He's back at it!

People who know me know that I belong on the Trail. I've thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (twice),the Pacific Crest Trail and the mighty Continental Divide Trail. I've hiked many of the long trails here in Michigan including being the first to hike both the Ironwood Trail and the Great Lake To Lake Trail. In 2017, I hiked the Israel National Trail and the Golan Heights Trail. My next goal is to be the first person ever to hike the Baja Divide Trail.

The purpose of this blog is to keep anyone who is interested informed of my progress and to encourage those who are able to support me in this endeavor.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Lessons Learned from the Bruce Trail

Eight days ago, I began an attempted thru-hike of the Bruce Trail in Ontario, Canada. This is a 550 mile trail that starts on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and finishes at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula that sticks out into the Georgian Bay. I knew there would be many hurdles to overcome with this hike, yet I was determined to start during the first week of November and finish by January 1st. Only 74 miles into it, I had to call it quits. Here’s why:

1) Failed Sponsorship 
I’ve worked successfully with many sponsors over the years. Most provided gear. Some provided cash. A few provided both. I had trouble finding support for this hike but eventually worked out a deal with a large, Canadian, agricultural firm. They grow and sell organic vegetables and their mission statement includes encouraging healthy lifestyles. We agreed that I would receive financial support and shipments of their veggies in exchange for submitting blog posts and photos for use on their website. I should have declined their offer since it was only a fraction of what I asked for and it came more than two weeks after the date I had intended to start. They did send me some yummy veggies during the hike but they never came through with the cash they had promised. I can hike on a shoestring budget but I can’t do a hike like this without some funding. I learned a hard lesson about being more selective about what companies I work with and making sure they understand the (often time-sensitive) needs of a thru-hiker before I hit the trail.


2) Nowhere to Camp
I had been warned repeatedly that this trail was not intended to be hiked ‘end-to-end’ as the Canadians say. Much of this trail runs through urban areas and across private property where camping is strictly prohibited. Secure in my stealth camping abilities, I was sure I could get away with it but the risk of getting caught and getting into trouble in a foreign country was huge. Plus, it sometimes took me hours to find a secluded spot to camp and that ate up valuable hiking time. Speaking of time...

3) Limited Daylight
I have lots of winter hiking experience but at this latitude and this late in the year, I had precious few hours of daylight with which to make miles. It would often start getting kind of gloomy around 2:30pm and be dark by 4:30pm. If I hadn’t already found a spot to camp, I would find myself stumbling around in the dark with my headlamp blazing, giving away my position, looking for a place to set up my tent. Then I had another 14 hours of freezing boredom in my tent until it was light enough to start hiking again. 

4) Batteries Were No Match for Single-digit Temps
Even if I started the day with a fully-charged iPhone and a giant backup battery, both were dead by the end of the day. I kept my phone on a lanyard against my warm body but every time I took it out, the charge fell by 20%. I can navigate with a paper map and compass just fine but no phone means no pictures, no writing blog posts and no reading in my tent at night. I was back to 14 hours of shivering and waiting.  

5) No Local Support
Because I was often camping illegally, I had to do this hike on the down-low. I would have liked to have met and hiked with members of the local chapters that maintain each section of the trail but then I would have had to answer questions about where I stayed every night. I couldn’t even mention that I was thru-hiking to people I met on the trail; I would just tell them that I was day hiking and wish them well. Celebrating a thru-hike with locals often brings opportunities to make new friends, maybe enjoy a meal and sometimes even results in a warm bed to sleep in. Not on this hike. 

Despite these challenges, I really feel like I could have completed this thru-hike. The biggest disappointment was my ‘sponsor’ not coming through with the money. I eventually found myself starving and freezing in Canada with just enough cash to get a bus ticket home. Overall, it was still a great adventure and I’m glad for the experience. I learned some important lessons and I am not discouraged. 

Got a question or a comment? Leave one below and I’ll gladly respond. 


Richard Smith said...

(I thought I posted something but obviously not.) Chris, good call! I figured you could handle everything but the extended darkness. Night hiking in the north in winter is not high on many lists. I'm glad you are back and safe and if you ever get down to the Blue Ridge Mountains you have a room. Heated.

Christopher Hillier said...

I practice night hiking once in a while just in case. But it’s not something I enjoy. Increased risk of injury, for sure. Plus, you can see my headlamp from a mile away! Thank you, too, for the kind offer.

gary zaborowski said...

If you've still got time, there's the great Allegheny passage over here in PA. It's around 400 miles I believe, complete with camping spots. Sorry to hear this didn't work out, I was looking forward to hearing about it!

Christopher Hillier said...

Thanks, Z. I’m gonna go back to my job and try to put some cash together. I sure would love to visit you and Bethany sometime and check out that aviary.

Anonymous said...

Awww, I'm so sorry it didn't work out. I was looking forward to your reports. Glad you are safely home. - Suzette

Christopher Hillier said...

Thanks, Suzette.

Roberta McCoy said...

Sorry it didn't work out. We all know you and know you did all you could. We support you in this decision. Hope to see ya soon.

Christopher Hillier said...

Thanks, Roberta. Hope you stop by the store sometime soon.

Trailspotters of Michigan said...

Stealth camping with no leaves in mostly private land has to be quite the challenge.

Pat said...

Hey Little Bro...well, this one didn't work. You're smart to listen to the universe when it speaks to you. Much love and many hugs.

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