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Day 67 – June 26 – Walk Across Canada
Yesterday was my best day yet on this trip. I didn’t get any personal bests, but I walked a solid 75 kms. The weather, highways, and people were great. And there were only a few pesky bugs to worry about. And today is much the same as yesterday. Just a great day all around.
Yesterday, I was interviewed by a journalist intern named Michaela from the Brandon Sun. One of the questions she asked me was to sum up this trip in one word. I said ‘fun’, but I should have said ‘freedom’. It hasn’t been fun all along, and for many days, it wasn’t fun at all. But since the start, I have enjoyed an amazing sense of freedom. Freedom to live my life the way I want. Freedom to chase my dreams without interference. Freedom to make my own mistakes and learn from them. The freedom of the open road. And the freedom to simply choose to walk or not to walk. It’s the best feeling ever.
I met Boyd yesterday about an hour’s walk east of Brandon, Manitoba. He is the one the cyclists I have seen since Thunder Bay have been calling ‘The Canadian Forrest Gump’. He carries a backpack instead of pushing a stroller. I thought I might not see him because of the divided highway, but, as it turns out, it would have been tough to miss him because he’s walking with the traffic, primarily so that drivers can read his sign – Walking Across Canada Please Help With Food.
What is amazing about Boyd is that this is his second time walking across Canada. The first time, he did it to combat his depression after his marriage broke up. Now he walks to bring attention to depression. He works all winter and then walks all summer, starting where he left off the year prior. He walks about 25 kms per day at an easy pace, stealth camping at night, and cooking most of his food.
We shared some stories, like when he was attacked by a wolf in Banff National Park. I talked about the transport truck that almost got me when the driver was passing another transport. Boyd wears ear phones and listens to music while walking with his back to the traffic. “If I get taken out, I don’t want to hear it coming,” he said.
Boyd is as easy-going as a person can get. He’s in no hurry. This is his lifestyle, not a race. He will finish when he finishes, and after that, well, he’ll probably just do it all over again.
The first time I drove across the Prairies was in 1995, when I got posted with the military from Ontario to Calgary. I had been out west a few times before, but had always travelled by plane.
I wasn’t looking forward to driving through the boring Prairie landscape. But my brother, who had been living in Shilo, Manitoba, for many years, told me that I would be pleasantly surprised driving through the Prairies. I wasn’t pleasantly surprised, of course, because back then I was too excited about getting to the mountains, which was my real passion. The flatness of the Prairies was just too monotonous.
But I know now what my brother was talking about. It took some time and a posting to the flatter city of Edmonton for me to see it. The big sky and far-seeing landscape has a peacefulness that is unique. A perfect day would be to just sit in a hammock and watch the sky all day. The open space feels like someone has just unlocked your manacles and set you free.
I love how Canadians describe the severity of our weather. “It was so cold, I peed ice cubes.” “It’s a lazy man’s wind, too lazy to go around you, so it goes right through you.” That sort of thing.
I stopped at a gas station and was chatting with a local. I was talking about how bad the wind was a few days ago. He said,
“It was so windy that day that when my neighbour rounded the edge of the barn, he was thrown up against a wall for three days, so his wife had to feed him by shooting wieners into his mouth with a shotgun.” Which, in my mind, is a much better way of saying “it was really, really windy”.
Side note: my poison ivy rash is almost entirely gone. No more itching. Whew!
The highlight of my day is that I saw a white crow. I couldn’t tell if it was fully albino or if it just didn’t have the pigment in its feathers. But wow, what a find. Sorry, no picture. Couldn’t get a good one with my phone camera. But if you google ‘albino crow’, you’ll see lots of pictures of crows that look exactly like the bird I saw today.
I love nature. And I know I wouldn’t have seen the bird if I had been driving.
A fabulous day it was today, my friends. Until tomorrow……
Day 68 – June 27 – Walk Across Canada
Some people say that they were nervous the first time they did it. That it was a painful experience. That they felt awkward and shy. Some say it came naturally. Others that it was easier than they thought it would be. One person I talked to said he was six years old when he did it for the first time, and that it was no big deal, just all hype. He said he did it three more times before he turned eight.
When people ask me to tell them about my first time, I’ll say something like this:
It was an evening sky that would have extracted perfection from a poet’s pen, under which a painter’s brush would have hovered motionless above the canvass as the artist wept. The breeze was soft and warm from the north-west, and the pastel sun hung low over a Prairie sky. All was silent. Even the birds and insects waited breathlessly. Something important was about to happen. And there, on the side of the Trans-Canada highway, outside Virden, Manitoba, at the age of 54 – old, some might say, for such an important first experience – I did it for the first time.
I changed a flat tire.
I’m one of the guys who says it was easier than I thought it would be. I don’t know why it went flat, but yesterday I put in a new tube after first checking the rim and tire for abrasions. All went well.
But then by mid-morning today, it was flat again. I pumped it up and that lasted about 45 minutes. Right now I’m at a gas station. I’ve taken the wheel apart and cannot see why it has gone flat. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the tire or the rim. There are no sharp or pointy spots on either.
I’m in the middle of nowhere, without a bike repair shop probably until Regina, which I should make by Friday if I can keep up this pace. I have one more tube left, but I’m loathe to use it. A brand new one just went flat. There must be a reason, so why risk my last tube, especially when the other wheel has a slow leak that I pump up twice per day now. Out of desperation, I bought some Puncture Seal, which is designed for cars. I’ve tried it on Kitty’s wheel and now I’m just staring at it, willing it to work. “C’mon, Baby, work!” is my new mantra.
I’ve seen about 30-40 cross-Canada cyclists now. I don’t comment on them all because many of them don’t stop to chat. But today I met a delightful retired couple from New Zealand. The man was wearing sandals with cleats.
Me: You flew all this way just to cycle across Canada?
Him: Yes. And why don’t you come down to my country and walk across it too?
New Zealand? Hmm. I’ve never even been below the equator. Well maybe I will add it to my to-do list.
A couple of nice milestones today. Late this morning, I passed the 4,000-km point of this walk. And about mid-afternoon, I crossed into Saskatchewan. Three provinces to go.
It’s after the supper hour and there is still air in Kitty’s tire.
Oh, and the no-see-ums are alive and well in Saskatchewan. Dirty little buggers. Grrr.
Lots more I could talk about, but I’m out of time.
Day 69 – June 28 – Walk Across Canada
You would think there aren’t as many stealth camping options in the Prairies, but there are. It’s just that the quality isn’t as good. Almost anywhere you can hide from the traffic and not actually be on someone’s property is usually covered in marsh or very high grasses.
Last night, I camped in very high grass, and because it was already well past sunset, I couldn’t be fussy, which meant that I was exposed to the traffic on the highway. I’m pretty sure nobody really cares if you camp on the side of the highway, but you never know. You don’t want a knock on your tent door at midnight by a police officer asking you to move and questioning why you have Albert Einstein tied to a cheetah. So I removed my safety vest and hid Kitty behind some bushes and set up my tent in the dark. I would become statue-like when a vehicle went by so that the driver wouldn’t notice any movement, and it didn’t seem like I was attracting any attention. I was hidden in the shadows.
The mosquitoes were atrocious last night. I pitched the tent as quickly as I could and then threw in my stuff and dove in. After closing up the vestibule and the tent door, I killed 15 mosquitoes that managed to get into the tent with me. Turns out there were 17 of them; two buzzed my face during the night and woke me up.
It’s another freedom day. The last three days through Manitoba were perfect. Today, the head wind is nasty again, but otherwise the weather is spectacular. I’m currently taking a break off the highway in the grass. I’m drying out my tent, which I’ve anchored to the ground with two pegs so that it doesn’t fly away. Same with the tent fly. They both look dry already, and it’s only been five minutes since I laid them out.
In the town of Whitewood, I had a great meal at a restaurant. I haven’t had a sit-down meal in a restaurant for a while. I knew I was going to order a veggie omelet even before I sat down, but I pretended to fuss over the menu to allow more time for my phone to charge. I learned a lot about delay tactics in the military. If you delayed long enough, you could get posted to somewhere else before you even started dealing with a problem. Alas, it only works for a while. After the third visit to my table, the server stood over me until I ordered. So I finally ordered the ham and bacon omelet “with no ham or bacon, please”.
Server: So just a cheese omelet then?
Me: Cheese with vegetables.
Server: So a veggie omelet then?
Me: No, not a veggie omelet. A ham and bacon omelet, with no ham or bacon, but with vegetables.
Server: Um. Ok.
(Hehe. I got an extra 2% charge on my phone for that interaction alone.)
You know you’ve outworn your welcome when, instead of offering you more coffee, they just clear away your plate and cup. Oh well.
Today, for the first time, I got tired of hearing my internal monologue. I mean, I really don’t have anything new to say to myself. It’s all just mumbo jumbo, recycled old material. I can’t even make myself laugh anymore. Making shadow puppets of two dogs growling at each other used to send me into hysterical laughter. But now, nothing. Even making rabbit ears behind Al’s head when the sun is behind me doesn’t amuse me anymore. Pretty soon, I’m just going to tell myself to shut up. I tried explaining this to Al, but he was tired of hearing me complain, so he just told me to please be quiet, although what he actually said was ,”Shut your festering gob; I’m trying to think.” Hehe, I love when he uses lines from Monty Python skits. Right now, he’s working on the formula for determining the amount of energy a red-winged blackbird uses in order to bluff attack me. There were lots of them today, under various wind conditions, so he has some good data to work with. Can’t wait until I see his results.
There’s not really much going on along the highway in Saskatchewan. There’s the big sky, which is nice, and watching the grass sway in the wind is soothing. But otherwise, there’s nothing. There aren’t any car pull-outs with garbage cans like you see in other provinces, or picnic areas for weary travelers. Nothing. It’s like the government of Saskatchewan decided that these things were too frivolous on which to be wasting taxpayer dollars.
But because there’s nothing much to do other than to walk, there’s an opportunity to bank a few extra kms in case of an injury, illness, or kit malfunction. I might also need the banked kms once I get to the Canadian Rockies, where an 11-hour day might not produce as much output.
So I’ll keep walking until dark.