficulty on some of the heavier terrain. Eventually Brent decided to pass them and was able to do so safely. Once ahead he was able to go at his desired pace. I however, hesitated and was lost; so says the proverb. At least a kilometre later, and after a place at which we came to a complete stop as those ahead were having quite a hard time with a short, rocky descent, I made the decision to get by them. I was able to do so and started along at a brisk pace in an attempt to catch up with my fellow Brent. There was a lovely stream and the woods around me were gorgeous. In roughly 2.5 hours I had reached the first checkpoint, which was 11.5 kilometres from the starting point. I was impressed with my pace and progress. It was here that I made a mistake: I’d caught up with Brent and after only a brief pause to check in and have a couple of cookies (all checkpoints were well-provisioned with various things to eat, juice to drink and even water to replenish what we carried with us) I resumed the hike in an attempt to continue the rest of it with Brent and Anisa. Shortly after that I realized that it was foolish of me to try to make it to the second checkpoint without giving my feet a break. I found a suitable log and took five.
Taking a Break
A couple of fellow hikers passed by whom I’d passed in turn while we walked through Terra Cotta Conservation Area. I’d had my phone out (this is the spot where I took the picture of the forest, seen earlier in this post) and Heather kindly took this picture of me. Later along I was able to return the favour and take a picture of her and her husband Peter. I continued along at a more relaxed pace and really started to enjoy myself. The amazing vistas (forest, the escarpment edge) were glorious and I enjoyed being on my own. At one point I had a good look at a woodpecker (though I couldn’t be sure if it was a hairy woodpecker or a downy woodpecker) and my mood brightened even more. It was nice to be able to do such things, and take the occasional picture, without worrying about slowing others down. As such I have more pictures from day one than day two.
After traversing the breadth of Terra Cotta Conservation Area, the trail crosses a road and enters the Silver Creek Conservation Area (when hiking the trail Niagara-bound). Silver Creek itself is lovely, threading its way through a delightful valley and passing under a bridge built by the members and volunteers with the Toronto Bruce Trail Club. I didn’t take time to stop and snap some quick pics of the area, something I deeply regret. There are a number of side trails in the area, offering a number of loop options and I will definitely return to that spot some day. I can’t leave you hanging though, so please enjoy some gorgeous pictures of the area that people have shared via Flickr.
I continued to make solid progress (even over the rugged terrain in the picture above) and arrived at the second checkpoint some time around 12:30. (To be honest I can’t be sure, but that’s a good guess.) After checking in, replenishing my water, and having some slices of plum and apple, I continued along a short way and found a suitable spot for lunch.
Impromptu Hat Stand
A number of other hikers stopped in the general area, as there were still lots of downed trees from the ice storm that had hit the area the previous winter. Anisa and Brent were amongst that group, along with Imelda, another hiker that I met on the Niagara E2E series. I caught up to them and chatted a bit. But it wasn’t too long before I felt myself grow weary; my big push earlier in the day had caught up with me, as it were, and I couldn’t match their pace. Once more I was on my own but it wasn’t so bad. I was okay and had learned a valuable lesson! I have to admit that I nearly psyched myself out at one point but I need not have worried, my legs carried me along without fail.
Coming up to where the trail crosses Trafalgar Road there’s a lovely stretch of boardwalk; just before the end of this section I spotted some motion out of the corner of my eye and was treated to the speedy retreat of a Common Garter Snake (likely the Eastern subspecies: Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis). I know a lot of people aren’t fond of snakes but I’m always delighted by these little guys.
Watch out for Hikers along Highway 7
It wasn’t long after that encounter that I arrived at the third checkpoint. I’d caught up to Brent, Anisa and Imelda again but told them to go ahead as I wouldn’t have been able to keep up. One of the Toronto BTC members staffing this checkpoint kindly lent me her chair. I sat in the shade, took my pack off and let my feet air out. Only 6 kilometres left! The woman whose chair I borrowed was very upbeat and I appreciated it. I was feeling tired but knew that I would be able to complete the hike without any difficulty. I’d never doubted my ability to do it, but 28.5 kilometres (nearly 18 miles) on foot is quite something! I’d simply not allowed myself enough time to rest early on in the day. Temperatures were well above normal for this time of year too: in the mid-20s! (75+ if you use Fahrenheit.)
Back Into The Woods
Another stretch of road lay ahead before the trail went back into the woods via the stile picture above (stiles are one of my favourite features along the trail). Another boardwalk led the way through as I got closer and closer to the finish at Limehouse.
It was close to 3 PM when I arrived at the school (having taken a wrong turn, albeit one that was quickly corrected), not far behind Heather and Peter. The first hike was complete!! Only 21.4 kilometres remained and I was full of anticipation. I think I dreamed about the badge that night.
I set my alarm 10 minutes earlier for Sunday, worried that a train might delay me near Campbellville as they sometimes do. All was clear though so I made it to Limehouse with more than enough time to check in for the second, and final, hike. Brent and I caught up and talked about the previous day; he apologized profusely for leaving me behind. I assured him that he’d done no such thing, after all he who hesitates is lost and, well, there were no hard feelings whatsoever on my part. After a brief chat I excused myself to get everything ready, then it was time to board the bus. I sat behind Brent and Anisa; Imelda arrived not long after and sat with me. We chatted about various things along the way to Appleby Line and the 401, where the days hike began and where I had completed the Iroquoia section only 8 days earlier. It was nice to be back there and recall my accomplishment: the Iroquoia section is about 121.7 kilometres in length and finishing it was a most exhilarating experience, a sentiment that I (hopefully) conveyed in the post I wrote about it.
We had a brief bit of road walking at the start and took advantage of the space to charge ahead of those people we had to pass yesterday. After about 100-200 metres at the tail end of the Iroquoia section, we passed under the 401 and our hiking adventure resumed. The trail climbed gently up the escarpment after crossing Campbellville Road; Mary Anne (my bus buddy from the previous day) and a friend set a good pace and the Brents (as we came to be known), followed along.
At kilometre 1.2 I smiled and noted the first of two points (or the second, depending if you are Niagara or Tobermory bound) where the Hilton Falls Side Trail branches off from the main trail. I’d hiked this in a group led by Bob Humphreys back on May 3rd. What a difference! Everything was lush and green; back in May there was still snow on the ski hills at Kelso! I love discovery but I have to admit that returning to a part of the trail that I’d hiked before was just as enjoyable. The trail, once it reaches the top of the escarpment, stays close to the edge for quite some time, where it provides wonderful views of the surrounding area and the rugged terrain for which the Giant’s Rib is renowned. As we crossed the Dufferin Quarry Bridge, Brent told me that his uncle had worked at the entrance, clearly visible below the bridge. Brent’s uncle had been in charge of weighing the trucks heading in to and out of the quarry with their heavy loads. We continued to make our way along, and arrived at the first checkpoints, situated nine kilometres into the hike. We stopped and rested for a bit before resuming our journey. Brent noticed that some fellow hikers had missed the point where the trail turned off a gravel road and went back into the woods and pointed it out to them.
Brent and I spent most of the hike chatting about various things, it was nice to have the company and the time passed most quickly. We hiked along, enjoying all of the variety that the trail offers. Upon our arrival at the second checkpoint we resolved to find a place to stop for lunch. Brent hadn’t brought one today, though he did have a few things to eat; with all of the food provided at the checkpoints a full lunch really wasn’t necessary on day two. I’d brought one, though, and was glad I had. We found a place where some trees had been left to do their natural thing and had a seat. Some fellow hikers passed as we took a well-earned break and I had my lunch. The errant hikers from before stopped in the same spot and we chatted briefly before Brent and I resumed the hike. We were closing in on the end and were quite excited.
Passing through fields, some with corn, others left to nature, we came to a road crossing which, for me at least, marked the final stretch. A short climb lay ahead and we were making our way through Limehouse Conservation Area. A number of people were out enjoying the day, and quite a number of folks were around the Hole in the Wall, taking pictures and checking out the rocky terrain. At this point we were less than a kilometre from the school! Passing by one of the lime kilns for which the area is widely known, and by and old stone bridge, we came at least to the road that runs through town. Patting a set of blazes that marked the end point of yesterday’s hike, we were treated to a cheer by Barbara, the Toronto BTC executive who organized the event. I lifted my poles in celebration, Brent and I had completed the E2E!! We checked in for the final time and were handed our badges!
My Walking Fern Badge
Cupcakes and tea awaited the successful hikers. I took a chocolate cupcake but skipped the tea, as I was already warm enough. Imelda, Mary Anne, Anisa and others were resting under a tree and cheered Brent and I when they spotted us. I had my cupcake, posed for a picture with Brent, and had my own picture taken with my badge.
I did it!
I chatted with the others for a while, stretched my weary, hard-working muscles (I’m proud of them for carrying me so far), and eventually said my goodbyes and went over to my car to change out of my boots and socks into other socks and regular shoes for the drive home.
It was while doing this that the realization of what I’d accomplished really hit me: I’d hiked 50 kilometres over two days! I’d come a long way, not only since I started to hike again in August of last year, but since my wife and I got married. After we got home from our honeymoon the long, but very rewarding, process of eating a healthier diet and losing weight began. Only now, when I look back at the results, are they as apparent to me as they are to others. Two-plus years ago I weighed 276 pounds, lately I’ve measured 188 on the scale; the last time I was near that weight was decades ago, in high school. I had tears in my eyes as I drove home and my accomplishments really hit me. It’s all thanks to the love and support of my wife, to whom I am very, very grateful.
The Twitter link below shows me as I looked one week after the honeymoon; compare it to what you see above. I don’t know if many people will see this but I do hope that it will serve as inspiration to someone, somewhere. Amazing things can, and do, happen.
See you on the trails.
I found it appropriate that both the 1st and last (of four) hikes in my quest to complete the Iroquoia section of the Bruce Trail began at the same spot: the intersection of Blind Line and Britannia Road in Ontario’s Halton Region.
The Blaze marks the spot.
That first hike, which I completed on April 27th of this year, was the longest I’d done (at 21 kilometres) since I began hiking again on a semi-regular basis in August of 2013. Only once before had I done a comparable amount: in 1992 as part of celebrations for the Bruce Trail Association’s (now known as the Bruce Trail Conservancy) 25th anniversary. At that time, each club had arranged a 25 kilometre hike in its respective area to commemorate the anniversary. My father and I took part in the hike organized by the Toronto Bruce Trail Club (as the Iroquoia hike didn’t work out) and I still have the badge to this day; there was a certificate as well and I hope to locate it some day.
Anyway, back on track! So, following the April 27th hike, and two others which wrapped up the “southern” end of the section (that part which is closest to southern cairn at Queenston Heights), all that remained was the 26.2 kilometres (just over 16 miles) beginning at Blind Line and Britannia Road, and ending at Appleby Line and the 401, where the Iroquioa/Toronto sections meet.
Heading north, I passed through forest, even startling some white-tailed deer at one point.
Just after the point where the River and Run side trail returns, I crossed a steel bridge over Bronte Creek (a creek which eventually enters Lake Ontario in Oakville).
Bridge over Bronte
Eventually I emerged from the woods and was in the village of Kilbride. This was the first of two points along the hike that I didn’t enjoy all that much, as I really dislike the parts of the trail where it runs along roads (though I understand that it can’t be avoided due to land ownership and other issues); it’s hard on the feet when you’re wearing good, solid hiking boots, and it isn’t all that scenic. About two kilometres later I was back on turf near the local school, and the trail was back in a more natural setting.
I wound my way along, following the boardwalk with the neat little bench that I showed in a previous post (via Instagram). The woods were gorgeous and the numerous rocky outcroppings served as a reminder that I was hiking along the Giant’s Rib. At Twiss Road I startled some Wood Ducks; not long after I heard, and then saw, a Pileated Woodpecker. I often think that their call is much like that of a Hyena.
Reaching Guelph Line I was pleasantly surprised at the progress I was making: I was moving at 4 kilometres per hour even with the odd stop for a picture here and there. Upon crossing the road I entered the lands of Conservation Halton’s Crawford Lake Conservation Area. Not long after I was treated to a sudden, and stunning, view of Rattlesnake Point, and the full rugged beauty of the Niagara Escarpment was on full display.
The trail follows a good part of the canyon after a somewhat challenging, albeit brief, descent; heading south and then turning north to ascend the escarpment once again, where the Rattlesnake Point side trail leads off to the eponymous geological feature. You can easily get a stunning view of the point itself from Derry Road.
A short while later I reached Appleby Line (the first of two places where the trail follows it) and headed north for a little until crossing over and entering the grounds of Kelso Conservation Area (another of the Conservation Halton properties). At this point I was getting quite hungry, as I hadn’t found a suitable place to sit and have my lunch. I could have eaten while standing, but on the second hike of my ‘push’ (23 kilometres and much more difficult than this last hike, despite the longer distance) I made the mistake of not resting enough and vowed not to do that again. Eventually I found a log that looked inviting, and sat down to eat.
A seat for lunch
Kelso is a popular place for mountain biking (which is allowed); a number of cyclists passed by as I was eating my sandwiches and fruit. One even asked if I was alright, a surprisingly thoughtful gesture in a society that I find to be every more self-absorbed. I also took time to read through the trail description, and found that had I done that BEFORE the hike I would have known that some picnic tables were available, not more than a few hundred meters from where I sat. Oh well. Still, I’d been planning to stop for lunch much earlier than I did, so any possibility of picnic amenities never entered my mind.
Winding through Kelso, I neared the end of my hike, and my goal. Lots of great views were had, although I wasn’t able to locate Toronto, perhaps it was too hazy; the weather was unseasonably warm that day. Nearing the end of the trail’s path through Kelso, I descending the escarpment and walked along the base of the area’s ski hills, and reached the second less-than-enjoyable part of the hike: pavement through the conservation area’s parking lot, and a rather odd choice to direct the trail around the Halton Museum and back around; adding 100-200 metres for what seemed like no particular purpose. Oh well, those in charge must have had a reason, though it’s one that eluded me.
Not long after I reached the final turn, and the last few hundred metres lay ahead of me. I struck north on Appleby Line, the traffic of the 401 visible on the overpass. At the overpass I crossed over to the eastern side of the road, as there were no blazed on the western side. I walked up to the blaze, painted of the side of the overpass, and gave it a pat. I had completed the Iroquoia section; 121.7 kilometres in all!
I ended up finishing my hike 30 minutes earlier than I had anticipated, so I walked a bit further up the road, and rested where the trail turns on to a patch of land with wild grasses and some trees.
After returning home and having a celebratory drink, I finished my hike log and got everything ready to send in for my badge, which you can see on this page. Once I have the genuine article in hand I’ll post a picture of it.
I’ve now completed 2 of the 9 sections/club areas of the Bruce Trail. Next weekend I’ll be hiking all 49.5 kilometres of the Toronto section, so in a sense I’ll have completed one third of the trail. It’s actually a bit less than that (the trail is over 800 kilometres long now) but is correct in a way (3 of 9 club sections is a third in some sense). I’ll be sure to post about it, though it may be a bit short on pictures. Hopefully not, but I hope to hike with some people that I met while working on the Niagara end-to-end and don’t want to slow then down. Until next time!