14 February 2021 Posted By : Melanie Vogel

Three years ago, I left Toronto to walk across Canada. Now I’m riding out the pandemic in an Arctic community of nine people

Melanie Vogel left Toronto in 2017 to walk 20,000 kilometres across Canada, following the Great Trail from the Atlantic to the Arctic to the Pacific oceans. Now she’s on lockdown in Eagle Plains, a tiny Yukon outpost on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Here’s how her adventure has gone so far.

As told to Liza Agrba

“I’ve been travelling for a long time. In 2011, while living in Vancouver, I backpacked around Asia, Australia and New Zealand. I journeyed through India, hiked to the Annapurna base camp in Nepal, drove an old Russian motorbike for two months through Vietnam and lived with a nomadic family in Mongolia. In 2013, after I returned to Vancouver, I decided to hit the road again. I packed up my few belongings and bicycle and hopped on a train to Toronto, where I got an apartment downtown and worked as a coordinator for two business improvement associations. I cycled around, discovering new neighbourhoods, and volunteered with the Friends for Life bike rally for the Toronto People With Aids Foundation. I wrote daily journal entries and attended ecstatic dance sessions at Dovercourt House. And yet I still felt a void—a loneliness that a city of millions of people couldn’t fill.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about travelling. I’d read about the Great Trail, formerly known as the Trans-Canada Trail—a 27,000-kilometre network of more than 400 trails running across all 10 provinces and three territories, through wilderness, urban and rural landscapes, over greenways, waterways and roadways. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And so, in July 2016, I decided I would walk that trail. My route would start in Newfoundland and continue west through Nova Scotia and Quebec, down to the southern tip of Ontario, back up to Manitoba and across the prairies before turning north to the Yukon and Northwest Territories. After hitting the Arctic Ocean, I would head south to Alberta and continue my walk west to the finish line in Victoria.

“I prepared for my journey for about a year, studying the trail and collecting my gear. I took a wilderness first-aid course and attended a weekly survival meet-up group, where we learned essential skills like how to construct a shelter, tie knots and even build an upside-down fire (they last longer than the traditional kind). I mostly had basic hiking gear: a backpack, tent and sleeping bag; good boots and socks; weather-appropriate clothing, including a mosquito sweater (since I knew Newfoundland would be buggy); an emergency beacon and first aid kit; and a bush knife and bear spray—all essential when you’re hiking across Canada. When I told people about my plan, they’d look at me with big, doubtful eyes and ask cynical, incredulous questions. ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this whole thing on your own,’ they’d say. My confidence sometimes wavered, but eventually, I stopped defending my choices.

‘On June 2, 2017, I set foot on the trail at the Cape Spear lighthouse. I couldn’t see much to start, because it was so foggy, but I remember standing on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, excited and exhilarated. That dream soon became a tough and exhausting reality—but also a beautiful and interesting one, which is why I’m still going. In my three and a half years on the road, I’ve camped in -40-degree temperatures, endured countless blisters, and encountered hail the size of golf balls. It can be challenging to replenish my drinking water on long, empty stretches of trail or farm roads; sometimes I have to rely on the kindness of strangers passing by to refill my water jugs.

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