Boundaries

It’s human nature, I think, to look for the edges and test the boundaries of something. Or maybe that’s just my nature.

Water’s edge

I was thinking this the other day, walking the pier near the Lehave Bakery, testing the edges by walking out along the wharf. Walk to the edge, and follow it round.

That notion of following the edge has been in my head, because now that we’re here in Lunenburg I’ve been thinking about some of the walks I’d like to do within the province, adding them to my bucket list, and those walks are themed by the edges I’d follow.

Nova Scotia is predominately a coastal province. By that I mean that most of the population lives near the sea shore. The larger cities and towns are mostly on the coasts – Halifax, Yarmouth, Sydney, and not least Lunenburg. The population has always faced the sea and looked to it for their livelihood. It means there are lots of roads and now trails that follow those coasts, so that makes walking a coastline activity.

Thinking about that got me thinking about boundaries and edges and limits. There are limits of geography, like the coast lines, and I’ll follow those. There are limits of endurance and strength, and while I don’t think I need those in exceptional quantities, walking several hundred km around the coasts will certainly call for some gusting towards those limits, at least for me.

And then there are limits we set for ourselves, limits of ambition I’ll call them. What do we want to achieve? How far do we push ourselves? Where will we take ourselves? Those limits are different for everyone of course, and I think they are also different at different points in our lives. The limits I set myself in my teens and 20’s are not those of my 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Do I want to walk these walks now because I want to push back on the shrinking of those physical limits? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just that now that I am retired and have a more or less grown child and fewer responsibilities, I feel like I can stretch my limits in ways that would have seemed imprudent or impractical when I was younger and paying mortgages and climbing corporate ladders.

The Olympics are on as I write this, and that is the spectacle of human limits writ large. What are competitive athletics if not tests of the limits of human strength and endurance and ambition? My walks are not my Olympics by any means, but deep down they come from the same source. Find the edge, and explore it.

Bucket List Walks

An ever-changing list of walks I’ve done or would like to do.

  1. John O’Groats in Scotland to Land’s End in Cornwall, the length of Great Britain
  2. The Lahave River Loop, from Lunenburg to Riverport and up the Lehave River across the province to Middleton in the Annapolis Valley and then back to Lunenburg via Windsor and Chester.
  3. The Cabot Trail around the northern end of Cape Breton island
  4. The South Shore/Fundy Shore loop, following the shores around the southern end of Nova Scotia along the rail trails, from Lunenburg down to Yarmouth and then back up the Annapolis Valley to Wolfville
  5. The Bruce Trail, Ontario
    • Niagara Section
    • Iroquois Section
    • Toronto Section
    • Caledon Section
    • Dufferin Highland Section
    • Beaver Valley Section
    • Blue Mountain Section
    • Sydenham Section
    • Peninsula Section
  6. Yonge Street (from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe)
  7. The Sli Dhun na nGall – the trails of Donegal in Ireland, including:
    • The Blue Stack Way
    • Slí Cholmcille
    • Slí An Earagail
    • Slí Na Finne
    • Slí Na Rosann
  8. The European Ramblers E8 trail, from Dublin to Kerry
  9. The Malin Head to Mizen Head path from the northern tip of Ireland to the southwestern tip
  10. Hadrian’s Wall path, England
  11. The Thames Path in England, from source to the sea
  12. Lord Simcoe’s Ride (Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fort York in Toronto)
  13. The Toronto Cross (west to east and south to north across Toronto)
  14. Toronto Waterfront Trail (Humber River to Rouge River)
  15. The Confederation Trail in PEI
  16. Waterfront to wine
    • East, from Toronto to Prince Edward County along the Waterfront Trail
    • West, from Toronto to Niagara along the Waterfront Trail
    • South, from Toronto to Pelee Island along the Waterfront Trail
  17. The Great Trail in Southern Ontario (within 2 hours of Toronto)
    • 100km so far including
    • Toronto Waterfront Trail
    • Toronto Pan-Am Trail
    • Toronto Pan-Am Connector
    • Niagara River Recreational Trail
    • Pickering Waterfront Trail
    • Durham County Recreational Trails
    • Laura Secord Legacy Trail
    • City of Hamiton Trails
    • Fort Erie to Hamilton connector trails
    • Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail
    • Brantford to Kitchener connector trails
    • Kitchener to Elora connector trails
    • Elora to Barrie connector trails
  18. The Great Trail T-O-M walk – Toronto to Ottawa to Montreal
  19. Montreal to Toronto via the Waterfront Trail
  20. Camino de Santiago, specifically the Comino Portuguese from Porto in Lisbon to Campostella in Spain
  21. Oakridge Moraine Trail around greater Toronto
  22. Manhattan Shore Walk (circumference of the island of Manhattan)
  23. The Newfoundland T’Railway Trail, from Channel Port Aux Basques to St. John’s
  24. Fundy walk, from Moncton to Saint John along the Bay of Fundy
  25. The Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand from the northern tip of the North Island to the southern tip of the South Island
  26. The GR1 Tour de Paris
  27. The Bradt Brothers Trail, tracing my ancestors from New Amsterdam (now New York) up the Hudson to Albany and then west across upstate NY, across to Fort Erie, and along the Talbot Trail to Leamington in Essex County, SW Ontario.

Quiet Walks

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been walking a bit around town here in Lunenburg and the surrounding area. There are some nice little trails nearby, and the backstreets of town are also fun for contemplative wandering, getting to know the place better.

I also finally walked the trail to Mahone Bay (something I’ve been itching to do for months), and really enjoyed getting out for a proper 2-hour walk, something I haven’t done in ages. And afterwards in thinking about that walk, what made the strongest impression on me was the quiet soundscape – just crunching gravel underfoot, gently-stirred breezed-on leaves, and the chirps of birds and croaks of frogs. No leaf blowers, no airplanes, no lawnmowers, no chainsaws, and only a distant occasional whoosh of a car on a road.

I can’t remember when I’ve been able to take a quiet walk, a truly quiet walk. Toronto is always filled with sound, even in neighbourhoods I thought at the time were sleepy. The Toronto trails are nice but often near roads – for instance the Lower Don Valley Trail is mere meters from the Don Valley Parkway with its 6 lanes of constant traffic. You really cannot hear yourself think, but you get so used to it that you come to hear that cacophony as normal.

And then you move to a place like Lunenburg and you realize what a quiet walk actually should sound like. It’s gotten me looking forward to some further explorations, something to plan for in the still evening silence.

I’m going to like it round here, right up till I start moaning in winter about how it’s too damn quiet.

Spring Break

I don’t know why only college kids get Spring Break. Everyone loves the change in seasons, and welcomes warmer weather, so why don’t we all give ourselves a pause to refresh?

For us, this year’s Spring Break is a bigger break than past years. We’ve always loved being near water, especially salt-water, and we’ve always loved visiting Canada’s east coast, especially the south shore of Nova Scotia. That love, combined with retirement combined with COVID-19 combined with our son’s choice of a Nova Scotia university, have all come together into a big decision.

We’re selling up in Toronto and moving to Lunenburg.

So this year’s Spring Break will be spent driving out to Halifax at the beginning of April and spending a month out there. Partly it’s to help our son move out of residence and into an apartment at school end, partly to visit Lunenburg and get ourselves acclimated, and partly to see in person the house that we bought via FaceTime.

It’s a big step, and we’re kind of nervous, yet at the same time we’re really looking forward to it. Our actual move from Toronto won’t be until around mid-June, depending on the closing date for our place here, but in the meantime there’s been a million things that have kept us busy in getting ready, and now we’re counting down the hours till we head east for what is essentially our last visit – next time the drive from Toronto will mean heading home.

So, come this time next week, I’ll be stuck in a quarantine time-loop again walking round and round the garden, and then the week after that as well, and that’s all boring to talk about, so I’m putting Walkablog on hold for a couple of weeks until we’re able to get out and about.

Till then, enjoy the weather and stop to smell the flowers.

Walking Tips – Technology

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve learned a few things about preparing for and enjoying a good long walk, so I thought would I share some of that knowledge. Hope it helps.

What?: I like to think of myself as relatively old-school when it comes to technology, where a good walk needs little more than comfortable shoes and clothing, and a decent bit of weather. But when I really think about it, my walking routine does in fact make use of several items of technology, so here are some tips on what I use. That’s the key thing, as well – it’s what I use. There are thousands of apps out there, and many different kinds of technology that might be used, however I cannot speak to anything other than what I actually use myself. Like with shoes, go with what’s comfortable for you.

Tips: Where, when, how and why

  • A phone. These days, everything starts with a smart phone, and I am hardly alone in carrying it around pretty much all of the time. You have one and you use it all the time as well, I’m sure, so I can’t tell you what kind of phone to buy or how to use it. Think of your phone as your technical Swiss Army knife – it’s more than a phone, amongst other things it’s also:
  • A Clock
  • A Stop Watch
  • An Alarm
  • An Exercise Tracker
  • A Map
  • A Compass
  • A Weather Station
  • A Music Player
  • A Camera

Get one you like and is comfortable for you, and for heavens sake keep the bloody thing in your pocket unless you need it – it seems like every time I’m out for a way, I have to dodge around someone who’s nose is buried in their phone as they walk, oblivious to all around them.

  • Map apps. Pretty much every phone comes with a default map application. Since I mostly walk around Toronto, I tend not to use maps much when I’m out walking (though I’ve often looked things up if I’m trying to find a particular street or something). In Toronto, I use maps more from a planning perspective – if I want to explore a trail or neighbourhood or whatever, then I’ll use the map to do that first so that I have a basic sense of time and distance. That will let me know flesh out the rest of my plan, along with the weather forecast, regarding food, clothing, water, etc. Of course, if I’m away from home in a new place, the map is invaluable.

Of course, I do like an old school paper map too …

  • Trail apps. I have used a couple of different trail apps. One is called Gaia GPS, and the other is the Bruce Trail app. In both cases, finding and sticking to a trail can be tricky, and these apps combined with the GPS receiver in my phone help me stay on on track. In the case of GaiaGPS, I can also route-plan a freeform route or I can record my route as I go. GaiaGPS also lets me download various map overlays from different countries, so for example, if I am in Ireland I can see local maps for that country. Another app I’ve looked at but haven’t bought yet is the Ordnance Survey app from the UK Ordnance Survey agency. If you’ve every used their paper maps, you’ll know the very high standard they offer, and the app puts this in your pocket. If only every country had something similar!
  • Satellite Navigation. I have to confess I have only explored the use of these, I haven’t actually bought one, but if/when I do a long off-road walk I think I’ll buy one. These tools use GPS but they are dedicated to one purpose – navigation when you are off the beaten track. They also have an emergency function, so that if you get into trouble and you’re out of cell phone range, you can call for help.
  • Exercise trackers. I use an exercise tracker every day – in fact I rarely take mind off and use it to track my sleep as well as my steps, heart rate, active minutes, etc. For me this tool is about motivation. I’ve developed the habit of getting a certain # of steps per hour, per day, and per week, and the exercise tracker nudges me to keep that up. Using it that way, and actually doing the walks, first helped me shed something like 30 pounds and since then has helped me to keep it off. It’s not about the actual score, it’s the trend. I feel like I’ve let myself down if I don’t get my minutes and steps every day.
  • Cameras. Pretty much every smart phone these days has a camera, and this blog has encouraged me to use it when I’m out walking. It helps me to stay engaged in the world around me as I look for interesting things, and it also helps me to remember things – I can take a picture of a street sign, a commemorative plaque, a shop name, or whatever, something that I seem to need to do more often as I get older.
  • Music. Every smartphone offers the ability to play music, and lots of people also continue to use portable music players, like an iPod. Along with that, there are dozens of different kinds of ear phones and ear buds. I am partial to the Apple family of products – the Apple ear buds have a very comfortable shape that works well for me. The only advice I would give is that it can be handy to use wired ear buds rather than wireless because they don’t drain your phone battery as much. That said, newer phones are coming without an earphone connection any more, so you have no choice but to use wireless. Use what’s comfortable and remember to keep the sound volume down so that you can hear what’s going on around you, especially in high traffic areas.
  • Emergency tools. A phone can of course be a lifeline – the ability to dial 911 is super important, and shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s partly for that reason that you should make sure your phone is charged before you go out. More than that, there are various waypoint and cairn apps you can install that let you define a place or destination and then track when you get there, so that a friend or loved one can see where you are and that you are sticking to plan. Beyond your phone, there are also back-country emergency beacon tools, that use a satellite connection rather than a cell network so they work pretty much anywhere. If you are hiking off the beaten path, they are a great investment in peace of mind.
  • Other ideas. As I said, there are lots of different types of technologies out there, and you can go nuts and try many or you can keep it simple. Things I’ve used while walking include other simple tools, like:
    • Flashlight or headlamp – if I know I’ll be walking towards the end of the day, or if I’m overnight trekking then a headlamp is a great safety device
    • Portable / solar charger for all your other electronics – this is the reason I like to keep it simple, because I hate to lug weight but sometimes you need to keep your other bits and bobs charged
    • tablet, e.g. an iPad – not all the time, because it adds weight, but if I know I’ll be out for a long walk I might take one so I can read the news or a book when I take a break
    • a laptop – similar, it’s heavy to carry but sometimes I’m combining a walk with work

Disclaimer: All opinions contained in this post are my own. I’m not a technologist, nutritionist, physiotherapist, or doctor. Take my advice as given – caveat emptor.

Cycles

A recent walk happened on the first spring-like day of the year. As I strolled in a golf shirt enjoying the warmth, I thought about the change in seasons, and coming into Mount Pleasant Cemetery, those thoughts continued to evolve.

There is an old notion of the universe being a kind of clockwork, and that the world moves in cycles and revolutions like the gears within a clock. Turning, turning, and always moving. The cycles of the seasons; the annual migrations of birds and butterflies; the rotation of the earth and the steady track of the sun across the sky; the tumbling of tin cans rattled by the wind down the road; even the click-clack of trains on tracks.

Walking through the cemetery also brings more emotional cycles to mind; the happy shouts of kids at play next to the graves where tears were once shed, or last year’s dry leaves skittering in the wind before coming to rest as mulch to feed next year’s growth. Growth, blossom, decay, and rebirth.

Walking my usual route through the cemetery, itself a cycle of dips and rises and paths and roads, and passed by riders on their own (bi)cycles, I continued to revolve and evolve in my mind this notion of cycles. My walks fall into patterns, I go through periods when I wander this neighbourhood and then that one, and move on to longer walks and then back to shorter ones. I oscillate between the long and the short, the familiar and the novel.

But COVID has me stuck in a reduced cycle, like a car forced to stay in 2nd or 3rd gear. I’m itching to break out into 5th and 6th, to stretch out my short walks to a really long multi-day walk, but I’m stuck in this spin cycle of patient and plodding and close-to-home. And all the while, the virus and its human host are observing their own cycles of evolution and adaptation while in parallel the science evolves and adapts in a struggle to keep up.

The clockwork universe is probably a simplistic metaphor. There are elements of that metaphor that ring true, but I find that it’s more than just clockwork, or perhaps more accurately, that’s its more than just one clock. Imagine clocks within clocks, within yet more clocks, with overlapping parts that influence each other. Our world is complicated. But each cycle is simple in itself. Winter to spring, spring to summer, summer to autumn, autumn to winter.

And neighbourhood to neighbourhood, street to street, step to step, walk by walk. The cycle continues.

Take your walk

As is usual, spring has come round again. No surprise there, of course, but welcome none the less. Now it’s time for the firsts of the season:

  • First baseball spring training game
  • First time sitting in the sun on the balcony wearing sun glasses and NO WINTER COAT!
  • First person out for a walk wearing shorts
  • First trill of a cardinal
  • First rumble of a Harley

And of course, the opposite is now a countdown:

  • Last time wearing winter coats or boots or hats or mitts or gloves
  • Last time using the winter tires on the car
  • Last time stepping in slush and salt
  • Last time slipping on ice
  • Last time hearing the scrunch of skates on ice

It’s always the same each year, and yet you look forward to it anyway, and this year even more so since this spring is a 1-year anniversary of COVID-19 lockdowns. We’re all desperate to sit outside at restaurants and order a glass of something, to be able to walk into a store without a mask, to simply wander unconcerned.

Patience. It’s coming, though it might be months yet before we’re fully out the other side.

In baseball, a walk is earned by a batter through patience and discipline. The batter has to simply not do what they want to do, which is swing the bat, but instead watch each pitch carefully and make a decision – swing or not swing. If you can focus and do that, not swing at pitches outside the strike zone, you can earn a walk, get on base, and put yourself in a position to score a run. A batter can’t go up to the plate every time trying to hit home runs – sometimes the best strategy is to wear down the pitcher by being patient, and taking a walk.

That’s where we are with COVID-19. Time to take your walk.

Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame player, Ernie Banks

Beach Walks

Portnoo Strand, County Donegal in Ireland

It snowed earlier today, and yesterday, and two days before that, and it’s -15 C with the wind chill. So naturally I’m thinking of walking on a beach.

Over the years we’ve been lucky enough to do that in many places. Some have my favourite walks have been on beaches – Sandbanks Provincial Park or Point Pelee National Park in Ontario; Hirtles Beach in Nova Scotia; Portnoo Strand in Ireland; Manley Beach in Australia; and dozens of other unnamed quiet little beaches in England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Bermuda, Costa Rica, Mexico, the USA, and elsewhere in Canada.

Hirtles Beach, Nova Scotia

There’s something hypnotic about the sounds of water, the ruffle of wind in your ears, the splash on your legs and the crunchy grit between your toes. You get lost in the walk, on a beach. The heat through the soles of your feet shock-cooled in the water. The gulls you chase and the crabs you watch and the shells you search for. The perfectly shaped piece of driftwood. How did that shoe wash up here? Is that a seal? Do I have to go back?

I can’t help it – thinking about a beach helps make bearable walking in snow and slush. And soon, oh please soon, I’ll be walking on a beach again.

Bucket List Blues

I have a guilty confession to make – over the past few weeks, I’ve read the entire series of Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon, complete in all their historical/fantastical bodice-ripping flummerous glory. Why? Well, at the top of my bucket list of walks, I’d like to try to do the walk from John O’Groats in Scotland

to Land’s End in England, and in thinking about Scotland and the Highlands, I thought of the Outlander TV series now running on Netflix which is a favourite of my wife, and that made me think about the Outlander books themselves. And in reading the books, which are set partially in Scotland and partially in the US at the time of the American Revolutionary War, and involve characters who are Loyalists to the Crown, I thought of another bucket list walk, to retrace the steps of my ancestors who were Loyalists who had to leave upstate New York to make their way into Canada near Fort Erie

and thence along the Talbot Trail to Essex County in south-west Ontario, where I was eventually born.

Bucket lists, I think, are as much about imagination as they are about actual plans, and whatever is on your list reflects the kind of person you see yourself as. Having a bucket list composed of famous works of art to view in person, or golf courses to play, famous restaurants to visit, or journeys to take, then the fact that your list includes such things says a lot about who you are and what you value.

And in my case, my bucket list is about walks and treks (no surprise), and mostly it reflects long multi-day journeys through places redolent of history. Sometimes that history is of countries and nations and peoples, sometimes it’s about the history of the towns and cities and villages I’d pass through, and sometimes it’s the history of myself and my family. In many cases, that history is personal, because I’ve visited many of these places before and they’ve touched a chord within me which I’d like to rekindle.

Amongst the many frustrations of COVID is the sense of plans on hold, of being stuck on pause and unable to hit play. When I retired, in January 2020, I had set out in my mind a series of walks that would slowly work down my bucket list. I fully expected to have crossed several off my list this past year, and instead there’s just been a gloomy sense of waiting and waiting and waiting, with no clear vision of when I can get back to that program.

It’s a first world problem to be sure, and many people would like to have the luxury of even contemplating a bucket list in the first place. I can’t, with any sense of morality, consider myself hard done by. So I sit and I wait and I walk around the neighbourhood and I read things like Outlander and dream of Scottish highlands.

Tips for Walking – Planning

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve learned a few things about preparing for and enjoying a good long walk, so I thought would I share some of that knowledge. Hope it helps.

What?: There are times when I just simply “go for a walk”, as you do – out the front door, wander round the neighbourhood, and back home for a cup of coffee. And then again, there are times when I want to do a longer walk, and then I need to do some planning. How long will I be out? What will the weather be like? Are there places to get something to eat or drink? What about water fountains, washrooms? Do I need to drive or take public transit either to or from the route? Everyone walks their own path – my moderate walk might be your long tough hike, and vice-versa – so plan according to your needs. I’m just saying this is what works for me.

Tips: Where, when, how and why

Mind the weather. Whenever I’m thinking of a longer walk, I’ll check the weather at least a day ahead of time, and I’ll check again the night before and then the morning of. Based on the forecast, I can then decide whether my route makes sense – I’m not that much of a glutton for punishment that I’ll do an all-day walk when the forecast calls for driving rain all day. If I do want to go, then the weather will determine my clothing choices. If you are dressed appropriately, you can handle most conditions.

Water and food. Anytime I’m going to be out for more than an hour or so, I’ll look at my route and decide whether I need to bring water or food. The longer the walk, the more I’ll need it, and of course that water/food choice will depend on the weather too. The hotter it is, the more water I’ll need.

Add some challenges. Often, in looking at the map, I’ll look for things to make my walk more challenging. Where are the hills? What about navigational challenges? Do I want to make it a time-challenge, where I try to walk a certain distance in a certain time? Basically, I’m often looking for ways to spice it up. Not every walk is a cross-the-Sahara marathon, but I also don’t want every outing literally to be a walk in the park.

Add some sights. While I like a challenge, there are also times when I focus more on what I’ll see as I walk. Can I plan a route to a neighbourhood I’ve never visited? Can I get in some quiet natural areas where I’ll see and hear some birds or other wildlife? How do I create some interest? That’s where the idea of whimsical walks comes in as well, like collecting streets that have animal names or walking streets in alphabetical order.

Map it out. For any kind of a longer walk, I’ll usually spend some time going over my route on a map. I’ll look for parks I can cut through, places where I can follow trails or quiet back streets, and also for places where I can take a break and sit for a bit. This is where I’ll also figure out washrooms and water fountains. Based on what I see, I may then revisit my clothing or water/food choices. I’ll also take into account whether I’m planning a through route or a loop. Through routes start somewhere and end somewhere else, whereas loops start/end in the same place. Mapping it out let’s me decide which makes sense.

Start/stop and transport. Once I’ve figured out what challenges I want, what sight’s I’ll include, and my overall route, then I can figure out how I’ll start and end it. Sometimes my route is within about 30 minutes of home, so I’ll just add time to walk to/from home to the start and end. Other times, however, I’ll need to get a lift. I try to do that by public transit where I can, often by picking a starting point that I can get to that way, and then planning the route so that I am walking towards home. Other times, my wife can drop me off somewhere, or pick me up. And of course, sometimes I will drive myself somewhere.

Review and revise. Once I’ve figured out the weather, my challenges, my route, my food/water needs, my clothing, and my start/stop points and transportation, I go back over the whole thing and summarize the plan to myself, to see if I need to adjust anything. For example, having added some challenges, so I need to add more water? Is it too hot to do the route I want? This is where I’ll add some alternatives to my plan, so that if the weather changes or the route is more challenging/less challenging than I thought, I can shorten or lengthen it. The longer the walk planned, the more I want some choices in my back pocket in case I need them.

Add some insurance. OK, I was a Boy Scout, so I do like to be prepared. When I have my plan more or less set, I’ll then look at what could go wrong and plan for that. That means things like adding rain gear, or adding extra water. It also means things like letting my wife know ahead of time where I’m going and when I plan to be home. Finally, it means making sure my phone is charged, and my gear is ready and in good shape. Bottom line – the longer/more challenging the walk, the more I try to have some insurance.

COVID. Oh yeah, can’t forget that. Do I have my mask? Do I have hand sanitizer? Is it nice weather so that lots of people will be in the parks, so that I should maybe pick a less-travelled route? COVID does add a wrinkle to things, and for the next few months it’s got to be something to take into consideration.

Don’t over think it. At the end of the day, I am just going for a walk. Usually that’s in the city, and I can always call my wife to pick me up, or call a cab, or just jump on a bus. If the weather’s nice, and I’m feeling relaxed, who needs much more of a plan that just heading out the door and following my nose? That’s the balance – have something of a plan but don’t over-plan.


Disclaimer: All opinions contained in this post are my own. I’m not a nutritionist, physiotherapist, or doctor. Take my advice as given – caveat emptor.