For many, quitting one’s job and leaving one’s life behind to pursue a passion full time is an appealing fantasy. Few have actually followed through with such a commitment, but Sonya Richmond and Sean Morton are the exceptions.
The married couple sold their house and left their office jobs in southern Ontario to embark on a four-year journey to hike across the country via The Great Trail of Canada.
“We started in Cape Spear, Newfoundland in 2019 and we’re hiking west towards British Columbia. We’re hoping to be in Victoria by 2022 and then go to Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories,” said Richmond in an interview with SooToday.
“Most days, we hike between 20 to 25 km (in Ontario we can do a little bit more than that because there are hiking highways).” That’s roughly the distance from Sault Ste. Marie to Echo Bay.
“Doing it has been absolutely amazing. Every day we find something new or something amazing that we haven’t seen before.” However, being out on the trail for this long is undeniably challenging. There are days where it’s raining or where you’re exhausted.”
So what does it take for someone to decide to embark on such a journey?
Richmond and Morton have been hiking and camping enthusiasts since they met. Their first trail was the 900-kilometres Bruce Trail along the Niagara Escarpment.
“After that, we did the Camino de Santiago in Spain.” The Camino de Santiago is a popular hiking and cycling route that goes along the width of northern Spain and culminates in the Santiago Cathedral in Galicia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its cultural significance among Catholics.
The following year, the couple went to France and Portugal for more hiking.
“When we were in Europe, people asked us ‘why aren’t you hiking across your own country?’”
Canada is particularly privileged for its trails, especially The Great Trail, which spans all provinces and territories and accommodates for hiking, cycling, paddling and snowmobiling.
“When we were hiking Europe, we really enjoyed that experience. We were coming back to desk jobs and were working more than 40 hours per week just to make ends meet. And we wanted to enjoy our lives more.”
Hiking The Great Trail combines the couple’s professional experience with their passions.
Richmond is a former ornithological researcher (someone who studies birds) and passionate about the environment. A goal with this hiking trip is to engage people, especially youth, in bird watching and feeding.
“We’re out here trying to connect youth to nature through birding.
“The reason we focused on birds is because they’re literally everywhere. No matter where you live, it’s impossible to go outside without seeing or hearing a bird. And it’s accessible and easy and fun.”
Richmond and Morton encourage bird watching and taking pictures with one’s cell phone. This is a form of poetic justice — it turns a device that normally keeps users inside and inactive to a reason to go outside and become immersed with nature.
“It’s a way of turning screen time into green time,” she said.
The couple’s own photography, including pictures of birds, can be seen on Instagram @ComeWalkWithUsOnTheGreatTrail.
Like most everything else, the couple’s hiking journey has been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic:
They found themselves in Quebec as the province entered into partial lockdown. They had a hard time finding supplies since non-essential businesses were not permitted to remain open. Many campgrounds were equally closed.
But as they resumed their adventure, Richmond noted that a lot of people have “gone way out of their way to help us.”
“I didn’t think anyone would host us but people have been giving us a place to stay in their empty cottages or giving us food and water.”
She said, “the pandemic has brought out the best in a lot of people.”
Richmond and Morton have recently stopped in Sault Ste. Marie. They have been blown away by the region’s natural beauty.
“The wildlife out here [in Northern Ontario] is beautiful. We had a bear in our campsite.”
Richmond is surprised that so many “trails have taken us to really gorgeous farm sites.”