Sarah Jackson, the first woman to walk The Great Trail from Pacific to Atlantic
Days spent walking: 475 Number of kilometres walked: 11,520 Pairs of hiking boots used: seven
It’s easy to reduce Sarah Jackson’s successful west-to-east transit of The Great Trail to numbers. But the story of the woman who became the first to complete the coast-to-coast route when she arrived at Cape Spear, N.L., on June 1, 2017, is far richer than a simple column of figures. Here, the Edmonton native discusses the incredible breadth of experiences she had on the trail, why she made the journey, how it changed her and more.
On what made her walk the trail
My uncle walked the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain when I was young, and that really stuck with me — it was the first time I’d heard about someone going on a journey like that. When I discovered there was something called The Great Trail here in Canada, I knew I wanted to do it. The opportunity to learn more about the country where I was born and raised by walking across it was really important to me. There was so much I didn’t know then — and still so much that I don’t know now.
On her biggest struggle
Physically, the weather was a challenge, especially when it was wet. When those conditions were paired with moments that I was alone on the trail, it was sometimes a struggle. People often ask me about the loneliness, and I guess at the start I did feel lonely. But there’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. I eventually got to the point where when I was alone in nature, I didn’t feel lonely at all — I felt like I was surrounded.
On symbolic gestures
I touched the Pacific Ocean when I left Victoria on June 1, 2015, and I touched the Atlantic when I arrived in St. John’s on May 30, 2017. I thought it would feel like a bigger moment than it did, but in St. John’s it was a blur because I was so close to the end and walking with family and friends. I felt it more after I’d finished, when I was reflecting on the experience. I don’t think the emotions around completing the walk have fully sunk in; they come in waves, where I feel a sudden pang that I should be on the trail again.
On her favourite trail memory
I went to bed every night in the most beautiful place in the world, whether it was under the stars in Saskatchewan’s big open sky or in Quebec, which I really loved because of the culture. I would go back to all of it in a heartbeat. But the most beautiful encounters were with the people. I got to walk with so many different people, people who I’m friends with now, people who taught me a lot.
On the inspiration of Dana Meise, who has spent nearly a decade walking the entire 24,000-kilometre length of The Great Trail
I heard about Dana for the first time shortly before I started my own walk. It was incredible that he had the commitment to go back year after year. For two years, the trail was my life, but I just can’t imagine doing what Dana has done — that’s challenging in a whole different way. Imagine getting your trail legs then going back home. Then doing that again and again. It’s incredible.
On Dianne Whelan, the documentary filmmaker who started her attempt to bike, hike and paddle the entirety of the trail one month after Jackson began her walk
I was following Dianne’s journey because she was out there at the same time, although we began on opposite ends of the country. I think there’s something special about having two women start their journey on the trail in the same year. Her experiences have been and will be so different from mine, and I hope to cross paths with her when she passes through Edmonton.
On what she feels she has accomplished
I didn’t set out to accomplish anything, because to be honest, I didn’t know whether I would walk the whole way. I figured I’d keep walking and stop when it felt right. It wasn’t finishing the trail that meant something to me — it was the process of walking it. I’ve grown so much, and the trail changed me in a way I never anticipated. There’s not a lot that feels unattainable now. That’s a really big deal for me because it’s something I’ve never felt before.
On what she’ll miss about the trail
Oh God — everything! Waking up outside, going to bed outside, the routine of walking, the people I met. That feeling when I was having a crappy day in my head but knew that I’d be in a new place farther along the trail by the end of the day. Even though the idea of taking one step at a time is a cliché, I think I’ll always carry that feeling with me and hopefully apply it to other parts of my life.