In today’s post, Sarah Fencott, a naturalist at Pinery Provincial Park, shares her journey to completing the ultimate Pinery challenge. The goal? Complete all ten trails in Pinery, including overlooks and extensions.
Last year, my goal was to hit all the trails before summer was over. I completed my goal with three days left in the contract.
This year, my goal was to hike all the trails in one week. This worked out well, since we needed to do a study of the park’s trail infrastructure anyway! By walking three trails a day, I met my goal in my first week back at work.
With my initial goal so easily achieved, I set my sights on a new challenge that would be more difficult than anything I had done before in the park: the Tour de Pinery.
A great challenge
I have a rare genetic mutation called sideroblastic anemia, which means most of my muscles don’t get enough oxygen and strenuous physical activity can be very challenging.
Despite this, I never let my limitations stop me and I always try to push myself to do better. I knew that with a little perseverance and determination I could complete the Tour de Pinery.
The night before I sat down and mapped out my ideal route.
I knew I wanted to start with the Cedar Trail because it has the least amount of shade and can get pretty hot in the afternoon. I also knew I wanted to end the day on Wilderness, my favorite trail, overlooking the beach.
With a plan in mind, I started my Pinery Tour!
I arrived at the park around 8:30 am and by the time I filled my water bottle, put on sunscreen, and started walking, it was 9:00 am.
I wasn’t sure how long the challenge would take, so I decided to just walk the main trail and not worry about doing the extension.
The first trail of the day, Cedar Trail, is one of Pinery’s accessible trails. The wide, flat trail made for easy hiking and I finished Cedar much faster than anticipated.
Usually when I clip trails or go out to photograph insects it takes me 1-2 hours, but with a mission in mind, I finished the Cedar Trail in just under 30 minutes.
Finishing the Cedar Trail so quickly gave me a boost of confidence and I decided to try the overlooks and extensions on the next three trails: Heritage, Pine, and Carolinian. Once we got over some of the longer trails, I was optimistic that the afternoon would be easier.
A deserved rest
The fifth trail of the day was Nipissing. I stopped there for lunch. Since Nipissing is possibly the most difficult trail in the Pinery, a well-deserved break.
Near the end of the trail there is a small extension that leads to a beautiful elevated overlook. On one side you can see the Oak Savanna forests of Pinery and the agricultural fields that lie beyond the park boundaries. On the other side you can look out over Lake Huron and see where the water meets the horizon.
It is a hidden gem and one of the most beautiful places in the park.
After enjoying a meal with a view, it was time to move on.
Rain or shine
Despite the beautiful start to the morning, the trip wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, the morning was quite cloudy and shortly after noon it started to rain.
I contemplated rescheduling the challenge and doing it another day, but I had come too far to give up. So, despite the rain and the lack of a waterproof jacket, I pressed on.
Riverside, Hickory and Bittersweet were next. They are the trails I do most frequently.
Each trail offers a beautiful view of the ancient Ausable canal and creates excellent habitat for frogs, mushrooms and even large birds. It was in Hickory that I got a video of a great blue heron that I had been trying to photograph all summer!
Even though all of these trails were short, nice, and relatively easy, I was losing steam.
Bittersweet felt like the longest mile of the day.
the last trace
It was just after 4:00 pm when I arrived at the Wilderness Trail overlook and was greeted with a beautiful view of Lake Huron.
The rain had stopped momentarily, but he could see it falling in the distance over the lake and the storm clouds were gradually approaching. I see the beach almost every day, whether I’m cleaning the beach, trimming a trail, or helping to install moving walks, so the Wilderness Trail overlook shouldn’t have been anything special.
However, after seven hours of hiking, it was the most rewarding sight I had seen all summer.
The cool breeze and calm atmosphere brought a sense of peace that was missing amidst the excitement and determination of the day. Despite being wet and sore, he couldn’t have been happier.
The last extension
With some free time before the end of the work day, I decided to head back and hike the Cedar Trail extension that I had skipped earlier in the morning.
Despite technically completing all the trails, I felt like I was cheating myself by skipping an extension.
When I finished, around 5:00 pm, I had walked for eight hours, covering a distance of 20.1 km, walking 32,862 steps and climbing 47 flights of stairs.
In the end my feet hurt, I was very cold and I had developed quite an appetite. I was absolutely exhausted but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Despite the cost to my body, I was incredibly proud of myself.
I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to take on this challenge.
Sometimes when I walk, I am so focused on maintaining trails or identifying species that I forget to appreciate the beauty around me and find joy in the little things.
This challenge gave me a lot of time to reflect and allowed me to appreciate some of the trails I don’t do as often.
The Pinery trails showcase some truly unique ecosystems that deserve to be enjoyed to the fullest.
After finishing my Pinery Tour, I can wholeheartedly say that I plan to do it again, and I encourage campers and visitors to try it too!
While it took me almost eight hours, I took plenty of breaks and hiked the Cedar Trail extension again. It is definitely possible to complete the ultimate Pinery challenge in a shorter amount of time, but it will take most of the day.
Let us begin
If you think doing all the trails in one day is a little ambitious for you, start small like I did.
Hiking all the trails in one season or a single week is a great way to get started! You can even set your own challenges, such as riding all day-use road trails or, for beginners, riding all accessible trails.
Before you leave…
If you decide to take on this challenge, here are some things I learned:
Dress for the conditions. As much as I enjoyed my time, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more being warm and dry. Long pants can also protect you from ticks and poison ivy, both of which are present in Pinery.
Second, choose comfortable shoes that support your feet. I was walking in my work uniform, including steel toe boots, which I can tell are not ideal for long distances. I normally walk 2 or 3 trails a day with my steel toes without a problem, but ten trails turned out to be a little ambitious for my worn-out boots.
My last piece of advice for keen hikers is to have a good attitude. There were many times I wanted to give up, but a positive attitude (and snacks) helped me get through.
Next time I’m on my Tour de Pinery, or just hiking a trail, I hope to see you doing the same!
Need another reason to hit the trails? The Friends of Pinery Park are hosting the 2021 Pinery Trail Challenge! Participation costs $25 and provides you with a badge and access to the park. There are trails for all levels and you can sign up for as many trails as you want. The event will run until December 31, 2021. Register here.