Bruce Trail: Mom’s Reflections Part 2

Oh my! What a difference a few weeks make!

While I started out strong in those early weeks, as time went by, I stupidly took in too little water and electrolytes, and slowly began to weaken on the trail. I didn’t see this coming, and it wasn’t until I noticed that I was no longer sweating that I realized that there was an issue. Just as I was figuring that out and getting myself properly hydrated, I mistakenly double dosed on Advil, which I’d been taking to help me sleep and to ease the consistent knee pain that had developed early on. Too little water and the double dose resulted in my becoming lethargic over the next few days on the trail, and in the days being very long and very, very difficult. Up to then, though I was tired and achy at the end of each day, I had always been ready to get back on the trail as each new day broke.

As if all that wasn’t enough, along with an increasing number of toe blisters due to wet boots, and a lactic acid build up in my upper legs, we hit Beaver Valley where the hills were brutal one day, and absolutely relentless the next. Not realizing that this would be the case, we had planned relatively long days that, in the heat, almost broke me. There was a point, as I staggered along, semi-delusional, when I was not sure if I would/could make it the distance. Through this period, I said very little to Elisha about what was going on for me, and simply soldiered on.

My reflections and feelings began to center around the fact that I have always been the rock in my family. Whether my family of origin, the family I created, or the intimate relationships I’ve been part of, it has always been me who held it all together or, in any case, was seen to be holding it all together. Now, all of a sudden, with incredibly beautiful rock formations all around me, I was not the rock; not even close. I was only just holding myself together. As things sat, the future was not looking at all secure as far as me finishing what we’d started. While I certainly didn’t want to disappoint Elisha, I didn’t want to risk my health either, so what to do. In the moment, I simple opted to continue to put one foot in front of the other, do what I could to get my strength back, and wait to see what was to come.

Needing and asking for certain kinds of help is fairly foreign to me. I tend to view myself as low maintenance and am proud of the fact. With so many things seemingly working to weaken me, none of them big issues, in and of themselves, it became necessary to ask for and receive support. My worldview has it that nothing is without meaning. In this case, I believe I was being, quite literally, “brought to my knees,” to remind me that being the ‘weak’ one, the high maintenance one, on occasion, (and even with my children) is ok; about not needing to be ‘the rock’ 100% of the time; that we are here to serve each other, and that it really is about both giving and allowing yourself to receive.

With these revelations, I was more willing to let Elisha know that I had been quietly suffering, and that I was finding it difficult to continue to put that one foot in front of the other, day after day. She stepped up with unquestioning support as I worked to build back my strength in the ensuing days. The man in my life, sitting back in Montana, sending angel support and offering extremely thoughtful and useful suggestions had been amazing, as well. His support and cheer leading, along with that of friends back home, became essential, and has been very much appreciated.

I had wondered in my first ‘reflections’ post that, with the first third of this epic adventure seeming to me to be about me doing the (unnecessary) mothering of my adult daughter, would the second part be about us both taking on a more ‘equal’ role. In fact, after Day 12, when I had my psychological breakthrough, and eased off the mothering of necessity, things did work out that way. Our day to day became more companionable. That changed once again, when, on the physical plane, as of Day 26, Elisha began easily outpacing me up the hills for the first time. Since that point, the lead on the inclines has been hers, as I have, sometimes at crawl speed, pulled up the rear. From that point, she became the one to do the motivating, providing the positive vibes that kept us going.

The surroundings and incredible views continued to be breathtaking, the people we met continued to sustain us, and we were making memories as we went. The best part of the day, for both of us I think, continued to be when we spied Flo, knowing that it was almost time for boots off and feet dunked in water and Epsom salts. – Flo, by the way, is the name of my faithful van, for which I am also immensely grateful.

Bruce Trail: Mom’s Reflections

My reflections to date.

While somewhat familiar with what to expect on a long hike, having walked the Camino, solo, from Pamplona to Santiago, in September 2010, there have been many differences in the two experiences, not the least of which has been the gift of doing it with Elisha, of whom I am so very proud. I’m positively delighted that she wanted to share this experience with her mother.

When she first presented the concept in late 2020, I immediately jumped at the prospect. We’d been doing annual backcountry camping trips in recent years, and this seemed an extension of those, and an epic one, at that.

Imagine, if you can, how ecstatic we both were when she received word that she’d been successful in her attempt at funding from the Canada Council for the Arts to do this trip, to blog along the way and to produce a book of poetry, prose and photography about the experience. She set out immediately to get the trip planned as much in advance as possible and had the parking spots figured out in no time flat. At this point, I was living in the desert in AZ in my converted van, which would be our home and supply vehicle for the hike. She was not sure she’d love van life, especially the fact that our bathroom consisted of a pail system and that one of us would be sleeping on the floor. That turned out to be me, as I get up most nights for a pee and that is not an issue for her (yet). No need to pity me though, as I have a great air mattress that uses up the floor space nicely. Both beds are totally comfy and, for the most part, we have been sleeping well. She has adapted to the pail system, although it is actually rarely needed with coffee shops and gas stations being ubiquitous along the way.

The van has 400 watts of solar on the roof, and is well stocked with travel food: rice, canned goods, crackers, protein bars, dried breakfast offerings and such. We have a little fridge that allows us to have a small supply of yogurt, veggies, cheese and meats. On the trail, clementines, and the like, are great for some extra Vitamin C, along with electrolyte and power drinks. I prefer protein bars, while Elisha would rather bagels and cheese for lunches, though I’ve been know to enjoy a burrito bowl, too.

Our worldviews are quite different and, while she expected that being with me 24/7 for almost 7 weeks might bring up issues in that regard, that has not been the case, to date. Our hiking habits, however, are vastly different. She necessarily stops frequently for pics and videos, to check her Bruce Trail App (to confirm where we are, how far we’ve come, how many kilometres remain, and the upcoming terrain). There are stops for needed rests, long and short, of course, along with stops to tighten or loosen boots and myriad other things.

I, on the other hand, need to get moving and keep moving, getting into a meditative rhythm, which results in my body feeling like a well-oiled machine. During a long day, when I stop I tend to seize up to one degree or the other, depending on how many kilometres we’ve clocked, and how brutal the terrain has been. That in mind, stopping, for the most part, only for designated rest breaks, where we remove our boots and elevate our feet, works far better for me.

Elisha tends to be very vocal about how she is feeling, what she is thinking, what is hurting, etc. While she is just thinking and feeling out loud, the mother in me empathized, and wanted to help. I found myself setting my needs aside during those early days, and that worked well enough, for a time. As the days went by, and I got more and more achy and sore myself, I found that it was taking its toll on the energy that I had available. As she chatted away behind me, this became problematic, since my pace is quicker and my hearing is not what it once was, resulting in me having to stop, wait and listen hard, making these stops frequent, interrupting my meditation and rhythm and giving my body time to seize.

As well, I felt responsible to answer her comments along the path, and that became difficult when I barely had the energy to continue to put one foot in front of the other, never mind to process what I was hearing.

With that, on our 12th day, I hit a wall and had a psychological awakening. When I realized that my available energy was draining with my concern for Elisha and her very different needs and hiking habits, which were perfectly legitimate, but that simply didn’t work for me, I took off way out front, practically running to put space between us. In that space, over that day and the next, I worked through what I needed to, not only to complete, but to enjoy this epic adventure. As well, I realized that Elisha was not looking for me to mother her (not that she complained about those early massages), and that we could negotiate to get both our needs met.

Elisha is an amazing human, who is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. I knew that, of course, but it is all too easy to slip back into that mothering role. We talked it through and came up with a plan that has worked for us both. Fewer stops, less talk, me mostly out front, but not so far that we couldn’t check in on each other every once in a while. From that point, our time together became much more companionable. My giving myself up, as I have done so often with the men in my life, turned into an excellent learning/remembering for me. I need to take care of myself first, if I am to have any gas in the tank to help others.

On the Camino, it is said, that the pilgrimage, regardless of length, can be divided into thirds. The first, childhood/youth; the second, adulthood; and the third, the mature years. I wondered aloud to Elisha, whether the Bruce might be the same. Interesting, to me that I mothered in that first third, and then, as we entered our 3rd week, we became companions, with her looking out after me as much as I looked out after her, and that includes for my blisters… My musings have me wondering what the final third will look like.

As I think back over the days, what comes immediately to mind is how very grateful I am for so very much. We, of course, could not have managed to pull this off without the wonderful Trail Angels along the way, and all the people cheering us on, near and far, have been fantastic. I feel gratitude, too, for the beauty of each new day. Each so different, and yet so glorious. Whether we are scrambling (rock hopping); walking on pine needles, cedar chips, sand, solid soil, or loose rocks (they’re the worst for footing); plodding and trudging along, up hills and down; staggering or stumbling, or, on occasion, sprinting to the van at the end of the day, every step takes us further north and west, over the Escarpment, closer to completing this journey together. The magnificent vistas, the lush greenery of the valleys and the sparkling creeks and rivers, remind me that I am a mere speck on this amazing planet that we call home.

Funny little things put a smile on my face: how often we make use of the brightly coloured plastic ponchos that are handed out at various attractions in Niagara Falls, and that I’d saved for the purpose of keeping our butts and backs dry during breaks on the trail when we get our feet elevated against a rock or a tree; manifestations along the way, including peaches early on; numerous food gifts from an assortment of angels; the delight on the faces of strangers when they learn what we are up to as a mother-daughter team, and returning to the van to find that we have 100% power in the system, which translates to a hot meal at the end of a long day and coffee for Elisha the following morning.

Elisha is 32. We started in Queenston on August 15, which, not co-incidentally, was my 68th birthday. In 32 years, I’ll be 100. I can’t help but wonder what we’ll be getting up to then. For now, one foot in front of the other for a few weeks yet.