Trekking together along Hwy 2A, heading north towards Red Deer from Penhold, a family from British Columbia continued to marvel at their first look at vast prairie farm fields, bright yellow canola crops and a horizon that goes forever.
The delights of Alberta are the latest of the many unique Canadian vistas that Heather and Bart Mash of Langley, B.C., have shared with their children since embarking in 2002 on an adventure to hike the Trans Canada Trail all the way from the Pacific Ocean to Atlantic Ocean.
For eight years, the Mash family has spent two weeks every summer hiking the cross-country trail system.
Starting in Victoria, they have now walked more than 2,230-km across Western Canada over a total of 89 days and want to reach Blackfalds by today.
“It’s just good family time,” Heather said on Friday morning en route to Red Deer. “We started when they were young so that now, even though they’re married and don’t live at home anymore, we still get together for this two-week time,” she said of her daughter Hayley Pongracz, 24, and son Ben Mash, 20.
When the crew first started in 2002, they were also joined by Heather’s mother, Ann, who walked the entire B.C. route and, at 75, continues to join the family for the walk for at least part of a day every year.
Hayley’s husband, Darryl Pongracz, 25, and Ben’s girlfriend, Tasha Weatherston, 18, have since joined the family on the annual trip.
“Walking along, we sort of pair off as couples and chat about stuff,” Heather said, adding with a laugh that they even planned Hayley and Darryl’s wedding while hiking one year.
“We talk about stuff that we never as a family take time to sit down and talk about. So it’s just really good family time.”
In fact, despite all the sights seen and towns visited, it’s the time talking with and getting to know her grandmother that Hayley cherishes the most.
“You don’t realize how much you miss just sitting and talking to them and spending time with your little brother,” Hayley said of catching up with her family during the hikes.
“That’s been the best.”
Ben, on the other hand, has most enjoyed travelling past B.C. to visit new towns and cities.
“Every step east that we take is a new place for us because we haven’t been this far yet,” he said.
One of Ben’s highlights has been hiking through the Rocky Mountains while Heather’s personal Alberta favourite was standing atop Cox Hill, the highest point of the Trans Canada Trail, and looking out at all the skyscrapers of downtown Calgary.
The family arrived in Central Alberta on July 17 and decided to set their base in Sylvan Lake.
They started hiking near the Calgary International Airport and, after hiking about 25 km each day, hope to conclude this year’s journey in Blackfalds.
Heather explained that they also make it a habit to take a day-long break after two days of walking so they can take in some of the local attractions. This year, they visited the Calgary Zoo, West Edmonton Mall and spent Thursday relaxing and playing golf in Sylvan Lake.
“There was a point in the middle that we thought Dad should maybe look up the definition of vacation,” Hayley admitted.
But the family is as excited as ever to continue their journey to the East Coast, which Bart estimates will take them a total of 33 years to complete.
The Trans Canada Trail project was initiated in 1992 as a way to celebrate Canada’s 125th birthday.
Once completed, the system will be comprised of a connection of trails stretching 22,000 km and linking 1,000 communities across the country. More than 15,000-km of the trail have been developed, including a section in Waskasoo Park in Red Deer.
For more information about the Trans Canada Trail, visit www.tctrail.ca.