A woman who is walking across Canada on The Great Trail, formerly known as the Trans Canada Trail, stopped briefly in Kamsack.
Melanie Vogel who was raised in Kamenz, Germany, and who is now a permanent Canadian resident living in Toronto, started a personal journey on June 2, 2017 in Cape Spear, Nfld., and plans to end her walk in Victoria in early 2021.
What originally started out as a solitary trek has become a journey of two. While walking through the province of Manitoba a young male husky cross golden lab decided he wanted to part of her walk when he emerged from out of nowhere and hasn't left her side since, she said over coffee at the Prairie Grain Bakery in Kamsack on May 21.
“He ran into my life around two months ago, and has really changed the dynamic of my trip. Since I have adopted him, my previously very independent lifestyle had to change to accommodate my new traveling companion."
The dog, whom she calls Malo, has brought an all new perspective of “love and joy” to her adventure, as well as peace of mind at night while sleeping in the tent they now share.
The dog has been vetted and micro-chipped, and she describes him as a “very gentle soul when people host me on the trail.”
Vogel becomes most animated when she speaks of the “kindness of the people” she has encountered on the trail since her journey began.
“I didn’t know when I started out just how hospitable and welcoming people are,” she said. “You hear about it, but to experience it along the trail is awesome. It sometimes leaves me speechless, but it makes such an impact on my daily travels.
“A family of five in Duck Mountain Provincial Park were very welcoming and kind, and paid for my night lodging and fed me. Everyone who does something for me genuinely wants to see me succeed on my journey, and that is so uplifting.”
Vogel carried with her a 60-pound backpack, filled with only the barest essentials for both her and Malo. Indicating that there are new challenges that come with travelling with an animal, she said, the biggest one is where to leave Malo if she has to enter a store for supplies. While in Kamsack, “Chris” generously offered to let Malo play in his fenced backyard while Vogel went into the local Co-op store.
Reminiscing about the journey to date, Vogel indicated that she had spent her first year on The Great Trail walking as far westward as Quebec. Her second winter on the trail was spent in Ontario and Manitoba. The harsh winter weather has been challenging, and Vogel has a contact in Ontario who ships to her the necessary seasonal gear, while storing off-seasonal gear which she sends back.
She indicated that winter in Manitoba was good training for the weather she anticipates she will encounter on her trek to the Arctic Ocean, after which she will head to her final destination of Victoria. Testing her winter gear in minus 30C temperatures has given her confidence that she will be able to withstand the Arctic climate.
Born and raised in Germany, Vogel has travelled in Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and once spent two months touring Vietnam on a motorbike, all the while experiencing amazing hospitality.
“I love the travel lifestyle. I have a ‘Nomadic soul.’ It took me four years to fully prepare for this journey. I worked as a co-ordinator for a non-profit organization, while living a minimalist lifestyle and saving for the trip, which I will celebrate my second anniversary here in Saskatchewan. So far I have walked approximately 9,000 kilometres of a 24,000 kilometre total.”
Vogel described the “rollercoaster of emotions” which she had experienced while preparing for her trip on The Great Trail.
“I wanted to experience the incredible freedom of being on the road, of seeing new places, but there was much research to do prior to leaving. Preparations to begin was like having a second job, because it used up all my free time. I needed survival training.
“I learned that no matter how much you prepare, once you start the journey you realize you learn as you go.
“At first, my backpack was too heavy, so I had to scale back and lighten the load. I thought about Sarah Marquis who, from 2010 to 2013, walked 20,000 kilometres (12,000 mi) alone from Siberia to the Gobi Desert, into China, Laos, Thailand, and then across Australia. She is my inspiration, and author of the book Wild by Nature.
“I find so much beauty around me when I am walking. Yes, I challenge myself, but it’s also an opportunity to really connect with the land and the people I meet.
“Before I stepped on the Trail I had fears; fears of people, animals, coping alone and sleeping alone. But this life on the Trail has become a part of the familiar fabric of my life, and the challenge has now become for me not to get too familiar, too complacent and forget that one is always vulnerable.
“So far my only health challenges have been the occasional blister and an injury to my shoulder and hip caused by a too-heavy backpack. Luckily I have been able to overcome them.”
Vogel pulls a sled in winter and carries a pack in summer. At some point, after having left Kamsack, she obtained a stroller to push her pack and, sometimes, her dog.
Vogel has a Facebook page at: Between Sunsets: A Trail Story. Anyone wishing to follow her journey may also do so at thegreattrail.ca.
On June 19, Vogel wrote the following on her Facebook page: “I have to stop lying to myself. The thought of breaking with the journey has entered my mind. It's almost a sweet thought. As stubborn as I am there is no doubt that I am going to finish what I started. However the question of why I am doing this calls for a louder answer.”
Later, on July 14 she posted about a violent hailstorm which ripped holes in her tent. It was fortunate that both she and Malo were not hurt by the storm, and she said, “I have never seen hail this big in my entire life. I was actually horrified about the power and speed of these ice pellets.”
On July 31 she wrote:
“Today I scrolled through my photos looking at some of the faces of the people that hosted and supported me in the province of Saskatchewan. It made me smile. It makes me fall in love with this province (if not for the ticks) the same way as it made me fall in love with all the other seven provinces I walked through.
“It triggered these thoughts about kindness: Kindness is giving casually away your greatness to empower my greatness I casually give away to empower others.
“Kindness is really so empowering. If not for the people following along being concerned and caring, if not for those reaching out to host and help out along the way, if not for all the trail angels, the people who became friends along the way, if not for all of you, I am not sure I would have lasted.
“Currently I prepare for the north while I walk. I am overwhelmed at times. I am nervous. But I am in a good spirit and try to stay optimistic no matter the incoming winter battle I have to face. We have to face. I try to think of everything. Try to arrange logistics on the go, try to find homes up north to send goods and gear for resupply. Battling through situations that are not ideal and some that worry me. For some reason however, it's through conversations and people's support that somehow things do seem to just fall in place.
“This is part of my walking life. It makes me incredibly happy that I am not left alone. That there are so many people reaching out their helpings hands and good minds. The Great Trail is not just great for its distance as you see. Its greatness really lays in the kindness of the people of the many communities this trail connects and is stretching like a red thread, like a vein across this ginormous country.”
Vogel does not know what the future will hold for her once the journey has been completed. Ultimately, the first thing she wishes to do after the Trail ends is make a trip home to Germany, visit her family, including her brother and sister, relax and “get spoiled by Mom.” (She checks in frequently with her Mom via cellphone, on the Trail.)
“This journey is about following my dream, growing and enriching my life through travel,” she said, concluding with her hope that everyone will find a way to follow their own dream.