Monday, April 1, 2019

What I've Been Up To, Lately

   It's been a little over a month since I've last posted so I thought I'd take a little time today and do an update on what I've been up to lately. There HAVE been a couple of things go on worth talking about but I never had the energy to sit and write about any single one of them so today, perhaps, a summary is in order.
   One of the most significant things which happened is that I received a new running watch, for my birthday three weeks back! I guess I should really call it my hiking watch, though,
New watch!
as this is what I'll be using it for the majority of the time. Compliments of my beautiful wife, Doralyn, I received a Garmin Forerunner 35. All I really wanted was a watch with a longer battery life, a GPS, and connectibility to a tracking app. This watch does all that for me! I've taken it on three or four hikes now and have figured out how to connect it to my phone and afterwards see all these amazing (for me) stats. I realize I'm probably a little late to the game here but better late than never. The biggest problem with my old Garmin was that the battery was not lasting to the end of a long hike and so was kind of useless.

   I've stayed pretty close to home for most of the hikes, heading to such places as Warbler Woods and Kains Woods right here in London. The week before last, though, I got a message from my friend, Heather, asking me if I was interested in hiking a section of the Avon Trail with her. I hiked the Avon end-to-end last summer and Heather is currently trying to do the same thing. She has a website called Exploration Project and in it she talks about her many hiking adventures in far-flung places. She also does amazing photography, samples of which have been published, so you should check it out! I was quite happy to say yes to her request so we met last weekend at a section of the trail, left my car there, and then drove back to the beginning of the 12K section we wanted to hike and set off!
Heather, farther up the icy hill than me
and going nowhere fast!
   And it was an adventure! Our part of southwestern Ontario was in the middle of a freeze/thaw cycle and most of the snow in the forests was gone. Where the path had been trampled down by hikers, however, was a sheet of ice. On level ground, not too much of an issue. Climbing and descending hills in dark forests was a whole other challenge!
On easier terrain!
   At one point, Heather and I found ourselves on an uphill stretch through pine forest and basically had to resort to crawling on our knees---there was just no way to maintain our footing. Much laughter accompanied all this, thankfully, and soon we were able to get back upright. After that, the only real issue was mud---tons of it. There were several farmers' fields we had to skirt and the land there had us sinking in to the tops of our boots. Easily we were carrying an extra three or four pounds of muck on each boot! Finally, though, we made it back to my car and I was able to then get us back to Heather's. A quick stop at Timmie's in Stratford and we were on our way home!
   This past Monday, I made my way to the local MEC store. As I may have mentioned occasionally here in the past, I suddenly have this desire to do some thru-hiking. I have absolutely no idea why I suddenly feel the need to do this but, a couple of years ago, I also had no idea why I was suddenly taking up hiking, either. People change!
New backpack and tent!
At the MEC, I corralled one of their staff and she helped me get fitted with a backpack designed for thru-hiking. I had already fairly extensively researched this and had picked out a Gregory Stout 65L backpack. It had the features and price range I liked. I then picked out a MSR Elixir 2-person tent (my idea is that I might try and talk Doralyn into some camping---shhh----don't tell her). These things together were the single largest investment in my thru-hiking dream and they are now out of the way. Odds and ends now...

   So there you have it, all up-to-date. Spring is here and one of my fervent wishes is that I'll also be running some trails in the near future! Cheers!


Saturday, February 23, 2019

Getting Out Cuz I Needed To!

   It was a sunny and relatively mild day, about 8C(46F), so I thought I would get out for a hike and get these old legs moving. My ability to do this has been greatly hampered by the weather and commitments lately so I jumped at the opportunity.
Just about to head down to the river
   I really bit the bullet and paid $7.50 to park in the main lot at Komoka Provincial park this afternoon. Paid a little extra for more time so that I wouldn't be worried about getting back to my car before the time expired, although I don't think a park official is going to do very much if I overstay my limit.
   Once again I wore my Yaktrax and carried trekking poles, as there are a number of hilly sections where melting and then re-freezing has happened and these sections are always really slick.
   It was great to get out again! Most of the trail is west of the main parking lot so that's the direction I headed in. I opted for a little open-field walking before I got into the woods and started tackling
The edge of the Thames. If this
were summer, I'd be up to my
waist in water.
the hills. The Yaktrax worked great and I was able to do the ups and downs with no issues.

   My plan was to go all the way to the western entrance to the park. I had heard that this part of the trail had actually been closed down for re-generation purposes and I wanted to see just how far in that direction I could hike. Closing that part of the trail is also a little problematic because it's also part of the Thames Valley Trail and anyone following the Trail from the west would be stopped in their tracks, literally. 
   Along the way, I found found myself down by the edge of the Thames River. I
Same spot on the river,
looking upstream
was actually able to walk out onto the river bed as the water was so low. This will not likely be the case in another month or so as the Spring melts and runoff will greatly swell the river. In a bad year, parts of the trail become impassable due to flooding.

   Soon, I came to what I call The Steps. The keepers of the Trail have built a massive set of wooden steps which take you basically from the edge of the river up to the top of the valley. This is the fastest way of gaining the height but it's a killer set of steps if you're maybe 40 pounds overweight and in bad shape. Whoever THAT is.....
The Steps

   I survived The Steps and continued on. As I approached the western end if the trail, I assumed I would start seeing indications that this part of the trail was closed. This never actually happened, though, and I was able to follow the trail all the way to the end, where it meets up with the highway. Good news!
   At that point, I turned and headed back. The only intimidating thing about The Steps on the way back is making sure you don't fall down them! This and the fact that I was wearing rubber and wire on the bottoms of my hiking boots made me take them even more cautiously.
Resting at the top of The Steps.

Once back along the edge of the river, it's pretty flat going for awhile. At this point, I ran into a young couple coming towards me. It looked very much as if the young lady was dragging a dirty bag along behind her. When they got to me though, I realized that what they were dragging was the head, neck and ribcage of a recently deceased deer, attached to a dog leash! I'm always pretty keen to document anything out of the ordinary when I'm out on a trail so I asked them if I could take a pic and they gladly obliged. The park was pretty busy and at one point I ran into a couple with small children. I warned them that there were dead deer carcasses in the park today, in case young eyes were not ready for that!
I think I mentioned a deer....

   Finally made it back to the car and discovered I hadn't even used any of my extra time I'd paid for. Oh well, it was good for the peace of mind. Komoka Park is actually so close to where I live that, under different circumstances I might have walked there, so maybe next time!

Monday, January 21, 2019

New Year, New Plans!

   I note with some disgust (but not surprise) that it's been well over two months since I sat down and wrote a blog post. In truth, there has been nothing remarkable enough to post about in the last two months and, what with all the holiday hubbub, things just got shunted off to the side a touch.
   And with that holiday hubbub and all the attending treats, eats and sweets, I gained almost ten pounds! For much of that two or three week period, our bathroom scales were tucked away somewhere as we'd also been doing a little work on the ceiling in the bathroom but I knew the pounds were going on and I did almost nothing to stop them.
I DID get up and off my butt a
couple pf weeks ago, hiked
in a foggy, icy Warbler Woods
   So, presently, I can say with little doubt that I am in the worst shape of my adult life. If I'm wearing pants, it is almost impossible to pick up small things off the floor. Both knees feel like they're shot. Tying shoes? Problematic. Getting down onto the floor? Not likely, without a piece of furniture nearby to lower myself down with and raise myself back up with. This is as bad as it has ever been without an actual diagnosed injury being involved. 
   So how do I feel about this...?
   Well, not too bad actually. The one thing I have faith in is my body's ability to recuperate and change. The holiday season is past and now it's back to a normal routine. Eat better, exercise more, same old shit. I didn't make any resolutions around any of this but I do have plans for this year, and rather adventurous ones at that!
   There are several trails I would like to say I had conquered by the end  of 2019 but the one I will concentrate on is the Grand Valley trail. This will be a bit of an undertaking as it is almost 300k long and not really situated in my backyard. On top of that, if I can squeeze them in, I'd also like to add the Elgin and Maitland trails. All three of them would be a tall order, however, so we'll see.
Slowly have started collecting
camping supplies. Here we
have, on the left, a Luminaid
Packlight Max USB+Phone
Charger Lantern. Will give light
while camping and be a safety
valve for phone charging while
out on hikes. At the back, Doralyn
gave me a couple of packs of
Mountan House de-hydrated
meals, for Christmas. On the right,
is my Pocket Rocket stove. I
used it to make.....

   One of those most exciting things I'd like to do this year is a little bit of thru-hiking! I wanna hike somewhere with a tent and a sleeping bag on my back, pitch the tent at the end of the day and then keep on hiking the following morning. Part of the problem with this is that I haven't camped in a tent since I was a kid so there might be some re-learning to do. In the meantime, though, there's a list of things I need to slowly accumulate. Like a tent....
....THIS! Bacon and eggs, out of a bag!
Courtesy of Mountain House (and
Doralyn). It was pretty filling, actually
   So these are the plans I've made for 2019 and I can only hope that at the end of the year the pounds have fallen off. In the couple of days I've been working off and on at this post, four or five pounds have parted ways and my knees actually feel a little better. Being back to work has helped and the last of the Xmas goodies disappearing has also made a difference--except that some of them disappeared into ME!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Running From the Pushed-Down-Signpost All The Way To The Giant-Lego-Blocks

   Someone who is near and dear to me suggested very
One tree kind of picked
its own direction.
recently that I had been "slacking on the blog lately". Now, she didn't make reference to which blog I'd been slacking on but I've clearly been slacking on both of them, so she was totally correct, regardless.

   In light of this, and also because I have been a little stir-crazy lately, I decided to hit the trails yesterday. What made this somewhat different, however, was that I was actually planning on running, of all things!
   I've had this idea for a while now of heading to Komoka Provincial Park and running end-to-end on the portion of the Thames Valley Trail which bisects it. I can't tell you how many times I've
Starting point- The-Pushed-Down-
been on this trail (literally, I can't, I go on it all the time) and it has a good mixture of terrain for trail-running. 

   My plan was to start at the old Oxford Street entrance and run all the way to where the trail meets Gideon Drive. I wanted to time myself and use that as kind of a benchmark for future, similar runs. Hopefully, the idea would be to run a little faster each time!
   I parked in the main parking lot at Komoka and slid $5.25 worth of change into the parking machine. This gave me two hours of parking and I thought to myself that there was no way I'd take two hours. I was almost wrong...
   Parking where I did meant that I would need to hike along the trail to the Oxford Street entrance. This gave me an opportunity to warm up. Once I got there, I started up my Garmin and started to run!
Ending up at The-Giant-Lego-Blocks
Okay, I'm not really sure that "run" isn't kind of misleading in this particular case. It could be that "shuffle" or "trot" are more accurate, hard to tell. Basically, I was doing whatever it is when walking stops being walking.

   Part of my plan, as well, was not to stop. Relentless Forward Motion! For the most part, I accomplished this---stopped once to fidget with a stubborn water bottle and one other time for about twenty seconds at the end of a steep climb. All in all, I was happy with that part of it.
   At the Oxford end of things, there's an old frame for what used to be a park sign which is now lying on its side, on top the underbrush. At the Gideon end of things, there are several concrete blocks
Upside-down but you can still read it
(which look exactly like Lego) positioned along the entrance, I'm sure to discourage motorized vehicles from entering. I

The Steps--you may recognize them
used both of these as my start and ending points. When I was done and sitting on one of those concrete blocks, I checked my Garmin. The "run" had taken me almost 52 minutes and I had only gone 4.1K! By the time I hiked back to where the car was, I had almost used up my two hours of parking. On streets, that would be a horrendous time but I had no problem reminding myself that I'm slowly working my way back into things and that trail-running is a whole different animal. Next time out---faster.
A great day to be in the forest!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Hiking The Elgin Trail: Hiking With Heather

   A couple of days ago, I received an invitation from my friend, Heather, to tag along with her as she hiked the Elgin Trail. This is a 49K trail which begins in Port Stanley in southwestern Ontario and winds its way up through Elgin County, eventually arriving at Southdel Road, where it then joins with the Thames Valley Trail. It's a trail I've always known I wanted to hike someday so when Heather contacted me, I kind of jumped at the opportunity!
Looking up toward the St. Thomas
Elevated Parkway

   We agreed to meet under the towering railway trestle you encounter as you're traveling from London to Port Stanley, just at St. Thomas. The trestle used to support the Michigan Central Railroad but currently is being converted into something known as the St. Thomas Elevated Park---if you can imagine a park about a hundred feet in the air!
   We left Heather's car parked under the trestle and I then drove us north to the start of the hike, where we left my car by the side of the road. After a ceremonial signing of the Trail log, we headed off!
Heather sign us in!
Heather's plan was to hike about a 12K section of the trail, right in the middle of it. Now, if you know me, this goes totally against the way I approach hiking a trail! When I hike a trail, I start at the very beginning and I hike it right through to the end, in the direction the map says to go, and I don't miss any sections. So, to start in the middle of a trail and then hike in the wrong direction is not my usual plan, as you can imagine. Faced, however, with a beautiful Fall day for hiking and someone who, right out of the blue, was willing to give me a guided tour and I really had no problem!

   Part of Heather's motivation for wanting to get out yesterday was to enjoy the Fall colours and also to hopefully come up with some great photo opportunities. She has recently decided to concentrate much of her energy on creating art through photography and is
Me, at the start of the middle of my journey!
already producing amazing work. She has her own website, Exploration Project, (click on it, you really need to!) and has traveled near and far, documenting her hiking adventures in prose and pictures. Recently, she has taken a further leap by submitting selections of her photography to online journals dedicated to the arts. Her pics
This was a mushroom literally
the size of a volleyball!
now appear in the current and upcoming issues of an amazing journal called Barren Magazine. This is an online magazine which features outstanding poetry, fiction and photography and Heather's work fits in perfectly. Follow the link and and you will see one of her pics on the cover of the current edition! She is drawn to deserted things, places and buildings and if you are at all interested in the slightly spooky then you should seek out her work online.

   It was a great day for hiking! The air was crisp and the colours were amazing. I am so glad Heather was there as she was familiar with the trail and pretty well every time the blazes seemed to peter out, she was able to corral the next one. The hiking was also very challenging,
The signpost for Lyle Side Road.
If you enlarge the pic, you can
see where it says the "trial" will
continue a hundred meters down
the road. At that point, I became
judge, jury and executioner.
some of the most challenging I've been on. Much of the trekking was up and down steep, slippery slopes with lots of fallen trees to traverse. Counter to that, though, were the gentle strolls along creek beds, sharing the path with horseback riders. At one point we found ourselves crossing the rolling pastures (paddocks?) of a horse farm. Great photo op there!

   After about four and a half hours, we found ourselves back under the railway trestle. From there, Heather drove me back to my car and my first foray on the Elgin Trail was done! Many thanks to Heather for the invitation!
Heather, stopped by horses!

The Shoe Tree! A tradition I
did not partake of!

Huge, barbed-wire gate
The Railway Trestle---off in the distance
Almost back to the car

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Making New Plans And Hiking In Medway

   Okay, a whole bunch of hiking posts in a row, then one running post, and now I'm back to what I expect will be a lot more hiking posts! Perhaps instead of "Ragged Cap Runner", I should call this blog "Haggard Hat Hiker"! (my hiking hat has seen better days....)
   Anyway....this past summer I completed the Avon Trail end-to-end and had already started to make plans for next summer's hiking adventure. The plan was to tackle the Grand Valley Trail, from start to finish. This would involve a 280K hike from Dunnville, on the shores of Lake Erie, up north to Orangeville. This is WAY farther than I have ever hiked and, frankly, I wasn't sure of I could get it done in one summer. With this in mind, I had thought about maybe getting a head start this Fall and getting at least some of it out of the way. Then I got a different idea.
Another trail on my to-hike list is the Maitland Trail. It follows the very meandering Maitland River from Goderich up to Auburn and is 49K long. What appeals to me about this trail is that I'm familiar with the countryside it runs through and I could probably get it done this fall. It's also much closer than the Grand Valley Trail system, so the logistics would be easier, as well. 
   With this newer direction in mind, I set off yesterday to visit the little hamlet of Benmiller, about 18K east of Goderich. This is the home of the Benmiller Inn and the Maitland Trail website advertised that copies of the guide could be purchased there. Well, I guess this used to be true but hasn't been true for a couple of years now. From Benmiller, I then headed west to Goderich, where I had a list of four different places I might find the guide.
    My first stop was the Tourist Bureau. It was closed. Now, I didn't go up and read the sign so it might have just been closed for lunch or, more likely I thought, it was closed due to it not really being tourist season at the moment. No problem, three more spots to try. The second spot was a little
I found it!
bookstore right on the Square in Goderich. The young lady working there went to where she thought the guide would be, shifted a few books around and couldn't find it either. She then gave me somewhat confusing directions to the next bookstore on my list and there I found it! Woo hoo! I had a nice little chat with the woman who worked there, mainly about the weather. It was unseasonably warm yesterday and the lady mentioned that tomorrow it was supposed to be back down in the seventies. It was the "seventies" part which got me---here in Canada, the temperature is officially measured in Celsius. She had quoted the temp in Fahrenheit, the antiquated system. This warmed my heart! We had a nostalgic little chat about how we only truly know what the temperature is when we hear it in Fahrenheit and then I headed on my way once more.

   I had brought my hiking gear in case I actually decided to start the trail but when I looked at how the guide was set up I realized I had not had the opportunity to plan the hike as much as I would normally have liked, so I called it a day, Maitland Trail-wise.
   I did still have the urge to hit the trails, though, so when I arrived back in the north end of London, I headed for the Medway Valley Heritage Forest.
Due to the recent mild weather,
much of London is still green.
There WERE a few splashes
of colour, though!

Nice view!
   I had been there twice before and both times were somewhat unsatisfactory, partly due to the weather and partly due to entering forest at the wrong part. Yesterday, I used the entrance which would give me the longest possible hike and in the best weather.
   I was able to hike for about 3K before the trail petered out and I had to turn back. This was fine by me as it was about 28C (I have no idea how hot that really is, haha) and I had worked up quite the sweat. Much future trail planning ran through my head as I made my way home!
Rushing Medway Creek

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Back To The Trails, Running

   Yesterday, I decided to go for a run!
   Last weekend, I finished my hiking project for the summer and now I'm going to try and concentrate on running some trails. I had planned on running end-to-end in Komoka Park but then found out that the powers that be had erected a brand new guard rail right across the little parking area I (and a bunch of) used to use to avoid the parking fee in the main lot at Komoka. So THAT was a no-go. I then changed my plans and headed for Kains Woods, which was only about 2 minutes away (literally). Once there, my plan was to run 4K and then turn around and hike back.
   Well, I had run less than 1K when my knee flared up. It had been fine til I started to run up some hills and then I got a bit of a twinge. Ignored it and then a couple of minutes later got a bigger twinge so, at that point, I shut her down and just hiked back.
In retrospect, this kind of mirrors last year at this time. I'd finished hiking and reverted to trail-running but found I had to build back up, almost from zero. So maybe I'll do this again. It WAS a little disappointing because my knee was feeling almost completely back to normal. Apparently, though, it isn't. What is different about this year, however, is that I now have some physio behind me and perhaps can return to doing some of the exercises and knee-taping I had been doing. Disappointing but then all I need do is remind myself that I know people who can't even walk and who would love to have a twinging knee!