Another two weeks went by and the Labour Day weekend was upon us. I posted a message on FaceBook tagging a bunch of trail running friends to see who might be available to join me for the last section of the trail. Most people were busy or tapering for Haliburton. I was thrilled to see my friend Kathleen Power offered to join me, knowing that her presence at the finish at Haliburton in 2015 was invaluable when I completed my first 50 mile race and that she was great company. Kathleen would also be running 25 k at Haliburton on September 10. What a trooper!
Camping spots and accommodations were scarce for the long weekend, but I managed to snag us a spot at Wiarton's Bluewater Park Campground for Sunday night. Actually, I was told that I had my pick of tenting sites along the beach. I couldn't understand why this was given other campgrounds north of Wiarton were packed. I asked the reservations clerk to assign us whichever spot she thought was best and got off the phone, moving on to booking our bed and breakfast for Monday night. After roughing it the night before the run and a long day on the trail, we would be looking forward to a post-run warm shower, evening soak in the hot tub, comfy beds and hot cooked breakfast.
I headed up to Wiarton Sunday afternoon, arriving at the campground to find that the barely-reserved tent campsites were packed. Not only that, the spot I reserved had a tent pitched on it. Ticked off, I headed over to the campground office to get things sorted out, although I didn't know what could be done as the encroaching campers were nowhere to be found and it didn't look like there were any tent spots left! I told them as much when I got there and suggested they give us a site with hookups instead. They informed me there would be an additional fee and I was steadfast that I would certainly not be paying more. The guy in the office said he'd need to call his boss to find out if they could put me elsewhere at no additional charge while the girl said she'd walk down to the campsite to check out the situation. I headed back to the site in my car and waited for her.
While I waited, a rather dodgy-looking fellow approached me to share that the cops had been called in at 6 a.m. that morning to put a stop to a wild party across from the spot we had reserved. I was getting increasingly antsy about the situation, wondering what I'd gotten us into. Kathleen and I needed a good night's rest in order to be in shape for running the next day. The campground office girl came and suggested we make space for ourselves by moving the tent on that site or the belongings on another site that was supposed to be available. That seemed like a really unfavorable solution so I told her I'd rather find out what her boss said about moving to a site with hookups. So, back to the campground office we went.
Fortunately, we found out her boss had given a thumb's up to move without an additional cost so I scoped a site with hookups out. Score. I was feeling much better, especially as there were no unsavory characters lingering around. Even though we were no longer in front of lake, we were surrounded by retired couples in trailers which portended peace and quiet.
I was glad Kathleen was delayed in getting to the campground as she could simply pitch her tent when she arrived without any negotiation. She had spent the time preparing a tasty nutrient rich dinner for us before she left including freshly baked healthy cookies. What seemed like a really questionable situation to begin with kept getting better and better!
Thankfully, I had a decent night's sleep. Unfortunately, Kathleen tossed and turned all night on uneven ground, finally getting up to pack out while it was dark outside. As the sun started to rise, heading back from the Comfort Station along the water, I marvelled at the silhouettes of a duck family swimming single-file across Colpoy's Bay.
With a quick stop at Tim Horton's for Kathleen to get a much-needed large coffee and me to fuel up on oatmeal, we were on our way. It was a really beautiful morning, mist rising off the fields as the sun climbed into the sky. We left Kathleen's SUV north of Lion's Head at 104.6 k, Cape Chin North Rd parking area. This would be my water drop and Kathleen's end point for the day. It also turned out to be a popular meeting spot for group hikes. For the first time in a very long time, there were several cars at one of my water drop locations.
We proceeded back to Lion's Head/81.8, left my car, put on our hydration packs and headed out of the parking lot. Thankfully, we had an easy 4 k warm up running on the road beside Isthmus Bay before we hit the trail. I looked longingly at a sailboat leisurely setting out for the day as we went along.
At Whippoorwill Bay, we cut inland climbing up the escarpment and crossing into Smokey Head-White Bluff Provincial Nature Reserve. As we made our way along White Bluff, we paused at the lookout to take pictures, treading carefully and making note of holes that would be disastrous to fall through.
From there we had about 10 k of running along the scarp to Smokey Point, passing lookouts and enjoying views north to Cape Chin and Cabot Head. The trail was quite technical in spots and we took our time.
When we got to Cape Chin, we made our way inland towards the parking lot, glad to arrive as we'd both run out of water. I took some fruit out of the cooler, grabbing a coconut water to rehydrate and prepared for the second part of my run. Kathleen was off merrily to find a beach for swimming and lounging about with a good book. That idea sounded oh so tempting, but the trail lured me on.
A little less than 1 k down the road, the trail turned off continuing to the edge of the escarpment above Cape Chin. The views were amazing. Hearing voices from below as if they were a few feet away, I realized one was coming from a little yellow kayak. As I emerged cliffside time and time again, I would call out to him waving, wondering who would be first to make it to Devil's Monument about 4 k north.
When I reached the Devil's monument side trail, I noticed a bunch hikers had gathered. Wondering what all the hubbub was about, I descended a steel stairway and a rocky cliff, passing the monument and a beautiful clear spring flowing from the Escarpment. Putting my head to the rock, the echoey sound of water flowing was so relaxing, I just had to take some footage.
Just before the spring, I had taken a photo of Devil's Monument, but feeling a better photo could be taken from below, I kept climbing down to the cobble beach. There, I met a hiker who just so happened to live 15 minutes away from me in Burlington. We swapped phones and took photos of each other on the beach and at the monument. Much better than what I would have had otherwise. Totally worth the detour.
The trail went for another 6.6 k past Devil's Monument along Dyer's Bay and I fully enjoyed the view making my way north before turning inland at Harkins Road side trail. The terrain had been rocky and challenging so I didn't mind at all that the last 8 k for the day was on the road. Besides, I wanted to be done. I had a shower, dinner and a much anticipated soak in the B&B hot tub ahead of me. I whooped a sigh of relief when I got to the parking lot. Kathleen wasn't there yet so I took a moment to survey my surroundings and take a photo of the trail sign for Crane Lake and Bruce Peninsula National Park. This sign would mark the start of our run the next morning.
After showering at the B&B, we investigated all the places to eat in Lion's Head. Turns out none of them were open on Labour Day so we headed up to Tobermory to get our well-deserved beer and dinner. As a result, we were late getting in, but still managed to soak in the hot tub. I was wired from the gels I'd consumed all day, but Kathleen was worn out from running and the lack of sleep the night before. So she conked out hard after reading a few pages of her book. In the meantime, I leisurely washed out my hydration bladder, reorganized my stuff, stretched and did a bit of reading before nodding off.
Tuesday morning, we had a nice hot breakfast, packed up our cars and headed to the water drop at Little Cove/157.6 k. After dropping Kathleen's SUV, we proceeded back to Crane Lake parking lot. We were looking forward to the easy 7 k of flat runnable trail to start and knew that we would be slowing down considerably as we gained elevation and approached High Dump at 134.6 k. Running amongst the lakes and marshes, we paused to take photos as we went along. Much different than the rocky vistas of sparkling blue green water we'd experienced prior, but beautiful in it's own right.
After about an hour, we found ourselves back at elevation gazing down at the water. We continued to enjoy phenomenal views of the cliffs and the Georgian Bay along the northern perimeter of the park.
The day was heating up considerably. We were both drinking much more than anticipated because it was also really technical and slow-going. We started rationing water, hoping for the opportunity to refill at Storm Haven campground. Alas, there was no potable water supply there. Passing some hikers we asked where the nearest water supply was and were told we could venture into Cypress Lake campground via Horse Lake Trail at 145.2 k.
Knowing this may well add another hour and 5 k onto our day, we decided to press on towards the grotto at 146.0 k, taking our chances to find water there. To get there though, we had to climb up and down the escarpment, crossing boulder and cobble beaches which were pretty, albeit pretty tough on Kathleen's feet.
No wonder the Bruce Trail guidebook includes the following caution: "The section between km 134.6 and km 145.2 is considered to be the most challenging hiking along the entire length of the Bruce Trail. Be prepared!"
Later rather than sooner, we finally arrived at the Grotto to a hoard of people climbing all over the rocks. Seems like the short side trail from Cypress Lake campground didn't deter them from taking in this magnificent natural feature. Many of them had carried in water bottles. There was water everywhere. Alas, not a drop to drink (for us). So, after taking a photo or two we soldiered on clambering over the rocks.
It wasn't long until we'd reached yet another cobble beach. Kathleen grumbled a bit in frustration, taking off across the rocks, determined to get that part over with. I took a couple of photos of her on her way and she took some of me as I approached her sitting at the end of the beach.
By then, we only had about 400 ml of water left to share and with 9 k to go at what was proving to be a snail's pace, we were doling it out every kilometre in one squirt increments to wet the back of our throats. We were so enthusiastic to have these rations that we would celebrate by singing, dancing and collapsing in fits of laughter. Yeah, it was slow going and we weren't getting any faster with all our antics.
Delirious and tired, somewhere along the route, perhaps during one of these laughing fits, Kathleen left her $250 sport sunglasses behind. That was definitely NOT a laughing matter. However, we had no idea exactly where she put them down or how far we'd have to go back adding to our total time and distance traveled with next to no water. Kathleen decided it just wasn't worth it. Perhaps, some happy traveler later scored a sweet surprise by following in our footsteps?
Despite this misfortune, the joy of approaching Little Cove, just down the road from where Kathleen's SUV was parked, overtook the chagrin accompanied by navigating more boulders. Here, the Bruce Trail guidebook cautions: "This section requires good footwear and an alert state of mind."
Our footwear seemed to be holding up, our minds not so much, but somehow we made it across! Soon, we were headed up Little Cove Rd and running towards Kathleen's SUV. When we got there, we drank to our heart's content, had snacks and celebrated making it this far.
The celebration was short-lived for me, however, as I still had another 8 k to go to reach Tobermory and the Northern Terminus of the Bruce Trail. While Kathleen gathered herself up off the ground to go for a swim, I headed out on the road again. I was really happy to be off the rocky trail and looking forward to easy sailing to the finish.
It was much easier than what we'd been through, but there was still some technical trail left to navigate. It wasn't until less than 1.5 k from the finish that the trail finally became a wide, smooth pathway to accommodate visitors from the National Park visitors centre. Gladly, because it was late in the day, there weren't any visitors for it to accommodate besides myself.
At 164.4 k, I passed an observation tower to view the surrounding landscape. Normally, very tempting for me to take in such a vista. However, because I knew Kathleen was patiently waiting for me at the finish and it was taking much longer than I expected to meet her, I ran right past it.
Finally, I reached the road leading into Tobermory, heading west on Head St and then turning right onto Brock St towards the water. I expected to see the northern terminus cairn by the water where Kathleen was standing, but had to turn left and run a short distance along Bay St to find it. The video below captures that moment.
I'd told Kathleen earlier that when I got to the northern terminus, I wanted to go in the water to show that there was no more land left to navigate so off I went. I had to follow some scuba divers in wetsuits and didn't stay long as it was cold, but I finally made it!! A 900 k journey complete.
After getting changed and having dinner, we started the long drive home in the dark. Kathleen had to stop at the B&B in Lion's Head as she had forgotten her water bottles in the fridge that morning. At a certain point on the road between Tobermory and Lion's Head, I realized she was no longer behind me and pulled over to wait and make sure she was ok. Then, I received a text letting me know that she'd called the B&B and they had a room available so if I was up for it, we could soak in the hot tub and crash instead of driving 3+ hours back home that night. Sounded like a good idea so I said "yes" and met her back at the B&B. The hot tub was even more glorious than it was the previous evening.
The next day Kathleen was up and at 'em early as she had an appointment to make. I lounged around a little bit considering an idea to make a detour to my favorite nordic spa outside Collingwood as an "end to end" self-celebration. I thought about it some more and decided I wouldn't have enough time to enjoy it as I had to make it back to Oakville to pick up my son from school. By the time I reached Wiarton and filled up with gas I had changed my mind, reasoning that if I only had a couple of hours at the spa, it was still worth doing while I was up this way. Then, I got a brainwave to ask a friend if Caeden could go home with her son to hang out for a bit after school so I wouldn't have to stress about getting there in time to pick him up. She was too happy to oblige so I went to soothe my sore muscles and weary mind, taking a few hours of peace and relaxation to recuperate from the push to the finish.