What a 4,200-km hike taught a member of 10 Strings and a Goat Skin
'Everyone has these ideas and these preconceived notions about what the trail is going to be'
Last spring Rowen Gallant ended a years-long odyssey with the P.E.I. band Ten Strings and a Goat Skin and started on a more literal journey of his own.
Unsure about what the future would hold following the announcement of the group taking a hiatus, Gallant decided to take the opportunity of the time off and a little money in the bank to hike 4,200 kilometres of the Pacific Crest Trail. He went straight from touring with the band to the trail, with no time to prepare physically.
"My body was wrecked the first two weeks," said Gallant.
But he said that was a common experience for people as they started.
"Everybody was so soft, just physically soft," he said.
"Everybody's feet were really rough, the joints were aching a whole bunch and everybody's asking themselves, 'Oh man, why did I think I could do this?' About 150 miles in there's this town called Warner Springs, and at that point I think it's 25 per cent of the people drop out."
The trail starts in southern California, in what Gallant described as classic desert. From there it runs through the granite of the Sierra mountains, then to northern California. Ravaged by wildfires at the time, Gallant said this was the hardest part of the trek, because the views that would keep you going from hilltop to hilltop were constantly obscured by smoke.
Past California were the rainforests of Oregon and Washington. The trail ended in Manning Park, about two hours east of Vancouver.
"What you realize very quickly is that your reasons for doing it shift," said Gallant.
"Everyone has these ideas and these preconceived notions about what the trail is going to be, and then once you get into it it's a very different beast."
At the beginning for Gallant, it was all about figuring out the future. He soon realized thinking about the future was not the right approach.
"The only way you finish is by trying to be in the moment as much as possible," he said.
"And that's the real objective of the trail, just enjoy the present."
In the first weeks he was hiking about eight hours a day, covering about 30 kilometres. As his body adjusted, he could stretch it out 10 to 12 hours, covering close to 50 kilometres in a day. It was a time to relax with himself, he said.
"Sometimes it's not the most inspiring, life-affirming thoughts that you're having. Sometimes your brain's just fuzzy. But other times the solitude is exactly what you end up needing," said Gallant.
"That's the real beauty of the trail. It's five months of your life where you can settle down, let yourself breathe, take the time that you need to when you become anxious or too frazzled. You don't really have that opportunity in normal life. You feel so caught up. You're not really thinking anything. You're almost just observing yourself for five months."
As the end of the trail approached, as he understood that finishing was something he could do, more normal patterns of thinking, of considering the future, began to return as well.
Gallant still doesn't know what the future of Ten Strings and Goat Skin will be. For now, he is apprenticing as a boat builder, and enjoying being back in his community.
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With files from Island Morning