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Get Inspired: Canadians Hike the Trails

A recommended reading list by the author of the new book 40 Days and 40 Hikes.

Book Cover 40 Days and 40 Hikes

Books of adventure about cycling, horse-back riding, canoeing and, of course, hiking crowd my bookshelf. I can’t get enough of these stories. I even read bad ones—of which there are many! Fortunately, there are lots of wonderful ones too. They inspire me to explore, to write and, most recently, to learn to draw. I’ve made progress on this front; my newest book (#12), 40 Days & 40 Hikes: Loving the Bruce Trail One Loop at a Time, includes 40 of my sketches. It’s a step along another sort of journey: to publish an illustrated journal of one of my long-distance hikes.

Here (in no particular order) are five of my favourite books about hiking by Canadian authors. Penned by men and women from across the country, some are slow and meditative, others are livelier. But they share a feature: They are contemplative, probing what the landscape tells them as well describing the walk itself. For me walking combines the physical with discovery. The narrative arc of a book is often referred to as “the path the story follows.” In this way, a walk provides writers, including me, with a means to reveal a story.

The five books I describe below are more obscure than, for example, Wild, The Way, A Walk in the Woods or Wanderlust. Despite being home to one of the world’s longest trails, Canadian works on the topic pale in comparison to Great Britain. Similarly, our output doesn’t reflect our southern neighbours’ need to tell their story about following one of that country’s triplet of long-distance trails.

For reviews of more adventure travel books, visit my blog at


Book Cover On Foot to Canterbury

On Foot to Canterbury: A Son’s Pilgrimage, by Ken Haigh

Having walked what is the world’s most popular pilgrimage: the Camino de Compostela in Spain, I was taken back to that magical experience by Haigh’s book. As he describes it, “There is a wonderful simplicity about a pilgrimage. Each morning, you rise and put on the same clothes you were wearing the day before. You break your fast, hoist your pack onto your shoulders, and hit the road.”

Haigh’s destination was Canterbury, not Santiago de Compostela. He chose this route so he could spend more time with his recently deceased father following a path they had planned to walk together. But there is far more to his story than that. Trapped in a job he disliked by his need to care for his family and suffering from depression, Haigh, who lives in Clarksburg, Ontario, writes, “I knew I had to do something or spontaneously combust.”

Reading such an elegant description of someone else’s pilgrimage, reminded me that I was overdue to shed the worries, concerns and trappings of everyday life. It was time for me to embark on a journey of my own. And if that isn’t a good reason to read a book, I don’t know what is.

(For a longer review of On Foot to Canterbury and other hiking books, visit my blog.)


Book Cover Petra's Ghost

Petra’s Ghost, by C.S. O’Cinneide

If you are a hiker, then chances are you’ve seen the movie The Way or read one or another account of what’s become one of the world’s best known long-distance walks: the Camino de Compostela. Fewer will know of Guelph, Ontario’s C.S. O’Cinneide’s eerie novel that flowed from her pilgrimage. In 2015, the year C.S. walked it, there was murder on the Camino. When a young woman and fellow pilgrim tragically disappeared, it was a disturbing event for everyone—most of all her family and friends. But C.S, a budding crime writer, sniffed out a story.

Daniel, the main character in her novel, is the husband of the slain pilgrim. He’s walking the route with his late wife’s ashes in his backpack. Along the way, he meets characters who, we slowly realize, are not whom Daniel nor readers believe them to be.

It’s a spooky take on this well-worn route. Something original from C.S.’s deft pen that earned her a nomination by Good Reads in the best horror category. One cautionary note, however, don’t read this book while you are at home alone on a dark windy night.


Book Cover The Road is How

The Road Is How: A Prairie Pilgrimage Through Nature, Desire, and Soul, by Trevor Herriot

As an author, Herriot has his books in order; as a man, he’s struggling with a lot of stuff. It takes a certain level of confidence to base a 368-page book on a three-day, 65-kilometre jaunt along a single bald-ass-prairie road in southern Saskatchewan. But this award-winning, 50-something-year-old writer, naturalist, husband and father has lots on his mind—much of it not the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from someone who’s out for a walk.

As he passes through a landscape that, he laments, has been stripped and tamed by industrial agriculture, Herriot asks himself and the hawks that shadow his journey: How can I “touch the hem of the garment of the infinite generosity of creation?” If that sounds overly effusive for a book about hiking or gives you an uncomfortable feeling that Herriot is tending toward something religious, your concern is not misplaced. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a book worth the effort—and it takes some effort—to read.

Herriot’s wandering stems from the advice of Bill Plotkin’s book Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche. Herriot describes it as a “how-to guide on the spiritual journey using wilderness psychology and rites of nature.” Harriot deals a lot with his own sexuality while exploring all things feminine that make him a man. It’s not the kind of thing that men often write about and it’s not the sort of text that most of the men I know read—or if they do, they don’t talk to me about it. I found this book to be a window into the musings of a man who struggles with, for example, the gap between his and his wife’s sexual appetites.

Weaving these thoughts together are Herriot’s vivid observations about the southern Saskatchewan landscape that he knows intimately. He asks: “Tell me, fellow travelers, aspen, dirt, and coyote—what is needed if we are to become more alive to the great openness, the expansive web of earth-bound spirit within, around us, and beneath our feet?”

Harriot concludes, “A three-day walk…has been enough to show me that this next phase of life is about giving my life away, and staying awake and watchful for paths that will take me there.”

(For a longer review of The Road Is How and other hiking books, visit my blog.)


Book Cover Walking Home

Walking Home, by Lynda L. Wilson

Fans of Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path will enjoy Lynda Wilson’s account of walking the 132-kilometre Guelph to Goderich (G2G) rail trail. Her reasons for convincing her husband to embark on this unlikely journey don’t involve incurable disease or foreclosured housing (as in The Salt Path), but they are no less surprising. Similarly, the couple’s readiness to spend a week hiking a hot, buggy trail, albeit a flat one, bear a certain resemblance to Winn’s journey.

The G2G passes through the heart of Southern Ontario’s Mennonite country so simple, black, horse-drawn carriages abound, as do patterned frocks and bonnets. Against this backdrop of a culture unfamiliar to many, Wilson delves into the complex Mennonite world.

It’s an interesting, humorous read that does what I like best in a book about hiking (as well as cycling, paddling and like). It weaves enlightening information about the natural and cultural landscape into entertaining stores about the journey.

Book Cover On Trails

On Trails: An Exploration, by Robert Moor

When Robert Moor’s book, On Trails, hit bookstore shelves in 2016, it made waves. I saw it propped face-forward on bookstore tables where only best-selling works find a home. It was great to see a book about hiking, written by a British Columbia-based author, up there with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and The Whistler by John Grisham. As I delved into the book, however, I realized that rather than being about hiking, though it was, the book was true to its title. It was about trails, and not just hiking trails. And it wasn’t just about the dirt paths that come to mind when I hear the word “trail.” Instead, Moor‘s exploration of trails, as Goodreads explains it, “sheds new light on a wealth of age-old questions: How does order emerge out of chaos? How did animals first crawl forth from the seas and spread across continents? How has humanity’s relationship with nature and technology shaped the world around us? And, ultimately, how does each of us pick a path through life?”

It's a deep dive into On Trails, but one that gives the reader much to think about when they are out on an actual hiking trail with time to contemplate lofty thoughts.


Book Cover 40 Days and 40 Hikes

Learn more about 40 Days and 40 Hikes:

Best known for her detailed Loops & Lattes hiking guides, Nicola Ross has inspired tens of thousands of people to lace up their boots and explore Ontario’s trails. In 40 Days & 40 Hikes, this adventurer, author, and environmentalist sets herself a new challenge: to hike the Bruce Trail from Niagara to Tobermory in her own creative way. In 40 cleverly crafted day-loops, Ross covers over 900 kilometers mostly following Canada’s longest marked trail, taking you with her on an insightful journey to the Niagara Escarpment’s remarkable sights.

As Ross walks, she reveals stories of the trail’s flora and fauna, geology and history. The Bruce Trail becomes the central character as she ponders her role in protecting the fragile corner of the planet that, she contends, is entwined in her DNA. Despite long days on the trail, encounters with bears, ticks, and a deadly derecho, her passion for her beloved Niagara Escarpment mounts as she explores Ontario’s “ribbon of wilderness.”

Perfect for hikers, non-hikers, and anyone who loves an adventure, 40 Days & 40 Hikes is both a captivating travelogue and a useful companion for those who Ross will undoubtedly inspire to follow in her footsteps.

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