Thursday, April 30, 2020

Reflecting and Reconsidering

With time off during quarantine and social isolation many people have begun to reflect on their lives, lifestyles, and choices.  This can be both a challenging process and a wonderful time. In the past two months we have had the opportunity to catch up with pilgrims we met on our Caminos and people who helped us last year on The Great Trail.  We have had old friends reconnect to talk, high school acquaintances email to relive old times, university colleagues reach out to gloat about their career successes, and old loves email about missed opportunities and the choices they wish we had all made differently.  With the time we have on our hands at the moment it has left a great deal of opportunity to think about all of these connections, the choices we have made, and the path our life is on.  Some of it has led to reliving beautiful memories and hearing amazing stories of new experiences and new families - while others have been very hard to deal with.   In the past few weeks we have been elated by the successes of old friends and devastated by the hateful rumours (some of which we have just heard) spread by former flames in our lives – sometimes decades later. 

As the intrepid Mel Vogel once emailed us saying ‘anyone who wants to hike across Canada has to be a little different and maybe a crazy.’  So it is fair to say that both of us are a little different compared to others.  Neither of us have never been one to follow along with what was expected, nor are we really competitors.   We long ago both knew that we were on a different track – not the right one or the wrong one – just a different one and our own.  I have always been struck by those who at an early age set out clear goal posts in their lives determining as teenagers that – by 20 they must have their career set, by 30 married with 2.4 children, by 35 have $250,000 in RRSPs, by 40 that they must have a Mercedes, etc, etc, etc. I was amazed by friends who rushed to get married after graduation "because that is what you are supposed to do".  It always seemed to me that so many people I met simply wanted to get through life and be done with it all.  They wanted to plan for the completion of their lives without enjoying the journey.   Then again I can hardly plan what I am going to do tomorrow, let alone define what 60-70 years of my life must look like.  Clearly the choices we have made in our lives, like the choices anyone makes in their lives are unique and they are (hopefully) right for each and everyone of us.  Because I believe this, I don't think that there is a need for social competition, vicious comparisons, and judgmental ‘what ifs’ asked years later.  It is so odd and sometimes frustrating to hear how the past is rewritten by people to transform themselves into the great heroes or downtrodden victims of some imagined slight rather than to find that they are at peace with their own choices. We are defined by what we do, not what we tell people we have done.

I suppose what I am trying to say, is that we each have challenges enough and don’t need the fears and judgments of others piled onto us.  I feel like the wisdom of the Camino applies to those individuals who keep spamming us with viscous messages and judgmental commentary – “Those mountains you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.”

For each of us, shouldn’t pursuing our own goals be enough?  Why do we have to compare and compete with one another?  What purpose does sending pictures of a new car or gloating about being a CEO,  or having a husband in the government do in a conversation with someone years and sometimes decades later?  I get that you are worth more than us, and that your house is huge, and that you have a 3 car garage and a cottage at the lake as well as perfect children - and if that is what you aspire to then you have done wonderfully! You have won the lottery of life, and we're happy for you! 

I am fully aware that I am homeless and that I spend my days hiking and teaching, that my nights writing blogs in a tent, or that we would rather spend time on trails photographing nature and discovering the world rather than building up our RRSPs and competing for that next promotion – but those are our choices.  Neither of us have never been drawn to a life sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, over 50 years.  I don’t love spending time in malls buying more stuff that I will never use.  And my goal in life was never to have a huge house filled with more things I don’t need.   My goals have always been to wander.  (I think we both “suffer” from insatiable Wanderlust).  I have always wanted experiences rather than stuff.  So, what is wrong with that - especially if we pose no burden on society or anyone else? Sure we have we made our share of mistakes, but that is the thing they are our mistakes, and we each have to live with them.  They arise from successes and errors we have made as individuals and do not arise from the concern that we are not where we are supposed to be by different people’s demands or society’s standards. 

Simply put, I am generally not impressed by money, the type of car someone drives, how many followers they have, their bank balance, their square footage, their degrees or their titles.  I am however greatly moved by kindness, generosity, integrity, humility, common sense, and respect. 

More than anything I wonder and worry about how youth navigate the parts of the online world that have such long memories, foster the narrative of the loudest voice and are so cynical and spiteful?  How do you find space to be yourself, to take risks, or to try new things in a forum where critique and judgment are the norm?

It has taken both of us a long time to feel comfortable with who we are and what our plans are - but that has only been possible because we have had amazing support from family, friends, and our fellow hikers.  If I had existed primarily online - as so many do today - I'm not sure I would have had the courage to go my own way. 

Sufficient to say, the past month or two has been a period of lots of thinking, talking, laughing, and yes at times crying.  However, while remembering the past can be joyous, and being asked to relive old heartbreaks and reconsider different opportunities can be rending  it also lets each of us to reconsider the world we want after Covid and figure out what types of people we want to be.  With this in mind, perhaps right now – with all the time to reflect and reconsider the world – we can all decide to restart in a more positive direction. 

Despite the challenges of the moment – we think that the current situation presents a wonderful opportunity.  It seems to me that more and more people are spending more time outdoors and demanding to be allowed more access to nature.  During the period of social distancing and shuttering of society – many Canadians have instinctively returned to nature (whether consciously or not) – on daily hikes, in their backyards with family, or by taking the time to watch their bird feeders again.  For me it is wonderful to see so many children back out playing, skipping, climbing and puddle stomping.  Many people are becoming more active on local trails, working in their gardens planting pollinators and hedges, and rediscovering the songs of birds as well as the sight of wildlife in their neighbourhoods.  They are seeing the litter beside the sidewalk, and notice the pollution in the local rivers and want to clean them up.  Newscasts are filled with reports of wildlife returning and stories of how clear the skies have become providing views of amazing vistas and starscapes not seen in decades.  In communities where local trails and parks have been closed people are furious that their right to connect to the natural world has been limited.   It would seem that it took a pandemic to make us realize what is actually essential in our lives and where we enjoy spending our time.

What this means is that by slowing down and reflecting people have begun to instinctively reconnect to the natural world.  This is an extraordinarily positive result of our time in quarantine.

It also leads us to realize that who we are as individuals and as a society does not have to be the same as it was before the quarantine began. If we are more relaxed on our walks then why not make them part of the everyday routine?  If we enjoy gardening or seeing birds come to our feeders then we need to keep engaged.  If we see that there is a need to address the pollution in our communities so that people can continue to enjoy clean lakes to swim in, beaches to play on, and trails to wander down then we need to get involved. 

Now of course, many of us won’t have the amount of time that we all currently enjoy to dedicate to being in nature – but there are lots of ways to stay connected and involved.  The key is to make that choice. Download a Citizen Science app (iNaturalist or Seek), join a local nature group or hiking club, or get involved in your communities to keep waterways and greenspaces open and clean.

We can make this world as we want it to be, we can be the people we present ourselves to be - regardless of who you are, what you believe, what your background or orientation is.  Each of us has a role to play in making this world.  Everyone makes a difference every day.  The goal now has to be to ensure that we each make a positive difference.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Quebec announcement !

Today the premier of Quebec has announced a staged opening of the province with much of the region to be opened on May 4th and the city of Montreal to begin opening on May 11!  Unfortunately the region of Charlevoix (Riviere du Loup to Quebec City) is still closed.

This of course does not mean that everything has returned to normal and we will be taking more precautions both for ourselves and for others.  This year - in the short term - we are going to shift to mailing out supply packages so as not to take away resources from rural communities and we will likely come into much less contact with people as we venture.  It also means that if conditions worsen in a region, such as Montreal, be may be forced to navigate around it to respect ongoing situations.  

This means that we can tentatively say (without trying to jinx it) that around May 15th we can resume trekking along The Great Trail​ from Quebec City westward!

It is exciting to begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel of the quarantine. social distancing and public responsibility are still very much going to be part of the "new normal" but this is nonetheless positive news! 

2Rivers Festival: Nature in the City - Feathers and Beaks !

We are excited to announce that on Sunday May 3rd, 2020 from 1-2pm we will be giving a free online presentation of our trek for the 2Rivers Festival: Nature in the City - Feathers & Beaks ! 

This free event is being hosted by Nature Guelph and the 2River Festival.  Nature Guelph is an amazing club in the Guelph Ontario region dedicated to connected people with nature.  They are particularly keen on getting youth involved in the outdoors and interested in nature through their EcoLeadersprogram

Our presentation is part of the 2River Festival which, since 2012, has offered free events throughout the Guelph region dedicated to celebrating and protecting the rivers and landscapes of the area.

Given the current situation in person gatherings are obviously restricted, and so this event has been restructured to an online format!  This means that there are more possibilities for people from around Canada and the world to listen in and participate – whether you are a budding naturalist, a parent hoping to introduce your family to birding or citizen science, or a hiker wondering about trekking Canada’s Great Trail !  This talk is for you! 

In our presentation we will be introducing people to the world of birding – from your own backyard to the Boreal. We will also share stories of The Great Trail, talk about Important Bird Areas, and share six steps people can take to help birds. We will also discuss the use of cell phone apps like iNaturalist and Seek that people can use to connect with nature and become involved in conservation through Citizen Science. 

This is a family friendly event with time for a Q&A session.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Life is what happens ....


In 2019 we trekked through snow storms, blizzards, and even a hurricane - never did we imagine that we would have to confront the realities of a global pandemic as well. 

Perhaps John Lennon said it best when he noted that "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."  In the last few weeks - watching our 2020 trekking plans crumble in the age of Covid 19, ending up in isolation in a motel, and loosing so much support - no sentiment seems more apt. 

As many of you know, our initial plans to return to the Great Trail in Southwestern Ontario in April of 2020 have understandably been cancelled – trail organizations have closed pathways, municipalities have shuttered campgrounds and lodgings, and Quebec has sealed its borders to non-essential travellers.  In this past month we have been contacted by regional tourist organizations from across Quebec and Ontario asking us to stay away.   City councillors  have reached out informing us that we will be charged and arrested if we come to their area, and we have become the subject of a great deal of online ire from people who both want us to stop hiking and those who demand that we continue. 

The majority of our arranged presentations have been cancelled, our sponsorship and financial support has been revoked, and the notion of camping and hiking in communities already stressed by this situation simply means that it is irresponsible for us to continue trekking  at the moment.  While admittedly even though we spend much of our time isolated from others while hiking the need to resupply and periodically stay in campgrounds or motels en route would place too much of a burden on rural and remote communities striving to care for their own.  

All of this is of course a tough pill to swallow.  While we abide - as we all should and must - by the advice of health officials, the patchwork opening of provinces and states across North America as well as the shifting advice of professionals and politicians makes it a challenging situation to say the least. Watching people play soccer in the fields or having BBQ parties in their driveways, makes all of us just want to get on with it.  But that isn't what is in the best interests of the public, our neighbours, or ourselves.  The only way through this is together.     

With the notion of venturing through Southern Ontario in 2020 set aside, since mid April our sights have increasingly turned back to our original planned hike - trekking from Riviere du Loup Quebec, through Ontario and Manitoba.  However this plan is also fraught with complications - Quebec's provincial borders have been sealed to non-essential travel, their parks have been shuttered, their trails are closed, and the regions in the Charlevoix Valley are under lock-down - all of which  is understandable since the province has almost twice as many positive cases than Ontario and so many more deaths than any other province. So, at the moment, returning to Quebec seems beyond our ability.  

At the same time, we have been contacted by other friends, hikers and global explorers - on the Camino de Santiago, Appalachian Trail, Pacific Coast Trail, the American Discovery Trail, and of course The Great Trail indicating - reluctantly - that they believe that the hiking year is done for. We hope this isn't the case for us, however, respecting the situation, heading the advice of health officials, and acknowledging the vulnerability of rural communities by maintaining social distancing is necessary at the moment.  

Now certainly - with all my complaining - we both recognize that we put ourselves in this situation and that we are by no means in the type of dire straights that so many people throughout this country and around the world are suffering through.  Ours is a complaint of impatience and luxury.  Despite the challenges of the moment - we are safe, secure, and healthy.  While our pant sizes are growing and our bank balances are shrinking our desire to get back into nature is simple Wanderlust and not an essential service (though trust us we have tried to justify that to ourselves).

Now don't worry - trust that we are anxious and have every intention to getting back onto the Great Trail just as soon it is reasonable to do so.  Our backpacks have been packed and been beside the door since March 20th and we - like so many around the world - listen to the news daily for signs that it is once again possible to get back to normal.  

Depending on circumstances - we might not be able to trek some of the provinces in order, but rest assured that we will cover those sections in the coming years - we want to see and show all of Canada!

Like so many of you, as the weather warms up, we are counting the hours, minutes and news cycles for positive news.