As always, it was very interesting to learn some of the context of the trail from a local. Apparently a lot of potatoes are grown in this region, and we walked among fields of lush green potato plants that were in full bloom. The beautiful five petalled white and lavender coloured flowers with yellow centers produced a strong, sweet, almost overpowering scent in the hot morning air.
There were very few trees along this section of trail, but in a few spots there were hedgerows that supported a plethora of wildlife. A group of the Brown Thrashers was skulking among the wild grape vines in one patch. An Eastern Kingbird was foraging for insects, hovering on a blur of wings before twisting and turning to make the catch. Tree Swallows swooped low over the open fields. The loud, clear notes of a Northern Cardinal echoed across the landscape. Somewhat surprisingly to me, we came across a Northern Flicker sitting in a patch of shade on the trail. The beagles approached within a few feet before it took to the air. Somehow I never expect to see flickers in agricultural areas.
We bid Carolyn and her two companions goodbye before walking on, past a sod farm. There was a large sprinkler sending an arch of cool water into the air which was set aglow by the morning sun. It was very tempting to relive childhood by running through the giant sprinkler, but sadly there was a hedgerow blocking our access. It was easy to see why the sod needed water - the leaves on the corn and soy crops in the surrounding fields were beginning to curl, a sure sign of drought stress.
A little farther along we came to a bison farm! When we approached their field the two bison were chasing each other back and forth, kicking up a small cloud of dry dust and dirt. It was easy to imagine a whole herd galloping across the plains, their collective hoofs causing the earth to shake. We waited in the shadow of a tree to see if the bison would wander closer to the edge of the field where we stood, but unfortunately they seemed content to remain at the far end of it.
Eventually we put our packs back on and set off once again into the sunshine. We stopped to speak to a lady who was out for her morning walk and curious about our hike. She had hiked Mount Kilimanjaro and Machu Pichu, and planned to hike the Camino Frances one day. In the meantime she was training for an Ironman Race!
As we made our way slowly towards Cookstown, we passed through beautiful, rolling hills. The landscape was dotted with large homes and beautiful barns. A patchwork of green and gold fields undulated below a bright blue sky, and the air smelled of sweet, freshly mowed hay.
As we approached Cookstown we saw a lot of construction. Large houses were being built on large grassy properties as the town expands. Cookstown is only one concession west of hwy 400, the major artery linking northern communities to Toronto. The town is a lot larger than it was a decade ago.
When we reached the edge of town we found a small park with a gazebo, picnic tables, a hand carved spirit tree, and information plaques explaining the history of the trail in this area. At this point we picked up the Cookstown to Thornton Trail, which follows the route of the old 'Beeton Sub' Branch Line. It was built in the 1870's by the Hamilton and North Western Railway and was eventually absorbed into the Grand Trunk Railway. At the time Cookstown was an important business center for the region.
Sean visited the Foodland across the street from the park and purchased some cold, refreshing, watermelon slices and fruit juice. Enjoying the cool melon in the shade of the park was pretty heavenly.
As we sat in the shade a couple of cyclists stopped for a chat. They have been cycling the trails in this area and passed us outside of Elora a few days ago. They were curious about where the Great Trail goes, and seemed enthusiastic about our adventure.
As we walked on into the inferno-like afternoon we walked through pastureland and forest, and crossed the Cookstown Creek six times. The creek was a narrow, slow moving, murky stream.
One of the stream crossings was a straight wooden bridge. Along the railings were large, brightly coloured slipper flowers. Each flower was created from painted shoes that were fixed to the railing with screws. It was a unique and interesting art exhibit.
In this stretch of trail we saw a series of signs encouraging people to get outside, get active, and make walking a part of their daily routines. Each 'Good for Life' sign was unique, containing a different drawing and a different message of encouragement. It seems Cookstown supports healthy outdoor exercise, which is really nice to see.
As the afternoon wore on and the temperature reached 44°C we relied on our Gossamer Gear umbrellas to keep from melting. There was little shade, although it was beautiful countryside. After spending time with Carolyn we found ourselves paying much more attention to butterflies, moths, and dragonflies. She has inspired us to learn more about these cool insects, to try to ID them, and to once again attempt to photograph some of them.
As we approached the town of Thornton we walked through a beautiful pastoral landscape, with many picturesque wooden barns. As Sean stopped to photograph some of them we could see heat shimmers rising from the fields like they were asphalt roads. It was too hot to be reasonable.
As we hiked today we noticed that the verges of the trail, which had been mowed, were reduced to dry, dead, brown stubble. The grass beyond this, which was about knee height, still looked green and was intermixed with wildflowers. In the patches of shade near the trees and bushes the grass was taller and greener. It made us think that humans, which seem to have a love of closely cropped lawns, are a strange species. We spend so much time, effort, energy, water, and chemicals trying to create carpet like lawns of lush green grass, which simply don't thrive in the hot, dry climate we've created by removing so many trees. What a cycle to be stuck in.
When we reached Thornton our experience of it was a single very busy intersection. Sean stepped in to Tim Hortons to get us frozen lemonades to try to cool off slightly, and we stood in the shade of a tree to enjoy them. It was nearly 3:00 pm by this point, and extremely hot.
We were delighted to find that the last 3 km of trail, which stretched from Thornton to the Georgina Casino were well shaded by a corridor of tall, deciduous trees. We took another break in the shade, unwilling to undertake the next portion of trail, which consisted of several concessions of walking along busy, shadeless, roads. As Carolyn would say, this last stretch of road walking was completely "antisocial and just ...yuck!"
The first concession had no sidewalk, but thankfully one started before the town. Although we definitely enjoy the amenities of larger communities, there is something disheartening in having walked about 300 km since entering Toronto, but still being on the GO train system.
As we hiked the unbearably hot road we passed two cars with windsurfers tied to their roof racks. This brought me back to my childhood, when my parents would drive up gravel roads from the GTA to Lake Simcoe on weekends so I could play on the pebble beach and my dad could go windsurfing. This was a different place back then.