Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Decision to Go

You might think that making the decision to leave a good job, a nice house, friends, family, and pets to hike 13,500+ km across Canada would be something so monumental that you would remember the exact moment it was made, perhaps because it happened after some huge, life-altering experience like losing a partner, being fired from a job, or having someone close to you pass away. However, in our case you would be wrong. Ever since we hiked 800 km across Spain on the Camino de Santiago in 2016 we have been continually looking for our next big hike. In 2017 we chose to walk 780 km across France along the Via Podiensis (GR 65). In between these trips we have regularly hiked large sections of Ontario's beautiful Bruce Trail, covering close to 650 km so far. After these experiences the idea came to us and slowly started to grow - why not explore more of our own country? As the magnitude of this endeavour began to dawn on us, we started to take a hard look at some basic questions.

Why hike?

Walking is pretty much the slowest mode of transportation used in our modern world, so what is the appeal of using it for such a long journey? If I had to sum it up in two words, it would be "the unexpected." When traveling on foot we are in the landscape, not on it, and we encounter many things from this perspective that would otherwise be missed. When we make the destination our goal, we tend to dismiss much along the way as unimportant, and all those things we didn't already know about go unnoticed. These things can be small - like a glorious bird song, the smell of a forest after the rain, a slice of warm pie in a roadside cafe; or they can be big - like a sunrise over the mountains, an unexpected community celebration, or the random kindness of a stranger. Of course, not all surprises are pleasant ones, but most worthwhile endeavors aren't easy, and the sense of joy, strength, and achievement that can be gained from overcoming a challenge is like nothing else. When you make the journey the goal, and you take time to visit all the forgotten places between, there is seemingly no end to the beauty you find. For those who like to hike, living in the moment, seeing the world as it is, leaving our comfort zones, challenging our preconceptions, and collecting stories on foot is the best way to travel.

Why Canada?

The landscape of Canada is vast and diverse, changing from exposed Shield in the east, to wide-open prairies in the center, to the Rocky Mountains in the west, to the expanse of the Arctic Circle in the north. It hosts fifteen terrestrial and five marine ecozones, which are home to approximately 426 species of birds, 42 reptile species, 42 amphibian species, 1,100 different kinds of fish, 194 mammal species, over 5,000 species of trees and plants, as well as many thousands of other kinds of organisms. It is a relatively safe and peaceful country, and contrary to what some may believe, it does experience all four seasons (not just winter). Oh yes, and let us not forget to mention, it is home to the longest hiking and multi-use trail in the world! What better place to hike?

In case that isn't enough, here are a few more reasons we think Canada is an amazing and worthwhile place to explore. It is the world's second-largest country by total area encompassing six time zones, it has the world's longest coastline, one fifth of the world's freshwater, some of the world's oldest exposed rock formations and largest expanses of boreal forest, 50% of the world's polar bears, three of the world's most liveable cities, and it is the only country to touch three oceans. Canada is a Commonwealth member, it is bilingual and multicultural, and it ranks high internationally in terms of government transparency, civil liberties, quality of life, economic freedom, and education. It is the largest country in North America, and the only one to successfully repel an American invasion and march on Washington. We champion megaprojects for transportation, energy, defence, such as construction of the Welland and Rideau Canals, the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways, hydroelectric dams, and CANDU nuclear reactors. Many cool things have allegedly been invented here, including the Canadarm, basketball, cardiac pacemakers, egg cartons, and peanut butter. Yet, we don't like to boast. Some of the stereotypes about Canadians may have some basis in reality - that we like hockey, canoes, snowshoes, Ski-Doos, toques, plaid flannel shirts, beer, maple syrup, poutine, Aboriginal art, Tim Hortons, Roots, beavers, and polar bears. We may be a friendly and apologetic people, and although we aren't perfect, we champion the ideas of justice, law, fairness, and good government. We have a strange sense of humour that shines through in a string of wacky place names, like Blow Me Down Provincial Park, NL, Mushaboom, NS, Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, QC, Punkeydoodles Corners, ON, Vulcan, AB, Eyebrow, SK, and Stoner, BC, to name but a few. This may be just another list of factoids, but we're sure there is more to us than that. We'd love to find out what, and we believe Canada is a great place to travel in and be a part of.

Why now?

Why leave a good job and a stable existence to set out into the unknown, and not just wait until we're retired and have the time and money? As with many in our generation, we will never have enough money to retire with, and we aren't willing to bet our lives that we will survive long enough to get there. Over the course of the last five years, five people in our circle of family, friends, and colleagues have died unexpectedly and suddenly in their mid-50's and early 60's. While hiking in Spain and France the number one comment from the people we met was, don't wait until you are too old to enjoy it, go now and have the time of your lives. For us the message is loud and clear. We believe there could be more to life than sitting at a desk and paying bills until we die, and happiness shouldn't always be something we hope will happen to us someday in the future. Each of us has only so much time, and although it might take courage to decide that we want to try doing something different with that time, in the end, we think it will be worth it. We don't know where this journey will take us, but we want to see the world while we can, and be open to whatever opportunities we find at the other end.

Why do it for Conservation?

We realize that setting out on this hike across Canada is a great privilege, and we want to give something back. I have spent my life studying conservation biology, ecology, and forestry in school and working with an organization dedicated to the conservation of birds, and Sean has begun a career in nature and landscape photography. We are passionate about the Canadian outdoors, and would like to take this opportunity to do something tangible to further conservation in this country, so we are raising money for the conservation of birds. Just as importantly, we would love to inspire a sense of wonder, awe, and enthusiasm for nature in others we meet along the way. As adults, youth, and children become increasingly immersed in the digital world, we think it is more important than ever to encourage everyone to take a few minutes to go outside, unplug, and reconnect with themselves, their communities, and their environment. By inviting people to come walk with us, we hope to inspire a love of nature in people, and the help conserve Canada's birds at the same time.

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