First Zero Day on the Trans Canada Trail

Today, is our first Zero Day on Canada’s 24,000 km long recreation pathway, known as The Great Trail (formerly the Trans Canada Trail).  At the moment we are just over 225 km into our hike and almost one quarter of the way across our first province Newfoundland.   This means we have trekked from Cape Spear to St. John’s along Conception Bay into Holyrood and Avondale, crossed the Trans Canada Highway visited Whitbourne, turned northwards at Placentia Junction, walked the length of the Avalon Isthmus, rested in Arnold’s Cove and passed out of the Avalon Peninsula!  It sounds impressive – and we are excited by our progress in just 10 days – but we also know there is so much more to see and so much further to go. 

But I reviewing our progress I have strayed from the topic at hand – zero days.  Some of you, who are not long distance hikers, might not know what a Zero Day is, might assume that it is the day we transform our hike into an evening of Glamping or luxury, or might simply be curious as to what a Zero Day (in our world) looks like.

Sonya Richmond iNaturalist Citizen Science.

Zero days on trails are days in which hikers stop trekking for rest, resupply, repairs, cleaning (yourself and your clothes and then yourself again), and catching up.  So they might sound like fun, they might sound relaxing and like fun.  Images of us luxuriating in comfy down sleeping bags, listening to loons on the lake, and thinking deep thoughts come to mind.  Rest assured none of these things are part of our zero days.   In reality Zero Days often turn into some of your busiest and least relaxing times on the trail.

Zero days often begin as a hope for rest several days before hand.  Questions like – what would I do if I saw a coffee shop right now? Or, wouldn’t a sandwich or sub be wonderful tonight?  At which point you begin looking at your map and trying to find the next viable town with such unimaginable amenities as running water, soap, and coffee machines in them that are on the trail.  Then you try to figure out, whether you are simply going to get into town early one day and rush through your to do list or whether you will simply stop for an entire day.  Does the town you are looking at have what you need?  Can you afford the time “off the trail” to stop for a day?  Does it have a grocery store? A coffee shop? A sports shop?  A coffee shop?  A laundry mat?  Cell service? Wifi? (no these last two are not a given) ...or even a coffee shop? If it has all of these essentials – and they are open - then you have to debate with yourself whether you can afford the time to stop for a day.  This is harder than it seems because no matter how tired you may be, how low on supplies you are, or how much you want to just stop for a few hours – there is a lure to the trail and a guilt in leaving it.  Eventually all of the needs mesh and perhaps you even discover that tomorrow will have challenging weather to keep hiking and so you decide that it is time for a Zero Day! 

So in our world what does our Zero Day look like?  Well today went something like this....

With the nice weather, the sunrise and morning chorus we were both awake in a very well lit tent by 6 am, by 6:30 we were up, dressed and trekking into town for coffee and breakfast (warm muffins – I cannot describe the delight at eating something not out of my backpack!).  By 8 am we had realized that we left our laundry at the tent and so returned back to the campsite, backed up all of our clothes and returned to town and found the laundromat.  Here we changed into our rain gear while all of the rest of our clothes wash and dry themselves – in the mean time we tried not to feel odd standing around in a small town with only rain gear on while in a very warm building.  By 10 am your laundry is done – and smells like soap (beautiful clean soap!) and while one of us walked back to the campsite to deposit our fresh clothes, the other went to get groceries.  While buying food and supplies I tried not to get distracted by the wealth of options available to me – many of which I cannot reasonably eat today or carry tomorrow – after two weeks of Convenience Store foods, oatmeal and Pop Tarts. 

We meet back up with one another at Tim Horton’s and enjoy another coffee, before returning with the groceries to the campsite where we set about repairing some of our equipment – including stitching splits in our clothing and sleeping bags as well as repairing our shoes.  Soon decide that we should spend some time today searching for a replacement for Sean’s rain jacket which, at 15 years old, has now seen several countries and thousands of kilometres backpacking, but which has begun to horridly leak in the rain.  So we set back into town to search out a sports store that might have North Face Rain gear in it.

Unable (unwilling) to replace his gear we eventually end up back at Tim Hortons having coffee, recharging our equipment, catching up on emails, correspondence, answering questions, uploading Blogs and images as well as catching up on facebook, instagram and twitter while you have wifi – this includes postings for our own blog, postings for birding websites, articles for The Trek (and outdoors website), etc...

After another warm muffin, I spent the afternoon applying for sponsorship and answering questions while Sean sorted photographs (7,000 and counting at the moment) and caught up on our hiking journal.

By 2 pm, we ventured to the Post Office to get a care package from my parents, and arranged to send back worn out equipment and parts of our winter gear.   After which I walked to a nearby shop to pick up a Father’s Day card (June 16th)  and then returned to the Post Office to mail it with the hopes that it gets to British Columbia this month - but then we had to wait for the post office to reopen. 

By this point it is 4 pm and we decided that it was time for diner, and so we went to the bank to check the balance on the account...and......yes we can afford to splurge on a 15.00 meal tonight!  So we stepped into a local shop as we are now in the midst of extreme hiker hunger that is unreasonable in its demands and calorie counts.  Once our food arrived we are eating huge amounts of whatever is put in front of us.  In today’s case this translated into eating a very large pizza and likely the entire salad bar.  After eating more than is likely healthy we decided that it is time to get back to the campsite, when we noticed the Garmin InReach tracker and realized that in the midst of this we have crisscrossed town putting in more kilometres walking than we would have on the much for resting our bodies. 

Finished with diner, we soon trekked back out of town to our tent (praying that no one has found the site and your gear and decided to walk off with it) which we arrived by 7pm and set about making tea, folding laundry and re-checking email, blogs, facebook, twitter, instagram, etc. to ensure that we haven’t missed anything or that there isn’t anything new to deal with. 

By 9 pm we began to worry that we had missed something or forgotten to do something and so go back through all our gear and over our day’s routine to make sure we have not left anything behind.

Now it is 10 pm, and though we are both exhausted we have to reorganize all of our gear, pack all of our new supplies and ensure that everything fits into our backpacks for tomorrow.

By 10:30 I realize that I have yet to call my family to let them know I am still alive, and figure that’s ok since they live in British Columbia and with the time change it seems early there. 

By midnight I am off the phone and our backpacks are together again, but then again we are also both hungry again, so we re-open our packs, and dig out a few Clif Bars (yes a few....each).

Now it is 1 am and we begin checking tomorrow’s route and weather and again wondering whether you have enough food to get to the next supply stop.  At which point you get caught up in wondering where is the next supply stop? How far is it between the next few towns, and what the weather may be like in each town.

By 2am you begin to wonder how relaxing the past day has actually been and start dreaming of how simple the trail is and how much you are looking forward to getting back onto it tomorrow.  How did this day of rest and recuperation turn into a marathon of activities, work, and a ton of walking?

By 3 am you realize that people will begin to wonder about your adventures today and that you haven’t posted on what you are doing.  After 5 minutes of thinking about it, you decide to dig the phone, confess and admit to a zero day, and so write that blog entry too....

Sonya Richmond hiking blog Trans Canada Trail.

So as you can see Zero Days tend to be somewhat busier than the name might imply.

In the midst of this you are also trying to let your body rest.  20-35 km a day does not sound like much and often it isn’t, but day in and day out it takes its toll.   For us we hiked almost 800 km in training for the 40 days before setting off in Newfoundland – mostly without a break.  So today’s zero day comes after approximately 50 days and 1000 km of hiking – which tends to take its toll on the body.  Knees hurt, feet get bruised, hips get cut, shoulder blades get sore....all of which is par for the course, but over time each of these aches transform an easy day’s trek into a long slog.   

Zero days also let you switch the type of thinking you are doing constantly on the trail.   Hiking Canada’s Great Trail, or any long distance trail, is not the same as walking in a city park or along a pathway in a provincial or national park.  On the trail you are constantly staying alert to the realities and worries of your situation.  Where will camp tonight?  Where is the next water source?  Do I have enough food for today, tonight, tomorrow, or the next day?  Is the weather going to hold out?  Do I have time to dry out the tent and sleeping bags today before setting them up?  Will my tent and sleeping bags get wet tonight?  Am I walking quickly enough?  Am I walking too quick?  Why is no one else out here?  Why are so many people out here?  Why do the black-flies like me more than him?  Are there bears out here?  If there are bears out here can I run faster than him to escape them?  Is that a bird over there?  Have I seen that one before?  What is that type of bird?  Is it worth stopping to get my binoculars and guidebook out?  Do I have time to take a break?  Etc, etc, etc.   So oddly, long distance hiking can be mentally exhausting too.

To this end, zero days also restore your mental vitality, and your excitement for the trail as well as the wildlife on the trail.  There is no denying that Newfoundland is both a hiker’s and wildlife photographer’s dream – the landscapes, birds, and environment are incredible.  Yet after almost two weeks of long days and constant physical exertion you start to tune this out.  It is at this point that you know you have to take a break – because we don’t want to miss out on anything on the trail. 

So with all of this our zero day off the trail comes to an end ...tomorrow we continue into Central Newfoundland towards Terra Nova National Park!

See you on the Trail... 
Remember to follow our entire adventure here :


  1. Sean and Sonya,
    Jim and I sit back at the end of the day in our RV, glad and a little envious of your courage and stamina. I think of our zero day or, day off here in Estes Park which is similar; laundry, grocery shopping, errands, calling family, taking a shower outside of the RV, exploring the area, and resting when all is done. Good coffee is a treat along with a tasty meal that I don't have to cook. Needless to say, your determination and sense of adventure are commendable. We enjoy looking at your pictures and wonder what it must be like to be back on a trail. The moment by moment descriptions allow us to appreciate your experience and share the wonder as well as the mundane. Thanks for making the effort to move forward with your dream.... Trail Buddies Forever, Marianne and Jim


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