There Is Always Something New

Travelling along the Trans-Canada Trail in Southern Ontario could be described as pretty bland.  In fact, I’ve said worse on many occasions.  There are no grand vistas to be appreciated from mountain tops, no spectacular rock formations, no towering waterfalls. If there are, we haven’t found them yet.

The truth however is that there is rarely a *typical* day on the trail, and I can almost always count on something new or unusual to catch my attention.

Oh, we see lots of trees … sometimes where they aren’t supposed to be.

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Helen navigating the detour

… and this year, we’re seeing many bloated streams from the high water levels.

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Duffins Creek

We also see lots of different bridges, both big and small.  I do love bridges, especially when they include trains … and on this day we caught 3 trains in the span of a few minutes.

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However, what made this particular day interesting were the unusual signs we found along the trail.

While warnings about poison ivy are a common sight on Ontario trails, we were surprised to see one that went well beyond the normal caution to hikers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Poison Ivy sounds serious by its name alone, but Giant Hogweed makes me think of Hagrid and his Magical Creatures from Harry Potter.

However this plant isn’t as benign as Hagrid.  The Giant Hogweed is an invasive species introduced from Asia as an ornamental plant.  Its sap can cause burns, severe blisters, and even blindness if it’s in contact with the eyes.

Meanwhile, in the water we have another invasive species … the Sea Lamprey. They migrated into the Great Lakes from the North Atlantic many decades ago through the canal systems.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They have had a devastating impact on native fish species, so culverts and dams like the one on Duffins Creek have been built to prevent the lamprey from travelling upstream to spawn.

Because of the small dam that was built, a portage is required for kayakers and canoers navigating the waterway.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

… and this little structure?  I don’t have a clue … but it gets points for being both unusual and rather intriguing.

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A Look At Our Approach

As promised, it’s time for a discussion on how we are approaching this monster project of travelling the Trans-Canada Trail.

On previous long distance endeavours, Helen and I have always used the 2-car shuttle method of dropping a vehicle at both the beginning and end points.  This gave us the obvious advantage of always moving forward and maximizing our time on the trail.

That was fine when we were, at most, within 2-3 hours of home and carrying only hiking gear.

This time however, we are cycling whenever possible, and neither of our cars can accommodate 2 bicycles  … a necessity when using the 2-car shuttle method.   As a result, we have had to requisition my husband’s vehicle which is the only car we have that can carry both bicycles and all our gear.

There is also the logistical problem that the distances we will eventually be travelling will become very significant. Flights, accommodations, and car rentals will be required. Needing 2 cars would make the cost of this project that much worse.

This is a long way of saying that we abandoned the idea of the 2-car shuttle method at the very beginning of our planning stage.  It sounds ugly, but we decided to adopt the out-and-back method.  That means for every kilometer we move forward on the trail by foot or bicycle, we’ve actually had to travel two.

We wanted “credit” for that extra mileage though, so we developed the idea of banking the “loopback” kilometers and applying them when needed to any section of the trail we couldn’t complete.

In earlier posts I’ve talked about closed and incomplete sections of the trail. These were relatively large sections of trail that caused us some angst, but there were also other small parts of the trail – 2 km here, 4 km there – that we didn’t finish for a variety of reasons.

We don’t have any intention of ever going back to those bits and pieces for a do-over.  As a result, we’ve been applying our banked loopback kilometers to these uncompleted sections.

To keep track of all our mileage I’ve developed a rather complicated spreadsheet.  In it I’ve recorded all our forward progress, but also the loopback mileage and whether it’s been applied to an unfinished section.

Our progress to date is 389 completed kilometers by either foot, bicycle, or car … of which 58 kilometers represent loopback I’ve had to apply.

This is what it looks like on the map of southwestern Ontario:

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The green line represents the Trans-Canada Trail and the black lines represent completed sections …. as opposed to the black smudges which were just me being sloppy with the marker

There are 4 distinct areas where we have mileage completed … which brings me to another aspect of our approach.

We have completed almost 390 kms of the Trans-Canada Trail, but not all of it has been completed since we launched this project in March.

Approximately 115 kms of this mileage was completed from walks and bicycle rides prior to starting this goal.  In particular this covers all the mileage around Niagara Falls and most of the mileage around Toronto.

These sections of trail had been traveled repeatedly by Helen and I, either together or separately, and we decided that re-doing this mileage just because it was now part of an “official” goal didn’t make sense.  So now it’s classified in the *finished* category.

If you’re still with me following this wordy explanation of our approach, thank you.  I hope this answers some of the questions many of you have asked.

So far we have restricted all of our efforts to Southwestern Ontario because Helen has commitments this year that makes travelling more difficult for her.  Starting next year, we hope to cast our net further abroad to the other provinces on multi-day expeditions on the trail.

It’s going to get a lot more challenging and hopefully a lot more interesting.

 

Re-Thinking The Plan

This space has been quiet the past 3 weeks as we contemplated our disappointment from the Leamington trip in May.

We needed some time to consider how – and even if – we were going to continue this journey across the Trans-Canada Trail.

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Leamington, Ontario

My thoughts kept taking me back to one of our key objectives.  It’s what Helen called exploring the *underbelly* of our country.

Whether we were on the Bruce Trail, the Oak Ridges Moraine Trail, or now on the Trans-Canada, one of our greatest pleasures has been in the simple discoveries we’ve made along the way … the tiny communities and the small country roads where we wouldn’t otherwise have a reason to be.

When I looked back on our Leamington trip and the photos I had taken, there were just so many interesting and unexpected things we saw.

Like the US flag flying proudly along the Tecumseh Parkway.  I came to a screeching halt thinking ‘what the hell?’

If I had known my history better, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

It marks a historic battlefield during our only armed conflict with the US during the War of 1812.

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This marker was at Drake’s Farm where the British army – with a First Nations army under the leadership of famous Native Chief, Tecumseh – was under retreat from the American army.

An astute American observer may note that the flag has only 15 stars – representing the US flag from 1812.  We had to read the historic plaque to learn that interesting detail.

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Or discovering the small French communities of Grande Pointe and Pain Court.  I had no idea there was such a significant French population in this part of the province.

Both communities can trace their origins to the late 1700s when the first French settlers arrived from the Detroit area – and since then these communities have incredibly retained their French language and heritage.

Eventually I came to ask myself the question, does it really matter if we’re travelling by bicycle, on foot, or in a car?  We would still feel the same spirit of discovery while experiencing this vast country of our’s.

When I shared my thoughts with Helen, I wasn’t surprised to hear that she felt the same way.

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Last week I was telling a new acquaintance about our goal to journey across the Trans-Canada Trail.  She literally scoffed.

“You’ll never finish”, she declared.

To be so abruptly dismissed by someone who barely knew me rocked me back quite a bit.  Upon reflection however, I’ve come to realize that this was a true cliché moment.

It’s not about the ultimate destination.  This really is about the journey.

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Mitchell’s Bay

… and we are now ready to continue on it.

Warning! Bumps Ahead – Part 2

In the previous installment of Warning! Bumps Ahead, Helen and I were in Leamington experiencing a major failure on the Trans-Canada Trail.  After a 5 hour drive from Toronto, and only 2 km on the bike, we found the trail was closed for the next 18 months.

I may have been annoyed, but I wasn’t worried – yet.  I had spent hours planning this 3 day excursion and I had alternatives up my sleeve.  There was a lot of trail still ahead. We cycled back to the car, piled everything inside again and headed out to catch the trail further along the route.

Luck was not on our side … more closure signs, more large rock gravel.

Eventually we reached the point where the trail became road and we proceeded to follow the Trans-Canada Trail signs, expecting we would soon reach another trail we could cycle.

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Near Mitchell’s Bay and finally a cycling trail!  … but at a mere 1,400 metres, it wasn’t worth getting our bikes out of the car

The good news? …. the “trail” was well marked on the road and easy to follow.

The bad news? … we drove, and we drove, and we followed the signs …. for about 125 kms over 3 hours.

We finally conceded defeat and headed back to our hotel.

As we whined over a bottle of wine, the grievances we listed were many.  This brings me to my second major complaint about our experience on the Trans-Canada Trail so far.

The longest recreational trail in the world” (as quoted from TheGreatTrail.ca website) is in fact more “road” than “trail”.

Up until now, I was under the mistaken impression that the Trans-Canada was primarily trails – in its traditional definition as a rough pathway – linked together with sections of road.

The reality is that (according to Wikipedia) more than half of the trail is in fact road – which is not necessarily alarming when you consider how large Canada really is.

What does become alarming though is that sections like Essex-Chatham and Chatham-Kent appear to be almost 100% roadway … which I hadn’t expected.

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Grande Pointe – from the expression on his face, it appears that he was probably looking for a “real” trail too

The problem is that the TheGreatTrail.ca map isn’t coded to make it easy to identify whether a route is road or not.

While some trails are accurately described as gravel trail/ paved trail/ road – others are not.  Nor does it provide information on how much of the trail is made up of these components.

The entire Chatham-Kent Trail was described simply as “paved trail”.  At over 200 km long, this would have been a cyclist’s dream if it had been accurate.  However all we found (with the exception of the 1.4 km trail noted above) was road.  I found a Chatham-Kent brochure online, but none of the short trails it included in the brochure were part of the Trans-Canada.

If you are trying to promote outdoor activity for people of all ages, would you consider “road” is an appropriate “recreational trail”?

Even worse, when we compared the route we drove by following the road signs, with the map on TheGreatTrail.ca website, we couldn’t get them to match up even though we had carefully followed the signs.

Wallaceburg

I don’t remember where this was, but it was “on the trail”

So now we are seriously questioning the viability of this project.

Our experience has been that we can’t trust the accuracy of the maps, the trail descriptions, the availability of signage, or even if we’re going to find the trails open.

Nor do we feel safe riding predominately on roads.

Our “Whine and Wine” session ended with one major decision … we will not continue with our current plan.  A new approach will be required.

Warning! Bumps Ahead – Part 1

Helen and I have just returned from a multi-day trip to the south-western tip of Ontario at Point Pelee … which also happens to be the furthest southern point of Canada.

Ok, technically it’s Pelee Island, but let’s not quibble over a minor detail.

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In part we wanted to visit Point Pelee National Park, which is a significant wetland for thousands of migrating birds each year.  Birders from all over Canada and the US have been converging on Point Pelee for weeks for the bird northern migration.

Point Pelee

However, we were in the area primarily to tackle some of the Trans-Canada Trail in this section of the province.

In summary, it didn’t go well.

It started with a thunderstorm early on our first morning we were preparing to ride.   We patiently waited for the storm to pass and then headed out with high spirits and wild enthusiasm.

For the second time in a month, it all came to an abrupt end only 2 km into our ride.

As we crossed the first concession road, we encountered large rock gravel covering the trail.

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We picked our way gingerly across the stones for a few hundred metres with the same large gravel as far down the trail as we could see.  We acknowledged this was an accident waiting to happen and with potentially 36 km of this gravel ahead of us, we decided to turn around.

That’s when we saw it.

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At this point, some choice words were said.

It’s a mystery how we managed to miss this sign, but that’s not really the point.  We should have known about this closure long before we even left Toronto.

This is my first of several complaints I have about our experience so far on the Trans-Canada Trail.  There is no apparent mechanism on TheGreatTrail.ca website for notifying users of trail related news, nor can I find a forum where users can share information with one another.

I spend hours preparing for each excursion we make on the trail – reviewing the maps, searching for any trail news relative to that section, etc.  Nowhere had I found any information related to a trail closure.

We had driven 5 hours from Toronto to Leamington to ride this section of trail.  Knowing it was closed would have been *nice* information to have in advance.

Nor were there any signs to suggest how far the closure extended, or signage directing users to alternative routes on how to get to the next section of open trail.

Major failure!

Stay tuned for more on our trip on the Essex-Chatham and Chatham-Kent Trails.

 

 

 

 

It’s Not All Smooth Going

It should come as no surprise that the logistics of a long-distance trip requires planning.

In the same way, each trip we take on the Trans-Canada Trail requires considerable preparation.  We are currently driving over 90 minutes to get to our starting point, and that distance is only going to grow.  It’s important that we carefully outline in advance exactly where we are going and how to get there.

Sounds pretty obvious, right?

Except that where there are small towns and country roads involved, things are often not obvious at all.   A GPS is an invaluable tool, but we’ve learned from experience that venturing out without a paper map as backup can be fool-hardy.

It’s true that our starting points should normally be where we left off on our last outing, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

There are sections of the Trail that are still incomplete and they are highlighted on The Great Trail website in orange.  In a future post I will be explaining how we are dealing with these incomplete sections, but they do affect the logistics of how we connect from one trail to the next.

The Trans-Canada is made up of hundreds of small local recreational trails linked together. The portion we are currently working on is comprised of 16 trails – each with its own local name – covering almost 234 km.

The maps on the website are pretty good and provide a reasonable amount of detail to find our routes, however making the transition from a 2-dimensional grid of roads to the 3-dimensional real world of varied terrain, traffic, and weather conditions isn’t always easy.

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Finding our trail starting point is often marked by nothing more than a small discreet sign located off the road.

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While the trail is likely well-known to the local community, it feels more like a treasure hunt to someone passing through.  So far our experience has been that unless you’re looking for it, you often would even know the trail was there.

On more than one occasion, we have driven up and down the same road trying to find the sign that marks our starting point.

SOMETIMES THE BEST PLANS GO AWRY

On one section called the New Tecumseh Trail, there is an incomplete portion with an 8.4 km interruption in the trail.  We had to drive to our new starting point with some minor confusion along the way when the signage for the trail could not be seen from the road.

The Great Trail website promised almost 12 km of uninterrupted trail from our new starting point in the town of Beeton to the next section in the community of Thornton.

We unloaded our bikes, geared up, and headed off down the trail.

However, less than 2 km later, the trail ended abruptly without warning or any signage to provide direction forward.

A conversation with a passerby confirmed what we had already started to suspect … not only was the trail unfinished, but the map on the website – which I had been using as our *Bible* – was wrong.

This 12 km section in fact had several breaks scattered throughout it and since we were unfamiliar the area, we would have no idea how to patch together these interrupted portions.

We had no choice but to repack everything in our vehicle, treat the entire section as unfinished, and leapfrog to Thornton in an attempt to pick up the trail again there.

We had an important learning that day.  We can no longer assume the route on the website was going to be correct and we would need a Plan B for each outing in case the website map turned out to be wrong.

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This sign was about a kilometer down the trail intended for snowmobilers merging from another trail.

 

Minesing Wetlands

For the past 6 weeks Helen and I have been out on the Trail once a week in spite of the sudden drop in temperatures.

Last week it wasn’t just cold, it was monsoon weather.  Mother Nature appears to be terribly confused because central Canada doesn’t normally get such unrelenting heavy rain for days on end.

We were lucky and chose to head out on the one day during the week without rain. It was rather chilly on the bike, but the sun was shining for the first time in days.

PROGRESS TO DATE
So far we have covered over 110 km of trail and quite frankly it has been largely unremarkable.

While Toronto has been dressed in the full green-haze splendor of spring, we’ve been finding that the further north we push, the trees and shrubs are still thinking about pushing out buds.

The thick black line shows our progress to date.

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In case you’re wondering why we skipped over Barrie, it’s because this area is urban trail as it progresses through the city, and we’ve chosen to leave it for a future day when we’re looking for an easy portion of the Trail to do relatively close to home.

The green line represents the Trail, the yellow lines are major roads, and the red lines are breaks in the Trail where it is incomplete.  I’ll be discussing more on these breaks in the Trail in a future post.

The area we have covered to date has been miles and miles of farm country – cows, horses, occasional pigs, and endless bare fields.  The only positive thing I can say at this point is that we are on bicycles and can cover more ground.

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EQUIPMENT FAILURE
Not only have I been uninspired taking photos, those that I do take have been … let’s say, disappointing.  I finally decided that it couldn’t possibly be ALL my fault and brought my camera into the shop for a diagnosis.

Yes, it was bad news.

As I feared, the tough little point-and-shoot I bought 3 years ago specifically for hiking and cycling is suffering a fatal image sensor failure.  Apparently there are only so many times a camera can be dropped …

I am now poorer for having had to replace my camera (again) and hopefully from this point forward, I will not only take better photos, but perhaps the trail will begin to provide ample inspiration.

Note – All the photos in this post have required significant manipulation in order to make them even remotely usable.

MINESING WETLANDS
Last week our route skirted the Minesing Wetlands – an area I’ve been anxious to see. Pronounced Min-ĕ-sing, this is a significant conservation area identified as “one of the most diverse, undisturbed wetland tracts in Canada”.

Since we’ve been super-saturated with rain, the surrounding area around the Wetlands is – not surprisingly, wet.

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Streams and ditches are bloated and often running very fast, but the Trail has fortunately been mostly dry with only occasional spots of puddling and mud.

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Thanks for joining us.  There’s more to come and I hope to see you on the Trail.

 

Chasing Spring Northwards – Caledon

With so many kilometers ahead of us to cover the Trans-Canada Trail, our first challenge was deciding where we were going to start.  For no particular reason, we agreed to head north.

Our chosen starting point was about an hour’s drive from Toronto at the Forks of the Credit Conservation Area and over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been slowly moving north.

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Today’s photos were taken along the Caledon Link and Caledon Trailway, both shown on the above map as *Done*.  This represents 37 km of the trail – all of it flat with hard-packed gravel.

At this time of year, the landscape still looks pretty bleak.  None of the green we are starting to see now in Southern Ontario was evident when these photos were taken earlier this month.

Where there is water, it’s a good bet I’m going to take a photo, especially if there is a bridge involved. Click on any photo to enlarge and scroll through.

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Then there are bridges with no water involved … just crossing the very busy Highway 10.

I was fascinated by the number of beaver lodges we saw.  Some of the gnawed trees we encountered looked quite fresh, so I was reasonably sure these lodges were still active. Sadly we had no beaver sightings.  I would have been over the moon if we had!

Since the intention is to bicycle as much of the trail as possible, a major goal this month was actually getting out on our bikes for the first time.  Although we completed only one ride – and it wasn’t very long – it was a huge milestone, especially for Helen.

This was Helen’s first time riding in 25 years, and I was still getting my confidence back after last year’s crash which put me on the sidelines for almost 9 months.  Happily we had a great first ride and as it gets warmer, we will become unstoppable {knock on wood!!}.

Thanks for joining us on this part of journey.  Hope to see you on the trail.

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The Toronto Waterfront – Part 3

I’ve mentioned previously that the Toronto Waterfront Trail is almost 89 km long and most of it we have traveled on earlier walks and rides.

Today’s photos are on the Waterfront Trail in the core of the city taken over the past couple of years.  Most of them I’ve probably featured previously on my other blog.

As always, thanks for joining us on this journey.  See you on the trail!

Toronto Waterfront Trail – part 2

In my previous post I mentioned that the Toronto Waterfront Trail is almost 87 km long and most of it we’ve already completed at various times.  I’m backtracking again today to share photos from some of those earlier trips.

Today’s photos focus on the east end of the city near the Toronto-Pickering border at Rouge Park, taken in a variety of seasons.

Click on any photo to enlarge and scroll through.

Hope to see you on the trails.