Adventure Journal

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Worst night on the Bruce Trail - June 2009

Worst night camping on the Bruce Trail
Summer 2009

It has been almost a full year since I have completed by epic Bruce Trail trek. There are many things in the work as a result of the trek including a book and possible film documentary. My time on the Bruce Trail made a mark on my life in ways I could not imagine. Breaking the world record for completing the trail barefoot was just a small accent to the trail experience.

By the third week on the trail, It had started to rain. I was in the upper sections of the Iroquois section which runs through Hamilton, Ontario. I was dressed in my favorite British Camouflage DPM pants, a black shirt which I had gotten as a gift from some girls at work, and of course my rain poncho.

The rain had started during the day, and I plodded along surefooted with hiking poles in hand. Both Luka and I had heavy packs on which slowed us down. There was no traffic sound, just the gentle patter of rain all around me. Wet as it may be, it was beautiful. The colours around me of the plants and trees seemed more vibrant. The mud of the trail squished up between my toes on each step.

I came over a small hill and surveyed the trail ahead of me. Someone had taken the time to line this section of the trail with small rocks to give it a very artistic look. Vibrant wildflowers glistened in the rain on both side. As I passed through this section, it looked like I was walking in someone's private garden. The rain had made the flowers release their scent and it was truly a pleasure to be there.

At that moment I felt a oneness with the world and myself. It was a certain calm, tranquility that non-spiritual people have difficulty comprehending. The sensations of the wet mud beneath my feet,
the steady calming sound of the rain, the vibrant colours, and the scent of the wildflowers is difficult to describe. It was like I was connected to creation itself, and could feel the pulse of nature.

I moved forward and came to a small, country road. I leashed Luka and checked for traffic. I stepped out onto the asphalt road. It felt completely different than the trail which I had been walking on all day. It was hard, and rough, like sandpaper. Across the road I could see something in the distance. Something bright white – A waterfall.

Stepping back onto the comforting dirt of the trails, I unclipped Luka from her leash and she joyfully went bounding off into the distance.

The large waterfall loomed over me. Sherman falls is one of the largest waterfalls in Hamilton, standing at over 17 metres tall. With the heavy rain, this curtain waterfall was at full flow this time of year. Of course I could have been standing under the waterfall for the amount of rain that was coming down on us. Stopping for a few moments to take in the beauty of the waterfall, I moved along the trail.


Passing into the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, the trails surface changed. They went from dirt, to stone packed trails. These are a great advantage for high use trails as they are inexpensive, tough, and long lasting. They don't get ruts like dirt trails from overuse.

The problem was the rain. Water softens even the toughest of bare feet. The trail soon presented a challenge as my waterlogged feet had little protection from the stone packed trails. It felt like rough sandpaper at first. Then I felt a bit of a burning sensation as the trail surface ground away at my feet. Shortly after almost each step was agonising. A few kilometres of agonising, sharp burning pain with each step, I saw a blue sign which advised me I had reached the Merrick Side Trail. Only 800 metres to camp.

Merrick Side Trail - Bruce Trail

Turning off the brutalising stone packed trails, I arrived at the campsite. The cut lawn felt so good underfoot. As I looked around to find a nice spot to pitch my tent, I saw a picnic table. I walked over to the picnic bench and removed my heavy, 27kg pack and left it on the table. I removed Luka's pack so she could flop down and have a rest.

The sun came out for some time, and I enjoyed the beautiful warm summers evening as I wrote in my journal, had some freeze-dried chicken, and relaxed.

Food on the Bruce

Nightfall came, and I climbed into my tent with Luka. I could hear the rain start again on my tent fly. It's a beautiful sound to fall asleep to, especially after a hard day on the trails. I slowly drifted off to sleep.

I was awakened some time later to a terrible, blood curdling scream. I peered through my tent fly to see that high winds had moved in and it was “blowing a gale” outside. The dark, stormy, wind swept night started making my mind play tricks on me.

“What was happening out there” I thought. Visions of a serial killer torturing his latest female victim ran through my mind. “What if he sees my tent?” I thought. “What if he comes after me?” I wondered. I took a deep breath and assured myself it was just my mind wandering and the scream could have been anything. Thankfully I heard some laughter in the distance shortly after. “They must have just scared one another” I thought as I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Some time later I was awakened by Luka who was shivering as she cuddled me. I saw a flash of light. The light was so bright it lit up the entire inside of my tent. I could even make out the dark blue of my sleeping bag. The wind was blowing viciously, the rain was pouring down in buckets.

I have never been camping with lightening so intense it clearly lit up the inside of my tent. I thought of how I had pitched my tent under a tree to protect from the rain. My mind started to go a little crazy again thinking of “widow maker” branches falling and crushing me, lightening striking the tree and all kinds of other things. I wrote in my journal “what the hell was I thinking by doing this trip?” in scratched writing.

Camping on Merrick Side Trail

Luka stood up and wanted to outside. “You crazy dog” I said outloud. I unzipped the tent and she darted out into the vicious storm. The trees seemed to bend over and touch the ground. The lightening lit the area up brighter than daylight! The rain was so hard that it seemed to come from all directions.

“If I have to chase after you half naked through this storm – I am not going to be impressed” I said outloud. Thankfully Luka did her business and shot back into the tent so fast and hard she crashed into the back wall.

Bad bad weather is no surprise to me. In the military you spend more time in the rain than in dry conditions. I've been around the world, and been in some strange places. I've been stranded on an island due to bad weather, and even been camping in the wilderness during a hurricane. Nothing has ever been this bad. It was the first time in my outdoor career I was scared.

At some point I must have fallen asleep, as the next thing I knew, it was daylight. I unzipped my tent and looked wearily outside to see bright sunlight. I squinted. The air was still and calm. It was as if nothing had happened. Luka was still sleeping.

I stumbled out of the tent and made my way to the bench with my pack. I left the tent door open and let Luka sleep while I prepared breakfast.

A lady came by with her dog and asked me if I had slept outside that evening. I said “Yes I did.”

The lady's eyes went wide and said “The news last night told me that it was the worst storm we have had in a century here – and you were in that little tent?” The woman explained how her daughter was in the park just before midnight and had seen my tent, and told her about it.

At least that explained the screams, I thought to myself.

“I sat up through the storm wondering if you were going to be okay out here” she told me. She also said she had thought about seeing if I wanted to sleep on her couch out of the rain, but was a little afraid to go out in the bad weather to find me, in case I had already sought shelter.

I thanked the woman for thinking of me. I was really moved by the fact that this woman, a complete stranger had thought about me during the bad weather. It was very uplifting to think that there are still such good people in the world.

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