Talk about a doozy of a paddling and hiking trip.
In July, Canada’s Dianne Whelan became the first person to complete both water and land routes of the Trans Canada Trail, the world’s longest network of multi-use recreational trails, stretching over six years and more than 27,000 km across Canada.
The award-winning B.C.-based filmmaker and multimedia artist finished the Trans Canada Trail, which connects the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans, after her final paddle of 500 km into Victoria on Vancouver Island on Aug. 1 when Whelan, 56, walked the last few feet to become the first person to complete the continuous trail linking all three oceans by land and water.
A Heckuva Journey
Since beginning her journey in Newfoundland in 2015, Whelan has hiked, mountain biked, snowshoed, cross-country skied, and, for 7,000 km, paddled a canoe. And for most of it, she travelled solo, while simultaneously writing and filming an independent documentary about the experience, titled 500 Days in the Wild.
As the director of documentaries on the base camp of Mount Everest and an expedition in the Arctic, Whelan is well used to adversity. But this trip tested her mentally and physically as she battled solitude, bears, paddling thousands of miles solo and more. (Partner Louisa Robinson joined her for part of her journey).
As for the paddling, it involved more than 6,200 miles of canoeing, mostly solo, including a traverse of Lake Superior while paddling from Alberta up to the Arctic Ocean.
Whenever she wasn’t paddling she was hiking on everything from trails to old railway lines. She also snowshoed and cross-country skied, pulling a sled.
For her, it wasn’t about the challenge or athletic achievement, but rather “an ecological pilgrimage to honor the land and the water, and to pay respect to Indigenous peoples.”
“On this journey, I wanted to pay my respect to Indigenous people on this land whose ancestors date back 10,000 years,” she says. “I was taught there is no wore for forgiveness in the Mi’kmaq language the literal translation of the word means, to make things right. I hope what I have carried in my heart on this journey and the art made from it will be a ripple on those healing waters.”
In an article in the New York Times, she added: “I’ve been able to do these things because of human kindness. It was just meeting people, sharing the story…It was very grassroots.”
Officials from the trail association commend her effort.
“As the national ribbon that connects Canada’s diverse landscapes, seasons and experiences, the Trans Canada Trail is a fitting backdrop for Dianne’s personal journey,” says Eleanor McHahon, president of the Trans Canada Trail. “There’s an incredible richness of knowledge that Indigenous communities can impart, as they have stewarded these lands for thousands of years. We share Dianne’s commitment to honoring Indigenous peoples, developing and sustaining reciprocal relationships based on respect, dignity, trust and cooperation. And we commend her courage, perseverance and adventurous spirit in traversing the Trail from coast to coast to coast. She is an inspiration to us all.”
A book and a film, both under the title 500 Days in the Wild, will chronicle her journey and are expected to be released in 2023 and 2024 respectively.
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