Wherever Our Feet Take Us
Although not our usual preference for trails, we picked up the Trans Canada Trail at Kennedy Road north of Inglewood. This trail, part of an old railway track, had no roots, no rocks, no hills, no switchbacks. It was flat as the prairies. But that was okay. Today, we were getting our ‘sea legs’ back under us. With our backpacks fully loaded as if we were doing a three day backcountry trip, our shoulders shuddered in protest as we threw our packs over our backs and set out early in the morning just as the sun was rising.
Not too far down the trail, we approached a small, sheltered wetland area. As the noise and the rush of the roads faded behind us, the familiar refrain of Mother Nature’s Morning Symphony of the Trail soon greeted us, joyfully extolling the beauty of the new day and retelling the story of the season’s renewal. Spring was on its way!
Mourning doves, claiming nesting territory, lamented their sad song, woo-OO-oo-oo-oo, wearily trying to woo a potential mate much too early in the morning.
Red-winged blackbirds chirped their staccato chak chak chak as they boldly began organizing their busy day.
Crows criss-crossed through the trees, their caw-caw, caw-caw loudly proclaiming their annoyance to the universe at having to share this space with such unintelligent creatures.
A lone goose stood in the middle of a half-frozen pond, turning this way and that, barking orders to an invisible flock that seemed to be sensibly still sleeping.
Ducks quietly quacked their morning conversations to each other, their throaty cries fading in and out and echoing slightly, dispelling the common myth and providing a soothing and familiar background hum.
A startled beaver forcefully slapped his tail on the water in warning before diving with a splash, accentuating the melody with a cymbal-like crash and advising the other beavers to stay safely submerged until we passed.
The first few kilometres were spent like this, hiking in silence, listening to the symphony and reconnecting to that quiet still place inside of us that sometimes gets lost in the busy-ness of everyday life. I have come to love these moments of silence on the trail, each of us lost in our own thoughts and yet, somehow still connected in a companionship of stillness as the miles slip away beneath our feet and the hours pass in wild, time bending ways where any given moment could last five minutes or five hours, it’s hard to tell. Content in the knowledge that words are not always necessary, we intuitively understand that some experiences transcend the spoken word, instead manifesting in that place deep inside each of us where the truth of our existence resides.
A couple of kilometres down the trail we met an elderly couple. “Where are you headed?” the man asked us, noticing our packs.
“Wherever our feet take us,” we answered truthfully.
THE TRAILSIDE CAFÉ
Even with the heavy packs we were making good time. Mid-morning was upon us before we knew it and as we approached Caledon East, we decided to stop at the Trailside Café to use the washroom. This is a luxury not afforded to us on most of the trails we run and hike so we took full advantage. Once inside, the appeal of freshly brewed Hazelnut Vanilla and big fat freshly baked chocolate chip muffins overtook us and suddenly made us realize it had been a few hours since breakfast.
WHAT HAPPENS ON THE TRAIL, STAYS ON THE TRAIL
After our morning snack, back on the trail, the miles passed once more in silence. There are times on the trail when this silence is interrupted not by the wondrous sound of nature’s creatures but by the sound of human bodily functions which, no longer having reason to be restrained as they would in polite society, pass themselves on the trail without a second thought. At times, belching and other forms of gaseous release can even take on a competitive aspect. It was at this moment that one escaped from the confines of Stephen’s throat. Spewing a toxic cloud of flammable chemicals into the air, it sounded as if it had been formed in the very tips of his toes, gathering strength and momentum as it travelled up through his body and finally found its way out. Not to be outdone, I responded with one of my own. It is at times like these that Stephen often wonders aloud how such a big sound can come from such a small person. This time I think I had pushed it a little too far.
“I think I just threw up in my mouth a little,” I shared.
“Gross,” Stephen replied.
As if to purge that disturbing image from our minds, the conversation suddenly became more animated. Stephen reached up to the back of his neck and pulled something out from under his hat.
“God,” he said as he pulled out a few strands of tangled, knotted, long, reddish hair that had attached themselves to the Velcro of his hat. “Your hair gets EVERYWHERE! I thought it was a bug crawling up the back of my neck!”
“That’s so I can ALWAYS be with you wherever you go,” I teased him, winking. “So you’ll never forget me.”
“Oh God,” he quipped. “I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.”
Passing through another wetland area, we paused to watch some geese foraging in the reeds that the retreating ice was now revealing and seagulls madly diving in all directions for their mid-morning snack. Suddenly, a large bluish-grey shadow seemed to materialize close to the surface of the water halfway across the pond, floating into my field of vision. As the shadow sharpened into focus, I knew in an instant it was a great blue heron. It seemed to be in no hurry, slowly and gracefully taking flight to the far end of the pond where perhaps, the fishing just might be improved. My jaw met the trail as I scrambled to get my camera, but before I could retrieve it, the heron was too far away. For a moment, I was disappointed that I was unable to capture it on film.
Then I recalled a scene from the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Sean Penn plays an elusive photojournalist for Life magazine, travelling to exotic locations and beckoning the main character Walter (played by Ben Stiller) to step outside his comfort zone and search out adventures. Waiting for the perfect shot, Sean describes being in the moment instead of being distracted by his camera.
“Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”
Walter: “Stay in it?”
“Yeah. Right there. Right here.”
And so instead, I stayed in the moment, grateful to have witnessed the beauty. Not every moment can be or should be caught on film. Some are meant to be experienced and remembered in the heart.
THE SIDE TRAIL
On our way back, we decided to climb a crumbled bridge abutment that had at one time supported a road across the trail, joining one farmer’s field to another high above the railway. We each ran up the embankment on the opposite side of the trail and sat on the bridge remnants, waving to each other. With this little excursion, our total elevation gain for the entire hike came to an astounding, wait for it, twenty metres! Not our most demanding hike in terms of elevation and challenging conditions but the weight of our packs made up for it.
THE TRAILSIDE CAFÉ REVISITED
Heading back towards Caledon East, we were again soon to pass the Trailside Café. This time, it was homemade pepperoni pizza that drew us in. It was, after all, past lunchtime.
LIFE IS SOMETIMES RANDOM BOOK CHARACTERS, SONG LYRICS, AND MOVIE QUOTES
A little farther down the trail, we ran into a lost mitten in a tree looking for its mate, saw Johnathon Livingston Seagull, and crossed a Bridge Over Troubled Waters. We had to carefully cross the Great Glacier of East Caledon, watching out for the sketchy, deep crevasses that will swallow you whole, Ultimate Survivor Alaska style!
Six hours and 30 kilometres later, we arrived back at the car. It had been a great day. We found our trail legs still faithful to us even with an added 25 pounds on our backs. The sun had been kind to us, whole-heartedly apologizing for its absence through much of the long cold winter by shining brightly in a cobalt blue sky with small wispy white clouds and a warmth that promised long summer days ahead. Nature sang to us, and we once again felt content to simply, silently abide in each other’s presence. Another perfect day on the trails.
Is there ever really a bad day?