3 weeks ago we purchased tickets to fly from Winnipeg Manitoba to Quebec City to complete the section of the Trans Canada Trail that the first wave of Covid forced us to skip over. We bought tickets which the Air Canada agent assured us could be easily refunded or changed if, upon our arrival into Winnipeg we if we needed more time or if we decided to continue westward until winter arrived or if circumstances did not permit us to return to the province of Quebec.
Since that day, while hiking our perennial debate has been
about what we should do. Will we be able
to go back to Quebec and hike? How far
could we get in Manitoba or in Saskatchewan if we continue west? Should we try to go into the winter this
year? Is it possible to venture forth if
any of the provinces return to a lockdown status? What do we want to do? What is responsible to do? When do we need to stop to be able to arrange
for a place to live this winter and find a job?
As these debates ragged the world continued on and – as you
undoubtedly know – a second wave of Covid has settled over Quebec and Ontario
and in its wake a new round of lockdowns and restrictions has been
In Quebec, both Quebec City and Montreal (both major
locations on the trail route) have become epicentres of Covid. Similarly Ontario is following suit with
rising numbers of cases and increasing recommendations and restrictions on
travel and movement. Cases have also now
begun to rise in remote communities in Manitoba and the debate between
restrictions and masks on one hand and ‘personal freedoms’ on the other has
flared – right into our inbox (often times with incredible hostility and
Like everyone else, we are anxious and don’t know what the
best course of action is. However, our
sense is that, with Quebec in crisis it is no longer responsible to return to
that province, as such that section of the Trans Canada Trail must once again
be set aside for another time and another year.
However, with cases and concern rising in Manitoba we are
presented with new difficulties. We are
increasingly being warned by followers, trail groups and people online that we
are not welcome to travel into some of the communities west of us. While at the same time we are increasingly
aware of the challenges of being able to get to a city to fly out of either
before wider travel restrictions are imposed or winter arrives. The prairies, as with each new region,
present their own set of unique challenges on the Trans Canada Trail. In Manitoba the major challenge seems to be
the shear distances between each resupply point and each city.
The last couple of months have been rough. Heck the last year has been tough. We started a month late into the hiking
season waiting to see what the responsible course of action would be. In May when we finally decided to venture
out, we understandably had to skip over Quebec owing to the first lockdown. Later we were unable to trek large and
beautiful parts of the Great Trail in Northern Ontario due to the high costs
and challenges involved in advance notification to the particular parks. And of course we have had the usual challenges
on the trailway throughout our time on it in 2020. Recently our gear has begun to show its wear,
the weather has begun to give warnings of turning much colder, Covid has of
course returned, the negative emails and critiques have dramatically increased,
and our bodies are showing the strain.
Despite all of this as of yesterday we decided to continue
westward until November which would get us to Brandon Manitoba or even as far
as Yorkton Saskatchewan. In preparation
for this undertaking our parents express posted us our winter gear, a new tent,
and warmer outer clothes which we picked up upon our arrival into Winnipeg. All
that was required was to pay for our motel here in Winnipeg and change our Air
Canada flight departure date before we trekked on for 21 more days.
That is when the final series of incidents hit which ultimately would make our final choice self evident.
Yesterday I awoke to my phone ringing at 6 am to hear an
automated phone call from BMO and BMO Mastercard informing us that both my bank account and
credit card had been compromised and cancelled for my protection. While I was grateful for BMO’s quick response
it meant that we were due to have immediate troubles paying for our motel,
buying food, and making future arrangements.
Thankfully – though it cost us a day - each of these problems where
sorted out after a long afternoon at the local bank here in Winnipeg.
Our next challenge came when we went to alter our flight arrangements with Air Canada – changing our flight from Oct. 7th to Oct. 31st, 2020 in order to trek an additional 500 km. As we were informed when we called - our booked flight (initial cost 250 per person) from Winnipeg to Toronto to Quebec City was to cost us more than 1200.00 to alter our departure date from Oct. 7th to Oct. 31st. The explanation for this cost I could not even pretend to have understood or relate. This despite the reality that we could, today, book a new flight on Oct. 31st for 250.00 per person. When I refused this absurd charge I was told that I had to use my flight or change it to credits – at a cost – towards a future flight. I was informed that if we did not show up for our flight – after calling in about changing our plans – that I would be charged the 1200.00 fee directly to my MasterCard. The conversation that ensued was utterly unbelievable – with each option given to me involving increasingly high costs. I was informed that to get off the Air Canada flight that I was already reserved on in Toronto (the half way point of our proposed 250 trip) would cost us 269 per person to alter, and 200 dollars per piece of luggage to ‘redirect’. In other words leaving our flight at the half way point would cost us twice as much as travelling to Quebec City, while delaying our flight for 21 days would cost us 4-5 times as much as our original tickets. As the conversation went on the Air Canada agent literally kept giggling while he told me about other more expensive possibilities – asking us to upgrade to first class, asking us to buy various luxuries, asking us to change our flights to credits and buy new tickets, asking us to buy meals and drinks in advance, asking us to buy travel insurance in case we wanted to change our flight itinerary in the future (?????), etc, etc, etc. In the end I simply did not have the brain power to navigate the various and dubious options given to me by the agent. In the end overwhelmed and in tears I realized that we were done. Instead I chose to pay the more than 600 dollars in fees to ‘switch’ our flight from the original Winnipeg-Toronto-Quebec City to Winnipeg-Toronto. Ultimately we have the same seats, on the same plane, on the same flight, and are getting off at the half way mark of our original flight and according to the Air Canada agent ‘I should be happy at the great deal I got’. In the end the agent asked me to 'thank him for his great service'. To be honest I feel very different. To be honest I feel pretty screwed. But, as Sean would say the signs are in the stars, the message is clear, and we are done.
The past three weeks have been beyond hard. We have received emails and messages the likes of which we have never received. We have been told to go die, been informed that people hope ATVs hit us, and been told that we are stupid for striving to protect others by wearing masks during Covid19. We have found the trail harder and harder to navigate and we have been lost more often than is usual for us. Given the duration of our trek, we have had problems with our gear and our bodies. And we have seemed to enter each region at the wrong time – even in Winnipeg we have arrived during a 3 day period in which every museum, historical site, and art gallery are closed. The signs are there, things are not working out, things are not clicking right, we are done.
What this all means is that given the circumstances, despite wanting to keep hiking for another 3-4 weeks successfully, we both sense that it is best for us to stop for the moment and that ultimately it is best to end our second year of hiking in the beautiful city of Winnipeg. We are making this choice primarily because we feel it is not responsible to return to Quebec, that given Air Canada’s excessive fees and policies that we cannot afford to delay our flight to trek across Manitoba, and because we are – for the first time in a long time – very tired.
In part this is because recently things, often simple things, have gotten harder and harder for us to undertake, understand, and complete. Moreover, the shear indecision and worry and waiting to find out what is possible and practical do to – has worn us down since March. Each day, each week, and each month we have had to watch, listen, and evaluate each new section of trail to see if it is possible and responsible to undertake. In this time we have ventured from community to community and down trail after trail uncertain what our reception will be, without knowing if we will be allowed to camp, and without knowing if we can buy supplies.
In the mean time we have covered over 2700 km this year for a total of more than 6000 km since leaving Cape Spear Newfoundland on June 1st, 2019. En route this year things have been more challenging with fewer amenities open to us, leading to longer days through some fairly extreme temperatures. Add to this some of the injuries that we have sustained – many of which we are still dealing with - and we have come to the conclusion that it’s simply time to stop. My back and shoulders have again become extensively bruised from my backpack and Sean, who now has grey instead of blonde hair, has been walking in sustained pain down his left side and abdomen for the last couple of months and begun to lose a massive amount of weight. What we have come to see in the past few days is that sometimes the signs for what we need to do are evident.
When crisis after crisis hits us, and we are constantly subjected to overwhelming critique and negative commentary it is time to sit back and re-evaluate. When takes us 4 hours to walk 15 km (something which should take us about 2 ½ hours) and when we need to stop living on Advil and Tylenol it is time to simply rest. When each hour of hiking through pain becomes more of a struggle and less fun the time has come to take a break and recharge in order to return later with fresh eyes and renewed excitement.
We did not get as far as we had hoped but given the circumstances I think we did ok. What our decision to stop here means for next year we have to leave to 2021 to figure out. Will the country be open to travel next spring? Will we be able to hike both Quebec and get to the Pacific in one year or will it take more time? We don’t know at the moment. What we do know is that we intend to return to the Great Trail and that we do intend to continue.
We are of course going to get the rest of this year’s blogs and pictures posted and recap the trail sections and wildlife that we saw as well as highlight parts of our trip that we have yet to get around to talking about. So there is lots to do and still lots to come. If last winter showed us anything it was that the days and months pass quickly and spring will be here sooner than we think.
Thank you to everyone for their support in the last year of trekking – as always we could not have done it without your kindness, the friendly emails, advice, rooms, meals, and chats along the way.
We will be back.