Walking Across Canada – Days 60-63

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 60 – June 19 – Walk Across Canada

I walked 74 kms yesterday, the longest daily distance so far on this walk. I could have done a couple kms more before sunset, but I couldn’t turn down the perfect camping spot I saw along the way.

I started my walk yesterday at the 142-km marker on highway 17. That would normally be more than two days to the Manitoba border, but I decided I wanted to finish it in exactly two. 71 kms per day is a lot for me, so I needed a motivating vision.

Here’s what I came up with:
It’s my funeral, and my 115-year-old mother is reading my eulogy. She says, “My son once walked across Canada, which, in and of itself, was a singularly uninspiring endeavour. However, during the event, he managed to walk from Halifax to the Manitoba border in 60 days. Not in 61 days, which would have been, if not spectacularly unimpressive, certainly incredibly boring. But he did it in 60 days, which, in the opinion of this speaker, is worthy of a small mention.”
And then the five people attending my funeral would clap politely.
Sigh. We all need our dreams to inspire us.

I’m in Kenora having breakfast and charging my phone. Neither Timmy’s nor McDonalds had plugins, but Subway came through in the end. I prefer Subway anyway because I can get a good dose of vegetables with my food. I bought a second sub for a meal later.

Mural of the outdoor sports, past and present, that have made Kenora an outdoor wonderland.

Kenora is on the Lake of the Woods, which I think is just about the coolest name ever. With word association, I think of the Lady of the Lake, the ruler of Avalon in the King Arthur story. I keep looking around the town, hoping to see Excalibur sticking out of a stone. Someone should create a statue – The Lady of the Lake of the Woods. I’d create it myself, but, you know, I’m walking across Canada. Besides, artistically, I’ve only just advanced to drawing stick figures.

I just chatted with a couple of guys at a gas station. The employee is a recent immigrant and loves Canada, not just Kenora. He is so enthusiastic about Canada, he practically jumps for joy just talking about it.
The other fellow, an older guy, said his father was captured early in WWII and was in a POW camp near the Lake of the Woods. After the war, he didn’t like the political situation in Germany, so he told his mother he was leaving and may never return, took his young bride by the hand, and brought her to Canada, to the very place he spent his time as a POW during the war. Crazy amazing stories people have.

Husky the Muskie, an icon of Kenora, Ontario

It’s late in the day, but I made it to the Manitoba border, and still have 45 minutes before sunset. 142 kms in two days. I’m pretty happy with that, although it’ll be closer to 144 kms before I find a place to camp. It was fun watching the kilometer markers count down – 10, 8, 6, 4, 2. And then in Manitoba, it started at 490 kms. Maybe I can make it across Manitoba in 8 days. As soon as I crossed the line, the road turned to a four-lane divided highway with a 100-km/hr speed limit.

It didn’t seem all that long ago that I saw the 1500-km marker some time ago. But it’s been longer than that. I’ve been walking through Ontario for 2,000 kms. Fully a third of the trip across Canada is through Ontario.

I’m celebrating with some licorice. And then I’ll be off to find a camping spot.

Day 61 – June 20 – Walk Across Canada

I think it’s time to give you an update on the bugs. Canada has all kinds of nasty biting and stinging insects and I think I’ve given blood to most of them. I’ve been chewed up by mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies, a horse fly, and now I can add ants and no-see-ums to the list. No-see-ums are biting midges, what the aboriginal woman back in Ontario referred to as the sand flies, which she said came out after the black flies have disappeared. I’m lucky so far not to have been bitten by a tick. At least I haven’t been bitten by a tick that I know of. It’s hard to tell with little blood smears all over my arms and legs.

The black flies are mostly gone. I see a handful in the evening after the supper hour, enough for me to put on glasses to prevent them from doing the suicide dive into my eyes, but I haven’t needed the bug net since the day before arriving in Thunder Bay. The mosquitoes are nasty at night when I’m setting up my tent and in the morning when I tear it down, but I don’t see many out on the highway when I’m walking. The no-see-ums are problematic because, as the name suggests, you can’t see them until they bite. They were biting most of the evening yesterday, and then I had a lot of them in my tent, some that were on me when I first went in, and then a whole bunch more when I opened the tent to see what was making the noise in the woods near me. You can see them with the head lamp. In fact, the light makes them dance around like crazy. But you can’t catch them. You have to wait for the pain of the bite and then, with the speed of a rattlesnake, you smear their little bodies across your skin with your hand. It’s great sport actually, if you can handle the bites. Insect repellent actually works on the no-see-ums.

Wild rose

But for bugs, the worst are the deer flies and the horse flies. I don’t think that anything other than covering up exposed skin works. And it needs to be loose clothing since they can bite right through it. They’ve been bad since I left Thunder Bay, but today has been the worst by far. I’ve had about a dozen horse flies buzzing around me since 9 am, five hours ago. Right now, I’m taking a break and I’m wearing my rain coat and rain pants for protection. And this, on the first sunny day in the last eight.

You might think, “Oh, what’s the big deal about a few horse flies?” So let me put things into perspective.

If you’ve never seen a horse fly, they look like a giant mutant house fly, like comparing Godzilla to an iguana. Only the females bite – they need blood to produce eggs – and if you get bitten, it will feel like someone is extinguishing his cigarette on your skin. And then there will be throbbing pain, followed by a maddening itch. Then you’ll have a lump at the bite site for a couple of days. Horse flies like the sunlight, so sometimes you can save yourself by moving to the shade.

So imagine you wake up to a beautiful day. You have your morning shower and coffee, kiss your spouse and children goodbye, and drive off to work. But when you arrive, you have a dozen horse flies buzzing around you. They stay with you all day, landing on your exposed skin every twenty seconds or so, sometimes getting caught in your hair, probing your ears, and all the while, you hear that incessant buzz. You can’t concentrate on what you’re saying on the phone, you can’t work at your computer in peace, and you’re afraid to use the toilet because that’s when you’re most vulnerable. You can let them land and fly off again, but you have to concentrate because if they land and don’t fly off, you have to try to swat them before they bite you. You’re afraid to stop moving because they buzz ever closer and land more frequently when you are at rest. Best to keep moving, even if you’re exhausted. You might think, hey, I’ll just take a day off and lose a day of productivity, except that you don’t know if they will be there again tomorrow and maybe the tomorrow after that and maybe for three weeks worth of tomorrows. You can’t afford three weeks without productivity. But for today, imagine that this carries on until the evening when the sun finally starts to set and you are at home in your sanctuary. And then your spouse says, “How was your day, honey?” What will you say?

And that’s where I’m at right now. To be honest, it hasn’t been a fun day at all. Every other part of the day is perfect. Nice weather, flat highway, wide paved shoulders. But the unrelentingly attack of the horse flies has ruined it all. And no matter that I repeat the mantra “I am responsible for my happiness”, the horse flies can get under your skin. (Hehe – under your skin). There are many examples in literature, all the way back to the Roman Empire, of people being driven mad by the persistent attack of horse flies.

I have seen one or two horse flies buzz around me in the past. But I haven’t seen anything like what I’m experiencing today with a dozen or more flies circling me all at once, without a break for five hours. In fact, I haven’t seen a dozen horse flies in any one spot in my whole life. I’m looking at the landscape around me wondering what kind of ecosystem it would take to create these monsters. I haven’t seen a sign of habitation since I entered this province, or for the last 30 kms of Ontario.

Perhaps this part of Canada is owned by the flies.

It’s a bit later, and just when you think your day is going poorly because of the bugs, the asphalt shoulder disappears. Correction, the asphalt shoulder narrows to two feet with rumble strips running down the middle of it. I wonder how long this will last.

But with the rain comes the rainbow. And when I was feeling angry with the world, cross-country cyclists Wendy and Charlie from Calgary appeared and I was instantly cheered up. Cycling across Canada as a couple was a long-time dream and they are finally doing it. I noticed that Wendy was wearing a full-body mosquito net. Smart woman. Charlie was interviewing one Canadian per day for his blog, so I was his candidate for today. One thing he asked me to do was to describe my community. But instead of talking about Penticton or Edmonton, I described my tribe – adventurers, frugal minimalist, travelers, bohemians, quest seekers. While we were chatting, and only a minute after Wendy said they hadn’t seen any other cross-country cyclists, along came another. So we had a little road-side party. Sigh. I love my tribe.

Wendy and Charlie

So I’ll end today’s post here at a Shell station, the first place I’ve seen all day that sells food, while I devour three egg salad sandwiches and a large chocolate muffin, and sit here trying to figure out what I might be able to offer Mother Nature in exchange for getting rid of the flies.

Until tomorrow….

Day 62 – June 21 – Walk Across Canada

The day ended well last night. I found a great camping spot down an old grassy lane. While walking along it, I found a turtle digging a hole with her hind legs. She was shy as I took her picture. This morning, I could see that the hole was filled in. Perhaps she had covered some eggs, although I’m not sure if this is the right time of the season for turtles to deposit eggs.

Shy turtle

I got off to an early start, before 6 am, because I wanted to make up some lost distance from yesterday when I was lollygagging at the Shell station, afraid to go back outside.

There was no paved shoulder on the highway this morning until I had walked an hour. And then suddenly it appeared. So I lost track of time this morning as I walked along for over five hours singing “Cripple Creek”, after seeing a sign for Cripple Creek Camp.

They came for me at precisely 8:42 am. Not the authorities. And not the burly guys in the lab coats with the pearly white smiles and the promise of a comfortable padded pink room near the lakefront. No, I mean the horse flies came for me.

I killed one right away. She landed on Kitty right between my hands, so I clapped and the fly dropped dead where I found it. I just left her on Kitty for a while as a deterrent to other horse flies, but Al didn’t like seeing her there. Of course, he didn’t just say that he didn’t like the dead fly sitting in front of his face. Instead, he pretended to vomit and I had to figure out what that meant. Really, scientists should be more articulate about their thoughts.

The horse flies have come and gone this morning. I haven’t seen more than a couple at a time and they have mostly left me alone. I can see that the landscape is changing, from muskeg to what seems to be boreal forest, so maybe that’s helping. Also, it’s cloudy and cool, so that might help keep them away as well. I’m starting to see evidence of human habitation, so that’s a good sign.

By 11:30, I came to a little roadside establishment called Geppetto’s, where I bought some poutine. Ah, memories of Quebec. Sigh.

Racing the sunset to get in 80 kilometers.

And then an hour later, while walking in the rain, I found a diner and had breakfast – omelet, hash browns, four slices of toast, peanut butter, jam, and a bottomless cup of coffee. Oh, it’s a good life, my friends.

It’s rained most of the afternoon and I walked straight toward an electrical storm, which was neat to watch, but I kept blowing at it to move it along. Seemed to work.

I’ve walked over 60 kms now and it’s nearly 6:30 pm. But I’m going for a record, 80 kms. I’ll explain why in tomorrow’s post.

Make it a great day/evening. 😊👍

Day 63 – June 22 – Walk Across Canada

I walked 80 kms yesterday and I promise to tell you why, but first….

Slowly, a new menace is emerging, and you couldn’t imagine from where, because the source of this new menace is thought so highly of by nature lovers and Sunday country drivers. But if you’re not wary, they may come after you, just like they’ve been coming after me these last three days.

Yes, I’m taking about the red-winged blackbird menace.

Winnipeg train yard with the city behind at left

If you’ve never been to Manitoba, it might surprise you to know that nearly the entire distance between the Manitoba-Ontario border and Winnipeg, if humans haven’t interfered by building a road, is filled with marsh, swamp, or muskeg, which, if I dare say so, makes it exceedingly difficult to bear for the cross-country pedestrian dealing with a bathroom emergency along a busy highway. I had a hard time finding a campsite last night because the trees were always on the other side of a wide swampy ditch.

And all along this marsh live the dreaded red-winged blackbirds. They are cute and charming at first, with their unique shrill whistle – chirp, chirp, chirp, chiiiirrrrrpppp, chirp, chirp, chirp, chiiiirrrrrpppp – but after a while, it feels like you have Paul Anka’s ‘Having My Baby’ on replay for twelve straight hours. It’s not easy to tune out and you just want to strangle the singer. They produce a shrill whistle that penetrates the day-dreaming mind.

Of course, that’s not the least of their faults. All day long, about once every half hour, they take it upon themselves to bluff-attack me. Yes. It true. They swoop in towards me, hover above and behind my head, and shriek at me. I realize I must be near a nest or some young ones, but lordy, I’m just passing through fellas. You’ve been watching me for ten kilometers, for goodness sake!

Did I tell you yet that I love nature?

I’ve made it to Winnipeg. I only have a short five-hour walk to the doorstep of my friend Mark’s place. I’m eating at a Timmy’s that really should be the standard for all other Timmy’s. There is a power outlet with two USB cable ports at every table. This place caters to the traveler. I’m so thankful. The Timmy’s through Northern Ontario lost my business because I couldn’t plug in my phone. The only improvement here would be to leave the ketchup out for customers so that they don’t have to beg for it from busy employees.

What a lovely walk I had through Winnipeg today, although I am now referring to Winnipeg as Windy-peg for the rest of the day. I had a few errands to run, so I had a chance to explore parts of the city by foot. My previous experiences in Winnipeg haven’t been very positive, but today was a great day. I stopped at a store specializing in Apple products. I asked the young man if he liked living in Winnipeg. He said that he had never been anywhere else. “Not even for a vacation?” I asked. “No.”
Wow, somebody needs to buy this lad a plane ticket somewhere.

Street mural in Winnipeg

I walked at what I thought was a slow pace until I hit Portage Avenue, where I hit a pedestrian traffic jam and realized how slowly people actually walk in the city. I’m sure I was passed by a worm.
Kitty was snarling again, wanting to speed up and get off her leash. Crazy cat!

Today, I was thinking about all the great inventions in the history of our civilization, from the wheel to the iPhone. Wow, it’s crazy how many awesome things were invented. But there is one invention that stands out above all the rest, an invention that, I dare say, could one day save civilization because of its morale-boosting qualities. The inventor of this product should be given a Nobel prize and have his/her image bronzed and placed in every major city in the world.

The product I am referring to, of course, is the chocolate-covered jujube, the greatest invention in the history of mankind. Even Al agrees that the formula for the chocolate-covered jujube is even more important than his E=MC something or other.

Okay, so there are three reasons why I wanted to walk 80 kms yesterday. The first is that I’m staying with my friend Mark tonight and wanted to make sure I had taken care of all my resupply business, with enough time left over to arrive at his place when he got home from work. So walking 80 kms yesterday left me with only a 29-km walk today.

Second, I wanted to see what walking 80 kms felt like. Way back at the start of this walk, I mentioned that I had read an article a few years ago about a guy who walked across the United States, averaging 80 kms/day. I thought that his accomplishment would be ridiculously difficult and could only be accomplished by well-trained ultra-marathon-type athletes. But it’s not true. Walking across Canada at an 80 km/day pace could be in the realm of possibility for many of us. I think you would need a support vehicle to help with the time wasters, such as setting up and tearing down camp, charging your phone, and finding enough healthy food. But walking 80 kms in a day is no harder than walking 60 kms in a day. You just don’t have as much time to take breaks before it gets dark. And I feel great this morning after already walking for a couple of hours; it’s just a matter of building up to it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this walk, what we think is impossible slowly becomes, not just possible, but the norm.

The third reason I wanted to walk 80 kms yesterday is to see if I can pull an 80-km day out of my back pocket any time I needed to. You see, I’ve had an idea I’ve been playing with that I haven’t shared with you yet. Eight days ago, I told Mark I would be at his place today. In order to do that, I had to average 65 kms/day. It was a test I created for myself. Could I sustain a 65-km/day pace for eight days without any ill effects? Well, as we’ve discovered, I can. And here I am today with only a 29-km walk to complete, which means that I can even build up the kms over time to create an easy day for myself. The reason this is important to know is because my idea is to walk across Canada now in 100 days. 100 days would mean a 60-km/day average. It makes the numbers nice and neat. And it creates a challenging new goal for me within my existing goal.

When I started in Halifax, to suggest that I walk across Canada in 100 days would have been a ridiculous notion. I was worried then about being able to do it in the planned 150 days. But we had much yet to learn together, all of us, back then about the body’s capacity to handle physical stress and the mind’s ability to get lost in oldies songs for ten hours at a time, not to mention what we learned about our highways and Canada’s biting insects.

And here I am in Winnipeg on day 63, close to 3700 kms into the walk. To finish walking from here to Stanley Park in Vancouver, which is about 2,365 kms away, I would need to average about 64 kms/day.

It’s possible. So I’m going to try it. Canada in 100 days. That’s my new plan.

Now, on to Mark’s place for his veggie pizza and cold beer.

Photo courtesy of Mark.

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