Foggy Gatineau Trail Run

That last post about me hardly writing about specific runs I’ve had? Yeah about that. My runs lately have been SO great, and honestly just noteworthy for a variety of reasons that it feels difficult for me not to write about them.

On a rainy Saturday in mid May, I drove up to the Gatineau Hills to go on what was supposed to be an hour long run according to my training plan. I easily could have made the short drive to the Greenbelt instead, but as the plan progresses, I need to start adding more elevation to my training. The ultra, after all, will be taking place in the Purcell Mountains in Golden, BC (across the Rocky Mountain Trench from the Canadian Rockies).

With the Gatineau Parkway FINALLY having opened up to vehicular traffic as of a few days ago, I excitedly made the drive up to Pink Lake while blasting the new Beach House album (so so good by the way, ugh). I initially had the intention to run Wolf Trail, or even from Lauriault up to King Mountain but I instead decided that a couple of laps of Pink Lake would be fun.

So there I was at the trailhead, with the rain beginning to pick up as I began my warm up. I ran up a mountain biking trail for a couple hundred metres for my warm up prior to making my way to the lakeside trail. Once on the main trail, I quickly reached one of many lookouts perched over the lake and I forgot how much I had missed this place. In the dreariness of the gloomy day’s blue hour, the usual dark green hue was not as apparent, but because of the conditions, the trail was practically empty which made it all the better.

I had made the decision to leave my phone behind in the car, running with nothing but my head lamp and my car key. This proved to be a great choice. I was in dire need of some time in nature without the perpetual use of screens and technology. As a photographer, I usually always hike with a camera in hand, or at the very least my phone, which honestly does irk me. Obviously, as I was running, the omission of my camera was an obvious one, however, I do at times run with my phone for many reasons. The decision to forego its use this time though was the best. I felt free, I felt fast and I felt connected and disconnected. Connected to what was around me and the sensory experience of it all. Disconnected from the seemingly omnipresence of the internet, and its many social media applications.

As I ran through the woods and up the hills and Pink Lake trail’s many steps and boardwalks I felt free. I typically feel this regardless of where I run, but it’s different being on the trails. It’s different when it’s raining and when it’s dreary and when it’s dark. I’ve always had an affinity for days like these. For as long as I can remember I’ve always loved cloudy, dreary and rainy days. As a kid I’d wander out into the park and go play in streams and jump in puddles. Even to this day, instead of feeling the need to stay in and have a low key day,  I feel the exact opposite, a pull that lures me to be outside.

I kept a pretty quick pace throughout this first lap and as a consequence, was not able to really enjoy the scenery and take it all in. As such. once I got to the main lookout I stopped for a few moments to breathe and be still. Peering over the cliffs, you could see the fog and low lying clouds rolling in over the distant hills, while the rain fell gently on the lake below and the leaves above. It was a beautiful moment that reminded me of why I trail run. After those brief moments of bliss, I carried on, taking care with my footing so as to avoid another ankle mishap. Passing the old abandoned mine shafts, and rounding the corner onto the opposite side of the shore, I had about a kilometre left until I reached the trailhead. This portion got difficult as there were SO many steps to climb. Despite the incline, I felt GREAT. Months ago I probably wouldn’t have said the same thing, but I’m at a point right now aerobically that I haven’t been in years and it feels so good. Plowing through that last kilometre and admittedly feeling the soreness from the elevation gain and the prior night’s spin class, I opted not to run another lap but instead….

I made my way back to the car and absolutely booked it to the Lauriault Trail (AKA waterfall trail) that connects to the Mackenzie King Estate. The drive there was unreal. Dense fog rolled in and visibility was hampered which made for incredible scenes amongst the swamps and forests that lined the parkway. Arriving at the parking lot, I wasted no time as I ran down the hill onto the familiar trail. Having been on this trail countless times and in many different seasons and conditions, I was not dismayed by the fast approaching nightfall. The last time I was on this trail, there was tons of snow and everything was frozen. It’s funny how much can changes in just a matter of weeks. Reaching the waterfall junction, I chose not to view the waterfall and instead veered right to make my way to the lookout 1.5km away. Knowing there was quite a lot of undulating terrain here with some good uphill portions made me excited. I’m at a point where I need as much hill work as I can get. And man was this next part fun. The fog crept in and the darkness, especially in the woods was becoming more apparent. I chose not to shine my headlamp, in favour of having my eyes adjust to the light, or lack thereof. Trilliums dotted the forest floor all around me, as the green hue of the lush canopy was strengthened by the day’s rainfall.

Running through this part of the forest was truly ethereal. Part of me wishes I could have somehow captured the sights I saw on film or even with a picture, but the rest of me knows I’m glad I didn’t. I was truly able to experience every single part of this run and adventure solely by not having any technology on me and I will forever remember all of it. The emotions I felt, the sense of freedom and  gratitude I always feel while running, compounded to an absurd degree by the beauty of the natural surroundings. I could plainly see why Mackenzie King frequented this trail from his estate.

I’ll be honest, for as much euphoria as I was feeling, I did also feel a bit of fear, or a lesser degree of it. Maybe fear isn’t the right word, but knowing that there was a black bear sighting on Wolf Trail just a few days prior had me thinking a bit. Knowing that, I made sure to make as much noise as possible, but I also reminded myself to be rational. I quickly put any negative and ominous thoughts to rest the second I rounded a corner and cleared a hill, coming across a vast glade of trilliums. Recognizing this spot, I knew I was close to the lookout, so I kept pushing, feeling really good about my pace and how my body was responding.

As I made my way past that last hill, I made it to the lookout, right by the famous bench and man the view was something else. I’d been here many times before but I’d never seen it like this. The fog, rain and clouds made it feel like I was in the Adirondacks or even in Banff. I felt so alive and elated. The rain fell gently on me, making me unable to discern sweat from precipitation. Standing on the lookout, peering out and over onto the lowlands, lights began to glimmer faintly in the distance as the once thick fog began to clear right before my eyes.

And there it was. The view opened up and although I had seen it before, it was distinct this time. The fog and clouds gave it the illusion that I was much higher than I actually was but I didn’t care. There were layers to the fog. I likened it to an old scene in one of my favourite video games: The Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past. Throughout the mountainous regions of that game, you can clearly see through the clouds below, making out forests and glades and trails from high above. It’s something that instilled wonder in me as a 6 year old and definitely inspired me to take in such real sights as a teenage and now adult.

Knowing it was only getting darker and rainier and with a couple of kilometres to reach my car, I begrudgingly left and made my way back, this time via the Gatineau Parkway. The light outside the forest was much brighter, but I was already missing the moody atmosphere of the trails deep in the woods. After an uneventful run back and downhill to the parking lot I had arrived. I had completed two amazing runs, that will forever be etched in my memory, leaving me ever more confident for my first ever ultra in September.

As always, thank you to anyone that takes the time to read these. I have a tendency to go on and on, so if you made it to this point, thank you!

Steven

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