Nature Connections

Mother-Daughter Duo Spent 20 Years Hiking the Bruce Trail

Story by Alley L. Biniarz
Photography by Kristine Veerbeek

After 20 years, 904.6 kilometres and 60 days of hiking through the Ontario escarpment from Niagara to Tobermory, local mother-daughter duo Mary and Kristine Verbeek officially completed the entire Bruce Trail on September 16, 2021. 

Their final hike was a three-hour trek from Little Cove Provincial Nature Reserve through Fathom Five National Marine Park, and as they reached that final Southern Terminus Cairn, they were filled with immense emotion. It was a mixture of overwhelming joy, relief that they’d accomplished their goal and a huge amount of gratitude for their bodies (and support systems) for getting them there. Kristine says that the end prompted the entire journey to come rushing back to them: the planning, the discoveries and how much their lives had changed in the span of 20 years. 

The two weren’t seasoned hikers at the start; Mary was just a mother looking for a way to bond with her adult daughters. 

“I was really missing my girls and I wanted to find a way that our relationship could move forward that wasn’t just sitting down for a meal,” Mary says, having chosen viewing local plays at University Players with her daughter Heidi, but needing a way to bridge the distance with Kristine who was living up in Oakville at the time. 

She had heard about the Bruce Trail from Dr. Tony Barton, a retired chemistry teacher from Kingsville District High School, who had taught both Heidi and Kristine. He had been coming into Mary’s office and art supply store multiple times to copy nature photos from his recent adventure, and it was his influence that planted the seed for the Bruce Trail. 

After purchasing the guidebooks, mapping out their routes and B&Bs and arranging for Mary’s husband and Kristine’s father, Martin, to pick them up at endpoints, the two felt prepared to take off on the first stretch of their adventure on September 9, 2001.

Since Mary and Kristine lived far apart for the first trek and were two busy women running their own businesses, they had much to catch up on and endless wisdom to share along the trails. 

“Through 20 years, you can imagine the life transitions we have gone through and it was wonderful to hike and talk with my mom, someone who I could be completely honest and open with,” Kristine adds. “Whatever issue I was trying to figure out at the time, by the end of the hike we’d always have it all figured out.” 

These mini escapes into nature were critical for them both, especially for Kristine who was living in a concrete city of the GTA. Submerging into nature left them feeling balanced, calmed, and refreshed, and they say it served them well for those beautiful mental breaks from business. When they’d first started hiking the trail, they were able to get away for two to four weekends a year. By the time Kristine moved back to Kingsville, and the drives to the hikes were nearly five hours, they took two full weeks in the spring and fall to finish the trail off. 

Their hikes varied between seven to 18 km/day, but there were a few that stretched beyond 20 kilometres. “Our walks definitely didn’t break any speed records, but we had determination and time on our side,” Mary says. “Though, if I could have kept the sun shining and done it in more time, I would have gone slower and stopped even more.” She says that her favourite days were those where they dipped their feet in waters, chased frogs and butterflies with their cameras, and enjoyed every step. 

The distance, incline and pressure on their feet and bodies encouraged Mary and Kristine to keep themselves in shape through the years. Kris complemented her competitive volleyball training with more hill workouts and Mary dedicated herself to walking and exercising several times a week. “It’s important to keep in shape not only for yourself, but also for your hiking partner. You want to be aware of your vulnerabilities and be reliable for your buddy,” Mary says. 

They also learned to take note of their speed and how long it took them to complete a trail based on the overall difficulty of the trail. This helped them to plan for future longer hikes and to be prepared for any scenario. “We suggest starting to hike early in the morning, that way if you hit a technical area or get tired, you can take it at your own pace,” Kristine advises other aspiring hikers. “Plan ahead, review the route online and check for weather in the area you’re hiking in for the week before and after.”  

The two learned this after a weather blip on their hike in Collingwood, where the area experienced an unexpected early snowy season. “You learn how easily people can get into trouble when they’re not in their environment,” Mary says. “But I also saw how when one of us was feeling weak, the other would take over and have their back. You really see what you’re made of when you’re challenged physically.” 

Mary and Kristine felt fortunate to share the breathtaking valley lookouts and views of the clear bay with friends and family along the way. They were joined by Kris’ friend Sarah Barber, another friend Joanna Martens, and then their Uncle Ben, Aunt Jody and their daughter Rose. Dr. Tony Barton even tagged along four times through the peninsula section and as he worked with the Bruce Trail Conservancy, Mary and Kristine enjoyed his stories about the lands and nature. 

Though all of the trail connections were special, it was especially memorable to have Mary’s parents, Ray and Mickey Haserodt, join them for one of their first treks. “I think they would have been
tickled pink that we finished it,” Kris says about her now late grandparents. “I think of my grandpa every time we hike or whenever I’m submerged in nature. He was on the Blue Bird Society and a nature lover and would take me for long hikes whenever I went to visit them. It was an incredible bond we shared and I like to dedicate those hikes to him.”

As a graphic designer, illustrator and photo fanatic, Kristine captured these memories with artistic flare. Not only did they serve as a surprise memory book gift for her mom at Christmas, but their journal documentations allowed them the privilege of adding their names to the 4,000 people who have proudly completed this trail. 

This particular trail may be finished, but that doesn’t mean their entire route is over. Kristine has a personal goal of seeing all the National Parks across Canada (and is about half-way through) and says that her mom has expressed interest in joining her for some. “I’m sure we’ll keep the quality time and nature bonding going for as long as humanly possible,” Kristine says. 

Without rushing to get to that end point, Mary and Kristine are open to wherever the route takes them and will enjoy all of the little steps in between. 

A packing list from Kristine and Mary for those planning to hike the Bruce Trail or others:
1. Buy the maps, guidebooks or app and start planning!
2. Get proper hiking shoes with good grips and break them in beforehand. 
3. Pack a poncho, rain jacket, an extra fleece and clothing for all weather possibilities.
4. First aid kits and moleskin (blister prevention).
5. Sunscreen, bug spray and protective hats/layers.
6. Extra food and water in a sturdy and comfortable backpack.
7. Phone, and a back-up charger are critical.
8. Wear pants/gaiters to protect from poison ivy, etc. 
9. Pack waterproof matches and dryer lint in a paper bag for fire starter.
10. Hiking sticks are great for technical rocky terrain.

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