Bearbells and Beagles – by Leslie Noonan

As I prepare for my next extended solo trip, I look back on my time on the Ganaraska trail and the three weeks I spent on my own traveling this trail.  I reflect on what went well, and what I would change on this upcoming trip.

The Ganaraska hiking trail was established in the 1960’s and continued to expand its trails until the 1980’s.  The trail begins in the highlands of Glen Huron and travels through Creemore, Midhurst, Orillia, Queen Elizabeth II wilderness, Burnt River, Fenelon Falls, Lindsay and on to Port Hope with side trails into Midland and Wasaga Beach.  This unique trail is a mix of woods, rail trails, roads and some serious wilderness. Beaver dams are often the only means of traveling from one area to the next.

Preparing for a distance hike, especially a solo one, is time consuming.  I spent almost a year preparing for this hike.  Everything from sourcing where to find water, where to camp, and securing people to back me up and provide supplies takes time. I made sure to have a medical checkup with my doctor and spent most of the spring training.  Often people think it is the distance that is difficult.  Sure, trekking 30 km a day is tiring, but throw a 50 lb pack on your back and it becomes an entirely new struggle.  Imagine piggy backing a six year old for 16 hours, over rocky terrain. For this reason I decided to go as light as I could.  This meant an ultralight tent, weighing less than an ounce, and held up by my hiking poles, and only the size of a very small coffin.  I left out deodorant (if I smell who would really care) and no soap or shampoo.  The only toiletries were a small toothbrush and travel size toothpaste and baby wipes.  That’s it.  As for a first aid kit, you would assume being a nurse I would have the mother of all kits.  Nope.  Let’s be honest, if it can’t be fixed by duct tape, steri-strips, or a needle and thread, I should probably be heading out of the bush to a hospital. The only other item I would want is tweezers to pull out the blood sucking ticks.  We should talk about duct tape.  It is true; it is a necessary item for life and for hiking.  I wrap several feet around both hiking poles to lessen the weight in my pack.  Duct tape can be used for everything from fixing a leaky tent, patching a hole in your pack, as a temporary fix on your shoes, as a way to indicate your route to others and yes, as wound care.  My other essentials are waterproof maps of your routes and waterproof matches and lighters put in several different waterproof containers.  I also carried a whistle and compass.  I highly recommend learning to use a compass before heading into any back country.  As far as clothing goes, less is more.  I had my daily hiking outfit of synthetic pants and top, with socks and Keens sandals.  Yes, huge fashion faux pas, but the socks are needed for ticks. Then I had my camp clothes.  I had one clean and dry fleecy outfit with warm socks and a pair of sandals to let my hiking shoes dry, and a rain poncho.  Remember, cotton kills. As for food, I carried a small alcohol burning stove, one pot and one spork.  I found that unlike most people, I did not have “hiker hunger” and the need for massive calories.  Indeed, I had nausea for most of my hike and struggled to eat even a protein bar a day.  It is common to burn more than six to eight thousand calories a day on a distance hike. Water was a constant need for me.  Even in my regular life I drink several liters a day.  While hiking it was my obsession, and I would drink upwards of 8-10 liters every day.  I still use the same filtration system, which is my Sawyer squeeze.  No plug here, just saying that this system is amazing. Beyond that, a ground sheet of plastic to cut out both the ground cold and rain is great and a tarp for extra protection from the elements is nice.  Other than that a great sleeping bag and sleep mat and you are all set.  Now put all that into a pack, and carry it.  Oh, and you will need to pack out anything you pack in.  Here is your reality moment.  All toilet paper, wipes, garbage, YOU WILL pack out.  Seriously, no one wants to follow behind you and stumble upon your waste. If you are hiking, you should love nature and respect the need to keep it trash free.  I recommend a double freezer bag for your yuckies.  Please don’t be like those jerks that pick up their canine friends poop, and then throw the colorful bags in the trees.  And there it is.  All the preparation for a three week solo hike, except for the one thing I forgot, that almost changed everything…..

(Editor’s note: This trip will be a series so stay tuned for the rest next week.)


How Beneficial are Birds?

Scientists estimate that there are between 50 – 400 billion birds in the world. The number of species is estimated  to be around 9, 700.

Here in Canada we have 696 species of birds. We have 501 species of birds just here in Ontario. The most common bird in the world is the domestic chicken. Approximately 75% of wild birds live for less than a year. The larger the bird, the more likely it is to live longer.

Every year trees are attacked by billions of insects! Often the bug attack is so overwhelming the trees will die. Luckily, bird-eating insects will come to their rescue. Scientists tell us that birds eat around 500 million tons of insects including 15 million larvae every single year! Farmers have discovered if they plant fruit orchards near woodlots, the birds from the woodlot will  devour most  of the insects ready  to attack the fruit on the trees!

Birds need trees but it turns out trees need birds as well. As birds fly all over the forests and elsewhere the tree seeds in their poop are dropped on the forest  floor.  Using the fertilizer from the poop, the seeds will quickly sprout into a tree sapling.  Birds’ importance in dispersing tree seeds and others cannot be overstated!  An astounding 92% of woody plants are grown from the seeds dropped by birds in their poop!

Every year billions of animals are killed by vehicles and left  on roads or roadsides. Lucky for us vultures attack the bodies of the dead animals  and eat everything but the bones. The acid in the vultures’ stomachs destroys bacteria, spores and toxins.  The acid is so corrosive that they can digest carcasses infected with anthrax.  In countries where vultures have declined due to disease, feral dogs have taken over the role played by vultures. We want to keep vultures healthy as feral dogs spread rabies which is deadly if left untreated.

Can you guess what is the greatest threat to birds today? If you guessed buildings/houses or vehicles, or wind turbines, or pesticides, or power lines, or hunting you would be wrong! Cats are responsible for killing an astounding 196 million birds each and every single year in Canada – more than  power lines, houses, pesticides, vehicles, hunting, and buildings combined!

Domestic cats kill over 200,000 birds every day- a little over 8,000 birds every single hour of the day!!As well as killing birds free- range cats including pet cats cause unimaginable harm to our fragile ecosystem by competing with native  predators for food, carrying diseases to other species, and mating with native wildcats. A cat owner and bird watcher Nancy Brennan learned that birds have an extra cone in their eyes which enables them to see colours  really well, even at dawn and dusk.  She started making brightly coloured collars for cats to prevent them from killing birds which she sold on Birdsbesafe.com

A bird biologist named Susan Wilson designed an experiment to determine the effectiveness of the cat collars. Over  the  course  of  that  fall, she discovered cats wearing the birdsbesafe collars brought home 3.4 times fewer birds. Wilson’s study was published earlier this year in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation. A second paper from Australia found that Birdsbesafe wasn’t just effective for birds— but cats with the collar killed 47 percent fewer  animals.

If you have a cat that you find difficult to keep inside consider buying birdbesafecollar or make your own.Cats are an example of an introduction of an invasive species wreaking havoc on our  ecosystem.

Gwen Petreman, Children’s Author Illustrator Educator Presenter

Please visit my blog: envirogoodtoknow.blogspot.com

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