On the morning of Saturday August 4th, I set off on my Big Hike. The pack on my back contained everything I would need for the next 36 hours or so, from my hammock-tent, to socks and snacks. The weather was supposed to be incredibly hot so I set out as early as possible and my feet hit the trail not long after 7AM. I was lucky, and a heavy fog and light breeze made the first few kilometers quite pleasant, keeping the sun and its heat hidden away.
Come about 9:30AM though I had to stop and break out the SPF60 sunscreen and slathered up all my exposed skin. The sun had finally managed to burn off what fog and mist remained and began to beat down in full force. I used to work in kitchens, so I'm accustomed to high heat and humidity, but this was brutal even for me.
The trail I followed - the Uhthoff trail www.ontariotrails.on.ca/
- was built on an old rail bed and unfortunately did not provide much shade. Despite this I did my best to enjoy the scenery, which varied widely as I walked. I was graced with farm fields full of wheat and hay, small creaks and streams, cedar forests, maple groves and open fields left fallow.
At about kilometer 20 of my trip, the trail passes through the small town of Coldwater. I had planned to stop in at a local cafe and am I glad I did! Em's Cafe was just what I needed and had been a bit of a beacon in the dark so to speak, a treat driving me on. I had a lovely sugar-free blueberry iced tea, a homemade peanut butter cup and an amazing meatloaf sandwich. I got lucky too because the owner told me she saw my backpack and generously gave me some extra meat loaf. If any of you ever find yourselves in Coldwater, Ontario, I highly recommend stopping at Em's! ( www.tripadvisor.
You can tell how hot and tired I was by this point haha, sitting in the A/C at Em's felt SO GOOD.
After a quick pit-stop to grab myself 3 cans of beer before leaving town, I trudged the last 5 grueling kilometers to Matchedash Camp where I would spend the night. These were the worst 5 kilometers I've hiked in a LONG TIME. My left hip, which had been bothering me since about halfway through my hike, was now causing me to limp lightly. There was ZERO shade the entire way between Coldwater and the campground, and I felt like I was melting. I think I drank more water in that short stretch than I did most of the rest of my hike. It was ridiculously hot, unsafely hot. I kept my eyes down because looking up at the straight, empty, unshaded path ahead of me really wasn't helping me mentally. "One foot at a time, just keep going, you'll get there." I kept repeating these thoughts to myself until I finally made it. I was so grateful when I reached camp, my legs felt like wobbly noodles and I could tell the heat was getting to me despite my best efforts.
I set up my little campsite in a secluded area of the campground, away from everyone else. My neighbours were squirrels and chipmunks (which come 5AM I would find out were having a heated rodent war right where I'd decided to pitch camp). I spent the rest of my afternoon and evening enjoying my hammock-tent (take that mosquitoes, you can't get me!) and reading and sipping beer in the shade as I rocked.
It looks pretty bad but I carried everything you see here on my back for 25 kms!
This may sound like a disappointing ending to the day but it was just what I needed. My hips were so sore, my everything was sore and tired haha. But it was a good exhaustion, a proud one. I would occasionally just put my book down and glance around myself, thinking "I did this, I made it all the way here on my own two feet, I set up this camp with my own two hands, I DID THIS." I felt pretty proud of myself. It's been a while since I've done anything BIG AND NEW.
The (very tired) legs that carried me the 25 kms to this place!
Finally night came and time for sleep. Or so I'd hoped. Well I'd been drinking so much water all day that it had to come out and soon as I stopped sweating buckets, mother nature took it upon herself to make me wake 6 times in the night to relieve my bladder, so I didn't get a whole lot of uninterrupted sleep. It was also quite a bit chillier than I'd been expecting - or maybe it just felt that way after spending the day in 35'C+ heat (that's 95'F for you Americans). That didn't help me rest very well either. And at about 5AM, the Squirrels vs Chipmunk war simply erupted around me. They were chittering and squeaking angrily at each other, running back and forth under my hammock and making a ruckus as their little feet skittered over my ground tarp. That was the end of sleep for me.
The Sunday morning sun rising over Matchedash bay.
As I lay in my hammock, snuggling my sleeping bag and a small fleece blanket up to my chin, I started to check the day's weather forecast. It looked pretty grim. Not only was it going to be hotter than they'd been forecasting, it was going to be even hotter than the previous day. While I did have less distance to cover that day, it would still be incredibly grueling. I elected to cancel the second half of my hike. I had someone come pick me up from the end of the road near the campground and bring me home.
I'm sad I didn't get to fulfill my whole trek but I still had an amazing time. I certainly don't regret not forcing myself to slog through that heat again, it would've been dangerous and foolhardy.
I spent Sunday at home by the pool instead, which, as far as Plan B's go, is nothing to sneeze at. I do still want to do a proper 2 day trek, and maybe this fall I'll try again, when the insane heats of August are long gone and the leaves have started to change. If I do though, I'll need a much better sleep setup or I'll freeze!
Anyway, that was that. My Big Hike was both a success and a failure. I covered more ground Saturday than I ever have in my life so far and that is a huge deal. I still have a long way to go to achieve my dream of hiking the PCT but we'll see. If I keep this up, I'll be ready.