A year defined by Covid, delayed by Covid and costlier due to Covid has again been shaped by Covid – as we stop hiking westward yesterday at the Saskatchewan and Alberta border. While, admittedly we did take two steps into our 9th province in order to savor the moment, we have nonetheless chosen to go no further west this year.
Our intent, even as recently as two weeks ago, had been to get to Edmonton Alberta by the end of October. Yet the world changes, realities shift, and by necessity plans need to evolve in accord with the moment. Our decision, made in June, to hike west rather than again attempt Quebec was based on the fact that the prairie provinces have for the past two years been among the most open and unrestricted in their approach to the pandemic. That situation – understandably – has changed in recent weeks in Alberta as the pandemic has given way to a State of Emergency leading to the need for both military and interprovincial assistance.
Even though we have both long been double vaccinated and even though the Trans Canada Trail is relatively isolated … the fact remains that exploration and adventure cannot be blind to the realities of the world around them. As such, it was no longer reasonable or responsible for us to venture further west into Alberta. And so once again we must adapt, evolve and go with the flow…
“…life doesn’t happen in books and online, the realities of the world often shift quicker than pre-planned itineraries…”
One of the largest critiques that we have regularly received online about our trek across Canada on the Trans Canada Trail since 2018/2019 has arisen from the sense by some that every moment of this hike needs to have been planned out in advance. People insist that to do a hike of this size it must have been scheduled with each meal, each destination and each photograph predetermined from Day 1 onward. This year, one stalwart critic has repeatedly and bluntly emailed informing me that the University of Toronto “should revoke my PhD because the number of troubles and obstacles you had encountered so far show a flawed inability to extensively research, plan, and prepare.” To which I can only respond, that we have in fact done a great deal of research (we have more than 1000 pages of notes on all the trails, their histories, resupply points, lodgings, potential water sources, etc.). In addition to which we are constantly reading, updating, and revising our plans. We have Google walked the nation several times, and regularly re-check resources that we are approaching. But the fact is that life doesn’t happen in books and online, the realities of the world often shift quicker than itineraries, Google information and plans do. More than this however the simple fact is that the Trans Canada Trail is not a week on a cruise ship nor is it a weekend package vacation in the Caribbean with a fixed itinerary – it is a 27,000 km pathway ranging from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic that will take 3-5 years to complete. No schedule could hold against all the amazing and complex possibilities en route.
The fact is that while we do have a rough idea of how far we will get each day (25-55 km/day) or where we will be by the end of any given week, however if we were to try to plan beyond that we would long ago have become nervous wrecks.
We learned this lesson early on. Indeed, on our first day on the East Coast Trail segment of the TCT - fresh off a European Camino and able to easily trek 40 km with our packs on – we ran into geographical challenges, a freak snow storm (in June), and the unexpected need to assist another ill prepared hiker. As a result by the end of our first day of a 24,000km trek we were exactly 25 km behind schedule. Things happen, and we both learn as well as adapt along the way.
“…to venture out…is to accept the unknown, the unpredictable, and realize that you need to adapt on the ground…”
Each time we have sought to build a fixed itinerary it has blown up on us – the deep gravel of the T’Railway Trail immediately slashed the distances we thought we could cover each day, the landfall of Hurricane Dorian led us to have to stop in Halifax and Annapolis Royal for over a week, the outbreak of Covid meant that we had to put Quebec aside in both 2019 and 2020, just as being refused access to Pukaskwa National Park by Parks Canada Staff last year meant that we had a new gap in our trek. In addition, on this trek we have forded flooded rivers, waded into the Atlantic Ocean, navigated rapids, scaled cliffs on rope ladders and had to deal with electrical barriers on the trail. We have trekked through snow blizzards, sheltered from hail and tropical storms, hiked amid tornado warnings, survived a hurricane, and ventured through the dense smoke from forest fires provinces away. We have trekked for weeks in 45+ degree droughts and for days when the weather has been a windy and freezing -20. We have come to sections of the TCT which simply do not exist, have been undermined by local persons, and also found marked trails kilometers off the mapped route.
To venture on the TCT is to accept the unknown, the unpredictable, and realize that you need to adapt on the ground. There are of course dozens of other examples of how our plans have dissolved and needed to be changed on the go. In this way, the challenges brought on by Covid have simply been the next obstacle on the trail and in life - which we can either adapt to or go crazy struggling against.
This year alone we waited almost two months for the provinces to relax regulations as case counts declined before striving to set out. Even then we would ultimately complete 3 rounds of quarantine, totaling 45 days in isolation in hotels in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba and of course we were vaccinated before returning to the trail. Regardless, we count ourselves as having been fortunate and benefitted from the fact that the majority of the Trans Canada Trail in the prairies is along isolated gravel concessions. As a result in 2021 we are excited to have so far completed more than 2300 km of the TCT while being privileged to venture across both of the beautiful provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Despite of the challenges (perhaps even because of them), walking across Canada continues to be a wondrous experience! Canada is an amazing place – it is naturally beautiful, provides the potential for astonishing experiences, the possibility to have great wildlife sightings, and the opportunity to meet wonderful people from coast to coast to coast.
In the process we have been honoured to carry an Expedition Flag for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, have dozens of articles published on Citizen Science, birding the nation, and our exploration of Canada. We have become Adventure Seekers and also written articles with Eh Canada Travel, given dozens of virtual talks to nature groups, hiking clubs, and classrooms across the nation! In addition to which I have been noted as a finalist for a Universal Women’s Network 2021 Women of Inspiration Award and been highlighted as a finalist for the prestigious Canadian Museum of Nature’s ‘Nature Inspiration Award’. Amid it all we have continued to take more than 100,000 photographs of Canada from the Trail, produce more than 100 of our daily blog showcasing the natural beauty and cultural diversity of the nation, and send out hundreds of Instagram as well as Facebook updates.
All of this has only been possible because of the amazing support that we have received on route from people like you! The articles written about our goals, the kind messages, the cheerful waves while on the road, those who listened in to one of our presentations, who followed the blog, posted kind comments, those who liked our photographs, those who donated to help us, and those who came out to trek and chat with us! Thank you all for constantly reminding us of all that is great about Canada!
Whether you have just started following along or been reading for three years, you have supported not only us but our message. As you know while few others have made this trek in its entirety on foot, none have done so for a cause and with the primary purpose of promoting diversity, accessibility and multiculturalism outdoors while striving to get youth engaged with and connected to Nature through Citizen Science and Birding. You have supported the fundamental truths that – Nature is for EVERYONE, that the outdoors are the heritage of ALL persons to enjoy and explore, and that as Canadians we are Stronger Together and when we keep on helping one another.
Thank you for another amazing year on the trail!