Running through Rogers Pass in the middle of winter – Parks Canada frowns upon it and the RCMP doesn’t like it either. Still, that’s what Jamie McDonald did as he nears the end of his unsupported run across Canada.
McDonald, 27, arrived in Revelstoke last Thursday at the end of marathon 186 on his unsupported run across Canada that began last March.
I met McDonald for a beer at the Last Drop. He was dressed in his Flash costume – which he’s worn almost every day for seven months. We chatted over a pint of Mt. Begbie Powerhouse Pale Ale and he devoured a plate of ribs, corn, broccoli and mashed potatoes.
“I chose to run across Canada because I have absolutely no idea what I’d be faced with,” he told me. “I think if I did know, I wouldn’t have ever started.”
McDonald is no stranger to long trips. In 2012, he cycled from Bangkok to his home in Gloucester, UK. Days after he got back, he decided to break the world static cycling record, and proceeded to pedal in place for 265 hours – more than 11 days.
The last stretch, from Revelstoke to Golden, was McDonald’s toughest yet. It started off nicely on January 9 as he ran along the flats next to the Columbia River.
That night he stayed at someone’s home north of Golden. The next day, he turned west, across the Columbia River and up into the Columbia Mountains.
“I was having a jolly in the Rockies,” he said. “It changed once it started to rise.”
That night, he arrived at the Heather Mountain Lodge, where he was provided a couch, and later a room, by Great Canadian Heli-Skiing. It would become his home for the next four days when a snow storm blew into the region, depositing a metre of snow and closing the highway for avalanche control.
The break, while it gave him time to refresh, was actually frustrating for McDonald, even though he was treated well. He worried about his body becoming soft if he stopped for too long.
“I think you could put me in the Bahamas right now but I wouldn’t enjoy it because I’ve got such a mission to accomplish,” he said. “Out of everywhere to be stuck, it was a beautiful stop. They looked after me and fed me every day.”
On Tuesday, when the storm finally abated, he took off again for the push to Rogers Pass. He was met by a Parks Canada staffer, who handed him a high-visibility vest, an avalanche transceiver, and then followed along behind him as he ran through the series of avalanche tunnels east of Rogers Pass.
“We do not recommend pedestrian travel on the Trans-Canada highway during the winter due to hazardous conditions like avalanche risk, limited visibility and limited shoulder room,” Parks Canada spokesperson Jacolyn Daniluck said.
They advised McDonald to take an alternate route or wait until spring but he pressed on.
Parks Canada had been in touch with McDonald months before and had advised him to not run through the Pass until spring, or choose another route.
“We had this huge discussion on how we would do the tunnels,” McDonald told me. “Parks Canada wanted me to get in the car and be driven, but I’ve ran every single inch and to get in the vehicle and take those miles away would have devastated me.”
McDonald said the run to the pass was one of the toughest of his life. Getting there was a huge relief. He descended to the Asulkan parking lot on the other side and trudged through the snow to the Wheeler Hut where he spent the night.
“I was relieved because I’d say everyone I’ve met along the way has made me fear that pass,” he said. “People don’t mean to, but when they’re fearful of something, they have to let you know. Sometimes you have to not take it on your shoulders and just believe everything will be OK, and it was.”
The next day, he ran to Albert Canyon, where he slept on the couch in a helicopter hangar. On the way, a few employees from Trapper Snowboards drove out to feed him. The next morning he was treated to a helicopter flight over the Selkirk Mountains before beginning his run.
On Thursday, Jan. 16, he ran the final stretch from Albert Canyon to Revelstoke. He arrived looking weary and grimy – the natural result of running thousands of kilometres of highways.
Dozens of people run and bike through Revelstoke every year on their way across Canada. At the Times Review, we hear about many of them, but usually they’re heading from west to east, so they haven’t made it that far by the time they get here.
McDonald is nearing the end of his journey and, when (if) he makes it, he will the first person to ever make the run unsupported. He’s gotten lots of press wherever he’s gone and back home; people are attracted by his constant Tweeting, Facebook updates, YouTube videos and more.
“To be honest, it’s me and a baby stroller,” he said. “I’ve been sleeping rough for most of this journey.”
The attention has helped him raise more than $100,000 that will be going to children’s hospitals across Canada.
He expects to reach Vancouver within the next few weeks. His father has booked himself a flight to be in Vancouver from Jan. 31 to Feb. 11, so that’s his deadline to arrive.
“I’m going to cry like a baby, then fly home,” McDonald said when asked what he’ll do once he’s finished. “I think it’s time. For me, family time was never massively important. Now that I’ve done a journey like this, I’ve missed Christmas. There’s been so much hardship.”
For more information on Jamie McDonald, visit www.jamiemcdonald.org.