Wednesday, May 27, 2009

McKinnon at last

P-Doug and I have been intending to make a trek up a closed road called McKinnon Road since early this spring. It’s a bit west of Barrie and runs alongside the Nottawasaga River. We actually undertook the trip early in April, but the weather was against us. By the time we got there, it was actually snowing! Pretty much every weekend since then that it’s been proposed, the weather’s been cold and wet. Finally, this weekend past, we got decent weather and gave it a shot on Sunday.

P-Doug picked me up a little after 10 in the morning, and we were at the end of the driveable road a bit before noon. That in and of itself is further than we got last time, when the road just beyond the pavement was flooded and closed to cars.

It wasn’t a promising start. Immediately after the closure of the road was a huge, swampy puddle, and visible beyond that was another. Much as I enjoy wet, soft soil underfoot on our explorations, even I thought that a mile or more of that would be slow going and not very enjoyable. Nevertheless, we decided to give it a go. I was on the point of tucking my sandals into the cargo pocket of my shorts, but at the last moment I elected to leave them in the car and undertake the trek without recourse to them, come what may.

The further we went, the more amenable the path became. We emerged from the swampiness after about twenty minutes. We saw some interesting things… a patch of trees standing in water that reminded us of the Louisiana bayou, where P-Doug spotted a raccoon washing some grub and then swimming away… snowmobile paths marked off with tall orange stakes… a couple of guys speaking French as they sat beside the river, possibly fishing (they were the only other people we actually saw that day, though there were plenty of boot prints on the path)...

We took out time, but after about an hour, we saw one of the things we’d really come to see. It was a bridge we’d seen in the Google Maps shots of the river. In those pictures, it seemed to both of us, we were looking at a crude wooden structure… something so rudimentary it seemed certain to me to be something private and long abandoned. Imagine our amazement when we found, instead, an elaborate and gorgeous steel bridge! Still in fine condition, with an intact concrete roadbed and aluminum paint, it seemed almost hilariously out of place, serving a road that by now is barely discernible even in aerial photos.

When we stood on it, P-Doug noticed that it had a rare feature: in the concrete along the north side was written the name of the bridge, the date of its construction (September, 1927), and the names of the men responsible for its construction. It was a rare, precise, personal connection with the past. Why it was built to serve a road in such a place with such hopeless drainage and unlikely future, we can only guess. But it was, and it seems a real shame it stands there alone, essentially useless.

We walked a little beyond it. We saw what looked like the remnants of the pillars of someone’s driveway gate. We shot the beautiful bend of the river, and then began our way back. Just east of the river, I broke off from P-Doug for a moment to try to reach the sandy banks. Stinging nettles finally defeated me and I came back to my friend on the bridge. We lingered for a bit, and then retraced our course.

I hope we go back. It really was a lovely, variable place, full of interesting sights and possibilities. Furthermore, for me, it was a fantastic hike, three hours and at least as many miles over just about every imaginable surface: swamp, mud, rocky streams, clay, sand, grass, forest floor, ferns, concrete… In Germany and Austria, they have the institution of “barefoot parks”. The idea behind them is related to reflexology, and in practical terms, they give people a chance to explore nature and its textures by walking barefoot over and through it. They seem a bit contrived to me. McKinnon Road, on the other hand, I think would serve that purpose magnificently, and naturally, without any sort of embellishment. If you’re amenable to that sort of hiking, and I know there are others who are, I’d encourage you to give McKinnon Road a try on some warm day.


jim said...

Now that is one seriously abandoned road!! Finding that bridge back there had to be the highlight of the day. I'm amazed it's not a rusted-out hulk.

barefoot hiker said...

I have been to the Toronto area only once in my lifetime [so far], and that was 30+ years ago. In 2006 I had the privilege of visiting the Miramichi River area of New Brunswick and I absolutely feel in love with it. Fantastic landscapes and people. My wife and I plan to spend time [lots of time I hope] in both Ontario and New Brunswick on future adventures.

Boris Terzic said...

Any idea if this bridge is still accessible? I'd love to go check it out.

barefoot hiker said...

Hi, Boris! I would say in theory, yes. But head out there early, like April or May. Last time P-Doug and I tried to get out there was August ana it was too overgrown.