161002 BTC Bruce Trail - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto
Boyne Valley

While I haven't been out as often as I'd like recently, joining the Bruce Trail Conservancy has definitely been one of my better choices for this year. Increasing and protecting natural space so close to the city is a tremendously worthy cause, and hiking has given me a new activity and a new perspective that I hadn't even realized I needed.

What makes this possible for me are the volunteer-led "bus hikes" organized by the Toronto Bruce Trail Club. Getting to the trail on a chartered bus works very nicely for us non-driving city people, but it also makes for good hiking on a very practical level, since there's no need to return to where the fleet of cars are parked. This enables long linear routes, lets tired hikers drop out at some strategic points, and means that the group can use the bus to leapfrog the road sections that link the off-road portions of the trail. 

This is all quite economical, too. The full value of the Conservancy membership counts as a charitable donation, and the fare for each bus trip isn't much more than what I'll spend at a post-hike refreshment stop. Add in the occasional discounts at Mountain Equipment Co-op and my BTC membership has more than paid for itself – something I'm well aware of as the fundrasing Hikeathons happen throughout October. 

My favourite person and I took part in the Toronto club's Hiker Initiation Program in the spring. It included a couple of nights of practical and useful introductory talks and demonstrations – all free – that set us off on the right foot, so to speak. While there was a lot of guidance in what sort of gear to use and what to bring, there was also emphasis on just using what we already had for now, and learning for ourselves what worked and what didn't. Considering that we're both people who want to know everything before we start, this took away a lot of the pressure and intimidation of starting a new thing with a new group. 

Our first hike was on a cold and rainy day, and the route alternated between mud and rocks. It was an excellent chance to learn what didn't work — and it was also the toughest conditions, and the toughest trail, that we've hiked all year. That's been a huge help. Now, if it rains, we have rain gear. If it's cold we can handle that. On hills I know to walk with a staff, because I know when and how my right knee needs a break. As the distances increased, and now as the weather turns toward winter, we're able to adjust and keep going.

Dundas Valley

While I already had the boots and the hats, my collection of quick-dry clothing has grown substantially over the summer. I now have a new backpack that's dedicated to hiking, and have never quite run out of water. Even though these day-hikes are modest and manageable, especially compared to multi-day backpacking trips, I've still gained a new appreciation for keeping things light and organized.

As a photo-taking person, one of my better investments turns out to be a GPS unit. Or actually, more typically for me, a pair of GPS units. One's a tracker that's built into the light plastic watch that I use for activities where those features matter, and the other is a stand-alone GPS logger that I bought once the limitations of my watch's petite battery became evident. But the key is that they both create log files that lets me know where I took all of these photos. In order, from top to bottom, they are Boyne Valley, Speyside, Dundas Valley, Mono Cliffs, and Dundas Valley again. Lightroom, my editor of choice, even lets me work with all of the photos as they're arrayed on a map.

Mono Cliffs

What I didn't expect from joining the Bruce Trail Conservancy is how much I would want to learn as a result. I've gone through a couple of excellent hiking books, learning technique and history, but the best thing I've read all summer is "The Last Stand", by Peter Kelly and Doug Larson. This is a book about the old-growth cedar trees that live on the face of the escarpment that forms the base for the trail, and it covers the geology and history that makes them unique, as well as an examination of the trees themselves. Surprisingly fascinating.

Walking the trails is a connection to the new life in sprouting plants, the trees that are decades or centuries old, the rock that was a lakebed half a millennia ago, and the living water that's been here forever even if it's just fallen that morning. And everything has its role, down to the leaf litter and broken branches, and deserves to be protected and left in place.

Dundas Valley

Of course I still remain a novice, with my hike count still in the single digits and my membership still in its first year. But this could easily become a lifetime endeavour.

I have a few personal goals that I would like to complete before it's time to renew next spring. One is to finally buy a pair of snow shoes; I've wanted some for fifteen years, but each winter the city gets less and less snow to justify them. The Toronto club's winter trips finally makes this possible. Another goal is to be certified in first aid, and ideally wilderness first aid, if I can find someone who offers it within the city. I believe in an individual responsibility to collective safety, whether that means my being able to help others or reducing the burden on those who have to help me. It's also a step toward becoming a hike leader and taking a more active role in the organization.

The final goal for my first year, and this one is a bit more of a stretch, is to visit the end of the trail in Tobermory. Not the hard way – that's a goal that's still many years in the future – but I'll be happy to get there by car or bus and then go for a stroll. Walking the side trail from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the cairn at Queenston was a highlight of the summer, so I'd really like to visit the other end as well. 

The middle will simply remain a work in progress.


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