Learning to Love Solitude (and Hate Oatmeal) in a 15,534-mile Canada


Independent Canadian filmmaker in 2015 Dianne Whelan set out on what is now known as Trans Canada RoadIt’s a nearly 17,000-mile amusement trail spanning greenways, roads, and waterways from the Atlantic to the Pacific and north to the Arctic Ocean. On August 1, 56-year-old Ms. Whelan walked the last few feet with her parents, partner and friends to become the first to complete the uninterrupted path (minus a few spur tracks) that connects the three oceans. land and water. He plans to shoot a documentary called “500 Days in the Wild” detailing his six years of experience.

as the director of documentaries base camp Mount Everest and an expedition ArcticThe Ms. Whelan has experienced extreme climates. But the Trans Canada Trail proved a test of his mental and emotional strength, as well as his physical determination, including encounters with bears, rowing thousands of miles alone, and eating an incalculable amount of oatmeal. His journey until the outbreak often included stops along the way, in Indigenous communities where he collaborated with other artists. For the past year and a half, he’s done it alone, with the help of his partner, Louisa Robinson, who provides supplies.

A few days before finishing the trail, he pulled his canoe ashore on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, normally north of Vancouver, to talk about his adventure. The following are excerpts from the speech, edited for clarity.

As a storyteller, I really loved this metaphor of the scar, the umbilical cord that connects us all. As I was leaving, I thought we had forgotten everything we need to know as a culture, at least in Western culture. Somehow, we had lost touch with the web of life and the future. I called it an ecological pilgrimage.

I rowed about 10,000 kilometers (over 6,200 miles). I rowed on Lake Superior. I rowed from Alberta to the Arctic Ocean. And now I am in the Salish Sea. When I’m not rowing, I’m on the highway. Old railway lines are great because they never have a steep slope. In the winter, I pulled a sled and did snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Some were dirt roads, and in these cases I rode a mountain bike. I was able to do this thanks to human kindness. It was just meeting people, sharing the story, and people were like, “Hey, Uncle Joe is going this way, he can take your canoe.” It was very basic. I learned this beautiful story from Danny Paul, an elder in the Mi’kmaq Indigenous community, and he said we are a kind of tree. On the surface, each tree appears to stand alone. Below the surface, all the trees in a forest are interconnected.

I like to say that loneliness reveals what a mirror cannot show. I left with trepidation, as any woman who goes into the woods can feel. But since this fear was never proven, it eventually disappeared. It was a very humble experience; Certainly, it’s so humbling to row on Lake Superior, to feel like such a fragile being alone in these vast waters. Something old awakened in me, and I suddenly felt more connected to life than ever before. I wasn’t rowing in the water, I was rowing in the water. You remind us that humans are actually 0.001 percent of life on Earth and that we are part of this incredible web of life. The only thing I never loved were ticks and black flies.

Since he’s gone, the trail has been home. In the first years, I tried to get through the winter. One of the elders I met, a Cree woman wrote to me and said that we did not travel in the winter. That’s when you create art, share stories, cook. After gaining some wisdom, I took about five weeks off this winter. It’s never about athletic success. It’s like the old story of the hare and the tortoise. The turtle completes the journey. The rabbit burns itself. I dropped the bunny costume and wore the tortoise shell.

I did some training, but not in a super crazy way. I did daily walks of up to 10 kilometers with some weight on my back. I started my journey slowly. I’ve also been prepared by taking a bush medic course so I can take care of myself in case of an injury here. You’re getting in shape. I keep waiting for that super fit thing to happen.

It’s all about infusing traditional Indigenous wisdom with science and technology to lead people from danger to safety. The great thing about science and technology is, yes, we have these great satellite phones, GPS and hi-tech. But when you’re 200 miles from the North Pole and you hit a hurricane and it’s minus 80, all that technology stops working, and at that point it’s the wisdom of the elders that’s keeping you alive – because it’s their understanding and relationship with them. the lands and their experiences that have been handed down to them over the generations. Everest was exactly the same thing: Few climb that mountain without a Sherpa. I have great hope that if we blend traditional Indigenous wisdom with science and technology, we can find sustainable ways to live with the Earth and all life on Earth.

I will never eat oatmeal again in my life. Non-stop. During the day, I had a snack bag with trail mix, dried fruit, cheese, crackers, and nuts. And of course I have a weakness for chocolate and gummy bears. Dinner was instant noodles, pasta, carbohydrates. Initially, I was nervous about bears and trying to set up a clean camp. I met many, many bears, and 98 percent of them were kind and great people to watch. I carried nothing but bear spray for most of the trip. I carried a gun when I went to the North Pole and had to use it once because a bear came to my camp. My partner was with me. He picked up the gun and fired a few warning shots, and we quickly got into the canoe and realized we hadn’t spilled our coffee.

Well, it’s actually a toilet. And eat. I would say my bed, but I’ve come to a place where I can sleep quite comfortably in my tent. Just kidding, I’ll be pitching my tent indoors for the first few weeks.

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