Into the Forest; Into the Night

Head-lamp and flashlight?  Check.
Spare batteries? Check.
Warm jacket, gloves? Check.
Rain gear? Check.

I’m almost finished packing for tomorrow’s road trip.

This is the weekend of the Haliburton Forest Ultra Run.  Haliburton is a privately owned, 70,000 acre wildlife reserve about 3 hours northeast of Toronto.  My hiking partner, Helen, has been the Director of this race in the Ontario Ultra Series for over 20 years. This will be my second year as a volunteer and I’m both nervous and excited.

haliburton forest

Ultra races involve running very long distances of between 50 km and 100 miles – usually on forest trails.  Yes – people really do run 100 mile races.   The 100-miler in Haliburton will start at 6 am on Saturday morning and the runners have until noon on Sunday to reach the finish line.

They will be running into the night, on forest trails, with only their headlamps, aching muscles, and personal mantras to keep them going in the darkness alone. It is an extraordinary physical and mental test of endurance.


Haliburton Forest is considered one of the most challenging races in the series, largely because of the terrain – but also the occasional encounters with bears and moose.  I’ve been told that the howling of wolves during the night can be quite disconcerting.  I’m about to find out.

Last year I was a finish line official and kept track of the first runners as they reached the finish line in the dark of early morning after about 22 hours of running.  The finish line was a ‘cushy’ job, located at Base Camp which has buildings with hydro and running water. To read about last year’s Ultra experience, click here.

This year however, Helen has assigned me to an aid station deep in the forest.  This is where I will be for the 30 hours of the race.

I toured the aid stations after dark with Helen last year.  They were tiny oases of light in the middle of nowhere.  The aid stations provide the runners with an opportunity to warm up by a campfire, get food, fluids, and other assorted needs – including first aid as required, encouragement and a friendly smile.  Step outside that small island of light and you’re plunged into a darkness that is almost tangible.  My stomach knotted as I watched runners leave these little safety zones and go willingly back into the forest.


Helen warming up last year by a campfire while on tour of the aid stations.

I admit, I’m afraid to be out in the forest at night – even if I’m in one of those little oases. In spite of all the hiking mileage behind me, when the sun goes down I prefer to be in a solid building with all the creature comforts invented by man. I’m not exactly the outdoorsy type.

At the same time however, I can’t help but think it will be incredibly inspiring.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
——— Robert Frost – Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

About Joanne Sisco

Retired but not idle. Life is an adventure - I plan to continue to embrace it.
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35 Responses to Into the Forest; Into the Night

  1. Pingback: A Weekend In The Forest | My Life Lived Full

  2. Helen C says:

    You are amazing! Is it over? I can’t wait to read about it! Helen


  3. lumar1298 says:

    Wow… Must be exciting, but at night…. I don’t know…


  4. jannatwrites says:

    How scary/exciting! At least you’re just manning a station and not running in it! If my older son continues with his running, I could see him enjoying something like this in the future. Maybe in six years or so 🙂 I like the outdoors okay, as long as I don’t bump into anything too fierce (like a bear!) Stay safe and have fun 🙂


    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks! There is nothing about this kind of long distance running that I find appealing to do, but manning an aid station was really interesting.
      Hope I’ll get a chance to write a post about it!


  5. Wow. I thought at first you were going to tell us you were partaking lol (I’m relieved you’re not!!) You’re still a braver woman than me Jo, I don’t fancy sitting out there knowing there will be bears and wolves about. Good luck missus and stay safe! xx


    • joannesisco says:

      Sam! I missed you – I was about to send you an email to see how you were!!!

      Thanks for the good wishes. I’m almost ready to leave. I have to outrun a severe thunderstorm which is going to roll through :/

      I’m more concerned about getting eaten alive by the mosquitoes than any encounters with bears or wolves 😉

      Hopefully I’ll be back on Monday with stories and no serious drama!!


      • Aw I’ve missed you too-I’ve been thinking about you all all week.

        I’m fine! Been busy none stop with the garden and getting the kids back to school! I’m going to catch up with some writing this evening 🙂

        You need to add mozzi spay to that check list of yours missus xx


  6. 100 miles?? With bears?? And wolves?? And mooseseses??
    Right. I’m never complaining about Oxfam Trailwalker again.

    Hope you have fun! 🙂


    • joannesisco says:

      I know – the 100 miles sounds really crazy. What am I saying? … it is crazy.
      I think there is a higher risk of me being eaten alive by mosquitoes than encountering any wildlife scarier than a chipmunk.
      Like any adventure that scares me a little, I’ve got a healthy dose of ”nervous stomach” going on now 🙂


  7. Wow. I can’t believe all the things you get into! And what is it lately with you and being outdoors at night? You really are amazing. (Also almost didn’t recognize you…you changed your picture!)


  8. Just when I’m impressed by the challenges you take on, you outdo yourself!! Going without sleep would be hardest for me so I’m looking forward to hearing how you do – you are my hero.


  9. Sue Slaght says:

    What a great volunteer effort. good for you. Stay warm and dry and i look forward to hearing about the race. Nice new Gravatar by the way. 🙂


  10. How far apart are these aid stations on the trail? If a runner falls and, god forbid, snaps his ankle, how does (s)he get help? And I agree, I think this is going to be an incredibly inspirational experience for you. Next year you’ll be running it!


    • joannesisco says:

      oh – I have absolutely no plans to become an ultra runner in this lifetime!! 😀

      Last year there was an accident with a runner. There is a medical crew on site at one of the central aid stations which the runners pass through 8 times. The runner was evacuated by ATV, then transferred by ambulance to hospital.

      Stats are tracked at each aid station of the runners who have entered the station and the time they left. If a runner goes missing, their last known location can be identified to aid any search required.

      I’m sure there will be stories to share – hopefully all good and no drama 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. pambrittain says:

    You’re a braver gal than I am.


  12. First of all I couldn’t take the mosquitoes. The larger animals are second. Then there’s the dark I haven’t heard of this race either.
    BTW, can you not have a partner to keep you company and vice-versa? ❤
    Many,many moons ago I hailed from the other side of Kirkland Lake.


  13. NancyTex says:

    I can’t imagine the strength of will (and heart, and athleticism) it would take to take on an ultra event like this. You must see/hear such amazing stories by volunteering. Wishing you great weather, no bugs, no dramas this weekend. Nothing but great stories, uplifting experiences and safe fun from start to finish. Good luck!


    • joannesisco says:

      One of the things that really struck me last year was the amazing sense of humour these seasoned runners have. They were remarkably funny about themselves and the gruelling experience of this race.

      I too am hoping for no drama. It is going to be cold and I’ve (hopefully) packed accordingly 🙂

      I hope there will be stories to tell and pictures to share when I get back.


  14. I did not know that such a thing existed!

    I’m perfectly comfortable in the woods, even alone in the woods I can handle, as long as I know which way to go. But in the dark? Nuh-uh. Noooo thank you! Are you going to be by yourself at the aid station? Please say you’ll have company!

    I hope the weather breaks in time for the race and that it isn’t too wet and messy. Have a blast and be safe, warm, and dry!


    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks Maggie. The rain is suppposed to stop early on Saturday morning. Unfortunately for the runners, it will mean lots of mud (which reminds me to grab my rubber boots). Most runners bring 2 or more pairs of trail shoes with them for this reason.
      It is expected to get quite cold on Saturday and Sunday – especially at night with temperatures of only 8C.
      I will not be alone at the aid station. There are 3-4 people at each station so it will hopefully be possible to get a few hours of sleep at some point.
      I am planning to sleep in my car Friday night and, if possible – Saturday. I’ve never done that before. It should be interesting – to say the least 🙂
      I didn’t do this kind of thing when I was young. I can’t believe I’m doing it now at my age!

      Liked by 1 person

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