It was a beautiful early August morning here in Ontario, Canada. I was really looking forward to returning to Copeland Forest for a time of running, hiking and photography. I really try to do my distances for my two virtual races, A Great Canadian Running Challenge and Great Virtual Run Across Tennessee without getting in a car to drive somewhere to go running. Every 7 days or so, as a treat, I will drive myself to Copeland Forest. It is about 8 kilometers away.
Seeing many of my Twitter friends posting beautiful #MushroomMonday photos from their runs and hikes had me very excited. I knew Copeland Forest was going to be glorious. I brought spare batteries for my camera. I arrived and was pumped and ready to go. As I started to work my way in, I was really perplexed because there wasn’t any mushrooms anywhere to be found. I would go on different trails where last year in 2020 there was a proliferation of different varieties of them in certain areas. Nothing.
As time went on, on one of the trails further in, I noticed through the trees three men a hundred or so feet off the trail I was on. They each had with them these gigantic wicker baskets, and were bending down to pick things off the ground. And putting whatever it was they were gathering in their baskets. What were they up to? It didn’t take long to guess what they were doing. They were mushroom pickers, picking the ground clean. This made me quite upset. I really wanted to run up to them and confront them. But I was outnumbered three to one. Plus they appeared to be half my age. Factor in that this was a very quiet part of Copeland Forest. There might not be anyone else come by for a few hours. or even the rest of the day. If things turned nasty, I’d be up the creek without a paddle. So I resisted my urges.
It brought back memories from a year ago when I caught in the act a man illegally dumping a large battery powered children’s jeep on the side of a remote road. There is so much illegal dumping going on in this area, but to catch a person in the act is so slim. I was on a trail about 100 feet away that ran parallel to the road. The man did not see me. Seeing what was happening through the trees, I became so enraged. Without thinking of any consequences, I went crashing through the woods and confronted the man just as he was about to get back in his truck. He ended up loading the jeep back in his truck. When I later reported the incident with photos to authorities I was commended for my passion to get involved. Because the man did put the jeep back in his truck, they couldn’t do anything. But the authorities also gently rebuked me for putting myself in what could have been a very dangerous situation. Humans sometimes react very aggressively and violently when confronted during an illegal activity.
Signage is pretty straight forward both in Copeland Forest and the Simcoe County Forests of what is allowed and what is not allowed. There are a lot of those colorful smaller signs from Copeland Forest Friends Association (which I am a member of) in strategic locations along the border entrances of Copeland Forest. The “no commercial-scale foraging” is very well worded. It means it would certainly be okay to grab a few blackberries off a bush as a quick snack during a run. Or pick 2 or 3 mushrooms to throw in your lasagna for supper. But to haul out hundreds of pounds of mushrooms to sell for profit is wrong. In a sense, it is a form of poaching. Just without the blood. Sadly the “free for all” exploitation of our natural areas of any flora and fauna, and any natural resources above ground and below ground that has any value in exchange for the almighty dollar has brought much of our planet to the brink of an environmental abyss.
I’ve studied field manuals on mushrooms, but have never had enough confidence to pick even a couple of mushrooms for supper because of the poisonous lookalikes. The only way to tell the deadly from the edible mushrooms is to know them 100% by sight. There are no shortcuts. Poisonous mushrooms are especially dangerous because the symptoms of poisoning don’t appear for 10-12 hours. This is Phase 1. Phase 2 there is gastrointestinal distress with severe abdominal pains, vomiting and hallucinations. But this is followed by a false recovery in which patients appear to improve. This misleads doctors to assume all is well, and the patients may be prematurely discharged from hospital or Emergency department. But the amatoxin poisoning continues. The patient’s liver starts to fail following which other organs may falter. The big problem to my knowledge is that once it reaches the later stages, doctors do not have an antidote for mushroom toxicity other than an emergency liver transplant. A liver transplant is only possible if the kidneys and other organs are not too badly damaged. Death occurs 6-8 days after mushroom ingestion. Deathbed testimonies have indicated that the flavor of those mushrooms was excellent.
Overall the 2021 Great Virtual Run Across Tennessee has been very much Déjà Vu from the previous year. Except last year was a triple crossing and this year was a double crossing. It has been wonderful having this 4 month virtual run to keep me motivated. Part of this years’ double crossing was my 100k unsupported run. This year also involved a lot more litter picking, as I attempted to catch up from not doing it last year. Despite a lack of mushrooms to enjoy looking at and taking photos of this year during my 2000+ kilometer virtual journey, I have had some pretty awesome discoveries. Like watching a stick bug walk across a quiet gravel road. They are usually so camouflaged, I haven’t seen one in years. I’ve had 3 close up separate coyote sightings in just the past 3 weeks. Before I could get a photo, like a ghost they were gone. Never any threat to me, they were also a long way from any human settlement. Their beauty made my spine tingle. There had been travel restrictions earlier on this year with COVID, but even with them now lifted, I’ve had no desire to travel. Familiarity does develop contentment. It has been like a 17 month staycation. The most I’ve travelled from home last year was 35 kilometers. There wasn’t any increase on that this year. This is a beautiful area. I am very blessed. I’m so glad I’ve had so much time forest bathing, because this pandemic (and losing both my jobs) has been really hard on me mentally. Without it, this would have been even worse. Now that my dear wife and I are both double vaccinated, I was able to hug her for the 1st time in 16 months. Which is wonderful. She is postmaster of a post office where she is in contact daily with a lot of customers. Some customers who come in are very “anti-outspoken” in regards to masks and vaccinations.
Races are slowly starting to happen on a limited basis here in Canada. Which is wonderful. I have always loved the camaraderie and deepening friendships that come out of those events. But I’ve spent so much time running and hiking all alone in the forests these past 17 months I now find myself becoming anxious of the very thought of being around a lot of people.
Some days this summer during my #GVRAT virtual I retreated deep in the forests for better air quality, as an escape from the out of control forest fires burning several hundred kilometers away in North Western Ontario. For those living in Western Canada it has been the very same issue. Just different major fires. There has been mass evacuations, and thousands of exhausted firefighters battling wind-whipped blazes. Last December, United Nations chief Antonio Guterres called on world leaders to declare states of “climate emergency” in their countries to spur action to avoid “catastrophic” global warming. Just recently a new report from the UN stated, “We are in Code Red for Humanity. Global warming was close to being out of control, and that humans were “unequivocally” to blame”. It has really got me thinking. I know I won’t be around for many more years, but future generations (like my precious grandson) is what I am concerned about. So I will continue to advocate for our planet. And for the future of my grandson. I cringe at the thought of the state of our planet in which he and all others in this new generation will be inheriting. I’ve been looking deeply inwardly about my own carbon footprint. I’m grateful that my 2 part time jobs at the church and school crosswalk don’t require a daily commute. I walk to both of them.
I have loved the ultra races, and I know in time my mental health will once again return to relative normalcy to resume running in among groups of people. The problem I’m now struggling with (particularly with our Code Red climate emergency) is these races are often such a long distance to travel. Pick Your Poison in Copeland Forest is very close. There were 2 other ultras within 60 kilometers. But they are no longer held. The Creemore Vertical Challenge was last run in 2016 and North Face Endurance Challenge was last run in 2017. Other than Pick Your Poison, the closest ultra race now is 150 kilometers away. It is the Limberlost Challenge. Three years ago I did run their 56k distance. The race was special that year, as it was held right on my 60th birthday. It was a wonderful way to celebrate my 60th birthday. Whether I return when it is not a milestone birthday, I’m not really sure. There are plenty of road half marathons around that are close by. Barrie, Orillia, Collingwood and Midland all host one. But my heart is set on the trail ultra. This is what I train for. This is what I am passionate about. In a car culture society like we have in Canada, realistically (and sadly) the only means to get to these events is by car. The longest distance I have driven my car to a race was 200 kilometers each way (400 kilometers total). That was in 2016, in a 50k called Run for the Toad. It was a great race, but I vowed I’d never drive my car that far for a race again. It was just too far. Some runners will easily drive 300-400 kilometers each way for a race. And not think anything of it. But consciously, I just can’t do that. Even though the very basic Toyota Prius I drive is extremely stingy on fuel, I still struggle so much. An internet platform called Feedspot has me now sitting in 68th place in The Top 100 Running Blogs (a climb from 97th place 3 weeks ago). This is very exciting, as there is a lot of amazing running blogs in the world. Despite that, I have really been trying to come to grips in finding my future identity in ultra distance running. Is there any future for me at all as an ultrarunner? Can running ultra distance races a long way from home and environmental advocacy coexist on the same page? Or would that be living a double standard?
My Swiss ultrarunner friend Catrina Denker and her husband Kai don’t own a car where they live in Switzerland. But they have no issues getting to trail races. They simply take the train. The cost of the train ticket is actually included in the race registration price to reduce the environmental impact. And the race starts right at the train station. This has been becoming the norm for most races in Switzerland. That’s how far advanced Switzerland is environmentally to us here in Canada. I love the train, and have had 2 races where I have taken the train to get to. The 2 races were Sehgahunda in Letchworth State Park, New York , and Bad Beaver Ultra, in Gatineau Park, Quebec. Both were in 2018. Those races definitely didn’t start at the train station. I was so fortunate though, to have running friends living locally who picked me up at the train station at the other end. And later kindly brought me to the race. And in the fall of 2019, I took the bus down to Mexico to run some sections with the Monarch Ultra. Though airfare was slightly cheaper, I wanted to travel with a lower carbon footprint. This was extremely important to me.
Travelling with a lower carbon footprint does take a fair bit of planning as an ultrarunner. With the help of some very generous runner friends at the other end (such as in my case), it can be done. Although it has never worked for me yet from where I live, another option is car pooling. Say a trail race that offers multiple distance options has 500 runners who each travel by car an average 100 kilometers each way to and from the race. That equates to 100,000 kilometers driven. The website Our World in Data mentions that the average medium car emits 192 grams of CO2 per kilometer driven. That’s 19,200 kilograms of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere from those 100,000 kilometers driven by those 500 runners for that race. If runners car pooled and there were 2 runners per vehicle instead of one, it would cut emissions in half (which is close to equivalent to one person riding a bus). If they were only available, taking a train would cut emissions by 80%.
At one time, rail travel was a very popular means of transportation. It fell out of favor with the convenience of the automobile. There are currently 1.42 billion cars in the world. These cars are responsible for the deaths of 1.35 million human lives annually. Some counties do have a higher death rate than others, but on average for every 1,000 cars on the road, there will be close to one person who loses their life every single year to an automobile across our planet. These are human beings like you and I whose lives were cut short. Which is so tragic. Fatal and non fatal car crashes are costing the world economy 1.8 trillion dollars. Sadly, more than half of all road traffic deaths are among vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. I love cycling so much. And it is by far the most efficient means of transportation in the world. But with no cycling infrastructure at all in my area, I feel just too vulnerable and unsafe to go cycling in a car culture world. On the other hand, if we have safe cycling infrastructure, people will cycle. This is a proven fact.
In an August 2021 Global News article, it mentions how this past June, the town of Lytton, British Columbia set three all time Canadian temperature records. They just happened to take place 3 days in a row: 46.6 C, 47.5 C and 49.6 C. The next day Lytton burnt to the ground as a fast moving wildfire fueled by heat and drought razed nearly everything in its path. In a few weeks on September 20th we are going to have a federal election in Canada. For the 1st time in history the environment is the #1 issue for voters. I really want to encourage you to exercise your freedom and please vote. McLean’s Magazine has released a wonderful article titled 2021 Election Platform Guide. It covers the major issues Canadians are facing. And where the 4 major political parties stand on those issues. The one area I have been studying closely is Climate Change and the Environment. I’m really hoping for a future build up of public transportation and a much improved walking and cycling infrastructure. We really need this to happen for the health of our planet. If it does happen, who knows. Maybe you just might see me on the trails of another ultra race in the not too distant future.
Is there becoming more of an awareness to reduce our environmental footprint while participating in races?
Can running ultra distance races a long way from home and environmental advocacy coexist on the same page?