The first 16 km of our walk today was through a beautiful cattail marsh. We began the marsh section at Blackwater Junction, where the Toronto and Nipissing Railway once met the Grand Trunk Railway. In its heyday, there was a station there, with a restaurant that rail passengers were allowed to visit. In 1991 the last of the rail ties were removed from the train line. In 1992 the idea of the Trans Canada Trail was conceived. In 2016 the Beaver River Wetland Trail, including 21 km between Uxbridge and Manilla, was officially opened.
The Beaver River Wetland Conservation Area was alive with birds when we walked through. The soft coo of Mourning Doves filled the air. An Eastern Kingbird perched high on the arm of a snag. Yellow Warblers moved about in the shrubs with improbably large beakfulls of food for their nestlings. Red-winged Blackbirds clung sideways to the cattails, also busily feeding young. A particular highlight was seeing a Least Bittern fly over!
Generally, the trail through the marsh was a flat gravel trail bordered by willow bushes and other early successional shrubs. Occasionally we would cross a wooden trestle bridge over the beautiful, slow moving Beaver River. Painted Turtles were plentiful, many of them basking on the tufts of grass and at the shallow weedy edges of the river. At one point we came across a Snapping Turtle that had begun to dig a nest, but apparently died before she could lay her eggs. She was posed there on the trail edge, frozen in time. It was a puzzle.
As the morning wore on we watched Tree Swallows skimming over the marsh. A family of Hairy Woodpeckers was moving through the cattails, the youngsters looking very playful. Common Yellowthroats were darting in and out of the shrubs, and a Swamp Sparrow was feeding its nestlings. A Green Heron flew overhead.
As the day progressed small hills began to appear beyond the marshes and open shrubby habitats. Hydro corridors and communications towers began to replace the supercanopy trees atop the ridges, hinting at the developed region we are approaching.
We finally caught a glimpse of a Willow Flycatcher, which is a species we've been hearing in the wet willow thickets along the trail. When we passed through the Morning Glory Ducks Unlimited marsh a Great Blue Heron was perched atop a snag, but took flight in a flurry of dry protests as Sean photographed it.
We paused at the outskirts of town to answer an urgent request for a phone call. What followed was a short conversation that stunned us to the core, and ultimately brought about the end of a relationship we have been putting a lot of time, energy, and effort into growing and building for some time. On the call I was belittled, threatened and informed that I should be grateful for what I was just told. Although the final straw came completely out of the blue, and caught us utterly by surprise, in the end it was nothing more than that - the last straw in bringing about something that has been a long time coming. Endings are always sad, especially when they aren't your idea, but they are also new beginnings, and it now falls to us to make the most of this opportunity.
As we continued down the trail, we spotted an old locomotive, partially sunk into the marsh. It was a colorful reminder of the railway history of the trail we are following across this beautiful country.
As we approached the outskirts of Uxbridge we made a discovery that cheered us up somewhat. A Trans Canada Trail Little Free Library! Little Free Libraries can be found all over North America. They are built, installed, and stocked with books by volunteers in the local community, with the goal of increasing literacy and access to books. Readers can borrow a book, read it, and return it or exchange it. Finding a Little Free Library dedicated to the Trans Canada Trail was awesome!
When we reached Uxbridge, which is officially known as the "Trail Capital of Canada" we crossed over a newly restored trestle bridge. The historic bridge was built in 1872, at a time when Uxbridge was the headquarters for the Toronto and Nipissing Railway. Money for the bridge's restoration was raised by the community itself, under the leadership of John McCutcheon, chairman of the Trails Committee. Now there's community spirit!
In town we found that quintessential summer event in Ontario - road construction. We managed to navigate through the charming downtown street, with its pubs, boutique shops, and small theatre to find a Convenience store, where we bought six bottles of water for tonight and tomorrow, and some ice cream.
We sat in a grassy, treed park in the shade to enjoy our treats and take a break. In that park we also found a Great Trail Pavilion.
The map showed that after leaving Uxbridge we would be doing some road walking. In the heat of the afternoon trekking down often shadeless concessions is one of our least favourite activities, so we were delighted to discover that the Great Trail markers lead us through a beautiful section of off-road pathways!
The trail wound through beautiful stands of Eastern White Cedar, through old mixed forests, and around picturesque hay fields. It was a pleasure to be off the road, but we found ourselves in hilly country, which made pulling the little cart quite a bit of work. We are happy to find that the cart does well on uneven terrain, roots, and even narrow footpaths, but steep hills are still a struggle, especially when the trailbed is sand or loose gravel.
As we emerged from one section of trail onto the road we passed a group of 10-14 year old boys taking a snack break while out cycling with one of their dads. When they caught up with us a while later the man asked us, on behalf of the group, if we were hiking a long way. When we told them about the hike the boys didn't hesitate to ask lots of questions. Saying we walked from Newfoundland invoked mild puzzlement from a few of them, but when they realized we'd walked from Ottawa, where they had driven, their jaws fell open in amazement, or possibly horror. We were highly encouraged by their curiosity and questions, and the discussion we could hear continuing behind us as we hiked on.
The beautiful but hilly countryside was taking its toll in the hot afternoon sun. When we climbed up onto a hill beside a horse farm and found an expansive view over a large sand pit we stopped in the shade of a tree. It was 6:00 pm, so we decided to make our dinner of rice and beans on the mowed grass of the trailside, and continue hiking in the cooler evening air.
As we ate we watched Tree Swallows, Bank Swallows, and Barn Swallows wheeling and diving above the sand pit. They were curiously quiet as they foraged, but we nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed their aerial display.
As we skirted the edge of a lush green field we met an eclectic family coming single file towards us. The leader was a very elegantly dressed young lady in a red dress, done up hair and makeup, and hiking shoes. Behind her came a sister dressed in a baggy t-shirt and jeans and looking unimpressed. The mother stopped to chat with us, while the husband looked mildly disapproving. It is always interesting to see such a strong array of personalities and reactions within a family.
As the shadows were getting long and the sun was sinking behind the rolling hills we entered the Durham Regional Forest Tract. This mature maple, beech, birch, and hemlock forest was covered with a network of twisting, turning, hilly, mountain bike trails, and it was busy with cyclists. Unfortunately we were following the Great Trail in a direction that took us against the flow of mountain bike traffic for many of the loops. The cyclists were really nice to us, which we appreciated since we were clearly in their house.
We wound our way along beneath the tall green canopy. It was a cool, peaceful forest, but at the end of the day the constant ups and downs and winding was getting tiring. The trail network made it unlikely that we would find a place to camp in the forest.
When we finally found a place to pitch the tent it was nearly dark. We covered the tent with our green tarp, and already having eaten, settled in for the night to write and process images. We could hear deer walking past the tent as the stars came out and darkness fell. Looking out into the soft night we saw the forest around us lit with countless fireflies.