I’ve never actually worked with Tamsin, but I feel like I have because I accidentally followed her to Peterborough and Kingston, just missing her each time. When everybody else in journalism was worried about their jobs (or at least when the worry peaked in 2008), Tamsin said the hell with it. She flew to California, and walked all the way to British Columbia on the Pacific Crest Trail. Here’s why.
So when the economy had a heart attack, you took a buyout and went for a long walk. Walk me through your reasoning?
I didn’t actually take a buyout – although I applied for one. Didn’t get it, so I just left on my own.
But I’d been thinking about this hike for awhile – years actually. It was one of those things I’d always wanted to do. It was one of those: “I’ll do it one day” things that everyone always says but few people rarely follow through on. It was at the top of the list of things I was going to do when I won the lottery.
Then, as you said, the economy had a heart attack and newspapers were taking a bit of a nosedive. There were buyouts and then layoffs at my workplace and I was pretty low on the seniority list there. I figured that I didn’t actually need to win the lottery to do this hike. I did the math and it’s pretty cheap to live in the woods these days. So I figured I could spend a year fighting for my job, worried about getting laid off and worried about my future, or I could just take the plunge and go. It was like well, why isn’t today that “One Day”?
How many kilometres was it, and where exactly does it run?
It’s about 4,500 kilometres, a little more than that. It starts at the U.S./Mexico border near Campo, California, about an hour from San Diego. It goes through all of California, Oregon and Washington and then 12km into B.C. in the interior near Hope, B.C. It follows the mountains inland, not the coast.
What kind of training was involved?
There was no training whatsoever. I gained a bunch of weight beforehand, actually. I was pretty lazy. I figured I’d just walk it off and I did. The training was the first two weeks of hiking. I woke up every day stiff, sore, with my feet swollen and blistered. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck everyday. But that went away after a few weeks on the trail.
Once you got going, did you ever just want to quit?
There was never a time when I wanted to quit. A lot of people do quit, but I really started out with the goal of finishing it. I never straye from that. I had some bad days, but nothing that ever made me want to go home.
There are too many good memories to put my finger on. Soaking in a secluded natural hot spring pool on a star-covered night. Summiting Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48, even when others turned back because of the amount of snow. Listening to the elk bugeling in the dark during a snow storm. Hiking the spectacular Goat Rocks wilderness in Northern Washington in the fall. Finishing the trail and knowing I had hiked every step of it, even after people said it was too late in the year to keep hiking, that I couldn’t make it. Hiking into Yosemite National Park on July 4th. Having ABC World News come film me hiking on the trail for a story. Crossing the Canadian border and realizing I’d started six months before by pressing my hand up against the fence at the Mexican border. I could go on. I met a guy. We’re still together. So I guess that counts as a highlight.
Even my worst memories are still fond ones. We hit some extremely cold weather in the last two weeks – snow, freezing temperatures, icy wind. I remember going through a very tough section in the Glacier Peak Wilderness of northern Washington. The trail was actually closed because it had been wiped out from a huge mudslide some years before. But apparently the detour was so overgrown that everyone just took the original trail. There were tons of huge trees that had fallen down – overturned trees with roots as tall as a building. You had to climb over each one. At one point, there was a bridge across a creek that had been washed out from the mudslides. Some crews had built a new bridge about a mile off-trail, but we just couldn’t find it. After bushwhacking and trying to scramble up the steep hill on the other side of the bridge, it got dark and we finally gave up. We camped on the bridge. It seemed like a good idea at a time, but bridges are particularly cold since there’s nothing but air rushing beneath them. It was a pretty bitter night. Everything was wet and cold. I spent the entire night exhausted and freezing. And we still had to find the trail in the morning. There was about a week of conditions like this and it was truly gruelling. Did you ever think you’d work in journalism again (she works in New Brunswick at a paper now)?
I did. The hike was never meant to be a goodbye to journalism. It was just sort of a reset I guess, a reevaluation, or just perhaps fodder for a book one day. Journalism is in my blood, so no matter where I am or what I end up doing with my life, I think it will never be too far removed from journalism.