Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Who are we? Why hike across Canada? Why trek The Great Trail? (Sonya's Answer)
As we set out for our second of our planned four year hike across Canada's Great Trail we thought it would be appropriate to re-introduce ourselves, explain why we are venturing across the world's longest recreational pathway and of course explain our reasoning a little - since it is hardly the usual thing to do and we are hardly the athletic types most would envision on such an undertaking.
Who are we?
Well my name is Sonya Richmond and I have a background in the sciences from Trent University ranging from biology and conservation to ornithology (the study of birds). I have also completed research in Forestry at the University of Toronto and have worked as a GIS analyst making maps for the Breeding Bird Atlases while working at Bird Studies Canada. My love of birds, nature, and the outdoors led me to a career in environmental conservation.
By comparison, Sean Morton, has a background as a librarian and university instructor, who has since transitioned into an award winning landscape and architectural photographer, who has had his images published in trail and nature magazines across Canada.
Sean and I discovered a passion for hiking while at university together, and we have spent as much time as we can away from our computers ever since, hiking, kayaking, travelling, and camping across Canada. When not out exploring we both are fairly average people. We aren't athletes, and we aren't outstanding, and we aren't rich - we're both just curious about the natural world. As such, we take every opportunity we can to get outside and explore, disconnect from the digital world, and recharge ourselves in Canada's great outdoors.
Our First Year on The Great Trail
Staring on June 1st, 2019 we began hiking across Canada along the 24,000 km long Great Trail, formerly the Trans Canada Trail, promoting diversity in outdoor activities and striving to inspire youth to reconnect with nature through birding and Citizen Science. So far we have trekked more than 3300 km across Newfoundland, Cape Breton and Nova Scotia, as well as Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and into Quebec!
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 my case you would be wrong. I have an insatiable desire to explore the world. Not only to see around the next bend in the trial, or over the next mountain, but to come to know more about the nation's natural diversity. As such, starting in 2014 I, along with Sean, began regularly hiking long distance trails. Our first big hike occurred along 775 km of Ontario's Bruce Trail. Then in 2016 we hiked 800 km across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, afterward in 2017 we walked 780 km across France along the Via Podiensis (GR 65), in 2018 we enjoyed more than 250 km of trekking along Newfoundland's amazing East Coast Trail, and not long after we ventured 690 kms along the length of Portugal on the Camino Portuguese. 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.
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.
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, defense, 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 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.