Chain of Lakes

Hike #11

November 18th, 2018

Once again, the length of the drive to the trailhead decides which hike I am doing today.  Looking for a medium-length hike within the shortest possible distance from home, I have chosen the Chain of Lakes Trail, which runs from urban Halifax out to Bayer’s Lake Industrial Park.  While I would dearly like a quiet hike alone in the woods today, this hike is on the list, so it might as well be the one.

I park at the Joseph Howe Drive Superstore, cross the street and head towards the highway.  While this is a busy hike, in that it passes through heavily trafficked areas, I have decided that doing it on a Sunday morning will mitigate not only the noise and mayhem, but the chances of getting hit by vehicles!  The trail is a wide stretch of paved asphalt with a bright yellow line painted down the middle, telling me where to walk.  Everything about this hike feels prescribed and dictated.  No rebel walkers allowed.

That said, once I make it across the 102 Highway and head past the golf course, the trail becomes a quiet stretch between subdivisions.  I meet only a couple of people and it feels like a nice walk through a quiet part of the city.  I am immediately hit by how little I know about Halifax.  I have lived near here for 25 years, but have rarely explored.  Obviously, I need to do more walks like this.

There are some lovely homes that frame this trail, making this a walk to satisfy both my urge to move and my love of architecture.  To my left are large family homes.  It feels as if many generations of Haligonians have lived here.  Slowly the architecture shifts to charming small places that hug the hill.  The trail must be climbing, though I don’t feel it doing so.  

I cross another street and the trail curves to the right.  Suddenly the hill rises and monstrous newly built homes tower above me.  These houses are enormous and built with little space between them, making for a sharp contrast between the two sides of the path.  It feels as if I am walking a divide between the past and the present.  Staring up, I instantly feel like I am back in the suburbs of Toronto that I thought I’d escaped all those years ago.  This is another face of Halifax that I had no idea existed.

Passing under the Northwest Drive overpass, the landscape now includes a lake on my left.  The chain link fence, warning signs and didactic panel all make sure that I know that this body of water is the back up water reserve for the city.  It occurs to me that I have never actually thought about water reserves and supplies to cities.   How is it that in all of these years I have never bothered to question where a city’s water comes from?  The hikes I have done so far have taken me past several dams and reserves however, making me aware of these vital but ignored pieces of infrastructure.  I stop to read the panel and learn more about this city and her history.  I spend the next couple of kilometers contemplating water. 

This cold Sunday morning means that I see very few people.  This is a nice walk and I try to appreciate it for what it is.  I admit to finding it harder and harder to embrace the hikes that don’t take me into the woods or someplace where I feel at least a little remote.  The steady whir of traffic on the highway somewhere to my right means that I never forget I am that I am in the city.  No wilderness today, but a lovely walk amidst trees nonetheless.

And then I hear her.  The swish in the bushes to my left makes me stop suddenly and wait to see what is moving.  Out of the woods leaps an awkward deer, who jumps across the path 10 feet in front of me and heads into the woods on the other side.  I smile.  How fabulous that on the least wild trail I have hiked to-date, I see the first wild animal.  Perhaps because this is an urban area the deer are safe from hunters.  Because we are in the city they can thrive.  I wish her well and tell her to be careful of the highway, towards which she is heading.  I am in a place with enough woods for deer.  No Virginia, this isn’t Toronto. 

By the time I cross under the 103 Highway and arrive in Bayer’s Lake Industrial Park, the runners have started to appear.  Sunday morning must be group running day, as soon clutches of them are passing me in both directions.  Lots of spandex and gear goes by.  I plod along with Magda-B, my pack, as my companion.  I stop to stretch, take photos of a frozen lake, have a snack.  Not long ago I would have felt badly that I wasn’t doing more, wasn’t running this trail rather then walking it. But I don’t feel like that.  Knowing that this hike is part of a bigger challenge I have created for myself, part of a larger, longer hike of hundreds of kilometers, I feel happy and satisfied with my efforts.  I am a hiker, not a runner, and that is OK.  I get to stop and snack and contemplate the universe.  It’s pretty great being a hiker.

I wind my way along the path to where it connects with the BLT trail, the marked turning point on the hike outlined in the book.  The last two kilometers I spend chatting with the only other walker around, a lovely man named Don who walks or cycles every day.  We part at the return point and I head back.  Secretly, I wish that I could keep walking to Bridgewater, 100 kilometers away, especially as the asphalt ends here and a dirt trail begins.  Perhaps next year, when this project is done, I will walk all the way there.  As I turn and retrace my steps, I am excited by the prospects of a future hiking adventure to look forward to.

Wisdom From The Trail-

  • It is wonderful to be surprised; be open to the unexpected that life gives you.
  • There are advantages to moving at your own pace. 
  • Comparison is the thief of joy!

Nictaux Station

Hike #10

Monday, November 12th, 2018

Hike #10 feels like a turning point. No longer am I starting this project, but rather, am warmed up and moving into the long haul.  I want to mark this milestone with a walk that feels big; I really want to reflect on the momentous nature of this new phase of this adventure.  I decide to head to the Valley, spend the night at a friend’s and undertake the hike early the next morning.  Going away really seems to reinforce the weightiness of what I am doing.

There are two hikes in this area that I am considering- New Germany, a 11km, level 3 hike, 2+ hour trail, and Nictaux Station, a 21km, level 4, 5+hr one.  Still working with physio and the pain I am having in my hip, New Germany is definitely the smarter option.  It doesn’t however, feel momentous.  It feels safe. Safe is not how I want to do this hike.  I decide the night before that Nictaux Station is trail #10.

I leave the house early the next morning, bundled up against the very cold day.  The wind is blowing hard and the mercury is hovering around the freezing point.  It is frigid and dark as I walk to the car.  Even as I get in, I am uncertain as to which hike I am going to do.  I can head straight out of Annapolis Royal to the easier hike, which will get me home with time to write my post and prepare for the work week, or I can head back towards home and the Nictaux Station trail.  I decide to “go for it” and head towards Bridgetown and the highway.  Bring on the challenge.

As often seems to happen with me, finding the trail itself proves a struggle.  Despite noting the 18A exit from Middleton on my way to Annapolis Royal the day before, heading back towards Halifax this morning the sign for Middleton and Nictaux Falls says exit 18.  The book clearly says “take exit 18A”.  I drive past, thinking that maybe I am supposed to approach this hike from another road.  Wrong.  I take exit 17, turn around and head back along the 101.  I follow the directions in the book, turn right into Middleton when I get to highway #1, and start looking for the next turn toward Nictaux Falls. I am soon heading out of town however, so turn around again and head back.  Easier to find the small sign from this direction, I go right on the #10, finally on the right road and within 6km of the trailhead.

This hike is already feeling like an ordeal and I am starting to think that the hiking gods are sending me signals to do the other trail today.  I briefly reconsider my choice, but being so close, I keep going.

While I find the town (few houses?!) called Nictaux Falls, I can’t find the trailhead.  GPS coordinates are generously provided in the book, but I don’t have a GPS with me, nor do I know how to use one, despite Jamie having shown me a few times.  On the geocaching outings we did with our kids years ago, Jamie was always with me and I never saw the need to learn how to use a GPS; I thought of it as just one more unnecessary thing to occupy brain space.  Today I note to myself to learn how to use it and from now on bring it with me.

Still looking for the trailhead, I obviously go too far and have to turn around again.  I see a sign for Nictaux Falls (how did I miss that?!) and head that way.  Within a few kilometers I am traveling along a rural road surrounded by farmers’ fields.  Nothing about this matches what I read the Nictaux Station hike’s terrain is like.  I turn around again, resigned to forget the hike, go home and return at some future point with a GPS (and some GPS-reading skills).  Admittedly, I am both disappointed and a tad relieved.

As I head back towards Middleton, I see a gas station/convenience store up ahead.  I turn in, pull out my book and try to find a map on my phone to tell me where I am.  10 minutes later and I am no closer to finding out where I am in relationship to the trailhead then before.  Again, I resign myself to return with a GPS.  I sense however, that I am torn inside- I want to drive home and away from this hike, yet want to leap in and tackle it.  Why am I so ready to give up on this one?  I jump out of the car, head inside and ask for directions.  The kind woman points me back to where I just came from, and while she doesn’t know where a trailhead or trail are, she thinks that there is a small parking lot just down the road.  I confirm with her that where the road forks I should go right, then jump in the car and head back the way I came. At the fork however, I am confused by a sign that says “Nictaux Fall” pointing to the left, which better mirrors the directions in the book.  I go left and am soon back on the farmers’ fields road. I turn around again.  Am not sure why, but I sense that I am sabotaging this hike.

After a few more turns I just stumble upon the small parking lot and the trailhead (REALLY hard to identify as a lot, due to the overgrown vegetation all around it) – exactly where the woman described it would be.  Triumph!  I pull in, throw on my gear and hit the trail, making sure to head to the left as Michael directs me to.  I follow the written directions in the book very carefully for the first 200m, paranoid I am not on the correct path.  But I am.  For what feels like the first time today I am where I am supposed to be.  I try to relax and settle into the long hike.

Terrain-wise, this hike is easy.  It follows a small dirt road the entire way, with no ‘off roading’ or wanderings through the woods; there is no chance of getting lost on this one.  That’s for the best today, as getting lost seems to be what I am excelling at.  As the road slowly climbs, with a lack of challenges on this route my mind slips into a place of deeper thought.  The landscape is nice and it is good to be surrounded by quiet and trees, but being unable to see very far past the edge of the trail due to heavy tree cover means that I start looking inside more then around me.

I start thinking about that inner conflict I was feeling around this hike.  Even deciding which hike to do in advance was hard.  I realise that I am afraid of this trail.  I am worried that my hip can’t take it and that shooting pain will force me to abandon it.  I am afraid that I will get stranded far along the trail with no one but myself to rely on and me physically incapable of handling the distance.  This is a big one for me- while I have walked farther in a day, I have never gone as far on one single hike.  I think about fear and the effects it has on me.  On us. My mind slips sideways and I wonder what else I am afraid of, and how it may be keeping me from doing what I want to in my life.  Not for the first time, I smile and give thanks that I am so damn stubborn; otherwise I wouldn’t be on this trail right now.

Thoughts of fear lead me to thoughts about failure.  I am afraid of failing to complete this hike, to the point where I almost gave up before I began; almost turned the car around after a few small obstacles and headed home.  What would failure today look like?  Being overcome by pain and having to head back before I complete this trail?  Having to return another time to start it again?  Deciding that I couldn’t do it before the pain hit and turning back, telling myself that I am being responsible?  If I’d given up and not started the hike in the first place? 

If I gave up on this hike and never did another one in the book- abandoned the entire project- would I have failed?  I wouldn’t have completed this challenge I have set for myself, but would I have truly failed?  Already, in the last two and a half months, I have hiked more then I have in the past 20 years.  Isn’t that a success?  Evidently failure is relative.  Perhaps allowing my fear to hold me back from trying- be it an individual hike or an entire project- would be failure.  Wow. This is complicated.

I work daily with youth who are afraid.  Lately students who are passing challenging courses are coming into my office to drop those classes because they are too hard.  Instead of facing their fear that they may fail, or, like many I see, still pass but may get a lower mark then they want, the choose to drop that which is hard.  There is an idea in our society that eliminating the things that we don’t excel at- that don’t show off our best abilities- is an excellent coping strategy.  We have somehow created a world where our time is so precious (though we certainly waste a great deal of it suckling mindless technology) that we need to use it only for those tasks that we are good at.  “Life is too short” we have convinced ourselves; therefore we shouldn’t spend any of our time doing the things we don’t like to do.  Really?  How can we ever become resilient people with grit if we quit whatever doesn’t highlight our strengths?  It is as if we have fallen into a Facebook world where only the highlight reel should be lived, and instead of accepting our low lights, we simply erase them before they can happen.  How can we examine things relatively if we only have the ups and no downs to compare them to?  When did we become afraid of digging in and fighting for success, even when success may be defined as simply making it across the finish line… regardless of how we place.  Or in this case… not making it this time, but coming back to finish another day, having learned something valuable about myself.  Perhaps true failure is allowing our fears to dictate our lives.

With a great deal of stretching along this hike, as wisely suggested by Kim the Physio Goddess, I make it to the turn around point.  I pull out my sandwich, rest against a cement block and enjoy the food and landscape.  This is a junction where Oakes Brook and the Nictaux River converge.  It is a place where the high up landscape of the trail I have been walking and the deep gully below where the river has been flowing, meet.  I enjoy the icicles on the branches hanging by the brook and the sounds from both bodies of water.  I made it half way and am still moving forward.  My fear melts away and I know that I will make it back.

As I turn to retrace my steps, the sun shifts to my back and I realise that my shadow is now hiking the return trip with me.  Rather then feeling weak and sore, I notice that this new perspective shows me as strong and solid.  I have a spring in my step and walk back very happy and proud.  Getting to the 250m section through the rock cut, my favourite stretch of this trail, I stop to have a long stretch on the ground and a second lunch.  I know from the book that there is only 6km left of this hike.  I can crawl that far if needed.  I am determined and won’t quit.  I also know that I can simply stop and stretch as often as needed, so crawling shouldn’t be necessary.

It is a long walk back but a good one.  I have searched, found, acknowledged and faced my biggest fears of the day.  I know that every step forward on this project is another achievement, regardless of if I complete all 60 hikes.  As I round a bend in the trail and see the end of the hike I raise my arms, throw my head back and hoot with joy. 

I have completed Nictaux Station.  I have completed the longest hike of my life.  Failure would have been giving up on finding the trailhead.  Everything I did today after deciding not to quit was a success.

Wisdom From the Trail

  • Fear is natural. It is important to face and examine your fears, to determine if they are helping or hindering you to live the life you want.
  • Failure is completely relative.  Perhaps refusing to risk is the greatest failure of all.
  • Sometimes being kind to yourself means knowing when to kick yourself forward rather then playing it safe and hanging back.  You can’t be given resiliency or pride- you have to earn them alone.


Uniake Estate

Hike #9:

November 4th, 2018

Today is Jamie, my husband’s, birthday. To celebrate I have planned a hike in the woods with a gourmet picnic.  I had originally planned for us to go to Economy and do the Thomas Cove hike, but a torrential storm last night has resulted in a continued weather warning in that region, and has caused me to rethink that plan.  Additional parental duties- driving our daughter to work this afternoon- means that a long drive would cut into our hiking time.  Reassessing the situation this morning, I have decided that we will do the Uniake Estates hike instead.

Jamie is quite interested in the history of Nova Scotia and specifically, in it’s traditional travel routes.  This fascination resulted in him and a friend of ours canoeing the entire Shubenacadie Canal system just over a year ago, from the Atlantic coast to the Bay of Fundy.  This winter they are planning to hike across the Cape Breton Highlands, again from coast to coast.  Jamie is comfortable in the woods and we have done a few small hikes together in the past, including one three-day canoeing trip in Kejimkujik National Park.  He has always been the one “in charge” on these adventures, and I have always deferred to his more vast knowledge and experience of wood lore.  Unlike for him, the wilderness is not what I have known nor where I have been comfortable.  Despite my lack of wanting to take on wilderness trips. I do admit to being envious of Jamie and Andrew’s adventures and explorations over the past couple of years.  While they are immaculate planners and very safe, I have always thought there was something risky and exciting about how they went “off grid”; that part always seemed appealing.

Now that I have started this hiking project, it feels as if I am bringing Jamie along on my adventure, rather then me accompanying him on his.  From the food, to the planning, to the packing and carrying of the pack, this hike is entirely me giving to him; I am in charge and he is the birthday guest.  I am excited to share a hike with him, though admittedly slightly concerned about how having a companion will alter my experience of being alone in nature.  This hike is a gift however, about sharing with him, not doing for ‘me’.

It is a beautiful post-storm day.  The sky is a bright blue, the wind is aggressive and has a definite crispness to it, and the estate grounds are quiet.  Overnight it feels as if we have said goodbye to fall and awoken to a winter in wait.  We pack in the lot, I put on the pack and we head out, Michael’s book in-hand.  Out past the beautiful historic buildings towards the Old Post Road Trail, once the primary road to Windsor, we walk.  While the initial trail winds through the quiet woods, we soon come to the old road and head left.

It is wet.  It is REALLY wet.  Off-roading soon becomes the norm on this hike, as we climb through bushes, on rocks and fallen trees, to avoid the puddles that bridge the entire trail. While this is marked as a level 3 hike of 12 km, it quickly becomes apparent that all of the side trips are adding to our mileage. We chat, search for dry spots and scramble through brush.  I feel happy to be here with Jamie and wonder how this trail would feel if I were alone.

We take turns leading the way.  Often neither of us is leading and we find our own paths across the muck.  We are moving together, in the same direction and ostensibly along the same path, yet there is great freedom to choose for ourselves as to how we move.  From time to time the person ahead looks back to see how the other is doing.  In doing so, they are granted a different perspective and view of the hike, and when Jamie is ahead he often points out to me how beautiful the place we have come from is.  I find myself taking photos of not just what I notice, but the lovely sites that he is pointing out behind me.

Last week the trail was golden in colour and the leaves were actively falling around me as I hiked.  Today the trees have been denuded by the previous night’s storm, their branches bare and the trail brown from leaves that have fallen, dried and already decaying.  The sound as we move through the woods is a composition of strong wind through the branches, crunching beneath our feet and water flowing.  Small creeks and brooks rush from the hard rain of last night.  Our cries, as we squish through mud and slip into deeper-then-anticipated puddles, punctuate our conversation.  I am having fun.  It is wonderful to be alone in the woods with my cherished partner.

We stop for lunch and spend almost an hour eating.  With a miniature bottle of champagne we toast Jamie and his birthday.  We talk about our future and the coming year, dreaming about a few years in the future and the next stage of our life.  We discuss life’s challenges and concerns.  Somehow speaking of these things in such a calm and peaceful setting helps to put them into perspective and keeps me from feeling overwhelmed; all seems OK in this place, even the things that most worry and stress me.  I imagine us building a home in the woods where our life is spent focusing on ourselves and joy, rather then the noise and chaos of the outer world.

When we get to the Barrens Trail I begin to worry about time.  We have two hours until we need to have our daughter to work, with 40 minutes of driving and much hiking between us and then.  We are close to a short path back to the car, as well as the turn to the Red Spruce Trail, when I realise that we have to take a decision about what we will do.  We appear to have two options- we both head back to the car and I return another day to do this hike, or Jamie returns to the car and home, I finish the hike on my own, and he returns to pick me up later.  We choose option #2 and split up. 

I head right onto the Red Spruce Trail, into a denser, deeper woods then we had previously been in. I am uncertain as to whether it is this shift in landscape or whether it is because I am now alone, but this place feels more magical then the previous section of the trail; the trees are older and taller and moss completely covers the ground and rocks.  I move quietly through this space and enjoy the silence of the place.  It is good to be alone.  I am amazed to think how only a few months ago us separating would have caused me to panic; now I am calm and happy by myself in the woods.  While my hip starts to ache from the accumulating distance (physio last week had determined that it is my hip rather then my knee that needs work), I move kilometer by kilometer towards the end of the Uniake Estate hike and my time both together and alone on this trail.

I want to note that the Uniake Estate trails are well marked.  Coloured triangles attached to trees make it easy to stay on track, their colours changing depending on which trail you are on.  As I move alone through the last part of this hike I think of Maria, a woman who recently left a comment on my blog.  The topic was hiking alone and the worries associated with getting lost and encountering the unpredictable.  As I walk this last section of the trail I find myself thinking about how perfect the Uniake Estate hike is for someone alone; all of the benefits of being in the woods by yourself, yet feeling safe and taken care of on clearly marked paths.  This is a hike that you might like to do alone, Maria.

While the trail is completely washed away in areas of the Uniake Lake/Lake Martha section, even getting wet and losing the trail feels fine here.  Keeping the lake to my right I am able to retrace my steps and see through the trees to find the pink triangles on the trees ahead.  Suddenly the lack of leaves seems an advantage.  Change brings both good and bad.  Where I had been concerned that winter will mean losing the trails beneath my feet to snow cover, I now realise that this next season in the woods includes markers on the trees that are more visible.  The trail will not disappear.  I will still be able to follow it. I will simply have to look in a new way and shift my way of seeing.

I emerge from the trail tired and wet.  It has been a great hike.  I have had the best of companionship and solitude, conversation and quiet.  I have been interconnected and independent. 

Wisdom From the Trail:

  • While it is important to focus on the present and move forward, don’t forget to look back and appreciate the view.
  • Healthy togetherness means traveling together, but finding your own way along the path.
  • It is wonderful to share with others and with yourself.  There is satisfaction in both having company and being alone.