Saturday, December 19, 2020

GDT trip report: Field to Saskatchewan Crossing

 Day 11: 47km/2787m

    We woke up bright and early in the comforts of Jessica and Jay's house. They were so kind to let us feast on delicious cereals and berries. We followed Jay's instructions that led us directly to the trailhead and started up the many switchbacks on the Iceline trail. This trail is located in Yoho National Park. Such a beautiful name for a park! I quite enjoy a good long climb in the morning. I'm a morning person in general and as soon as I am awake I'm already quite full of energy. I drink coffee because I enjoy the ritual but I don't need it whatsoever. In fact, I was the only member of the team that didn't bring it on the trip. I love it in my regular life and drink it daily but I don't want to drink cold instant coffee in a plastic bottle. I like the warm and cozy feelings I get when I drink coffee in the morning and if I'm not going to be feeling warm and cozy, I can go without. Joanna was smart and would put instant grinds in her oats and she said she quite liked that. To each their own!

The Iceline trail is really a thing of beauty. It is definitely a highlight of the GDT and worth taking the alternate route to see. I don't know what the jungle looked like but it couldn't have been as beautiful as this 😜.

    We stopped to have lunch at this really beautiful tarn. I remember it mostly because Joanna shared some of her Hawkins cheesies with me. I couldn't believe that some people were opting not to take this route because it was literally one of the most beautiful trails I had ever been on and was in pristine shape. 

    After lunch we continued on towards the Kiwetinok Pass junction. Joanna was really excited about this junction because she has only ever turned right there and today she would turn left. This felt exciting and I was happy to be there to share this with her. The trail up to the pass was magnificent! A real thing of beauty. It felt wild and rocky but there was a distinct trail up to the pass. I think I may have exclaimed, "Aren't you glad we turned left!"...I may have spoke too soon. 
    I think I have blocked a lot of it out of my mind to be honest as this was my personal worst day of the trip. What started off as an amazing day quickly took a turn. There was no trail off the other side of the pass. Even reading Joanna's account of what the terrain was like seems unfamiliar. I remember there being a lot of boulders. Footing was shitty and slow going. We were doing our best to follow a line on the app but it wasn't easy. At one point it seemed like we were way too low and would have to climb back up into the forested abyss and hope the trail merged. I wasn't a fan of this option so we decided to follow the creek below and hope for the best. The forest was like a big game of pick up sticks as if the skies above just dropped a crap ton of dead logs into the forest and they stacked at random. Somehow, someway, someone flagged a route through this stuff. A huge thank you to whoever did that! We continued to slowly weave our way up and over deadfall. It was quite dangerous in there as the deadfall was sharp where branches had broken off. At one point I slipped and my shin got caught up in a jumble of logs and I cut myself sharply on a broken branch. I was laying on my back and I looked at my shin and immediately knew it wasn't good. I had 7 stitches on my hand a couple years ago and was familiar with what needing stitches might look like. The cut quickly filled with blood so it was hard to tell exactly how bad it was. Joanna calmly took out her medical kit and brought over some tape. She had done something similar to her shin and knew I would be ok which was reassuring. She taped it up and we continued on our way. There was no other option.

    Getting out of this deadfall took many more hours. This was very stressful for me because I was trying so hard to protect my leg and was so worried about banging it or making it worse. I also let my mind go down the rabbit hole of doom. How can I possibly continue? Will this injury be a trip ender? How will I get medical help? What if it gets infected and needs to be amputated? We were 75km away from any sort of civilization. Joanna told me that this is not the kind of injury that we call search and rescue for and hiking out was the only option. We pressed on. Eventually we were out of the shit!! We finally hit a creek and I took off the tape and rinsed the wound. Keeping it clean was going to be very important as to avoid infection. Luckily, Joanna had antibiotics with her from an unused prescription from a similar injury and I could take those if need be. The gash appeared to already be clotting and somewhat closed and that gave me a little bit of peace of mind. I only had smaller bandaids with me and I piled on a few of them to cover the wound and hope for the best. I had never had to deal with anything like this out on the trail before which probably made it feel more stressful internally than it had to be. The trail from here until camp continued to be slow going and challenging in its own way. 

    I feel like a theme was starting to develop on the GDT. Each day was the full meal deal. There was always some insanely beautiful well manicured trail that just took your breath away. On the flip side, there was also challenging terrain that was at times hard to navigate. I think it is this dichotomy that makes the GDT so special and so memorable. Because of this you get to feel the full spectrum of emotions and the experience gets solidly imprinted in your heart/mind. 

Day 12: 60km/850m
    We woke up really early today because today was a big day. I feel like I say that a lot but we were scheduled to meet people for a re-supply and we like to be accountable to those people. We fell short on our mileage the day before which meant we had to make up some ground and the only way to do that was to give ourselves a lot of extra moving time. I think we got up around 4:45am. We had pre-discussed taking the Collie Creek alternate that Joanna saw on the map even though we had pretty much sworn off alternates. By taking this alternate we would cut off 15km of logging road and instead only have to hike 8km to this particular junction. In theory, this should be faster as this route looked more direct and efficient. The 1km down to the creek was through a plush mossy forest and was quite nice. I was so far enjoying this alternate. 

    My tune changed as soon as we got to the creek. This creek was raging! The water was moving extremely fast and we had no idea how deep it was. As nervous as I was there was no way I was climbing back up the 1km to the logging road. We found a cairn and it appeared to be the best place to cross. Joanna offered to go first and I was fine with that. Things were looking ok until she was about 2/3rd's across the creek. The water was rushing up onto her waist and she was struggling to keep balanced. She was having a hard time stabilizing herself with her poles and I was growing worried that I just might watch my friend get washed down this creek. Joanna knew she was seconds away from being knocked off her feet and in a desperate leap of faith she jumped towards the other edge of the creek. Somehow she managed to grab hold of a rock and pull herself to safety. I don't want to downplay what I witnessed - it was a very stressful event. Joanna is built solidly and strength trains regularly and I started to get quite nervous that if she was struggling, what hope did I have. 

    I gave her a look that said, I don't want to fucking do this, but I knew I had to. My only other option was to abandon my friend and turn around and walk the 1km back up to and out 15km on the logging road. That just wasn't going to happen and I decided to risk death instead. I wasn't keen on crossing where Joanna crossed and I took my time and found a slightly better alternative further down. I like to think that my mind and body went into a sort of terminator like state. Without overthinking, I got into the creek and turned myself into Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I was a solid brick that could not be pushed around. Every step felt so fucking solid and I did not waver. When I reached the other side I took some deep breathes in order to calm my nervous system. This might have been one of the scarier things I had ever done in my life. 

    The remainder of the alternate was pretty exciting. If we weren't having to wade through the now much calmer but very cold creek we were bushwhacking through a thick forest along the shore line. I wasn't crazy about the bushwhacking because I was still pretty protective of my shin. I have to laugh because the 15km on that logging road that we chose to skip was sounding pretty nice and most likely would've been pretty uneventful. Although, I don't think it would've made for a very good story. But who knows - maybe we would've had to dodge logging trucks and other exciting unknowns! 

All of that excitement happened before lunch! 

    The next section of trail looked a lot like the pictures above and was my first introduction to the world of hiking on flood planes. We were following the Howse River but there really was no path to follow. We pretty much walked along any dry ground available that appeared to follow the line on the app. This also meant we were going in and out of water constantly to do so. Sometimes we found a path inland but the trail was rough and poorly maintained. If we could stick to solid ground out in the open we would but it wasn't always an option. I noted that my feet really enjoyed being in water and I had zero hot spots. I also wasn't as concerned about the cut on my shin as it was getting quite the cleanse! Silver linings!

    I don't know how else to describe how I felt about this section other than it seemed never ending. The scenery didn't change for close to 7 hours. The last 3/4 of this day was so intense that I almost forgot that the first 1/4 was bananas! Joanna almost getting swept down a creek was already a distant memory. We pushed fairly non-stop all afternoon. We were well past the point at which we were supposed to meet up with our crew. We were able to notify them with the inReach so they knew about our delay. Once onto a main path we had a choice to make on the best route to the highway. There was a shorter alternate route that appeared to be very direct to the road or a longer main path. I think at this point we really really didn't trust the alternates and feared that although it was quite a bit shorter, it could take twice as long as who knows when it was last maintained. I'm quite happy with the route we took through Mistaya Canyon as it's   quite spectacular. Classically, as it was the end of the day, we were moving very fast as day light was fading. We finally popped out onto the highway. We thought our crew may have decided to meet us there because we were so behind but there was no one there. 

    We now had 5k of highway walking to get to The Saskatchewan Crossing. There was some urgency to get there before 9pm which was when the store closed where our-supply packages might be. Although, our crew may have picked them up for us but we didn't know and were rushing to be safe. We had to go about 1.5km past the GDT trail junction off the highway to get to the crossing and Joanna suggested we hitch hike. I thought that sounded like a fabulous idea so we stuck our thumbs out as we walked. Cars were few and far between but all of a sudden a car coming from the opposite direction did an abrupt u-turn and pulled over on the side of the road. Joanna thought it might be one of our crew members coming to find us. We approached the car and discovered it wasn't our crew. A man rolled down the passenger side window and said he would give us a ride. Immediately I had a terrible feeling in my gut about this man. I couldn't help but wonder, who does a u-turn to give someone a ride in the opposite direction? I also felt terrible not taking the ride because he was so generous to stop. The internal dilemma was real. We kind of hesitated and eventualy he said "Well, are you coming or not?"...which was enough to make us jump in the car. My heart was racing. Joanna was in the front seat and did a great job making conversation. As I sat in the back, I started to contemplate my death. Was this how I was going to die? What do I have on me to defend myself? What would I do if he decided to drive past our destination. I couldn't believe that I didn't listen to my gut and decline the ride in the first place. It was the longest 1.5km drive of my life. Luckily, he pulled into our destination and dropped us off. Crisis averted and lesson learned. 

    We were greeted by our crew members Becky and Mark (videographer). We caught up with them and told them all about the exciting events that occurred in the last 16 hours. Becky had made some amazing snacks for us to replenish ourselves with and she also brought me a plethora of large bandages, sanitary wipes and polysporin. At some point today Joanna and I had predetermined that we were going to be staying at the hotel here. She warned that it would be very expensive and I didn't care. It had been a very long day and I just wanted a place to dry out my clothes and tend to my wound. I asked if they had a thru-hiker rate and the lady said they did not but they were having a special promotion. Honestly, I was pretty hell bent on sleeping here and was prepared to spend whatever necessary. Someone had tipped us off that they heard there was an all you can eat breakfast buffet but that person heard wrong and I was a bit sad. A breakfast buffet is like music to a thru-hikers ears and stomach apparently. 

    We went to our room and chilled out a little bit before going to sleep. We both got to shower and attempted to dry out our gear. I was really nervous about looking at my shin wound for the first time but to my surprise it looked really good. I felt like a bit of an idiot for feeling so paranoid about it. I was stoked that I now had the proper things to keep it clean and covered going forward and was feeling confident in being able to continue the hike. I think wanting to protect the wound and not knowing how it would look under the bandage took an emotional toll on me this day. I felt exhausted and wished we could just take a day off the following day. But we had an FKT to chase so I kept that to myself and instead gave us an extra hour of sleep in the morning. 

Next up, The Crossing to Jasper

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Great Divide Trail Trip Report: Kananaskis Lake to Field

 Day 7: 51.6km/1527m

    We got off to a bit of a later start. It was hard to peel myself from the comfort of the 4runner and it was nice to linger over breakfast and coffee. I was quite delighted that my foot was feeling better and it didn't appear to be holding any fluid. Joanna also took a look and assured me she didn't see any sign of blisters. I was curious as to why only my right foot was affected and I believe the answer is the calf sleeve. You see, I only wear one calf sleeve. Mainly because I lost the other one but equally as mainly because it's only my right calf/shin that causes me grief (whoops, I realize in my last post I wrote it was my left foot that was affected but it's my right!). My theory is that the heat caused my limbs to swell and because of the constriction of the calf sleeve, my foot swelled with fluid. Thus, I decided to hike sans calf sleeve until all paranoia of it swelling again had vanished. I then proceeded to tape the entire bottom of my foot in an effort to prevent any possible friction against the skin. 

    Matt dropped us off where we had left the trail the night before. We descended for 5km before heading back up towards another pass. At some point Joanna mentioned that she could feel pain in her shin. The pain quickly escalated and she was sure she was getting shin splints! It seemed like every time we were done with one bout of adversity, another one popped up between the group. Thankfully, Joanna had somewhat prepared mentally for this to happen. Prior to the trip she had read many thru hiker reports and almost all of them reported bouts of shin splints. I can attest to this as I had suffered from shin splints on the PCT. We decided to pop in for a dip and have lunch at Maude Lake. I did some make shift active release technique on Joanna's calf and lent her my calf sleeve which I had sworn off wearing. I figured the extra compression would help. I was impressed with the logical approach Joanna took to her shin splints. She knew that the inflammatory process would likely last 72 hours. Mentally, she knew she was in for a world of hurt for a few days and then the pain should in theory dissipate. She took a taping course in high school and used her knowledge to tape her own ankle appropriately. 

    We didn't talk to much when Joanna was in pain. I know that when I am in pain I turn very inward and just focus on getting through it. I figured she was feeling similar and we put our heads down (while still taking in the views) and did the work that had to be done. Similar to Alicia, I was impressed that my friend was managing to move so well despite being in pain. Walking over 50km on shin splints is no small feat! 

    The moon was very full this night. In fact, we slept without the fly on and at one point I really startled myself thinking someone was shining a flashlight into our tent. I was so frightened that I tried to wake Joanna up to tell her but I then I realized it was the moon 😳.

Day 8: 58km/2000m

    I was really excited about this day because we were going to be going through Assiniboine Provincial Park. I had only heard stories about the park and it's beauty and had been looking forward to it the whole trip! We stopped at Marvel Lake before going up Wonder Pass and it was a stunner. As we hiked up past the lake I could hear Loons calling and it was such a picturesque moment. Nature at its finest if you will. I felt so incredibly lucky to be out there. We took a nice lunch break on a bridge in a beautiful meadow. It was a hot hot day and I tried to seek shade as much as possible. Staying cool was now my number one priority after foot gate (when my foot swelled). 

    As we hiked towards Og lake we were passed by many ultra runners. They were doing some 60k run that sounded quite fun. As I previously mentioned, it was a scorcher! Joanna thought there would be some creeks en route to Sunshine Meadows so we opted to not fill up in Og Lake and avoid the detour down to the lakeshore. We weren't keen on doing any extra mileage at this point! However, not filling up would turn out to be a mistake as there were no creeks. Once we noticed that the creeks were dry I began to conserve water. We both fell very silent through this section. I think we both knew we were short on water and there was nothing we could do about it other than keep moving...thirsty. Only sip when absolutely necessary. This reminded me of a time on the PCT where we had to go 17 miles in scorching heat before the next water source. I think I allowed myself a sip every 20 minutes. So this wasn't my first rodeo with conserving water. We were so relieved to spot a pathetic looking pond below the trail at the intersection of Fatigue pass. We both filled our filter soft flasks and chugged an incredible amount of water before filling again. Who knew what other dried up creeks were ahead! We eventually crested Citadel Pass and stopped and filled up water and ate snacks at the creek. Joanna made a video that she later shared on Instagram of her blisters. I will spare you! I had my first package of Idahoan instant mash potatoes of the trip and they went down effortlessly. 10/10 would recommend. Also great with Fritos mixed in. 

    In Joanna's blog she talks about the long bouts of silence between us and hoped I didn't mind. On my end, I really didn't mind. When you are with another human all day everyday for close to 3 weeks I think bouts of silence are both natural and needed! I actually feel like we talked the most at the end of the day once we were cozied in the tent. Probably because this was the only time our minds and bodies could rest and reflect. We made our way through Sunshine ski resort and picked up cell service and wifi. We were delighted to stop and check in with civilization/social media. The bugs were absolutely horrendous but somehow we were unwilling to depart in the name of social connection. We still had a ways to go before camp and kept the social media check in brief. 

Photo by: Joanna Ford

Day 9: 56.7km/2804m

    This was an exciting day because we were going to get to see our crew at Floe Lake and begin hiking the Rockwall Trail. I did the Rockwall last year as a run with my friend Pascal and Julian and it was stunning. This was the only part of the GDT I had done before and was familiar with. 

    The greeting we got at Floe Lake trail head was simply the best! Becky Bates and Joanna's mom came down the road to meet us and walk us in. Marika was there with her parents sprinter van that was fully loaded with a pizza oven and a shade awning. Jamie, who I met at Kananaskis Lake, was also there helping us and it was great to get to see him again. We were spoiled to the max! Becky had given us each a beet Juice made fresh in Kimberley BC. Marika made handmade pizzas/calzones. Jamie served up his famous mac and cheese as well as packed me some to take with me for dinner (anything to avoid couscous). Joanna's mom had also brought homemade chili and salad. It's near impossible to leave your crew when you are being pampered like this. We both felt like rockstars and I felt so grateful that these lovely humans spent their time and energy helping us accomplish this goal. These were Joanna's friends/family but they always made me feel so loved and cared for. Marika had just thru hiked the PCT the year prior and it was fun to reminisce with her about the hike. Becky had decided to join us all the way to Field and Marika and Jamie accompanied us to Floe Lake. 

    When I did the Rockwall trail the year prior it served up a mix bag of weather. We had sunshine, hail, rain, and maybe snow. As soon as we started hiking it began to hail on us and I couldn't help but think this is just how the Rockies roll! We said goodbye to Marika and Jamie at Floe Lake and continued on towards camp. We later found out that Jamie and Marika were bluff charged by a bear on their way back down. Yikes! We made it as far as Tumbling Creek and set up camp. We were happy to see many tent pads available. Poor Becky had only brought a tiny sleeping pad to sleep on. It quite literally was only big enough to cover her hips. She had initially thought she would cowboy camp under a tree but we had an extra spot in the tent and demanded she sleep with us. The tent pad was rocky and couldn't have been very comfortable for her. She never complained and I think the tent was more luxury than she would care for. She is definitely a lot tougher than me! I was happy that my Neoair sleep pad was staying fully inflated every night. The one I brought on the PCT ended up with 5 holes in it and I'd be waking up multiple times each night to re-inflate it. Eventually I bought a new one on that trip and 6 years later it was still working great! Joanna and I were delighted to have knocked off 56km even with a 1.5 hr crew break!

Day 10: 50.5 km, 1320m

     We were the first ones up and out of camp. In fact, we were always the last hikers to reach camp and the first to leave in the morning. This was an exciting day because we were going to reach the small town of Field, BC. In roughly 50km we knew we had access to a shower and a comfortable place to rest our heads. I was also salivating over thoughts of getting to eat at the Truffle Pig! We initially hummed and hawed over whether or not we should just grab our re-supply in Field and keep hiking but eventually came to our senses and decided it would be best to stay the night. 

The trail out of Tumbling camp is beautiful and it was fun to take a left hand turn towards Goodsir Pass versus a right where I had gone the year before. The trail down the other side of the pass towards the highway was quite littered with deadfall. 

Tangent warning: Prior to us flying to Calgary to start the trip, Peter gave me a hot tip that there was an alternate trail out of Field and that it was in much better shape than the proper GDT route. I had mentioned it to the team but the idea got shut down pretty rapidly (1) it was last minute and the route planning had already been done (2) we were planning to stick to the GDT proper as much as possible. FKT attempts on thru hikes are interesting. On a short FKT attempt its quite easy to stick to the original route. However, when the trail is 1000km long, it's extremely difficult to stick to the exact route someone else set their FKT on. Some years trails close and you are forced to take others or new routes are established because they are more scenic. For example, we weren't initially planning to take the newly established High Rock Trail (HRT) but it made zero sense not too. Firstly, its more scenic and secondly, it would become the new GDT route in years to come and any further FKT attempt would follow this route in the future. At times I grappled internally about not being on the most scenic route possible as I wasn't sure how much setting a record meant to me. I know walking endlessly on logging roads didn't mean much to me but it is the faster route. To circle back, after the alternate out of Field idea got shut down prior to the trip, I didn't bring it up again...until...THE JUNGLE!

    After hours of deadfall we came across a trail crew. We chatted with the man and the woman about trail conditions and the work they were doing out here. We thanked them for clearing trees as it made our day so much better! We asked the man about the GDT trail North of Field and he was adamant not to take this route because it is a "Jungle". Apparently, it hasn't been maintained in years and most hikers are now taking the alternate out of Field. Hearing this validated my/Peter's initial suggestion. I was happy that we were now considering it but Joanna wasn't convinced quite yet and it took her some time to come around. Once at the road we shared a coke and psyched ourselves up for the 8km of highway walking. The trail crew notified us of a short alternate that would cut off roughly 3km of pavement pounding and gave us the beta on where to find it. They asked us if we needed a lift into town and we begrudgingly had to decline. I later realized that Becky didn't need to walk the highway with us because she wasn't chasing an FKT but she walked with us anyway. The highway was hot! The pavement felt hot on the feet and the sun was beating down on us. I was purposely walking on the gravel rocks that were on the side of the highway as they gave my feet reprieve from the hot pavement. I was chugging water and electrolytes at a rapid rate and was thankful there was one water source along the way.

    There is an odd joy that comes from walking a highway. I can liken it to running on city streets in a downpour. There is something magical about being out in the elements when people are cozied up in the safety of their cars. You feel alive! There was nothing safe or cozy about what we were doing. We all plugged in our music and I air drummed my way to Field smiling ear to ear.

    Once in Field we walked immediately to the Truffle Pig. We got a table right away and were comforted by all the other thru hikers who were there feasting as well. We didn't know what our accommodation would look like and eating out seemed like the best option for dinner. We were just about to order drinks when a man comes up to the table and says "you girls are killing me! We have beer and homemade dinner ready for you at the house". I think we were all a little confused as to who this man was. He introduced himself as Jay, the partner to Jessica, who's place we were staying at in Field. Up to this point we had only been in communication with a woman and neither of us had met her. They had been tracking us all day from our inReach and saw that we had pit stopped at the Truffle Pig and Jay quickly biked down to intercept. We quickly grabbed our bags and he guided us to the house. They have this beautiful 100 year old home with an attached guest house they rent out to travellers/thru-hikers. We were staying in a guest room in their house because the guest suite was rented out. They have a magnificent organic veggie garden in their backyard with a beautiful outdoor space to eat. We feasted on corn, salad, and wild pulled Elk. Jessica so kindly offered to do our laundry (brave woman!) and we both got to shower. This was my first proper shower in 10 days and was the first time I got to wash my hair. They had just bought some property in Kimberley which is where Becky lives and they got the chance to bond over that. 

    That night over dinner we discussed our route plan for the morning. Jay was pretty adamant that we would not be taking the proper GDT route/the jungle and that the alternate was the only option. He explained to us how to access the trail from their house and after Joanna did some research/read some hiker reports we decided that this was the best option. This alternate begins with the infamous Ice Line trail which I've heard about and was really excited to hike. Eventually, we crawled into our queen bed, set our alarm for 5am and slept well knowing this would be the most comfortable we would be for the next 8 days. 

The next few days would be some of the most exciting/scary of the trip...

Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Great Divide Trail Trip Report Day 1-6 : Waterton to Kananaskis Lake

    Back in the spring (pre- Covid), my friend Alicia Woodside asked me if I was interested in thru-hiking the Great Divide Trail (GDT). I should mention she wanted to hike the 1100km trail in a record breaking 18 days. Without hesitation, I said Yes. I fell in love with thru hiking in 2014 when Peter and I hiked 1200 miles along the PCT and I've been eager to do another one. It's not often you find like minded amazing women who are willing to use all their vacation time to go on an adventure of this sort. Joanna Ford, a badass mountain runner from Calgary, would also be joining the crew. At one point we didn't know if she would be able to participate due to a health issue but it ended up being ok and she quickly rejoined the team. During the initial stages of COVID when all the parks were closed we didn't know if we were going to be able to go ahead with the trip but as cases eased off and the parks opened we felt good about continuing to plan our adventure. Alicia applied for and was successful in receiving a Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival (VIMFF) adventure grant! This helped us pay for things such as parks permits/passes, thank you's for the crew, and gas for transport. Alicia also recruited her friend Mark Locki to film the project, which is scheduled to be showing at VIMFF in February. We were also fortunate to get some gear donated in kind from Salomon, cliff bar, Arcteryx, Ultraspire, Silva headlamps, and swiftwick socks. 

    Alicia and Joanna did the majority of the spreadsheet brunt work/planning. They figured out roughly how far we would walk each day, how much elevation gain we'd encounter, as well as rangled friends to help support us. I owe them both dearly for that. I am now much more experienced with google docs but could probably still benefit from a tutorial. Figuring out the distances was actually quite challenging because of the way the camping permits worked. You see, in PCT land, you just hike and camp wherever there is a "tent site", which could be just a flat spot in the woods. In contrast, for the GDT, you need many camping permits because you are in Provincial Parks and the rules are more strict. You aren't suppose to just rogue camp anywhere. To set the record we would have to do well over an ultra marathon each day for 18 days without any rest days. I'll be honest, I wasn't sure it was possible (without breaking myself) but I may have kept that too myself. The record was 21 days so I knew we had a couple extra to spare. 

    The next thing to plan was my food for 18 days. One of the biggest hurdles for me was going stoveless. The girls didn't want to bring a stove and there was no way I would be carrying the weight of a stove/fuel on my own so I jumped on board. Alicia introduced me to cold soaking couscous and I decided that would be my dinner meal for 18 days straight lol. I tested it out on the Sunshine Coast Trail prior to the trip and it was delicious. I went to the store and bought 18 packages of Kasbah Couscous. I would later come to tire greatly of couscous. But still a fan of cold soaking! Side note: if you are taking a more relaxed approach to hiking and have the time, bringing a stove is brilliant. If you need to hike allll day, quickly, with minimal breaks, cold soaking is hands down the way to go. Also side note: your food isn't really cold, its more room temp. 

    The girls were recommending trying to consume 5000 cal a day. My brain doesn't love counting numbers so planning my food this way doesn't work for me. However, I've been doing this long enough that I know what a days worth of food looks like. I also remember what snacks I enjoyed on the PCT. I am a pretty simple human and so is my trail food. In fact, I planned to eat the exact same foods for 18 days straight. I knew I would get variety at crew stops and in towns and I try to pick things I don't tire of. I also planned to pack a little bit more in the last week or so because hunger is far greater then.

    It's tough to really prepare the body for a trip like this. You kind of just get fit doing it. My training consisted of trail running, hiking (sometimes with pack loaded), and doing a prep fast pack on the Sunshine Coast Trail to test out the gear and get a couple big days of hiking in. I also ate plentifully leading into the hike because I knew I would lose a decent amount of weight. 

    Alicia and I flew to Calgary and Joanna picked us up at the airport. The airport was practically empty and I had a row to myself on the plane. We wore masks. We each checked a bag because we were bringing all of our food for the 18 days. We got to Joannas and quickly put our already organized drop bags into the designated bins.  Mark, the videographer was there and filmed us prepping our stuff. He also drove Alicia and I to Waterton so he could be there to capture the start of our hike.  Joanna had arranged for us to stay in a beautiful "cabin" in Waterton that belonged to one of her friends. It was stunning and a great place to hang out and rest the night before the big day! Matt, Joanna's husband, made us a beautiful spaghetti dinner and we went to bed with full bellies and excited hearts :)

Day 1: 57.8km/1948m

    We got up and ate oats and piled into the cars and drove into Waterton Lakes National Park. Alicia had described this park as the Grizzly capital of Canada and I was slightly terrified of this designation. Luckily, there were 4 of us together at the start and I just reminded myself that grizzlies usually don't attack groups of 4 or more! I went pee one last time just before we were supposed to start and was shocked to see I just got my period. I definitely didn't plan for that. I think Alicia had an extra tampon to spare and I was very greatful. My back sometimes gets really sore when I get my period and this day was no different. Luckily, Alicia had some pain meds and that seemed to help. Alicia appeared to be acting as the team's shoppers drug mart. It took a while to kick and I had to laugh at the adversities that were already plaguing me! We had pre-planned to run with small packs for 30k and then grab our "bigger" packs when we met Matt around lunch time. We had to first run out and back 6km (one way) to the border/official start of the GDT. Mark joined us to capture video of the start of our journey. Life of a videographer is tough! He would set up his camera, capture his footage, and then have to pack up and sprint ahead of us to get the next shot. This happened many times and Mark was getting quite the interval workout! Running with tiny packs was a great way to start off the trip. Our first crew stop at Red Rock Canyon was pretty amazing too as Matt had prepared Bacon stuffed pancakes! 

    Putting on the pack for the first time felt good. We only had 1.5 days worth of food in the pack so it felt pretty light. Mark joined us to Twin Lakes where the girls went in for a dip. I normally always join in for swims but I didn't want to disturb the tape on my feet. We made our way towards La Coulotte Ridge and camped below it at Jutland Creek. 

     We ended up doing 58k on day one and finished the day off at 730pm which would be one of the earlier nights to bed. The bugs weren't great at camp. We all wore our bug nets. Alicia bought hers from the dollar store and she said it was the best $1 she ever spent. I would come to learn that Joanna very much dislikes bugs. We only faced one moment of adversity (period aside) on day one and that is when Joanna tripped and smashed her face into a rock towards the end of the day. The oddest thing was that Alicia randomly had blood across her nose. We joked about it being Joannas blood but there's just no way it could have shot that far. It provided a good laugh and turned a potentially bad moment into a funny one. 

Day 2: 57.3km/2351m

    We woke up at 5am and were walking by 6am. It was a blue bird day on the GDT and I found myself saying "Just another bluebird day on the GDT" every morning for the next 8 days. We slept without the fly on and it was very nice "sleeping under the stars". 

    I really loved the summits and ridges and passes we walked on this day. The adversity highlight was Joanna almost losing her pack off a cliff. Luckily, it didn't roll off the edge and neither did she when she leaped to grab it! Another highlight was being so hot and thirsty that we laid in a pile of snow and did snow angels and shoved snow into our filter bottles. After lunch we ended up on a wide flat gravel path that was quite hot and exposed. Our feet would cross many creeks this afternoon and this may have been the start of foot issues for Alicia. We met our friend Brian (RD of Sinister 7/Death Race/black spur etc) mid afternoon at Castle Mountain resort. He brought beer and our food re-supply. I spotted a vending machine and bought myself the most delicious tasting A&W root beer. The walk from there to where we camped felt long. I remember cows and steep ATV trail. The cattle made me feel like I was really in Alberta. We would later meet Brian on top of Willoughby ridge around 9:30pm! He ATV'd up and had stew ready for us. He also made us pancakes and coffee in the morning. The hospitality Brian showed us was soooo above and beyond. I will forever be grateful and thankful to make this new connection. I will 100% have to check out his races in the future when those are a thing again. 

Day 3: 53.22km/1634m

    The highlight of day 3 was walking to our first town...Coleman. Sounds crazy to be so excited for a  town after all the pampering it seems we've had but when your hiking 55-60k/15 hours a day it feels like you've lived a lifetime and are continuously ready for all the pleasantries. We stopped just before getting into town so Alicia could tend to her blisters. We had pre-planned to stop at one of Joanna's friends houses for a shower and lunch but we decided there was no time for that and instead sat on the concrete outside 7/11 drinking slurpees. Plus, it was day 3 and we didn't really need showers, there's creeks for that.
It was so hot out and I was dunking my shirt and hat in any water source I could find. There were a lot of gravel roads that were exposed and hot. Soooo hot! 

    The silver lining of this day was that we were going to get to walk on the newly built High Rock Trail (HRT). It was just finished weeks prior! It served up so much goodness: beautiful alpine, wild flowers and delightful single track. Alicia's feet were not doing so good but she was still maintaining a really good cadence! I was impressed by how well she was doing despite being in immense pain. I don't think I would have done as well as she did under the same conditions. She always found a way to crack jokes and make l    light of the situation. I was quite inspired. I also liked when she shared her cheese and crackers with me, which happened that night at dinner. 

    We pushed on late that evening to Window Mountain Lake. The campsite here was sooo nice. We revelled in the fact that there was string strung from trees so we could wash and dry out our hiking clothes. We even had time to bathe in the lake! We were starting to fall behind schedule which I wasn't all that concerned about because I always knew it would take longer than 18 days. In my mind, we were right on schedule. But when you have crew you are supposed to meet, at certain times with your re-supply, it starts to become a little tricky. Luckily, we had an inReach device and were always able to communicate via satellite where we were at. At this point Alicia was getting up well before us to tend to her feet. She was doing everything she could to try and find a way to keep going. 

Day 4: 52.6km/2372m

    Hiking away from Window Mountain Lake was spectacular. The morning light was a sight to behold. My favourite times to hike were always early morning and later evening. At some point Joanna had the bright idea of sending an inReach message to Brian, (whom we were meeting later that day) to pick up Alicia some new socks and Hoka trail running shoes from Spry, the local running shop. They unfortunately didn't have her size in the shoes but he grabbed her the socks. She had been wearing wool socks and Joanna thought the swiftwick would work better. At some point Alicia had contemplated leaving the trail with Brian and ending her hike there but was rejuvenated by the thought of these new ideas! 

    We ended up walking along a very wide path that was covered in Daisies. There were literally daisies for days! The trail was also littered with wild strawberries. Have you ever had a wild strawberry? I hadn't. I couldn't believe my eyes when Joanna gave me one. They're so tiny! I couldn't believe she was even able to spot such a miniscule object on the ground. But once you start seeing them its hard to stop seeing them. Sadly, we didn't have time to just pick berries endlessly. It was here that we met our first GDT thru-hiker named Paul. We wore the same calf sleeves and I felt instantly bonded to Paul. He was a man in his 50's/60's perhaps and was solo hiking. Kudos to anyone who was hiking this trail solo. We said hello and chit chatted about the trail for a short while before having to say goodbye. Afterwards, I couldn't stop talking about Paul as if he was our new best friend. As an extrovert, I get quite energized by people and seeing another human definitely got my spirits up! I don't think the euphoria lasted long however, as this section of the HRT seemed never ending. It also wasn't as nice as the single track earlier in the day and all I wanted was to get to Brian and my re-supply. We were very relieved when we heard Brian. He greeted us with a smile and bottles of coke! Eventually, our new best friend Paul showed up and he sat with us momentarily. He didn't stay long though and decided to get a head start onwards to Tornado Pass.

    Every time we saw our crew we spent extra time hanging out. It was impossible not to. The presence of other humans is contagious and its hard to want to leave. Dealing with a re-supply also takes time because you faff around with what you actually want to bring with you for the next leg of trail. Sometimes I'd change my portion of something that I wasn't eating much of. At the beginning of the trip I packed a small ziplock full of GORP and thought that would be a 1 day portion. It was taking me 2 days to go through it. The same thing happened with my couscous dinner.  This meant at every re-supply I was having to leave behind some of my food to save weight.  

    We finally got it together, thanked Brian, and promptly walked 1km in the wrong direction. That was a bit of a bummer! At this point we didn't really have unnecessary time to waste. The climb up to Tornado pass was a bit of a bitch. Luckily, Joanna had been there before and was able to somehow navigate through avalanche debris. We saw our best friend Paul here and he followed a long with us through this section. I'm hoping Joanna's sick navigation skills saved Paul some precious energy. That was the last time we would see our best friend Paul. 

Photo by: Joanna Ford

    Eventually we started to wind our way up the rocky/loose slope towards Tornado Pass. There was a trail that appeared to delightfully and gradually switchback up the slope. Joanna was out in front and didn't seem to share the same sentiments towards these switchbacks and just B lined it straight up the steepest part of the slope. I wasn't sure why she had chosen this but alas I accepted my fate (and also questioned her motives) and put my head down and charged upwards. I really enjoyed the loose rocky ascent. I appreciated the "choose your own adventure" route up to the pass. It felt rugged and wild and I was proud of what we were accomplishing. We ate some snacks at the top of the pass and discussed where we should try and camp for the night. Alicia's feet weren't doing well but I believe she popped a T3 and pushed as hard as she could. As a morale boost we played music out loud. To my surprise Joanna is a big fan of the jungle book and knows the lyrics to all the songs. I saw another side to Joanna that night. We sang and laughed and it really helped to distract our minds and pass the time. 

Photo by: Joanna Ford

    Because we were always trying to go as far as possible each day, we were probably moving the fastest at the end of the day. We were always chasing the last of the daylight and pushing hard to make it as far as possible in those last couple of hours. This usually meant we were pretty shattered by the time we got to camp. To top it off we still had to filter water, set up the bear hang, and tent/sleeping set up etc. This is the reason I never once used the roll of floss I carried the entire time. I had many chances to discard the floss but I held out that I may muster up the energy to use it - nope - never once. 

    Alicia's blisters had now gone from bad to worse. We shot a video of how bad they were in the tent that night. We discussed that it was unlikely they would heal if she continued to hike 50+ km a day on them. She was hopeful that maybe her Hoka's that she had in the next re-supply would help with the pain but it's unlikely they would heal. She was sad this was happening so early on in the trip. A trip she had spent so much time planning/preparing for. It's hard watching your friend suffer. Alicia is such a bright light and always finds a way to make me laugh. I felt so helpless. I was also incredibly inspired by her grit and perseverance. I can guarantee I would've been off the trail much sooner if I was enduring the type of pain I witnessed. I can honestly and without a doubt awknowledge that she gave it everything she had out there. 

Day 5: 57.6km/2922m

    I wish I remembered more about this day but I don't.  It was this day that we saw the first grizzly bears of the trip! We startled them and they took a running pivot towards us and then immediately away from us. Phewww! It was quite the exhilarating encounter. From that moment forward (or the next few days) I carried my bear spray in the front of my pack. That night at camp we started to talk about Alicia's options. She knew she couldn't continue in her state and was starting to lose her joy. When Peter and I did the PCT his blisters were really bad at one point. We got off trail for 2.5 days and they healed quite well in that time and we were able to continue without much issue. We hoped that maybe with some time off she would be able to re-join us later in the hike. We knew there was a dirt road roughly 17km away where she could hitch out to civilization and apparently her aunt lived there. She even thought maybe her aunt could pick her up on this road. We went to bed knowing there were options. 

Day 6:
62.4km/1500m - ish 

    This was a big day. For starters, we were going to get to our next re-supply at Kananaskis Lake and we had to walk 62km to get there. I imagine we were up at the crack of dawn knowing we had a huge day ahead. Getting in the miles is a numbers game.  There are only so many hours in the day and if you want to do big miles, you need to give yourself the maximum amount of daylight. On a trail like the PCT, you can easily walk in the dark because the trail is nicely manicured and easy to follow. That is why you see FKT'ers walking upwards of 50 miles a day on the PCT. The GDT is none of those things and it's pretty easy to get lost in the dark. We were typically only sleeping 6 hours each night. We got up in the dark and went to bed in the dark. With 3 of us it usually took 45 min - 1 hour to get out of camp in the morning or into bed at night. 

    Joanna knew that Fording River Pass had reception so once we got to it we each called our loved ones.  After we were off the phone, Alicia came over to us and told us what she had discussed with Julian. He thought it was unwise of her to continue in her current state and to get off the trail immediately and seek medical attention. It was his opinion that she could be doing permanent damage to her feet if she continued on in the state she was in. Especially since she was taking pain killers to dull the pain in order to continue. We made a plan that she would hitch hike out on the dirt road that would take her to Elkford. Julian had also recommended this option. It was Joanna's impression that this road was heavily trafficked by campers/loggers and it wouldn't be a problem to hitch a ride. This road intersected the GDT and Joanna and I would continue in the opposite direction along the GDT towards Kananaskis Lake. 

    Alicia managed her pain quite well over the pass but once we got to the creek below, we were in and out of water, and that really started to take its toll. Reading her account of the events its quite clear that she was experiencing something totally different from Joanna and I. Group dynamics are so tricky, especially when you don't know the needs of the other person. I felt shitty to read that she felt like she was being dropped. Emotions were running high and we were trying to offer her some space. In hind sight, I wish I had just asked her how we could've best supported her. Once we got to the road we used the inReach to message her husband Julien. We notified him of her whereabouts. We sat and ate lunch together and eventually hugged goodbye. Almost immediately after walking away we saw humans who were RV'ing around the corner. I was so relieved to see people and it gave me great joy to know she wouldn't be alone out there while she waited for a hitch. We approached a man who had an ATV. Joanna told him of our situation and asked if he could give Alicia a lift out. He said he was up here for the weekend (it was Friday) and was waiting for his family and wouldn't be leaving until Sunday. Joanna told him to watch out for our friend. As we left, it appeared that Alicia had cell reception and was talking to someone on the phone. As it turned out, that man and his family did end up driving Alicia out that day and she crushed beers with the fam on the ATV! 

    Joanna and I now had a 30km walk on a logging road ahead of us. I'm not going to lie, it was shit. It was exposed and hot AF. I had been experiencing some digestive issues (insert really bad gas) in the heat. I thought it was because of chocolate but it was the heat. I was also acutely aware of how swollen my hands would get in the heat. I tried to do everything I could to stay hydrated and cooled. This meant dunking my shirt, hat and arm warmers in every and all bodies of water as well as drinking tons and using extra electrolytes. We tried to listen to podcasts to pass the time. I learned everything I might want to know about John Legend. Neat guy! 

    Although my feet were doing good, I was craving a trail to walk on. A good 20km along this gravel road I noticed a trail off to the side that appeared to reconnect with the dirt road. I suggested we take it and Joanna agreed. It turned out to be a muddy marsh and filled my shoes with really thick mud. It's hard to describe how angry I was at this trail. Also equally as mad that I had suggested it. Having any type of debris in your shoes/socks can quickly cause hot spots/blisters. I believe we didn't stop to address the mud as there was no water source to wash our feet off in. I was pretty fixated on my feet after that and could tell that this mud was taking it's toll. Once I saw a tiny pool of moving water in a ditch I suggested we stop and clean our feet. I took my sock off and for the first time of the entire trip the bottom of my left foot looked soggy. I was concerned there were blisters forming underneath. After watching what Alicia had gone through with her feet, I was suddenly quite paranoid that the same thing would happen to me. I washed my socks and my feet and taped areas that were feeling vulnerable. 

    I don't recall how long after but the bottom of my left foot started to feel weird. It felt like I was walking on tiny pebbles except there were none in my socks or shoes. By the time we reached Elk Lake, my left foot felt swollen. It was as if I were walking on a sack full of fluid, covered in small sharp pebbles. At first it was just in some isolated spots on the bottom of my foot but then I felt the fluid expand to the entire soul of my foot. Every step after that was extremely uncomfortable. 

    After 30km and 6 hours on a dirt road, we finally got to the Elk Lake trail head. It was roughly 7ish pm and we had 15km to go. Morale at this point was pretty low. I felt feverish and I am pretty sure I had a mild form of heat stroke. I tried to choke down some couscous but I don't think I made much of a dent. We sat in silence. Joanna had reassured me that the trail was very well manicured for the next 15km. I remember putting my rally cap on and spouting off some random stat about how many miles per hour I can hike and how fast we could get it done. We motored as fast as we could. I did my best to forget about how shitty my left foot felt. Joanna remembered that the trail connected to a road where we could get picked up and dropped back off the next day. This would save us from having to hike an extra 5km. At this point, that savings would be huge for us. There is no service where our crew was and although we sent an inReach message, it was unlikely they would receive it but we held out hope. 

A couple kilometres before this pull out we saw a biker coming up the trail. It turned out to be Joanna's friend Jamie who had come out from Calgary to crew for us! They didn't get our message but he said he would bike back to camp and tell Matt to come pick us up. To say we were overjoyed would be an understatement. I can't tell you how happy I was to get off my foot. As soon as we got to the road, I took off my shoe and could hardly bare weight on it. The soul of my foot was very swollen and it looked like it was full of fluid. I was a limping mess back at camp. Matt scored a lakeside camp spot at the Interlakes campground. Apparently, its near impossible to get a site there unless you book well in advance. Back at camp we were spoiled with bacon, pancakes, delicious juices, and fruit. I just sat there and revelled in all this food that wasn't couscous. We probably stayed up too but it was nice to hang out with our crew who had driven a long ways to see us. It was also really nice to meet Jamie and his family. He has become quite the adventure buddy of Joanna's and I was hearing a lot of stories about their adventures. Great to put a face to the name! That night I got to sleep in the 4runner with Joanna on a nice mattress with a real pillow. It felt luxurious. I went to bed with the hopes that my foot would dry out and feel better in the morning.