Bonnie’s Trans Canada Trail: Trail Magic
Written by Bonnie Thornbury
Defining “trail magic” is a slippery prospect. Part perspective, part circumstance, and part serendipity, it’s the moments when everything comes together perfectly, when you’re in the right place at the right time, when you stumble across just the thing you need, or you meet the just the right person. The particulars will vary for every person who strolls, cycles, or ambles any given trail, but the unifier is a feeling: gratitude for the out-of-the-ordinary and unexpected, for moments of connection with other humans and the non-human life all around us.
Though it didn’t seem like things were going well at the time, I didn’t have to wait long to experience my first bit of trail magic on the Trans Canada Trail. With only a few days of through-hiking under my belt, I arrived at my first significant section of road walking.
Road walking is tough on the mind and body on the best of days, and this 21-kilometre stretch was not made easier by my green trail legs, the 60-plus pound pack on my back (chock-full of things I’d come to find I didn’t need), or the unusual May heatwave pushing the humidex into the 30s. Even worse, I had to walk a good 4 kilometres just to reach Fort Langley where the 21-kilometre stretch began. In those early weeks, a 25-kilometre day was a big undertaking, but the idea of pitching my tent road-side seemed impossibly unsafe. There was no way around it: I had to reach the trail again.
I stopped often, first in Fort Langley to ogle treats in the Blacksmith Bakery window. I thought about picking up a pastry but quickly chastised myself for considering indulging so soon after I had set out. My budget wouldn’t stretch six months if I stopped for every treat the Trail had to offer!
I continued onward, stopping with increasing frequency as the heat and hard pavement wore at my resolve. I looked at my map again and again, inching closer to the spot that the road met the trail, willing myself on. In the morning, trucks and tractors plied the roads, traffic-flow slowing with the midday heat, giving way to the odd retiree out for a drive. A red convertible, top down, caught my eye as I sat steaming along a fence catching a bit of shade. I half hoped someone, anyone, driving by would save me from my self-imposed pain. By late afternoon I finally made it to the trail, thoroughly exhausted, slightly limping, and beyond grateful to find a perfect spot to set up camp only a couple hundred metres from the trailhead. Rest at last!
I motioned towards the clearing but stopped in my tracks. Something compelled me onward. I walked a few steps past the perfect spot, incredulous. I turned my head, surveying the clearing again. I turned again, walking forward. I looked back, in conflict with myself, wondering why this spot wasn’t good enough. For a good ten minutes I made slow progress, spinning around every few steps, weighing the sanity of pushing forward in my tired state.
As I walked on the trail alongside a fencerow bordering a freshly mowed property, I saw someone beelining towards me. “We’ve been waiting for you,” Grace said as she got nearer, offering a wide smile. Grace and Stan had been sitting around the fire with their sons and a gaggle of grandchildren, hoping I would show up. Grace and Stan, who had passed me in the red convertible, had a feeling I might be headed their way. Trail magic!
That evening, after rinsing the day’s sweat and dust off in their shower, I joined them for dinner, complete with soul-filling conversation and topped off with – get this – treats from the Blacksmith Bakery! Trail magic!
In the coming days and months I often thought back to that encounter with Stan and Grace, and the insistent voice that kept me moving past exhaustion. I learned so much from that encounter – that “the trail provides,” especially as you grow more open to it; that the trajectory of a day can turn on a dime; and to follow insistent whims. To learn so many important lessons so early on… trail magic is like that!
But trail magic isn’t just the grand moments. Sometimes it’s being present for tiny moments of connection, like catching two insects, less than a half centimetre in length, touching antennae while riding the winds on a Prairie wheat head. Or catching a walrus sunning ashore – a thousand miles south of its natural habitat – the day you set out to walk eastern Canada. Trail magic!
Sometimes, trail magic is the rhythmic flow-state that movement in nature can bring, fine-tuning you into your surroundings. On one occasion I was walking at a fast clip along the Trail outside of Badger, NL, earbuds in, listening to a podcast when I instinctually stopped in my tracks, backed up a few paces, looked to my right, and saw a tiny bit of movement at the bush edge. A moose! The metrics of that sighting don’t make sense: the almost imperceptible distance of the moose, the speed and focused rhythm of my walk. Trail magic!
So often while I’m in the trail flow-state, I’ll notice I’ve changed my gait and look down just in time to realize that, instinctually, I’ve spared the life of an insect or small reptile. Trail magic!
Sometimes it’s being in the right place at the right time to catch the sunset illuminating the trail or the sunrise lighting up a mountain pass.
Sometimes trail magic is being in the right place at the right time to meet just the right person – receiving a juicy orange when you haven’t seen a grocery store for over a week, meeting someone who makes and repairs their own outdoor gear just as your backpack tears at the buckle seam, or passing by someone who simply offers a smile or stops for a chat when you’re in need of connection. “Trail angels” is the apt and affectionate name given to human purveyors of trail magic. Sometimes the trail angels are unseen, but no less appreciated, like the hundreds of people who volunteer their time to maintain the trails, or the sweet souls who make handmade signs to point out an eagle’s nest.
Other times, trail angels don’t mean to bring the magic, but serendipity makes it so. Fifty kilometres west of Moose Jaw, trail angel Colette gave me her business card and urged me to call when I got closer to Regina, where she lived, offering a spot to pitch my tent as I passed through the city. When I reached Lumsden, I searched my bag three times over and couldn’t find her card. Frustrated and closing in on Regina, I walked into Lumsden’s Jane Dough Bakery hoping I could find Wi-Fi and map out a Plan B, only to find Colette enjoying a coffee with friends!
Trail magic, once again!
Want to learn more? Keep an eye on this page in the coming months as I share section highlights, safety tips, trail magic, and what it was like tackling the Trail on bicycle after breaking my foot! You can also follow my Instagram stories (@bonnbury) and my blog (www.bonnvoyages.ca) for photo journals from the Trail. See you outside!