This is an article submitted to Cottage Dog magazine in May 2011 — SPD
As we made out way from the county sideroad away from our car and up the path toward the Loree Forest, our dog Reilly kept looking back at my wife Sharon and I as if to say, “Well, come on!” We just turned to each other and laughed. While we never said it out loud, my wife and I both thought, ‘We’ll see how much energy he has at the end of the hike.’
That’s how our initiation into the world of hiking began. Sharon and I bought a weekend place in Thornbury, Ontario, about two years ago. Our initial thought was to exploit the skiing and golfing opportunities in the area but soon discovered, after reading a bunch of tourist brochures, that the Blue Mountains offer a plethora of hiking opportunities. Then we decided that 2011 would be “The Year of the Hike” and, since we have to take Reilly on his daily jaunts anyway, why not make one of his walks a really big walk.
Sharon and I (and Reilly) are not the type to just jump into adventures. We tend to need to do a bit of planning to get ourselves into a comfortable position before embarking into the unknown, so I did a bit of research. I checked out the Bruce Trail website (brucetrail.org) and scouted out a few trails. The maps are pretty one dimensional, and they don’t really indicate things like elevation, so I decided to contact ‘Hiker’ Hart Fisher of the Blue Mountains Bruce Trail Club. He suggested a couple of hikes and eventually we decided on a trail close to our place in Thornbury called the Loree Forest Loop. This particular hike is a meandering stroll to the top of the escarpment overlooking Nottawasaga Bay. The loop then doubles back with views of the Beaver Valley.
We piled into the car one Saturday morning, Sharon and I up front and Reilly propped up in his usually spot – his two front paws on the centre console and two back paws propped on the back seat. We made our way across the 21st Sideroad and after a couple of drive-bys eventually found the entrance to the loop. We hopped out of the car and made our way up the path, following the Bruce Trail markers away from the road.
With Reilly in the lead, we soon discovered what was in store for us. As we crested a small hill, we looked down into a valley and saw a narrow stream. Rising from the banks of the stream was a handsome ascent to the top of the hill that looked out toward Nottawasaga Bay. While we might have initially wondered if the climb would be too daunting, we soon discovered that the Bruce Trail folks know what they’re doing. The trail was well marked and the climb was reasonable. Even Reilly, with his tiny little legs, had no problem with the climb to the top. The payoff was a scenic view of the beautiful blue waters of the bay and some of the islands of Georgian Bay in the distance. We also felt a sense of accomplishment for having reached the top.
The whole time Reilly was in his element. He sniffed and ran and did what dog’s do to his heart’s content. His energy rubbed off on us. We walked a little faster and caught ourselves in an almost constant giggle as we watched our dog conquer the Bruce Trail (well he was at least conquering the Loree Forest).
As we curled our way along the top of the escarpment, we had a moment of brief regret for having let Reilly off leash (a bit of a no-no on the Bruce Trail). He spotted an animal moving toward a large rock. I caught a glimpse of the animal as it ducked under a rock with Reilly in hot pursuit. Fortunately our little Westie is pretty obedient and he backed off on our command before what turned out to be a porcupine could fill his snout with quills.
With the crisis behind us, we continued our way along the outer ridge of the escarpment. Eventually we reached an opening and, in the distance, we could see the lifts for the Georgian Peaks Ski Club. For the first time on our hike, we encountered other people. Apparently some folks park at the base of the ski hill and climb up the hill to the top. Sharon and I concluded that our route was much more interesting.
And of course these people brought their dogs so we stopped for a break – giving Reilly a little water before he went off to play with a few of his canine friends. After soaking in the view for a while, we got back onto the trail and began to weave our way back through the forest. We even took a side trail that brought us to the main trail from which we started our original hike.
During the hike back, a question kept popping into my head: Why is it than when I walk through the green spaces of the Golden Horseshoe it feels like I am dragging Reilly along, but when I get him into an open forest trail I can’t keep up with him? He led the way for most of our two hours on the trail and he only started showing signs of fatigue deep into the hike. It is as if the Loree Forest Loop brought our little white dog to life as he sniffed and trotted along with an energy the source of which lay deep inside his fury little frame.
The hike also gave Sharon and I a sense of rejuvenation. It was a combination of the fresh air and beautiful scenery that reminded us why we chose to pursue life outside of the city.
And we owe a debt of gratitude to Reilly. We never would have ventured into the Loree Forest if our dog hadn’t demanded his daily exercise. His exercise turned into our exercise, with all three of us exorcising the temptation to just laze around and sleep our way through the day.