Tracing Spring Northwards on the Bruce Trail
To fulfil a lifelong dream of a solo ‘wilderness’ experience, I am thru-hiking the Bruce Trail starting at Queenston on May 3rd, and ending at Tobermory sometime in early–mid June. I’ll be hiking the 890 or so km, carrying my gear and food, sleeping outside, following Spring northwards. I’ll be hiking solo — unless you wish to join me!
For those who don’t know me, I’m a 65 year old retired outdoor education teacher. I’ve spent many summers canoeing, both as a guide together with my wife, and with my family. I’m quite familiar with the landscape and ecology of Southern Ontario, though much of the Bruce Trail will be excitingly new to me. I’m a botanist and general naturalist — which leads me to my goal of tracing Spring northwards.
I have a rough plan on where I’ll be day-to-day, but since I don’t know how I’ll react to living on the trail, I don’t really know how far I’ll be walking each day. My rough plan is to walk about 20+km a day for 40 days or so.
I’ll be living within my means and abilities and capacities. I am not racing; I am not breaking any records; I am experiencing. Among other things, I will be doing some form of informal data gathering along the way, perhaps recording the phenology as I trace Spring through Southern Ontario. I’m anticipating jotting down what’s in flower at each resting break, noting what’s in bud, what’s beginning to open, what’s shedding pollen, what’s senescing, what’s producing fruit, and so on. I may even attempt to learn spring warblers and other birds, though my poor ears won’t be much help … Or ferns … Or bumblebees. Or …
The preparation itself has been a wonderful journey so far, reading backpacking books and online forums, natural history tidbits, geology books, trail guides, and so much more. Our old but good canoeing equipment is of no value when slinging everything on my back for days on end. So I’ve had a fine time figuring out what’s the most appropriate gear to buy, and what food to prepare. One detail connects to another and decisions cascade dramatically.
An old sleeping bag isn’t warm enough for the hammocking conditions I need to prepare for through early May. (I expect four or more nights possibly well below 0°. The May minimum for Orangeville is -17.6°C!) Eventually, after several nights of freezing my butt hanging between an apple and a pear tree in our backyard while trying many different sleeping combinations, I broke down and ordered a decent inflatable pad and a good down sleeping bag. Not only am I now comfortable down below -5°C, I also save more than a kilogram of weight and gain back a third of my pack volume. The volume saved is more critical to me than the lighter weight. Similar interlocking decisions relate to using a light and inexpensive alcohol stove (rehydratable meals, wide pot to fit the shape of the flame, minimal on-trail bring-to-boil-&-rest-in-warming-cozy cooking, greater pre-trail preparation, choosing nutrient-dense healthful and tasty food …).
There’s another whole set of stories relating to what to wear. One of our daughters has knit me a wonderful pair of made-to-arthritic-order lightweight wool gloves. Our other daughter has sewn me a custom designed advanced fleece hoodie that will be my main wind- & water-resistant outer layer (protected at times by a hiker’s umbrella and an ultralight poncho).
My current base pack weight (“base” meaning without the consumables of food and fuel and water) is about 9 kilograms. Clothing and miscellanies add more weight. Weight is a key factor is working out what to bring, but so is volume. I’m going to be minimizing my overnight environmental impact, using a lightweight backpacking hammock, an alcohol stove — and a trowel.
I will especially appreciate the few days around the middle of May as I pass around Orangeville, when my best friend and companion of almost 48 years will pick me up at the end of each day, nurture me at home, and drop me off on the trail the next morning!
I hope to spend a night or two with several of you as I pass near your home. (I’m told I’ll need a shower, access to your laundry machines, and a spare bed … And a razor, though I will not accept that particular option …)
Moreover, I would like to use the homes of several of you as resupply points along the trail, forwarding supplies (mostly food) so that at the heaviest I will be carrying a maximum of a week’s food at any time. (Thanks to those of you who have already agreed to support me this way!)
I’ll be keeping a sort of public record, so you will be able to follow me as I go. For sporadic commentary, check out @BruceTraillium on Twitter, or my blog here.
I’d love it if you were to actually accompany me, metaphorically through walking with me as I blog, or physically hiking with me — for part of a day or more. (You’d be responsible for your own transportation, gear, and food. You’ll lead and I’ll do my best to hike at your pace.)
I have non-agressive slow-growing non-spreading prostate cancer which I am monitoring carefully. I’m ok with this, but my wonderful wife has wisely and graciously suggested I knock off a long-standing item of a solo wilderness trip while I still can. I’ve passed my latest urologist’s exam, so I’m good to go. If you so desire, you are welcome to support me by donating to prostate cancer research à la Movember, or donating to the Stephen Lewis Foundation, Cathy’s charity of focus which supports grandmothers in Africa looking after their AIDS-orphaned grandchildren.
Questions I’m going to continue pondering:
- When I complete …
- If I don’t, …
- Afterwards, …
My thanks to the many of you who have already supported me, helped me to clarify, and have given wonderful feedback and advice! You will lighten my pack as I walk along the Trail!
The purpose of a wilderness journey is not to get from one end of the [trail] to the other, but to enjoy the landscape, and adapt to its ever-changing moods. Bill Mason