GONE TREKKING: DISCOVERING MY TRAIL AT CAPE CHIGNECTO WITH THE NORTH FACE AND A NEW HIKING PARTNER
At 6 o'clock on a Tuesday morning, I met Alexandra in a cab. After shoving a few last-minute items into the backpack I’d rely on in the coming days, I hurried down the stairs of my Montreal apartment, hopped in, and introduced myself. At that point, pretty much all I knew about her was a job title (Brand and Sports Marketing Coordinator at The North Face), and, more importantly, that she enjoyed a good trek.
The two of us were on our way to Nova Scotia to tell the story of some eager nature-lover embarking on her first trek ever - with the promising help of a seasoned mentor to make the journey a little less daunting. That eager someone was me. And that mentor, Alexandra Desjardins. Together, we went off the grid to trek across the highs and lows of Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, and gained much more than astonishing views along the way.
If it were up to Alexandra, the word mentor would never be uttered at all. Despite her experience trekking in Canada, Patagonia, Tanzania, Columbia, and Peru, she has never considered herself a mentor. Even back when we were still strangers, I was already and always “her hiking buddy,” simple as that.
But if she didn’t feel like a teacher, I definitely felt like a student. Sure, I had plenty of hiking and car camping experience, but trekking - hiking and camping for several days with only the contents of your bag - was still a bit intimidating. So Alexandra taught me what she knew, from managing our food supplies (including the very essential REAL coffee for her Bialetti), to distributing the weight of my Stormbreak tent, Blue Kazoo sleeping bag, and all else in my pack for ultimate comfort. Let the trek begin.
When we arrived at the park, I smirked when I noticed the sign proudly displayed on the maintenance building near the trailhead: “Cape Chignecto…IT’S NO WALK IN THE PARK.” Consider us warned. Yet it was hard to feel intimidated when the sea and sky were so perfectly indistinguishable, both blue and calm. I felt this calm wash over me with the light ocean breeze, like taking a big exhale. A cartoon lightbulb lit over my head: oh, right, this is why I’m alive.
While I consider myself a nature lover, I am plagued by the contradiction that I’m also a city dweller. And sometimes, amid all the rushed nonsense of everyday life, I completely forget that there’s another world out there, made up of endless shades of green, smelling like dirt and sap and morning dew on the grass. But it doesn’t take much time outside to remember again.
We started and finished day one on the beach, covering nearly 15 kilometres with lots of elevation through the woods between shores.
I thought about car camping, and how much you can leave to improvisation. You can book a campsite at the last minute and hastily fit whatever you can into the expansive trunk of a car, stopping at a grocery store en route to get all the snacks, s’more-building supplies, and hot dogs you desire. How decadent and indulgent that now seemed. There was definitely no room for improvisation in our remote slice of the backcountry.
Luckily for my back, we had fewer kilometres to cover the next day. And the views were insane. The further we zigzagged along Cape Chignecto, the bigger the cliffs became. Immense, jagged rock sculptures chiseled by the all-powerful ocean, dotted with vegetation weathered by salt and wind, guided us forward. If it weren’t for the distant, blurry silhouette of New Brunswick across the water, I’d have assumed we were at the edge of the world.
Check out Reilly and Alexandra’s gear
Dinner was served with a side of heartfelt musings about the journey so far. There is something pleasantly archaic about sharing a meal in the middle of nowhere, using only the materials you’ve carried for two days. We had earned it, together.
For the rest of the trek, an on-and-off drizzle covered everything in a thick layer of mist. The towering rocks and cliffs looked otherworldly as they soared out of day three’s blanket of fog. It was time to whip out the Dryzzle Futurelight jacket. As I crossed a muddy patch of trail, I misjudged my steps and submerged my Vectiv Exploris boot completely, sock and all. I laughed when I noticed Alexandra’s perfectly spotless boots. “It’s because I’m the mentor,” she chuckled. But she spoke too soon, as later in the afternoon, I watched, mouth-agape, as she slipped off a rickety log and sunk both legs shin-deep into a muddy swamp. Let it be known that no trekker - no matter how experienced - is safe from the wrath of trail mud.
We spent the final stretch of the trek daydreaming about the greasy fish and chips that awaited in the closest town.
There was no dramatic fanfare waiting for us when we came to the end. Just the same maintenance building reading IT’S NO WALK IN THE PARK, this time with its doors open and a man in rubber boots giving us a nod. Alexandra and I hugged to celebrate how far we’d come, but the next thing on both our minds was taking off our still-muddy-and-wet socks and boots. Once those were peeled off, I could enjoy the extremely satisfying sense of accomplishment that came from hiking 52 kilometres over four days, finally completing my first trek. There was a new kind of exhale, not calm this time, but confident.
I spend a lot of my city life aimlessly craving something I can’t quite put my finger on. Just something, anything, that’s different. Well, I figured it out. I actually needed a break from that ‘something, anything’ mindset. And I found it in nature: a place where life’s endless possibilities and distractions vanish and everything is just as it should be.
Looking back, the most gratifying part of the journey wasn’t crossing the finish line, but the sense of connection I found with myself, my surroundings, and Alexandra during those four days in the woods. Plunged into the small, frugal, universe that comes with trekking, I was able to recognize and experience the healing simplicity of the great outdoors. While also having a blast with my new hiking buddy.
So what if you’ve only been camping at serviced campsites with a trunk full of everything you could ever need? Our story is a message to everyone willing to release their inhibitions and longing for a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or expert, if you’re adventuring with your best friend or someone you just met. All you have to do is get out there. The rest will come. And you’ll wonder why you never did it sooner.