There is a shadowy, cutthroat world out there. Not many know of it, for it operates on the extreme fringes of society, populated by shadowy figures pocked with scars and known only by code names. Some people manage to infiltrate this world and survive. But more often, those who dabble in this dangerous pastime simply disappear. Occasionally, there is a torn map, a mangled boot-lace, or a bloodied hiking pole left behind to mark their passing, but more often they vanish with no trace. Yes, it is the vicious world of international trail hiking.
We became aware that some big figures in the hiking cartel were onto us. The clues were subtle: a tampered blaze, a sweat-stained scrap of Gore-tex caught on a stile, the scent of cheap Muskol wafting on the breeze. But we knew…. it was Big Vinny and his gang.
We were safe no longer. The Bruce Trail was now a perilous passage where secret agents could be behind any stump. There was only one course of action…. we must hike in disguise.
And thus was born…. the Witness Protection Program hike!
We met in silence (our voices could reveal our identities) at daybreak and started hiking from Escarpment Sideroad at Willoughby Road. We saw a suspicious character lurking in the bushes – was it Big Vinny? Our blood ran cold…..
We entered the woods and were engulfed in lush greenery and a riot of wildflowers.
The trail followed Escarpment Sideroad for several kilometres. It was pleasant hiking in the shade at the edge of the road and fortunately, a light breeze cooled the summer humidity.
We dipped back into the woods again. I’d like to say that there were no mosquitoes, but sadly, they found us! We think they were sent by Big Vinny!
We found a shady spot for lunch and made sure to drink lots. Dehydration could happen easily on a hot day like today.
Eventually the trail turned and followed Airport Road for 2 km. This was not fun. Too many cars, traveling way too fast, and certainly not looking out for hikers. This was the only unpleasant part of the hike. We were eager to get back to the tranquility of the woods.
Soon the trail turned onto Finnerty Sideroad and we were back in our tranquil world. It made me reflect on the importance of environment to human well-being. We humans create environments that are unhealthy and make us tense, anxious and edgy. I don’t know of any other creature that manufactures a toxic habitat for itself. Nature is the balm for such ills. Perhaps this is why we are so drawn to hiking – full immersion in the soothing embrace of the natural world.
All too soon, 19 km had passed and we reached the end of our hike. We had outwitted big Vinny and were pleasantly tired. I’m still reflecting on the sense of well-being that we get from our interactions with the forest and would like to offer this poem:
Lost – David Wagoner
Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.