Advice For Those Who Want To Do The Long Walk
While I walked across Canada, and thereafter, I’ve had many people mention to me they’d be interested in embarking on a similar adventure, and asked me to offer some advice based on my own experiences. While I don’t see myself as an expert, I certainly have a wealth of experience which I’m happy to share with you.
Firstly, I’d recommend abandoning your assumptions of what life would be like on an adventure across the country, an adventure taking you 7000 km, mostly on highways, based on your past experiences, whether that is hitchhiking a great distance, backcountry camping in the woods or in the mountains, backpacking through Europe from hostel to hostel, or even walking a distance like the Camino de Santiago or the Appalachian Trail. I don’t mean to minimize the accomplishment of walking those great distances and the adventure they can deliver but, in my experience, an adventure such as what I’d experienced walking across Canada, mostly on highways and living outdoors was very, very different.
As with most adventures, expectations will be not meet reality. In fact, there’s a famous quote: “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.” In my experience, that’s advice you can take with you on any adventure or through life.
Perhaps before embarking on nine or ten month walking adventure, experience some shorter trips. A week or two of backpacking in the woods will certainly help prepare you for life outdoors, even if only in one season. Even better would be to challenge yourself to a month long walk, like the Camino de Santiago, although that trip also affords the luxury of extensive infrastructure and hostels each night; very different than living in a tent in four seasons. I guess I’m just saying, crawl before you walk. Walk before you run. Before beginning my cross country hike, I gradually increased from my usual few kilometres walk to and from work, to walking nearly 100 km per week - a couple of hours daily and several hours on the weekends. Although I wasn’t accustomed to walking two hundred or more kilometres a week, I was physically prepared to walk five or six hours a day which, in time, with the changing seasons, had me walking ten or twelve hours a day in the summer. Listen to your body, treat it well and be patient with your progress.
Prepare yourself for long periods of isolation. Although there were many times when I’d have several conversations a day with strangers, in stores or even on the side of the road, most days were nearly completely solitary and it wasn’t unusual to go days without interacting with another person. Be certain you’ll be comfortable on your own. This was easier for me than most people, I think, because I’m an introvert, have lived on my own for years, was completely comfortable with three months of isolation at the beginning of the pandemic, and enjoy solitude and being in my own head. Still, I thoroughly enjoy interacting with people and having good conversation, and found that walking into towns where I could have a brief conversation and a smile from strangers was often the highlight of my day. If much of this seems like it may be too difficult for you, perhaps consider making this sort of journey with a companion or two.
Another common quote for those living in the backcountry is “If you don’t have it, you don’t need it.” Obviously that isn’t always true. There are times when you’ll need to add to your gear, whether because of a change in season or a discovery in need. Simplify your life and your pack. The less you carry, the further and more comfortably you will walk. For the entire nine months I’d walked, I routinely took stock of my belongs and eliminated gear. And a simple lifestyle allows for fewer distractions and a clearer mind. Simplify. Simplify.
You will poop outside. There’s no doubt about it, you will have to learn to do as the bears. Be responsible and bury your waste. Learn to squat and make use of trees as a stronghold or a prop. You’ll find that , in no time, you’ll appreciate the freedom of “taking care of business” in the outdoors and the obvious benefit to squatting rather than sitting. Still, you’ll appreciate a clean bathroom now and again. Take advantage of the sink and warm running water when you can.
Look after your feet and listen to your body. While you will certainly experience some discomfort from time to time and you will be sore and tired most every day - even after walking for nine months - real pain should not be ignored. Your body is an amazing machine but it needs to be well maintained and appreciated. It has a remarkable ability to heal, to carry you and your belongs great distances, and really only needs delicious food and some motivation to keep you going day after day. You will most likely lose weight, as did I, but if you listen to your body and feed it well, it will most likely maintain a healthy weight, best suited for your activity.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, be kind to yourself. There will be challenges and failures. Embrace the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and failures or you will make them again and again. This may be the most challenging thing you’ve done in your life. Be KIND to yourself. Be PATIENT with yourself. Strive to be better each and every day, in every way.
*Feel free to comment below with any questions or concerns I may have missed. Or, as always, feel free to head over to my Instagram and leave a DM. Cheers.