Sunday, August 6, 2017

Recap: End-to-End on the Thames Valley Trail

   Just about a week ago, I hiked the last remaining section of the Thames Valley Trail. It had taken me slightly over a month to complete the 110 kilometer trail and involved nine separate hikes, averaging about 12K each.
   When I began the quest, I really had no time frame in mind---all I really knew was that I wanted to get it done by the end of the year, as doing so would make me eligible for the Thames Valley Trail End-to-End patch. The thought of walking the whole thing was a little daunting, both distance and time-wise, and this would be my first real experience at hiking so I wasn't at all sure what I was getting myself in for.
   As you can imagine, it was quite the learning experience. It seemed as though every time I set out I learned something new which would better prepare me for the subsequent hikes.
Sample of a map and some of
the directions (hope no copyright
The first section, from Southdel Road to Sharon Creek, started under threatening skies and stayed that way right until I got about 2K away from the end and the heavens opened up. I had brought a rain jacket with me but it barely covered me with a backpack on and did nothing whatsoever for my legs. I was wearing shorts and I don't mind wet legs but what happened was that all the rain water flowed into my hiking boots. My boots are Merrell Moabs and are waterproof. This is only really good, though, if the water is on the outside. If the water is on the inside, it just stays there. After that first hike, I made a trip to Canadian Tire and bought waterproof rain-gear, both tops and bottoms. And, of course, it never rained again! I also got eaten alive by mosquitoes on that first hike and so purchased insect repellent with Deet. Hopefully this would also provide protection from ticks, as this has been a particularly bad season for them.

   I combined the following two sections as they were shorter and also tacked on an extra bit from the first section, because I had missed a turn near the end and wanted to be able to say I'd walked the whole thing. This was part of a tactical error on that day and I later on found myself in some reasonably serious trouble as I'd totally miscalculated the water I'd needed. It was about 34C (93F) that day and substantially before the end of the hike I found myself feeling dehydrated and sick to my stomach and out in a forest with no true way of getting help in a hurry, if things got any worse. I did
Marriage of humans and nature
eventually make my way out of the woods but by this time thigh cramps had started to set in, making it a very gingerly trip to my car. HUGE learning experience here, both about fueling and hydration and what your body is (or isn't) capable of. The result of this, and of hikes to come, was that I spent some time musing over the safety issues of hiking solo. There are numerous times on the trail when a slip or a trip might send you tumbling into some rocky ravine and I often imagined myself at the bottom of one of them, tangled in underbrush and unable to reach my phone. I think hiking solo may continue to require some careful consideration.

   On subsequent hikes, I learned how to marry the maps and the guidebook a little better, how to keep my hat on my head, how to keep my food cooler, how to be patient and wait for the blazes to appear, and how to check both sides of the road for trail markers.
The badge and the guidebook
   The end result of all this is that I did finally get my End-to-End badge! I contacted the Thames Valley Trail Association, gave them a link to this blog so that I could certify that I'd actually completed it, and was able to pick up the badge from Paulette Renaud, the Association's Activities Director, just a day later. Also had a wonderful chat about the Trail while we were at it!
   Where I go from here, hiking-wise, is kind of up in the air. There is no shortage of amazing places to hike here in Ontario, if you are so inclined, and perhaps I'll check some of them out. Doralyn is not a hot weather person so maybe once fall arrives the two of us might be able to get out and do a little exploring together.
   One of the things I do need to do, though, is get back to running. This was to be a trail-running summer for me but that was derailed back in the Spring when I did something to my knee and the doctor said WALK. The knee, for the most part, is starting to feel better and I think it's time I started thinking about hitting the trails once more!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Hiking the Thames Valley Trail: Section 15-Highway #7 to St. Marys

   Woo hoo! I. Am. Done!
   Today, I completed the final section of the end-to-end Thames Valley Trail! It's taken me about a month, but I finally finished all 110 kilometers, from south of Delaware, through London and on to St. Marys.
   Doralyn (my angel) followed me to the end point in St. Marys, where I left my car, this morning and then drove me back to the last spot on the trail I had finished, which was on Highway #7, near River Valley Golf and Country Club. I then needed to traverse the bridge over the river. The bridge is not really designed for pedestrians, however, and I waited until there was no traffic coming my way before I started across. As it turned out, I made it most of the way across before a car came along and I was able to hop the guardrail at the last minute.
   The first section takes you toward the golf course and then actually on to the course itself before you get to the little side trail. The guidebook actually recommends watching out for stray golf balls (which I did) and I even found a couple, which I threw onto the first tee box I passed.
   After the golf course, the trail essentially follows the Thames River all the way to St. Marys, with a brief bit of highway walking as you get into town.
   It was a brutal kind of day, in some ways. There were some parts of the trail which did not appear to get much traffic and were overgrown. This made the going a little tougher but the worst part was, with all the vegetation underfoot, you were unable to tell where the holes and the uneven parts were. Came close to rolling my ankle several times.
   Possibly the worst aspect of the day were the spiders. The path was inundated with them and they strung their almost invisible webs right across the trail, generally at waist and face height. After awhile, I got into waving my trekking poles in front of me as I walked, just as a precaution. In the car afterwards, I was still yanking cobwebs off me!
   The trail itself was tough, yet quite beautiful in spots. Lots of hills to climb and tree trunks to either go over or under. Plant life was amazing and lots of wildlife as well. The weather was warm at 26C (78F) and there was a nice breeze, so, all in all, a great day!
   So here we go with obligatory photo dump because, once again, I walked the walk!

Quick pic of where I left off the
most recent section

And on to the start of the final section!

Headed to the golf course.

On the course, walking parallel
to one of the fairways

The ever-beautiful Thames.

Spotted one deer venturing out into
the river and by the time I could
get my phone out for a pic there
was a whole family!


Pretty rugged-ruggedly pretty


Kinda hard to see, but there's
a thin, electrical fence here


Look carefully (unless you're
afraid of spiders...) These
were all over the place.

A nice flat, fairly spider-free section

And then, out of nowhere, an old
abandoned camper. Blanket
on the line, firepit, jacket. But
no road to get it there....

Ah, the crossroads. Always nice,
knowing where to go!

No idea what this used to be!
The highway back into St. Marys

Me, at the end of the Thames Valley Trail!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Hiking the Thames Valley Trail: Section 13-Thorndale Road to Plover Mills (asterisk expunged) and Section 14-Plover Mills to Highway #7

   For the last couple of days, I have been inwardly agitated that I was unable to find the trail entrances to the forested portion off of Valleyview Road in  Section 13 of the Thames Valley Trail this past Friday. This, of course, meant that I hadn't technically finished the section and, well, really, that wouldn't do, would it? 
   But, rather than just sit there at home and fume, I got the brilliant (though somewhat OCDish) idea of going on Google Earth and getting the street image of every pole on Valleyview Road, in the hope of finding the one trail slash I missed. It worked! I was able to find where to enter one of the forested sections and after I re-read the guide book with a clearer head, I was also able to figure where I had gone wrong with the other trail section.
   With a whole new plan in mind, I set out in my car yesterday to drive to both of those wooded sections, hike them, leave my car by the side of the road, and then go on and hike the section from Plover Mills to Highway #7. This would only leave the very final section of the Thames Valley Trail for me to hike---Highway #7 to St. Mary's!
   Along the way, I had the cool opportunity to run into a couple of different people yesterday!
   The Plover Mills to Highway #7 section of the trail utilizes a right-of-way on a hundred acres of land owned by a gentleman, Bob Stephen and his wife Marlene. In recognition of this, they have gone out of their way to construct a rest stop for TVT hikers. It's constructed out of some concrete slabs perched atop a cairn of large rocks. On top of the slab is an inukshuk-looking caricature of a hiker which they have named "Tex" TVT Trekker. It's a very welcoming spot to rest weary bones and I stopped there and had a bite to eat. Once back to hiking, I was headed across a grassy meadow and from around the corner of nearby forest I heard some kind of loud machinery and noticed  some very acrid-smelling odours. Anticipating some kind of vehicle headed in my direction, I stopped and made sure I was all the way off the trail. And then, with a cloud of smoke trailing him, comes Bob Stephen himself, perched atop his John Deere! We stopped and had a wonderful chat, with Bob telling me a bit about the history of this part of the trail. Wonderful stories! He then indicated to me that I was actually headed in the wrong direction (not the first time) and with this we parted! (the smoke, by the way, was from a stump he'd been burning....)
   The second person I ran into actually crossed my path right near the end of the previous section. It turned out to be  a gentleman named Myeengun Henry, the newly-elected chief of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation! He was actually there waiting for a reporter from the London Free Press in order to do a story about the imminent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada regarding the First Nations request for the halting of the Enbridge Pipeline and its decision to reverse the Line 9 pipe flow and start pumping bitumen through Chippewas territory. The general feeling was that the line had a forty-year lifespan and was now in its fortieth year. It was also felt that Enbridge would not adequately be able to contain a spill with this type of material as it would very quickly solidify and sink to the bottom of the river. This was not something I was adequately familiar with but difficult to not take the Chippewas side on this one! I mentioned this blog to Myeengun and asked if it was okay to include a little blurby about our discussion, mindful of the fact that only 70 to 80 people might read it. He had no problem with this and thought that the more people knew about it, the better! So go to Google and study up, peeps!
   Eventually, I came to the end of the second section and then had a very cool wait for Doralyn (bless her heart) to come and pick me up and return me to my car which was about 8K away at this point. It was close to twenty degrees colder yesterday than the previous week or so and I was glad that I had a physical activity to engage in. I must say, though, that it made the hiking that much easier!
   So now off to my regular photo dump  just to prove that, once again, I walked the walk! 

The very pale white slash I missed the first
time but then found on Google Earth.

Proof I was on the right path.
I crave this!

Main entrance to the woods

Out of the first wooded section!

Back on Valleyview
This was the second entrance I had
difficulty with. I saw the house
in the background and assumed
that it was not the way to go,
so I went the other way. Never
even noticed the tree with the
slash and the sign.

Just happy to be on the trail!

The back of Plover Mills Farms. Looks
like a castle from both the road
and the river.

Myeengun Henry, Chief of the
Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.

The end of the section I had to do over.

Back on to Valleyview. Again.

And then on to Ebenezer. This was a
long section of road walking due
to some owners deciding they
didn't want to allow hiking
on their land.

Down Ebenezer to....

...Saunders Auto Parts. I'm not a "car
person" but I love junkyards. We were
actually warned about the guard dog!

Just past Saunders and down a long,
fairly steep hill to the edge of the river.

Sign at the bottom of the hill. Kinda cool.

Along the river.

A mown path led us to....


Which was built by Bob Stephen, landowner

One of my favourite pics.

Back into the forest. At this point, I
can hear the traffic on Highway #7

Almost at the end!