The continuing putrid heat made me do it. Day after day after day, we’ve had the same hot, humid, Ann-aching weather. I felt like I was being punished for past, present and future sins. And, to top it off, I hadn’t been out of the city all summer. Well, actually, other than that week in Oklahoma last August, which does not count, I hadn’t been out of the city for multiple summers. I am at heart a city girl, but too much asphalt and cement can start to get to you after a while and make a person feel very pissy looking at other people’s outdoor vacation pictures on Facebook.
You could say that Len picked the perfect moment or the worst moment to come over and see how I was doing. Actually, I had sent him a message to see if he was still amongst the living since I hadn’t seen him all week. It was a thinly veiled request to stop over and say hey. I have asked him multiple times over the years to please stop in if he hasn’t seen me for a while. I am of an age, after all, where anything could happen. Harriet could buckle and send me flying down the stairs where I’d lay, unconscious and undetected, until the cats, tired of waiting for their dinner, would start nibbling on a toe or two. I know it’s a bit dramatic but I actually read about that very thing happening. I can’t remember now whether it was in one of my multiple mysteries I’ve read over the summer or an on-line news story. There was no review of what those cats thought of the dinner — my two would not be so humble.
Anyway, Len stopped in, and after some preliminary checking in, I asked him, hopefully without too much of a whine in my voice, if he would please, pretty please, take me out of the city for one little day. In my mind, I imagined I looked and sounded like those poor, neglected city kids whose pictures are in the paper all summer. Here they are trapped in the hot city having to play on dangerous city streets and turn to petty crime for entertainment. But, with just a little donation on your part, they too, like their richer counterparts, could enjoy the clean, wholesome air and rushing waters of Ontario-ooo. Len said, sure, where do you want to go. I hadn’t gone that far in my dreaming so I asked him to pick a spot. It was a cop-out, but, really, he’s lived here all his life and most of it with a car so he would know more than me, eh?
His first choice was The Badlands. I had no idea they had a Badlands in Ontario. I told him I had visited the “real” Badlands in South Dakota in my youth. He assured me that this one would not be like that one. But I was game, it was out of the city so it met my criteria. Alas, it was also closed since too many feet had trampled too often on it to put it in danger of disappearing completely. We settled on a conservation area in the same area.
It is not easy to escape to the country from downtown Toronto. To do so, you have to go through miles and miles and miles of highway jammed with trucks and cars all moving at a speed that surely is illegal. Why is there so much traffic at 10 o’clock in the morning, I ask you? Does no one work these days? I tried to keep my comments to myself in the passenger seat, not wanting Len to turn off at the next exist and head home. Eventually, we arrived in the parking lot of the Belfountain Conservation Area.
As Len checked the map of the park and we started down the thousands of steps to the bottom, Harriet, the “operated” knee, let out a, “Whoa, baby, we’re going to do what here?” Sure it’s been almost a year since the surgery, but she is still not at the point of saying, “Gee, I’m so glad I had that operation and let’s go hiking!” I could feel the hesitation on every stair. Christina, my tough and very good trainer, would say “Don’t blame that on Harriet. That’s all in your head, not in your knee.” She’s right, of course, but I’ve never been much of a sure-footed hiker, even in my youth when both of my feet, knees and legs worked just fine, and Harriet knew this. It also didn’t help her confidence level either that the day before, one of the ladies in the locker room was telling the sad but true story of how she busted her replaced knee by doing floor exercises just a little too enthusiastically. Onward we went.
At the bottom of the steps, we took the Pond Loop to start our trek. Off we went, Len in the
lead with his cane and Harriet and I following. The path was flat, skirting the water and quite pleasant with the roar of the water as our sound track. It even had a sweet little bridge leading further into the woods. I felt just like Red Riding Hood — without the hood or the wolf.
At this point, Harriet was feeling pretty cocky about this hiking stuff and hanging out with a good friend surrounded by all this green and fresh air. Hike on! Once over that sweet little bridge we faced a wall of stairs. Harriet hesitated a nanosecond until I reminded her of how many times a day she climbed up and down the 36 stairs from sidewalk to upstairs at home. If she could do that she could certainly do these. After all, she didn’t even have to watch out for beasties lounging on the steps ready to trip us on our way down or up and, anyway, it was so beautiful out here.
We decided to take a little detour so we could go to the source of all that roaring water. How could we not? It wasn’t that big water fall that this park boasts of — to get there we’d have had to walk a lot more than either of us was ready to do. No, we can’t blame that one on Harriet. So we satisfied ourselves with the water coming over the dam, which was just fine, especially since to view it you had to balance yourself on a swinging bridge that swayed every time someone took a step. Needless to say, Len
had to move about just enough to challenge Harriet’s balance. Is he working with Christina these days? That’s the kind of thing she’d write into my exercise program.
There was one more loop to do before lunch. Harriet would have been just as happy to skip the Gorge Loop and head straight to the Inn for beer and lunch. Nothing doing, wasn’t I the one who wanted to get out of the city and into nature for the day. I wasn’t about to flake out now and threaten my chances of ever again getting Len to take me somewhere. I could do it and so could Harriet.
Len scouted around for the best approach to this loop. We decided to start on the opposite side of the gorge just to cover different territory. I hate to go back to where I’ve already been. The early going was really quite pleasant. The path was flat and sat perched on the cliff above the gorge and the water way, way down below. There were signs everywhere about not going too close to the edge. No worry for me. I can’t even watch other people get to the edge of high cliffs let alone do it myself. It seemed like the kind of hike that we should have been singing a rousing tune, but I abstained not wanting to scare any wildlife that was around. Harriet was feeling pretty confident by this point. She handled the stairs and the swinging bridge so she was ready to move on.
The path started to slant down and down and down until we were on the same level as the stream. Harriet was a little concerned — what went down had to go up and that meant a climb for her. I looked around to find where the path continued. It was not obvious and I was getting a little concerned. Len, the ever good scout with cane, sussed it out. The only way up was to climb over a rather steep pile of rocks. He did a trial run and looked back down at me and said, “Well, you can try it.” It didn’t sound all that encouraging. But, hey, what the hell, we were here we had to get up to get to that beer and lunch so up we went.
It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t easy but Harriet and I did it. When we got to the top, the whole terrain, to my eyes, was just a continual series of challenges to be met by me and Harriet. But there was no going back because if we did, we’d have to go down that same place that we just struggled up and that was not going to happen. Len led the way, offering a hand when he thought I might just fall this time. Every root, every rock, every slipper bit of mud
was, to my eyes, a potential point of disaster for Harriet and me. As I struggled on, a whole bunch of little kids about 5 years old came tripping by without a care about falling or hurting themselves. They were even singing.
But I did make it without any mishaps to Harriet or me. Through it all, I loved being outdoors without the sound of cars or ambulances or even streetcars which I actually like to hear in the early morning. I vowed that there will be a next time to go hiking — if Len agrees to head out of town with me and Harriet in tow another time. I also vowed that the next time I would pick up a very sturdy walking stick to take with me to help me through these obstacle courses of rocks and roots.
At the end, I was happy to sit down to a plate of fish and chips and sip a local craft beer and pat Harriet for a job well done.