“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.” ― Cheryl Strayed
Jonathan Toews has been trekking along the Bruce Trail for the past four consecutive weekends in an effort to raise money and awareness for the Mood Disorders Society of Canada as part of a national campaign called Defeat Depression. It’s something that has become very personal for Jonathan and despite the wear and tear on his body and his mind, he’s not about to give up when he’s this close to the finish line. In fact, he’s definitely going for that podium.
There’s just something about hiking that’s good for the soul. The wind blowing through the treetops. The water rushing up against the rocks. The birds chirping. The owls hooting. And if you’re willing to work for it – the view can be absolutely unbeatable when you find yourself in the right moment. That’s what it’s like to let go of yourself and truly enjoy nature for what it really is – wild simplicity mixed with unimaginable beauty. I often say this as I’m out there on the trails, getting a little exercise, working up a good sweat – who could possibly be depressed in a moment like this? Who doesn’t just automatically start to feel better the moment they allow themselves to reconnect with nature? I can’t speak for everyone else, and certainly not for Jonathan, but I know that’s how it is with me. Being outside makes me a happier person.
And that’s why hiking, as a physical activity, is the all-around perfect mood enhancer. How great is it that Jonathan chose this type of activity to benefit those who struggle with their own happiness? People who battle depression every day – it’s perfect!
I will say this about hiking… as great as it is to hike with other people, it’s also good to just head out on your own once in a while. It’s an amazing way to clear your mind and rid yourself of those dark, depressing thoughts that keep on plaguing you in times of stress and/or loneliness. We all experience it at some point. It’s part of the human condition. Life wouldn’t be life without its ups and downs. It’s all in how you deal with it.
But anyway, enough about that… let’s review last weekend’s hike (number 4), shall we?
The day started off around 4:30am Saturday with Jonathan and Kathleen (Lamoureax), along with a couple of energetic hikers by the names of Nicholas Murray and Andrew Newton, picking me up at the carpool parking lot, and off we went. We arrived in the Beaver Valley area just a bit after 7:00am in what I would consider to be dangerously thick fog. It was pretty darn cold out too with that wind whipping right through my jacket, so I ended up doing a pretty shakey job of filming the guys getting their gear on and setting out onto the trail. Even the pictures I took of the guys at the starting point turned out really blurry. #mybad #SeamusShakesOMalryan
After we dropped the fellas off in the cold, wet conditions, Kathleen and I drove down into Collingwood to hit up a Timmie’s so we could warm up a little bit before heading back out. After that we drove up to the top of some ski hill lookout area that intersects with the Bruce Trail and took some pretty awesome pictures of the scenic town below. This was my first trip up that way, which always shocks people when I tell them that, but I have to admit, it’s pretty beautiful up there. I’ll definitely be going back again soon.
Okay, let me just say that driving around at the top of the escarpment on all of those roughly paved, back-country roads only to find out that the thru-way you thought was an open road on the map was in fact closed due to a lack of snow-removal maintenance throughout the winter months. A lot of detours, turn-arounds, and problem solving to be sure. Gotta give major props to Kathleen though. If not for her driving skills, I don’t think we would have been able to find the parking lots and meet up with Jonathan and company at any of the designated meeting spots at the correct times to offer any sort of relief to the hikers. So great job, Kathleen! #yourock
When we finally met up with Jonathan, Nicholas, and Andrew, Jonathan decided not to rest, but to keep pressing on. He was definitely feeling good. I’ve learned that Jonathan likes to go strong right out of the gates to try and get a good jump on the time and distance, knowing full well that he’ll be forced to slow down once it gets dark. It seems to be a strategy that works. As for Nicholas and Andrew, they hopped in the vehicles with Kathleen and I (I was driving Andrew’s car) and we drove up to the next parking lot along the Bruce.
Not long afterwards, Jonathan arrived and rested just long enough to change his socks, grab a quick bite to eat and then he was off again. Nicholas and Andrew did the same but ventured out shortly after Jonathan.
The next parking lot brought Kathleen and I to the entranceway of the Grey Sauble Conservation Area, or as the sign said, “Old Baldy.” My sciatica was bothering me from sitting in the car for so long, so I put on my hiking gear, grabbed my pack and headed up to the lookout where I could see Beaver Valley and all of the opposing ski resorts in their entirety. It was magnificent. Pretty windy too, which made it even more awesome.
With a nearly-dead cell phone in my pocket, I decided to get back to the lower lot where Kathleen was attempting to take a nap (I think), but not too long after I returned from my solo hike, Jonathan showed up again with a big smile on his face. You could tell he was enjoying himself. This was at around 1:30pm. At that point, Jonathan had been hiking for about 6 full hours.
Only 18 more to go (give or take).
Make no mistake, hiking fans – hiking for 100 kilometers within a 24-hour non-stop period is grueling at best. Also, because of the added pressure and the self-imposed time constraints, it’s easy to forget that we all need to stop and smell the roses sometimes – or in this case, enjoy the view. So my advice to Jonathan before he ventured off again was to take at least 2-minutes to stop, relax, focus, decompress, and enjoy the spectacular scenery. And also, to enjoy being outside in nature on such a cool February day. It sure as heck beats sitting in a cubicle someplace staring at a computer screen, don’t you think?
Once Jonathan took off, Kathleen decided to go on ahead to wait for him at the next lot, and we agreed that I would stay back to wait for Nicholas and Andrew to arrive. Sounded like a good plan, so I waited. And waited. And I waited some more, but the two young fellas were nowhere to be found. Eventually, it had to have been at least twice the amount of time that it took Jonathan to reach the parking lot, so I feared that something might not be right. So once again, I put on my pack, grabbed my hiking stick, and started up the road. Turns out, had I left 10 minutes sooner, I would have missed them both. I actually found them standing off to the side of the road near the Bruce Trail entranceway, only they didn’t just come off of the Bruce Trail. They came in from down the adjoining road after having gotten lost and then somehow, quite luckily I might add, redirected back towards the parking lot where I found them taking pictures. I was glad they were safe.
They offered me some chocolate-covered blueberries (they were delicious btw), and in return, I offered to take them up to the top of the lookout so I could chat with them some more and make sure they were good to continue. Really though, it was just an excuse on my part to see the amazing view again. It felt incredibly therapeutic to stand there on the edge of the cliff with the strong winds gusting into my face with all of their respectable might. Why wouldn’t I want to do it again? But even better, I’d get to share the experience with other people.
I messaged Kathleen and asked her about leaving the car in the lot and hiking with the fellas to the next stop (she was already there anyway). That way I could keep on hiking – keep that sciatica moving, and keep the guys company all at the same time. I could sense they were slowing down a bit and the climbing wasn’t helping any. We traversed our way out of the woods and onto a muddy back road. I’m pretty sure I didn’t stop talking the whole time (sorry guys). I found out they both work for their own film production company, and Andrew studies fitness at Niagara College, so we mainly talked about the fitness industry, media, blogging, vlogging, and mixed martial arts. #goodstuff
At the end of the mud road, a micro-blizzard decided to come in from outta nowhere, so the snow was literally blowing sideways right into our faces. Nicolas (Nick) was hobbling a bit due to a foot cramp and Andrew (Andy) was tired but still trucking along, albeit slowly. At this point they had both been hiking for about 9 hours straight – pretty impressive for a couple of guys who hadn’t attempted anything like this before.
Kathleen to the rescue!
Fast forward about an hour later and it’s amazing to me how a situation can change so rapidly. One minute you’re freezing your arse off, feeling all beaten up and destitute, more or less on the verge of giving up, and the next minute you’re sitting in a warm car eating somewhat-warm pizza and sharing a good laugh together. Again, that’s life. Sometimes you just gotta hang in there, ESPECIALLY when the going gets rough.
Kathleen picked us up along the side of the main road and drove all of us back to Andrew’s car where the boys said their goodbyes and headed home. They tried their best and they should be proud of that. I’m a big believer that the only failure is not trying.
With Nick and Andy now gone, Kathleen and I quickly made our way back to the next parking lot to meet up with Jonathan. The lot was filled with deep, slushy snow, so we ended up having to park on the road. It had just gotten dark when Jonathan finally showed up. He changed his socks, put on some long underwear, grabbed a snack and headed back out into the woods. To me, he seemed to be showing signs of exhaustion. At that point, Jonathan had been hiking for about 11 straight hours.
“Good news everyone. Jonathan is already 2/3 the way through his 100km hike and it’s only been 13.5 hours so far. Truly amazing. That’s the good news. The bad news is they’re calling for 15 cm of snow overnight with white-outs resulting in zero visibility at times. And he’s obviously tired. And alone. So everyone, listen up… if you’re reading this – if anyone out there is still following along… Jonathan needs your positive energy now more than ever. What he’s doing is nothing short of incredible. The reason he’s doing all of this is to help people. So let’s help him by letting him know how much we appreciate what he’s doing. Thank you.”
With Jonathan out there hiking all alone in the dark, trying his best to figure out the best possible way to cross an over-filled stream without getting soaked up to his knees, Kathleen and I reclined the front seats and watched an old Jim Carrey movie: Yes Man. Part way into the film, I confessed to her that I felt really bad that Jonathan was out there hiking all by himself, so I asked how she would feel if I went out hiking too. No sooner did I say that, when he showed up. I had hinted at hiking with him earlier, but this time I didn’t present it as an option. I wanted to go and just short of him telling me not to, I was going to keep him company whether he liked it or not. Frankly, I thought it was too dangerous for him to be hiking at night on his own. If something were to happen, an injury perhaps, he’d be in a heap of trouble and we’d have a difficult time finding him in this weather. But he seemed genuinely happy that I had decided to come along, so I got my gear together and we were ready to roll. It was just after 10:30pm at this point.
Not far into our journey together, we ended up hiking the Beaver Valley Ski Resort from bottom to top. It was awesome. The grooming trucks were shining their bright lights on the hill and we managed to put one foot in front of the other as we climbed up the snow-covered mountainside. The good news is my sciatica disappeared from my right side. The bad news is it shifted over to the left. But oh well, so long as I kept moving, it wasn’t so bad.
The ski hill had been marked very well with the Bruce Trail blazes all the way up, but unfortunately, when we got to the top, the trail of breadcrumbs had disappeared – no more blazes. We searched the parking lot to the right but that wasn’t it. We walked down the road to the left, but that wasn’t it either. The blaze on the fence did not indicate a right or left turn, so that could only mean that the Bruce Trail must have continued straight into a big, empty field. So Jonathan and I hiked across the field, up to the right, back to the left, back across again, and then all around trying to find the blaze markers, but still no luck.
Then a car pulled up (I’m guessing he worked there) so we stopped to ask the young man for directions. He said that the Bruce Trail ran down the right side through the parking lot (where we first went), curved around a bend in the road, past some houses, and down into the woods from there. We thanked him and went on our way. Only when we got to the very end, there was still nothing. Not a marker in sight. We must have misheard him or something, we thought. So back we went again. Back into the field, back again to the top of the ski hill, and back out to the road. We were lost, but not really. We knew where we were, we just couldn’t figure out how to get to where we needed to go. All in all, we wasted a good hour and a half walking around the top of the ski resort. We were cold, tired, and frustrated.
Things didn’t get immediately better either as we walked to the closest intersection. Jonathan had called Kathleen who then told us that her car battery had died and she was waiting on CAA to show up and give her a boost. When we arrived at the closest intersection, it was like a ghost town – very creepy with the snow blowing all around us. No signs of life in any direction. And to complicate things even further, the road signs had a completely different name. Jonathan had the Bruce Trail app on his phone, but we really struggled to find our exact location.
Then our saviour arrived!
A lovely young blonde girl, and I’m guessing her father in the passenger seat, had stopped at the four-way intersection with Jonathan and I standing in the middle of the road. “Hi there!” we shouted with big smiles on our faces. “Just wondering if you could help us out?”
But the young girl kept on driving, verrrryyyy slowwwwllyyyy, right past us. She wouldn’t even make eye contact with us. It was like we were invisible. Hilarious actually. We were stunned. I mean… I know we both look like a couple of homeless dudes with these beards, but c’mon… seriously? At least crack the window slightly and ask if we need help. #idk
Oh well, so much for the help. We re-examined the map and concluded that if we took one of the roads it would run us almost parallel to the Bruce Trail and eventually bring us out to the exact same parking lot where Kathleen was waiting. So we walked. And we walked. And we froze. And we walked. But at least when the CAA truck blew by us, we knew we were headed in the right direction. I think that little boost of confidence definitely helped us to keep our feet moving in that moment of frustration. On the way back, the CAA driver stopped to say hello and asked if we needed a ride to where Kathleen was parked, but we declined. In hindsight, we probably deserved the break after wasting an hour and a half at the ski resort, but oh well. It’s all just part of the challenge.
I wasn’t sure if I was gonna go back out again once we sat down in the car – my hip was feeling pretty sore, but I’m glad that I did. The next section started off with snow-covered fields, which lead us directly to a gorge that we could only get into by climbing down a very steep, snow-covered ladder. I would say that this area was by-far the most dangerous area to hike through. Between the deep snow in some sections, the greasy hills in others, and of course, the darkness all around us, I’d say we got off pretty lucky with only falling once. Okay, maybe I slipped and fell twice, but who’s really counting?
We eventually climbed our way out of there and I was just about ready to pack it in, but we met up with Kathleen again, and after a few minutes of rest, we were back out on the road for another long, flat, straight portion of the trail. It was 5:00am at this point and we only had one more section to finish. At the end, we were both completely exhausted. Jonathan had successfully hiked 100 kilometers in 22 hours, and I finished my own personal best of 12 hours, broken up into 4 hours during the day and 8 hours during the night. Our finish time was just after 6:00am.
“He did it!!! Congratulations Jonathan Toews on finishing week number 4 at 100 kilometers. An amazing achievement by any standard. Proud of you buddy. And thanks to everyone who followed along [on Facebook] today. Be sure to tune in next week for the 5th and final adventure. Good night folks. We’re exhausted lol. Oh, and a HUGE thank you to Kathleen Lamoureux for her amazing support today. Couldn’t have done it without you, so on behalf of Jon, Nick, Andrew, and myself, thank you!!”
Week 1 Update – Read about it HERE
Hiking Partner: Alex Glenn
Total Time: 22 hours
Total Distance: 107 kms
Average Day Temp: -8 degrees
Average Night Temp: – 10 degrees
Week 2 Update – Read about it HERE
Hiking Partner: Amy Tunstall (aimoutside.com)
Total Time: 22 hours
Total Distance: 89 kms
Average Day Temp: +2 degrees
Average Night Temp: 0 degrees
Week 3 Update - Read about it HERE
Hiking Partner: Joe Zack
Total Time: 22 hours
Total Distance: 90 kms
Average Day Temp: +10 degrees (windy)
Average Night Temp: +2 degrees
Week 3 Update
Total Time: 22 hours
Total Distance: 100 kms
Average Day Temp: -10 degrees (very windy)
Average Night Temp: -15 degrees (very windy)
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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