To date, this has been my most adventurous and entertaining “Alli Day”. What happened was not what I had planned by any means, but since it’s the 3rd year anniversary since it happened, I figured it would be a good time to revisit this one.
I booked this day off a couple weeks in advance, knowing I was itching to get out for a fall hike. I wanted to check out a trail in Tobermory and a lookout spot. It was a 21km hike round trip so I figured it would be good exercise for a dog to tag along as well. I asked a friend if she minded if I borrowed her dog for the day and she eagerly agreed, saying her dog would love to get out and I could take him any time! His name is Levi, a 3 year old portuguese water dog.
We left Kitchener for our 3 hour drive in the morning and arrived at the trailhead in Lionshead around 1pm. If you’ve never walked alongside my short but deceiving legs, I set a pace equivalent to that of a mid grade race horse, so I felt I had ample time to complete this hike, but knew it would still take quite a few hours to complete.
We set off, Levi with his backpack of water and treats, and myself with my backpack, filled with a water bottle, an apple and a fully charged phone set on airplane mode so I wouldn’t have any contact or distraction but could also take photos. What I would come to realize later, is that my phone’s battery was not as great as the views at Tobermory. More on that later.
So off we went, hiking along, passing km after km of beautiful trail along Georgian Bay. I took a couple photos, took a snack break and didn’t see a soul. I had the entire Bruce Trail to myself and it was amazing! This is why I started my Alli Days in the first place!
Around 5pm I had about 9kms left and saw a side trail, and according to my trusty map I had printed off before the start of my journey, it would’ve cut off approx 3 kms which I felt I should maybe do just in case I didn’t have time to finish the full trail. The side trail was marked with light blue and dark blue markers, which meant if I mixed up a single tree, I was not going to be in a good spot. I finished the side trail an hour later only to realize I had walked 5kms in a circle and was back at the start of the side trail, meaning I was set back an hour and still had 9kms to go. This time of year the sun goes down around 7 so I knew I had an hour to march out an aggressive 9 kms. The trail is the exact opposite of flat and smooth, meaning I had to make a decision between running and trying not to fall, and walking as fast as I could and taking whatever short cuts I could find. I chose the latter.
At 6:45pm it was almost dark, it was also at this time that I realized I was not going to get Levi back to his owner by dinner as I had originally promised. I pulled out my phone so I could text Levi’s owner and give her a heads up that I’d be a little late (keep in mind I”m still a 3 hour drive from home) and found I had 3% battery left – this is still a mystery to me as I wasn’t using it all day. A second surprise also greeted me in the form of zero bars of service. I had to get creative here. I knew I was close to a beach so I decided to try to get service there. Once I was knee deep in water I was able to get a single bar of service. I texted Levi’s mom and told her we’d be home a bit later than expected and I would just keep him at my place and return him in the morning. I tried to stay as cool as possible, so she wouldn’t know that I actually had no clue if and when I was getting out of the woods. She texted back “that’s fine, I made you dinner, we can have it whenever you arrive”. I didn’t know how to respond to that one! My next form of communication with 2% left, was my sister. I figured I should tell someone where I was. Her words, “are you okay”, my response “ya, I think so, I’ll just keep hiking in the dark and it shouldn’t be long before I reach my car”, her “should I be worried?”, me “no I’m fine”, her “Alli fine or normal people fine?”, my phone – blackout. I was Alli fine, which meant, not really fine but I would pretend I was and figure it out.
I’m still knee deep in water at this point. So I went back to the trail, I had 5 minutes of dusk light left so I used it to get back to the main trail and then I sat on the ground defeated, wet and soon to be chilled to the bone, hungry and curious about what the next hours would have in store for us. Levi laid down beside me, likely questioning why he ever left his house that morning with some crazy girl who dragged him into this mess and we just sat for awhile.
I knew it was going to be a full moon. I banked on the light of the moon lighting up the trail for me and I would hike to the end of the trail and be free! It was 7pm. The moon wouldn’t be making an appearance until at least 10pm so Levi and I shared an apple and some water. I started to get cold, real cold, which is something I don’t feel often! I knew I had to keep moving to stay warm. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face but I went for it anyways. I did okay at first, tripped twice, but did okay. Levi has black fur so I never knew where he was but could hear him breathing next to me so I knew he was by my side. When walking got too hard, I tried crawling, and eventually the moon started to shine a bit. I was able to vaguely see white trail markers and would hold one tree and then wait until I could spot the next marker then go there, hold that tree and find the next one. This was a great method until I was in the middle of two white markers and couldn’t see either of them anymore. I kept trying to find them but knew I was going in circles. My next strategy? Plow through the bush until I reached the edge and then follow that to civilization. I’m not built to be a human bulldozer for very long so it wasn’t long before I was surrounded by brush, no clue where I was and defeated. I knew waiting for the sun to come up was my only way out, so Levi and I layed down on the cold, hard ground, both shivering with no idea what would come next. Levi laid directly next to me and I held him in an attempt to get warm. I was in a t-shirt, levi was in his built in fur coat and we didn’t sleep but shivered together on the forest floor. What felt like hours later, I swore I heard my name. I thought I was hearing things so I ignored it. Then I heard it again, and again! I really thought I had lost it. I heard them again, it was multiple people calling my name. It took me awhile to convince myself it was real and when I finally yelled back, no one heard me. I yelled as loud as I could saying “I’m over here”, and tried to get Levi to bark but to no avail. I could hear their walkie talkies, I could hear dogs barking in the distance, I could hear them talking, but they couldn’t hear me. A good half an hour went by. The voices drifted and no one found me. I was pretty bummed. I just wanted a blanket and a sandwich! Then they came again, I yelled my heart out and they finally heard me! I was instructed to leash Levi and to keep calling and they were coming to get me!
I was equally relieved and embarrassed to be rescued, but so cold that it was ever so slightly more of a relief than an embarrassment. The police found me and wrapped me in warming blankets before starting the trek out of the woods. I learned a lot of things during this walk out. I was 2 kms from the main trail. My sister had called the police. It was 7am. This part shocked me the most. I could not believe it was 7am! There were 4 different police detachments looking for me, all since 11pm the night before. For 8 hours, 4 groups of 3-4 officers and a bunch of good dogs, hiked in search of me. I also found out that a strange brown van was parked next to my car in the parking lot which concerned the police.
I was walked to a road where a police car picked me up and drove me to my car. I was given a granola bar and an apple from one of the officers and encouraged to go to the hospital in case I was bit by one of the dangerous massasauga rattlers that lived in the woods. Who knew there were snakes in there?! Also bears, which I found out later. How did I never even think of this?! I declined the hospital visit, knowing I was not bit by any snakes. I got in my car, Levi in the back seat and I charged by phone, blasted heat and called my sister.
It turned out the dogs owner had found my sister through facebook and told her to call the police. I also learned that my sister was on the phone with the police every hour of the night. She had to give a description of me, and felt it was necessary to mention a zit I had on my chin! But made up for it when she described my weight and figured I’d have shivered off 3lbs so she went for a lower number. She also had to make an awkward phone call to someone from her past in order to find out if I had left any clues about my whereabouts. Then she had to explain my Alli Days to the police. Then explain what happened to my mother and notify my work family, except instead of telling them many details she just said “Alli is lost in the woods and the police can’t find her, I have to go”. Not the thing you tell a bunch of concerned nurses.
Before making a long exhausting drive home, I stopped at Tim Hortons (classic) to get coffee and treats for the officers who helped me out. I ordered 2 boxes of coffee and then asked the man filling them for directions to the cop shop. He stopped me and said “why is this for them?” I said “yes” and he stopped filling them and said “you don’t need this much, they were just in here, apparently some young (yep! He called me young!) girl was lost in the woods over night so they were up searching for her all night”. Then he stopped and looked at me, paused and then said “I’m guessing you already knew that judging by the leaves all over your shirt”. Busted. I’m the idiot they looked for all night!
I gathered my treats and a single box of coffee for the officers and set off to deliver my thanks and deliver poor Levi back to his parents. When I arrived home, Levi and I took the most rewarding nap I think either of us has ever had. Levi very willingly went back to his parents and I had some explaining to do.
This not only taught me some important lessons in safety, preparedness and that I am capable of spending a night in the woods alone without a single tear, it also proved to me that dogs truly are our best friends. I had met Levi once before this hike. He probably didn’t save my life, that may be a stretch but he made me feel safe, and he tried his best to try and keep me warm. I’m not sure what I would’ve done without that dog. I am forever grateful to him.
There were a few other things that made this even more laughable and such a good tale.
A couple weeks later one of my sisters friends informed her that I was on the news and in the local paper. The owners of the dog were Meghan, a girl who “beat me” to the crown for Miss Oktoberfest (I joke that this was payback but I swear it wasn’t! It’s just hilarious to throw that in there). The dog’s dad is Nathan, who is a firefighter and was working a night shift this night so not only did every small town around Tobemory know about this, so did the Kitchener Fire Department. I also found out later that there was a campground really close to where I called my sister from. There were 4 tents there that night. I never saw them.
I laugh at this day now, but I also use it as a life lesson.
I will always encourage “Alli Days” or self dates. I encourage you to turn your phone off and explore unknown territory and follow your heart. I encourage you to be still and quiet and have no distractions, but I also encourage you to tell someone about your whereabouts, have a plan and anytime you set out in the woods alone, come prepared to spend the night. Since moving to Vancouver my Alli day’s now take place in the mountains with much scarier things than in Ontario so I am grateful this happened in Ontario vs. Vancouver.
Explore. Be Safe. Bring a dog. Learn a Lesson. Date yourself.