The first time I saw a map of the Bruce Trail I took a photo of it and it didn’t even fit into the frame.
I thought it was neat, albeit surprisingly long, and covered territory that I’d often driven over or through in my many commutes between my birthplace of London, my new hometown Toronto, and my many adventures across the Southern Ontarian landscape.
All that to say, I wondered why I’d never heard of it.
Last fall I was approached by Aly Bird who pitched an idea to me: a relay run of the entire Bruce Trail by an all-female team. I immediately said yes and, although I’m not an avid runner, I thought this adventure would be a good goal-inside-a-goal to my larger mountaineer training schedule. And so I started furiously searching for information about this infamous trail.
There are many countless things in life that you’ve never heard of because there are many… well… countless things in life. I’d always been fascinated by the outdoors but it wasn’t until I found my true adult self here in Toronto that I’ve begun to explore the green space all around me. I find that when you put your best foot forward with the truest intentions, the places and people you’ve always longed to meet have a really inherent way of making themselves known. So here I was holding a map of the Bruce Trail and trying to wrap my head around how we’d all get from one end to the other in a mere matter of days.
Running the Bruce Trail is just one example of a tangible goal. It’s a big one for me, mostly because it involves running, but it’s also a big one in terms of numbers, heavily reliant on a group of motivated people. Running the Bruce Trail stands as an example of capability, belief, and chance: it challenges the ideas I have of myself and how capable I think I am, it fuels me with the belief that I am not a couch potato despite all those late night pizza-eating binge-tv-watching nights I have to myself, and it forces me to take a chance on myself, the group I’m a part of, and the land that we’ll tread.
As much and as often as I travel, it’s taken me this long to begin to explore the land that is all around me. And in doing so, I must must must must emphasize this:
Canada is friggin’ amazing.
I’ve travelled hours on an overseas flight to get to places I’ve only dreamed of being – ones I read about in textbooks during World History 101 – and I’ve done just as much research on those trips as I have for this one. It’s so important to familiarize yourself with where you’re going because it changes our time and place within it. I am thrilled to explore these 900 kilometers of Southern Ontario. All because of this:
The Bruce Trail has been around since 1960, the brainchild of 4 dudes who convinced Niagara escarpment landowners and a few surrounding towns to build a connected footpath for public use. Over the next 7 years regional clubs between Niagara and Tobermory were formed and by 1967 the Bruce Trail was officially born. It’s 895 km long, stretching over public and private land as roadside trail and emboldened, hidden pathways… and only 51.4% of it is safe from development.
But here we are, and as a result of people – ordinary people – dedicated to keeping this pathway connected and available for public use, the Bruce Trail has existed in its entirety for 49 years. These people (The Bruce Trail Conservatory) work towards annual acquirement of land so that this trail can maintain in tact for people like us to run it, and for others to walk, stroll, dance, climb, and experience it.
The first part of the trail – Tobermory to Wiarton – is the roughest and most remote but apparently has some of the best cliffside views of Georgian Bay of 10 storey cliffs. From there the trail is marked with white blazes, side trails marked in blue blazes, so we hopefully won’t get lost! It is considered a footpath so no motorized vehicles – even horses – are allowed on the trail, save for the road sides parts. This is to respect not only the landowners but the land itself!
Think about it: in some places, only feet will have tread the land.
There are caves and crevices along the way.
Rattlesnakes and bears. Rattlesnakes. Rattle. Snakes. But don’t worry – apparently their fangs are tiny and they have a very short strike distance. “Stop, listen for the rattle and go back the other way,” a tip from the BT Magazine.
Plants that can blind you. “Putting Poison Ivy to shame, the harmful effects of Giant Hogweed can be severe, including burns, blisters, scarring and even permanent blindness,” explains this pamphlet. Imagine a piece of green so fierce! This plant sounds like a monster!
GIant Hogweed: “The average height of a typical plant ranges between 8-15 feet. It has distinctive umbrella shaped clusters of small white flowers that grow on massive seed heads that can be up to 2 feet across. Its leaves are dark green and coarsely toothed and can be huge, growing upwards of 5 feet wide. Perhaps the most identifying features, apart from the size of this monstrous plant (no other similar plant compares to its size), are the purple blotches or spots that exist on the hollow green bristly stem.”
In spring, the frogs come alive, too. Wood frogs, Spring Peepers and Chrous frogs… Yippee!
I get real excited to hear nature, not just to be in it. But I always think of running as being a quiet sport. It can be independent, charged, emotional, heavy, hard, and hearty but I wouldn’t say it’s quiet – and this always surprises me (especially in winter!!). When I run, I’m a loud breather and deep thinker. I sometimes talk aloud because I was told that if you’re training properly, you should be able to have a conversation while running. I never could and now I can so I just want to talk talk talk! It’s a wonder I think running is quiet because it’s actually so loud.
When I run in nature I expect to hear all the things when, in most cases, I can primarily hear the thump thump of my heart. I guess the difference is that I hear my heart, and then I hear something amazing: I hear wind, and the trees, and my feet against the terrain, and I feel my hands on my face and my hips and, if I’m lucky, I feel so surrounded by wildlife because I see. Beats the honking cars, people on cell phones, the podcast in my ears, and the inherent urge to run the city without getting hit by a car! I’ll take a sleepy rattlesnake over that.