I was completely naked inside my one-person tent. My hiking clothes and boots sat in a rain-soaked pile beside me. I held my breath as I ripped the duct tape off my bleeding and blistered feet.
“Fuck!” I screamed. Nobody could hear me. I was between two farmer’s fields, somewhere in the middle-of-nowhere Quebec. I was wet, cold, and lonely. After 11 days and almost 300 kilometers of walking with 50 pounds of gear on my back, I was done.
Done with canned tuna. Done with the pain. Done with it all.
I wanted this stupid hike to be over with.
I turned on my cell phone and called my girlfriend.
“This sucks,” I whined, yelling over the pounding rain on the roof of my tent. “My sleeping bag and clothes are drenched…I won’t sleep tonight…My feet are mangled…I’m covered in mosquito bites…I’m exhausted…I want to be home, in bed, with you.”
When I was finished ranting she asked me a question:
“Eric, do you remember why you wanted to do this hike?”
The question was rhetorical. Nothing more needed to be said.
I told her I loved her and that I’d see her in a few days. I put my phone away and gritted my teeth. It was going to be a long, miserable, sleepless night. But I had nobody to blame but myself.
This is exactly what I’d wanted.
In the months leading up to June 2015, I had felt stuck. My life was a predictable 9-to-5 routine. I was sick of the office, my commute to work, and the sound of my alarm clock. I was in a rut. I needed more adventure.
I thought about going back to school and changing careers. I was 33 years old. Was it too late to change my career path?
I thought about quitting my job. My bosses were driving me crazy. But if I found a new job, wouldn’t there just be another boss I’d eventually loathe?
I kept asking myself, “Am I meant to settle, accumulate a bunch of stuff that I don’t really need, and hope that when I’m 65 years old my health is still good enough to enjoy my retirement?”
I felt guilty for feeling the way I did. My job was great. I had benefits and more holidays than most. I lived in an awesome area of Montreal. I was comfortable.
But my comfort was starting to feel like stagnancy. I felt that my life had plateaued, and I hated it.
I needed a challenge. Instead of quitting my job in a blaze of glory, I decided to hike over 400 kilometres from Montreal to Quebec City (via Sherbrooke). Alone.
After a couple months of planning and preparation, the day finally arrived. My pack was full, my beard was long, and my shorts were short. I walked out my front door, down my street, through downtown Montreal, over the bridge, and into the unknown.
I walked, and I walked, and I walked.
I slept in swamps under highway overpasses. I slept on private property. I slept in public parks.
I got mistaken for a homeless person, on more than one occasion. People laughed at me from inside their BMWs.
My body was a mess. Every muscle ached. My feet were two disgusting open wounds.
I was lonely. My brain started conjuring all sorts of weird and random thoughts. I caught myself having full conversations out loud, for who knows how long. I would burst out laughing for no reason.
My hike turned out to be more of a mental and physical challenge than I initially anticipated. The longer I hiked, the harder it was to keep telling myself that I had asked for this.
The next morning the rain had stopped. Birds were singing and cows were mooing. I stepped out of my tent and the sun wrapped around me like a warm blanket.
I carried my gear into the middle of a farmer’s field. I spread it out over an area the size of a dance floor and waited for everything to dry.
In the meantime, I filtered water out of a ditch to make oatmeal and coffee. I wrote in my journal and read a book. An older couple rode their bicycles past me and stopped to chat. I spoke with them in my broken French accent and told them I slept in a “wet sleeping bag all night.” (Days later, when I was back in Montreal, I realized I mixed up my words and actually told the couple I slept in a “wet diaper all night.” I’m sure they had a good laugh later that day.)
When my gear was finally dry, I repacked my bag, duct-taped my mangled feet, and laced up my boots.
I took a deep breath, and I kept on walking.