Thursday 17 September 2015

Hike #63 August 24, 2015 Storm Haven to Tobermory

Hike #63
Date – August 24, 2015
Location – Map 42 Tobermory
Distance – 21.5
Total Trail Distance – 894 (0 to go!)
Hikers – Dean, Marlene, Benjamin, Steve, Simon, Jacob, Madeleine, Kent, Harold, Janette, Melanie and Chris
Start – 145.9 Storm Haven
End – 167.4 Tobermory Northern Terminus Cairn
Direction – North
Weather – Hot and sunny with cloudy periods; a shower in the late afternoon

We awake to an absolutely beautiful morning. It would be wonderful to spend the day here in this stunningly beautiful and peaceful place, but we have too many miles to go. Thinking about what lies ahead means we don’t really do justice to the beauty before us, and looking at the pictures again now makes me realize that we will have to go back.

The plan is to meet Elza at kilometre 159.6 at Little Cove, but after less than two kilometres, we are surprised to find Elza and Steve sitting on a rock at the end of Horse Lake Trail. Steve is cheerful and well-rested and informs us that he is our Sherpa. We can dump any gear we no longer need, and he will shuttle it up the trail to the van. Then he will drive to Little Cove and join us for the final eight kilometres. Harold and Janette unburden themselves of everything but water. Dean drops the tent. I drop the surplus fuel, kitchen bag, my bedroll, and my stuffsack with clothes. Madeleine and Kent also winnow down but Ben is a purist. He is carrying it all, and he’s carrying it the whole way.

If Day One went faster than we expected, this day proves more difficult than we thought it would be. I gave up on hiking boots already and am wearing socks in sandals, but even the reduced weight is not enough to make this easy.

To pass the time, Madeleine and Kent discuss fun physics problems, like how big would a trampoline have to be in order to launch a human into outer space? Or why do so many of the place names around here seem to be scatological: high dump, halfway log dump, Coony's dump or loaf rock? Like I said, we were finding it difficult.

Who moved the rocks to make this an easier place to walk? Thank you!!!

We are also looking forward to the grotto and swimming there, but when we arrive we are shocked to find that it is packed with tourists. Suddenly that long line-up of cars getting into Cyprus Lake Park on Saturday morning begins to make sense. Nevertheless, this is incongruous – we have been hiking for hours through the forest and suddenly we arrive at what we expect will be unspoiled wilderness and there are screaming, shouting, litter-tossing hordes of people. It is definitely a disappointment. Ben, Simon and Jacob, who have arrived ahead of us, have been swimming in the grotto and jumping from some of the cliffs, but after stopping for a short rest, we decide that we will come back here another day.

But we do go swimming at Coony’s Dump – the cool water soothes our aching feet and refreshes us to push on.

At Little Cove, we emerge from the forest and descend the escarpment to the beach to find another crowded tourist attraction. Included among the sunbathers are Alice, the school caterer, and Pete, her husband. By now, I am nearly delirious and once I determine that they don’t have any beer, I have little ability to be sociable.  

Elza is also at Little Cove, and she tells us that Steve got tired of waiting and has started the final leg of the journey. But when we turn away from the water and follow the trail up Little Cove Road we find Steve sitting on the side of the road, at a sign informing us the trail has been closed at the request of landowner, Laurie Adams. We are devastated.

Because we have learned about reroutes the hard way in the past, we had checked the website for reroutes just before we left and this was not mentioned. Furthermore, there is no information about where to go instead. We have hiked 888 kilometres and are only six kilometres from our destination and with no warning, someone has decided we can go no further. I feel like crying, and then I feel angry. We have come too far to be turned away now. After a few minutes of hesitation, we decide that in the absence of any information about an alternate route to Tobermory we have no choice but to push on.

This is contrary to our normal ethic but we move quickly and we pass through, surmising as we go that the section that is actually closed is probably no more than 500 metres – yet nearly five kilometres of trail are blocked. This is frustrating and disappointing. Later we learn that the trail closure did not actually go into effect until days after we were there, and ironically, the landowner who forced the closure of the trail claims on her luxury estate’s website that she is devoted to the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association, the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve and the Bruce Resource Land Stewardship. If this is what love for nature looks like, it sure is a funny way to show it.

With less than two kilometres to go, we enter the last little section of Bruce Peninsula National Park. Ironically, the trail ends in Tobermory much like it began in Queenston: wide, manicured and well-travelled. If the whole trail was this level, hiking an end-to-end would be easy! That’s how we got tricked into starting five years ago!

It starts to rain and we pull out our pack covers for the final push. At the National Park Visitor Centre Ben, Simon and Jacob climb the observation tower. How do they have energy to do this?!?!

The visitor centre has a fake stile (Ben climbs that too), interpretive signage and an end-to-end display. The magnitude of our accomplishment is beginning to sink in.

When we reach the cairn it is almost anti-climactic. We knew it was just a pile of rocks, but we walk up and take a few pictures, with Ben climbing on top of the cairn to recreate his pose from the first hike, and that’s it.  We’re done. No band, no fireworks, no one notices.

But Elza has made a dinner reservation for us at the Crowsnest, and we are very happy to a) be dry, b) be indoors, c) be sitting on real chairs, and d) have hot food and cold beer put in front of us. It’s surreal, but we have done it – hiked the entire Bruce Trail. We told Ben we would get him to Tobermory before he went off to university and now, with only two weeks to spare, we’ve done it!

We make the other almost end-to-enders (Harold and Janette, Madeleine and Kent) promise that they will invite us to their final hikes and their victory parties. This is a great way to guarantee future hikes.

This is an area that is so incredibly beautiful, and there are vistas that can only be seen by the traveller who ventures out on foot. There are fewer people who have hiked the entire Bruce Trail than have summited Everest, and we are among that small group of outdoor adventurers who have completed our quest. That’s the funny thing – we are ordinary people who have done an ordinary thing – gone for a hike on a Sunday afternoon. If we can do it, so can you.

Here are a few more photos from the last day. (Thank you, Janette and Madeleine.)

Can you spot the rattlesnake?
A better shot than the snake shot -- it's easier, and safer, to get close to a toad.

Now that we’ve finished, there are so many things for which I am grateful:
-        For the strength and health to complete a journey like this
-        For the incredible beauty of the rocks and trees and sky and water
-        For the many donors, landowners and volunteers who make the Bruce Trail the national treasure that it is
-        For the many hours of safe travel back and forth to the various day hike start and end points
-        For the planning and logistics that made this all possible
-        But most of all, for the family and friends who were part of the adventure. You are the joy in my journey.