500 Days in the Wild
Award-winning author and filmmaker Dianne Whelan is on the move, hiking, biking, paddling and camping her way across the Trans Canada Trail - and sheâs chronicling it all for a documentary. She spent the first two months of her adventure in Newfoundland, making her way across the island in July and August. In September, Downhome caught up with Dianne, as she was taking a break from paddling the Bras dâOr Lake in Nova Scotia.âI really believe that the trail is quite symbolic. Itâs like an umbilical cord that goes throughout our entire country and connects us all. And Canada is a beautiful country, filled with a lot of diverse cultures and ethnicities,â she explains. âBut one thing that we all shareâ¦ no matter what our differences are in culture and food, despite the fact that weâre all Canadian, what we share is a love of this land.âAt almost 24,000 km long, the Trans Canada Trail is the longest trail in the world. Though it isnât officially open yet, people are already walking it. Itâs expected to be complete by 2017, when Dianne hopes to wrap her project, â500 Days in the Wild.â First StepOn July 1, Dianne began her walk in downtown St. Johnâs, Newfoundland by attending the Beaumont-Hamel ceremony before heading to the old train station for Mile Zero. Dianne chose to start her trip in Newfoundland in part because of her familyâs connection to the province (her father is from Newfoundland), and because âit made sense to start in the east, which is sort of how the migration of people happened across this continent, anyway,â says Dianne.Dianne started her journey at Mile Zero, at the former train station in downtown St. John's.She says she was surprised to meet so many families along the trail and was repeatedly overwhelmed by the kindness that was shown to her. People were quick to invite her into their homes and share stories and food, including her first taste of bakeapples. Some even offered her a bed for the night.âI had a saying for Newfoundland by the time I was done, which was âthe harder the rock, the softer the heart.â Because the trail is hard, itâs rail rock, so itâs a hard, hard trail,â she says. âBut the kindness of the people that I met more than counterbalanced the roughness of the trail.âAs a result of the hospitality shown to her, Dianne says she felt a sense of safety as she traversed the trail, mostly alone.âI spent 52 nights out there and camping mostly alone, and there wasnât one moment where I felt afraid. Ever. Thatâs a pretty amazing thing in this world right now,â she says.Dianne spent her nights camping along the trail.Born WandererNot everyone could take to life on the move the way Dianne has. Having spent years bouncing from one province to the next, in a way her life up to this point has been preparation for this epic journey. She attended high school in British Columbia and studied at McGill University in Quebec; sheâs lived in Toronto, and for the last 15 years sheâs made her home in eastern Canada.âI really think Canadaâs my home,â says Dianne. âBecause Iâve always sort of lived all over it. Iâve moved, I donât know, probably 50 times in my life. So I didnât grow up in one placeâ¦So I really feel at home everywhere.âDianne has also travelled extensively; sheâs hiked to base camp at Mount Everest and accompanied the Canadian Forces to the Arctic filming documentaries. Her experience in these colder climes, ironically, may have helped prepare her for Newfoundlandâs summer this year, infamous for the bitter cold and rain throughout July.âIt was a hard summer in Newfoundland. And when I got to Gander, there were three days of rain. I didnât go anywhere for three days. I waited for the rain to stop,â says Dianne.Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, Dianne still found beauty in the scenery as she made her way across the island. One of her favourite spots for sightseeing was the Gaff Topsails. Located in Newfoundlandâs interior south of the Baie Verte Peninsula, the old railway settlement is now abandoned except for a few cabins.âItâs beautiful, absolutely beautiful,â says Dianne.The Big FinishDianne has a few rules about her trip, including that thereâs no rush to get to the finish line. Back when Dianne was planning her route, she gave her project the optimistic completion date of 2017. Now though, sheâs pretty certain her trip will take much longer than 500 days.âIt sounded great in principle a year ago, when I knew I would be launching off on this project and it needed a name,â Dianne says, adding she now estimates the trip will take her double that time.âThis isnât the Amazing Race. This is actually very much about being mindful and being presentâ¦Part of the problem with humanity is that weâve got into this attitude that we dominate nature and itâs ours to control and to use and to excavate and mine,â says Dianne, adding sheâs putting those thoughts aside to focus on what she feels is important in life.âItâs learning how to slow down and respect something thatâs just so much more powerful than you are. So, to me, Iâm going to do this, but if it takes me 500 days or it takes me 700 days - it takes me 1,000 days - Iâll be out there doing it. But Iâm going to do it with a lot of respect for nature. And in doing so, ensuring my safety, really.â - By Elizabeth Whitten Keep up with Dianneâs journey along the Trans Canada Trail by following her blog at 500daysinthewild.com.