Saturday, June 12, 2021

2021 : Heading West Again...

For months we've been longing to venture beyond the now overly familiar trails and green spaces of our own neighborhood.  We've yearned to escape the mechanical sounds of city life, to once again smell the tangy scent of sun soaked forests and freshwater lakes on the breeze, to exchange the feel of concrete beneath our feet for the crunch of gravel or the springy softness of a wilderness footpath, and to feel the thrill of exploration and movement once again.  Now that the moment has finally, finally arrived, it feels like we're emerging from the protective cocoon of an insulated, climate controlled, slightly too comfortable shell, where all sensations were slightly dimmed, and all news of the outside world was carefully mediated by screens.  

As we take our first tentative steps back out into the world again, blinking in the blinding light of the midsummer sunshine, it feels almost audacious to hope that the lockdowns and travel restrictions are truly behind us now, and no more backtracking will be necessary on this long road to recovery and a post-pandemic world.  The signs are encouraging. Many Canadian provinces are meeting their Covid 19 vaccination targets early, and are beginning to re-open with few restrictions.  As we set out for the third season of our #hike4birds, all the available seats on the VIA Rail train to Toronto were full.  Even on a Sunday morning, there was a line-up at the Starbucks in Toronto's Union Station, the main transit hub for Canada's largest city, which was nearly deserted during our visit one year ago.  We've seen more smiles behind the masks in the past few days than we've seen in ages.  Very slowly the uncertainty of the past 15 months is being replaced with hope and trust that finally feels stronger than the whispers of new variants and a fourth wave of the pandemic.  Only time will tell, but our fingers are crossed that good things are in store for the rest of this year! 


In Toronto we boarded The Canadian, VIA Rail's Train No.1, bound for Vancouver.  Our debate about whether to head to Quebec or Manitoba continued until two days ago, just two short days after our Provincial lockdown ended, when we finally decided to simply continue heading west and figure the rest of the logistics out as we go. Our adventures in 2021 will begin where we left off eight long months ago - in Winnipeg, Manitoba. 

 


If all goes well, it should take the train 35 hours to reach Winnipeg - a distance it took us 108 days to walk last year on the Trans Canada Trail.  The mournful sound of the train's whistle, and its gentle swaying and rocking motion brings back wonderful memories of past cross-country train trips we took in our youth, when summer rail passes were cheaper.  

 

                                                    (Via Rail Images from 2000-2005)

The gorgeous pink granite, deep blue lakes, and lush green forests of the Canadian Shield bring back memories of the deep puddles, streams, swamps, overgrown trails, and stunningly beautiful landscapes we navigated last year around Bracebridge and Huntsville.  Seeing this familiar landscape once again, but from a different perspective, makes us give thought to what lies ahead. 


Beginning a new adventure is always very exciting, but also a little unnerving.  Each year on the Trans Canada Trail has been a completely different experience for us.  The landscape, culture, and trail conditions were different in the Maritimes than in Ontario, and they will be different again in the Prairies.  None of the story about this year's trek has been written yet.  At this moment we can only imagine the great times and hope we survive the difficult ones.  

We carry with us warnings about droughts, fires, ticks, tornadoes, high levels of post-pandemic anger and frustration, and what will hopefully be misconceptions about the mental and emotional stamina required to cross the 'Canadian Meseta.'  We also bring the anticipation of stunning skies, wide open spaces, grassland landscapes that few people who don't live in them take the time to appreciate, and a whole suite of new bird species.  We may be heading out two months later than we'd hoped, but it's time to begin!



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