Walk Across Canada – Days 8-12

This post is a compilation of my daily field notes on Facebook.  If you would like to see them daily, you can follow me here.

Day 8 – Walk Across Canada

I pushed into the dark late last night hoping to set myself up to get to Fredericton today. I stealth camped in the dark within view of a few houses. There was a couch, shower, supper, and laundry waiting for me at my friend,Jessi’s place. But she had to start her RN night shift at 7 pm.

Early morning.

So I was determined to walk the 54 kms to her place before 5 pm so that we could have some time to visit. I was on the road by 6 am and pushed hard all day, only taking a single 20-minute break at the 6 1/2 hour point. I managed to get to Fredericton by 3:45.
My body felt strong until about the 8-hr mark, then I started to slow down.
But potato chips and candy got me going again, and I arrived at our rendezvous point tired, with a belly full of chips, and bits of ju jubes stuck in my teeth.
When Jessi picked me up, she cowered at my smile. Hehe.
It was a perfect walking day, with a misty rain coming down throughout most of it.
I greeted Muskrat, Toad, and Newt this morning.
I met Jessi in Mexico during my Central America trip. She’s extroverted, so it was easy to sit and listen to her charming east coast accent without being expected to speak very much.
Jessi whipped up an excellent supper and kept refilling my beer glass from the growler of the local Picaroons beer. Poor Dave. Sniff.

Jessi showing me the beer I’ll be drinking.

It was a physical challenge today. Five hours went by like nothing, but by the 6 1/2 hour point, I needed a break.
Jessi took a look at my legs, which are swollen and have a rash from the knees down. After a shower and an hour of elevation, she noticed the redness had started to recede. She’ll check again in the morning after she comes back from work.
Great views from the bridges today, but otherwise all trees on both sides of the highway.
Thanks so much to Jessi for her support and accommodation.

Day 9 – Walk Across Canada

Poor Jessi. Finishing her night shift at 7:30 am, exhausted and wanting to go to bed, but determined to drive me back to the highway.
“Can you check my legs first?” I asked, insensitive to her need for sleep.
The swelling was gone except for a bit around the ankles and the redness was diminished a bit. She said I was good to go.

She also put out a full loaf of banana bread yesterday before she went to work. “I expect this to be gone by morning,” she said. I made a good show of it, but there was still a quarter of the loaf left over. Sigh. I tried. And Al didn’t help. He just stood there staring at it.

It was a serene day today. It’s Saturday, so traffic was lighter. There were some long gaps between vehicles when I could enjoy the sounds of the birds in the forest and the rushing of the creeks. It was nice to see some rural homes after spending the last three days enclosed with forest.

Strength and beauty

My legs felt great. So I only took a couple of 2-minute breaks early on and then planned to stop for a longer lunch after 5 hours of walking. But at that point, it was only another 25 minutes to a truck stop. So I pushed on to an oasis with an all-day breakfast menu. Woohoo!
Loaded omelet, potatoes, toast, coffee, and extra toast. I barely fit it all in.

I was thinking today that I may become a record holder. With all the food being given to me by my Trail Angels, plus my stuffing my face at every Tim Hortons and restaurant along the way, I may become the first person in the history of civilization to walk 6,100 kms in 5 months, and GAIN WEIGHT DOING IT.
Hehe. That would certainly be a record.

After lunch, I walked by a few waterfalls, which were wonderful. In fact, the whole day was filled with wonderful views.

Soon, though, we came to a 4-km hill. I know it was 4 kms long because there are kilometer markers all along this highway. It wouldn’t have been so bad except for the exceptionally strong headwind, which, with a single gust, blew poor Al right off his perch. I put him back on, and with the raging wind beating back his hair, and his eyes wild with delight, Al kept yelling, “Woohoo! Woohoo!” And what was I doing? Well I was panting. Yes, panting. In my defense, I had just eaten a ginormous lunch, which had not yet worked it’s way through my system. Despite the hill and the headwind, I still maintained a 10-minute per km pace all the way up. It felt like a victory to me. 😊

Wearing shorts in my fortress of solitude.

I’m writing this at my break spot after 8:13 of walking, although I still want to put in another 90 minutes. My body feels great right now. My legs look like they did this morning, no better, but no worse after a day of walking. Maybe it’s because I’m wearing shorts for the first time. And I’ll post this now too because this is the first day that I can honestly say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself from start to finish. Good walking, no pain. Post it while I’m at my happiest.
A great day all around. I hope I have more of them.

Day 10 – Walk Across Canada

All hills today. Long ups and long downs. I don’t remember a single piece of flat highway.

I had a few choice words for Mother Nature this afternoon. Two days in a row with brutal head winds. I mean, poor Al was pushed onto his back for most of the day.
Mother Nature: You’re the one who wanted to go east to west.
Me: Well, can’t you rotate the Earth in the other direction for, say, the next four months?
Mother Nature: No. No I can’t.
(I look at Al and he nods, “She’s telling the truth. She can’t do it.”)
Me: Well what can you do for me then?
Mother Nature: How about I let out the sun and give you some nice views?

And so she did.

Sunrise in New Brunswick

I got another blister.
Clean, dress, carry on.

In 2004, I went with the military to Holland to participate in the Nijmegen Marches, which, for military people, is essentially walking 40+ kms/day for 4 days, walking in combat boots and carrying a 15-kg rucksack. The medics would deal with a blister by draining it, cleaning it, applying a clear gel called Second Skin, and then sealing the area with a piece of moleskin. It worked exceedingly well.

The military must have used some kind of industrial moleskin because you could leave it on for the whole event, shower in it, and it would never come off. Eventually you would have to pull out the pliers and tear if off, and then use a blow torch to burn off the bits and pieces of glue that wouldn’t let go.

Last year on the Bruce Trail, I tried the same technique. I discovered that the moleskin and second skin you buy from the pharmacy is VERY expensive, and the moleskin won’t stick to you if it’s life depended on it. Nothing like spending $6.00 to cover a single blister and then feeling the moleskin bouncing around your sock after 10 minutes. Moleskin at the pharmacy is obviously not designed for hikers.

I was reading a memoir about the El Camino in Spain. A doctor told a pilgrim that the worst thing you can do if you get a blister is to stop and wait for it to heal. You need to keep going and let your feet adjust. Just clean the blister and keep the dirt out of it.

So on this trip, when I get a blister, I drain it, clean it, let it air out at night, cover it in the morning with a piece of gauze covered in ointment, and then tape it in place. I might do that for a day or two and then I just leave it. Seems to be working so far.

My feet have to carry me all the way to Vancouver, so I have to be nice to them. Which is why I sometimes bring them flowers.

If you’re thinking about walking across Canada yourself, you’re going to want to know how to care for your feet.

One of many rivers I passed during the day.

So let me present to you, “Dave’s Guide to Caring for Your Feet on a Walk Across Canada”

Your feet are your hardest workers and they’re not very intelligent, so it’s important to have a meeting with them every day. I have my meeting with them in the morning while I’m rubbing Vaseline all over them.

They may still be yawning, so it’s important to get to the agenda items right away. We discuss the likely terrain for the day and the anticipated times when breaks will be taken based on the weather, potential deadlines, and the availability of restaurants along the way. Here’s a tip: never try to negotiate walking time with your feet. They aren’t very good at telling time, so best to keep it off the agenda.

Then, when the major agenda items are completed, there’s an open session during the meeting when your feet can discuss their own issues.

My feet, for instance, are a bit shi shi foo foo and are always asking about swelling. “We don’t like the SWELLING,” they cry. “It makes us look FAT and we want to look PRETTY.”
I remind them that at night, I raise them, like the lords they are, over the rest of the body so that they can look down upon it with great power. And then, as if by magic, the swelling is gone by morning and they look beautiful and thin again to start the day. “YAY,” they cry in unison.
Sometimes they’ll ask about a pedicure. I tell them that for now they need to stay strong and calloused, but that we can add it to the agenda after we reach Vancouver.
They sometimes ask me to change the socks more frequently, but I remind them that socks are a management decision, made based on comfort, not odour prevention.

It’s good to end the meeting off with enthusiasm, so we all do high-fives and Feet yell, “LET’S WALK”, and Hands yell, “LET’S PUSH”. And then we wander off to our respective tasks.

It’s important to be a good leader in support of your front-line workers. So if my feet work particularly hard with very few complaints, I sometimes buy them a pizza. It’s good for their morale.

And there endeth Dave’s Guide. I hope you enjoy your own meetings with your feet, and please provide suggestions for the second edition of the Guide.

Day 11 – Walk Across Canada

I walked 57 kms today. I know because there are distance markers on this highway.
I’m about two days walking away from Edmunston, NB, and about 118 kms from the Quebec border.
It rained all day. All. Day. And it was cold. I was fine except for my hands. Thank goodness the wind was down or I would have have frozen fingertips. As it was, I spent a lot of time just moving my fingers around to keep the circulation going.

Breaking camp after a night of rain.

I tried new gloves for this trip. But I guess ‘partly water resistant’ is the same as ‘mostly water absorbent’. I had to wring them out frequently today.
There was a breakfast stop after only a half hour of walking this morning. But then there was nothing for the remainder of the day.
I took two quick breaks under bridges, but was soon shivering, So I carried on.
I found a great camping spot among some young spruces. The only way to find me would be from the air. And I did see a couple of army helicopters go by, probably on their way to Gagetown.
When I picked my camping spot, I had already been standing around for a few minutes shivering in the rain. I had my tent up in double quick time, threw all my kit in, prepared my air mattress and sleeping bag, stripped out of all my clothes, threw on dry underwear and a t-shirt, and slipped into my sleeping bag.

It’s been a productive day even with the rain. And it’s supposed to rain tomorrow too, and then 5 of the next 7 days.
Tomorrow, I have to put those clammy pants back on. Glad there’s a Timmy’s only two kilometers up the road. Didn’t I choose my campsite well? Wink.

I want to tell you about a homeless guy I met this morning at breakfast. But I’ll introduce Darren to you tomorrow. Right now,I’m going to pull my cold hands back under my sleeping bag. And put my clammy feet up.

Day 12 – Walk Across Canada

It was a very nasty business this morning putting on cold, clammy pants after slipping out of my warm sleeping bag. I tried an old trick for my wet gloves. I placed them in a folded towel and slept on top of them. In the morning, they were only a little damp, but at least warm.
But I was oh so happy after breaking camp. The night before, I had opted against one perfectly good camping spot because it just didn’t feel right. So even though I was freezing, I went searching for something better. Boy, am I glad I did, because this morning, the original site I considered was covered in water. Whew!

Right now, thanks to a guy named Paul Thellab, who I don’t know, I am sitting in the bathtub of a suite at the Best Western Plus in Grand Falls, New Brunswick, about 79 kms from the Quebec border Paul paid for my room with his points. Thanks so so much, Paul! And thanks to Derrick Steeves for the introduction.

It was only a short 40-km walk to Grand Falls today (funny how I think of 40 kms as a short day). It was raining when I arrived at the hotel, so I dropped off Kitty and Al and walked in a downpour into town to buy some waterproof gloves and food. I bought some gloves that are so waterproof, acid won’t even get through.

Beauty everywhere

All my kit is scattered around the room in every nook and cranny drying. I have the temperature pumped up to 26 degrees. No photo, though. I don’t want to give poor Paul a heart attack.

At breakfast yesterday, at a highway Subway, I met a homeless man named Darren. I didn’t know he was homeless when he wandered over to me and started chatting me up. I thought he was a twenty-something labourer, waiting to be picked up for work. He wore thick, baggy denim pants, thick rubber farmer’s boots, several layers of shirts and jackets, covered by a parka, and a toque. He had a beard and looked normal enough.
Darren: I seen you yesterday walking down the highway. Where ya headed?
Me: Vancouver.
Darren: I’m hitchhiking to Ontario to look for work.

Turns out Darren has been looking for work in New Brunswick and couldn’t find any. From his speech and mannerisms, you can tell that he must struggle to hold onto a job even when he finds one. He says he quit school in grade 10, and he was vague about the whereabouts of his family. “Somewhere up the river from Fredericton”, he said.
In the middle of our chat, which was mostly dead air, he jumped up and said, “I better go get my bag.” He walked slowly, dragging his feet, and came back carrying a large plastic garbage bag. Inside was a sleeping bag and an extra jacket. That, and whatever was in the many pockets of his clothing, was all he had.

Me: So there’s no work in New Brunswick?
Darren: A farmer told me that there might be work in Ontario, so I’m hitchhiking there.
Me: There’s no guaranteed job for you in Ontario?
Darren: No.
Me: Do you know where there’s work in Ontario?
Darren: No.
Me: Do you know where you’re going to hitchhike to in Ontario to start looking?
Darren: No.
Me: What would be a good hitchhiking day for you? If you made it to Edmunston by the end of the day, would you say that’s a success?
Darren: Oh, I should make it well past Edmunston.

There was a long pause in the conversation. I finished my coffee and started packing things up. And then Darren surprised me.
Darren: I’ll walk with you until I get a ride.
Me: Really? But I’m walking against the traffic. If you’re hitchhiking, you’ll have to go to the other side of the highway.
Darren: No one will pick me up in the rain.
Me: I appreciate the gesture, Darren, but I walk at a very fast clip. I won’t be able to hold up for you. I’m sorry.
Darren: Ok.

I went to the washroom and when I came out, Darren was gone. Not sure where he went.
He wouldn’t take any money, he wouldn’t let me buy him breakfast (said he had a bagel in his jacket pocket), and wouldn’t take the muffin I offered.
Sadly, it seemed the only thing he wanted was the one thing I denied him – a companion for his journey. Wherever Darren is right now, I wish him well.

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