The first year has revealed one certainty: nothing goes as planned. However, there were some tasks where planning and preparation paid off in spades. The following are a few tasks that required some amount of planning: food preparation (dehydrated meal creation), fixing of route, and food/gear drop-off locations and dates. The most difficult task was not a task at all, but a mindset: don’t plan, acquiesce.
Lesson 1: Food
My Walk is nowhere near the same expedition in scope or magnitude as Ernest Shackleton’s harrowing voyage to Antarctica; an epic story of human survival, strong leadership, and the ultimate test of what the human body and mind can endure after being trapped on an ice for over a year. Aside from the superhuman leadership skills of Captain Shackleton, he and his crew noted that meal time and the availability of good food was fundamental in helping them work past the tedium and strife they often encountered.
Similarly, I found that nutritious and tasty food became the most important component of My Walk; after a hard day of walking or when the weather failed to conform with my plans to move forward, the simple act of eating a quality meal changed my perspective – for the most part.
Lesson 2: Route Planning
After years of playing on Google Earth and reviewing trip reports from cyclists and other cross-Canada walkers, I planned the perfect route, or so I thought I did. Small deviations were made when I either arrived at a crossroads (noisy highway vs. quiet backroad) or I met someone with credible information about a good place to camp or a town to visit.
There are times when my sense of direction isn’t so good, so a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS unit) is valuable in helping me to stay true. However, the power of a GPS unit isn’t fully realized until you pair it up with a Geographic Information System (GIS) and a Backroad Mapbooks GPS chipset. GIS is a powerful system that efficiently translates some geographic idea one may have (Barrie, ON to Anchorage, AK) to a working geographic model (some digital lines and points within the GIS desktop). The final step is to upload this winding virtual route across Ontario, Western Canada, Yukon, and Alaska into a GPS unit.
Once mastered, this powerful system and method can be utilized to guide one around the world and across its varying landscapes (i.e. frozen lakes, temperate forests, the Taiga, even the pavement jungle).
The wide availability of open source GIS software packages, such as QGIS, makes this something anyone can do. So, all you have to do is create a route on the GIS desktop and upload your route to a GPS unit (experiment before you set out). The learning curve can be steep at first, but with the availability of how-to-videos and a plethora of documentation, the steepness of this curve can be lessened.
Lesson 3: Camping and Sleeping (sometimes)
Finding a dry, safe, and comfortable place to lay your head at night is important and required after walking a marathon or more worth of distance. I have found out that when one’s resting needs are not consistently met over a long period of time, the body and mind can wander into areas you don’t ever or intend to go.
In the beginning, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into; I have little experience in finding a place to sleep after rambling along a vacant road or caught within a small town or city with nowhere to sleep, but I do now. After some reflection, My Walk is much like anything else in life: you try your best, sometimes you fail, but you learn from your mistakes and get it right the next time.
From time to time I would need to pitch my tent in some less than agreeable environments and questionable locations; the lakeside cabin or an established campsite isn’t available all the time. The original plan was to setup a string of predetermined camp locations on my GPS unit along the way; however, this plan didn’t pan out. It was near impossible to pedict where I would be in the future, and it isn’t much fun if every day is planned to the kilometer; adhearing to an over scheduled life is for the birds. The days and weeks bled together and the kilometers become meaningless. I just walked. There were 50 km days, 20 km days, and everything in between — sometimes those 20 km days were harder than the 50 km days.
After realizing that uncertainty is the plan, I submitted to sleeping anywhere a patch a land just large enough to safely setup my tent could be found: school yards; churches, Anglican to Jehovah Witness; even among the bushes in the center of town. Most of the time, however, it was somewhere within the sprawling forest adjacent to the highway.
Lesson 4: Food Drops & Dehydrated Food
The shipment of food, 10 days worth of dehydrated food, was shipped to me via Canada Post’s Flex Delivery service (thanks mom); this was the easiest logistical task during the walk; however, one must follow some basic rules: 1. allow plenty of time for delivery or risk many days waiting in town for your package to arrive (Canada Post doesn’t ship on the weekend or holidays); 2. Be conservative when estimating how far you can walk in 10 days; 3. Never plan on receiving the package on a Friday.
The cravings for fresh food, especially fruit, began after the first full month of walking. The dehydrated meals I created worked out well for the most part, however, they just needed more spice and style. Many of the meals were home runs and very filling, such as the chili and pasta meals, but the rice and vegetable meals required more spice. Next year, in 2018, the meals will have more spice and style (additional packets of spice will added to each drop).
Lesson 5: Gear, Walking, and Reality
One can have the newest, fanciest and lightest gear, but when times get tough, and they do, that fancy light weight gear will only give you so much comfort and advantage. Remember, that fancy sub 20lb base weight setup will not exude the determination and faith needed to move forward as the months get underfoot.
There are numerous real-life stories of people walking across continents with little more than a pair of shoes – if that, a backpack, and the want to reach the end. This fact demonstrates the wide-ranging gear requirements required for one to be successful in reaching their destination. If the past is any predictor of the future, adaption and some tweaking can get you to the finish — if you want it bad enough. The first step is to determine what the level of comfort or discomfort you can SAFELY withstand for an x period of time.
The beginning of My Walk was filled with people along the way telling me that it was going to be a herculean task for one to walk the Trans-Canada highway from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay and across the Manitoba border into Winnipeg. Many suggested I take this way or that road, since the hills along the road might be difficult to walk (i.e. Montreal River and beyond), maybe. I listened to everyone and nodded in agreement; but, they were wrong. I walked several 30 and 40 km days without injury or regret.
Reality has hit me a few times during and after the first season of My Walk. The biggest lessons were to keep my chin up, feet firmly on the ground, eye on the prize, and head in the clouds; anything is possible, it really is. After the first season of My Walk, a simple technique for getting up hills was born: just keep going.