FKT: Ryan Flint - Bruce Trail, Iroquoia Section (ON, Canada) - 2021-09-25

Route variation
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Finish date
Total time
16h 24m 38s

Saturday, September 25th, 2021

After some uncharacteristic tossing and turning, then maybe three and a half hours in the land of nod, I wake to the sound of absolute silence. My alarm isn’t due to go off for another ten minutes, but somehow I feel wide awake and energized, finally allowing myself to tap into the excitement of what’s to come. This slightly earlier rise gives me just enough extra time to get in a good meditation session before I get dressed, slam some breakfast, hit the bathroom, pretty myself up, and pack up the last few gear items (all while desperately trying not to wake the sleeping beauty still in my bed).  
Still, with so much to do, 2:30am comes quick, and the always reliable crew captain, early morning chauffeur, and metaphorical caffeine-shot that is Kurt pulls up to the house. We load things up and we’re soon both raring to go. The two of us go over some last minute strategy planning during the car ride to Milton, and everything’s looking great. After one last trail-side bathroom break, we pull up to the start line (an indiscriminate highway underpass just outside of Kelso). My watch ticks over to 3:30am, and I’m off running, taking the first official steps of my projected 120km Iroquoia FKT (fastest known time) attempt along this section of the Bruce Trail.

This first stretch is an area I’ve run countless times, so even in complete darkness, navigation really isn't an issue. I soak in the sounds of nature as I breeze through at a relaxed pace. While climbing up a particularly rocky spot, my mind starts to wander, wondering how long I’d be stranded if I were to fall and break my leg. Practically on cue, I slip and slam my hand down on the edge of a rock, catching myself. It stings for a moment and I'm a bit startled, but fortunately no real damage done. I decide not to jinx myself by dwelling on such negativity, and make my way without incident to the first of our seven “official” Aid Station stops at the 18.5km mark.

Matty's now joined in the fun, ready to help out, keep Kurt company, and in a few hours, completely take over the reins when Kurt has to take off. He lets me know that he met a couple who are also enjoying the Bruce today, and they took off from this point about an hour ahead of me. No idea who they are, or how far they're planning to go today, but it's just enough info to make this feel like we've got ourselves a friendly low-stakes race. It seems that the woodland creatures are taking their side, because shortly after heading out, I find myself stuck on some single track, behind a slowly waddling porcupine.The not-so-little guy is clearly spooked by my presence, but apparently went to the “Prometheus School of Running Away From Things” (continues in a straight line, rather than simply turning off to the side). I talk to the spikey lump to try to ease his panic and encourage him off the trail, but it's no luck. I consider attempting to vault over him, which I’m sure I’d make nine times out of ten, but just see that one possible time going so badly that it’s best not to bother. After maybe four or five minutes of waddling, he finally takes a turn, and I'm able to pass without incident. 

The sun begins to rise as I traverse atop Mount Nemo, and I'm so grateful to see it - not least of all because this spot is much more technical than I had anticipated. I gingerly make my way down the rocky near-vertical path, and it's officially morning as I come into the parking lot at our 34km stop, Aid Station #2. I've seen no sign of that mystery couple ahead of me, but Matty lets me know that I’ve closed the gap, with them taking off from this spot only five minutes before I came in. I quickly roll out my legs, switch my pack, and have a wee break (while falling deeply in love with a snail peacefully perched at the top of the bush in front of me, drinking up a drop of morning dew). I say my goodbyes and take off again, down a long stretch of road with far too much road kill for my liking (one body is too much, but it doesn't take long before I lose count of the lost lives here). I know it’s a reality that happens all the time whether we like it or not, but it’s hard to be chipper when faced with it so close-up and in a sustained way. As I run by a hawk, I’m at least partially comforted by the thought that it will surely eat well today.

With nearly a marathon behind me - and at least two still to go - I’m certainly starting to feel the strain. Fortunately, my body seems to have accepted what we’re doing. I’m not going fast by any means, but I’ve settled into a good, consistent, relaxed pace, and still am thoroughly enjoying the journey. I honestly love this damn trail so much, and am so grateful that I’m able to enjoy it in this way! As I run by a field filled with more puffballs than I’ve ever seen in my whole life, I can’t help but feel like my mushroom-obsessed son is running right alongside me, and the joy is real.

I climb over another ladder stile and emerge at the side of a residential street where Matty is dutifully waiting with a blanket laid out and bin full of my gear at Aid Station #3 (48km). I’m not sure how long he’s been hanging out there, but I have to laugh wondering what the residents must be thinking of this strange vagrant wandering into their neighbourhood with what must look like all of his worldly possessions, just camping out roadside. No matter; everyone seems to be in good enough spirits on this strange morning and very accepting of whatever it is he and I appear to be doing.

It’s a quick stop before I head out and rejoin the trails. I’m in an excellent groove and feeling really satisfied about what’s already behind me, and even more optimistic about what lies ahead. I know I’m coming up to a weird detour through a prolonged stretch of Dundas neighbourhoods, and honestly, I’m excited for it. As much as I love the true trails, it’s nice to mix it up a bit and get a significant change of scenery (and see a decent number of real-life honest-to-goodness humans moving about). The kilometers on the streets tick by quickly, and I catch my drifter crew master off guard as I come up to him waiting (fittingly) on a park bench at our 65.5km Aid Station #4. Or rather, it should be 65.5km, but despite the surprising accuracy of predicted distances all day, my watch is now reading closer to 67km. Oh well…

There’s still no sign of that mystery couple from earlier, so either they’re way ahead, took a different route, or perhaps were just an early morning hallucination. Either way, it’s time to put them out of my mind. I go through my routine of stretching, peeing, and switching my pack as Matty quickly updates me on the rest of the crew’s whereabouts. Most everybody should be joining us at the next aid station - possibly including my wife, who has just enough time if she doesn’t get lost... It has warmed up considerably from the early morning temperatures, so I consider switching out my long-sleeve for my usual tank, but there’s still a pretty cool breeze, and I don’t really want to mess with what’s been working, so I decide against it and head on my way.

I can feel my legs getting heavier and heavier, and when I think of the distance behind me, that kind of makes sense. At the same time, that distance means I’m past the halfway point, and since I know I’m coming up to familiar trails in my old stomping grounds at Dundas Valley, that should lighten the load on a mental level at least. Lo and behold, seeing that old train station and guzzling some water from the nearby spigot 100% fully rejuvenates me. I honestly feel like I’ve just started, and I’m flowing freely once again. Still, I keep things conservative, because I know this sensation is not likely to last. Or rather, I keep things conservative at first… until I see another trail runner zoom across the path ahead, joining onto the main trail in the same direction I’m going. He’s moving faster than I’ve been able to move for a long time, but I’m overwhelmed with the urge to catch him and perhaps enjoy a somewhat sustained interaction with another person. I pick up the pace, being careful not to overdo it, and I’m so grateful when I see him stop for a brief moment to talk to some hikers heading the other direction. He heads off again, but it’s not long before we’re magically side-by-side. His name is Louis Racine and it’s clear from the get-go that - at least today, under these circumstances - he’s an absolute gem of a human being. As soon as he hears what I’m up to, he spontaneously drops his plans and decides to pace me all the way until our fifth Aid Station at the bottom of Chedoke Stairs.

This stretch is quickly becoming the highlight of my day. We are moving swiftly, even running most of the uphills (perhaps against better judgement), but still feeling super relaxed, having a great conversation about all things running. With this kind of pace, it’s actually looking like I’m back on track for a sub-14-hour finish! A surprise Matty visit gives me an additional handheld half-liter of water, which goes down so well, and as it turn out is direly needed. It’s not long before I realize my pack’s bladder is on empty way earlier than it should be. I’ve still got about 6k to go before I’ll have a chance to switch it out again, and this is when I make my first big problem-solving mistake of the day - well, second if you count not changing out my shirt at the last stop, because my armpits are chafing something fierce now! The big problem is that I’m so fixated on the experiment of relying solely on liquid nutrition (which has been going amazingly so far, aside from having to pee every 1 or 2 kilometers), that I ignore the fact that I’ve stashed two emergency gels in my pack, and instead keep going without any calories coming in. The straight water helps me through this, but I’m having to ration it, and frankly my body is in need of much more.

Thankfully we roll down to Aid Station #5 without much of an issue (which should be 81.5km, but actually reads closer to 84km on my watch). Suddenly though, it appears there’s a huge issue… My crew is nowhere to be seen, and I am now in desperate need of refueling! I don’t have my phone, but Louis is thankfully still with me, so we’re able to call my wife on his phone to find out what the hell is going on. Unfortunately, it’s not a familiar number calling her, so it takes five attempts before she picks up. We find out that she hasn’t gotten there yet, but the rest of the team should be, so we’re still not sure what’s up. At least we have a means to connect with them. So far, Louis has been really great, but right now is truly his moment to shine as he jumps headfirst into crisis control mode, tops up my water bottle, and sends me on way down the path alone as he coordinates with Karin and hopefully the rest of the team to meet up with me at a new spot about 1k away.

The adrenaline from all of the panic on top of my nutritional deficit is not great, but I come to accept that this is just how things are playing out today. I can’t change it, and honestly, I’m not even the slightest bit upset. Maybe I’m a bit worried about what this means moving forward, but more than anything I feel bad for the team. The role of crew is so much more stressful than the roll of runner. All I have to do is keep moving forward. They have so much more to worry about, and so much more that can go wrong. The amount of stress they must be feeling right now as they find out that they’re in the wrong place… let’s just say I don’t envy them.

Soon enough, I come out to the path to find the smiling faces of Matty, Mike & Rachelle, and of course Louis waiting for me(Karin hasn’t arrived yet, so I’ll have to see her at the next spot, where Kurt and Natalie should be joining us as well). It seems the Bruce Trail Conservancy themselves are to blame for our troubles, having set up some sort of booth(possibly for the Steeltown Stomp event?) at the far end of the parking lot, making it look like that’s where the actual trail is, enticing my crew to make camp nearby rather than at the bottom of the stairs where I needed them. We laugh about the confusion as I change into my tank top and roll things out. With so much ground still to cover, there’s absolutely no use dwelling on mix-up, so we move on.  I get my new pack filled with another liter of Tailwind and I’m feeling good again. I chug some water as I start moving on the trail, and then (without thinking) chuck the half-full hard plastic bottle back to the crew who are presently looking the other way. It comes down dangerously close, with a thud loud enough to brown up at least one pair of trousers. Well that was stupid of me, and it could have gone really wrong. I feel genuinely bad… but at the same time, does that mean we can call things even?

For the next 5km, I’m still moving well, but navigation is getting harder. Not just because my mental faculties are understandably fading, but because we’re in the city now and graffiti is making blaze-spotting a huge challenge. There is so much paint everywhere that things that aren’t blazes look like blazes, and actual blazes have been tampered with, making them hard to see, or on occasion cruelly sending me the wrong direction. Of course I do take a few wrong turns, and while I know I have a pretty large time-buffer and am trying to take this whole thing in a pretty relaxed manner, the added ups and downs and overall confusion is certainly taking its toll. No matter; I get through it after a couple of unnecessary backtracks, and join up with the entire crew at the top of Wentworth Stairs. I verbalize my frustration, then gracelessly attempt to kiss my wife who I’m so glad to see. In fact, it’s so good to see everyone all together that my mood is immediately boosted. Kurt is back into action and he escorts me across the busy road to top of the staircase. I find true delight as I essentially slide down the entire way, allowing my upper-body strength to take over, gripping the handrails, barely allowing my feet to touch down, and giggling like a schoolgirl all the while. This will be the last time I feel great today...

I take a turn to the right at the bottom and head onto a long, flat, straightaway, that never seems to end. The rain that’s been threatening all day finally comes, and while I usually love nothing more than running in the rain, today it’s just not doing it for me. I honestly can’t say that I’m exhausted, and it’s not even that my legs are hurting too much, but it just seems that I can no longer will myself to consistently run anymore. I start negotiating with myself, taking absolutely any excuse to walk, whether it’s anything remotely resembling an uphill, terrain that’s even ever so slightly technical, or the perceived need to take my 100th pee break of the day. This is not me at my best. And to make matters worse, I can’t remember how long I have to go until I meet up with the crew again at Aid Station #6. I think they told me at the top of the stairs, but as far as I know right now, it could be 3k or it could be 10k, and not knowing is making things much much harder. Also playing on my mind is the fact that this next stop is one that I haven’t bothered to scope out ahead of time. I do know it will require the crew to hike a bit to get to, so that provides plenty of opportunity for error, and errors are feeling much more likely in my current state. Oh yes, and my hydration bladder soon runs dry again. It seems my nutrition calculations didn’t account for increased demand in the later stages. On the positive side of things, I’ve had zero stomach issues which I attribute to the all-liquid diet, and I still am eager to consume it; I just need so much more!This time around, I do tap into one of my emergency gels, which while tasty is just a very strange sensation after a full day of only liquids. A couple of minor wrong turns later, a stumble here and there, and I’m in a dark place. My energy output is at least still keeping me warm for the time-being, but the pouring rain and gloomy skies seem to be a perfect representation of what’s going on internally.

I’m staring at my watch (which is currently reading about 97.5km) desperately trying to make sense of the distance and remember what the goal is, but I’ve got nothing concrete. I move past a long gradual turn that feels very much like what I remember the map looking like for the planned stop, and now I’m convinced that I’ve missed the team and won’t be seeing them any time soon. I resort to having my second gel, but that means now I’m completely out of everything to sustain me. All I can do is lift my head and open my mouth to the now persistent downpour (which is far less quenching than you might imagine, even in heavy rain!). I’m really not doing well here on my own, so I decide that if I do ever see my team again, I’m going to have to ask someone to join me on this next stretch. I’ve got Kurt set up as a pacer for the final leg, but we’re well into disaster territory now, and I’m desperate for someone, anyone, to help lift my spirits. The crew has instructions to just move on to the next road crossing if we do miss each other, but if memory serves (which is admittedly not at all reliable right now), that could be another 10k…

Then suddenly out of nowhere - at least from my distorted perspective - I take a turn and there they are! It’s bittersweet, because I’m so thankful to see the crew, as well as my refueling and recovery, but it also means I’m not quite as far along as I convinced myself I was. Strangely, Karin is nowhere to be seen, and someone asks me if I passed her. Apparently she had headed down the trail on her own to meet me ahead of this aid station. I don’t know how to process this right now. Is she lost? Did she get hurt? Did she take a potty break off the side of the trail, and somehow I passed by her without knowing it? I don’t have the energy to spare to worry about her, but of course, how can I not worry about her?I stay long enough to start shivering from the cold, and then I know I have to keep moving. I ask them to call Karin asap and make sure she’s okay, but somehow I completely forget to ask for a pacer. It also doesn’t even cross my mind to tap into the extra Tailwind I have at my disposal, which I could (and should) bring along with me on top of my planned ration. But hey, I’m running again, so there’s that.

After about 15 minutes, I come across a familiar and joyous sight: my wife! She apparently has done an excellent job navigating the trail blazes; she just happened to do so going the wrong damn way. Still, I can’t help but be happy to see her, and comforted to know she’s safe. I tell her that the crew is going to meet me again at Dewitt road so she needs to hurry back, and we part ways again. The rain’s letting up, but the waters at Felker’s Falls are gushing like the grand rapids as I pass by. The sound is astounding, and I’d love to take a moment to really take it in, but there’s no time to linger. The task at hand is simple: relentless forward motion.

I’m now past the 100km mark, and things are quickly turning to garbage again. More wrong turns, and I’m back to looking for any excuse to walk. The next stop at Dewitt road can’t come fast enough, but once again, I’m not clear-headed enough to know how far I have to go to get there. All I can think of is that vague goalpost that I’m hopefully continuing to move towards, even if only gradually. In fact, I’m so fixated on the name, Dewitt that the word itself loses all meaning as it bounces around in my brain over and over again like some taunting schoolyard bully. “Will I ever get to Dewitt?”, “Is Dewitt even a real place??”,“Do I still have it in me to…‘Dew…itt’?”. At least the pun has me momentarily entertained.

I come up to a set of blazes telling me to take a right turn just ahead of some train tracks. It looks very clear that I need to head down a short but steep path to a road which very well could be the fabled Dewitt, and suddenly I’m sure I’ve made it there. Predictably, the ground comes out from under me and the branch I’m holding onto snaps in two. I come sliding down the slope on my backside, and this right here is not my idea of fun. Oh, and if you hadn’t guessed, this is also not Dewitt Rd. Hell, it’s not even the Bruce anymore. There are no blazes in sight, and I’m completely confounded. I do the only sensible thing I can think of and backtrack again. This unfortunately means I need to climb up that steep slope I just fell down, which is no easy task for my weakened body. Still, I know very well that this is not going to be where my journey ends. I get back to the top, and explore across the train tracks to find another blaze straight ahead down the hill on the other side (not to the right like the previous blazes indicated!). I’m well beyond frustrated with the trail-marking now, though sadly this is not going to be my last mistake. At some point not much later I take a right turn up a set of woodland stairs that have a distinct white blaze painted on the handrail, but nope, this is yet another red herring, and more backtracking is required. It’s a relatively small detour, but these wrong turns are seriously adding up and I’m truly done with this shit. I’m also running low on the Tailwind yet again, but I trudge ahead regardless, and eventually am greeted by my crew at the real Dewitt road for some quick water and refueling. I even get to have Kurt run with me for the first bit before he heads back to the group to get ready for our final official aid station.

From here I know it’s 6km to the next stop, but with still many more foolish wrong turns, it’s actually 7km before I hear Karin cheering for my slow-ass, and still we have another few hundred meters to go. The distance doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve resigned myself to just keep moving forward until that finish line comes to me, however long it will be. That enticing sub-14-hour finish time has long since gone by the wayside. Now I’m just going until I can’t go anymore, and the only reason I’m attempting to put any speed into the effort is that I don’t want to keep the crew waiting too much longer. Also, I can practically taste the vegan chicken wings waiting for me at our post-run celebration dinner. The liquid has done infinitely better than I had even anticipated today, but I’m more than ready for some solid food that will be a tad bit more satiating.

I finally arrive at the last stop, Aid Station #7, which based on the planning should be at 111km, but I’ve apparently already covered 115km!Finally getting to this spot feels like a celebration in itself, with the finish line essentially a given at this point, especially with the insurance of Kurt joining me the rest of the way.

Then, without warning, all that nearly gets derailed in a fleeting moment, with the sound of screeching brakes and crunching metal. I freeze and Karin lets out a scream like a horrified banshee. It sounds like a driver has possibly just smashed into the back of one of the crew cars, and at least Karin’s clearly convinced that said driver is now veering over the edge of the road, coming straight for us. Fortunately, a few seconds pass, and we recognize that we’re all still here, and no car has crushed us. The crew rush off to help the young lady who just crashed into a roadside sign. She’s fine, and there doesn’t seem to be any damage to her car, so she gets back in and drives away. She seems to take no responsibility and at least outwardly learns no lesson from this. We all wonder,“is this a common occurrence for her?” Yeesh. Sadly, this girl is far from the only dangerous driver speeding along this bend. It’s ironic for a road called Fifty, everyone’s going considerably faster. It’s ultimately another example of a spot I should have scoped out in person and not just on google maps, because there’s no way I’d ask the crew to wait here if I had known.

Still, we survive, and after crossing the road with exceptional care, Kurt and I take off down the trail. I’ve given him very strict instructions to not let me give in to the easy excuses to walk, and he holds true to his word. Now, for anyone in doubt, I cannot overstate the positive impact that having a pacer can have on you in these late stages. Admittedly, it’s not as though I’m suddenly moving particularly fast, but I’m moving consistently and smoothly, and it’s so much more enjoyable. We’re joking around, laughing about shockingly bright neon orange mushrooms, and I soon become painfully aware that there’s no real pain! I’m not really hurting. I’ve asked a lot of my body today, but we’re far from pushing the limits, and I now know I can do a lot more. It’s a powerful realization.

Soon after, another realization comes to mind. Moving ahead with relentless forward motion for the past however many hours means that I haven’t been focusing on the time whatsoever, and it’s becoming apparent that the skies are darkening with the sunset. We didn’t plan for this at all, and while we do have a solid road stretch coming up that will be fine under the moonlight, the last 2k are in the woods, and may very well be a catastrophe in the dark. That’s another great thing about pacers though: they can phone in for help on the fly. We emerge onto the road and it isn’t long before Natalie comes driving by in a clutch move, bringing our precious lights with her. And boy oh boy did we need them! After 3km on the road, we get into Beamer Conservation Area, and it is the definition of pitch black. Not a speck of moonlight is seeping through the trees above. Even with our lights, I manage to take one more wrong turn, so I can’t imagine how badly this would have gone without them. And let’s not even think how troubling the terrain would have been. I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure we just passed by the edge of a genuine cliff!

The anticipation is rising. We’re nearing the end of this long journey, and there’s no holding back now. We both gradually pick up the pace until it feels like a full out sprint (or some close approximation thereof). The houselights of Grimsby are getting closer, and then with little warning, the sign marking the section’s end jumps right out at us. It’s such a beautiful sight, and I am utterly elated. With 124.55km over 16hours, 24 minutes, and 38 seconds all behind me (on what was supposed to be an even 120km, had there been no wrong turns), I’m finally done. I’d collapse right here if it weren’t for the fact that the rest of the crew is waiting down at the street rather than this specific point, so we continue running to make it to them. I can’t rightfully verbalize how much gratitude I feel to have all of them here with me as part of this. Whether they ran alongside me, prepared gear, waited patiently for hours on end, or just shared in some smiles and laughs along the way, the impact is immeasurable. I could not have done this without them.

The day is done, and abruptly it seems my legs as well. As much as I can’t get the idea of those vegan chicken wings out of my head, and desperately want to just hang out with the crew after all we’ve been through together today, the decision gets taken away from us. Not long after getting changed into some warm clothes and tossing my helpless body into the passenger seat of our car, my legs utterly seize up. I can’t move for the life of me, and the deep stabbing pains are setting in. We need to get home to some ice and elevation STAT. Pizza will have to do tonight. Somehow we’ll survive…