In Toronto, we've heard legendary tales of a place with crystalline turquoise waters, lush, windswept rocky grottos and breathtaking coastal hiking.
A place in Canada.
A place in Ontario, even.
Just 3 hours from Toronto, in fact.
Hearing such rumours firsthand Jed and I decided to try for ourselves whether the reality of the Bruce Peninsula was as good as the promise.
I've read that the best way to approach travel is without expectation. The anticipation of experiencing wonderment lessens the actual experience of that wonderment, so rather than exposing yourself to images, reviews and first-hand accounts it's better to simply go. I think we had the ideal amount of information; the assurance of something interesting without any detailed information about where we would find it and how this would look and feel.
So, if you are a person who prefers to experience travelling in this way: read no further. Just go.
For all you who like to read the last page of the book before you get there, read on.
Day 1 - Cyprus Lake Campground & Indian Head Beach
We headed up highway 10 with "Moonwalking with Einstein"—an audiobook about becoming a world memory champion—(yes, we are those kind of people) playing in the background as we moved from suburbanization to countryside and into cottage country.
Arriving at Cyprus Lake Campground in the mid-afternoon, we opted to make a very basic campsite setup in favour of getting a hike to Indian Head in. We hiked along the Cyprus Lake trail, where the trees grow in crooked forms that belied the super-still, windless summer weather.
We made it to Indian Head just as the light was shifting to the perfection of an extended late summer afternoon that gradates seamlessly into evening. The small rocky beach took our breath away with the shifting blues reflecting in the clearest water ever seen. The clarity and refraction between the surface and the dolostone rock shelfs tricked our perception and we stepped into places where we thought there was a surface that ended up 6 or 8 meters below us.
Thinking that this was as good as it could possibly get, we stayed at Indian Head until the light began to sink.
Day 2 - Bruce Trail Hike, The Grotto & Singing Sands
Next day, we woke up early and went for a fresh morning swim in Cyprus Lake. We decided to conquer a tiny chunk of the Bruce Trail. We started out from Cyprus Lake to Horse Lake trail, onto the main Bruce Trail and towards Overhanging Point. On the way, we passed by Indian Head again but discovered just a short distance from there the famous Grotto. It looked like something out of a trailer for travelling in Croatia but as it was slightly overcast, we kept walking. Every so often we'd have to stop and take photos as the sun came out from behind the patchy clouds and illuminated brilliant blues and greens along the shoreline.
On our way back, we stopped for a swim and boulder in the Grotto. It's dangerous, enticing, attractive, and totally illegal to swim or jump from the rocks. Apparently there is a patrol that regularly comes by to drive people away. Luckily we avoided the fun-police.
It always makes me question where our cultural values lie when places that are so obviously magnets for meaningful connection to nature are deemed too dangerous to engage with. Do people die jumping off rocks? Yes. They do. Do people get injured picking their way down the sharp, rocky cliffs? Yes. They do. This happens everywhere, all over the world. But you simply can't regulate the desire to get close to something that makes you feel alive and hyperaware of your place in nature. I would even argue that keeping people away from 'dangerous' nature dulls our ability to safely navigate that nature.
I think about the time I went to Guldfoss in Iceland. Before dropping us off at the trailhead, the driver said 'there aren't any guardrails or ropes or rescue teams here. If you get too close to the edge and fall in, no one is coming to save you. Only go as far as you feel comfortable with and don't take unnecessary chances.'
While walking along the waterfall, you could at any point literally just jump into the rushing water, which rivals the power of Niagara falls. Unlike there, however, no one had put up a fence to guard you from getting too close; you simply had to rely on your own sense of what was safe. In my observation people stayed further from the edge *because* there was no guard rail - and in Niagara we hear every year of someone who leaned too far over and was swept away. They depended on someone else to keep them safe instead paying attention to their own inner warnings.
Rain began to roll in as the evening came around. Instead of pouting under our tarp, we decided to drive to Singing Sands to catch a 'low tide' in the warm rain. Our short drive was rewarded with a stunning sunset as the waters of Georgian Bay swept in over the rippled sandy beach.
We experienced one of the strangest moments of our camping lives while driving back to the campground; the precipitation steamed up off the sun-heated asphalt and hundreds, if not thousands, of frogs were seen in our headlights jumping all over the road. I'm sad to say that even driving only 10km/hour I think some of my best frog friends may have perished...
Day 3 - Tobermory, More Bruce Trail & Halfway Log Dump
Jed and I both had fond-ish memories of Tobermory, for him as a point of departure for Manitoulin Island where he want to camp, and myself for a vacation spot I had come to with my cousins as a teenager. While "charming" in a painfully touristy sort of way, the town lacked any real dimension or character, not to mention a good cup of coffee. Ice cream? Also a bust. What kind of tourist town can you claim to be without these two important staples? We walked around a decrepit and disjointed floating dock hoping to gain some new perspective, but left disappointed after a wasted hour.
Should have skipped it and went straight to Halfway Log Dump, which we promptly did in hopes of finding some boulders.
We hiked for a time along the Bruce Trail, thinking to get to Cave Point and access boulders from there, but after meeting with a few other lost boulder-seeking travellers, we went back and tried to access from the beach instead.
May I just point out that bouldering in a gym is simple, straightforward and challenging but never frightening. Bouldering in real life is sharp, jagged, painful and dangerous. Even with the presence of a crashpad, I could only attempt a few of the rounder, smoother boulders before giving up and going swimming. The idea of cracking my head or breaking an ankle just doesn't appeal enough to induce me to pursue bouldering IRL. Clambouring over giant boulders in the water, however, that's another story. When the only risk is falling a few feet into the forgiving waters of the Georgian Bay it's easy to take a few more chances.
We spent as much time as we could walking along the beach and snapping photos of the rocks, gnarled trees and local wildlife (snakes!!!) before taking off for home again.
Next time: even more hiking along the Bruce Trail, possible backcountry camping at Stormhaven, Smokey Head White Bluff Natural Preserve, Pine Tree Point, Lion's Head and others.