From day one I was looking forward to when I would hike the hills close to home.
When my brother asked, “would you consider hiking the entire Bruce Trail with me?” without hesitation, my answer was “absolutely”. I’ve spent my life outdoors and hiked most of the sections of the Bruce Trail closest to my home, but never the entire trail, end-to-end. June 29, 2018, marked the first day of our 908 km trek. My brother and I left the south terminal in Niagara each with a 40lb pack on our backs and coffee in our hands. However, I did not realize that this adventure would quickly become a solo one. Unfortunately, my brother crossed some challenges and was not able to join me on the second day. From there, I set out for the remainder 883 km of the Bruce Trail alone.
Prior to my trip, I carefully tested and selected my new tent and sleep pad. It wasn’t long before I lost them and decided the safest option for a solo hiker was to find hotels, bed and breakfasts or stay with family and friends. This was also a nice opportunity to shower and stock up on the necessary supplies. In order to complete this journey to return to work in time, I had to average a marathon in distance (42 km) per day. The distance wasn’t intimidating in the least; it was the thought of spending 10-12 hours a day, repeatedly for 22 days, pounding on my feet. For the first five days, I developed new blisters and pain to a new area of my feet. Each night, it became quick routine to cleanse and re-dress the wounds for a quick recovery. After the fifth day, it was as though my body had finally figured it out, “this is what we do now”.
Image: Bruce Trail Lookout near Duncan Crevice Caves
Having gained a few extra pounds when my clinical nursing position turned to management, the initial purpose of my journey was to simply prove to myself I was physically capable. In previous years, I had run countless marathons and half a dozen ultra-marathons; so, it was important to me that I take back the control of my health. How naïve was I to think that spending 22 days exerting myself physically, in some of the most beautiful areas in Ontario while being without cell service, wouldn’t result in at least some soul searching? To break from the silence of a thick forest or open farmer’s field, I would make videos for my family and speak to my whereabouts, the terrain of which I was trekking and what my water sources were looking like for the day.
Image: Canola Fields along the Bruce Trail Near Kolapore Uplands
While most of my days were spent alone, I was fortunate enough to meet another hiker on day six, who was also completing the entire trail. This hiker ingeniously used two vehicles to assist in his adventure, playing leapfrog thus keeping his supplies and sleeping arrangements always close by. Every day, he and I would pass each other twice. Our days became so routine it was almost as though he and I were neighbours, going to work in the morning, “g’morning Alan”, “morning Leanne” and then on our way home for the day, “g’evening Alan”, “evening Leanne”. Of course, we would stop and chat, discuss our challenges and victories for the day as they would often be so similar. It was the perfect amount of social interaction without taking over our own solo journeys. He was extremely kind, offering his water supply any time I had a dry day and eventually saving me cab fare when hotels or shelter became few and far between on the Bruce Peninsula.
Image: Farmer's Field the Bruce Trail Near Kolapore Uplands
The Bruce Trail is divided into nine sections of trail, each was extraordinary and beautiful. Having been born and (mostly) raised in Hanover, from day one I was looking forward to when I would hike the hills close to home. Prior to this journey, I had done most of the Beaver Valley, Sydenham, and Blue Mountain sections simply because it's closest to home and I love the views. I knew I could put the map away for a few days here. The Beaver Valley section from Old Baldy, all the way to past Wodehouse Karst was my favourite part. I completed 46 km that day because I was enjoying it so much. When hiking, I noticed that there were noticeably more private properties, including farms, within the Grey County sections. I always loved seeing that I was on 'private property' because I thought it to be very kind that they would offer their land to hikers.
When hiking closer to home, I had a couple family members join me for a portion of my hike and the chance to eat at some of our favourite local places. My sister and mother joined me in Collingwood where we stayed at Living Stone Golf Resort and never pass up the opportunity to eat sushi dinner at the Hungry Sumo. It was sentimental for them to start there since our family members spend a lot of time in the winter on the ski hills in Blue Mountain. My sister hammered out a 40km day before we were picked up and stayed with a friend in Thornbury. Some of the water (filtered of course) from these areas I recall being some of the freshest tasting water on the trail. Once close to Owen Sound, the option to sleep in my own bed was quite tempting. I once ended up going back to Hanover to sleep; however, could not bring myself to go to my home until my journey was complete. Instead I enjoyed visiting with my two missed kids at Grandma’s house for the evening and got back on the trail for 6 am start the next day.
I completed the 908 km trail in 22 days. I had one day’s rest before going back to work. I would absolutely recommend hiking the end to end trail. However, I would suggest taking four weeks to complete it rather than three to allow yourself additional time to explore the side trails and little towns. Especially in Grey County, you’ll find many hidden gems just off the main trail.
Image: Leanne's Aussie pups near Walter's Falls and Pretty River
Since having finished there hasn’t been a weekend gone by that I haven’t hiked a small section in conjunction with paddling on a nearby lake. There is so much adventure in my own backyard that will never cease to amaze me. I will continue to take advantage of that for years to come. I’ve also since introduced my dogs to long distance hiking and will eventually convince my children that sore feet are a part of the reward.
About Leanne Haynes
“I’m very picky with whom I give my energy to. I prefer to reserve my time, intensity and spirit exclusively to those that reflect sincerity”
Born and raised in Hanover Ontario, I moved away briefly to the tri-city area for work in the healthcare field. My career progressed quickly from Personal Support Worker, Registered Practical Nurse, Quality of Life Manager to Administrator/Executive Director, all in the Long-Term Care sector. Working under pressure in a fast-paced environment is one of my strong suits.
I've noticed this fast pace continues at home, with two Aussie pups, a husband who works away from home and two kids, each with active hobbies of their own. In addition, I’m always training for something, whether it be an ultra-marathon, obstacle race or just life. I love trail running, hiking, camping, kayaking, snowboarding – if it’s outdoors; I’ll do it. I’m a firm believer that time is too valuable to be wasted.
The perfect ending to an active busy day? Spending time with my large extended family and singing around a campfire to someone’s acoustic guitar.