As many of you may already know (or not), I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jonathan Toews, a local athlete who plans to hike along the Bruce Trail in an effort to raise money and awareness for the Mood Disorders Society of Canada as part of a national campaign called Defeat Depression.
Jonathan’s goal is to accomplish this amazing feat on weekends by hiking for 100 kilometres (over the span of approximately 24 consecutive hours) on five separate occasions throughout the weekends of February and March.
This past Super Bowl Sunday marked Jonathan’s first successful day of hiking, so not long after he arrived back home (he had to drive his own car back from Milton – yikes!), I sat down once again with a slightly exhausted, albeit surprisingly vibrant Jonathan to discuss his gruellingly triumphant first day out on the trails.
WEEK ONE: SATURDAY FEBRUARY 4
The day started off early with freezing temperatures somewhere in the minus-10 department. Luckily, Jonathan didn’t have to hike alone as he ended up meeting with his good friend, Alex Glenn, who Jonathan describes as a “fairly accomplished” ultra-marathon runner. Unfortunately, due to the fact that Jonathan lives in Niagara and Alex lives somewhere outside of Toronto, each of them ended up having to drive their own separate vehicles to their pre-planned starting point located near Campbellville Road and Appleby Line at around 7am. According to Jonathan, he and Alex paced each other extremely well throughout the hike.
“He’s good,” said Jonathan. “Throughout the hike he gave me a lot of different tips on how to be efficient, such as to always be moving as much as you can. If you don’t need to stop, don’t. And if you do have to stop, always try to stop in a valley where you’re better protected from the wind. Plus, if you do get a chill, you know you’ve got a climb in front of you to help warm you up again.”
Other quick tips included always trying to drink water every 30 minutes, using your cell phone at the top of a hill for better reception, and always using the flat surface of a road section to your advantage when needed (changing socks for example).
Jonathan also mentioned that at around the 4 hour mark, he really felt like he was just starting to warm up, but that by the 12 hour mark, he was definitely starting to feel the physical effects of the long day.
“Then by about the 15-to-16 hour mark, my mind literally had to tell my body: No, you can do more.”
Initially, Kathleen Lamoureux, a good friend and registered nurse out of St. Catharines was scheduled to join Jonathan at the 12 hour mark where she would then join in and hike throughout the entire evening in order to keep Jonathan company, but unfortunately, Kathleen injured her knee while she was cycling during the week leading up to the hike – but that definitely didn’t stop Kathleen from helping out in other ways.
“Alex stayed on and finished the entire hike with me,” said Jonathan, “but luckily, Kathleen also came out at around the halfway mark, even though she didn’t hike with us. I called her from about an hour out to coordinate a meeting spot and she brought us some fresh, hot coffee, which was awesome! We stopped for about 30 minutes, rested and chatted a bit, and then we were off again. From there, Kathleen continued to stick around throughout the night. She drove out to our final destination and waited for us to finish. In the morning, she drove us back to our cars.”
After around 12 hours of hiking, a quarter of which was in the dark, Jonathan and Alex had already travelled 65 kilometres on foot, which was well ahead of their schedule.
“Being ahead of schedule was good, as things really slowed down at night compared to the day. Plus, fatigue throughout the evening was a definite factor.”
HIKING AT NIGHT
It ended up getting dark by about the tenth hour, so to help keep his sanity in check, Jonathan said that he and Alex would trade off by alternating the lead. That way, one person wasn’t always out front and the other wasn’t always behind.
“I tried to stay about 3 or 4 feet behind Alex,” said Jonathan, “keeping a close proximity and focus on his line (footpath). I kept a close eye on where he was walking. If it looked good, I followed him. If he slipped, I’d adjust my path.”
As far as lighting went, Jonathan said that they were more than fine, but as a precaution, they both brought extra lights and batteries just in case.
JR: Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
“A little bit of light in front of you is the best thing. You don’t need a spread of 10-to-15 feet. All you need is a good 3 feet right ahead of you.”
Jonathan also described the last 6 or 7 kilometres as being the most difficult. “I got frustrated with Alex,” he admitted. “He was coordinating the areas and I was getting flustered with him because of the fatigue. The distances felt a lot longer than they actually were.”
Mental fatigue also nearly derailed Jonathan from his original plan.
“At around the seventeenth or eighteenth hour of the hike, I seriously considered only doing 12 or 15 hours the next time out and not the whole 24. Fatigue was really messing with my mind at that point.”
Given the amount of snow and ice on the ground, certain sections of the trail also proved to be quite challenging at night.
“Both of us crashed pretty hard on a very steep section that was covered with ice and about 3-to-4 centimetres of snow,” said Jonathan. “It was a tricky and long descent with steep stairs and wooden ledges. Some of the descents had a rope, but this one you had to brace into a tree with your foot and sometimes you couldn’t even see where to step safely. It was a big, big challenge.”
TOTAL DISTANCE AND TIME
In total, Jonathan and Alex travelled 107 kilometres over a 22 hour period.
ADJUSTMENTS FOR NEXT WEEK?
“Feet are everything,” said Jonathan. “Our layering system was perfect. Our hands were warm. But keeping your feet dry was absolutely critical. We ended up with very wet feet during the hike – not freezing cold or numbness, but certainly wet. I figured if I was out there another hour or so, my feet would have definitely froze. Alex brought an extra pair of shoes, which was smart, so that’s definitely something that I plan on doing the next time out.”
He also plans to change his socks every 3 hours instead of every 6-to-8 hours.
“As far as clothing goes, the temperature was minus-10, so I wore a base-layer, long-sleeve top and pants that had at least 80-percent merino wool in them,” said Jonathan. “It breathes better, it dries quicker, and you don’t get cold from it. Then overtop of that, you want a nice light jacket with a little bit of insulation and venting. You don’t want a big puffy down-filled jacket – a Gore-Tex shell overtop would be ideal.
He also mentioned that on his second hike, he planned to add a fourth layer, such as a carbon fiber wicking shirt, which is an extremely light fabric. For more information on proper hiking gear, you can check out ARC’TERYX TORONTO, located at 339 Queen Street West in Toronto, Ontario.
INTERESTED IN JOINING JONATHAN ON ONE OF HIS HIKES?
LOOKING TO MAKE A DONATION OR BECOME A SPONSOR?
HAVE A QUESTION OR COMMENT?
Website: https://mdsc.akaraisin.com/Common/Event/Home.aspx?seid=13575&mid=8 (Donate)
The Mood Disorders Society of Canada (MDSC) is a national non-profit charity which works collaboratively with health, research, private sector and government partners so that these organizations keep people with mental illness at the forefront of their activities. MDSC seeks to improve access to services, more research, better programs and government policies that have our interests in focus. Please visit our website to learn more: mdsc.ca
Written by James Ryan at The Fallen Trail