GUYSBOROUGH – Out of the dark on Highway 16, headlights pick up an odd brilliance in the distance. As the car continues down the highway, movement can be discerned and soon a figure can be seen in the dark; it’s Trans Canada Trail hiker Sarah Jackson making her distance for the day, from Country Harbour to Guysborough.
Twenty-five-year-old Jackson has been walking the trail for two years. She started her Trans Canada trek in Victoria, B.C. in June of 2015 and plans to finish this May in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She’s stayed the course through all seasons, hiking through the prairies in bitter winter and suffering through baking summer heat, returning to her home base in Edmonton for Christmas the past two years.
Jackson started her cross country hike at the age of 23, initially planning to hike from Victoria back to Edmonton. But once she made it to Edmonton, the trail still called to her and she knew this adventure wouldn’t be complete until she had crossed the entire country. “When I set out I figured I would keep walking for as long as I enjoyed it and I thought that might be until Edmonton. And when I got there I think I knew that I would do the whole thing,” said Jackson.
The first question most people have when they learn about Jackson’s cross-country tour is why? When you think of cold Canadian winters, camping out through those months does not immediately sound appealing. Jackson told The Journal she had always liked the idea of a through hike, completing a long distance trail from end to end, and was inspired by her uncle who had hiked the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
When Jackson decided that her goal would be the Trans Canada Trail, also called The Great Trail, she looked for a hiking companion but could not find anyone who was able to commit to doing the full journey with her. She decided to face the trail alone. But as fortune would have it, over her two years on the trail, she has had many people accompany her for various periods of time and distance. As she makes her way through Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, her cousin Jared has joined her for a month. Her parents, her sister, friends and neighbours have also tagged along for various sections of the trail.
“I soloed New Brunswick and some stints in Ontario and British Columbia...I have been with people and alone and it has made me appreciate both.”
Before Jackson set out on this journey she did a lot of research; winter camping, hiking shoes, trail food and gear, gear, gear. She got a lot of help with gear research from Mountain Equipment Co-op and also read travel logs of other through hikers. But as for physical preparation, Jackson said there really is no training for that. “I was active but really the training for the hike was the hike itself; listening to my body. I think unless you go and walk eight hours a day with a 50 pound pack it is hard to train for it.”
When asked what the best part of the experience has been, Jackson said it was the people. “When I look over the whole thing I think it is the people I have met, people who have taken me in and shown me bits of their life.” She also said she’s had some spectacular camping spots and spent nights walking under the stars.
The basics of Jackson’s daily hike include covering a marathon distance (42 kilometres), carrying a pack between 45 and 65 pounds; depending on the season, winter gear being much heavier, and pitching camp at the end of the day. Over two years she has had few health problems but did suffer a bout of food poisoning through which she continued to walk for two days, stopping to rest on the third day of the illness.
As the conclusion of her Trans Canada trek nears, Jackson is thinking of the future and what she’ll do next. “I think after two years, I am looking forward to time with friends and family. I know it will be a huge adjustment. After I get off the trail I know I’ll be itching for it again.” She also thinks she may go back to school. That could result in a different kind of journey, one in post-graduate studies, as Jackson already holds a Degree in Sociology from the University of Alberta. Whatever she chooses to do, it’s clear this woman has the fortitude to stay the course.