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Let Sleeping Giants Lie

by Tammy Burns

We were alone, deep within the woods when we heard it: a rustling in the trees ahead. My heart jumped to my throat. Naively, we had left our bear spray back at camp, and now we were standing in the middle of a ripe berry patch. Shaking with fear, we waited for the bear to emerge.

How we had gotten to this point was a case of over-ambition…and poor judgment.

My boyfriend and I were on a road trip through Northern Ontario, camping our way from Toronto to the Manitoba border. It was the furthest north I had been in the province, and with each passing day, I fell further in love with the land that is my home.

That’s why, when we arrived at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park near Thunder Bay, I wanted to hike the Kabeyun Trail—so I could see more of the remote corners of Ontario. But hiking the Kabeyun was an ambitious goal; stretching out at more than 40 kilometres, the full trail takes several days to complete in full.

Our plan, however, was to brave only a small portion of it. We would start at Sawyer Bay on the west of the peninsula and work our way south to Thunder Cape. From there, we would curve back up into Lehtinen’s Bay and across the interior Talus Lake Trail, eventually circling back to our starting point. On the map, our route looked to be about 20 kilometres—a substantial hike, but with numerous beaches and coves to relax in along the way.

A hiking trek deep into the woods of North Ontario takes writer Tammy Burns out of her comfort zone and into the path of the Sleeping Giant.By the time we reached the Talus Lake Trail—the final stretch—I was in tears. Darkness was looming, our water had run out, and we were now deep within the interior of the peninsula. My legs burned as I stumbled and tripped my way over the steep, muddy hills. To top it off, my boyfriend was semi-collapsed from dehydration. I sat with him until his dizziness subsided, and we continued on, but at a slower pace despite not having time to spare.

So when we arrived at that final moment of terror—a bear lurking in the forest ahead of us—it felt like Nanabijou was throwing down his final test. I held my breath as the bushes parted, resigning myself to becoming the beast’s dinner.

Out came a chicken.

It poked across the path before stopping to look at us, seeming just as surprised to see us as we were to see it. I fell into a heap of delirious laughter and the immense relief gave us a final push to continue onward.

We arrived at our campsite just as darkness fell over the park. Snug in my tent, on the verge of sleep, I could finally appreciate the pleasures of our ill-judged adventure. Like seeing Ontario’s rugged beauty up close, standing at what feels like the end of the world, the immense pride of pushing ourselves beyond what we thought possible…and the echoing sound of what I swear was Nanabijou, laughing at us.