My experience hiking 900 kilometers on the Bruce Trail
September 29th, 2022
After five weeks on the Bruce Trail, listening to the sound of hiking poles grinding on the narrow path and seeing the final cairn surrounded by the people we loved, my hiking partner Sima and I rounded the last corner of the trail in Tobermory. We had started bright and early on April 25, 2022 in Niagara Falls, and on June 3, we finally reached the end of our journey. We had arrived. Feelings of exhaustion and accomplishment washed over me. What does it mean to start a journey? What does it mean when it ends?
Let’s start from the beginning. Rewind to what started our journey of the #BlackOnTheBruce project – it was a hike at a conservation area in Halton in 2020 before I even knew about the Bruce Trail. It was just a small mention of the Bruce that sparked this yearning to hike it, to learn about it and be back in my element. I had always hoped to share with others my experiences of being in nature and create a diverse community of people who care for and appreciate it like I do.
But back then in 2020, it was only a glimmer of hope and aspiration. So, I began to prepare, and I went all in. I dived deep into research, into buying gear, into planning. My preparation process consisted of intense YouTube sessions of watching videos of other hikers and learning about food dehydration. I called on my community of friends to help me heat seal mylar bags with dehydrated meals, weigh everything, and come out on day hikes with me for training. My preparations and the support I received made me think of the arduous journey that freedom seekers made when coming to Canada to escape slavery in the South: that challenging goal could not have been achieved without help from the community.
A griot is defined as a member of a class of traveling poets, musicians and storytellers who maintain a tradition of oral history in parts of West Africa. Being a griot is an oral tradition and a way of knowing that is often devalued within Western society. Griots are generally nomadic people who travel to collect stories and learn about the histories of people and places. I was inspired by this idea on the trail and made it a point to collect, document and remember the stories I was learning while hiking along the 900 km trail.
Together with my hiking partner, we met a number of people who helped us share stories and make memories: people along the trail who had hiked its entirety before; others who were hiking parts of the trail for the first time; and also, those who recognized us for our thru-hike pursuit. We were even joined by a family from the States who crossed the border to walk with us and friends who made their way up north with full hearts ready to hike. We visited museums on our route to learn about the trail’s connection to the Underground Railroad and collected stories along the way. On the Bruce, the connections we made with the land and people were our griot.
One of the goals of the #BlackOnTheBruce project was to feature Black joy – showcasing diversity and inclusion in nature. This manifested for me on the trail through teary-eyed laughter and connection-building. One day after a long and hot hike, while we were resting, someone saw us and handed us two cans of cold ginger ale. That small gesture sparked what we called “trail magic”, and it continued to find us throughout those weeks on the Bruce. It was important for me to center my own joy because of the liberation that I feel comes through experiencing nature.
In the future, I’ll be focusing on the intersections between Black identity and the environment, and their implications on climate challenges. All while planning my next adventure…
Zwena Gray is a Black environmentalist and climate activist with a passion for creating a pathway to environmental stewardship for BIPOC communities. She recently completed the 900 km Bruce Trail thru-hike in June 2022. Instagram: @just.zee.
About the Bruce Trail:
The Bruce Trail is an iconic part of the Ontario Greenbelt. The main trail runs nearly 900 kilometres along the edge of the Niagara Escarpment – stretching from the Niagara River in the south to Tobermory in the north. Discover parts of the Bruce and other adventures in the Greenbelt: https://www.greenbelt.ca/explore.