World’s Longest Hiking Trail – A Monument to Canadian Diversity

Words and Photos:: Bradford McArthur

Have you ever been hiking and simply didn’t want to stop?  

I’m not talking about walking with a way too heavy pack, sore feet and dreaming of the car after a few days out.  I mean a simple moment when you wish your destination was just a little further away. Perhaps it’s the first moment you realize the seasons are changing, or your month’s been hectic and you had no idea how walking among trees or prairies was exactly what you needed this whole time.  

For 80% of Canadians The Great Trail lies within 30 minutes of our doorstep and literally connects us all.  Passing through 13 Provinces it is the largest trail network in the world.  

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Canada's The Great Trail touches all three oceans: Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic
Canada’s The Great Trail touches all three oceans: Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic

What a huge endeavour, what a wonderful gift.  However is it just a trail like any other, except perhaps a little longer?  For me it felt different, whispering there might be more. Something so grand, so binding, so… common to us all.  And so I began hunting for the answer.

Many countries have trails crossing from border to border, the Vatican City probably has many.  However, even as the world’s second largest country, Canada has a trail crossing the entire landscape connecting the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans.  This trail network is massive. 24,000kms stretching across most every ecosystem, and likely right by your front door.

The fabled storm chaser Ricky Forbes called me up the other day while he was out adventuring on the coastal BC portion of The Great Trail With CLIF Bar and Keen.  The day before he was on a section in Vancouver and wanted to do something water based while passing through Squamish on the trail.  After some deliberation we came up the with perfect idea.

 

Ricky dropping into Box Canyon on the Great Trail in Squamish, BC
Ricky dropping into Box Canyon on the Great Trail in Squamish, BC

Certain sections of The Great Trail have incredibly long river and lake sections where you travel by canoe or raft, however this time we chose ropes and harnesses for our water based adventure.  It’s called canyoneering and involves hiking to the top of a gorge and once finding your way inside, rappelling down the many waterfalls while locked inside the tight gorge below.

We met in downtown Squamish where I could literally point to the creek high above us on the far side of the Squamish river in the Tantalus Range.  It’s a neat thing being able to meet for coffee and gaze into the mountains at your days activity. A short 30 minutes later we were paddling across the Squamish to the far side where not a single road or building exists.  

 

Ricky Forbes approaching Box Canyon outside Squamish BC
The gorge hasn’t even begun and the walls are already closing in

Enjoying the big old trees, moss, and crazy rock formations we made our way to the top of the Box Canyon gorge and picked our way down inside to the creek bottom.  From here we set up the first rappel and dropped in. We were now 100% locked inside, there is absolutely no way to get out except to keep rappelling.

 

Ricky Forbes in the Box Canyon outside Squamish, BC
The few sections without rappels are as stunning as the waterfalls

For Ricky it was a totally new world, “Before our adventure I checked out the photos and videos of Canyoneering, rappelling over waterfalls?! Needless to say, I expected an adrenaline filled day. What I didn’t expect was the connection to nature it brought along. There were moments where I stopped on the side of waterfalls taking it all in. The sound of rushing water, birds chirping, the sun shining in, massive trees hanging above… it was nothing short of breathtaking. The rainforest landscape throughout the whole adventure was beautiful and left us smiling ear to ear.”

 

Ricky Forbes in the Box Canyon outside Squamish, BC
Dr Seuss couldn’t make this stuff up

This is ultimately what I keep hearing from those who spend time outside in any capacity, especially on something so common and accessible like The Great Trail.  “What I didn’t expect was the connection to nature it brought along”, is a phrase often repeated.  Perhaps is this the commonality connecting us all, via our experiences, via our country, via The Great Trail?  

 

 

Or is it just the proximity to #Squawesome?  With the answers not surfacing this easily, I needed a more macro perspective.  Something like an astronaut who has circled the globe, or a circumnavigating sailor of the oceans. Someone who has stepped off past the horizon and returned to tell the tale.  

Enter, Dana Meise.

 

Dana with his gear along the Great Trail

“I’ve hiked 20,100km from St. John’s, NL. To Victoria, BC then too Dawson City, Yukon. It’s over 32,000,000 steps and 26 pairs of boots. I began May 6th 2008. For most that don’t truly understand the distance I’ve walked it’s the equivalent of walking from New York to LA 4 times. Or I could have walked from New York across the US through BC and Alaska over the Bering Strait all across Russia and Europe through the tunnel to London England so around the world. Let that sink in. “

Dana is a legend among the community of Canadian hikers.  As this is being written he is finishing his last 1,000km of The Great Trail from Dawson City, Yukon to Tuktoyuktuk.  Completing this leg he will be the first person to solo all three oceans of Canada via The Great Trail.  

 

A recent photo of Dana during his last leg up North.
A recent photo of Dana during his last leg up North.

“I’ve always wanted to be an explorer, but my dad lost his ability to walk and it was something we talked about. So I promised him I’d walk enough for the both of us. And he follows my journey on my social media. And I’m not much of a quitter. I’ve a large following and people believe in me. Despite the hurdles, I’ve overcome them all and will continue to do so.“

Similar to Ricky, Dana also has theories about what can be gained by spending time outside.  I think the nature sections clear your mind and you have time to reboot your brain, relax and problem solve while being at peace.”  I think we can all agree with his assessment. Is this the commonality that we find in The Great Trail?  Dana goes further, “I think the common denominator is a passion for self and a kinship with nature. In the cities it’s often a means of actual travel by human power.  Being alone in nature also allowed me to have a whole new appreciation for people. I love everything about it. “

 

Many kilometers behind, many kilometers ahead. The Great Trail continues to give.
Many kilometers behind, many kilometers ahead. The Great Trail continues to give.

So perhaps there actually is something uniquely different, something uniquely Canadian about The Great Trail.  It brings us all together, there is a common binding force about it and it’s accessible to all.  What a great gift this is. For some of The Great Trail supporters like CLIF Bar it was an incredible opportunity to assist and help connect such a trail network in Canada.  

Amid all these thoughts swirling around, perhaps Ricky sums it up best.  “For me there are so many elements that I am chasing after on these trips, but ultimately, it boils down to feeling truly alive. It’s exploring the outdoors, breathing in the fresh air, standing amongst forests, getting lost in the awe of mother nature and her vast beauty. It’s adventuring places new and old to me, there’s always something to discover. It’s meeting people from all walks who have so much to share and teach.”

 

Only a few meters from the bottom of the final rappel, Ricky pauses to absorb the beauty.

Are you ready to shutdown this computer, turn off your phone and head out on The Great Trail?  Make one last stop at CLIF for more Great Trail info, plan your trip and get hiking.  See you out there.

 

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