Fort McMurray’s Jessica Leska is heading north to Fort Chipewyan in six weeks, running through 205 kilometres of ice and snow to showcase the beauty of the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region. She hopes her four-day run will encourage people to explore more of the community.
Leska’s original plan was to run from Fort McMurray to Fort Smith, NWT, but because of COVID-19 concerns, there is no winter road connecting Fort Smith and Fort Chipewyan this year. She hopes to run to Fort Smith next year.
“It was disappointing, but I kind of expected it because Parks Canada got in contact with me ahead of time,” she said. “They just wanted to let me know they were considering not building it. It would take about a month to consult with the communities and then they would make the decisions. I had a month to adjust to the idea.”
Leska said the leadership of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Fort Chipewyan Métis have offered their support. They have also approved her entry into Fort Chipewyan, provided she tests negative for COVID-19 before leaving Fort McMurray.
Training has been going well, said Leska. Last weekend, she ran 70 kilometres to Anzac. She carried emergency clothing, a tent, water, sleeping gear and other kit such as batteries. The only item missing was four days worth of food.
Leska is worried about recent mild weather. Moisture is something she’ll have to be careful of, as sweat freezing to her skin could cause hypothermia if she slows down.
“I’m not going to be able to just come into my house at the end and warm up,” she said. “You have to dial in your layering system a lot more tightly and I haven’t really had the opportunity to do that yet. I’m hoping to get some pretty cold days between now and go time.”
In the final weeks before her trip, Leska said her training sessions will include the long runs, setting up camp and starting a fire. For now, she’s practiced these separately.
Leska said she second guesses herself “all the time,” but the anxiety is part of the process.
“That reward of the feeling of overcoming it is what I do it for,” she said. “If you give in and you don’t do what you really want to do because of the anxiety, or because of the fear, then you’re in your own prison. You’re in a prison of your mind’s making.”
You can follow the journey on the She Runs North Facebook page.