Growing up in Queenston, the quiet and impossibly picturesque village of NOTL, I was exposed to the Niagara Escarpment every day. This neighbourhood was, and arguably still is, the ultimate playground for kids in NOTL.
At any age in my life, the Bruce Trail has served as the best way to access the forests, steep hills, and streams that dapple the escarpment. My relationship with Canada’s oldest and longest marked hiking trail was set in stone in 2014 when I decided to hike all 890 kilometres of it.
You might suppose having the Bruce Trail right in my backyard made it a constant tease and source of wonder from the get-go. It is there for you to explore any day, too.
I started thinking about it as early as Grade 10. In order to size up the possibility of doing a multi-week solo trek, I even wrote a fictional but totally forgettable little novel about hiking it. Nothing came of that, but the thought of attempting this long-brewing life goal kept me awake for many nights, staring at the ceiling.
In 2013, a switch flipped on inside me, and I knew spring 2014 was the time to try it. I would get dropped off in Tobermory on the remote Northern Bruce Peninsula, and hike home to Queenston in one piece, hiking, sleeping, eating, and living it up on that trail.
I was locked in. In the winter leading up to that, I was working an overloaded school semester, bartending until 4 a.m., and training in the early winter mornings between 4 and 6 a.m. I told myself hiking something of this magnitude in one shot would require a stamina upgrade of sorts, so in both Guelph and NOTL I trained lots in the nastiest winter nights, outdoors. Funny how I ended up hiking back over the same spots I used for training.
Somewhere on a cold winter night in Queenston, at a stupidly late hour, there was a guy with his backpack loaded with textbooks and dumbbells just running around.
I’m glad I took the time to prepare myself, because mother nature has a fascinating way of making you feel unprepared. You don’t train yourself to lose toenails or get hypothermia. But I sincerely enjoyed the challenge — when the rain was heavy, the storms were nasty, and the bugs and mud covered every bit of me, I thrived in its uniqueness.
I had to find humour and excitement through adversity at times. I walked ankle-deep through icy floodwaters, dealt with a tornado warning, and pushed through hoards of mosquitoes and black flies. Snow, sunburn, bugs — I saw it all, in beautiful and ecologically diverse southern Ontario landscapes. Yes, I would do it again in a heartbeat.
What’s the most extraordinary memory for me on that hike in the spring of 2014? Walking home over the course of 37 days and ending in my own backyard in Queenston, Tobermory and its cairn at the end of this mammoth trail, and Queenston Heights at the other, boasting the only other cairn.
By the 37th day of this expedition, I had been completely alone for the vast majority of it, including the nights. My feet had been gliding over territory new to my eyes. Knowing where I was on the map (most of the time) was just something familiar on paper, but excitingly new to me. It fuelled my trip.
Not day 37 though. I was in this mesmerized state, but wide awake to surroundings I had seen hundreds of times before. I was back on NOTL’s section of the Bruce Trail, where my journey ended.
I have written of these thick forests in previous articles, containing nationally rare tree species and complex habitats.
The epiphanies washed over my muddy, battered body as I walked this stretch.
I remembered that spot where my St. Davids school buddies and I stopped to have some life chats and go for a swim. There’s that tree my mountain bike and knee smashed into, twice.
There’s that one big tree near Queenston where I celebrated my sixth birthday at the base with my friends (yep, full-blown nature geek). Maybe some of you know which one I’m talking about. The flashbacks were awesome.
And so is the town of NOTL, plus my family and friends — more than $27,000 was raised for local charities through this hike.
It makes me realize what a treasure it is to have this public hiking trail here in town, accessible from about eight different points within NOTL’s boundaries.
The Bruce Trail around here has stunning sections to explore in all seasons. I particularly like the whole stretch between Queenston Heights and Four Mile Creek Road, especially approaching sunset hours.
Remember to always go prepared, whether it’s five weeks or five minutes on the Bruce Trail.
Feel free to check out Trail of Life Charity Hike on YouTube.