A filmmaker has reached Saskatoon while chasing her goal of becoming the first person to trek every leg of the world’s longest recreational trail.
Dianne Whelan has been travelling the Great Trail for four years. Formerly known as the Trans Canada Trail, the collection of water and land pathways spans 24,000 kilometres across 13 provinces and territories.
While hiking, cycling, snowshoeing and canoeing, Whelan said she’s learning to “live and reconnect with the land, instead of upon the land.”
Whelan has made a point of acquiring stories and lessons during her travels. She remembers one Indigenous elder telling her she has “two ears and one mouth.”
“That means you should be listening twice as much as you’re talking,” Whelan recalled with a laugh.
She began the voyage on July 1, 2015, in Newfoundland with plans to travel every leg of the trail – land and water. The adventures require several breaks and backtracking to complete every section.
The adventure is the subject of Whelan’s documentary 500 Days in the Wild. In reality, she said the journey could end up taking six years.
Whelan has previously shot documentaries in the high Arctic and Mount Everest.
“I’ve been to the highest mountain, the most northern coast in the world, and now I’m on the longest trail,” Whelan said.
Ahead of her arrival in Saskatoon last week, Whelan had some unforgettable experiences in Saskatchewan.
In the Qu’Appelle Valley two weeks ago, she was greeted by 15 elementary school children from the Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation. Community members gifted her a star blanket.
What they didn’t know is that months earlier, she coincidentally gave her own quilt to a dying elder in the community.
“The journey has been filled with stories like that,” Whelan said.
As she paddled from the Gardiner Dam to Outlook, she camped on a beautiful sandbar. The next day, she woke up to strong wind, torrential rain and funnel clouds.
With thunder and lightning around her, Whelan said she fought to hold her tent down before seeking a more sheltered position.
“I wasn’t on the water. If you just respect her, it’s an incredible light show,” Whelan said.
When she reached Saskatoon, Whelan’s canoe was pretty beat up. Shay Crawford, the local boathouse supervisor, offered to do some repairs at a discount price.
“I’ve met a few different people who have done some impressively long trips like this and it’s inspiring,” Crawford said.
Whelan’s voyage continues next week, as she paddles 3,500 kilometres to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.