By: Erin Postma
This past summer, Cooper Uliano was the second person to complete a thru- hike of the A2A Pilgrimage for Nature trail. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of talking with Cooper about his experience on the trail.
Erin: Do you have any past experience with thru-hiking?
Cooper: In 2021, my wife and I hiked the Appalachian trail. This was my first big thru-hike. In 2022, we did a few shorter hikes - the Tug Hill Traverse and a Lake Ontario beach traverse. In 2023, a friend and I started the Pacific Northwest Trail. We made it 400 miles before having to stop due to fires. I am hoping that one day I will be able to finish it. This summer I did the Northville Placid trail before starting the A2A trail.
Erin: How did you get into thru-hiking?
Cooper: My love for hiking and the outdoors comes from my wife. She grew up in a family that loved hiking and the outdoors. She got me into doing big day hikes. One of my first hikes was a day hike up a mountain in the Adirondacks and I loved it. This piqued my interest in doing longer multi-day hikes. In 2021, everything came together in a way that allowed us to do the Appalachian Trail together. We have done a lot of major hiking trips together. She has been working down in South America for a bit so she was not able to join me for hiking the A2A trail.
Erin: What was the biggest difference between hiking the A2A trail and other thru-hikes you’ve done?
Cooper: The biggest difference was that I was on a trail that people don’t really know about. I was also alone most of the time on the trail. It was cool to be able to tell people about the trail. It was also a great trail for creating my own adventure because there was a lot of opportunity to go off the prescribed trail and discover something new.
Erin: If you were to do it again, what would you do differently?
Cooper: I like walking - it's my favourite mode of transportation, but I think that doing this trail as multi-modal makes more sense. For example, there are sections of the trail that would have been cool to canoe.
Erin: What were some of the highlights of walking the A2A trail?
Cooper: Hiking the roads were not so fun but they brought me to some cool places! I also took a few alternative routes that were beautiful. In Oxbow, New York, I took a trail that required bushwacking but it took me along a cliff overlooking a lake. The section of trail through upper Madawaska Provincial Park was beautiful and there were swimming holes all along the section. It was chilly but I spent the day jumping in a few of the swimming holes.
Erin: What was a lowlight of hiking the A2A trail?
Cooper: I didn't do a lot of planning for hiking the Canadian side. I don’t like to plan too far ahead - I like to see how I feel and plan my day based on that. This resulted in me struggling to find a campsite some nights. A few nights I had to camp illegally which was something I did not want to do but I didn’t really have another choice.
Erin: After hiking the A2A trail, what are your thoughts on some ways we can improve the trail to make it a better and more accessible experience for people? Cooper: The biggest challenge I had was the camping situation. It would be great to have a few more designated camping sites along the trail. I also understand that the trail follows a major corridor and the path taken by Alice the Moose, but it may be beneficial to look at some alternative routes to get away from having to hike along so many roads. It would be nice to be in the wilderness a bit more. Most thru-hikers expect to carry 3-5 days of food, so we don’t need a town every day. It might be a good idea to collect alternative routes so that people would have a bit more freedom to “choose their own adventure” or pick the path that best fits their hiking experience.
Erin: Did you have any animal encounters?
Cooper: I had a wolf encounter near Barry’s Bay. I had just set up camp and was eating dinner. My camp overlooked this gully. It was getting dark and I heard this large animal start coming up the gully towards my camp. A huge wolf came out of the bushes and we just looked at each other for a minute then it walked away. I had never seen one before in the wild, it was huge! Then all night I could hear the pack hunting all around me. Luckily they were not hunting me. But I did not get much sleep that night.
Erin: Do you have any advice for people who are looking to do a thru-hike or specifically looking to hike the A2A trail?
Cooper: Hike in good weather! I know you can’t control this, but it really does make the experience so much nicer. Also for hiking the A2A, invest in ankle gaiters. I wore trail shoes and when hiking the roads, I got so much sand and gravel in my shoes. Remember to open your horizons on where you travel. This route can be seen as a suggestion. Look for your own adventure. Go on a discovery mission and find cool stuff! The more people who do the trail differently, the better the trail can become.
Erin: Any fun stories you would like to share?
Cooper: I won't share the exact location because I want someone else to find it. I took an old snowmobile trail that led to a small pond/marsh. It was about 100 feet across and I had no idea how to cross it. I thought I was going to have to swim across it. I ended up finding an old tin boat. The boat had a hole and I had to use my trekking poles to get to the other side. The boat filled with water quickly and I barely made it all the way across. It was such a ridiculous accident.
Erin: Were people receptive and excited to hear about the A2A trail?
Cooper: People were very receptive. 95% of my encounters were positive ones. A lot of people were helpful and I received lots of trail magic. I came across a town dump one day and this guy Randy who worked at the dump gave me gatorade and butter-tartes and even tried to arrange a place for me to stay. People were generally a little bit confused but very positive. They thought it was very cool that they had a trail coming through their town.