Ray Zahab

Canadian Adventurer

Last Updated: Monday, February 14, 2022

Finding a zest for life in Gatineau Park

My journey to trail running in Gatineau Park started in the late ’90s. I was living an unhealthy lifestyle and had reached a point where I knew I desperately needed to make a change. I had always admired my younger brother John’s passion for mountain biking and climbing. He would get out of bed in the early hours of the morning with boundless energy and head across the river to Gatineau Park. How could I find a similar source of inspiration and confidence in my day-to-day life?

Changing course

One day I decided to stop making excuses, and joined John in Gatineau Park for a hike up the trail at Luskville Falls. It was a very difficult hike for me at the time, but the views were extraordinary. The unexpected wilderness of my surroundings struck me, and my life changed course that day. It was a complete contrast from where I had grown up just 20 kilometres away, and it had been there the entire time!

Every visit to Gatineau Park in those early days was a new challenge. I can distinctly remember having to push my mountain bike up all the hills. It’s funny looking back 25 years later and seeing how far I’ve come.

Ray in Gatineau Park

Finding a home in Gatineau Park

One experience in Gatineau Park led to another, and I found myself eventually moving into a small apartment in Chelsea in 2001. This is around the time that I fell in love with the outdoors, and decided that I wanted to live these adventures for the rest of my life. My passion for outdoor pursuits such as mountain biking and skiing accelerated and then, in 2003, I discovered ultra running. After a few years of competing around the world in ultra marathons, I took a leap and did something I could never have imagined doing: I ran 7,500 kilometres across the Sahara Desert! After feeling that overwhelming sense of accomplishment, I made it my goal to explore the most remote parts of the world — on foot.

Ray in the Sahara Desert

I knew that, to train properly for these extreme adventures, I needed to find the right place to call my home base. My wife and I had travelled to many places around the globe, and considered moving to Whistler, B.C. But, in the end, the answer was right in front of me. I already lived in what I felt was the greatest place on earth to do all of these incredible things. Gatineau Park offers a true four-season outdoors experience — from some of the best cross-country skiing in the world, to incredible hiking trails. The best part is that it is just a few kilometres away from the heart of Canada’s Capital.

Hitting the trails

Trail running is my bread and butter. It’s a mirror reflection of cross-country skiing in the winter, in the sense that you’ve got trails ranging from beginner (like Trail 1) to intermediate (like the ones by the Mackenzie King Estate) and advanced (by stringing challenging trails together). Trail running is also similar to hiking, in that you’re just carrying a backpack and wearing trail running shoes, but you get to cover a lot more distance. It opens up a whole new world in Gatineau Park.

Ray in Gatineau Park

People often ask me about my “go-to trail.” No matter what my run is, I always climb Trail 32 to Camp Fortune.

Essentials for trail running

  • Have the right gear, including a pair of trail shoes (many of the trails can’t be done in road shoes).
  • Get a Gatineau Park trail map, and become familiar with it.
  • Stay on the official trails.
  • Bring enough hydration for the day.
  • Know your route — especially where you’re going to go into and come out of the trail.
  • Be aware of the signage in the Park.
  • Check Gatineau Park’s social media accounts for weather conditions and wildlife notices.
  • Make sure someone else knows your plan for the day!

I’m not sure where I would be today had I not followed by brother to Gatineau Park 25 years ago, but I can say for sure that my life would be a lot less exciting.

See you on the trails!

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