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Sonya Richmond and Sean Morton set out on 24,000-km Great Trail
On a foggy Saturday morning at Cape Spear, Sonya Richmond and Sean Morton set out to do something only two people before them have done: hike Canada’s 24,000-km Great Trail.
Fewer people have finished the Great Trail than have gone to the moon.
Sarah Jackson and Dana Meise are the only two to complete the hike, while some others are currently in progress.
“We’re not quite the explorers that Dana and Sarah were – they’re incredible individuals, but hopefully we’re learning from them,” Morton said.
The pair from Ontario are also the first to set out on the hike for a cause, calling it a #Hike4Birds. They aim to raise awareness of the importance of protecting wild birds and bird habitats.
"...we just decided we wanted to do something big, and try and encourage other people to reconnect with nature and experience all the benefits that comes along with doing that." — Sonya Richmond
But more than that, they are hoping to encourage people to reconnect with nature.
“We were just feeling like we were getting more and more drawn into the digital world, getting more sucked into Facebook and online stuff, and so we started to try to reconnect with nature in our own community, and the more we started to do that, the more we kind of realized that there were a lot of people who were feeling the same thing as us,” said Richmond, 42.
“And so, we just decided we wanted to do something big, and try and encourage other people to reconnect with nature and experience all the benefits that comes along with doing that.
“We’re particularly passionate about trying to get young people back outside, back into nature, getting involved in their communities, getting offline or directing some of their screen time towards making a positive contribution to conservation.”
Sold house, quit job to hike
It takes about two years to complete the Great Trail, so the couple sold their home, donated many of their possessions, and Richmond quit her job as a GIS analyst with Bird Studies Canada. Morton, 45, is a freelance writer and photographer.
They’re primarily using personal savings to fund the trip, with a budget of $10 per person per day to cover food, shelter, and necessary supplies.
They’re no stranger to hiking; they’ve travelled across Spain, France, Portugal, Ontario, and just last summer they hiked the East Coast Trail.
“We’ve walked long hikes, 800-km hikes across Spain and Ontario, 300-km hikes here in Newfoundland, but this is 24,000 kms, so that’s a whole different scale,” Morton said.
“Hopefully we’re well off, and we’ve met a lot of incredible people who are helping us so far, and we’re hoping that continues.”
As they hike from Cape Spear to Victoria, B.C. and then paddle north from Edmonton, Alta. to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., they will hike or paddle within 20 km of 132 important bird areas – places that are either home to rare or threatened birds, support large groups of breeding or wintering birds, provide stop-over sites for migrating birds, or have a high diversity of bird species.
They will highlight these areas as they hike past them.
As the set out along the rugged Cape Spear coast line on Saturday, Morton said he’s feeling nervous about the endeavour.
“There wasn’t a lot of sleeping last night. So, a little nervous, but very excited.”
It’s expected it will be July before they leave Newfoundland for Nova Scotia. By the time they reach Quebec, it’ll be September. Their goal is to reach Tuktoyaktuk by August 2021.
When asked what they’ll do when they’re done, Morton quipped, “that’s about a million steps away,” but he said whatever it is, he hopes it will be something related to birds and engaging youth to get outdoors.
Morton said he hopes that through following their journey, people will see “that Canada is an incredible country.”
“We have a lot of really negative news right now – no offense,” he eyed the reporter.
“And I think people, especially online, get caught up in this negativity and they don’t see how wonderful our culture is, how incredible our country is, how diverse the landscape is, and how amazing their neighbours are anymore.
“I hope they start to reconnect, at least with their communities and their families. It’s kind of a weird thing – everyone has cellphones, everyone’s online, but people are oddly disconnected.
“So, we hope they reconnect, not only with nature, but with their communities as well.”
People can follow Richmond and Morton’s journey through their website: comewalkwithus.online, and they welcome anyone who would like to join them for parts of the hike along the way.
Conservation group Nature NL organized the pair’s send-off at Cape Spear.
Supporters cheered as the couple took their first steps along the Blackhead Path, and they were joined for that first leg of the journey by a handful of local hikers.