I’m heading off the beaten path in this blog with a personal memoir, a little gift to good friends – but you can come along too, if you like. A few weeks ago, we hiked at a favourite location, the Torrance Barrens in the Lake Muskoka region. It’s a place I visit regularly and blog about, too – and indeed, it’s a spot my hiking gang has visited a few times before, using our cottage as lodging. What’s significant, for me, is that this year’s walk represented the 25th year my husband and I set aside a weekend in autumn to hike with the group. For it was October 1993 when we were invited “in” and posed, below, near the famous Bruce Trail in Beaver Valley, Ontario – a suitable christening for a pair of novice hikers (I’m in the hat, he’s in the yellow jacket) as we slogged through forest and field in cold, pouring rain.
The Bruce Trail has been our favourite hiking venue, and we’ve slowly bitten off chunks of its 890 kilometre (553 mile) length,
… all the way from the spectacular Lion’s Head Provincial Park up on the Bruce Peninsula overlooking Georgian Bay way back in 1994….
….where we took turns posing on the rugged Amabel dolostone (limestone) cliffs high above the water – capstone that was the bottom of a shallow limestone sea some 420 million years ago…
…..and ate our picnic lunch, as was our custom, on the rocks overlooking the water……
…. to the Niagara Gorge at its south end, in 1995.
In 1996, we ventured off the Bruce Trail and headed to Pelee Island for the weekend. Later, as Lake Erie waves crashed onto shore, we strolled the sand at Point Pelee, Canada’s most southerly point of land.
1998 saw us head east to ‘the County’, i.e. Prince Edward County and Picton, Ontario – just emerging then as the choice destination it has become since then. There we found a particularly picturesque bed & breakfast called The Apple Basket Inn (sadly no longer there)….
…. and lovely scenery nearby, including actual apple baskets at Hughes’ Orchards!
2004 was a special year, when we hiked the tropical hills of Mustique in the Caribbean, courtesy of John & Anne. This is the view of Britannia Bay….
….. and this is the view of Bryan Adam’s house! (Honestly, we did hike….)
In 2006, we were back on the Bruce Trail over the forks of the Credit River in Caledon….
…. where the group posed for my camera.
The year 2007 saw us beginning our Saturday hike under a rainbow in Collingwood…..
….before hiking the Bruce Trail in the Owen Sound area. It rained that year, as we slogged our way through a carpet of sugar maple leaves in Sydenham Forest.
The glacial potholes in the Sydenham forest were so fascinating, created from the action of glacial melt-water roughly 12,000 years ago, their damp walls home to maidenhair and provincially rare hart’s tongue ferns.
The most spectacular sight was Inglis Falls, which was the site of an 1840s grist mill.
Looking back at our picnic lunch in the rain that day, I recall that we were not going to let the rigors of the hike derail our South Beach diet!
In 2008, we again hosted the hikers at Lake Muskoka where I’d asked Orillia naturalist and mycologist Bob Bowles (navy cap) to give us a walking seminar on mushrooms.
Though the forest floor on our peninsula was laden with maple and beech leaves by that point in October, we were able to key 29 species of mushrooms.
We also hiked the Torrance Barrens that year, where the blueberry bushes were bright red and the paper birch skeletons shimmering white.
We eased into our 2009 hiking weekend in Prince Edward County with a wine-tasting personally conducted by Norman Hardie at his renowned vineyard.
We all enjoyed a sip — best be prepared ahead of a hiking trip!
The next day, when we hiked the soaring dunes of Sandbanks Provincial Park….
….. where some found time to wade in the waters of Lake Ontario…..
… I did a little botanizing, and was thrilled to see fringed gentians (Gentianopsis crinita) in flower.
In 2010, we headed back to Niagara, but this time we walked about 10 kilometres (6 miles) of the Niagara River Parkway…..
….where the view of the river was spectacular…..
….before getting into our cars (ah, the magic of the pre-parked cars!) and driving to Ravine Vineyard for lunch.
In 2012, we hiked near Susan’s beautiful farm…..
….. where we sat for a group photo (again, of most of us, but not quite all).
As with many of our hikes, we enjoyed brilliant fall colour – here of Susan’s gorgeous paper birch…..
In 2014, we bunked in at Anne and Bob’s in Collingwood, and headed out on the Kolapore trail, which Bob helps maintain.
Though it sometimes feels like a dark cathedral of trees as we hike amidst thousands of slender trunks of sugar maple, beech and birch….
…. it’s good to look up occasionally, and see fall-coloured leaves fluttering against the autumn sky.
The trail that year was muddy in places – there was the odd little spill…..
The vegetation was wonderful: here are hart’s tongue ferns (Asplenium scolapendrium), quite rare in the region.
Though non-native, it’s always a treat to see watercress (Nasturtium officinale) in a clean, moving stream.
In 2015, eight of us decided to pack our bags and head to a different kind of forest for our autumn hike: a rain forest. In Costa Rica!
And do you know how mother nature makes a rain forest? That’s right…….
Let’s just say our hiking attire was a little lighter than normal, given the almost total humidity and warm temperatures.
Five of us did the zip-line through the jungle. I chickened out but served as the documentary photographer.
(I wrote a special blog about El Remanso Lodge on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, if you want to read a little more.)
In 2016, we hiked the Mad River Side Trail near Glen Huron, Ontario. The colours were spectacular.
Here’s a video I made of that lovely hike along the Mad River.
When we arrived at the base of the Devil’s Glen Ski Club to have lunch, I made a group shot, (well, most of us and one guest – a few had wandered away) and just managed to get myself back into the frame before the shutter clicked.
Heading back to our lodging, we stopped at an apple stand and stocked up on Northern Spy apples, my favourite for pies and crisps.
Which brings me to this year, the 25th edition of our hike, when we once again met in Muskoka and walked the beautiful Torrance Barrens. We marvelled at the fluffy white clouds reflected in Highland Pond….
…and noted the tamaracks (Larix laricina) at the water’s edge.
Bob pointed out aspects of geology, as in ‘this is gneiss, not pure granite’.
We walked past my favourite paper birch….
…..and saw the fluffy cotton grass (Eriophorum vaginatum) flanking the bog.
The little bridge over the small pond is sinking in the middle and necessitated a ‘one-at-a-time’ rule.
It’s always fun to stop and look at the erratic boulder left behind when the ice retreated, and it appears that Alex Tilley, founder of Tilley Hats, agreed. This little interpretive sign was paid for by Tilley, whom I’ve seen hiking the Barrens.
With so much rain this summer and autumn, many parts of the path were waterlogged and Bob (the veteran trail groomer) pointed out drier spots to navigate.
We crossed Southwood Road and finished our hike in the deeper soil of a forest….
….featuring bracken ferns and beautiful red oaks.
A tiny red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) was on the path (it’s only my lens that makes it look huge) – one of many reptiles I’ve photographed in the Barrens over the years.
And at the end of the trail, we posed for our traditional photo (minus four who couldn’t be with us this year). Over a quarter-century, we’ve seen our children grow up, marry, change jobs, and have their own kids. We’ve talked about books, theatre, food, health and travel to faraway places. We’ve lost spouses or partners, and felt the comfort of the friends who knew them well. And we’ve welcomed new partners to the group and made them feel welcome and loved. It is a simple thing to do, walking a trail, and it reminds us that we need nature – and the company of friends – to live full lives.
In memory of Murray, Tim and Jim.