So Far Yet So Close

The car bottomed out multiple times with the weight of all our gear as we drove the dirt road up to Otter Lake, just north of Lake Echo. We said goodbye to our friends who drove us and took a breath: this was going to be the most challenging leg of Hike the Greenbelt, a 25km, two-day adventure through bush and lakes. Usually the trip would be done in three days, but we were feeling young and cocky.

My friend Adrian and I had, after all, paddled the entire Mississippi together two years ago. Surely we could handle a brisk 25k.

But we never had to portage 7km through tight vegetation on the Mississippi. That forest humbled us. To be frank, it kicked our ass.

Hard to imagine but that morning I was sipping tea on my balcony in downtown Halifax checking the weather on my computer. Here I felt like a bushman, hauling canoes up streams, distant from urban life.

By evening, we were hungry and tired. We found a spot to camp on top of Byron’s Island with a panoramic view of the lakes and hills. We snacked on berries and Indian Cucumbers we found nearby while we waited for our sausages and noodles to cook on the fire. With only an hour of daylight left, we paddled over to the other shore and hiked up the steep rocky look-off to watch the sun set. If we were wondering why we were doing this, or why the greenbelt matters, we found it up there.

The lakes were spectacular the next day: Long Duck Lake, East Lake, and Major Lake—the backup drinking water source for Halifax. The portages grew longer, the way more difficult to follow, and the feeling of remoteness more intense.

Falling over with a canoe on our head and full packs on our backs was tough. It was tougher when we were already exhausted. Each time we just had to get back up because there was only one way out of there. But the deeper we travelled, the more tired we became, the louder the sounds of birdlife too. There’s something to that.

With spotty cell phone coverage and no sign of humans, we sometimes were truly on our own. We were aware that if something happened, we might have to rely on each other to get out. People travel to the far north to experience this kind of remoteness, and although we were only a day’s travel from a paved road, we felt as though we could have been somewhere deep in the Canadian Shield.

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