In 2019, Sonya Richmond and Sean Morton made the drastic decision to sell their possessions, quit their jobs, and embark on a years-long journey across the Trans Canada Trail in hopes of inspiring others to get outdoors and connect with the Canadian wilderness, promoting hiking, birding, and citizen science involvement.
“We want to challenge people to look up from their phones, learn something new about nature in their own backyards and to explore Canada,” Richmond said.
The name they have chosen for their 27,000 km hike is Come Walk With Us, as they are encouraging people of all ages, from all walks of life, to join them for a few kilometres along the way. They are also giving free presentations to promote diversity, accessibility and multiculturalism outdoors, while striving to get youth engaged with and connected to nature.
“The reception has been fantastic,” Richmond said. “People across the country have been absolutely amazing. Here in the prairies especially, people are very nice. Just the random kindness of strangers has gotten us this far.”
The idea for the journey first began when the pair realized they were dissatisfied with their own lifestyles. Although Richmond had earned a PhD and was working in her chosen field as GIS analyst and ornithological researcher, she didn’t enjoy working a desk job that consisted mainly of sitting in front of a computer.
“And so we started hiking,” she said.
Their first major hike was an 800 km trek across Spain, which they enjoyed so much that they decided to go back and hike across France, followed by Portugal the next year. One thing that struck them was hearing comments about Canada from a European perspective.
“One of the most frequent things people said to us over there was, ‘You’re Canadian. You live in one of the most beautiful countries on Earth. Why aren’t you walking across Canada?’”
Video game addict turned outdoor explorer
The seed was planted, but the catalyst that finally spurred them into action was a young family member’s struggle with video game addiction. The boy began missing roughly 40 days of school per semester, he lost his friends, became reclusive and began stealing and lying just to get his hands on video games.
“It was really starting to take over his life,” Richmond recalled.
Determined to help him to complete his high school education, his caretakers sent him to an outdoor school, where students spend their days in a group environment canoeing, kayaking, hiking — all while unplugged. After some time, he was able to focus and complete his work, make friends, get on the honour roll, and received his high school diploma.
“He thrived in that environment, so I think it’s something that really helps young people, but also adults as well,” Richmond said.
While the pair understands the value of technology — they blog daily and post on social media to reach as many people as they can — they are determined to open Canadians’ eyes to the importance of exploring nature and to find a good balance in their lives between the digital world and the natural world.
The journey began in Cape Spear Newfoundland, the easternmost point in North America, and will end when they reach Tuktoyaktuk, NT. When that will happen is anybody’s guess.
“We just have to see how it goes; we’ll get there when we get there.”
The travelers had been warned that Saskatchewan might be a bit flat and dull, however Richmond has been blown away with the wildlife they’ve come across in the prairies.
“It’s incredibly beautiful – it’s amazing out here. There is so much wildlife to see, and a lot of people think Saskatchewan is flat but it’s not. The Qu’Appelle Valley is incredible.”
Some of the wildlife she’s been excited to see throughout the prairies include American white pelicans, a great horned owl, black bears, moose, badgers and of course plenty of gophers.
Moose Jaw highlights
Richmond has also been charmed with Moose Jaw, where they stayed for several days to explore. Crescent Park was on the highlights, as well as the huge variety of birds, many of which cannot be found in eastern Canada.
“Moose Jaw has so much stuff in it, and this is a really fantastic spot to bird!”
The recent heat wave made hiking difficult at times, particularly in the open landscape of the prairies with very little shade. However the recent end of the drought has brought about a whole new set of challenges, transforming the previously solid trails into muck.
“We’re getting our first experience with prairie mud, and we’re learning to appreciate what the drought gave us,” Richmond laughed.
She is grateful for the help she’s received along the way, particularly from Saskatchewan Parks along the Trans Canada Trail, including Duck Mountain, Good Spirit Lake and Buffalo Pound.
“The nature interpretive programs that they put on as well as the amazing parks they run are a great way to connect with nature nearby,” Richmond said.
Aside from plans to write a book about their adventures once the hike is over, the rest of their future is up in the air at this point.
“We’re just going to have to see where it takes us.”