Last winter I completed the shortest “Pioneer” (10 km) version the Waterloo Region Crossing. As someone who scarcely exercises, this felt like a major accomplishment for me!
As I have shared before, the urban planner part of me decided to do so because of how the organizers aimed to connect the dots between homelessness and poor urban planning. To which I thought it made sense to link these issues to my long-term concern for global climate change.
What I haven’t written about before, and I’m realizing now that I want to share, is that, well, I have long held the belief that Waterloo Region could play a special role in helping us make the transition to a more sustainable, resilient world. What could be more special to me then participating in a local event, which could have benefits for a range of important issues both locally and globally?
Perhaps I will write more about this someday. For now, I hope I have conveyed my feelings of why I have felt so passionate about this event. And why, when I received notice this fall that event registration was open, I immediately signed up to go again. Except this time on the longer mid-range “Optimist” (28 km) version of the trek!
Setbacks and Surprises
What was I thinking, I later came to think, signing up for such a long trek?!? Sore feet, achy knees, and a host of other physical setbacks, as well as being a busy mom and volunteer, hindered my preparations every step of the way. I did not give up though! I made health appointments, added more restrictions to an already strict diet, followed exercise regimens, and tried to squeeze in training whenever I found a moment. Nevertheless, a couple months into the training process, the most I had walked was just over one hour.
Eventually I came to realize that I just wasn’t going to be ready in time. Feeling somewhat panicky, I shared my concern over tea with a friend. Expecting sympathy, instead she made an amazing suggestion: Why not do the trek as a relay?
At first I was resistant to the idea, wanting sooooo much to go the whole distance myself. AND the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. After all, just as it takes a community to address the issue of homelessness, so I needed a community to help me achieve my goal of doing a longer trek.
Serendipitously, later that day, I shared my passions around going on the trek, and how I wanted to do it as a relay, with a lovely couple that I recently met. To my great surprise, the husband, whose name is Alejandro Valencia, immediately said, in earnest, “I’ll do it.”
I couldn’t believe my ears! I had, just hours before, received this idea, and already someone was volunteering to help!! What is more, it was someone who I had just gotten to know!!!
Making the plan
Feeling much excitement that this just might work, I contacted event organizer, Tessa Jennison, and shared with her the idea. To my delight, she immediately supported my proposal! Rejigging the event website so that we could register as a relay team, answering our questions, coordinating other logistics, and basically helping us every step of the way, she made doing the trek as a relay a possibility.
Still, when the big day came, I will be honest, I felt uncertain about whether the relay would go as planned. After all, I had just gotten to know Alejandro, and there had been many issues to figure out. Some of them were easier to deal with, such as who would get up early and do the first part of the trek, and who would do the last? Where and when would we meet up? And what sort of gear would we need for doing this modified version of the trek?
We eventually got these questions answered, including deciding that I would do the first of the trek. There were still many unknowns though. What if he, a busy family man with little time to train, found the trek too long? As for me, what if I was so unfit that I walked too slowly, and he ended up thinking he had missed me? And what if my cell phone lost power in the cold, so I couldn’t contact him and tell him my location? What if then he started the last section of our chosen trek before I arrived? What if, what if, what if?!?
At long last, the day of the trek arrived. I felt prepared as I could be (including having packed a cell phone charger for the trail, just in case!) After a brief and encouraging send-off by the trek leaders, we started walking. My walking partner for that section of the trek, Steffanie Scott, set a brisk pace. Having her company encouraged me to keep myself moving even when I wanted to stop!
This included one particularly difficult section of the trail that had a long incline which seemed to never end. In addition to trying my best to keep with up Steffanie, I found myself digging deep and thinking about all the reasons I was doing the trek, for those experiencing homelessness, for climate change, for my love of the environment, and so on. Eventually though, even that didn’t help. It came down to me simply saying to myself, over and over, “Just put the next leg forward…Don't think of anything else. Just put the next leg forward…”
Happily, not long after that, we made it the finishing Pioneer checkpoint. Then, despite all my worries, Alejandro arrived almost exactly a minute later! To make our collective journey truly a trek, I gave him the specially designed Waterloo Region Crossing pins that I had collected so far along the trail. He pinned them on his poncho, and set off!
By this point, I was full of confidence that we could do it! Especially since Alejandro had shared with me by then that his work is very physical, and involves a great deal of walking. Sure enough, he completed the final leg of the journey!!
A time for reflection
On the day of the event, I discovered, just as I had suspected, that there was no way I could have completed the longer, Optimist version of the trek on my own. Rather, I very much needed the help of my relay partner Alejandro.
What was not so obvious to me, but has become apparent while writing this, is that I also needed the help of many others, including that of event planner, Tessa Jennison; the support of my walking partner, Steffanie Scott; and the listening ear of my friend who had the vision to suggest I do the event as a relay! Not to forget the amazing support of my family and others in the community, who encouraged me along the way. While in some ways I was undertaking a journey on my own, carrying my own gear, putting one foot in front of the next, I was at the same time very much on a journey that was supported by others.
Of course, in a way, everyone involved in the trek supported each other. There was, for instance, great camaraderie on the trail, with seeming genuine smiles and heartfelt conversation, that you just don’t encounter everyday. It is just that I am reflecting here on the impact that this support had on me.
I want very much to internalize what I have learned while undertaking this trek: the importance of community to achieving goals. It is one that, to be honest, I find easy to forget, one that I need reminding of and reinforcing, such as by friends over tea and people who come through when I need them. Despite my internal resistance, it is a learning that I am gradually coming to incorporate into my being.
I say all this despite knowing personally how liberating nurturing one’s own individuality can be, in how it has freed me to follow my own hopes and dreams beyond the confines of more mainstream societal norms. That is what has given me (and, as I am joyfully learning, others too!) the vision of Waterloo Region playing a special role in helping us transition to a more sustainable, resilient world.
However, with today’s growing problems of homelessness, poor urban planning, climate change etc. etc., I am increasingly realizing how critical it is that we join forces with others. The time for the hero mentality, of a sole individual trying to solve the world’s problems, is well and truly gone. Instead, the time for *heroic communities* has come! Only then, do we have a chance to actually address the myriad of issues that face us, and find a way forward to more beautiful and desirable future.