Solo Backpacking Trip in the Bruce Peninsula

A couple weekends ago I went up to Owen Sound to deliver work for a show at the Owen Sound Artist's Co-op. It's almost a 3 hour drive each way from my house, so I figured I'd make an extended stay of the trip and take myself out on a date.

Although I love people, I am most definitely an introvert, and I find time by myself incredibly fulfilling, refreshing, and rejuvenating. After a couple busy months in the store and teaching classes three nights a week, I was really looking forward to some time alone with my thoughts, or simply some moments of silence.

The Bruce Trail, Tobermory ON

I decided it was a good time to go on my first solo backpacking trip.

I've camped by myself before, and I've backpacked before, but I've never done both, together. Our usual backpacking trips are portage excursions, so we travel most of the distance in our canoe, and other than our Grand Canyon hike, I really have not done a lot of long distance hiking. This was an opportunity for a lot of "firsts".

I picked up the Bruce Trail at the end of Crane Lake Rd, just south of Tobermory, and hiked the 8km trail to the High Dump sidetrail leading to Georgian Bay. The trail started off relatively flat and gravelly, with markers along the side of the path counting 1, 2, 3... I thought "Wow, I've gone 2km already? This is a piece of cake!"

That was until I reached "8", and there was no sidetrail to be seen. So I kept going. 9, 10, 11.... The trail became more rocky and undulating. I passed three lakes and crossed a river over a log bridge. I had to slow my pace to avoid slipping on patches of ice, and to clamber under fallen trees. By marker 13 I started to wonder if I was lost. "Did I miss the sidetrail?" "Did I even take the right trail to start with?" "Worst case scenario, I will set up my tent in the middle of this trail and sleep here."

Bruce Trail, Tobermory ON

Turns out those numbers were 1/2 km markers, and the trail was not quite the "piece of cake" I had thought. But I still made it, albeit with a couple blisters on the bottom of my left foot.

By the time I got to the side trail (a steep, ice covered scramble down a rocky cliff) and made it to my site, I was beat, and ready for some dinner. I set up camp, sat on the beautifully white stone beach, and listened to the waves while my dinner cooked on the campstove. I sat there watching the sunset, reading my all time favourite book "THE ROAD", and then zipped myself up into my tent with my raincoat on. (Note to self: buy a one person tent for the next solo hike - the two man tent loses too much heat). I slept relatively soundly through the night, listening to the crash of the waves on the smooth rocks. I wondered about bears, but I had my hunting knife and bear horn next to my head if needed.

Bruce Trail, Tobermory ON
Georgian Bay, High Dump
Bruce Trail, Tobermory ON

It's a really interesting feeling - to be a little nervous, a little scared. I've felt this way before, on many occasions walking alone through the city at night. It's not like watching a scary movie, where you know something is going to pop around the corner but you just don't know when. It's less knowing than that. It's quiet. You know the likelihood is that all will be well, and you'll wake up in the morning and pack up and watch the squirrels and birds and walk back to your car without seeing a soul.

But there is a sense of vulnerability being out in the woods by yourself. And I kind of love it.

Georgian Bay, Tobermory ON

At 7am I was up, packing up my tent, sleeping bag and ground pad, and setting out for my car. It was a beautiful weekend for a hike, and just 2 hours later I was back at my little Toyota, stripping off my stinky sweaty clothes and tending to my blistered feet.

It was a successful first solo backpacking excursion, and the only thing I forgot was my toothbrush.

Billboards, Corn and Cattle Piss

Day 1 Soundtrack:

Morning - Here's the Thing with Alec Baldwin
Afternoon - Elton John, Greatest Hits

Evening - Pink Floyd, Meddle


Day 2 Soundtrack:

Morning - Chad VanGaalen, Soft Airplane

Afternoon - The Travelling Wilburys, Volume 1 + 3

Evening - Spiritualized, Acoustic Mainline

Late Night (to get us through the dark expanses of nothing but corn fields) - David Bowie, Hunky Dory

Lots of fields, but mountains on the horizon. 

Lots of fields, but mountains on the horizon. 

If I were to sum up the first two days of our trip, it would be "Billboards, Corn, and Cattle Piss" - we've seen (and smelt) an abundance of each, after 20 hours crossing the Central States.

We left Hamilton at 9am on Friday and by 7pm we had made it through Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois to a small state park called Starved Rock. We pulled in from the I-80 in the dark, and haphazardly cooked some beans over the camp stove. We lost some beans when the stove fell over from the wind, but otherwise had an uneventful evening in the park with all of two other campers.

Cooking breakfast. 

Cooking breakfast. 

Yesterday was equally uneventful - though we made a pit stop in Iowa City so I could see AKAR Gallery in person (their online shop is known worldwide for their excellent selection of ceramics, and many of my favourite artists are represented there). After our quick stop we were back on the road, and decided to haul ass all the way to Colorado so today we could take it easy and enjoy some time in Denver while the sun was still up.

AKAR Gallery in Iowa City - I came very close to purchasing a Julia Galloway pitcher, but wasn't sure it would survive a month of us living out of the van.  

AKAR Gallery in Iowa City - I came very close to purchasing a Julia Galloway pitcher, but wasn't sure it would survive a month of us living out of the van.  

Our New Year's Eve plans were thus:


1. Stop for Instant Fresh Onion Soup at a rest stop just outside of Omaha NE while the sun sets.

2. Pull into the parking lot at Bush Municipal Park and get cozy. They had electricity (so we could plug our little heater in), and the park was free.

Bush CO Municipal Park

Bush CO Municipal Park

IHOP breakfast.  

IHOP breakfast.  

As a reward for finding a free place to crash, we had New Year's Day breakfast at the I-76 IHOP on our way to Denver.

We're now at (what appears to be) the hippest coffee shop in Denver CO "Thump Coffee" - where the exposed brick, industrial steel and raw wood furniture, excess of succulents and cacti, and bottled milk in the fridge are reminders of hipster cafes in the Hammer. The trends span far and wide, it appears. Great service, delicious tea, and a nice view of the Denver bustle.

We've got a couple hours of driving before we make it to our first "real" stop - the Rocky Mountain National Park where we will enjoy sub zero temperatures in our tent, very little public interaction, and lots of mountains. I'm stoked.


I hope you are all having a wonderful New Years.

Jesse waiting for the tea to steep. 

Jesse waiting for the tea to steep. 


Camping: How to fill your soul's "empty well"

I like to think of the soul as a deep well. It drains and it fills, drains and fills.

My well has slowly been draining for the last several months, without being re-filled. There is a drought, and my well has been in serious trouble of drying up entirely.

It just so happened that I had a show in Quebec last week, so since we were already away for a few days, we tacked on an extra few and went camping. I feel refilled, so felt inclined to write some tips on how to keep your own well filled.

1. Take a drive
It doesn't matter where you are going – in fact, a lack of destination can be all the more inspiring (and, no stress for a deadline!). Get yourself set up with some good tunes (I'd like to recommend David Bowie – Hunky Dory), crank up the stereo, and get gone. If you don't have a car, get on the next city bus to nowhere and let the world flash past.

2. Get out of your house
I live where I work, so I find it hard to have a healthy work-life balance. There is always something to be cleaned, or fixed, or maintained. There are cats to feed, pots to make, laundry to do, plants to water. Sometimes the only thing to do is get AWAY from where the work is. Book a campsite. Drive to the beach, put the seats down and sleep in the car. Treat yourself to a B&B in no-place in particular (Air BNB is affordable, and easy). Find a friend who needs to get out too, and swap houses for the night - or a week!

We paddled out to our campsite, and other than cooking food and drying all our belongings that got rained on, we spent three days swimming, paddling, reading, napping, watching the fire, drinking tea, and making friends with the woodland rodents. Bliss.

3. Quiet your surroundings
Resist the urge to turn on the radio. Take your earbuds out. Find a place where you can hear the birds, the bugs, and the breeze. Or find a park bench in the city and listen to the sounds of traffic, children laughing (or screaming), sirens and car horns, and footsteps on the sidewalk. Close your eyes, listen, and maybe, fall asleep.

That leads me to:

4. Take a nap
I don't know why, but there is something particularly magical about falling asleep in the mid-day sunlight. Regardless of if I finished working in the studio at 3am and was up again at 8, taking an afternoon nap feels like I'm playing hookey, and there is no better feeling than that. Throw in falling asleep to an afternoon movie (bring on the guilt!), and you'll be filled up for an evening of work.

5. Give your eyeballs some beauty to look at
Take a walk and look at the wildflowers. Notice the perfectly spaced needles on a tree branch. Visit a museum or art gallery, by yourself, and instead of blasting through at top speed to get through the whole thing, resolve to only see a fraction, and spend more time with each piece. Sit and stare. Stay up late to see the stars, wake up early and watch the sun light up in colour. Pay attention to details. There is beauty to be found in the world, you just need to notice.