When The Going Gets Snowy

I’ve been meaning to write a post about winter hiking for a while, and since Mother Nature decided we needed a major dumping of the white stuff yesterday, now seemed like a good time.

Many people hang up their hiking boots in the winter, but neither Helen or I are one of them.  When we’re lucky and get what I call a “good” winter, snow cover is not an issue.  The ground is often snow free, or with just a light dusting.

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TransCanada Trail through Marie Curtis Park, Etobicoke – March 2017

However, we haven’t been lucky this winter.  It’s been both snowy and bone-chilling cold.  When the trail takes us out of an urban area, packing for a hike becomes more important than just food, water, maps, and hiking poles.

Now we need ice grippers, snowshoes, and spare socks, preferably in a waterproof bag (I learned that one the hard way).

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The need for a cellphone is obvious, but I also carry extra food, basic first aid supplies, matches, and at least one mylar blanket for emergencies.

I give Helen credit for thinking of the mylar blanket.  If you aren’t familiar with them, they are a thin, lightweight heat-reflective sheeting, also called a space blanket.  In an emergency, they will provide some wind protection and help reduce heat loss.  Hypothermia is no laughing matter when help could be some time away.

Through trial-and-error, I have learned how to layer for the cold, and have discovered small tricks like tucking the mouthpiece of my camelbak into my jacket so the waterline doesn’t freeze in the cold.

However, when it gets colder than -10C, it’s a no-brainer for me.  Let’s just say my enthusiasm for the outdoors wanes sharply as the mercury drops lower.

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Kawartha Trails, Lindsay – January 2018

You may not realize that one of the biggest challenges of walking in snow is actually seeing the terrain.  The landscape becomes a monochromic blue-white blur.

On those rare winter days (at least in my corner of the world), when the sun is shining in a clear blue sky, the light reflecting off the snow is blinding.  Ignoring the fact that it’s usually only sunny when it is inhumanly cold outside, IF you went for a trail walk, the reflection off the snow would washout any detail that might be seen.

On virtually every other day, the flat winter light has a way of softening all the same details.  The result is that you still wouldn’t be able to see your path clearly.

Even with hiking poles to help with balance, we end up staggering along in the uneven snow like we’re drunk.

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Kawartha Trail – January 2018

On flat terrain like this, we should have been able to cruise along at 4-5 km an hour.  In fact it took 2 hours to go only 6 km … and we were exhausted.  The snow wasn’t deep enough to warrant snowshoes, and yet deep enough to be a challenge.

Last week, we were passed on the trail by snowmobiles – although I’ve been told the ‘new’ terminology is ‘sled’. Yeah … no.  To me they are still snowmobiles.

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Helen and I agreed that this would be our preferred way to travel on these snowy trails.  There’s only one small problem – we don’t have one.

I think we need to make new friends … friends with snowmobiles.

In the meantime. we continue to walk.

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2017 Wrap Up

I’ve been missing in this space since early November.  Making progress on the Trans-Canada just failed to bubble up in our priorities.

First it was because I took 2 weeks off to go on vacation, and then Helen got wrapped up with the theft of her car while I was gone.  Dealing with the police, the insurance company, and finding a new car consumed her energy for 2 weeks after I returned.

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I feel welcomed … what about you? Feel the love?  At Kissing Bridge.

Then the weather turned wintery.  We’re not strangers to hiking in winter weather, but driving in snowy conditions always makes us think twice.  Toss in bone-chilling cold and neither of us were eager to head out on the trail.

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I’m not worrying too much about bites when there’s snow on the ground.  In Cambridge.

Add in the chaos that normally surrounds Christmas and you get an idea of why it’s been quiet in this blog space.

However, to wrap up the year, I thought it would be appropriate to do a summary of our first year tackling this challenge.

We started our journey on March 16th and over the past 10’ish months, we’ve covered 643 km.   It’s considerably less than the 1,400 km I had initially targeted that we could complete, but some time ago my Type A personality had to come to terms with the fact that this wasn’t going to be about finishing, but about savouring this epic journey.

Besides the opportunity to be outdoors, and simply enjoying each other’s company, it is the unusual little finds discovered along the way that keeps us wanting more.

So for this year’s wrap up, I’m featuring just a few of these ‘discoveries’ in the gallery below.

Happy New Year, and thank you for keeping us company on this journey.  Hope to see you on the trails!!

 

The Kissing Bridge Trail

We have been steadily progressing eastwards on the Trans-Canada Trail since July, but for a change of pace, we decided to head in the opposite direction.  The portion of the trail we had in our sights was the Kissing Bridge Trail, located northwest of Toronto.

Obviously, the big attraction on this trail is a bridge … the West Montrose Covered Bridge,  to be exact … and it is the last remaining wooden, covered bridge in Ontario.

This came as a bit of a surprise to me, because I didn’t realize there even was one in our province.

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Completed in 1881, the single-lane bridge has had several major restorations over the years, but continues to support local traffic.  Until the 1950s, oil lamps were lit inside the bridge overnight, but now the interior is lit by electrical bulbs.

Kissing Bridge

You are likely wondering how it got the moniker “The Kissing Bridge”.  The story has it that within the relative privacy – and darkness – of the bridge, couples were known to stop and steal a kiss away from prying eyes.

However, this was just the beginning of our day.

This area is farm country, and for the next couple of hours, the trail took us past one large farm after another.

 

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Maybe it’s just the city girl talking, but aren’t all those silos just a little phallic?

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There was a bone-chilling northwest wind that dropped the temperature to the freezing mark. We had wisely planned our day to head out into the wind and return with it at our back.  With the wind blowing unchecked across the open fields, we were grateful for our layers of clothing, hats, and gloves.

Sadly, before this day was over, I would lose one of my favourite gloves.  Do you ever wonder about that one glove found abandoned?  Somewhere its owner is likely mourning its loss.

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Distances can be deceiving on a long flat straightaway.  At one point when we discussed turning around, we decided to keep walking “a few more minutes” until we reached the domes “just up on the right”.

Forty minutes later we reached our target.

Although we still aren’t clear on what *biogas power generation* means, the smell alone suggested we might want to move along without further exploration.

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This area has long been settled by German Mennonites from Pennsylvania, and their horse and buggies continue to be a regular sight on local roads.

In addition to crossing the Kissing Bridge, catching a photo of a horse and buggy passing by was the highlight of my day.

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It almost makes up for the lost glove.

Surprises

This unseasonably warm weather all month has been a delight.  Instead of layering up for cold weather hikes, we’ve been enjoying sunny days and temperatures hovering in the high teens (mid 60s F).

It’s been a long, slooow autumn, and although the trees should be mostly bare by now, they’re still showing off their fall colours.  That’s a bit of a surprise this late in October.

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But there have been many more unexpected sights.

Like finding a trio of tiny bird houses that have become visible only because all the leaves have fallen.

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I wouldn’t have expected to see a Monarch butterfly at the end of October … practically dancing in front of our faces before posing on a shrub for its photo op.

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Or the tiny little turtle sunning on the trail.

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And I certainly didn’t expect to almost step on a snake which had cleverly disguised itself as a stick for Hallowe’en … hiding among the other twigs and branches on the trail.

We scared the bejeezus out of each other.

He tore off in a panic in one direction, while I’m pretty sure I broke a personal record on the vertical jump, followed by a sidewards dash in the opposite direction of the rapidly disappearing snake.

Although I’ve never given thought to it before in the 5 years we’ve been hiking together, I was suddenly grateful that Helen never carries a camera …. because she was barely containing her amusement.

I shudder at the thought of a video of “Joanne Meets Snake” circulating on YouTube.

That would definitely be an unpleasant surprise.

Autumn in Ontario

This time of year is perfect for hiking on any trail,  regardless of where you are in the Northern Hemisphere.  The heat and humidity of summer has abated, and the plague of mosquitos and black flies has died away in the cooler temperatures.

Since we started our Trans-Canada journey back in the spring, we have remained focused on the trail in Southern Ontario, and although the terrain doesn’t have the magic of the mountains, or the song of the oceans, it’s particularly beautiful at this time of year.

These are some of the sights from the trail during the past couple of weeks.

 

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Durham Region

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Penetanguishene

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Durham Region

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Durham Region

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Penetanguishene

I’ve updated our status, and so far this year we have covered 587 km (365 miles).  It’s considerably less than I thought we would cover, but as Helen often says, every day spent out of doors is a good day.  In other words, I’m not worrying about it.

This is what our journey looks like to date.  The black lines indicate what we have completed of the green trail.

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I hope the weather holds for many more weeks so that we can continue to enjoy the beauty of autumn in Canada.

A Bridge and The Witch’s Hat

Throughout our outings on the trail over the summer, I had been looking forward to finally reaching the town of Uxbridge located about an hour’s drive northeast of Toronto.

Uxbridge is a pretty little town well-known for its miles and miles of trails for walking, cycling, and snowmobiling (obviously in winter).  Added to the promise of well-marked  trails was a write-up I’d read about a heritage trestle bridge.

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No – this is not the trestle bridge, but it was a great day to be on the trail

This particular section of the Trans-Canada Trail was a former rail line and the old wooden trestle bridge was a promised feature.  However, if Helen hadn’t been paying attention and stopped to read a sign on the side of the trail, I would have missed the bridge completely.

I was acutely aware of the many shades of craziness than drove me to attempt climbing down the steep bank clinging to small trees, and at one point creeping into a crawl space underneath the short bridge to get a better view of the wooden beams.

 

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This bridge looks so much longer than it really was.  It was short … really short.

Our journey through town produced some interesting surprises – like the old train station, built in 1904 by the Grand Trunk Railway.  Known as the Witch’s Hat, it is now a small railway museum which includes a rail yard full of old train cars.  I’m not a serious train enthusiast, but even I wandered around the cars with great interest.

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I deviated from the trail to capture this photo.  This rail bed leads from the Witch’s Hat to the trestle bridge.  The Trans-Canada passes through town instead of following this rail bed.

I’m aware that an update on our progress is overdue.  Hopefully I will slow down long enough in the next few weeks to prepare a status of the journey to date.

 

When Technology Fails

It’s not very often that a single outing on the trail warrants a post of its own, but our last hike falls into that category.

It’s not because of stunning natural scenario or wildlife sightings.  There weren’t even any brain farts that could provide a comical story.

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We did find a couple of flags flying deep in the forest.  That was unusual!

This hike was all about trying to follow the trail.

I’ve been vocal on previous posts about my irritation with trying to find and follow trail blazes that provide direction on the Trans-Canada.  Maybe they’re not so important on uninterrupted stretches where the direction is obvious, but they’re critical when faced with options.

From my planning of this hike, I knew we were about to enter a 15km forested section of trail with a network of alternative trails that resemble a spider’s web. The probability of getting lost without good trail markings was going to be very high.

However, we were about to enter the “Trail Capital of Canada”, so I had to believe that they would know a thing or two about marking trails.

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It may be worth repeating – I have a deep-seated fear of being lost.  While Helen and I may strongly disagree on the finer points of what exactly it means to be *lost*, the bottom line is, if I don’t know where I am, I’m lost.

… and I don’t like it.

It occurred to me on our last outing that perhaps the intention on the Trans-Canada was that users would follow the trail using the tracking feature of the mobile app instead of relying on physical trail blazes that need to be maintained by volunteers.

Armed with this new insight, I loaded the app on my phone and away we went.

In less than a kilometre we encountered our first problem.  The app did not show all the possible trail directions we were confronted with, and even worse, the app and the blazes on the trail didn’t match.

After a brief discussion, we decided to follow the blazes … Helen has a blatant disregard for technology at the best of times, so this wasn’t a major leap of faith.  Our decision was all good until we could no longer find blazes, and to add to my frustration, the app kept crashing and provided no guidance on which direction to follow.

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We see you laying there on the ground.  Rather useless, aren’t you?

To add further insult, it was chewing through my battery life like a hungry hippo.

Needless to say, the app was completely abandoned, and we went back to our emergency strategy – winging it.  Thankfully, once we (as in, Helen) figured out how to read the maps provided in the forest, we were able to navigate our way around – although I’m confident we were often not on the Trans-Canada at all.

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Two thumbs up to those maintaining this section of the Trans-Canada!!  Without these amazing markers, we’d likely still be wandering around in this section of forest.

One little detail we’ve come to rely on is that the marker posts on any trail will always point north.  It’s one of those little bits of knowledge I use to reassure myself I know the direction we are headed.  If our understanding is incorrect, please, please, please let us know!!

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Marker post pointing north, a map, AND TCT blazes!!  Well done, Uxbridge!!

… and yes, I do carry a compass.

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Summer Sights

If it seems like this blog space has been quiet for a while, you’re right.  It may sound counter-intuitive, but the summer is actually a pretty quiet time for us.  There are so many other things competing for our attention, that getting out on the trail can get challenging.

Having said that, we haven’t been completely idle.

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Totem pole on the Trans-Canada Trail in Pickering to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Scouting movement

We’ve been focusing our attention on short trips as close to home as possible.  For us, that has meant the Durham Region section of the Trans-Canada Trail east of Toronto.

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Trying to find direction signs continues to be a source of irritation.  While wandering around through overgrown fields and wooded areas with multiple paths leading in different directions, it would be really nice to know which one we should be following.

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We assumed this was a Trans-Canada sign … maybe…

Even worse is when there are signs and they contradict the map I’ve printed off the Trans-Canada Trail website.  What to do?  We make it up as best we can.

Speaking of signs, some of them demand your attention for an entirely different reason.

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With the trail running adjacent to a nuclear power plant, security is not a surprise.

Bridges and overpasses continue to be a favourite of mine.  In fact the hard part is selecting which ones I want to highlight on this blog.

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Along the Waterfront portion of the trail in Pickering

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If you encounter this lovely little overpass on Westney Road in Pickering, you’re no longer on the Trans-Canada.  Just saying ….

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… but if you see this, you’re on the right course

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This, however, you might miss completely if you don’t stop to check out the Pickering Museum Village as you go by.

This adventure is taking us down country roads and into little nooks and crannies we wouldn’t otherwise have a reason to explore.  Some cause us to pause while others we just quietly acknowledge.

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Roadside memorial for a lost child

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.

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… 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.