Monday, February 25, 2013

I'm going on an adventure - Part 3

Day 3, Hwy. 15 in Elgin to Smith Falls, 34 kms, 8 hrs 15 min., 37 pictures

First picture of the day.
Day 3 of my journey to hike the length of the Cataraqui trail began almost identical to Day 2. It was just past 7 am, the sun was still low in the sky and I pulled out my huge camera to take the first picture of the day and what??? No battery!! I had done it again, left the battery charging on the wall in my house. Unfortunately I was not across the street today so all I could do was hand my camera back to my Mom("less weight to carry", I thought to myself) and head out cameraless. I wrestled with the idea of not being able to record this section of the trail. I was bummed for sure as I passed the first km marker of the day, #34,  and tried to console myself with the notion that a pictureless hike was still a worthy hike. It is nice to have the pictures though, they are a great way to share with others and as memories fade are so nice to look back upon to relive that time again. As I had almost come to grips with the undeniable fact that there would be no pictures today, a little light bulb went off in my head, "Hey what about that old phone you brought with you, maybe it has a decent camera?"...emergency averted:-)

It was freezing cold as I took the first picture of the day, -20 C and with an off the charts wind chill which was blowing straight through my shoes and into my toes. My feet were freezing and I was only 5mins. into the hike. I had put on a medium weight pair of socks this morning because yesterday my feet were a bit too toasty in the thicker ones I had worn. But today was much colder then yesterday and all I could think about was how I wish I had worn my warmer socks, but what is a girl to do? Well I knew what I should have done, stopped and changed my socks, but I decided to keep moving and wiggled my toes alot and hoped that I would warm-up soon. My hands were not so cold inside my mittens however every time I took a picture with my phone I had do it barehanded because the buttons were not, "huge mitten friendly" at all, imagine that. I did try to keep my mittens on but after accidently dialling China a few times I finally took the darn things off and my hands pretty much froze instantaneously. So my hands were freezing now along with feet, I was not happy, and I knew what I had to do...but I continued to procrastinate doing it of course. I wiggled my toes and fingers some more and in the midst of all this agitation and discomfort it dawned on me that the trail was slowly veering north and I was on my way to Smith Falls.

With that realization, that I was in for a long haul and day of hiking I finally decided to sit myself down and change my socks. Searching through my duffle bag I came across my heat packs, one for hands and the other for feet which I had thrown in there on the first day. Hallelujah,  Hallelujah,  Halle-lu-jah!! So I decided to forgo, "the changing of the socks" and try out the packs which I hoped would be the quicker change. So with my bare freezing hands the process of undoing my Crossovers commenced. I undid the velcro strap , unzipped the attached gaiter, untied my laces, opened my laces, pulled out my foot enough to make room for the heat pack, tightened up my laces, zipped up my gaiter and attached the velcro again. One down one more to go. But my hands were now immobile so I had to warm them up before I could tackle the other shoe. Then I had another light bulb moment, "Hey I can warm them up quicker if I get the hand hot pack out". So I opened the other kind of pack that is different then the one I put in my boot and I quickly read how to use it and it said, "do not put next to skin". "What the heck, how can I use it if it isn't next to my skin, It's not like I have a sock in my mitt like I do in my shoe". Oops, this was the kind I was suppose to put in my shoe and the one that I did put in my shoe was suppose to go in my mitt. F#&/?p;*!!! F#$%&^*!!!!

All was now well inside my layers of clothing.  I had managed to get the correct hot packs into their appropriate homes, my toes were warming up and it felt like I had raging fire in my mittens. I had the hood of my windbreaker snugly over my head and my face warmer pulled over my nose leaving only my eyes exposed to the wind which would batter me relentlessly through the day. This section of trail cuts through farmland, behind family homes, over swamps and lakes and even a Golf Course. Once again the snowmobilers were out in full force. I must say that the people on these machines were very cautious when approaching and passing and always had a wave and a nod of the head for me. I was still hyper-aware of looking for them and began to develop a pain in my neck and back from constantly checking behind me. Sometimes I'd be thinking it was time to check and I'd try to talk myself out of it because I hadn't heard a thing but I'd look anyways and sure enough there'd be 2 or 3 of them waiting for me to get over.

With all of the traffic on the trail it was a bit frustrating trying to find a place to pee etc. without getting caught with my pants down. The trail in most places was raised up from the surrounding ground with ditches on either side filled with deep snow so getting off of the trail was literally impossible at times. I discovered the best way to avoid embarrassment was to find a long straight stretch of trail and to get myself to the middle of it. I could then  hear and see any approaching snowmobilers equally from both directions so would have plenty of time to finish or abort depending on how long a stretch of trail it was;-)

One thing I really liked about hiking today was the eating part. I was always ready to eat, I may have just eaten a sandwich but knowing I had soup in my sled made me hungry for soup or whatever else I knew was in there. It may have been that it was so cold that day but I never put off eating because I knew I'd have to subject my hands to the cold to get to it(my picture taking did suffer though). Also knowing that there was a Tim Horton's at the end of the trail waiting for me with a cup of hot coffee and a bowl of chilli was certainly a motivating factor that kept me moving steadily and helped get me through the day.

The kilometre markers continued the count down for me to the, "beginning" of the line, 20, 10, 5,,,1 and I couldn't help but feel a rush of emotion. I really wish I had a better understanding of why the tears come at these kinds of moments but in some ways, "Why" doesn't really matter. I had set out to accomplish something and the emotions now welling up inside were the reward the universe was giving me for it. It felt good, I was happy, fulfilled and changed. I know that this moment and the rush of emotions accompanying it has somehow rewired my brain so that some part of me will never forget and will always be striving to feel like this again.

The End!



Note the elevation profile of the hill to the right.

The "Medusa" tree.

Only 5 to GO NOW!!

One more, time to break out the tears:-)

The last stretch of trail for me.

Me after hiking 104 kms of  the Cataraqui Tail(photo credit my Mom)

 Tim Horton's awaits.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

I'm going on an adventure - Part 2

The first yellow gate of the day.
After the initial shock, both mentally and physically, of hiking for 8 hours on my first day I decided to take a full day off. Honestly, that evening I was almost ready to put the whole thing off  'til the next weekend. I know most of you reading this(thru hikers and ultrarunners that you are) might find it bizarre that 8 hours of hiking was a such a shock to my system. Believe me I was a bit bewildered myself as to why I found it so difficult. Firstly, I think my mind had certain expectations as to how long I would be "out there" and when those assumptions turned out to be wrong a part of me became uncertain and mildly panicked for lack of a better word. Secondly, I also expected that my body would be happier. All felt good for the first 4 hours but then small aches and pains set in as my foot got sorer(possibly caused from slipping on the soft snow), my calf got tighter and the chain of pain made it's way up to my knee, hamstrings, hip and inner thigh. I spent the last 4 hours stretching various parts of my body hoping to work the kinks out and trying to make up for lost time. It didn't help that I was wrong about the distance as I thought I was hiking 30 km when it turned out to be more like 32 km so I was always behind and chasing that extra distance.

The yellow gates are left open in the winter only.
So the day off was what I needed to do to make sure my body and soul were recovered before I continued on. Luckily we have a new physiotherapy clinic in Sydenham and I was able to get my foot adjusted and prescribed some stretches to keep it and the rest of the "chain of pain" content for the second and last stage of my journey. I have been having trouble for the past 2 years with my left cuboid bone locking. My cuboid is actually pulled out of alignment by my tight calf and hamstring muscles so keeping them stretched before, during and after exercise is the best way to keep the cuboid in alignment. I wasn't hiking so I could end up injured so getting it taken care of before it got worse was my first order of business. By the evening of my day off I began to feel really good mentally about the first day and with a better perspective about everything I was even more excited then I was the first day to get hiking again.

Day 2, Sydenham to Hwy. 15 in Elgin, 38 km, 9 hours, 288 pictures
First picture of the day.
With a full days rest and a happy foot I began day 2 of my journey to hike the length of the Cataraqui Trail. Today I was beginning where I ended on Day 1, right across the street from my house, at kilometre 72 of the trail. It was 7 am and the sun was still low in the sky, I pulled out my enormous camera to take the first picture of the day and...what??? No battery! I had left the battery charging overnight so luckily it was right across the street and I was able to quickly run back home and retrieve it, emergency averted. I still hadn't found my phone that I lost on the first day of the hike so I had to put a few dollars on an old phone so I could keep in touch with my Mom so she knew when and possibly where(incase I didn't make it to Hwy. 15) to meet me at the end of the day. Now that I had a better handle on how long it would take me to hike the 38 km I was pretty sure that I would be approx. 9 hours on the trail and I felt a bit more prepared mentally to deal with being "out there"even longer this time. OK, doing the math I was probably still underestimating the time however I really thought that 9 hours would be my max as long as I didn't lollygag so much. I decided to save time by not taking too many pictures and I also tried to carry enough food and water on my person to last an hour so I wasn't having to stop and find things way back behind me(all of 4ft) on the sled. Now all I needed was for my body to cooperate and get me to where I was headed.

A snowmobiler on Sydenham Lake
I knew the first part of this leg of my hike very well. The trail follows along the shoreline of Sydenham lake for approx. 5km. The lake was already alive with snowmobilers heading to and from the ice huts that made up a mini hut city on the bay which is connected to the larger lake. It was a perfect day to be on the ice and trail. The skies were clear blue and the temperature was colder then the first day at around -12 C so the snow would hopefully remain firm and good for walking and sliding my sled on. Oh yes my sled, it is something I had laying around and used to take my daughter tobogganing on years ago. I really was not enjoying wearing a large pack on my back during my long hikes in the woods preparing for this hike. I guess I just didn't have time to get use to wearing one and mine wasn't really the kind of pack built for hiking.

Sleddy and The Dion Twins.
I had considered buying one however when I first dreamed up this idea of hiking the trail I saw myself pulling a sled so I guess I really never gave "backpacking" a chance. On my first day I had piled everything plus the kitchen sink on to "Sleddy" at the last minute including a small tent and a few too many litres of water. Today I brought only what I would most likely need packed into one duffle bag(my red Sydenham 8km bag). Inside that was an extra pair of socks, mitts, underclothes, a warmer overcoat snowpants and belaclava plus 2 litres of hotwater, 1 litre hot sport drink(accelerade), 3 granola bars, a thermos of chicken noodle soup, a thermos of coffee, 2 soyabutter(peanut allergy in the family) and jam sandwiches and trail mix along with a pair of sunglasses, sunscreen and hot packs for hands and feet. I kept all of my drinks inside another soft thermal bag to help keep my water from freezing. Oh and let's not forget my Dion snowshoes which I never wore but felt compelled to bring along since they like to get out and be around snow even if they aren't running on it themselves.

Ice hut city on the Eel Bay.

The stretch of trail from my house to the bay with the ice huts and a few kms beyond is anything but remote. There are houses and cottages lining the trail pretty much the length of the lake. A couple of differences between this section of  trail and the section I walked previously is that there are no farms here and the homes front onto the trail which passes between them and the lake. After this "residential/cottage" section the trail becomes much more removed from civilization. If I should have been worried about any section of the trail then the section I was now approaching was probably it.

You have now entered BEAVER COUNTRY!
There were very few homes on the trail for the next 30 km and for the most part I had now entered into beaver country. From this point on any low lying flat areas I came to had been damned and cleared by a beaver. There was still plenty of trees in the more rolling areas and I passed over or beside a number of lakes. This section of trail also had the most beautiful rock formations as it is part of the Canadian Sheild known as the Frontenac Axis. It really was a perfect day to be on the trail and I was never bored as I tried to soak in the ever changing landscapes that were unfolding before my eyes with every step. I was so glad to be able to see it in the light of day and not at night as it would have been if I had decided to tackle the entire trail all at once.

I chose to modify my original plans mostly for safety concerns including being on the trail at night with the snowmobilers, a fear of the animals(aliens, axe murderers and evil clowns) I might encounter and not to mention the cold. I would be hiking alone without any support, possibly any phone reception and without any prior experience plus with it being my first time covering such a long distance I ultimately made the decision to turn the hike into a 3 day event. Thinking about those fears now with 20/20 hindsight I can honestly say that many of my them were valid ones. I cannot tell you how many times I was unaware that I had a pack of snowmobilers behind me and didn't hear a thing. The noise from the sled dragging drowned out almost all other sounds and seemingly from nowhere I would hear the rev of an anxious snowmobiler waiting for me to move over and give him room to pass. I can only imagine how dangerous it would have been at night. As for the animals I did see a blood soaked spot where some small animal had been killed and carried away with it's blood dripping along the trail. It was fresh on the snow and not run over by snowmobile tracks yet so it had happened not too long before I had arrived. No, I probably would not have been approached by a wild animal but alone in the dark I know it would have been quite a terrifying night and I'd probably prefer to not be alone if I was to attempt a night hike in the future. I finished the days hike feeling so much better then I had on the first day. I ran the last 10km easily and feeling strong. I actually beat my Mom to our meeting spot by a few minutes and I had a chance to look across the road at tomorrow's starting point to ponder what my next day of hiking might hold for me.
To be continued...
Someone's watching over me.
What is that? Oh good it's not what I thought it was.

 A couple of furry hooved friends

One of two outhouses on the entire trail I saw but didn't use .

All Rideau Trail people please EXIT Right, to the bottom of that rivine!

ONLY 50 more to GO!!

Another Rideau Trail sign detouring hikers off of the straight flat Cat. trail into the winding hilly woods...again.

The UPDATED VERSION of km marker begins.

You have now entered BEAVER COUNTRY!

The 30's begin.

Not wolves or coyotes, just two huge friendly trail dogs.

It looked like a cemetary with all of those dead tree stumps.

Friendly snowmobilers on their smelly machines:-(

I may have skid marks but at least they're straight.

A super cool cloud over a frozen lake.

The count down continues.

Where I'll begin the last leg of my hike.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I'm going on an adventure!

The journey begins...:-) (Photo credit my Mom)
Hobbit: You! Mr. Bilbo where're you off to?
Bilbo Baggins:  I'm already late.
Hobbit:   Late for what?
Bilbo Baggins:
   I'm going on an adventure.

-The Hobbit -An Unexpected Journey by J.R.R. Tolkien

OK, it was just me being overly dramatic when the above lines from, "The Hobbit", came to mind as I headed out on my journey to hike the length of The Cataraqui Trail , "and I hope I don't meet any Orcs either", I laughed to myself. There was after all a 99.99% chance that no Orks or Goblins were lurking under the next bridge waiting to add me to their soup pot for dinner, but then again...I hadn't walked all 104 kms of the trail before so I couldn't know for sure and for that matter, I had never even heard of anyone who had walked the entire trail...and lived to tell about it anyhow.

A map of The Cataraqui Trail
According to the official website, "The Cataraqui Trail is an important link in the trail network in eastern Ontario. It is a four-season trail for hikers, cyclists, equestrians, snowmobilers and cross-country skiers following the former Canadian National Railway line between Strathcona near Napanee to Smiths Falls – a distance of 104 km.
The trail has 48 main and secondary road access points along its length. Travelling from south-west to north-east, the trail route follows the Napanee River from north of Napanee to Yarker, then passes over a slight height of land to Harrowsmith, descends to Sydenham, passes through the Canadian Shield to Chaffeys Lock, and then parallels the Rideau Lakes to Smiths Falls."

Behind The Strathcona Paper Mill
And so I began, at the end, at kilometre 104 of The Cataraqui Trail behind the Strathcona Paper Mill in Strathcona, Ontario. As the sun was rising, the chimney stacks of the paper plant appeared to be cloud making machines as they spewed hot billowing plumes into the cold winter's air. There was no signage or markings of any kind here at the end of the line but I was sure it was the correct trail, or should I say hoped it was. It was 7:00 am on Valentines Day morning and it was mildly cold at -5C. Now that we are deep into winter and acclimated to the extremes of the weather -5C is comfortable when dressed appropriately however it is almost too warm a temperature to be hiking on a snow covered trail. At this temperature the snow is still firm but with the sun rising the snow was bound to become soft, wet and slippery like walking on mushy mash potatoes. Needless to say the conditions on that day weren't the best but they could have also been much worse. I was after all dragging a sled that needed any kind of snow to slide on so I was happy to see a trail of endless white laid out ahead of me.

I decided to divide the 104 kilometres into 3 days of hiking. On the first day I would hike 32 km from Strathcona to Sydenham, on the second day 38 km Sydenham to Hwy. 15 in Elgin and on the third day 34 kms from Hwy 15 to the end, I mean the beginning, in Smith Falls. So on my very first day of hiking I was actually heading home to Sydenham where I live. The trail passes in front of my house, I walk my dog on the trail and run on it almost daily. So I was not only heading home but I was heading towards my home trail also, a trail I have enjoyed for almost 10 years but for the most part had not explored much beyond the boundaries of the village, until today. The problem with going too far out on any path is that eventually you have to turn around and retrace your steps, doubling your distance and time. So how is girl suppose to see the entire trail? A point to point hike is how. A point to point hike is when you start one place and end another at a designated end. So my point to point on day 1 was Strathcona to Sydenham. The problem with point to points is that you have to get to the beginning and get back from the end. In my case I had my Mom drop me at the beginning in Strathcona and the end was my house so that worked out fine. For the second leg of my hike from Sydenham to Elgin, I began from my home, so again no problem but then had my Mom meet me at the end of that day's hike on Hwy. 15 and drive me home again. For the final leg I drove to my Mom's and she drove me to my starting point then picked me up in Smith Falls and we returned to her house and I drove myself home. So as you can see point to points are great for when you want to hike longer but require support and assistance from others and having someone willing to do that is worth a million bucks in my book(Thanks Mom you are the BEST!!).

Day 1 Strathcona to Sydenham - 32 km, 8 hours, 248 pictures

It was my first day on the trail, I was so excited to have begun a hike which I had been planning for 3 months since I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my right tibia. I have been a dedicated runner for 5 years now and when I was diagnosed with a stress fracture I had to put all of my running training and goals on hold until I healed. My doctor said I could do any exercise that didn't hurt my leg during or after and I found I could walk pain free. Stress fractures need time to heal however they may heal quicker in some cases if the patient is able to continue with weight bearing activities which stimulate bone growth, "as long as it doesn't hurt", that is. In most cases depending on the severity of the fracture one can heal in 3 to 8 weeks. As it turns out I may not have even had a fracture at all.  A bone scan done a month after diagnosis showed no sign of one but I didn't know that at the time I began planning this hike and whatever was causing me pain when I ran needed to heal anyhow so taking time off from running and turning my goals towards hiking was a good way for me to heal and to keep myself active. Even as I slowly got back to running I remained totally focused on finishing my goal of hiking the entire trail, and now here I was, doing it.

 The air was still chilled but I could see warm wisps of fog hanging over the farmer's fields. Crystallized ice covered the remains of summer's wild flowers and frost nipped evergreens twinkled in the morning sun. The straight corridor that lay before me seemed endless, a tunnel made of trees, cutting behind the backyards of family homes, past the back fences of working farms. Like being on the back lot of a movie set I felt like I was seeing the behind the scene workings of the lives of the people who live in the villages I was passing through. Instead of a wreath on a front door I saw playsets and barbeques. Instead of a swing on the front porch I saw the farm animals and tractor parts. Every now and again the straight corridor would become a gentle curve and then a new corridor would present itself to me, beckoning me towards it's end.

little cow...
I passed over many crossings which were all well marked with road and trail signs so could have easily found my bearings on a map if I had one or left the trail to explore the town if I so desired. However since I was on a mission to cover 32 km on the day I knew I had to keep moving at a good even walking pace so as not to be out for too long and run out of food, water or stamina. I had hoped I would make better time then I was according to my GPS watch which gave me distance, pace and time readings. I appeared to be walking 12 min. kilometres however stopping to take pictures and eat and drink perhaps too much I was averaging more like 15 min per kilometer which meant 4 kms an hour and doing the math I soon realized it would take me 8 hours to reach home. Unfortunately my watch's battery died after 4 hours and I had misplaced my phone somewhere so I began to lose track of time and thought it was all taking a bit too long. I had never been out on a run or hike for longer then 4 and half hours and time began to stand still. My mantra soon became to just keep my feet moving forward and surely eventually I would end up where I was headed, right?

I passed the time taking way too many pictures of trees and enjoying watching the farm animals whos ears perked up as they heard the scraping of my sled on the snowy trail. I only saw a few people out walking their dogs on this first day of my journey but not one snowmobile although the trail had clearly been groomed over and over by more then a few of their underbellies.  There were signs signifying the Snowmobile Club's resurfacing and upkeep of the trail and informative plaques pointing out various flora, fauna and their ecological and/or historical significance. Like the cedar tree also known as "The Tree of Life", who's bark and foliage was used by Iroquois Native people to save the lives of French explorers suffering from scurvy, and the apple tree which was probably the result of a passenger throwing an apple core out the train's window. I think my favorite sight was that of a huge round bail of hay with equally huge horns protruding over it.
I spent my day keeping care of myself, eating, drinking and managing my layers of clothing as the temperatures began to rise above freezing so as not to sweat. Sweating outside in the winter is one of the worst things you can do. If you let your under layers become wet then when the temperatures begin to cool again later in the day that moisture can freeze and you can get very cold very quickly and perhaps even hypothermic. It is better to try to avoid sweating however I was carrying extras of everything and a towel just incase I needed to make a change into dry clothes. As I kept moving determined to keep pace and at the same time try to enjoy just being in the moment I realized I was passing over roads who's names I recognized and I was in my mind almost home. Well if I had been driving I would have been almost home, like 15-20 minutes away. But I was hiking on a winding trail so I did the math and realized I was still 4 hours from home, which was only half way. OMG, I never realized how far away Yarker and Harrowsmith really were from Sydenham. Then I began to think about the people long ago who lived here, before there were cars, would they take the train say from Strathcona to Yarker? It almost seems absurd to think about taking a train such a short distance these days but perhaps they did and then sometimes they'd take it all the way to Smith Falls. So really the train was the connection between these small towns, a connection that is no longer there...except for the trail it once followed, the one I was now walking on. Suffice it to say I made it home to Sydenham just under my 8 hour pace. I ran the last stretch as much as I could even though my left foot felt like a blown flat tire. I was exhausted both physically and mentally. "How do people do it",  I thought to myself. "Hike for days, weeks, months. Run ultramarathons through the night when all I can do is hike 8 hrs. and I am ready for a hot bath and a good nights sleep". And oh did I sleep...zzzzzzzzzzzz

To be continued...

Kilometre marker 96...the first marker I spotted some 8 kms from Strathcona

95 kilometres to go
This tree appeared to be welcoming me to trail

One of many gentle curves on the trail




A shy owl.

Two paths to Sydenham

What do you see? I see an old frozen man.

Where the Rideau Trail and the Cataraqui Trail cross in Sydenham