Thursday, May 26, 2022

Logistical Challenges in the Past and Present

In addition to the challenge of trekking 28,000 km across a nation composed of massive provinces, entrenched local cultures, varied regional weather conditions, the caprice of each season, and diverse topography the Trans Canada Trail has regularly also presented us with a range of trail conditions as well.

While it sounds naïve to say, the scale of Canada and its diversity has been truly stunning.  So many of us have flown or even taken the train across the country.  While others have been fortunate to take summer vacations driving across the nation.  In each of these instances each person undoubtedly gets a sense of the size and diversity of Canada.  Yet when you begin to cycle or walk from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic the full immensity of the nation comes fully to the forefront and dominates your daily routine.

To put this into some type of perspective, the province of Newfoundland spanning 900 km from east to west (and one of the country’s smaller provinces) still takes longer to hike across than undertaking a pilgrimage on the popular Camino de Santiago from the French Pyrenees to Compostella - a distance of 770 km. Similarly the province of Quebec with a landmass of more than 1,500,000 km2 includes an area greater than the countries of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark combined and is three times the size of France.  And these only account for 2 of the 12 provinces and territories that the Trans Canada Trail traverses.

In short Canada is vast, in a way that the mere numbers of the Trans Canada Trail, road guides, Google searches and statistics fail to convey in a meaningful way.

Don’t get me wrong, completing the TCT on foot was never set to be a ‘simple’ undertaking from east to west to north but the unexpected and range of logistical challenges has nonetheless taken us by surprise time and again.  

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

                                                        JRR Tolkien  

Unusual experiences and challenges, 2018-2021

Since 2019 we have spent 420 days on the Trans Canada Trail and hiked more than 10,000 km from Cape Spear Newfoundland to the Saskatchewan-Alberta border.  Throughout it all the venture has been vast, unbelievable, and amazing (because of the landscapes we have seen and the people we have met).  No words can express how fortunate we have been to be able to both experience and share so many amazing things in our home country.  Canadians are often humble folk but this is, without a doubt, a truly incredible nation! 

We have been the first to see the sunrise in North America, we have scaled cliffs on rope ladders, walked along coastal footpaths, seen icebergs and puffins, spent evenings on the sides of crystal clear lakes, and gone days in remote wilderness without meeting anyone else.

We have crossed through many of the nation’s capital cities and largest urban areas as well as visiting a huge number of beautiful national and provincial parks, essential Important Bird Areas, and amazing green spaces.   As a result, we have seen whales and seals in the Atlantic Ocean, watched herds of caribou, encountered moose and deer on the trail, listened to coyotes call throughout the evenings, had black bear encounters in every province, and of course seen hundreds of species of birds!

On the way, some of our experiences have even been a little unusual – as we have walked on the ocean floor with goats, slept in a haunted jail cell, been actors in local plays for Parks Canada, trekked through snow blizzards, sheltered from hail and tropical storms, hiked amid tornado warnings and a hurricane landfall, as well as dealing with weather conditions that alternate between high humidity and bone chilling westerly winds.  

We have climbed down coastal cliffs, crawled under fallen trees, waded into the Atlantic ocean, ventured along flooded pathways, navigated through forests, deal with swarms of black flies, balanced across beaver dams which were as long as soccer fields, walked through tunnels, down highways, and along railways.  We have dealt with temperatures that have ranged from -30 to +50, spent weeks at a time hiking in driving rain, navigating thick prairie mud, and continuing through the dense smoke of forest fires provinces away, historic droughts and of course the global Covid pandemic.

Despite the challenges however, and best of all, along the way we have experienced overwhelming generosity, random acts of kindness, and countless words of encouragement.

Yet the fact remains that things have been tougher than anyone could have expected or anticipated. (Honestly we never anticipated hurricanes, and pandemics!) 

There is no denying that the logistical challenges of hiking across Canada are more diverse than we ever accounted for, that they have shaped our trek to date, and that these unexpected factors will likely continue to influence our hike until its conclusion. 

Gray morning light spits through the shade
Another day older, closer to the grave
Closer to the grave and come the dawn
I woke up this morning shackled and drawn

Shackled and drawn, shackled and drawn
Pick up the rock son, carry it on
I'm trudging through the dark in a world gone wrong

I woke up this morning shackled and drawn”

Bruce Springsteen – Shackled and Drawn 

New Challenges for a New Year

As we set back out the simple fact is that 2022, has already shown itself to be no different.   Beyond the potential for a new Covid variant, shifting medical restrictions, and the emergence of Monkey Pox (yes apparently this is a thing now), Mother Nature continues to transform the Canadian landscape and impact families and communities across the nation.

In the past week, as we prepared to return to the Trans Canada Trail, both Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec have been hit by a series of extreme and deadly storms resulting in damage to communities, the loss of power and water in thousands of homes, the widespread downing of trees, and the tragic loss of lives.    

Similarly this year Northern Alberta has experienced intense spring floods just as their western cousins in British Columbia dealt with another round of historical forest fires as well as severe flooding throughout the Fraser Valley impacting upon dozens of communities across the densely populated southern regions of the province in 2021.   The impact of these weather phenomena has, as everyone knows, become more unpredictable and more extreme as the years have gone by.  

Earlier this year we participated in the Hell or Highwater Telethon in collaboration with Eh Canada Travel to help aid communities in Southern B.C. but the fact is that these types of phenomena are no longer usual.  

Moreover these provinces are not alone in being impacted by such extreme events.  Other regions across the nation from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic now regularly experience extreme weather.

If we can know one thing in these challenging times, it is that things are changing quickly on every level and it is getting hard (ad exhausting) to keep up.     

Larger Pattern of things to come

In our case, the extreme temperatures, unpredictable weather patterns, and the damage they cause impact upon and often undermine trail systems which are understandably not the immediate priority to repair during a regional crisis.

For us, on a trek across Canada along the Trans Canada Trail – a vast network of interconnected pathways – the impact of flooding, erosion, drought, and forest fires continue to result in particular logistical challenges with so little known in advance about regional conditions.

One might think that after 3 years of hiking we would be used to these challenges, but in having ventured through hurricane landfalls, tornado warnings, floods, prairie mud, deep winter cold, and historically high temperatures, intense droughts, and a global pandemic ….  that the unpredictable, the unexpected, and uncertain are still obstacles to us – as they are to every community which are affected. 

The clear reality to us, on the Trans Canada Trail and across the nation is that we are all connected through nature and that the realities of climate change and the resulting extreme weather conditions have become more and more evident.  These changes continue to affect our communities, our families, our farms, our economy, and our safety. They are transforming our regional ecosystems, the habits of wildlife and birds across the nation and they are incredibly difficult to predict or to understand. 

The result being that the logistical challenges for all of us to get through each day in our communities and on the trail have become harder.  Despite everything however, we have made it through one step at a time.

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