| Jun 27, 2018

Sometimes random meetings turn into something special. That’s what happened to John Neven of Sharbot Lake. John is participating in the Great Cycle Challenge, an event that is sponsored by Sick Kids hospital to raise money to fight cancer in children. He has far exceeded his goal of 500km as he has done a lot of trail riding this month as part of the challenge.

Back on June 11 he rode the K&P trail down to Verona. At the new trailhead being built there he watched a large group of motorcycle riders pass by on Road 38. They were a part of a charity group called Guardians of the Children and made quite a spectacle so he stopped to watch them pass by, and while he was there he noticed a younger woman watching as well.

She was a hiker carrying a large backpack. They struck up a conversation and she turned out to be Melanie Vogel, who is walking the Great Trail from Cape Spear, Newfoundland to Victoria in BC. That day she followed the trail to Sharbot Lake. After a few minutes John invited Melanie to stay for the night with him and his wife Marion.

She ended up spending a couple of nights in Sharbot Lake. The next day John brought her home again after a day of her walking and him cycling to Kaladar, and she stayed over another day waiting out the Thunderstorm. John and Marion invited me to come and interview Melanie on her last day in Sharbot Lake and we talked about her voyage and what she has learned since she started walking on June 2nd, 2017.

On most days she walks between 25 and 30 kilometres, and after a year of doing that, right through a Canadian winter one thing she has learned about is how important it is to take care of her needs. Starting her journey with a 60-pound pack it now has been lightened up to 48 pounds, and she has let go of her idea to complete her journey within a fixed timeframe of two years. “It really has become about the journey not the destination,” she said.

“I have learned a lot about this country, it's people and myself over the past months. As I am walking long distances each day I am listening to my body more carefully now. I am trying to keep my energy up by snacking quite a lot while walking and stop with the first signs of a growing blister to take care of it. I learned these lessons painfully. Once in a while I treat myself, be that with a day off the trail or by indulging in a good, healthy meal. I have also learned to say ‘yes' when a great opportunity opens like when people offer me a place for the night, or to an experience off the trail I would otherwise not have like seeing the icebergs in Twillingate, Newfoundland.

This way I not only meet interesting people but also see greater parts of the country I otherwise wouldn't see, so really it is not about how many kilometres I make in a day but the many experiences and stories I come across.”

Melanie is originally from Germany and is a permanent resident of Canada. She lived in Toronto before starting this journey, but she got the travel bug when travelling through Asia and Australia between 2011 and 2013.

Melanie often gets asked if she isn't lonely spending so much time by herself.

“To be quite honest, Toronto with it's three million people has been a lonelier place to live than my current life on the trail. Here on the trail where most of the time I am actually alone I don’t feel lonely. People say Hello and stop for a chat or invite me home for lunch or for a night stay. The moment of being a stranger passes real fast and then people really open up. We share stories and you leave feeling like you’ve made good friends.”

That was certainly the case with John and Marion.

“I love people and I love socialising,” said John, “and after two days I feel so connected to Mel and to her journey, it’s like I have another daughter just from sharing time with her introducing her to people around here.” “The only problem,” added Marion, “is that now we are going to be worried about her as we follow her journey on Facebook.” While in her trip along the worlds longest recreational trail and meeting Canadians all along her way Melanie found what Canadians praise to be all about.

“The hospitality and kindness of the Canadian people as I experience it has been exceptional in all six provinces I have walked trough so far. No matter where, hiking in Newfoundland, the Maritimes, Quebec or now in Ontario, people have been welcoming and helpful all along. I can't say there is any difference of support in my journey in any of these provinces.”

What she has also seen, because she has now been walking for a year, is the way the seasons change and the impact on the landscape.

“It is absolutely beautiful to witness the slow but then also sudden changes in nature as I am walking the trail trough all four seasons.

I remember impatiently watching the arrival of Spring and then found myself mesmerized when I hiked trough the lush, vividly green forest in Gatineau park in Quebec.” And as far as the dangers on the trail are concerned, she had learned something that rural people all learn, it is not the bears and coyotes that you really need to worry about, it is the insects.

“The mosquitoes, black flies, and deer flies, they are way more of an annoyance than anything else."

As she heads towards Toronto, which will put her about 1/3 of the way on her 15,000 kilometre journey, Melanie is happy about what she has seen and experience in year one of what she now hopes will be a journey that ends before the winter of 2019/2020, but she feels some trepidation over the prospect of crossing the Prairies next winter.

“As I planned for this journey I was optimistic to cross the Prairies late summer and fall. Now that I am one year into my journey I realized I will be reaching them when winter begins. With the prairies known as being terribly cold and windy I do have serious concerns. I will do my best and accordingly prepare for it and try to walk trough it as I walked through the previous winter. However if the cold gets too dangerous I may have to stop for a while.”

But that is a long way off. As Melanie left Sharbot Lake two weeks ago, she had another set of stories and some new friends to remember, as well as a copy of Back of Sunset and a Central Frontenac pin in her pack, courtesy of Mayor Fran Smith.

As of Tuesday of this week, Melanie has hit the Big Smoke. Next stop, Wawa.

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