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


Derrick said...

Awesome Day #1 report on your adventure. I recognize a lot of those photos, but interesting seeing others through your eyes, and that I might never notice regardless of the times I run past them. Very cool.

Sara Montgomery said...

Really enjoying the report, EJ! Can't wait to read more. Your paragraph about looking into back yards is very beautiful. I will think of that often on future Cat Trail runs.

Lakewood said...

An adventure indeed! What a fun and detailed read. Yay! So glad you wrote it up and I look forward to the rest of the story. (You're on your way to becoming a true thru-hiker by the way...woo hoo. Come to the dark side! muhhaaahaa)

Great pics too.:-)

slowrunner said...

very kool ej! love new adventures! and LOVE the pics! maybe we should attempt the pct some day ...

Eliza Ralph-Murphy said...

Thanks guys:-) I knew you would all get it...absolutly no one else seems to:-( What are you doing? Why? I kinda started to question myself. I did in the end compromise by breaking it into 3 stages but it was the right thing to do for many reasons I will try to touch on in my next post, that is if I remember. It all seems like so long ago now...the memory is fading. You are all the best BTW and a continuing source of inspiration, support and friendship I cherish and hope you all feel the same way...GROUP HUG;-P

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great report on part one of your adventure. Can you tell us about your sled? - Jack

Eliza Ralph-Murphy said...

My sled is just a childs sled I had lying around the garage. Nothing fancy really needed for the Cat. Trail as it is for the most part flat and straight. I am sure a "suped-up" racing sled with runners and poles would have performed better but I was happy to use what I had. It did run up my back a few times on a couple of downhills so I just walked it down beside me. I lengthened the rope a bit with a dog leash then attached that to my water belt which I wore losely around my waist or hips throughout the day. A sled with runners would have possibly been quieter dragging along the snow which in retrospect would have been nice:-)