Happy trails

Girl at trailhead

Eastern Ontario is a hiker’s and biker’s paradise thanks to the miles of abandoned rail beds that have been converted into trails.

A couple of weeks ago, Clare and I hiked a new portion of the trail. We started in Harrowsmith, which is the junction of the K&P Trail and Cataraqui Trail. It was a windy spring day, and the fur of our great Pyrenees Bella shimmered and rippled in the breeze like the rushes in the neighbouring wetlands. It was a great day to get out, enjoy the spring sunshine, clear our heads and get some exercise.

Dog in breeze

The Kingston and Pembroke trail was an old railway that ran from Kingston Renfrew. It was abandoned by Canadian Pacific Railway between 1962 and 1986 before being taken over by the City of Kingston and Township of South Frontenac. Most of the trail is now complete up to Sharbot Lake, except for a small stretch near Tichborne.

The Cataraqui Trail is 104 kms long and was the rail line operated by Canadian National. The 78.2 km section from Smiths Falls to Harrowsmith is part of the Trans Canada Trail. Harrowsmith is an excellent starting point since the two trails connect there with four different routes to hike.

We watched ducks and geese in the marshes, saw baby cows in the farmer’s fields and ate lunch overlooking a beautiful vista.

I’m always surprised how many people in Kingston don’t venture north of the city. This week’s #HappyAct is to get out and discover the beautiful trails north of the city. And best of all, it’s free!

Signpost on the K&P Trail

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Happiness comes in waves

Sign about happiness

I came upon this sign last week on Broadway on the Beach in Myrtle. It said happiness comes in waves.

It was for some surf shop, but I thought it was very true. Happiness comes in waves. Some days the surf is calm, and you wade easily through the still waters. Other days moments of sadness or happiness wash over you like crests of a wave, all part of the normal ebb and flow of life.

When this happens, you just need to ride the wave.

My #HappyAct this week was literally riding the waves. The kids bought mini surf boards in Myrtle, so we spent the week body surfing—so much fun!

 

Carolina on my mind

Palm trees at sunset

When the snow finally melts, my thoughts turn to the warm breezes of the Carolinas and just like James Taylor, I’m gone to Carolina in my mind.

For the past several years, the Carolinas have been our “go to” vacation destination in April. We’ve explored Kure and Carolina Beach, Kill Devil Hills, the Outer Banks, Beaufort and Savannah.

The Carolinas have a way of luring you into their rhythm. At first, it’s the palm trees, warm air and soft, sandy beaches that entrance you. But as each day passes, you succumb further to the beauty and relaxed vibe of beach life until you have officially become a beach bum. You pass the days watching dolphins and pelicans dart in the waves, letting the ocean sand and waters tickle your feet and eating fresh seafood al fresco at places with names like Bonzer Shack with surfboards on the wall.

Can’t you see the sunshine. Can’t you just feel the moonshine? I think I may have heard the highway call. Yes, I’m gone to Carolina in my mind. Here are pictures from some of our last vacations.

Ed. Note. James Taylor, a native of North Carolina wrote Carolina on my mind more than 50 years ago in 1968 when he was overseas recording for the Beatles’ label Apple Records in London, England and was homesick. It has become the unofficial anthem of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is played at athletic events and pep rallies and sung by the graduating class at every university commencement.

Father and daughter on patio

Storm over North Carolina beach

 

Family at Kitty Hawk Memorial
Kitty Hawk Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

Visit a Charles Dickens village

Christmas carollers
Carollers at the mill in Delta, Ontario

Our British Heritage runs deep in this region. Kingston was, after all, the first capital of Canada and north of Kingston, in the area once known as Upper Canada, there are dozens of quaint villages that transform into magical towns hearkening back to the days of Charles Dickens at Christmas.

One of my favourites is the tiny village of Delta where thousands of visitors assemble each year to take an evening stroll through Lower Beverly Park to see the 90,000 lights, visit Santa’s workshop and take a wagon ride through the village. The local church hall serves hot meals, and in the centre of the village, the Delta Mill is open for tours.

The Old Stone Mill in Delta is a national historic site and treasure. It was built in 1810 and is still a working gristmill (they grind their own flour in the summer months). In December, antique candles light up the mill as they flicker in the six-foot window sills of each window.

Once inside, you are transported back to the days of Dickens. Caped carollers sing God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman and the smells of hot cider fill the air. Local volunteers share their knowledge and history as they take you for a tour and explain how flour is ground. You almost expect to see the ghost of Christmas past or Ebenezer Scrooge emerge from the mill’s shadows.

This week’s #HappyAct is to transport yourself back in time with a visit to Delta. As Charles Dickens wrote, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

The mill and park are open every Friday and Saturday night until Christmas.

Some other great towns to visit during the holidays include Niagara-on-the-Lake, Merrickville and high on my wish list, Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia where they have a Father Christmas Festival and transform their picturesque seaside village into a winter wonderland.

Old Stone Mill in Delta

Two journeys in one

Grace and me at the top of Rock Dunder

One of my favourite seasons of the year to hike is fall.

Yesterday, my Ryerson Alumni Group hiked one of the most beautiful treks in Eastern Ontario, Rock Dunder, just south of Morton. This 230-acre property is owned by the Rideau Waterway Land Trust and rises 275 feet to a summit for a stunning view of the Rideau Canal and surrounding area. It was a former boy scout camp and has three log cabins on the trail.

We arrived just before 11 and started on the Summit Loop. The alumni magazine sent a professional photographer named Sarah Palmer to join us. A Ryerson grad, Sarah is a photo assignment editor for Macleans two weeks a month and freelances on the side. It was great getting to know her and hearing about her adventures and travels.

People at the trail summit

Even though it was unseasonably warm, the bottom part of the loop was wonderfully cool as we walked through the soft green canopy of the woods and explored the two worn log cabins used by the boy scout camp in the 80’s. Halfway to the top, we stopped for a swim and cliff jumping (well, Grace and my friend Mike cliff jumped—I chose to cheer them on from the cool water below).

The summit was spectacular—Rock Dunder definitely lives up to its reputation of being the best hike in Eastern Ontario.

At the top, we debated about taking the same trail back, or finishing the loop. We decided to complete the loop. My daughter Clare once said it’s always better to choose the path you haven’t been on before because it’s like taking two journeys in one.

For more inspiration to get you out on the trails this fall, see my blog post, Stand on a Rocky Outcrop.

Ed. note: Are you a Ryerson alumni living in the Kingston region? Join our group and follow us on Facebook to learn about all the fun activities we plan year-round.

Woman on trail
My friend Brenda at the top of the summit

Hiking group

Happy in Beautiful BC

There’s a reason our westernmost province has “Beautiful BC” on its license plates.

Last week, I vacationed on Vancouver Island with my girlfriends. While this was my third trip West, this was the first time I spent the entire week on the island.

Stunning, spectacular scenery, sunny skies, and cool breezes set the stage for an amazing week. Here were a few of the things I loved about BC.

  • Ocean views around every turn; on our last night, we just sat and watched the sun set at Otter Point on the bottom tip of the island.
  • The wildlife—I saw more baby deer in one week on the island than I have in Ontario in the past ten years; on one hike at Stamp River Provincial Park, we saw ten bald eagles in the trees and soaring up the river—some so close you could hear the air whooshing as they flew overhead.
  • Hiking—my favourite hike was the West Pacific Trail in Ucluelet, an easy 4 km loop with incredible coastal views with a lighthouse. Point of clarification: this is not the West Coast Trail which is further south and one of the most difficult treks in North America—I’m pretty sure some of my Facebook friends thought that was the trail I was doing!
  • Native art and traditions—one of my favourite “town days” was exploring the murals in Chemainus and seeing all the native art in the region

But best of all, I loved the laid back attitude and lifestyle so typical of islanders, and the fact there are NO bugs and NO humidity.

Butchart gardens in Victoria

Travel tips: if you go

  • Charter fishing: the best fishing seemed to be off the coast of Tofino this summer
  • Whale watching: I highly recommend Adventures by H.I.P. in Sooke. It’s a family run business, and Mike takes his high-powered camera on the trip so you can sit back and relax and enjoy the wildlife viewing. They’ll send you pictures after the trip for that million dollar vacation memory. Here’s one shot Mike took of a humpback cresting out of the water, with an ocean freighter in the background.
  • Chemainus: If you’re wondering whether the $20 horse-drawn wagon tour of Chemainus to see and learn about all the murals is worth it, it is—the longer trip takes you into the old part of town which many tourists might miss altogether if they’re just stopping in for the day.
  • Butchart Gardens in Victoria: Did you know there are free concerts every night of the summer at 8 p.m. at the gardens on the lawn?
  • Sooke: Don’t miss Sooke pier and be sure to check out the new microbrewery in town, Sooke Brewing Company.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a breather this summer, and getaway, or plan a fun staycation. Happy vacationing!

whale with tale out of the water

Sooke brewing companytotem pole

In quest of the ultimate tacky souvenir

Donald Trump bottle opener

This year for our family vacation, we spent a week in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina in April. As always, we had a great time exploring the area, hanging on the beach and enjoying some much needed sunshine after a long Canadian winter.

Just like most tourists, we scour the souvenir shops looking for the perfect souvenir to remember our trip.

This trip I SCORED BIG.

I found one of my favourite souvenirs of all time, and it didn’t cost me a dime. I ordered a Shark Bite, a refreshing mix of rum, blue curacao and grenadine, and it came in the most classic, Jaws-dropping, great white and blue shark mug.

And then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I found a souvenir that scored 11 (1 better) on the tacky souvenir scale.

It’s a fridge magnet bottle opener of Trump with bright orange hair in a blue suit. The hole where you crack open your beer is Trump’s pie-hole flashing a ghastly teethy grin, like he’s hailing-to-the-chief expletives at Omarosa, Spence or Comey or defending himself at his impeachment hearing in Congress.

I will treasure it for always.

This week’s #HappyAct is to seek the ultimate tacky souvenir. I’ve thrown down the gauntlet. See if you can trump mine.

souvenir shark mug