Feet. I didn’t know how much this particular body part would be tested until I took a trip this past weekend to Algonquin National Park located in northern Ontario, Canada.
Beginning to mid October is the peak season to visit Algonquin because of its beautiful array of tree species displaying their vibrant autumnal hues as they make their descent to the ground for a season with the onset of cooler temperatures.
With a plethora of renowned hiking trails weaving through the massive forests and national park, I was excited to take on the nature walks of my dreams. The trails range between varying difficulties, factoring in the steepness, natural “obstacles”, and time it takes to complete them. We decided to tackle Algonquin head-on and started with one of the most challenging trails called Track and Tower. It would take roughly 5 hours to complete, clocking in at a lovely 7.7 km total distance to cover. I don’t think we knew what we had gotten ourselves into until we were well underway into the hike.
Surprisingly, the trail didn’t physically beat me down as much as I had expected. I mean, was there the occasional downward cliff with non-existent steps I had to walk down which made me see my whole life flash before my eyes? Sure. Were there some marshes and muddy pools I had to cross using a questionably shaky log, unsuccessfully? My now perpetually mud-stained boots can confirm this. However, after we had completed the trail, we were amazed that we had felt fine and almost not physically exerted at all. Our confidence in our athleticism was at an all-time high. I mean…that’s what we thought.
The funny thing about adrenaline is that it’s effective. Throughout our hike, our bodies were working and pumping out that extra energy to get through the hefty elevations and maintaining balance on the uneven grounds. But sure enough, the next morning when we woke up, I went to get up out of bed and noticed that I was still in bed, lying flat as a pancake on the mattress. My feet felt unbelievably sore and when I finally laid them flat on the ground, I knew we would not be attempting another hike like that anytime soon.
There are 2 types of hikers: those who hike for fitness purposes and set all sorts of personal bests in time and speed to make it to the end, and those who hike for recreational purposes. The second group can be further categorized to talkative hikers who can go on in conversation to no end and introspective hikers who almost take refuge in nature and deeply enjoy the quietness that comes with it. With me being the latter, I found my attention and energy tethered to the small, subtle details of the trees and their leaves, admiring how each one could be so different from the last. Each with their own holes, tears, and imperfections.
There’s a reason that fall is my most loved season of the year. While the red, burnt orange, and yellow shades that make up the forest canopy can mesmerize you for days, what I first gravitate towards is actually 3 of the other senses.
- Smell. Ah, the paradox of nature. As the leaves start to decay and meet their demise, they give off a wonderful, lively fragrant smell that I find much more apparent than when they are lush with green life during the summer.
- Sound. For those who experience a form of anxiety or stress, try walking on a never-ending trail filled with dried-up leaves. This sounds silly, but the sound that results from your feet crunching down on fall leaves is surprisingly very satisfying and soothes my soul deeply.
- Touch. In my opinion, fall hikes beat summer hikes every time. And this is not because of the sierra colours that pop into view during the season. For me, it’s because when you take a walk in the fall time, there is a crisp chill in the air that is enough to make your cheeks red and mind clear but not cold enough to make you question why you’re taking a hike outside. For a born and bred Canadian, the thought of hiking under the intense sun surrounded by mosquitoes and sweat is not really my favourite, so feeling that refreshing wisp of cold air all throughout your hike during the fall makes me feel right at home.
While the hike was long, I felt something in me clear up, as if a burden was lifted. The steps I took became lighter, I noticed the different directions the wind would turn and blow, and the conversation I made with the company around me felt more organic and joyful. The thing about nature is that it is so explicitly removed from cities and society that the various stressful and worrisome thoughts we often attach to the cityscapes almost dissipate when you immerse yourself wholeheartedly into the dynamic, humbling forests that exist and function at a level so far beyond our own understanding. As Henry David Thoreau says,
We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable.
We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features. The sea-coast with its wrecks,
the wilderness with its living and decaying trees, the thunder cloud, the rain that lasts three weeks and produces freshets.
We need to witness our own limits transgressed,
and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.
The next day, we decided to take it a bit easier and went for a 2hr hike at the Two Rivers Trail. Unbeknownst to us, this was a completely pine tree-laden trail and consequently, the entire canopy and landscape was that of an effervescent green. I was initially disappointed that I didn’t see the characteristic autumn colours, but as I continued walking through the trail, I noticed little nuances of a different side of the Canadian forest.
Because I was completely and fully surrounded by pine trees, the air around me took on a new aromatic profile, smelling a lot more fragrant and woodsy than the previous maple-ridden trails we had walked the day before. This combined with an ever-so-slight chill in the crisp autumn air made for a refreshing hike different from the last. When I picked up dried up pine needles from the ground, they still possessed a very noticeable aroma.
I love to travel with my whole heart, but sometimes I forget how much beauty lies within my home country and province. Nothing revitalizes the mind and spirit than being surrounded in the earth – untainted by human forces, every big and small thing working to serve its role in supporting the larger ecosystem, watching trees find the tenacity to grow and thrive even in the most impossible conditions on bare, soil-less rocks.
Twas a quiet and simple weekend, just how I like it. Now if you don’t mind me, I’ll be spending the next week resting my feet up.