Reflections From The Trail
It always amazes me how quickly humans can connect with each other. Whether it be children playing on a playground or adults seated next to each other on a plane, we have an impressive ability to form connections even through fleeting interactions. When we’re given a safe environment away from the stresses of everyday life though, we naturally form deeper, more meaningful relationships. The environment in which I’ve seen this concept come to life more obviously than anywhere else is in nature. I experienced this firsthand on the Canol Youth Leadership Hike this past July.
On July 24th, 2017 youth from both southern and northern Canada boarded float planes together in Norman Wells. We had committed to spending a week together, hiking side by side through remote wilderness terrain. Some of us knew each other, others were complete strangers. Most of us had little in common, from our cultural heritage to our day-to-day lives. Despite not being well acquainted, we were trusting each other with our comfort and safety in the wilderness; a trust that is unique in its depth. When we stepped onto the shores of the Mackenzie River together six days later, we were filthy, tired, and grinning. Whether we were aware of it at the time or not, we had all formed a new bond that will never be broken.
Thinking back on the day-to-day of the hike, I can only describe it as a unique kind of challenging. As an experienced backpacker, I stepped onto the trail with arrogance, imagining that the shorter distances and absence of significant elevation gain would prove easy. But the terrain on the Canol is unforgiving – extreme river crossings, temperamental weather, and bush-whacking left us all exhausted by the end of our long days. Together, we faced these challenges with various levels of discomfort, helping each other when it was our respective turn to be strong. Mackenzie and Chase set up the ropes for river crossings while Jordan offered up his comedy as a way of keeping us going. It was clear that we all had important roles to play in making our way from Mile 40 back to Mile 0 of the challenging trail.
On the Canol we shared everything. We shared our military rationed food, smiles, fears, and complaints. Without our phones or social media, all we had was each other, the rocks, and the trees. That was incredibly special. Being removed from the devices that we are told “connect” us in the new age, we were able to find connections far more meaningful – namely our connections with our peers, and our connections with nature. Regardless of whether we are Indigenous or non-Indigenous, we all have some kind of connection to the land, and we all have the ability to connect with each other. To expose these connection on such a remote trail, in such an intensely wild environment, was an experience that left many of us in awe of the power of nature.
It has been three months since we stepped off of the trail, and I have fallen back into a “normal” life routine. As I sit at my office desk though, I dream often of the canyon walls and thick forest of the Canol. I also think back to the friends I made and the stories that I will share with them, and only them, forever. I may not talk to my fellow participants every day, but I was able to learn about them more profoundly than I would have imagined – and I attribute that to our natural setting on the trail.
The Canol Youth Leadership Hike taught us all unique and valuable lessons that we will carry with us forever. For me, the lesson was the power of connection. Trails in Tandem is about more than Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations. It is about building lasting friendships and strengthening our understanding about the natural world, so that we can tackle more of life’s trails, together.