A Surprise Double Proposal on Canada’s Bruce Trail

The best time to sign up for an adventure is a bottle of red wine deep into watching the International Banff Film Festival on a cozy couch, right? While viewing the incredible feats of ultra-distance athletes and extreme climbers, my partner Sadie turned to me and said she had always dreamed of running the entire Bruce Trail. I grew up hiking the path with my father but had never thought of hiking the entire thing until that moment. I simply said, “Let’s do it!”

The Bruce Trail is Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath, from Niagara Falls to Tobermory, spanning over 900 kilometres in Ontario, Canada. Sadie and I completed the trail end-to-end in August 2021, also known as the month with multiple broken heat records and the time when we met lots of bears, bulls, rattlesnakes and pit bulls—oh my.

fbgCourtesy of Deanne Kearney

Sadie is an Ironman competitor, an ultramarathoner and a previous personal trainer for over seven years. So, you could say she was ready to jump right in to running the 900 kilometres. As a Toronto-based Ph.D. student, who sits at their computer most hours of the day, I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to run the trail, so I decided to hike it instead. My long-time Toronto-based lifestyle meant that I had never had a driver’s license. Because of this, Sadie ran the entire trail and biked it (on the surrounding roads, not on the trail as bikes are generally not allowed on the Bruce Trail). The bicycle created a shuttle from the car to the day’s endpoint (usually around 25 to 30 kilometres). We would drive to where we ended the trail the day before. I would hop out and start hiking. Sadie would then get on her bike and ride to the other side of the trail, where I would finish for the day. She would run back to the car. When she finished her run, Sadie would then hop in and drive to my endpoint to pick me and the bike up. Generally, Sadie was on the trail for about four to five hours a day, and I was hiking for six to seven. Some days, we had family and friends (or sometimes a taxi or Uber) help with the shuttle as well—for them, we are forever grateful!

dgfDeanne Kearney

On day one, the universe was checking in to see if we really wanted to do this. We started in the beautiful section of Tobermory. This is known to be the most challenging section of the Bruce Trail based on its rocky and technical terrain. On day one, it poured rain. The weather network said it might only rain for an hour or two, therefore we had not packed and dressed appropriately, learning our lesson to be prepared each day for anything and everything! A couple of hours into the day, we and all our gear were utterly soaked through, and we stayed in this state for hours on end, running and hiking through the completely flooded and muddy trail. When we met up at the end of the day, we couldn’t stop laughing about what we had signed up for. So far away from the comfy couch and wine, yet loving every second of it. I knew it would be a journey unlike any we had had before.

dffsdCourtesy of Deanne Kearney

The adventure bonded us through the highs and the lows, the animal encounters and tears of pain. Although we experienced our highs and lows at different times, we always had the other there to support us and get the other a cold beer at the end of a long day. Whosever feet hurt the least was in charge.

dsgfCourtesy of Deanne Kearney

Our most eventful day took place in Lion’s Head between Barrow Bay and Cape Chin South. The day before had been so rainy and wet that Sadie’s phone had been waterlogged, and we had no way of communicating on the trail. We first ran into reroutes that added several hours and kilometres. This led to an almost nine-hour day on the trail for me. I was exhausted, to say the least, and was just trying to power through to the endpoint of the day. Then of course, on the rocky beaches of Cape Chin, my heavy feet just almost stepped on a rattlesnake—a very angry rattlesnake. With no way through, I had to turn back and find an alternative route, still shaken from the encounter and adding even more kilometres on to my sore feet. Now somewhat lost as to where I was on the trail, I was hoping that I had not missed Sadie and the car endpoint.

When I saw Sadie sitting by the car at the end of the trail, I lost it. I started balling into her shoulder, so happy that she was okay and that I had made it to the end of the day. Sadie then said, “Maybe this isn’t the best time to let you know that I ran into a baby bear and a pit bull today?” This was just the beginning of Sadie’s bear encounters. Later, she ran directly into a mama bear and cub on the trail at Kemble Mountain in the Sydenham section, only a foot or two away from the giant animals with nowhere to go but back the way she came. Also unexpected were her numerous dog run-ins, specifically aggressive pit bulls, that she encountered on her daily bike shuttles.

fdsdsDeanne Kearney

On the last day, day 31, Sadie hiked with me towards the Niagara terminus with family and friends waiting for our arrival. I had a box-shaped lump in my backpack pocket and had my sisters set up a sign that held the famous four-word question I knew I wanted to ask Sadie from all of our months planning the trip together: “Will you marry me?”

gdfsgCourtesy of Deanne Kearney

Instead of saying the three-letter word that you want to hear, Sadie said, “OH NO! You beat me to it!” Sadie consequently had the same plan, a box-shaped lump in her shorts pocket. We each took turns getting down on one knee before turning to drink much-deserved wine and beer in the Niagara region. We highly recommend ending in the Niagara region for those looking to also complete an end-to-end of the Bruce Trail. This is for many reasons, but the main one is that it is an amazing place to celebrate your once-in-a-lifetime achievement with friends and families.

How do you know you have met the one? They agree to run and hike 900 kilometres with you for over a month. This is our hiking love story.

gfdfCourtesy of Deanne Kearney

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