Stamm Woodlot on Benjamin Road to Conestogo
Well, I did it. Eight days to walk the entire Avon Trail. On Sunday, as I walked the final couple of hundred metres through Conestogo to find the rock that marked the end, I imagined a sitting down in a pub to celebrate with a pint of nice cold cider. My friend, Jen, who did almost half the trail with me at various points, kept her eyes peeled for the open pub.
But alas. A few things stood in our way.
One, Conestogo is a very small town in a pretty conservative part of the region. Nothing was open on Sunday.
Two, the pandemic. Even if it had been a pre-pandemic day, the chances are that nothing would have been open, but the pandemic compounded this fact. Lonely storefronts sat dark on this day. Even the homes (lovely, lovely homes) showed little sign of life, although we’d seen lots of people cycling and walking and fishing as we crossed the bridge into town.
But I digress.
We started later this day because a heavy rain had fallen during the early morning hours. We didn’t start out until about 12:30 p.m., and although the forecast was for 31C with the humidex, it was windy and warm, but not really hot. We started where we left off last weekend: Stamm Woodlot on Benjamin Road on the north end of Waterloo. After a short road walk along Benjamin and down a side road, we made the turn into a farmer’s field, where the walking was quite treacherous. The trail followed a creek, and the grass was long, which hid the lumps and holes that the edges of farm fields have, and both of us stumbled and tripped our way through the first part. I hoped the whole trail wasn’t like this – it would take us many hours to complete 16k. Soon enough, though, we made it to the end of the difficult footing, crossed a bridge over the creek, and said hello to some curious cows in the field.
This last stage of the trail took us through St. Jacobs Market and the outlet and adjoining shopping areas, a quite busy and populated area for a Sunday. The trail joins the Great Trail at this point, or what was formerly known as the TransCanada Trail. We followed it along Hwy. 86 down to the river, coming across a bedstraw hawkmouth caterpillar (a great big black caterpillar with a horn on its head) on the path. Once we’d gone down the hill towards the river, we turned to walk along the river on the Health Valley Trail. This is one of my favourite forest walks in the area – this trail goes through forests, along the river, and through cow pastures right up to University Avenue near Northfield Dr. It used to be a quiet trail on a Sunday – you might see a few people out – but these days, it’s very busy with dog walkers, families and individuals. It’s five kilometres to St. Jacobs from the start point on University Avenue, so it’s perfect for walking to St. Jacobs, having a coffee or browsing the shops, turning around and coming back. It’s also used by a nearby horseback riding enterprise. The bridge over the creek here was also closed, but we were able to jump across and up the bank without getting our feet wet.
After this trail ends at University, the rest of the trip is road walking. You’re in behind RIM Park now, and the road there is pretty quiet because it’s a dead end, ending before Northfield Drive. But you turn onto Glasgow and the road is quite busy because it’s a quick shortcut to Conestogo in a car. The corn was high, and the scenery quite rural and pastoral; if I have to walk on a road, I’m glad to do it along farm fields in late summer. The clouds in the sky were amazing, and we passed many Mennonite farms with their big barns, doddy houses and no electricity. The closer we got to Conestogo, the traffic was heavier, although there were also several cyclists out enjoying the lovely day. As we approached the river, we saw a sparrow hawk soaring above the water, or maybe it was a falcon. It was hard to tell. We also saw a great blue heron standing on a hillock in the middle of the river.
I set out just about a year ago to build up my stamina through longer hikes, to prepare for a walk on the Camino Primitivo. I’d planned to go this past May and June, but, for obvious reasons, had to cancel. It took me eight hikes to do 121k on the Avon Trail. In reality, on the Camino, that would be about four or five days’ walking. You can see why stamina might be a good thing to have – walking 20-25k every day requires some preparation!
So, I achieved my goal. I feel good about that. In fact, we could have continued walking – the Grand Valley Trail starts at Lake Erie and carries on to Alton, a handsome 255k trail.
It’s made me realize that although the Camino has been a big goal of mine for a very long time, there really isn’t much to stop me from continuing mini-Caminos here at home. I’m not much of a cyclist, but I’ve been thinking about biking the Guelph to Goderich Trail next summer, a distance of 127km, and I’m trying to talk my kids into coming with me. There is the Guelph to Midland pilgrimage, led by staff at St. Ignatius Centre, a distance of 188km. This one has a deeply spiritual element to it, although it honours the colonization and “civilization” of the Huron Wendat peoples by the Jesuits who worked to convert them to Christianity. And that, for me, is problematic. But that’s another story.
And, of course, there is the Great Trail, which I mentioned earlier. The longest by far. At 27,000km, it goes all the way across Canada, through all the provinces and territories. A lifetime achievement. Back in the ‘80s, when the railways were discontinued and they began ripping up the tracks to create this trail, I thought I would like to ride a horse across the country.
Anyone have a horse I can borrow?