In 2016, I finished the Bruce Trail consecutively over 40 days. We started in Queenston and ended in Tobermory. We called this the North-to-South hike for Campership. It became paradoxically named about two months before we swapped our route to travel South to North. Along with three others, I hiked the trail to raise money to subsidize the cost of sending children and youth to a beautiful camp along the shores of Lake Huron called Camp Kintail. We were exceptionally privileged to have many supports and systems that led to our success. We surpassed our fundraising goals of $ 10,000 and were excited to hike with camp community members and stay at their residences.

This hike opened my eyes to long-distance hiking. It fits my personality as your needs and goals narrowed down into simple, achievable steps: making it to the end, strengthening your body, and staying happy and healthy. Since then, I have also moved on to other Ontario trails, such as the Avon, Grand Valley, and Guelph speed trails. 

North to South Hike team from Left to right:
Darryl Sherk, Hunter Kerr, Aaron Holden (me), Lauren Holden (Sherk)
Brutally Swollen Feet after the Blue Mountain End to End weekend

I met my partner Meagan, who I nudged into hiking. She didn’t need much convincing, but she is still here after what I put us through. On our first backpacking overnight trip along the Bruce Peninsula, we were over-encumbered with everything I thought we needed. We left the forest red and swollen with all sorts of bug bites.

 Meagan and I started taking vacations for hiking. We reached the Top of the Giant in Thunder Bay and Silver Peak in Killarney. I also returned to the Bruce Trail for a second end-to-end. I have reached the midpoint of the Sydenham section. 

In 2020, we were supposed to hike the Appalachian Trail, but Canada shut down all international travel on the day of our departure (March 22nd, 2020). We were devastated and had been planning this trip for over a year. For those who don’t know, the Appalachian Trail is a long-distance hiking trail through the Appalachian mountains. It starts at Springer Mountain in Georgia and ends at Mount Katahdin in Maine. That’s 14 states total for approximately 2194 miles. Losing this dream trip to Covid was just one minor tragedy amid many greater ones. To add insult to injury, living in Waterloo Region at the time meant that we were also cloistered away from the Bruce Trail and other significant natural areas that we came to rely on for training when regional travel stopped, too. Life moved on, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it felt like those months I slept-walked through them. Tentatively we rescheduled for 2022. 

Approaching our potential March departure date, dread returned as the Omicron Variant. In January, it looked like the virus would block our plans. I fell into a depression that rattled many of the cornerstones on which I built my life. The potential disappointment was great. We would follow the government rules, yet what we were giving up was life-altering. The poor behaviour of others brought tears of frustration to my eyes. If they could hold it in for another few weeks, the situation could improve, and we could leave. We set a make-or-break date for March Break. The dream was dead if the borders hadn’t opened by then. 

“Are we doing this?” A spark of life came through our living room in mid-February. Canada had reopened the borders to anyone with a full vaccine who could prove with a PCR test that they were Covid free. It would be a massive and immediate change, but the thought of leaving it as an unanswered question was too great. We were all in. In two weeks, we had started the process of giving up our lease. I sold my car, and we boxed up all our belongings and split them among our parents’ houses. We closed utilities accounts and packed way too much into our tripping backpacks. I contacted my doctor and got an entire six-month prescription for my medication. Every small step that we took seemed to confirm our decision. We screamed when our clean PCR test came back! On the last night in Ontario, I slept on the couch while Meagan slept on a bare mattress on the floor. We said our final goodbyes, and then we were off. 

The Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Approach Trail
Basecamp AT 2022

Some of what I have learned while hiking can apply to you, even if you prefer to avoid hiking a long distance or taking part in an end-to-end challenge. However, I have addressed these blog posts to a younger, less experienced me—someone who loves a challenge and wants some guidance on hiking locally in Ontario. I do not profess to be an expert, so these blogs should be taken as a combination of best practices and personal experiences/opinions.  

When I started writing, I didn’t entirely know what topics I should have focused on. The horizon for what I hoped to write about just seemed to move further and further with every article as newer sub-topics came out of broader ideas. I promise you that there will always be some style of general advice and locally specific examples. Thank you for reading this far, please feel free to follow along at your leisure. 

Happy Trails, 

Aaron “Talus” Holden

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