"You're too tiny and small' : Being Questioned

Surprisingly my hiking partner and the expedition photographer, Sean Morton, has not posted many of the less flattering pictures he has taken of us over the years on the Camino de Santiago or from our venture across Canada.  So I thought I would take the opportunity this winter to share a few stories and unfortunate images from Canada's Great Trail over the past three years.

The first here is of me on the Trans Canada Trail in Nova Scotia in 2019. By this point we had ventured about 50 days and 1200km crossing Newfoundland, and Cape Breton into Nova Scotia - marching straight into a heat wave. We were both exhausted and taking a break in the only shade that we could find after a 40+km road walk.  As you can tell from my face I was less than impressed with the fact that we had come to a loop in the trail at a time at which I would have done just about anything for a cold glass of water, an ice cold shower or a few minutes in air conditioning.

Sonya Richmond Nova Scotia Trans Canada Trail.

Apparently despite his photographic talent and culling of images not every picture is me standing under rainbows and smiling or shows us having the ‘perfect’ day on the trail.  In fact, as it turns out, he has a pension for taking pictures of me when I am exhausted, eating, or just waking up. In reviewing many of these images - especially those that don't often get shared - he has captured the full range of our experiences and the conditions of the trek. As you can imagine over the course of three years of hiking not everything has always gone to plan and ultimately you can choose to cry, laugh, give up, or navigate your way forward. Such is the nature of life and trails.

Recently, while again striving to find the right words to sum up our experiences across three provinces on the Trans Canada Trail in 2021, and not being able to find the right words, I received my regular dose of humility.  Last week when hiking and birding in Southwestern Ontario I ran into a group of people, one of whom recognized me from an article about our hike across Canada on the Trans Canada Trail. When they excitedly introduced me to others in their group and explained our hike to their friends the responses stunned both them and me. 

“Really?  But you are so out of shape!”

“Her? She’s too fat to do anything!”

“But you’re a just little girl!”

“What?  Did you screw up everything else and couldn’t do anything real?”

So…apparently we have a long way to go before people realize it’s not about physical fitness, it’s not about body shape, it’s not about size and it certainly isn’t about orientation or gender!  It’s about having curiosity, it’s about wanting to explore, it’s about the will to keep taking the next step, and it’s about making the choice with what to do with our own time.  
Sonya Richmond stuck in tree Confederation Trail PEI.

What the two of us do on the trail each day is possible for anyone to do.  One of the things we have always sought to show is that we are just two regular people.   (Hopefully these pictures dispel any notion that anyone might have had about our 'inherent talents' on the trail!) We have long admitted that we are not Olympian athletes, we are not highly talented, we do not possess extraordinarily inherent skills, and that we don’t have huge life lists of birds.  Then again, none of these qualities are required to pursue your dreams if you want them.  Passion, determination, and choice outshine them all.  This is something I hope Canadian youth in particular learn - that your choices and your passions alongside determination can take you to great places!
Sonya RIchmond hiking amid winter storm New Brunswick.
The following day on my regular walk I was met with yet another group who again included another individual who recognized me and I was put to the question by the group that followed her.  Here again none of the traditional inquiries were presented and instead I was grilled about the veracity of our intentions and our undertaking.  Yet none of their questions shocked me more than being pointed asked by one individual who goaded me by asking,

“Are you really hiking or are you just writing about it and lying to everyone?  What are you doing?  Are you just driving it or are you just Googling it and staying at home?  You can tell me the truth I won’t judge you. But I have travelled more than most people and can tell that you don’t travel or hike.  I doubt you could walk a whole city block! You’re just too tiny and small!"

Dumbfounded, I politely extracted myself from the group, walking on.  Eventually I returned to my winter accommodations only to discover a message sent through Facebook from an individual informing me that they “are going to make sure people know we are lying about being on the East Coast Trail and Trans Canada Trail”.  Their justification for this conclusion – as we have been posting older ECT blogs from the summer of 2018 on Facebook throughout January of 2022 – is that there is no snow in our pictures and there is presently snow throughout Atlantic Canada.  In addition to which various sections of the trail that we trekked 4 years ago have since been upgraded and look different than they do today. The point being that this means that our "blog is a lie and our pictures are not real". Their message, which was extraordinarily detailed about how our images and account did not match their experiences on the East Coast Trail or the current conditions being experienced in Newfoundland seemed disproportionately happy to have ‘caught us’.  Sigh… So while obviously there is some confusion about the fact that all that is posted online is not in real time I am also struck by the level of dedication put into their undertaking.  I am left wondering how much time this individual dedicated to finding and 'documenting' every apparent rational for their critique and how passionately they wrote in their very long - 4 page - message . Their efforts clearly took a very long time and a great deal of energy.

Though we are more than willing to answer any question about hiking 27,000km across Canada on the TCT, I have constantly been amazed at the willingness of complete strangers to simply want to criticize those they don’t know, things they can’t comprehend, or undertakings they either have no interest in or would never undertake.  I have repeatedly been shocked by the sentiment that if one person is doing something it inherently removes from what others have done, or the attitude that if someone has achieved something then it is not that they have accomplished a personal goal for themselves but that they have done so solely to remove from or judge others.
Great Trail Sonya Richmond eating.
When as a society and culture did we become so insecure?  I wonder when we got to the point of simply doubting everyone and every resource on every subject?  It can be seen in the news, in the commentary section in online articles, across social media, and in the emails we receive every day.   

Is it the result of people saying increasingly extreme and controversial things just to get more clicks, likes and reactions?  Or is the result of building tensions amid Covid lockdowns?  A symptom of frustration at the world as it is, the challenges we face, or perhaps the troubles everyone experiences throughout their own lives?  Regardless of the cause there now seems to be a widespread self indulgent negativity in so many that approaches every situation ready to critique and rip others down.

No subject seems safe.  News accounts of a new litter of cute puppies in a city park deserves critique.  Stories of new local business owners opening a new shop leads to judgment.  Accounts of regional teenagers winning a Science Fair gives way to rants.  And any decision made by anyone is met by snarky remarks.  Online everyone seems to know everything about every subject and comments accordingly.

What has happened?  How have the bonds of friendship, courtesy and community been pulled so far apart?
When did we decide to stop following our passions and curiosities and dedicate ourselves to critiquing those who do?  Why increasingly do so many seem so scared about everything?  Why, online, are intelligence and discovery belittled rather than applauded?  When did we as a society decide that everything is a judgment of us or that everything (even those things we have no personal interest in) should be critiqued and defamed?  When did we cease aspiring to virtue and self improvement and instead begin building fences and fostering judgment of our neighbours? 
Is it in the mistaken belief that if we lay others low that we are building ourselves up?
When as a society did we decide that criticism for the sake of criticism rather than working to improve things was worthy of our energies, talents, skills and time? This seems a monumental waste of so much energy and potential.  And there is a huge amount of energy, talent and potential in every community across this amazing country!  All one has to do is take a look at the many many great undertakings and achievements by Canadians in recent years! 
Trans Canada Trail exhausted hiker.

Perhaps now more than ever rather than critiquing everything, rather than accepting rumour over fact, and rather than trying to post the wittiest 'take downs' we instead need to remember our own self worth and to direct our energies building one another up, to working together to build our communities up, and to strengthen the bonds of familiarity and cooperation.  

If we must compare ourselves to others then it should only be in so far as we use it as a means to drive self improvement and not be seen as the basis for defining ourselves. We define success for ourselves and define our character by our own choices not in the critiques we are able to level at others.  Kindness more than cleverness defines us each day. Every person has the ability to create happiness, to see the world as beautiful and to make their lives a great adventure.
If I know anything after walking 10,000km across Canada it’s that this is a wondrous country, full of amazing diversity, that there are a lot of highly talented people in every neighbourhood, and that we only have so much time to explore this world and improve our communities.

Life isn’t about the experiences others have, they don’t define us.  Life is about the experiences each of us want to have in our own lives and how we define ourselves.   In every moment we each make the choice to live a great and fulfilling life or choose to seek out adventure. 

See you on the trail!

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