To develop a rough itinerary that we could use to start planning our hike, we relied heavily on the resources available on the Great Trail website.
We began by downloading the GPS waypoints and descriptions of each trail in the network using the links on this site. We then compiled information on the type and length of each trail from the descriptions, and used that to calculate how much trail we would cover in each province. One drawback of using this method to determine the length of a thru-hike is that we don't plan to walk every branch, loop, and side trail, and it is a bit complicated to figure out from the descriptions alone how much of each section we would consider "main trail." In addition we are by necessity hiking around some paddling sections along roadways which are not parts of the trail, thereby adding to the total number of kilometers that we will be travelling. So, to get another estimate of the total length of trail we plan to hike, we used the waypoints to create a single route which doesn't include sections we don't plan to walk or paddle, but does include by-passes for waterways we will hike. Using this method we calculated that we will cover 11,564 km on the east-west portion of the trail, with the possibility of adding 360 km for the branch to Halifax, NS, 263 km for the branch to Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, and 598 km for the branch to Windsor ON. In addition, we will paddle 3,064 km on the south-north portion of the trail.
Once we had an estimate of the lengths of trail we intended to walk and paddle, the next step was to estimate how fast we think that we will travel. This remains a source of uncertainty in our planning. After considering our rate of progress on other trails in the past, we decided to go with the prediction that on average we will cover 180 km/week (four days at 35 km/day, 2 days at 20 km/day, and 1 day of rest per week). This may sound slow relative to other long-distance hikers, but one of our goals on this journey is to connect with as many people as we can through talks, presentations, and online updates, and we anticipate that taking the time to do this might reduce our potential pace quite a bit.
Using these parameters we played around with the map and ultimately decided to walk from Cape Spear, NL to Victoria, BC, and then to paddle from Fort Saskatchewan, AB to Tuktoyaktuk, NT. Below is our proposed itinerary:
In short, we plan on beginning in spring which should give us the greatest amount of time to enjoy warmer temperatures during our first year on the trail. Also, Sonya's current contract at work concludes at the end of March, making some point after that date a logical time to set out. So, we began our consideration of where to start with the assumption that we will start walking in the spring of 2019 with the hope of being well into Ontario by the time the heavy winter and cold season settles into the nation at the end of that same year. This decision was also made in consideration of where we wanted to start in the spring of 2020 and still be able to reach the west coast in our second year.
One thing this exercise taught us is that when you are dealing with distances this large, small differences can really add up! Our exercise in editing the trail to only include the sections we plan to hike, which mostly involved removing relatively minor branches and loops, ended up reducing the total length by over 2,000 km. Adjusting our predicted pace by as little as 20 km per week resulted in a two month difference to the amount of time we would spend on the trail. It will be interesting to one day be able to compare our actual itinerary to our predicted one! Regardless our proposed itinerary is now set!