Tuesday, 18 December 2012

From Lost to Found on the Niagara Escarpment.

Stifled by endless school assignments and shitty fall weather, I decided recently that it was time for another small adventure to recharge my batteries and remind myself of life outside. But where to go, and what to do? I love Toronto, but it can be one hell of an entrapment when you’re looking for a bit of solitude. Perhaps I could find a nice private cabin in Muskoka that doesn’t cost my unborn child’s college tuition? Or maybe Niagara Falls happens to accommodate the winter camper? All wishful thinking, none a feasible option.

I was almost ready to give up, convincing myself that escaping the concrete jungle was an impossibility on my measly budget and strict timescale. At the same time, the semesters end had me yearning for a good read, and I picked up Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, because if I couldn’t travel physically goddamit I was at least going to go somewhere mentally. Strayed not only captured my attention in her incredible true story of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, but also reminded me of how much I fucking love hiking. It was, very quickly after this revelation, when I decided to go on a trip anyways and see the world-famous Bruce Trail

The Bruce Trail, in case you haven’t heard, is Canada’s oldest and longest trail system that runs 885km from Niagara to Tobermory on the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. While I wasn’t about to embark on an end-to-end trip (that would take about a month and a half), I could at least spend a couple days on the nearby Niagara Escarpment where the trail offers scenic views and an opportunity to rekindle a relationship with Mother Nature. Its closest access point from Toronto is only an hour away by car but can be located by using other transportation systems located in the towns and cities it passes.

At the foot of the DPB
A mere hour on a Westbound GO Train and I found myself in downtown Hamilton, hopping a city bus to its outskirts and traversing the grassy knolls of Battlefield Park to a Bruce Trail connection. From there, the trail switchbacks up the Niagara Escarpment and enters a place called the Devils Punch Bowl, or a giant fucking crater in the earth with a waterfall and shit. I almost forgot where I was for a while, resting atop a rocky outcropping devouring an egg salad sandwich and watching my fellow hikers with their dogs that relentlessly and excitedly explore every inch of cold ground.

I know it’s a pretty far stretch, but I couldn’t help but compare myself to Strayed while I strapped on my hiking pack and camera case or lost my breath on a steep ascent. Two days on the escarpment is nothing like the brutality of three months across in the Sierra Nevada, and I only created one wimpy blister during the trip – unlike the swollen, toenail-dying, chewed up rawness of Strayeds’ feet (which are described in gruesome detail in the book). Still, the spirit of being on the trail in the wilderness was not lost on me. Nor was the innate wonder of the Niagara Escarpment. 

Standing at the iconic Stoney Creek lookout.

My second day on the trail followed a not so fruitful sleep at a hostel in Hamilton. Exhausted, I found my way again out to the brink of civilization, this time at the edge of the Kings Forest, due 45min Southeast of the city. Now descending the escarpment, I was reminded how much harder it is to walk down than up. I emerged, knees shaking uncontrollably and hands covered in dirt and stone from grabbing roots and rocks to stabilize myself, in front of the spectacle of Albion Falls, a cascading 62ft tower of water. The sight of it became the homage of my trip – my hiking was over, but I would spend an extra hour watching how the water tumbled over each small riff in the earth, eventually pooling into rock-filled enclaves at my feet.

Albion Falls.

My trip through the escarpment, however small it was, reminded me of simple pleasures – hiking alone in the woods, with nothing to do but think about your life, moving forward and respecting the trail you’ve already walked. 

*Cheryl Strayed's Wild can be purchased here. This book will blow your mind.

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