Finishing Sydenham Solo A BRUCE TRAIL ADVENTURE

After 3 days of back to back runs logging 123 kms to reach Owen Sound with Steph, a couple weeks went by and I was itching to venture further north and finish the Sydenham section of the trail. Alas, our schedules weren't lining up so I had to enlist my family's help so I could continue doing point to point runs.

With one car, the easiest way to do a point to point run was to run the trail in reverse so we could drop water enroute to northern start point and they could easily pick me up at the end of the run closer to Owen Sound. So, I started my run at Lindenwood Road (Sydenham 125.4) and headed south. The trail was pretty, but not overly technical so I made decent time except for many photo breaks.

The Glen Management Area, Fossil Glen Nature Reserve

As a bonafide trail runner, having long ago retired my road shoes, I surprised myself at the joy I felt on the Bruce coming to a road section. It meant giving my brain a break from combing the ground for roots and rocks and letting my legs spin. There's a certain relief you feel when you can see the horizon and where the trail is going, an expanse of sky and land outside of the dense forest.

Beautiful Fields and Sky, South of the Fossil Glen Nature Reserve

I had gotten used to running with friends on the Bruce so running solo brought to mind training for my first 50k, when I had just moved to Oakville and logged most of the mileage alone. While all the alone time helped me to develop mental fortitude, it also gave me an appreciation for company on the trail. Thus, it was extremely pleasant to come across a couple walking their dog where the Bruce follows the Georgian Bluff Rail trail, especially because their golden retriever looked exactly like our dog, Finnegan. We chatted for a good 15 minutes and I gave their dog, also Finnegan, (I know, what are the chances right?!) a lot of loving.

Georgian Bluff Rail Trail, the other "Finnegan"

After the reprieve of road and rail trail, there was a bit of climb up the escarpment to a short technical section in the Pottawatomi Conservation Area which also meant getting a nice scenic view of the area.

Pottawatomi Conservation Area

It was a hot day so I was really looking forward to my resupply at the water drop. As a bonus, my family showed up to meet me at the water drop with real food for lunch! When running long distances, gels and snacks can start to lose their appeal as the day wears on. A Tim Horton's sandwich never tasted so good. I also took the opportunity to guzzle down a huge can of coconut water and a bunch of water before refilling the bladder on my hydration pack. I sauntered out of there, fat, happy and hydrated, ready to take on whatever the rest of the day had in store. Soon after, I was climbing up the escarpment again.

Post-lunch Family Photo/Back up the Escarpment

The terrain became more technical as I went along. When I got to Inglis Falls Conservation Area, I started to see people out on the trail and a hoard of tourists taking pictures of the falls. Such is the hazard of having a parking lot close to a natural attraction. I paused to take a quick photo and got out of dodge as fast as possible, having been accustomed to the solitude of the trail. Alas, I slowed down considerably as the surrounding cliffs got higher and the trail became a jumbled concourse of rocks and boulders.

Inglis Falls Conservation Area/The Palisades

As I entered the Palisades area, my run turned into an arduous hike. As per the Bruce Trail Guidebook, " This is an area of extreme beauty as the cliffs tower on both sides of the trail. The path now becomes more strenuous as it zigzags downhill". I can vouch for the beauty, but I was going south so the path was zigzagging uphill! This turned "strenuous" into "grueling". It didn't help that I was already almost 40 k into my run and was ready to be D.O.N.E. for the day. I also knew that Aaron and Caeden would be waiting and wondering why I was taking so darned long. If I had known what I was in for, I would've ran this section in reverse direction.

At the 86.2 k Sydenham section marker, I arrived at Centennial Tower. My legs were spent and I couldn't imagine willingly climbing anything, yet, looking at the tower and remembering how I love a good view, I found myself trudging up the winding staircase to the top. The view was worth it.

After climbing down the tower, I expected 3 k of easy road sections and flattish trail to reach the meeting point at 83.4. I didn't realize the trail would go south along the road in order to cross it and then back north to where I emerged from the trail so I spent a bit of time trying to figure out what the "blazes" was going on (literally). When I finally arrived at the parking lot, I was happy to find Caeden and Aaron lounging in the car with the windows down engaged in books instead of staring at the clock. I was so happy to be finished and prayed to the trail gods that the next day would be easier.

The next day, I started in Wiarton at the point where the Sydenham section meets the Peninsula section i.e. 168.4 k Sydenham/0.0 Peninsula headed south towards Lindenwood (125.4 k Sydenham). Aaron took a photo of me at the trail map (background photo of "Running the Peninsula" title above) and I took one of Caeden beside the famous prognosticator "Wiarton Willie".

I was optimistic and smiling. After ducking in to use the facilities at the Wiarton community centre, I was on my merry way, enjoying the road through the town and bracing myself for what was to come. I wasn't impressed when I came to this unforgiving reminder of the Palisades 1 k later.

167.5 Sydenham, just outside Wiarton

Yet, soon after the trail flattened out and I was overjoyed to come to a meadowy tunnel, which emerged into sweeping views of farmer's fields and Colpoy's Bay.

Yay! Praying to the trail gods had paid off. I felt so encouraged, I decided to run the extra mileage to check out Bruce's Caves, a segue certainly worth the effort.

Bruce's Caves, 160.6 k Sydenham

I was elated to then run on a soft needle-covered trail of old growth cedar and hardwood forest, taking advantage of breaks in the forest cover to pause and enjoy magnificent views of the water.

Skinner's Bluff

After Skinner's Bluff, I emerged onto Colpoy's Range Rd, at the north end of the Slough of Despond. The rough dirt road was full of water-filled potholes and frogs from the slough were happily criss-crossing as I hopscotched my way along looking forward to the water drop at 149.3 k. Only 21 k into the run and I had already drained my 2 L bladder. I was glad I had more than I needed at the water drop to drink and refill the bladder. Rehydrated and refueled, I made my way south up a steep road and then turned east towards Kemble Mountain Management Area. The day was going along pretty well.

Alright, so that's it for the photos from this section. If you are wondering why, suffice it to say, I have sanctimoniously renamed "Kemble Mountain Management Area" as the "Bug Forest of Doom". I was absolutely covered in cobwebs and insects of all varieties as I climbed the muddy cliffs and leaped over mosquito-filled puddles. On the plus side, I did some good speed training to get the hell out of there.

As the trail headed east and then south towards Cole's sideroad, the puddles widened into gaping pools, the wind stopped completely and then the bugs really came out to feast. By the time I emerged onto Cole's Sideroad, I was out of water with another 11 k to go. From what I knew of the terrain near Lindenwood i.e. rocky and filled with narrow, yet deep crevices, I wasn't going to set any speed records getting there. So, when a farmer and his grandson working in their trailside garage said hello to me, I asked if I could refill my hydration bladder. Maybe the trail gods hadn't forgotten about me after all? Rehydrated, I made my way slowly back to Lindenwood. Another 2 days of back to back runs, 85 k more of the Bruce Trail and the Sydenham section done.

It was still August. All I had left to run was the 165.1 k long Peninsula section to reach the northern terminus. So while many of my ultra running pals set their sights on running the Haliburton Forest Ultra on September 10, I was determined to finish the Bruce Trail by the end of the summer i.e. by the time the kids went back to school.

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