Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Year 3 : Continuing along though our way is .... Uncertain

The weather outdoors is changing, the days are getting longer, and spring migration is underway…..so hiking season is soon to be upon us. However at the same time, new Covid variatiants have emerged and new restrictions are in place.   Ontario is in Lockdown, Quebec has Curfew, and Manitoba has Quarantine....

Yet this year, as with last year, an array of questions plague our return to Canada’s Great Trail.  Not all is as simple as it might seem.   What is responsible to do?  When to begin trekking? Where to begin?  Where to go?  What to do? Where to stay?  And, what is possible for us this year?

Covid

With the onset of the 2021 hiking and migratory seasons we must begin by acknowledging the most obvious obstacle in any current endeavor – Covid 19.

In April 2020 our hike was interrupted by the first wave of Covid and first set of provincial lockdowns.  Several days ago, as we planned to return to the trail the third wave of Covid was declared and our plans were again scuttled - exactly a year to do the day.

As with the past year, the old dream of simply trekking from East to West uninterrupted has now transformed this hike into a series of decisions related to when it is responsible to continue and where we should continue from.  In addition to which, the ongoing situation means that any venture is subject to shifting regulations that often differ between regions each of which also have varying degrees of institutional and public toleration regarding hikers and campers - all of which adds new complications to our decision.

Finally, even getting back to the Great Trail this year is a more complicated endeavor than one might imagine.  Flights are limited, many of the train routes have ceased running (to our prospective destinations), Greyhound buses have shut down, and we have no intention of walking back to either Quebec or Winnipeg.

Return to Quebec vs Resuming in the Prairies?

Beyond the matter of Covid, in practical terms, the most evident question we face is as to where to begin hiking in 2021? 

In November of 2019, at the conclusion of our first year of trekking across Canada on the Great Trail we walked 3500 km into Riviere-du-Loup on the shores of the St. Lawrence Seaway after in -20 degree weather.  Upon our arrival, tired after months hiking, caught amid the confusing reservation system and unique rules of the Charlevoix Region, as well as being clothed in summer gear we decided that this beautiful community which included a VIA rail station was the ideal place to stop hiking for the season and an easy place to return to.  Several months later in 2020, Covid had begun to spread and the world changed.  As a result, while we had every intention of resuming our hike in Quebec, by the time we set out the provincial border had been sealed by the police and we were warned that we would not be welcomed into the Charlevoix region in 2020.  The only possibility then was to set aside the 900-1000 km in La Belle Province and continue hiking starting in Ottawa Ontario and making it as far as possible in our second year.  We eventually arrived into the wonderful capital city of Winnipeg Manitoba. 

As a result, 2021 is a year that begins with a decision.  Do we try to return to Quebec this year before venturing west or do we go directly back to Winnipeg and strive to get to the Pacific coast by Christmas?

To return to Quebec would mean that we would have completed a continuous run from Newfoundland to Manitoba.   However,  it would also mean that we would likely only get to Alberta in the coming year which in turn would mean that 2022 would see us trekking through Southern British Columbia before striking north and likely only getting as far as Whitehorse or Dawson City.  This decision would also effectively mean that another year of hiking would be necessary to get to the Arctic Circle.

By comparison, resuming our trek in Winnipeg would give us a better chance at getting to the Pacific coast in 2021 while trekking through the relatively sparsly populated Praries for most of the year.  It would also mean that we would need to leave Quebec to be completed in 2022 – either before heading north to Tuktoyaktuk or afterward (making us the first group to complete the Great Trail not at one of the trailheads but perhaps in the nation’s capital?  Perhaps at the Royal Canadian Society or Parliament?).

Both options give rise to their own challenges.  Returning to Quebec this spring poses a number of logistical problems - as the Charlevoix region and along the Sentier des caps de Charlevoix, require navigating a regional reservation system and apparently only allow hikers into the area after mid June.  In addition with the current curfew system we be required to trek quietly from motel to motel every day over the course of 1100 km - which is a challenging and expensive prospect, but all that is open to us by law.  

Alternatively a return to Manitoba would lead us to spend 2 weeks in a government mandated hotel in quarentine before being allowed to head out.

So the question of the hiking season is where to begin trekking this year - Quebec or Manitoba? 

Early beginning and early Spring Conditions

Regardless of where we begin the fact is that to hike further this year means that we need to set out earlier in the season than ever before. 

Practically speaking this means that we will likely be heading off to which ever destination we choose early in April which means that we will likely be on the Great Trail by mid April, following quarantine.

This means that we will be hiking at the height of bird migration season, which is an exciting prospect.  However, it also means that we will be trekking amid late winter and early spring conditions – neither of which we have much experience in (nor love of).  The types of weather conditions the shoulder seasons deliver bring new challenges - late season snow storms, wet fields, soaked gear, floods in the prairies, muddy pathways, thick prairie mud, busy cycling paths in Quebec, freezing night temperatures, etc, etc, etc.

All of this changes the types of gear and the amount of weight we need to carry – especially if we begin trekking across Manitoba and Saskatchewan which (by all indications) means more concession walking, much larger distances between resupply points, and more challenges in finding regular places to refill our water. 

Age and Health

The final obstacle we face is our own physical well being. 

It is no secret that we are not the youngest to attempt this trek, nor are we the fittest.  Neither should it come as a surprise that with each passing year it becomes a little harder to get going, pick up a 50 lb backpack and venture on.  We are both a little more stooped over and a lot greyer these days.  Adding to this is the fact that, like everyone else, we have spent the majority of the last few months either sitting at a desk or on a couch - which means that we are in no way in good form and for the first time in years are distinctly out of shape. 

Most people are stunned when they see us or pictures of us, alternatively being amazed and disappointed that we are clearly not Olympian like athletes, nor are we naturally talented, nor skilled.  The fact is, we are simply ordinary Canadians on an extraordinary trek.

We are subject to the same random injuries, ongoing ailments and the challenges of the trail - anyone of which may force us to change our pace as they come up.  

Setting out, into the Unknown amid Uncertainty…

With all of that said, what does all of this mean?  Well,  given the ongoing situation, we will be going day by day and taking everything step by step.   When we set out our pace will very much be determined by what it is possible for what we are able to do to on a day to day basis.  Our pace may not be 25-50 km everyday, but we are going forward nonetheless.  Some days we will hike, some days we will stroll and some days we will stumble.   But life is like that. 

We will have good days, we will have tough days, but we have no doubt that each will be just as remarkable as the ones that we have already day while crossing this magnificent country. 

Plaque on Camino de Santiago

So despite all the challenges in front of us, amid the unknown and the uncertain we are continuing confident that this too will pass and that the best moments are still to be had.

While it is true, that this year will be more challenging – given that Covid has not subsided, that provincial parks are already filled to capacity, and regardless of which route we begin on. 

The fact is, that spring is here, the weather has turned, migration has begun, and we are homeless once again – so, one way or another it is time to go ….

 “Every moment is a chance to define what you want to become,

You're not a slave to the things you've done.

Be brave and be bold, be childish and old, it's the same old story,

Every life needs a hope of glory.

But you can't be an old fire if you're burning with a new flame”

(Roo Panes, Land of the Living)

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