Sunday, June 7, 2020

Beyond Arden to Tweed

Last night was a nearly full moon, and it lit up the sky like a spotlight, making sleep difficult. The calls of whip-poor-wills continued long into the night. When dawn arrived we discovered a heavy dew had fallen, and individual drops of water were hanging from the grass blades all around us like tiny jewels. We took a few minutes to try to dry out the tent, but realized pretty quickly it would be to no avail, and packed everything up wet - soaking ourselves in the process. 


As we headed out onto the trail the morning was sunny, warm, and a soft breeze was blowing through the leaves overhead. For the first few kilometres we traversed a leafy corridor, enclosed by sun dappled green leaves of sugar maple, American beech, white birch, and white pine.

 
 

Periodically we would pass breaks in the forest, where small farms had been established on rolling grassy hills. Sean stopped to photograph a particularly picturesque wooden barn nestled in among the hills, and as he unpacked his camera, we noticed a young deer silently watching us from about 40 m down the trail. It stood watching us for about three minutes before walking off into the bush. I had never noticed how skinny deer's heads are - hardly wider than their necks!

 
 

As we continued down the trail we began to notice small changes in the landscape. We started seeing more exposed shied, and the terrain on either side of the trail became more uneven. Instead of the flat marshes we've been enjoying the past week, we began to see smaller, deeper, ponds with rocky shores, surrounded by white pine studded slopes.




In one of these ponds we stopped to admire a line of Midland Painted Turtles basking on a log with a male Wood Duck sitting in the middle of them. We noticed a patch of water lillies that was blooming with beautiful, white, star-shaped blossoms that has a yellow center. All around us dragonflies flitted about, munching on the plentiful mosquitoes.

 

We continued through a mix of forest, small ponds, and open marshes until we came to a section of trail that was under water. The flood continued for at least 50 m, and was ankle deep at the trail edges, but considerably deeper towards the middle. We are happy to report that our little cart made it through without difficulty, as did we of course.  Indeed the entire scenario brought back memories of trekking through Newfoundland last year. 

 
 
 

Just before we reached the community of Kaladar we walked past an auto mechanic business. Here the trail and trail community began to transform from the beautiful conditions we have enjoyed since Ottawa and Smith Falls into something much more challenging.  Soon the pristine natural landscape was gone, and in its place, piles of derelict motor vehicles of all sizes and descriptions were decaying on both sides of the trail, and extended a ways back into the forest. A large pile of discarded tires also littered the trailside. A little farther on an ambulance was pulling up outside a very worn down and decrepit looking housing complex hidden back in the bush. It was evident immediately that times were harder for the working people of this community than they have been in the communities we've passed through recently. The stark contrast between the cottages of the well to do in the region so near by to communities in disrepair was startling. 


Around 10 am we stopped at a trailside Subway at a crossroads in Kaladar for two breakfast sandwiches. As we stood in the shade of the gas station to enjoy our second breakfast, a large group of motorcycles, several muscle cars with punctured mufflers, and quite a few cars and trucks pulling speed boats raced past on the highway in a roar of over-exaggerated noise. It felt like we'd entered a different world.  Refreshed and filled with energy we rejoined the Great Trail. 


 
 

For about the first 10 km west of Kaladar we noticed a distinct shift in trail culture. The Trans Canada Trail and multi-use trail signs had all been vandalized or removed, and there was a lot of ATV traffic, as well as a number of few trucks on the trail. Unlike in other sections, in this small area very few of the ATVs and dirt bikes slowed down, often covering us and their surroundings in a cloud of dust as they zoomed by.  In these cases we were repeatedly forced to move off the trail as ATV's raced past neither slowing down nor moving over for other trail users.  At one point a large group of bikes and ATVs was blocking the trail, and their riders just stared at us and told us "that hikers were not allowed as this was an ATV only trail".   Unwilling to let us pass them, we had to plow through the bushes and stumble into the calf deep water on the side of the trail to continue on while they sat, snickered and laughed.  10 minutes later a man in a van raced down the trail, and stopped in front of us - again blocking the pathway.  In the end, we again walked into the marsh on the side of the trail and continued off around his van.  With a curse and a rude gesture he drove off.  Unfortunately his was not the only large vehicle to come racing down the trail. As if this was not frustrating enough, much of the landscape in the Kaladar region has been torn up by motorized vehicles going into the forests, onto the farms, and through the marshland.  At one point we watched as 3 youth on dirt bikes swerved around on the trail in front of us laughing and counting.  As it turns out they were racing to drive over snakes, turtles, and chipmunks - competing to see who could hit the most.   In this small section alone, where they seemed unwilling to slow down, we saw a depressing amount of new roadkill totalling: 7 snakes, 5 turtles, 3 chipmunks, 2 frogs, and a rabbit. I worry about youth either so frustrated or so bored as to think that killing small animals is way to pass the time. 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Added to these frustrations the heat had begun to rise in the afternoon, and the trail itself had recently been resurfaced with either oil or tar - which we are sure is wonderful for the local trucks and ATVs to use as a roadway, but which made the trail bed both harder to trek on and much much warmer.  Our experiences throughout much of today reminded us of the huge difference the attitudes of a local culture or community can made to a trail and one's experience on it.  Our venture from Smith Falls to Sharbot Lake was delightful largely because of the trail volunteers, their efforts, and the support of regional communities, hiking groups and yes even the ATV groups of the area in which the pathway went through.  By contrast this portion of the trail around Kaladar seemed to reflect the very different attitudes of the people's of the immediate region.

 
 
 
 

Once we crossed out of the portion of the Kaladar trail and into the Tweed section, conditions seemed to improve quite a bit - signage and civility returned, and the trail became easier to trek on.  However, all told in the 10-15 km around Kaladar we were passed by over 50 ATVs and dozens of dirt bikes on this beautiful Sunday afternoon. This meant both that we spent a lot of time on the edge of the trail waiting for them to pass, and that wildlife sightings weren't too frequent or successful.

 
 
 
 
 

Overall the birds were pretty quiet today in any case. A muffled Ovenbird would occasionally sing a single song. The whine of an Eastern Wood-pewee would occasionally pierce the silence. Even the Red-eyed Vireos seemed lethargic today. The birding highlight for today was seeing a family of small, fluffy Wood Ducks erupt out of the grasses at the edge of a pond, paddle fiercely across the open water, and scurry hurriedly up the shore to hide beneath a bush.

 
 

By late afternoon we found ourselves walking a newly graded trail surface that was black crushed stone dust. Most of the rail trails are grey. Some sections are white, which can be blindingly bright in the sunlight. Although the newly graded surface was pleasant to walk on, the black absorbed the heat of the sun and was very hot.


As we were trudging along, we saw a beaver scurry off the trail into the reeds only a few feet from us. At another point, we watched a large snake slithering silently through the poison ivy at the edge of the trail. It had a diamond pattern, and seemed to be several shades of greenish grey.  Mostly however we alternated our day either stepping off the trail to allow vehicles to pass or prompting the wildlife to get off the trail to safety. 


In the late afternoon we passed the first and only non-motorized trail users of the day apart from ourselves. Two young men, who looked like they might have just graduated from high school, rode past on bikes with a friendly hello. They had full bags and a tent on their bikes, and looked like they were on an adventure. We hoped it was the start to a lifetime of exploration for them, and quietly wished them well.

Shortly after passing the cyclists, we wandered past a magical section of woods. The forest floor was flooded with dark, still water that acted as a perfect mirror. Tall silver maples towered above, their green canopies reflected along with the blue sky and white clouds far below. Sunbeams were visible in the hazy damp air as they filtered down to water below. It felt like we were in a tropical forest.

As we approached Stocco Lake, and the town of Tweed, the trail became a corridor trees again, with maple, beach, and white birch providing a shady canopy, and hemlock and white pine providing a soft carpet of reddish needles underfoot.There were well-spaced benches, the signage for the Great Trail returned, and the trail bed was grey crushed stone again. As we skirted the lake we saw very large, elaborate, and expensive cottages scattered around the shore. Many had their own docks, and there were a lot of watercraft out on the lake.

 
 

When we reached the edge of town we crossed a metal bridge that was decorated with paintings of all the summer and winter activities that can be enjoyed in Tweed.

After the bridge we wove down to the waterfront, and walked through a beautiful grassy green park. There were quite a few people out walking, enjoying the fountain in the lake, the shady grass, and the offerings of a chip truck in the parking lot.

We walked just over 35 km to reach Tweed today and arriving with wet gear from the morning dew and soaked shoes from our time in the marsh we opted to stay at a local motel to dry out. We end the day grateful to the creators of both Bandaids and Ibuprofen.

2 comments:

  1. I shuddered at the description of the aggressive users you encountered around Kaladar, and frankly, I admire your courage there to quietly avoid confrontation and just keeping on going. I went on the highway through Kaladar last summer, and I was shocked too at the apparent poverty there. It just felt different from 40 years earlier (the only other time I went through there).

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  2. I echo the above comment. I worry about the rise of an Us-vs-Them polarization between the motorized and non-motorized users of the outdoors. I've heard similar stories coming from the Okanagan and Kootenay regions of BC. I'm very glad things didn't escalate for the two of you.

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