Nfld. & Labrador

Preparing for an epic hike is a challenge in its own right

It takes a lot of preparation and money to get ready for a two-week hike on the East Coast Trail, writes Julia Cook, who is getting ready for an adventure this summer.
Julia Cook will be preparing over the spring for a hike later this year along the full length of the East Coast Trail. (Julia Cook/CBC)

To be honest, I think if my friends hear me say the word "hiking" again, they may nail my feet to the floor.

But it takes a lot of preparation and money to get ready for a two-week hike on the East Coast Trail, so it's all I can think about.

The East Coast Trail is more than 300 km long, including connector paths. Its terrain ranges from walking on woodland paths to scampering over rocks.

Marie Jones, the business manager of the trail association, said it typically takes people two to three weeks to complete the entire thing. But that can depend on the weather.

"We never are going to know exactly what kind of weather we're going to get in our summers here," said Jones. "Some of [the trails] have more protection from wind and the elements than others."

I've been spending most of my spare time either running, hiking, biking or skiing. I've encountered all kinds of weather, but still, it's daunting.

A half marathon a day, with a backpack

If I'm to finish this in two weeks, I'll need to clock in about 22 km per day.

To put that in perspective, I'll be doing a half marathon every day for two weeks, carrying 16-plus kilograms on my back.

Julia Cook is preparing herself to hike the full-length of the East Coast Trail this summer. (Julia Cook/CBC)

Once I do stop to rest on the trail each day, there are also certain rules I have to follow: no open flames, don't camp directly on the trail, don't disturb the scenery …

"Please leave the rocks where they are," asks Jones. "A lot of people are building inukshuks now, the little stone structures. To say, 'hey, I was here', which we totally understand. But sometimes if you move a rock, the trail bed destabilizes around where that rock was."

Even covering basic needs takes some planning. I have to dehydrate food, set up dropboxes along the way, and buy water purifiers.

Simplicity with gear? 

Which brings me to the next hurdle to conquer: the equipment.

I've heard diehard hikers say there's a beautiful simplicity in carting around your entire life on your back. It's a lie — there's nothing simple about it.

A hike in Crow Head, Twillingate, provided some beautiful winter scenery. (Julia Cook/CBC)

Charlie Elliott, who works with Mountain Equipment Co-op in Halifax, knows a thing or two about gear. The most important purchase is hiking boots, which come with a long list of requirements.

"For that kind of weather, happy feet will make the rest of you happy," said Elliott. 

"So, something with good support, above your ankle. Not too heavy because you are going to be doing a lot of walking. But something waterproof and comfortable."

Then there's everything else on the list: a backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, water bladder, portable stove, cookpot, first aid kit, GPS, etc …

That's not even including my clothes. I'm only taking two sets of clothes that will have to withstand long, sweaty days.

Donnie Bowring, who works at Mercer's Marine Equipment in Clarenville, which sells a large variety of outdoor clothing, has good advice on what to choose. 

"Breathable, you don't want nothing that's going to be too heavy," he said. 

"You want something that's probably going to dry quickly. Of course, layering [is] also important when it comes to hiking," said Bowring.

All this specialized clothing and equipment comes with a cost. If I was to buy everything on my list, it would easily be more than $2,000. 

Luckily, I don't have to do that. The best part about talking about hiking all the time is that people offer up their equipment to borrow. I've even had Facebook messages from people I don't know, who say I can stay at their cabin along the way.

And then there's the wildlife

And talking about hiking friends … there's wildlife. 

I'm not saying I'm scared of animals, but I have a healthy level of respect for them.

"I think it's important to just know what kind of animals are around in the environment that you're sharing with them, you know, you're here in their home," said Barbara Linehan, who works with Parks Canada in Terra Nova National Park, 

One day, Linehan and I spent an afternoon snowshoeing along the Coastal Trail.

Barbara Linehan, who works with Parks Canada, says it's imperative to be mindful of wildlife while hiking any trail. (Julia Cook/CBC)

She pointed out different tracks, and what to do in case I encountered a moose, bear or coyote. I learned that regardless of the animal that I encounter, it's best to just keep my distance. 

The national parks offer courses and pamphlets about wildlife safety. 

Linehan said I should be less concerned about wildlife, though, and think more about what I'm getting myself into.

She said each year, Parks Canada rangers are called to rescue someone on the trails who's bitten off more than they can chew.

This is an even bigger concern for a solo hiker, like me.

The last thing I want is to be tired, dehydrated and hungry, calling in for the reinforcements.

A life worth living has risks

At this point, a sane person may start asking herself why she decided to go on this hike, why she's risking herself physically, financially and mentally.

Some snowshoeing on the Coastal Trail has helped Julia Cook build up her endurance for this summer's hike. (Julia Cook/CBC)

Then, I'm out on the ski trail or hiking in the woods and I remember.

Hiking does take more effort than sitting indoors on the couch. It may be expensive and, at times, unsafe, but a life worth living comes with risks. And I need to take more risks.

I've been listening to audiobooks while I exercise and the latest is The Lord of the Rings. Before Frodo sets out on his adventure, he shares some wisdom with his hobbit friends.

"Remember what Bilbo used to say: It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

My own adventure doesn't start for another few months, which means I still have time to prepare.

Until then, is anyone up for a hike?


Julia Cook


Julia Cook reports from CBC's bureau in Gander, primarily for the Central Morning Show.