In a few months and several thousand more kilometres, Sarah Jackson may be taking her final steps in completing The Great Trail – a feat not many can boast. Kicking off her journey last June in Victoria, B.C. with a goal of reaching St. John’s, Newfoundland by the fall of 2016, Jackson’s impressive 12,000-Km undertaking stretches all the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
Growing up in Edmonton, outdoor adventure hadn’t been a central theme in the now 24-year-old’s childhood but, after hearing about the Camino de Santiago from an uncle who had taken the trip himself, the idea of a long-distance hike stuck with her. “I think it was the self-sufficiency that immediately appealed to me.” After University, looking at a stretch of commitment-free time ahead of her, Jackson jumped at the chance to make it happen and took up the challenge of conquering the world’s largest network of recreational trails. The time it would afford for creative thought also appealed to the recent grad. “Coming out of seventeen plus years of school left a gaping hole in my life, academically… Walking for eight hours a day necessitates a new way of thinking.”
Catching up with her on Day 226, Jackson was celebrating with an afternoon at Grand Beach in Manitoba after passing the geographical midpoint of her cross-country walk. With a long stretch of trail in her rear-view mirror, she has developed an acute understanding of the importance of listening to her body. “I’m beginning to see when I can push through and when I need a break.”
Grand Beach in Manitoba / Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sarah Jackson
Another thing that’s proven indispensable on her cross-country trek? The ability to accept a helping hand. While Jackson has camped for the bulk of the trip, she’s never taken for granted the reprieve of a warm house and a home-cooked meal. “The kindness that’s been offered me, and how welcoming and generous everyone has been, is incredible.” Perhaps owing to the rarity of spotting a solo hiker making her way across more desolate parts of the country, or simply the Canadian spirit in its truest form, people have welcomed Jackson with open arms.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sarah Jackson
On days with less human contact, a direct line back home in the form of a cell phone has been key, helping her stay in touch with family and friends and send regular status updates. One nifty app sends automated text messages to loved ones when she doesn’t have the time or cell reception to do so herself.
That connectedness has also added another dimension to Jackson’s journey. She may have embarked on this hike alone, but along the way, she’s amassed 692 captive followers and counting via Instagram. A quick scroll through @sarahrosewalks – where she shares one snap for each day of her expedition – offers a glimpse into the wonders, the joys and the challenges of the Trail.
Whether it’s finding the perfect spot to camp in beautiful B.C. or taking in the infinite flatness of Saskatchewan (“I’m a prairie kid, I love the open sky”), Jackson has fallen in love with the terrain every step of the way.
Sakastchewan / Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sarah Jackson
“I love realizing how happy I am to be walking 20 kilometres into a day. I love carrying my home with me. I love not having to decide what to wear in the morning. I love everything about it.”
As much as she misses the comforts of home – satisfying a craving for Thai food while travelling across rural Saskatchewan is a challenge, as it turns out – she’s nowhere near ready to head back. “I’ve had instances where I’ve gone back home and my feet are itching for the Trail a few days in.”
Manitoba / Courtesy of Sarah Jackson
And when the going gets tough – say, trudging through Manitoba in the dead of winter – it’s a simple principle that helps her persevere. “Knowing you only have to put one foot in front of the other really puts things into perspective,” a mantra that applies just as much to everyday life as it does to a 12,000-kilometre trek.