I made the mistake of lending the book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed to my friend Paula. In the memoir, Strayed writes about her journey of self-discovery hiking from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Paula was inspired, to say the least. Together, we ended up hiking the Bruce Trail from end-to-end—898 kilometers in total!
The Bruce Trail is Canada's oldest and longest marked hiking trail. When the Bruce Trail was first conceptualized in 1960, Canada had never seen a footpath of such magnificent scope. The trail was completed in 1967, and nature-lovers from all walks of life have enjoyed the trail’s exquisite vistas for decades.
The Bruce Trail begins in Queenston in the Niagara region near the southwest shores of Lake Ontario. It runs along the sublime Niagara Escarpment, through beautiful water features, rugged cliffs, moss covered glacial rock, and lush forests.
The northernmost part of the trail hugs Georgian Bay’s stunning shoreline before ending in Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula on Lake Huron.
My friend Paula completed the Niagara, Iroquoia, and Toronto sections of the Bruce Trail with different friends and family, each joining her for 5-kilometer to 10-kilometer hikes. In earnest, she decided to hike the trail end-to-end.
When Paula ran out of hiking partners willing to journey with her through the longer and more difficult sections, I committed to hiking the next 575 kilometers by her side. Before we set out together, I went back and made up the sections I had missed. I, too, wanted the satisfaction of completing the entire trail.
I was first introduced to the Bruce Trail in 2014.
Wearing white running shoes, I accompanied Paula through a muddy section of the trail near St. Catharines. With each splatter that stained my shoes, Paula became increasing certain that I would never hike with her again.
I decided dirty shoes are a small price to pay to experience some of the most breathtaking sights in the Great Lakes region.
After our first hike, I invested in a backpack and some good hiking boots with ankle support. Once we reached the hillier sections of the Bruce Trail near Collingwood, I bought some hiking poles. They came in handy for checking if rocks were stable enough to step onto when crossing small creeks. The poles also supported my knees and back as I climbed. I was unstoppable.
Along the way, Paula and I stayed in B&Bs, a yurt, a she shed, a cattle ranch, a friend’s house, an inn with reindeer, as well as four motels.
On most occasions, we managed with only one car. In order to prevent being left stranded at the end of our hike, we usually parked at the end of our route for the day. We took an Uber, taxi, or asked the B&B owner to drive us to the beginning of our hike. Then, we walked back to where we dropped the car. I recommend this if you are going on a long-distance hike!
Three years into our undertaking, I fractured my back unrelated to hiking. Due to back pain, I couldn’t handle as much of the trail as I previously could. Paula was kind enough to drive and carry some of my water in her backpack. It was a setback, but we persevered and it was well worth pushing through.
Each section of the trail had breathtaking scenery, including my local Iroquoia section. Some particularly beautiful areas included waterfalls, including Balls Falls, Eugenia Falls, Hoggs Falls, and Inglis Falls.
The areas around Lions Head and Tobermory were the most rugged, but also the most spectacular. The blue-green waters looked almost Carribean.
One of the most unforgettable experiences during our hike was a dip in the Grotto. We were in the middle of an 18-kilometer hike. It was a hot, buggy July day. The relief I felt when I entered the cool, clear waters of Lake Huron will be engraved in my memory forever. The friendship, adventure, calm of the forest, and challenges of the journey will stay with me always.
We completed the Bruce Trail end-to-end over six years. We finished on July 15, 2020 with a bottle of champagne in Tobermory. Finishing the trail is testament to the fact that if you commit to doing something one step at a time, you can accomplish amazing things.
We couldn’t have the party with friends and family who had hiked with us due to COVID-19, but Paula gave a speech in the parking lot across from the Tobermory north terminus of the Bruce trail. She thanked me for joining her, but it is I who must thank her for the epic journey.