He’s had food stolen by a skunk and a boot snatched by a racoon. He’s been head-butted by a deer in his sleep and almost stepped on a porcupine. His food bag fell off a cliff in the Bay of Fundy and he’s followed the fresh tracks of a pack of wolves days from the nearest sign of civilization.
These are just some of the adventures Dana Meise faced walking six months of each of the past six years through some of the most diverse landscapes in Canada.
Last summer, the 39-year old forest technician from Prince George, B.C. became the first person to walk the southern portion of the Trans Canada Trail from east to west. Due to its winding nature, he walked over 16,000 kilometres, the equivalent to walking across the country more than three times by bird’s eye view. It may be the longest hiking trip yet recorded on one of the world’s longest trails (he’s planning to apply to the Guinness World Records).
“Only long haul truckers and Stompin’ Tom Connors have been more places,” he says with a laugh.
The Trans Canada Trail is actually a network of different trails run by a not-for-profit organization company of the same name. They have taken on the daunting task of making a cohesive trail through contacting local trail groups and municipalities and getting permission from land owners. As long as they have the funds, the organization will provide up to 50 per cent of the budget to local trail makers. “It really is a team effort,” says Gay Decker, the organization’s director of communications.
Decker says the trail is 72 per cent complete, with a goal of having a single continuous route by Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.
For Meise, the missing trail sections meant making a number of detours along his trip. But detours are often part of the story that makes up a country he arguably knows better than anyone. The meandering trail is actually designed to connect beauty, community and history, and often gets diverted from the most logical route.
In order to guide his way and track his progress, he used a couple of different GPS systems. One of them connects to his website so people can track his progress as he hikes. But this doesn’t mean he hasn’t been lost — there are many overgrown and unmarked parts of the trail.
Nonetheless, he’s made it from the easternmost point of the country at Cape Spear, N.L., to the southernmost on Middle Island in Point Pelee, Ont. This year, he plans to complete the hat trick by touching the Alaskan border that marks the westernmost extreme. He’ll pick up the northern fork of the trail near Edmonton this summer and hopes to complete it by reaching Inuvik, N.W.T. by the end of the season. He’s spent his last few birthdays on the trail and reaching the Arctic Circle by his 40th is the best present he could hope for.
“I always wanted to explore. I’ve got one short life and I’m doing it while I can.”
For more on Dana Meise's journey, watch videos from his trip, including the one below, where Meise watched two cubs playing when their mother came along.