St. Margarets Bay Rails to Trails

Hike #17

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

Standing on the cusp.

There is a storm coming. For days Environment Canada has predicted precipitation and we have been in a state of Alert for 24 hours. The prediction continues to shift from possible rain to snow and back to rain again, and we are uncertain what will be hitting us. The day is grey and foggy and feels as if it can’t decide what to be. As the temperature hovers around the freezing mark, I set out for a hike before the weather comes.

This trail begins at a charming cafe that I have frequented before. I decide to do the hike and enjoy lunch upon my return, hoping that the meal will motivate me to get out and do this walk. In truth, I have been struggling with motivation as of late. While I have wanted to be in the woods, I have lacked the push to make that happen. I had thought that I would do many hikes over the holiday break, but when the time came, I chose to cloister myself in my studio, or spend time with my family instead. Perhaps it has been the lack of movement on this project that has me feeling disappointed, or perhaps the ever-constant physical stresses that seem to accompany each hike. I have virtually given up on the mandala, which is languishing on hike #10, and have convinced myself that no one, save my supportive partner, is reading this blog. No matter how often I tell myself that what matters is that I am doing this for myself, I keep feeling an underlying current of defeat.

So if bribery is what it takes to get me going, then bribery it is. I choose this hike today because it requires the least amount of effort on my part to get to it, as it is the closest to home. I also throw in lunch at the Bike and Bean Cafe once it is completed, to seal the deal. And with a storm on the horizon, I kick myself out the door this morning, knowing that later this afternoon things will get ugly.

The St. Margarets Bay Rails to Trails is designed for ATVers, skiers, casual walkers, runners and hikers. As I take my first step onto the trail I realise that the recent fluctuations in temperature, from melt to freeze and back again, have left this path icy. While the ATV tracks have created textured grooves to walk in, the sheer iciness of the ground means that no step feels safe. Trying to be positive, I decide that this is the perfect situation to try out my new Christmas crampons! I return to the car and pop open the trunk, only to realise that I have left the crampons in my bigger pack… which is currently sitting in the garage. So ice it is and ice it must be. I will simply have to find a way to manoeuvre along this terrain. I set back out, shuffling between the small patches of hard snow on either side of the tracks and in between. At times I am moving pitifully slowly, as I try not to fall. Grumble. This hike is going to take forever.

I am not in the right frame of mind to appreciate this hike. Like the weather, I can’t seem to decide how I feel or what I want. As I walk the trail, frustrated with the slow pace and need to be constantly changing where I am walking, I suspect that this feeling of dis-ease has been dogging me for several weeks. I am both happy and sad simultaneously. Curious and lethargic. Restless and enervated. This constant shifting between states of being has left me feeling as if I am stuck, unable to decide what I want. As I walk I try to clear my head and appreciate the surroundings and experience, but despite my efforts, I keep slipping… both mentally and physically.

This is a lovely trail that passes through wooded areas, along a river, through a bog and next to lakes. It should be a welcome respite after a challenging week filled with me returning to work after the holidays, trying to get back into a routine, and the emotional upheaval of my daughter returning to school in Ontario and the anniversary of my parents’ deaths. Instead, I feel as is I am both in and out of this experience- that it is both satisfying and unsatisfying, enjoyable and boring. It is not that I am hovering between two states but rather, that I am occupying both simultaneously. As I walk I find myself chilled, so I put on my mittens and zip up my jacket, only to notice a few minutes later that I am hot and starting to sweat. I remove the mittens and lower the zipper… only to realise shortly after that I am cold. The entire hike is spent in this Goldilocks-type dance, where I move from “too hard” to “too soft” and back again, never quite finding a comfortable place in between the two. This is proving far from the relaxed escape I had been hoping for.

All around me the trail itself is echoing these simultaneous states. The water on the trail is both frozen and not, so as I slip I am also getting wet. The lake is both solid and ice covered and melting around the edges. I am completely surrounded by woods, yet the highway is very nearby and noisy to distraction. This place feels peaceful in one moment, and then ATVs go by and I feel a rush of adrenaline and unsettled. Everything here feels both stable and risky. I am uncomfortable and unfocused the entire hike.

Not until I come to the river do I find something that is able to grab my attention and hold me in the moment. I stop and crouch down by its edge, enjoying how the water moves and the beauty of the ice and snow all around. I love rivers; that is something that I have discovered through this hiking project. They both meander and move aggressively, and as I look at the section in front of me, it appears smooth and calm, yet I can hear water rushing. Sitting here, I think about the changes in the river as it travels, and how its movement and energy changes dependent on its environment. As a whole, it occupies all ways of being simultaneously, yet in each section, at each moment, it is different.

As I contemplate this idea, I realise that I have become tired from trying to find one way to be; the constant shift between extremes is leaving me exhausted and unable to simply be “just right”. Fear of having to figure out where the balance is has me struggling with the idea of whether balance is even possible. Like walking this trail, the effort required to find stable footing- constantly shifting from ice to snow, always looking for the next step, searching for a safe path, and my fear of falling- has made me incapable of appreciating the moments or my surroundings. I enjoy the river and then return to the trail, hoping that with this clarity I can find some quiet and ease.

The entire hike is a slog, despite my revelation and the simplicity of the trail. I come to the turn-around point and see people out ice fishing on Round Lake. I take a few minutes to watch them, astonished that they are risking this on a day where pools of water are appearing on the surface of the ice and we are very much hovering in an ‘in between’ phase of weather. None of them seem at all concerned however, as they chat and fish. Some walk around and I soon realise that I am the one stressed about them being on the ice, not them. While I watch, no one falls through, nor do I hear the ice crack or notice anything unusual happening.

I head back with lots to think about. While the return walk/shuffle remains a challenge, I know that every step is getting me closer to hot coffee and a good meal. Eventually I start striding ahead confidently, not caring if I fall or get wet. Sometimes you simply have to work with what you are presented with, rather then spending your energy searching for balance.

Wisdom From the Trail:

  • Shifting from one extreme to the other is exhausting. Sometimes however, the ideal balance simply isn’t possible and you have to make do with what you are presented with.
  • As the sign above says, “Joy is inside you”. Whether it is joy or despair, we bring ourselves with us wherever we go.
  • Never underestimate the lure of a treat at the end to help you get through. Sometimes we need to make things easier for ourselves and reward ourselves for even simple achievements.

Shelburne Trail

Hike #16

December 28th, 2018

A lovely old town is Shelburne. We spent the night here and are doing a short trail (8.5km) this morning, before heading home. The Kejimkujik Seaside Adjunct will have to wait for another trip, which suits me fine, as this is a charming part of the province that I will look forward to returning to.

It is a particularly grey day and there is the feeling of a storm in the air. Weather reports indicate that we are expecting snow, followed by freezing rain and rain, starting in the east and heading west. I have a quiet, underlying tension around beating the storm home, so while I am enjoying the morning coffee, I know that we should hit the trail soon. As we head out, it seems impossible that it could rain today, as it is really and truly cold.

We follow Michael’s directions and park next to the fire station in town. Just as described, the trail begins across the street (next to the Scotia Lunch diner, though that isn’t mentioned in the book), and within a few moments of stepping onto this rails-to-trails path it feels like we are in the woods. This is an ‘urban trail’, that runs closely between homes. It becomes obvious quite soon however, that the town is small, and within a kilometer of walking it appears that we have left the town limits.

There is evidence everywhere that we are walking where many people like to go. All along the trail’s edge is garbage, casually dropped, tossed and thrown into the woods by walkers. If Pepsi was the product of choice that I found on the beaches of Munroes’ Island, here people like to consume hot drinks; Tim Horton’s must reign supreme in Shelburne, though I am heartened to see that independent coffee sellers are also doing well in this town. The debris is easily seen in the woods to either side of the path, no doubt more evident due to the barren trees and bushes. This is substantially more garbage then I have seen on any of my hikes to date, save for that washed up by the sea at Caribou Point. Shelburnians, or whatever you call yourselves… you are doing a pretty wretched job of appreciating and caring for your natural wonders. Sweet town, but your hygiene leaves something to be desired.

Beyond the garbage, this is a very pretty trail, beautifully enhanced by the ice and snow. There are ancient trees here and there that remind me of the history of this place. The path crosses numerous streets that give glimpses into life in Shelburne and from time-to-time we can see into people’s backyards. We encounter only a few people as we walk, and often the trail creates a lovely illusion of us being alone in the woods… except for the coffee cups and garbage, that is.

We emerge from the trail onto a large intersection, with multiple streets converging. Thanks to the well marked crosswalks, we make it safely across to continue along the path, traversing the Roseway River on a great metal footbridge. We stop to admire the thickening ice, beautiful view and homes along the river’s edge. Hard to believe that we are expecting rain, as the deep cold makes taking pictures a challenge. As I stand on the metal bridge, struggling with my mittens and camera, Jamie walks ahead, stopping on a smaller wooden bridge only 20 meters or so ahead. From this distance, his gait and stance remind me of his dad’s, who sadly died several years ago. I smile as I think of how we are aging together and the beautiful role models that we had in his parents, with their loving and long marriage. Quite firmly into middle age, this hike reminds me of how and with whom I want to be spending my life and my future. As we continue walking together, we talk about what we want the next phase of our life to look like. Personally, I am still aiming for the secluded house in the woods.

I sense that it is time to turn off of this path when I see an empty wooden structure that looks like it should be holding a large sign. Sure enough, I can now read the ‘out of season provincial park’ clues, and following the directions in the book, we turn left and head intoThe Islands Provincial Park. All is quiet. Another winter day in a park that is closed. Another cold winter day, in point. We head on to Sandy’s Island and like yesterday, I find myself thinking about how busy this place must be in the summer. Six months from now there will be tents and campers everywhere and the outhouses will certainly smell less benign. I am grateful for winter and her quiet.

As we come to the tip of the island, our point to turn and retrace our steps, we are presented with a lovely view of Shelburne’s waterfront. To fully appreciate the moment we decide to sit at the conveniently appointed picnic bench to have a snack, admire the view and listen to the ice crack. We don’t stay long however, as it is too cold to remove our gloves and mitts for more then a few moments to eat, and not moving leaves us chilled.

On the way back we dislodge an abandoned bucket-like packaging container at the side of the trail and start collecting garbage as we go. This is a large bucket, probably double the size of a plastic kitty litter one, so it can hold a lot. Back and forth, up and down the ditches we go, retrieving plastic and paper cups, straws and wrappers, plastic oil containers and water jugs. We have to set boundaries that we are only collecting garbage along he trail, as on the roads the quantities are overwhelming. Thanks to the conveniently placed garbage bins (how ironic is that!), we are able to empty the full bucket five times within three kilometers. As the snow starts falling and the impending storm begins, we give up collecting and walk straight back to the car. Someone else will have to take up the debris-gathering mantle- or the bucket, that we conveniently leave for the next person, as the case may be. We head out of Shelburne grateful for the lovely walk and knowing that we left her slightly better for our having been there.

Wisdom From the Trail-

  • We often think of small towns as being more caring, more connected, to the world around them. Effort save this planet to is required no matter how big or how small you are, as even the smallest footprint leaves a mark.
  • It feels really good to know that you have made a positive difference.
  • There is beauty, pleasure and grace in being in a long relationship together. Only when you stand in one place can you truly appreciate the changes in the seasons of life.

Thomas Raddall Provincial Park

Hike #15

December 27th, 2018

As the hikes take me firmly into winter, I have discovered the pleasures of its quiet and solitude. Where at other times in the year this park would be bustling with people- children playing and screaming, the parade of cars and campers and the temptations of people watching- today there is only the landscape, weather and my partner to experience. I may have a new favourite season.

We have decided to take a short trip down to the Shelburne area and do three hikes in two days. Our oldest daughter is home from university for the holidays, so with someone at home to overnight with our youngest, we seize the opportunity to spend some time alone. Once again, this is a part of the province that I have never visited. I am looking forward to some hiking and exploring time, as well as some much needed time alone with Jamie.

The plan for today is to start with Thomas Raddall Provincial park, then head into Shelburne, do a small hike there this afternoon and then relax in the apartment we have rented for the night. In what has become a common occurrence, I drive past the entrance to the park without realising it, having to turn around and double back. This time however, I have a trusty navigator with me… one who not only has a GPS but knows how to use it! In short order we find the entrance, most notably defined by a closed metal gate and a sign indicating that the park is closed for the season.

I suspect that have found a new way to identify provincial park entrances- search for the empty wooden structure that looks like it should hold a sign and presume that one would be there if it was a warmer season. It appears that signage is removed during the winter months, no doubt to protect it from the harsher conditions that winter brings with it. I am saddened to think that so many parks aren’t being actively used during this beautiful time of year and even sadder to think of the employees who aren’t working in these places.

The closed park means that we have to walk to the trailhead, adding another 6km to our 8km hike. This has instantly become a bigger endeavour then I had anticipated and I quickly calculate in my head that without any hiccups, our two-hike, 16.5km day, has instantly morphed into 22.5km. It is a stunning day however, so we throw on our packs, leave the car by the gate and head off. We hold hands and chat about life as we walk the deserted road in, though even that is challenging with such big mittens and gloves on. With a windchill in the -16 degree range today, taking them off is not an option.

I have learned from experience that following Michael’s outlined trail can be challenging in a park in which there are multiple trails that bisect and intertwine. I take advantage of the great trail map at the entrance, photographing it for reference if needed. We head off towards MacDonald House, following the well outlined hike in the book. Sadly, even the interpretive panels have been removed for the season, so learning more about Thomas Raddall will have to wait for the internet and home. Given the temperature, I am just as happy to keep moving. I can’t resist stopping however, to peek into MacDonald House’s windows and dream of living in this quiet, wooded spot.

This is a beautiful, well-groomed trail that is designed for the general public; lots of amenities are available, including outhouse facilities, which I take advantage of, as well as gentle ramps and small bridges to assist those less mobile. As we come upon the ocean I am struck by how very beautiful this place is. The recent dusting of snow has left the beach transformed, so that it is often difficult to tell what is snow and what is sand. I don’t think that I have ever seen a beach with snow on it, and as we walk along, I am not only struck by the delicacy of what I see, but the interesting varieties of textures that we step on; ice and crunchy seaweed are now also park of the walk, and as we navigate the waterfront, the winds whip and bite. We are encouraged to quickly move on and find trail cover in the woods.

Michael talks about how wonderful a walk this is on a hot August day. I am sure that it is. There are many elements about this hike that remind me of Taylor Head Provincial Park, with its sandy and rocky beach sections, its dips in and out of coastal woods, the quiet and solitude of plodding along with no one else around. Unlike my Taylor Head hike however, it is not 30+ degrees today and there is absolutely no inner calling to go for a swim! I am also struck by how different it is to be hiking the trail with someone rather then on my own. I feel no sense of risk taking or required resourcefulness on my part, as with me is someone far more experienced at surviving in the woods.

There are times, naturally, that Jamie takes the lead as we walk the trail. In fact, I sometimes invite him to do so. During each of these occasions however, I eventually feel like I am a follower rather then the independent hiker I have recently started to see myself as; it is as if I naturally defer to his greater knowledge and experience. As I start ruminating on this idea, I remind myself that the purpose of this hike goes beyond completing another trail from the book, beyond being in this place in this moment; also envelopped in this experience is the pleasure of being with this person. I relax a bit and remind myself that being part of a team means taking turns and having this more complex undertaking. No, this is not the hike it would be if I were alone. There are elements that are absent, such as prolonged periods of inner thought, but there are also benefits, such as being with this person I love and sharing the experience and time together. As we move I am struck by what a caring and respectful person I share my life with, as he holds branches back and makes the way easier for me. I am also highly aware that I don’t want the path to be easier in any way.

Despite having the two of us navigating this trail, we take a few missteps and have to double back several times. There is signage now present that we suspect wasn’t there when Michael last hiked the park (and probably signage now missing!), and more then once we have to pull out my phone to confirm where we are in relationship to the park’s trail map. While stunning, the beaches prove dangerous as times, as layers of ice lay thinly veiled by snow; it is often hard to discern what is ice, what is sand and what is flotsum and jetsum. I am also seriously drawn to the stunning rocks along the shore and want to spend hours poking and exploring. The harsh winds however, leave our eyes tearing as we pull our scarves fully over our faces, brace ourselves to the elements and push quickly to the next dip back into the sheltered woods. Nonetheless, it feels invigorating and very special to be in this place in winter. I feel priviledged.

We emerge from the trail, back at the park entrance- though still 3km from where the car is- tired and happy. It has been a lovely, quiet day alone in a place no doubt often filled with people and activity. We have had this special spot entirely to ourselves. We walk back to the car talking about our life and our plans for the New Year- me with concrete resolutions and goals for 2019, Jamie relaxed and unassuming, without any grand expectations. As the last bend in the road reveals the car, we congratulate ourselves and make plans to head to the apartment in Shelburne to further enjoy our time together. There is a pub, a beer, dinner and more time together ahead. The other Shelburne hike… can wait for tomorrow.

Wisdom From the Trail-

  • There are benefits and losses to all situations. Purpose often determines which you focus on.
  • To truly share with someone, there has to be an element of sacrifice involved. If we won’t miss it, the giving of it doesn’t matter.
  • Traveling the trails during the ‘off season’ means having a personal experience that few have. It may mean more work, but it feels like a privilege to be there.