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.
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