This is THE question, the one we are most asked and of course the one that presumably answers everything. When people ask this question, most want the answer to be simple, clear and inspiring. Sonya’s answer – that she wants to change the world by promoting diversity in the outdoors and inspire individuals - especially youth - to reconnect with nature through Citizen Science and birding is wonderful. It is clear and concise, and perfectly reflects her character, giving nature, and desire to make sure everyone is included and welcome in nature.
While I believe and support these goals, this simple answer doesn't get to why I am involved on this trek.
Wanderers I have met, whether on a local trail, on a thru hike, or on a long ramble have often had this‘aha moment’ when, for them, it is evident that this is something they have to do. These types of people - like Sonya - I envy. While I admit to always being a dreamer, I also have to admit that I am not naturally athletic – indeed I was the focus of dismay and derision throughout every elementary and high school gym class I was in. I also have to admit that I am not an inherently adventurous individual. By trade and education I am a librarian and scholar at heart, more comfortable with books than people. So again I am left with the question - how is it that I came to be one of two people involved in ‘Come Walk With Us’ on a 4 year 24, 000 km trek across Canada?
Of course the knowledge that she had long since moved on crushed me, but it also re-awoke the interest in travelling that her wanderlust had planted in me. To get past the pain, I began doing what so many others do – I busied myself and did so by reading everything I could find on trails and trips around the world. National Geographic and Canadian Geographic magazines as well as the travel section in the Library were my refuge for several years. I collected stories of trails and accounts of adventures like others might collect stamps or Pokemon. During this time great hopes for trips in places I had only read about began to take form. Once again, a sense of wonderlust that could not be set aside had awoken in me.
He is of course not the only person suffering from this lifestyle – many in our society now share similar life experiences and suffer from the health problems which are related to it. Yet despite any voiced concern for his physical and emotional health or his ability to socialize with others, he only increased his focus on the digital world. Ultimately this amazing young gentleman completed his schooling however my interest and promotion of outdoors activities and time in nature and his focus in gaming soon put us on different paths. To this day, I still struggle to understand how so many people can embrace digital rather than natural landscapes and I constantly worry about those youth who embrace digital distractions rather than fostering a connection with nature, an understanding of the world around them and the amazing diversity of their own communities.
Time flies by….and something is missing…
I of course willingly joined in the pursuit of these goals, made the necessary sacrifices, and ensured that I was “on course”. Then in 2014 all of it fell apart. I took a stand against the extreme levels of harassment and inequalities in the institution I studied at. The result, would lead me to become the focus of - at first several weeks of digital harassment and result in over two years of ongoing and intense online harassment from a professor. The messages I regularly received included both threatening and suggestive emails. The situation escalated when, at the instructor's request my thesis was stopped, and my research funding was threatened. Over the course of 18 months perspective employers and other institutions were contacted, all with the eventual result being the loss of my doctoral position as well as all of my previous accreditation. It was at this point; with my professional career in ruins I stopped and began to notice the world around me again.
At the same time a stunning series of events began to take place around me. I watched as family members and neighbours, who were only in their 50s and 60s, unexpectedly began to pass away. Individuals who were just days into their retirement passed on without warning. At the same time I was aghast as old co-workers lost their careers to automation or foreclosures and others lost their life savings in the process. I witnessed the marriages of high school friends fall apart, was stunned when people I had known for years had affairs and lost their families all by of events and decisions that made little sense. It increasingly seemed to me as though everyone was working to save up for their retirement but that so many never had the chance to enjoy it because of circumstances beyond their control. In the midst of all of this - at the heavy prompting of someone else - I began hiking and photographing again, eventually finding myself trekking on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
And so in 2018 when she asked, ‘would you follow me to the end? I think that there is an amazing world to see…’, I could only say yes and my feet were soon on Canada’s Great Trail where I became fortunate enough to photograph her journey across Canada.
These are the building blocks….
For me, when all was said and done there just didn’t seem to be any other way forward. It was either time to resign myself to the everyday momentum of life and society or chart my own path and move forward. We had both come to a point in life that we wanted to make our own decisions rather than reacting to the events or simply following the dictates and expectations of those around us. I suppose it is more eloquently put in my favourite novel, David Copperfield by Mr. Charles Dickens.
Clearly it is a long walk before you find peace with yourself.