There are so many great places to visit in Ontario. Walking one of the many hiking trails gives me detailing that I would miss by other travelling modes. Thanks to my friend, Fran, I became aware of one of these Ontario treasures this past weekend.
Fran and a group of her friends are planning on doing the Camino across the north of Spain in the fall of 2015 and have been in training mode doing daily walking, longer hikes and reading and viewing all things about El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Coincidentally my sister, Margaret, and I are planning on walking this same 800 kilometre ancient pilgrim route in April 2015. Margaret does not need to do extra training has she has been a hiker unleashed ever since I started her on the Bruce Trail about four or five years ago. Margaret has since completed the entire 880 kilometres of the Bruce Trail as well as many more kilometres in End to End hikes. She is now working on her second time of completing the whole hike as she accompanies others on this journey. My own hiking has been more modest; so, it is time for me to wear out more boots.
On Friday I drove to Goderich where I was received with hugs and beer by my cousin, Con, and his wife, Cindy, in their charming home fifty percent of which they are just finishing rebuilding following the 2011 tornado. Better bed and breakfast hosts do not exist! I could elaborate on this and childhood memories of stays in Goderich, but I will proceed with my hiking adventure.
Con and Cindy had arranged for their friend, John, to pick me up at 6 AM on Saturday to drive me to Benmiller where people were ready to shuttle us to Auburn to the start of the 49 kilometre Maitland River Trail. While waiting there, Fran and fellow hikers arrived and I drove with them to the trail head. As they were waiting for others to arrive, I began that day’s 29 kilometre hike on my own. I found companions on my journey and chatted with many about hiking and the many Caminos in Spain, Portugal and those leading to Santiago from elsewhere in Europe. Hikers are a cheerful group, very willing to share.
As I followed the white trail blazes and found my pace, which was faster than the average hiker, I passed several pairs, triads and groups before I caught up with Christina from Haliburton whose pace more evenly matched mine. We found ourselves losing the trail twice and in the second instance foolishly wandered farther than necessary in search of the river instead of returning to the last known blaze. We easily added a kilometre to our journey before figuring out that we needed to turn before the marked blaze and pull ourselves straight uphill by aid of a rubber hose. We were not the only wanderers at this turn. We were joined by Doug, a lost soul from Oshawa, who decided he should stop hiking on his own and join a group so that he would not lose his way again. Nothing quite like losers joining losers! We three enjoyed that day’s remaining fifteen kilometres together, and only lost the trail one more time.
The Maitland River trail has of course more uphills than downhills, at least I felt as if I huffed uphill more than I slid downhill. That might have been my lungs telling my brain that more than reality, but there were some steep steps up through beautiful forest. Volunteers have spent many hours building these steps as well as delightful bridges some with handrails, many with shingles on the wood to prevent slipping. We owe much to volunteers in Ontario!
On day one I did not see as much of the Maitland River as I thought I would, partly because I was staring at my feet, ensuring proper footing and avoiding sinking into mud as Doug was. A good part of the trail was within earshot of the river but leaves often obscured the view. But what colourful leaves! Fall is a feast for the eyes! Some road walking took us past tall corn fields, plentiful soya bean crops, and through small villages.
I was always delighted to arrive at a checkpoint where cheerful volunteers applauded my arrival, stamped my map “passport” with stickers or stamps of butterflies, frogs and other happy creatures, and fed me. There was water to refill my bottle, fruit (different at every station) and cookies or squares. Best of all were the high backed camp chairs that I sank into for a few minutes of rest.
There were a few places along the trail where we saw the devastation of the tornado. The river was in plain view from steep hills that looked as if a forest slashing operation had occurred. Great birches, maples, beeches and spruce crisscrossed down the slope. Again it was obvious that volunteers had been at work building steps that mud was overtaking, and bridges over streams coursing round fallen trees.
Volunteers have also been busy replacing the kilometre markers. What a joy it was to see each kilometre marker, a symbol of our journey progressing well.
The last few hundred metres were uphill, of course, to the Benmiller Community Hall. I was pleased that Doug was able to give me a ride back to Goderich. I found Cindy and Con on the front porch where they questioned what I was doing there. They thought that 2:30 PM was much too early to be done the trail. I had completed the thirty kilometre hike in seven hours and fifteen minutes. I think that is a Margaret walking speed.
Happily I had no blisters. Properly fitting socks and hiking boots or shoes are essential. I think I now have these. I have not always fared so well. I revelled in the hot shower as it soothed my shoulder muscles. Although I started hiking in ten degree Celsius, I finished in 24C weather, glad that I had worn shorts and layered my upper body with two long sleeved shirts which I shed as I walked. I used one walking stick which was especially useful on slippery down slopes, but two sticks would have been better.
Just before arriving at the railway bridge at the entry to Goderich, I was hailed by a cyclist. Cousin Karen swooped in for a kiss. How many hikers were kissed by a passing cyclist that day?
My cousin, Ruth, came by for a visit while I rested with my feet elevated. It’s so wonderful to visit with cousins that I only usually see at our annual family reunion. With the advent of Facebook, we meet more frequently in photos and snippets!
Ruth dropped me off at the Legion where I dined with Fran and company. A local chef prepared a fine turkey feast. Our table was among the first to fill up at the buffet. What luck!
An entertaining auctioneer drew money out of the crowd faster than the rapids on the Maitland River. Three small bags of lettuce sold for $6, $7 and $8. All went to a good cause…the Maitland River Trail Association.
I walked home through the Goderich Square under a fully starry night, the same stars that shone on my early morning. I smiled as a shooting star fell before me blessing my day. I tumbled into bed grateful to be horizontal.
On Sunday morning I slept in until 6:30. After slowly rolling upright, I found that I could not bend over to reach my socks on the floor. Bending to splash my face with water required major acrobatics. I did some gentle yoga stretches to make my body move. The day ahead was looking frightening.
After oatmeal, fruit, yogourt and coffee, all of which was I was able to quickly assemble thanks to my great hosts, I drove to the beach pavilion to get my shuttle to Benmiller. I started my hiking with Janet from London and enjoyed amiable conversation for the first hour or so after which I moved ahead and walked the remaining fifteen kilometres mostly on my own.
I saw a lot more of the Maitland River and stopped more frequently for photos. Sunday was warmer than Saturday; so, I was glad I had opted for hiking shoes rather than boots. The first checkpoint offered hard boiled Amish eggs and fruit. The last checkpoint proffered popcorn sour gummies. All offerings were delicious.
I remembered to swing my arms in circles now and then to relieve my shoulder muscles. I was feeling better all over by the end of the second day.
I finished the 20 kilometres in four hours and thirty-five minutes. I was holding my Maitland Camino badge in one hand and a grape popsicle in the other when Doug completed his hike. He had started out twenty minutes after me. We both sat on the Lake Huron shore and cooled our feet in the water. A choice ending for a memorable hike.