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Trail of the Susquehanna

Ron and Margaret Brownsberger Complete Their Fundraising Trek
 from Pennsylvania to Stouffville

article by Grant Weaver,  

Back in Stouffville, just a few metres to go

(June 11 .09)   This afternoon, at 4 p.m., right on schedule, a beaming Ron Brownsberger and his wife Margaret Brownsberger completed their 443-mile (700 kilometre) trek from Pennsylvania to Stouffville. Wellwishers and supporters, including Stouffville-Whitchurch Mayor Wayne Emerson and Oak Ridges-Markham MPP Helena Jaczek, were on hand to welcome them as they arrived at the designated endpoint of their trip--Millard Street northeast of Highway 48 and Stouffville Road.  


How did it all begin?  With a sense of history and a sense of gratitude for health restored. 

Ron Brownsberger’s great-great-grandfather, Georg Braunsberger, along with his wife and six children, made the trek from a farm three miles northwest of the Pennsylvania German settlement of Mannheim, Pennsylvania in 1826 to take up land in what is now Ringwood, Ontario.  They left around April 6 of that year and arrived around June 22.   The farmland they took up, settled and cleared is located just a stone's throw from where Ron and Margaret's trip began on March 23 and ended today.

Ron, retired after a 35-year career as a schoolteacher and 5 years as a charter bus driver, underwent heart bypass surgery on January 29, 2008 at the Schulich Heart Centre at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.  Back on his feet, and, by September, progressing well in his rehab, Ron proposed to celebrate his good health, to retrace some family and local history, and to raise funds for the hospital that helped him back to good health, all at the same time.


He and Margaret talked it over and decided to undertake, the following Spring, the adventure which they named The Trail of the Susquehanna, after the river and river valley that runs through Pennsylvania and which was followed by the Braunsberger family in 1826.


"It's amazing," Margaret told us.  "A year ago, Ron could barely walk."


"The biggest challenge was climbing hills," Ron said, "trying to keep my heart rate under 96, which meant sometimes leaning against the guardrail and resting for a while."


Starting their trip at the end of March also put them into weather that varied daily from wintry to Spring-like.


Every day had its twists and turns and adventures but the basic routine was for Margaret to drive the van three kilometres ahead of Ron, and walk back to meet him.  Each time they reached the van, they would rest and have something to drink and a bite to eat.  The plan was to average four of these three-kilometre segments each day and they were often ahead of their own schedule.


To keep friends and supporters informed of their progress, they created a lively and entertaining blog which they kept updated all through their trip whenever they could get Internet access.  You can read about their experiences and enjoy some spectacular photos on:  


Ron and Margaret have invited supporters to make a donation to the Schulich Heart Centre at Sunnybrook and many individuals and businesses have already done so, with over $4,000 raised so far.  Ron is hoping to raise $22,000 that would supply one artificial heart to a needy recipient.  Donations can be made through the following link:  


Or, you can simply mail a cheque to Sunnybrook Foundation, Rm H366, 2075 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, M4N 3M5 with a notation "Trail of the Susquehanna".


A trek like this, of almost three months duration, required meticulous planning and preparation. First of all, their van got some needed repairs.  Packing included not just clothes but coleman stove, cooking gear, first aid supplies and medication, and, among many other things, a two-way walkie-talkie radio with a range of ten miles.  They planned a route for their return walk from maps and guides but as they drove to Pennsylvania they also observed the lay of the land and noted mountains and hills to avoid or at least be prepared for.  


Knowing they would not be allowed to walk along the superhighways, they kept to the secondary roads but that still involved a few sections where traffic was worrisome.  They lost track of the number of times drivers stopped to ask them if they were having car trouble


"You folks need help?"


"No, we're walking to Canada."


That often needed a bit of explaining but Ron and Margaret appreciated the many expressions of kindness they received.


"It's a very positive story," Margaret said, thinking back on all the friendly encounters they had all along their trip.


They had to be careful too.  On April 16, Ron records in the blog how the locals told them they might want to be mindful of bears in that area of Pennsylvania.  So, that day Margaret kept the van in sight of Ron at all times.  


A sense of humour helps too.  Another entry, on April 7, has a slightly tongue-in-cheek reference to the sighting of large numbers of vultures.  This apparently was due to the significant amount of road kill in the area and nothing to do with the health of our two intrepid travelers.  


They took time to explore along the way many places of interest including historical museums, churches and a wide variety of local entertainments.  There is a decided preference for jazz in the Brownsberger household.


There were the inevitable aches and pains from the exertions of the trip even with the conscious effort not to overdo it, and to build in rest periods.  On May 17, Margaret records her mantra for when the body is starting to complain: "Another muscle on, another pound gone!"  In fact, halfway through the trip they had each lost about ten pounds.


On May 9, they crossed the Peace Bridge and re-entered Canada.  After taking a home break for a week or so, they resumed the journey and on May 29 celebrated their wedding anniversary in a ninth floor level Keg, with a beautiful view of Niagara Falls.


On they walked, wending their way never far from Lake Ontario, strode the lakeshore of Toronto, travelled north through Scarborough and Markham and today have completed the last leg.


I was interested in knowing how they will cope with life returning to normal.  No problem for these two well-grounded people.


"Tomorrow, I go to the foot doctor," Ron told me.  After that he has a den to finish in their house.  


"We have grandchildren, and I have a daughter getting married in July," Margaret said.


And I dare predict we will see Ron making a contribution to the building of another impressive set for Markham Little Theatre of which he and Margaret have been active members for many years.  Many members of MLT were at Millard Street today to greet their two old friends and to present a cheque for $250.00 from the group.  


Another contingent of wellwishers were from Springvale Church in Stouffville including Pastor Bob Flemming who offered a prayer of thanks at the beginning of the official welcoming ceremony.


Travel is probably in the future also.  Margaret has suggested they try the walk from Kew Beach in Toronto to Kingston, Ontario!  Hey, a piece of cake!




Back in Ringwood to cheers and hugs

The van

A cheque for $250 from Ron's friends at Markham Little Theatre

Reaching a milestone

On the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge

The American Falls at Niagara

Covered bridge in New York

Along the Toronto lakeshore

Scarborough, getting closer to home

 photos of Ron and Margaret's trip are taken from their blog,
photos of their arrival back in Ringwood on June 11 are by Grant Weaver and Charles Lue, 

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