Natalie Schott and Chris Wilson saw more of Ontario in five weeks than many of us will see in a lifetime.
They took a walk down the Bruce Trail, all 900 kilometres, from Niagara all the way to Tobermory, north of Owen Sound. It began as a joke and ended with a surprise, while raising money for Trails Youth Initiatives and the Bruce Trail Conservancy.
They spoke with the CBC’s Conrad Collaco about their long journey and one big surprise near the hike’s end on a beach by Tobermory.
You can read an abridged and edited version of the interview or listen to the full audio interview by hitting the play button above.
Natalie Schott and Chris Wilson, Bruce Trail hikers
What made you want to walk the entire Bruce Trail?
Schott: It was initially my idea. It was a bit of a joke. One day last summer we were out climbing. Chris told me the Bruce Trail went from Niagara Falls to Tobermory and I thought ‘OK. Let’s do the whole thing. We joked about it. One day in January we decided we were going to do it. We said ‘let’s put our vacation requests in.’
For someone who has never walked the Bruce Trail what was the walk like?
Wilson: I think a lot of people expect that if you’re in Ontario it’s going to be pretty flat. Because it follows the Niagara Escarpment which is essentially a cliff that goes for 900 km you end up doing quite a bit of up and down along the trail so there’s a lot of steep, rocky sections. You go through quite a few farmer’s fields and roads but the most intense bit has you going up and down steep rock faces for four or five kilometres at a time.
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What was some of the most interesting things you saw along the way?
Schott: At the beginning it was really about finishing the days. It was very hot, especially that day we walked through Hamilton. But definitely seeing the mix of cities and the forest then as we went up to the northern sections when you’re along Georgian Bay, it’s just beautiful big, blue — and that light blue from the limestone. It’s just beautiful, the view.
How difficult was the long walk on your bodies?
Wilson: Well, we knew the first week would be painful. We did quite a bit of training over the summer to get our bodies ready. We’d walk around Toronto and do little trails around here. But there’s not a whole lot to prepare you to walk 30 kilometres a day every single day for a month. The first week or so we were dealing with hot weather and aching muscles all the time but by the end of the trip you kind of just get used to it.
Your body is just ready to get up and go just off a little pack of oatmeal.
Other than oatmeal what did you eat along the trail?
Schott: We had a whole set of different foods that we purchased at Mountain Equipment Co-op or we created some meals ourselves. We bought a dehydrator. We had apples and bananas and we made a couscous meal for one of our dinners. That was one of our favourites but a lot of the go-to’s were things like Kraft Dinner or instant noodles.
What did you learn about the province while walking the trail?
Schott: We met quite a few people. A lot of people do the trail in sections. Probably the third or fourth day we ran into a gentleman who was on the last hour of his section hike. He would drive to his start location, then hike maybe five or ten kilometres, then bike back to his car. He had been doing that from May until September and he was just about to finish. That was really awesome to see. It gave us a lot of motivation to know that we could do it.
Wilson: We had a couple places where pretty much anybody would be willing to give us a ride. Everyone was excited to help us out with the fundraiser and the walk in general.
Now that you’re back do you miss your time away?
What was your favourite memory over the last five weeks?
Schott: Chris what was your favourite memory?
Wilson: I think the biggest thing would be the second last day. Natalie didn’t know but I had sewn an engagement ring into my backpack and I carried it with me for 36 of our 37 days, always a little nervous that I would lose the bag or something like that but on the last day I cut it out and proposed to Natalie on the beach near Tobermory.
Schott: I said yes! Definitely! It was so exciting and so romantic. Yeah. It was the most memorable moment of the trip. The trip itself was amazing.
These answers have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.