Perth-Oxford Road, near Line 113, to Forest Road at Hwy 7, Stratford: 20k
Another October Sunday full of sunshine, brightly coloured forests and just enough chill in the air to repel bugs and sweat. I met up with three childhood friends – two sisters, Karen and Ruthanne, and Cathy. We’re all originally from Grey County, grew up within four miles of each other, went to the same elementary and high schools (hey, it’s rural Ontario), and we’ve all known each other our entire lives – that’s nearing 50 years – but I don’t think we’ve ever hung out together as a group.
This happy accident of inviting friends along to hike on my mini-Camino for a day turned out to be a gem in all sorts of ways.
A refresher: I’m prepping to walk the Camino de Santiago next year, something I vowed to do when I turned 50 (which I did last March). Since the Avon Trail is 113k, I am walking it in 20k (ish) chunks, so I get used to the idea of longer-distance hiking; on the Camino, I’ll be walking an average of 20k every day.
Cathy also just turned 50, and her birthday promise to herself is to catch up with friends from childhood, high school and university, spending one-on-one time with each of them this year. This particular Sunday was my day.
Karen had walked the first leg of the trail with me, and this time, since her older sister was visiting for Thanksgiving weekend, she brought her along.
Four women, all close to 50, 50 or just over.
After getting our vehicles into place – one at the end of the hike, and two at the beginning, since Karen and Ruthanne had come from Woodstock, and Cathy had driven from Flesherton area – we immediately set out walking in the wrong direction. We hardly noticed, until a gut feeling prompted us to check the map again.
Although we used both a hard copy map (mine) and a trails app on Ruthanne’s phone, our first kilometre was 500 metres along the road in the wrong direction and 500 metres back to the vehicles.
Our conversations tripped from one topic to the next with ease. We talked about walking on the “wrong” side of the road, and quickly switched so we faced oncoming traffic. Which reminded Ruthanne of a book she is reading, which talks about power structures, and how moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings. This reminded Cathy, a vice-principal of a rural school, of how children often think about justice in very clear terms, and with a healthy Mennonite population at her school, her kids are generally well-behaved and kind.
This trail, picking up where I left off the previous week, had more road-walking this time; in fact, the first five or so kilometres were on the road, past beautiful hilly farms edged with fiery trees, and Camp Bimini, a United Church camp cleft with a small ravine. Once we got past there, though, we headed off into the forest on well-marked trails.
Until we lost the markers again.
That’s the funny thing about walking with old friends. The conversation distracts you and you forget to look for the markers. We’d gone another kilometre out of the way – but this time through gorgeous tracts of pines that allowed the sun to seep through, casting an otherworldly glow on the forest floor – before we realized we’d lost our track.
I’m glad we got lost this time.
Losing the markers allowed us to experience the silent and magical forest. The pathways were straight and true, and covered in pine needles. Our tread was soft and our breath even. The sunlight shifted on the forest floor and the trees swayed and creaked in the wind.
It wasn’t until we found a deer blind for hunters that we realized we probably were no longer on the trail. After consulting the phone app at a crossroads, we retraced our steps. Our walk back out was equally as breathtaking.
Sometimes the best parts about our journeys through life are a bit like losing the markers on the trail. We mark our lives by the big events: birthdays, jobs, moves, vacation, always looking forward to the next one and planning our days as we move towards the dates. Some people don’t like to deviate from those plans, and they live determinedly from Sunday dinner to anniversary to birthday celebration. They stick to the markers, searching out the next one as they pass by the closest one.
Some people don’t make any plans. They just show up. I’m kind of somewhere in the middle. I like to have some structure to life, some plans to keep me from stagnating, but it really is when I lose track of the markers that I find the moments that supplement the meaningful life I try to lead:
Stumbling upon a lilac tree or a garden in bloom, on a street I don’t normally travel.
Finding the sweetest coffee shop in a strange town, when you go in to ask for directions (yes, I still do that).
Saying yes to something that is completely outside my comfort zone.
Deciding that I can’t wait for my family to suddenly love hiking and biking and camping anymore; I just must do it myself, and find a way to make it happen. Even though it takes me away from them for a day or a few.
Eating dinner in front of the TV with my family, even though we’ve done it every night that week, but this is the one time we’re all together watching the same thing at the same time.
Striking up a conversation with a stranger on a street corner.
Seeing an old friend in an unexpected place.
I guess being in the moment is what allows this magic to happen. The older I get, the more I try not to be so “right or wrong” about things, to let life flow a lot more without prescribing its direction.
Ruthanne and Karen left us at about the 14k mark; a twinge in Ruthanne’s back had slowly begun moving up the pain scale, and she decided to stop before it got too bad.
That, too, is a lesson I’m learning as I age: know your limitations. Know when it’s too much. Stop before you hurt yourself.