Autumn Hikes And Fall Suppers

(Story previously published in Canstar News)

Fall is the perfect season to head outdoors to a hiking trail, followed by a community dinner indoors. And Manitoba is the perfect place to do both.

The Prairie Pathfinders Walking Club is a non-profit Winnipeg group that organizes hundreds of urban walks and dozens of out-of-town hikes each year. You could say they wrote the book on hiking because, actually, they did. A few of them.

Winnipeg Walks, Hiking the Heartland, and Manitoba Picnic Perfect are three titles penned by these avid nomads, who invited me to come along for an outing. I chose Rae Trail – one of their ‘signature’ hikes.

Located off Highway 34 between the towns of Austin and Holland, the 14-kilometer Rae Trail winds up and down through woodland and meadow. Vantage points boast spectacular views of the Assiniboine River Valley, letting you gaze upon tufts of forest interspersed with farmers’ fields stretched out like a patchwork quilt.

It’s best to traverse the Rae Trail with someone who knows the terrain, because the route is not marked. The Prairie Pathfinders have a good system to avoid losing stragglers. This involves signing in at the designated meeting point, and signing out after the hike. In between, you’re book-ended by two experienced guides.

Our group of 33 was led by Wendy Wilson at the front of the line, with Leone Banks in neon-orange hat at the back of the pack making sure no one gets away. Hikers then saunter along at different speeds depending on ability and desired pace. While typically a fast walker, I found that meandering leisurely was the best way to soak up the surroundings, take photos, and stop and smell the sage – which grows all along the trail.

After three hours of hiking our reward was that great prairie tradition known as the ‘fall supper’. From September to November, locales all over Manitoba host community-based buffets. The tradition reaches back through generations of farmers, who’d gather together each harvest to bask in the blessings of a bounty of food. It’s a time of giving and sharing. And eating.

We visited the village of St. Claude where the line-up for their fall supper stretched outside the community hall and down the street. People from miles around waited patiently for their turn at the table – including 33 hungry hikers. And boy was it worth the wait.

For the low price of $12, we feasted on roast turkey, meatballs, mashed potatoes, and other delicious dishes. The desert table featured homemade cakes, pies and puddings galore.

Those who prepared and served the food worked hard to feed close to 1000 people that day, and did it with smiles on their faces. We felt the community warmth in St. Claude, and it warmed my heart to be there.

As we drove home with tired feet and full bellies, witnessing a spectacularly blazing prairie sunset, it dawned on me that it turned out to be the perfect made-in-Manitoba Sunday.

The kind you could only find in a place like home.

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