When Plans Go Awry

There is an old Yiddish saying that “Man plans, and God laughs”.

Did I inadvertently jinx myself when I posted a photo on Instagram about a future plan I had made? It certainly felt that way to me.

Helen and I have recently returned from a 2-day excursion back to the Beaver Valley region to re-explore a few highlights we remembered from the Bruce Trail.

Beaver Valley is two-and-a-half hours away from our homes in Toronto and we had not been back since we completed our end-to-end hike back in 2013.

Since we had long ago established an informal rule that any excursion more than 90 minutes away from home would require at least an overnight stay, we made plans to stay in the area.

Demonstrating my limited technical skills.

Our agenda for day 2 of this excursion was to be a hike over Metcalfe Rock. This is a major landmark of the area and one of my favourite memories of our epic hike.

In my excitement, I took the following photo the previous day and posted our plans on Instagram.

… and then the gods laughed.

I sometimes forget that Helen is approaching her mid-70s. She has energy and enthusiasm to spare, but her agility and balance are declining.

There are areas on the Bruce, particularly around large urban centres in the south, that are heavily trafficked and easy to navigate, but there are far more sections of the trail that are true wilderness … rugged and challenging.

Beaver Valley checks all those boxes on the challenging scale – isolated, steep climbs and descents, rough terrain, hazardous footing, and occasional rock scrabbling.

The carpet of leaves were beautiful to look at, but created a hazard for Helen’s faltering sense of balance. They hid the many jutting rocks and tree roots that littered the trail.

Having had several serious falls on various trails in the past few years, Helen has become understandably hesitant. Her spirit was willing, but the body was weak.

Scrabbling down the rocky trail at Pinnacle Rock.

We knew this 11 km (6.8 mile) loop was going to be rugged in many places, so we allowed for 3-4 hours to complete the hike before we would have to head back home.

We were much too optimistic.

Our day started off with dull grey skies and temperatures barely above freezing. The easy terrain at the beginning lulled us into a false sense of security in our plan.

After 2 hours on the trail, we were only about 4.5 km into the loop.

We were faced with the difficult choice of continuing on for what was now surely going to be a 5 or 6 hour hike … or turn around.

Helen made the decision to turn around, and so we never made it to Metcalfe Rock.

Was I disappointed? Hell, yes.

… but it still an amazing day, out in nature, amid the wonder of autumn colour.

In other words, it was a perfect outing.

37 comments

  1. The good news, and the part that doesn’t need to be said, but I will say it anyway is this: The Metcalfe Rock has been around for a while and will remain for a little while longer, I expect. I’m glad you gals tried it and I’m even more glad you had the wisdom to turn back.

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    • So true, Maggie. That damn rock will still be there long after I’m gone. Even though I didn’t get to climb it again, it was a delight to see it with its autumn colours on. Helen and I mused on the fact that we never hiked at this time of year. We started our end-to-end in the last days of November and finished in September. Just experiencing the beauty of October was worth the trip!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Dan. Nothing like a rough trail to remind us that we’re getting old. Wait … everything reminds me that I’m getting old 😏

      I know we made the right decision. Had we continued on, neither of us would have enjoyed it. I knew Helen was extremely uncomfortable and I was constantly worrying she would take a tumble. Happily we made it back without incident!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It certainly looks idyllic, but that leaf carpet had me feeling panicky just looking at it. Good call, and I’m glad you had an enjoyable day.

    I’m definitely going to adopt your 90-minute protocol!!

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    • Our 90 minute rule seems to have struck a chord! I know I’m often guilty of trying to squeeze in too much and thinking I can juggle it all. Then I just end up a jumble of nerves. A long drive home when you’re tired is not the right way to end a great excursion.
      This just turned out to be one of those little things that had a big impact.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well the lovely autumnal colours sure made up for the disappointment of not completing the circuit. I don’t think it matters anyway as you still both had a good day out and some serious hiking and NO injuries. I think falling is the thing I fear most when I go on the trails around here as often there is loose scree and holes or rocks to trip you up or mud to slip and slide on. I’m not so good with heights now as I was either. It sucks getting older. Like you my brain is stuck at around my mid twenties, but the mirror and my bones tell me differently! I think you and Helen are real troopers and I admire you both!

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    • We are both really cautious about avoiding falls. Sometimes they happen, but on an isolated trail with spotty cell service, a bad fall can be really serious. Neither of us ever want to be that person who needs to be rescued from the trail.

      I think both Helen and I have been in denial about her ability to handle these difficult trails going forward. This trip was an eye-opener for me. I was very relieved we made it back unscathed.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Leaves, on a damp day, are also freaking slippery so I can only imagine the challenges of this section. It’s so so hard to make the decision to turn back and I’m sure Helen, as an ultra runner, would have struggled mightily but much better to be safe and well and a bit disappointed than have the worst happen. I’m glad you could see it as a beneficial day in the beautiful autumnal natural world.

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    • You hit the nail on the head. Leaves on the ground can be as slippery as ice. Thankfully it was pretty dry, but even still I slid a few times and had to caution Helen who was coming behind me.

      Both of us have always been very cautious about avoiding falls and potential injury. If one of us was to be injured, getting evacuated from the trail would be challenging.
      Often these locations are quite isolated and cell service can be spotty. In cold weather we began carrying mylar blankets in our backpacks in case we ever had to leave one of us on the trail while the other hiked out for help. Neither of us ever wanted to be in that position!!

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  5. Better safe than sorry, and few hours on the trail is still better than a day cooped up at home or in the office!

    There’s always next time and this was definitely a tantalizing peek!

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    • Exactly! Helen and I both have a strong affinity for trees. Even a short hike in a forest is restorative and at this time of year it is even better.

      What was particularly special was that the last time we went through this area it was in the middle of summer when it was very hot, and all the trees were in full leaf. This time the temperature was much nicer for hiking and with many of the trees now bare, we were able to see things that had previously been invisible to us.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Even though your initial plan was thwarted, it still sounds like a beautiful day out on the trail. I admire Helen for being smart enough to realize when to turn back. I struggle with realizing my limitations…as Jonathan reminded me the next day after Elton John: You’re not 30 anymore! 🤣

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    • This was not an easy decision to turnaround and I left it entirely in her hands. We both knew she had the endurance to complete both the distance and the time required to do it, but hanging over both of our heads was the uncertainty of how much more difficult it might be – not to mention the ever present fear of her falling.

      In the end, she chose the devil she knew – which was the way back.

      It’s true that as we age our brains and our bodies no longer align. I marvel at how much harder some things are to do compared to just a few years ago. {Yes, socks, I’m talking about you}

      How is that possible when mentally I’m still 24?!!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I like your informal rule, Joanne. I think I will adopt it from now on. Again, I love the map. A good frame of reference for my brain. It sounds like this hiking area would be a challenge for a 30 year old. You ended up with some spectacular photos! I will end my comment with a favourite saying I have adopted from my daughter (she was a Personal Trainer for a long time). “A little bit of somethin’ is better than a whole lot of nuthin’ “. And you and Helen are inspirational! 🙂

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    • I really like your daughter’s saying. It works!!

      That rule has been a good guiding principle in our decision making over the years. It wasn’t just a question of time and cost, but safety as well. After several hours of difficult hiking, the drive home was often equally challenging, especially when we were using the 2-car shuttle method and we were both driving. More than a few times one of us has had to pull over and rest awhile.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I showed this to my husband, who is an avid hiker. Please let Helen know that she is his hero. He looked at that beautiful leafy terrain, and said ‘no way.’ Kudos to you and Helen for doing as much as you did, Joanne.

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    • I will definitely let Helen know 🙂 Photos never really do justice to what it was really like. It was amazingly beautiful … but treacherous at the same time. Looking around and walking at the same time was a really bad idea.
      In the end we did 9 km in just under 4 hours – which is a good day outdoors.

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