Cambridge to Paris: A Walk in the Woods

I was on the road early this morning, hoping to beat the heat. I didn’t. It was a normal June day in southwestern Ontario: hot and humid. In other words, exactly what I expected. I grew up here, after all. I remember what it’s like. And I knew I had a long walk–29 kilometres, in fact–ahead of me.

I’ve been thinking about ways to make this blog more exciting. I think I’d have to take more risks in my walk to do that. For example, instead of staying at the Travelodge, I could’ve stayed at the Satellite Motel. According to the online reviews, it rents out its rooms by the hour and is a good place to buy methamphetemine in Cambridge. That would’ve been a story! That’s the kind of scrape Bill Bryson–or his comic foil, Stephen Katz–would get into. But instead, I played it safe. Sorry about that.

A lot of anglers were trying their luck with the river in Cambridge. “Do you eat what you catch?” I asked one couple. “We don’t,” the woman answered. “We do catch-and-release.” “What do you catch?” I asked. “Oh, everything,” the man said. “Bass, walleye, perch.” I was about to ask why they didn’t eat what they caught when the man pointed and said, “Look over there.” A huge osprey was sitting on top of a light standard not 20 feet away. You can bet he eats what he catches, as does the great blue heron I spotted in the shallows upstream.

I’ve seen a lot of milkweed along the way and I was hoping I’d see–and smell–some in bloom as I got further south. I got my wish in Cambridge. It’s one of my favourite wildflowers, and not just because of the monarch butterflies, either. I just like the way it looks and I love its scent.

Once I was out of Cambridge–and that took quite a while–I walked along a rail trail almost all the way to Paris. It was quite beautiful. Apparently it’s the largest piece of continuous forest in the Grand River watershed, running along the river for 20 kilometres and home to all kinds of animals, including bald eagles, who winter there. Lots of cyclists use the trail. One woman told me about the wildlife they’d seen earlier in the morning. “A fox, a family of racoons, and a deer,” she said. I only saw chipmunks and squirrels and a snapping turtle, who eyed me balefully, as they usually do.

I greeted the cyclists who passed me and most of them said “hello” in response. When I stopped for lunch, though, one woman took an interest in my pack. She’s planning a hike through the Grand Canyon. I told her what I’m doing and she was shocked. “Hey, this guy is walking all the way to Lake Erie!” she told her friends. I gave her a card and she rode away, but not before I took her picture.

Lunch, by the way, consisted of the typical walker’s diet: a stale bun, a piece of hard cheese, jerky, almonds, and chocolate. All the walker’s food groups.

I took almost every opportunity to sit down, in fact–the heat was getting to me. And I took a breather at the Murray Overlook, where a bridge belonging to the Grand Trunk Railway used to cross the river.Then I was back on the trail again.

Despite the heat, this might’ve been the best day of walking I’ve had so far. The trees and the shade were beautiful. The trail follows the old railbed of the Lake Erie and Northern Railway, which ran from Galt (now part of Cambridge) to Port Dover on Lake Erie. It was an electric train and people along the route would treat it like a streetcar. Kids would ride the train to get to school; farmers would use it to send milk to the nearest dairy. And of course on weekends and holidays crowds of people took the train to Port Dover. After the war, when people started buying cars, the line lost business and the passenger service was discontinued in 1955. The entire line was abandoned in the 1960s. I remember the tracks rusting alongside Highway 24. Finally, in the early 1990s, they were taken up and the trail created.

The parking lot at the trailhead was full. People were unloading bicycles and canoes and kayaks. Occasionally I would hear, and then see, paddlers heading downstream, and once I thought I heard somebody flip their boat over. I couldn’t see what was happening: I could only hear shouts of “holy fuck!” and “I’m all wet!” I hope they were wearing life jackets.

I wanted to see the ruins of the old German Woolen Mill in Glen Morris, which are said to be haunted. My sister Cindy texted to tell me how far they are from the village, but somehow I walked right by them. They’re in the forest, I suppose, camouflaged by the leaves of the trees. That’s the only way I can explain it. And in the heat I wasn’t going to turn around and walk back to look for it. That’s one of the downsides of walking: because it’s hard work, walkers tend to be reluctant to retrace their steps. Forwards, always forwards, never backwards!

I was spent by the time I got to Paris. I’m staying at the Arlington Hotel. I remember it as a dive; the bar downstairs was a strip club. Not any more. It’s luxurious. I met friends from high school for dinner and I can confirm that the kitchen is excellent, too. For the second time in two days, my friends bought my dinner. It’s time I returned the favour. Come to Regina! Dinner’s on me! You can stay with us!

I’ve been looking for signs that the Haldimand Tract originally belonged to the Haudenosaunee, and I saw a couple today. One was a plaque about the river with text in English, French, and Mohawk. The English text talked about how settlers and Indigenous people had shared the valley. Well, I wish that had been the case. But at least the plaque included the Mohawk text. That’s something. The other sign was, well, another sign: Joseph Brant Street in Paris, named after the chief who negotiated the Haldimand Proclamation (or Treaty) with Sir Frederick Haldimand. There’ll be a lot more about Joseph Brant in Brantford, which makes sense, since the city is named after him.

There were a few snags along the way today, though. The GPS app I use to track my progress (and make the aerial views of my walk) drains my phone, so I’ve been carrying a small backup battery. The connector has worked itself loose, and so my phone keeps making the chime it makes when I plug it in, with every step I take. Bong! Bong! Bong! I’ll have to try to get a new battery in Brantford. And my friend Tom pointed out tonight that somebody–maybe the printer, but more likely (let’s be honest) me–got the URL of my blog wrong on the cards I’ve been handing out. That’s embarrassing. More than embarrassing: mortifying. I checked and doublechecked the text before I sent it to the printer, but you shouldn’t really copyedit your own work, and I ought to have known better. Mea culpa.

If you live near Paris or Brantford and want to walk with me tomorrow, I’ll be leaving the Arlington by eight o’clock and heading down the rail trail to Brantford. E-mail me through the link on the “About” page or respond to this post and we can make arrangements to meet.

And, of course, don’t forget about the Woodland Cultural Centre’s “Save the Evidence” campaign. You can donate online or send a cheque to the Woodland Cultural Centre at P.O. Box 1506, Brantford, Ontario N3T 5V6. Every gift will help the Woodland Cultural Centre create a museum about residential schools in the former residential school in Brantford. I’m walking 300 kilometres, and a donation of a nickel per kilometre would amount to $15, which gets the Woodland Cultural Centre $15 closer to its goal. Consider it a gesture towards reconciliation. I think about those schools as I walk and I wonder what the hell was wrong with us–why we thought it would be a good idea to incarcerate children in those schools, attempt to erase their languages and cultures, and physically and sexually abuse them as part of the bargain. The thought of it makes me sick. We need to make amends. Making a gift to the Woodland Cultural Centre is one way to do that. And it’s also a way to join me on my journey. Please think about it.

2 thoughts on “Cambridge to Paris: A Walk in the Woods

  1. Nice post today. The trails look very pleasant for walking, sans the humidity. Nice to see some living animals today;-). Hey, and I wanted to tell you that I’m reading and laughing my way through “A a Walk In The a Woods”. Sadly they were only 48 years old in the book and the actors were so much older in the movie. Enjoy your wandering tomorrow. I think your hotel tonight a much better choice than the suggested alternative!

    Liked by 1 person

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