Rogart Mountain

February 3rd, 2019

Hike #18

This has been a challenging winter. Psychologically and emotionally. Somewhere along the way I lost both my inspiration and my self-confidence, and I am only now starting to resurface as myself. What I have needed the most- quiet, solitude and the outdoors- have been the most difficult things for me to reach out for. Instead, seemingly endless colds, flu, aches and pains, and mental exhaustion, have held me back and kept me cloistered inside. It has been a rough winter.

I have reluctantly watched the calendar as the weeks tick away and I fall farther and farther behind in this quest. It is as if my immobility has sealed my fate and firmly set me up to fail. With this has come great regret, remorse and a sense that I have both let down, and abandoned, myself. The negative self-talk and rumination have been cruel. Coupled with the fact that even my closest friends and children have admitted to not even reading my blog posts, other then having my partner, I have felt completely alone. My positive self-image has taken a serious blow.

Rogart Mountain was the one beautiful respite from this psychologically fraught winter. It was a glorious mid-winter day spent on a mountain illuminated by sunshine. It was, in many ways, the perfect hike. The deep snow had me huffing and puffing with every step and the elevations felt like an accomplishment. As I sat on a bench atop the mountain and gazed out upon a snow-covered valley and windmills in the distance, I found a few moments of calm, peace and pure happiness in an otherwise hard winter. The wooded areas were comforting and embraced me in their silences. I was able to escape myself and the world for a couple of hours as I walked this perfect place alone. In every way it was a relief to pull myself out of my funk and have this great hike. And the delicious food at Sugar Moon Farms afterward was a fabulous treat.

Once off the mountain however, I sank back into my darkened mood within days. My usual habit of writing and posting about my hikes within a day or two didn’t happen, and two months later I am only now documenting it. As amazing as that one hike was, I couldn’t hold it inside of me for long; the real world soon sapped my energies and enthusiasm and I was back on the treadmill of plodding through life.

The months away from this project have made me face a few unpleasant facts about myself; trying to juggle the hikes, a demanding full-time job, being a mother and partner, taking care of a house, making art and staying organised is beyond me at this point. Throughout my life I have been a sequential monogamist in the projects I undertake; I jump in and am completely focused on, and consumed by, one thing at a time, giving only token attention to the other needs around me until that project/degree/show is done. It’s exhilarating. I am starting to realise however, the tole it takes on both myself and those around me and the effects it has on my life. I am also realising that while this behaviour suits my innately loner personality, allowing me to be consumed by my own curiosities and desires, it also isolates me and keeps me from connecting to others around me. It is a self-perpetuating outsider state of being.

The question I have been avoiding this winter, and have this week finally faced and posed to myself, is- Are you going to abandon this project and move on Stephanie, or push everything outside of work sharply aside and commit to meeting this goal? Abandonment will mean leaving behind me something very important at a point in my life when I sense I need it. It will mean accepting myself as physically unable to meet this challenge and perhaps accepting that it is downhill from here. After all, if this task, which means a great deal to me, can’t motivate me to get into shape and face aging with strength and confidence, then what ever could? Quitting seems so very sad, as it feels like I am quitting on myself and who I want to be. It terrifies me. It makes me want to plow ahead.

Committing 100% and jumping in harder then ever also brings with it losses. It will mean sacrificing the stress-free days this summer at the cottage, where I can fill my time with art making, having friends I rarely see come visit, and going for walks with our 13 year old dog, whom I adore. It will mean rushing a trip to visit my daughter in Ontario, or worse- begrudging the time away for that visit. It will mean putting this project above all else in my life- other then work- over the four-and-a-half months until this year’s deadline I set myself is reached. And even with all of that sacrifice, I may still not meet my goal of finishing all 60 hikes in a year.

After a great deal of thought, rumination and self-confrontation, I have decided to neither abandon nor jump into this project. I have decided to re-establish the parameters I have created for myself, which, after all, are strictly abstract constructs of my own making. What is important in this project are the hikes and experiences. What is also important to me is the rest of the life I have built for myself and the people in it. Sacrificing any of these would be an enormous loss and leave me feeling somewhat defeated in the choosing. So I am choosing all of it and myself. I don’t want this to turn into another project whose goal is achieved and is then dropped as I move on to the next goal; I want to incorporate this new-found love of hiking and the woods into my life and move forward with it, so that I am richer for its addition.

Besides, if no one other then my supportive partner is reading this… who the hell cares when I get the hikes finished! There is enormous freedom in being inconsequential and unnoticed in this world. We each are, after all, the center of our own universe.

The new goal- to complete all 60 hikes. Forget the time- none of us know how much of that we have anyway. Am also going to use the new freedom of time to go back to creating the mandala, which was dropped due to the pressure I was feeling with the busy schedule. It may take longer… but I am going to keep on painting and hiking and tackling the trails.

Happy hiking.

Wisdom From the Trails-

  • We can learn a great deal from the pauses in life, as well as from the doings.
  • Instead of living our lives in a dichotomous manner- “This or That”, “All or Nothing”- there is beauty in accepting it all and being dialectical- “This and That”, “Easy and Challenging”, “Life and Hiking”.
  • Time is a fantastical construct. We have as little and as much as we perceive we have. It is our choice how we wish to measure it.

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.