by Mel Vogel
I left the campground in West Montrose after two days. I started my hike in the middle of the day with an unpleasant sunburn on my back from reading for hours in the morning sun without any sun protection.
I followed the Kissing Bridge Trailway for five more kilometres. The Great Trail led me from there on to the 16-kilometre Cottontail Road Trail which eventually would lead me into Elora, a small town of about 8000 citizens in the heart of Wellington County. It was the early afternoon and I was already getting eaten by mosquitoes as I walked from the gravel road into shadowy wooded area into fields and onto an asphalt road. From Side Road 12 to 6 Line E to Side Road 10 to 2 Line E – I moved like a knight on a chess board through the endless heat of my peaceful realm. The sun simmered heavy over fields and over the Trail. There were no trees, no breeze, and no shade and I felt the burning heat of the sun on my skin and my skin draining my body of water to cool me down.
My mind wandered off. It took me to the prairies of Saskatchewan, to a past journey through the Gobi desert and all the way to Africa, my bucket list destination, as I was roasting in the heat. I breathed in the dusty air of a passing pickup truck and four by fours. I walked slowly as my mind took me towards another plane, to faraway worlds. I was dreaming of travelling while travelling. The sound of tractors and the noise of a lawnmower brought me back to the present. A line of trees with well-groomed grass, running alongside a cornfield, offered cover for a break. I squeezed some Kool-Aid in my cup and filled it with fresh, cool water from my thermos. I dreamt of ice cream, LOTS of ice cream while biting into the last of my dry, half-melted cheese sandwiches and a granola bar. It gave me enough energy for the last kilometres to town. Before reaching town I stopped at the Elora Gorge Conservation Area. I went out of my way to check the pricing for camping and found myself quite disappointed and back on the road after hearing the price of a ‘no service campsite’ is $39 per night, which is sadly not in my budget. However, the staff had been friendly and kind enough to fill both of my bottles with cold water. After half an hour, I arrived in Elora where I watched the sun set over the Grand River. I checked my options for possible camping spots on my Great Trail app and decided to opt for a quiet spot in Bissell Park, which was far enough away from the small town’s core. I walked on the small right shoulder of E Mill St when Charlotte and Trish crossed my path on the other side of the road. It was Charlotte’s curiosity that started the conversation and Trish’s hospitality that brought me to Trish’s home.It all happened very quickly, but these two ladies trusted me, so I trusted them. A previous event made me ask Trish to check if her husband would be OK with me staying the night. Jim came out of the living room and met me with a friendly handshake at the front door. I was very welcome.
Trish is a foster mom. I have forgotten how many dogs she has given a home over the years before finding them a family, but I remember there were many. She introduced me to Jack – a 160-pound Great Dane, but socially a super gentle giant. Amazed by his personality and his hugeness, I instantly fell in love with him. For the rest of the evening, I found myself socializing with Trish and Jim in their living room while petting Jack’s belly as his head rested on my lap, four paws up leaving me laughing. I felt as if I was cuddling a pony, even though he was exactly doing what dogs do.
I spent the next morning with Trish, as Jim had already left the house for work. Our conversation circled around trust and kindness, and Trish told me about an event in her life where her generosity had been taken advantage of by strangers. These people had benefited from her kindness, but acted inconsiderately and untruthfully. They had seen weakness in Trish’s unselfish action, rather than goodness. She had to fight to earn the respect she deserved by getting those people to make amends. She, too, realized that she had to set herself boundaries to her generosity. Despite her negative experience, she still stands strong in her willingness to continue to support others, strangers like me, who are ever so grateful that compassionate people like Trish exist. Stories shape our culture and history. As we cross paths with one another, we have a responsibility to ensure stories we create forge a positive trail into the future – that they keep us connected, and don’t drive us apart.
Once more I stood in Trish’s front door – this time on my way out. Trish handed me a necklace with an owl. It was a token for protection, a personal gift to wish me well.
Trish took off that day to her cabin close to North Bay. It will be a day ride for her in the car, but many weeks for me to reach that same town by foot.
Back on the Trail, I continued on the Elora Cataract Trailway towards Fergus and the Belwood Lake Conservation Area. Cows, fields, single trees, knee-high bush and grass lined the well-maintained gravel trail. It was a nice change of scenery as I arrived at the dam at Belwood Lake. The Grand River leading into wilderness on the right and the wide openness of the lake to the left. The sky was covered by clouds, and the raindrops softly drizzling out of them had me moving a bit faster to find a camp spot. As I was not allowed to pitch my tent in the conservation area, I stayed on the other side of the dam and followed a path down to the water. The reeds only left a small opening, which was still big enough for me and my tent. A shingle beach, the ground was armoured with small and medium-sized grey pebbles and a line of dried algae and sticks. It made this potential tent spot look rough. I went to check the surrounding area and a small stand of trees but the ground was covered with glass of broken beer bottles. It made the tiny tent spot on the beach the best option. After setting up, I watched boats passing by on the water and spent the twilight hours reading. As I turned the light off, it had become quiet outside. The only noise and ripple in the water was the splash of jumping fish.
I passed the dam the next day and met Noah and Sedat, who took a day off work to go fishing. As we were talking about my journey, I mentioned proudly that I was trying to learn to catch, and eventually eat, my own fish. So, the two young men invited me to fish with them. It took me a minute to make my mind up, but I decided experiences like this are also part of my journey, so I happily joined them. Starting at the riverside of the dam, then changing over to the lakeside, our hooks consistently stayed empty, except for the worm that wiggled on it. Despite our unsuccessful plan to catch a fish, we agreed that we had spent a great day together. Later in the afternoon, we said goodbye and the guys packed up and left. I went over to the river once more to cook and eat. I was starving. While eating noodles, I had to decide if I was going to go back to last night’s spot, or if I was going to use the last daylight hours to move on. I decided for the latter.
It had gotten really late by the time I had cleaned up my dishes, packed and finally walked on. Still, I covered 12 kilometres, ending the day at the Orangeville-Fergus Road. I did hope to find a nice spot on the Trail, but I had to wander off the Trail to find a safe place for the night. This time I chose the back of a flower bed in front of a small forest with some spruce trees on either side. I made sure I was not seen from the road before I truly settled in and turned the light off for the night. I woke to hear a woman’s voice. I stuck my sleepy head out of my tent door as she told me that I was on her private property. I had taken a risk last night, and had thought that this might happen. I apologized, told her about this journey and assured her that I was just passing through. The woman was understanding and drove away. Since I was awake, I started to pack. Within the next two hours, I was on my way to the Esso station in Hillsburg. The last three nights in my tent didn’t bring much sleep, so I found myself moving slowly. I was craving two things: coffee and an air-conditioned room. In this regard, the Esso station seemed to be the promised land. “We were waiting for you”, said the young man behind the counter as I entered the store. I looked at him with big eyes and started laughing. I thought it was the cutest joke I had ever heard.
The coffee was thin, as is typical for fast food coffee shops, but it was still nice to get a cup full of caffeine. I took the largest. While sitting down munching on a muffin and enjoying my hot beverage, Michael took a seat at the same and only table and we chatted. Like so many other people, he admired my courage to go on such a long trek. Eager to help he offered to drive me to the next supermarket and invited me to a shower in his home. Dirty, hungry and mostly tired, I was happy to accept his invitation. Our initial chat was followed by a much longer conversation at his house over a good, strong coffee, and later on, over a beer. I was so thankful when he extended his hospitality by letting me stay in his guest room. While he went out to meet friends for dinner, I stretched my tired bones on a soft mattress.
After another strong coffee and a good morning breakfast, I went back to the Trail the next day. A full belly, fresh clothes, a shower and a good sleep make such a difference walking into and through my days. This specific one led me into the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park. The section of The Great Trail in the park is only a three-kilometre walk, but I enjoyed every inch of it. I stopped at the Credit River, put my bikini on and went for a swim. Well, it wasn’t quite a swim, The water was just deep enough to let me sit and play in its current.
The rest of the day was a road walk to Inglewood, after which I opted to go to a general store. The heat and humidity had long dried off the cooling effect of my dip in the river, but ice cream, I thought, can be equally as good. I opened the door to the store and into another story, one that I will share in my next blog post.
Find me walking