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My husband has a new fixation – hiking. (I blame Reese Witherspoon in the movie Wild, and Bill Bryson for writing A Walk in the Woods). Apparently we ( Mark and I, as far as I know, Reese and Bill aren’t coming) are going to hike the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrimage route through Spain.
Of course I’m looking forward to it because of sangria and gazpacho. But first we need to work up to it, which is why we’re going to hike the Bruce Trail.
Correction: We’re going to hike a snack-size portion of the Bruce Trail. The Bruce Trail is 885 km long, so if you’re going to do that in one breath you may as well do the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (because of sangria and gazpacho).
About Ontario’s Bruce Trail
The Bruce Trail in Ontario, Canada, might not be a spiritual journey like the Camino in Spain, but if nature is your temple it’s a religious experience. Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath, the Bruce Trail is the only trail IN THE ENTIRE WORLD that offers continuous public access to the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
So if you’re sitting at home wishing you had continuous public access to the Niagara Escarpment, you should hike the Bruce Trail, which stretches up from Queenston in Niagara Falls to Tobermory on the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula.
Let the adventure begin
The day of our first hike on the Bruce Trail dawned sunny and clear, possibly too sunny and clear – and I was glad I’d requested a hike with shade. Fortunately, Mark had planned our route carefully, consulting the detailed Bruce Trail Reference Guide, which has all the maps of the trail in a little binder so that you can pull out the section you’re hiking and insert it into the (included) plastic slide to carry with you.
The Bruce Trail as a day hike from Toronto
We set off after lunch and drove through Toronto toward Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, about an hour north. “Let’s stop at Starbucks,” I said, knowing it’s important to stay hydrated when hiking.
Armed with our hot drinks, we then headed up through the bucolic countryside of Ontario on County Road 18, passing a sign for a produce market. “Fresh peas!” I shouted. “Ontario peaches. Pull over!”
“Slow down so I can take a picture!” I said later, as a cloud that looked like a mitten hovered over the road.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” I said, as we neared the town of Mono. Mark pulled into a Tim Hortons. “Do you want anything?” I asked.
“No,” Mark said, through gritted teeth.
Back in the car I was busy trying to navigate while shelling peas. “Oh, oh. I think we missed the turnoff to Side Road 15.” I looked at Mark guiltily. “But we can go in on Side Road 25 then south on Side Road 3 East. See? There’s a sign for the Bruce Trail.”
Hike the Bruce trail from Mono Cliffs Provincial Park
We pulled into Mono Cliffs Provincial Park Parking Lot at the crack of 4:45 p.m.. From here you can access the Carriage Side Trail, which leads to the Walter Tovell Side Trail, and the South Outlier Loop and the Spillway Trail, too, all of which feed into the Bruce Trail.
The calm before the storm
“Look.” Mark pointed upward. The cloud that had looked like a glove had now ballooned into a roiling grey mass of enormous proportions. Lined with pale pink, it slashed downwards through the sky.
“Yikes,” I said.
Tentatively we stepped out of the car. Raindrops splattered down. A sheet of lightning flashed across the sky. We got back in the car. The rain started pounding down. Then hail started bouncing off the hood like a barrage of frozen white peas. I peered out at the other cars in the lot, now just dim blurs in a charcoal-toned haze.
“Oh, just imagine the people out there on the trail,” I said, thinking it was a good thing we’d been so late or we would have been hiking in hail.
Hiking the Bruce Trail – also known as sitting in the car thinking about hiking
With nothing else to do we sat in the car munching on peaches and fresh peas. And we might have made out just a little, but we are married after all, and there’s not much else to do in a storm. Finally, the sky lightened up. A few very soaked and shivering people staggered off the trail and into their cars.
“Okay, let’s hike!” I said, ready to begin a new life of adventure and heartiness.
The hike on the Bruce Trail begins – and I mean it this time
Choosing carefully from the three pairs of sandals I’d brought, none of which remotely resembled hiking boots, I picked the sturdiest-looking pair, then saw a sign about ticks and Lyme disease and how you should have your pants tucked into your shoes. I looked down at my exposed toes and cropped pants.
“Can I borrow your socks?” I asked Mark, putting them on under my sandals, thinking that I was now rocking the Japanese sandals-with-socks fashion look extremely well.
Then I soon forgot about fashion as I got caught up in the joy of tramping through the woods. The weather was perfect, with that weird quiet stillness when a storm has just passed – and could imminently start again.
The fresh air of nature
“Breathe that air,” Mark said, as we passed a field of grasses and wildflowers.
I took a deep breath and coughed, thinking I should probably stop spritzing myself with toxic DEET every time a winged insect flew by.
The trail twisted and turned. We moved though misty forests of luminescent green leaves, along small meadows and patches of woody ferns. It was all so pine-y and gorgeous I didn’t even mind the uphill bits.
I hesitated at a puddle that flooded the path, a veil of waterlogged branches draped over it. Crouching, I skirted the side of the trail, lifted up a leafy branch to move it out of the way only to have it pin me to the spot as I was trying to lift the next branch.
“I’m stuck!” I hollered, as if it were Mark’s fault, which of course it was. After he had extricated me, and I shook the excess water off
his my sock, we moved on.
We climbed a set of steps, paused at a panoramic lookout then stopped to admire McCarston’s Lake, formed by a glacier some 11,000 years ago.
“Let’s take the long way back around the lake,” I said, full of enthusiasm for the glories of hiking the magnificent Bruce Trail.
“I’m tired,” I whined, 45 minutes later. “Shouldn’t we be back by now?”
Wildlife on the Bruce Trail
“Shh,” Mark said. “Is that a deer?”
“Maybe.” I squinted into the distance. “But it looks more like a log and a leaf.”
Then the log galloped away, followed by another log, so I suppose it was a deer after all, and it’s amazing how when you see wild
logs deer when you are hiking, it’s so much more poignant and man-meets-primal-nature than if you are passing one in a car. (They also look larger and possibly more vicious – no offence, Bambi.)
Triumph on the Bruce Trail
Two and a half hours later we arrived back at the Mono Cliffs Parking Lot. “We did it!” I said, raising my fist in the air.
A young couple approached us. “How far to the cliffs?” the woman asked.
“It’s 8:30. It’s going to be dark soon,” Mark said, “It’s too late to go hiking.”
“We got lost driving,” the woman told us, sounding very much like me. “We ended up at the educational centre.”
“Maybe you could go for a short while,” I said. “And just have a little walk in the woods.”
“Okay,” she said happily, looking very cute in her little flowered dress as she and her boyfriend traipsed into the forest.
A narrow escape
Soon after Mark and I drove out of the parking lot the rain came hurtling down. The hail was so forceful we had to pull over to the side of the road.
“We’re lucky we didn’t caught in this,” I said. At that point I didn’t know how lucky we were, that tornados had touched down in parts of Ontario, and that power was out all over the region.
I was just filled with contentment, that simple honest happiness that comes from feeling supremely superior. Not only had we hiked the Bruce Trail, or at least a portion of it, even though we’d started late, I’d had the wrong shoes and couldn’t tell a deer from a log, I now knew there were other hikers who started later, were more inappropriately dressed and more unprepared than I.
And I sincerely hope, and choose to believe, that they didn’t get caught in the storm.