THE "WONDER WOMEN WEDNESDAYS" (3WD) SERIES
All PHOTO credits: MELANIE VOGEL
In the vast ocean of human and travel stories that pop up every day on the world wide web, you might have missed this one. As for me, it has been quite a few months now that I live in parallel of a woman that I call “Mel”.
Introductions are in order. She’s 43. She’s German. She emigrated to Canada in 2008 and lives in Toronto. One year ago, on May 31, 2017, she boards a plane to St John, the provincial capital of Newfoundland-and-Labrador, on the eastern seaboard of Canada. As she boards, she’s been planning it for 9 months. Nine months spent exploring outdoor stores, sponsor opportunities, and blogs about surviving in the wild. A few days later, on June 6, she steps on the Great Trail, a 60-lb backpack strapped on her shoulders.
“Stepping on the Great Trail” implies that Mel is currently hiking the hike of her life: walking across Canada from the eastern to the western seaboard. A solo hike of 10K miles, that she plans to complete in 2 years. A trail that already borders on the mythical, while some portions of it remain isolated from the whole. And this week, it has been precisely 1 year that Mel… Well, that she’s walking.
MEL VOGEL from PROVINCE to PROVINCE
(based on her Instagram)
It's an illusion to think living in society is safer than living in nature. The man-made fears inside the system are far more dangerous and destructive to our well-being than threats in nature. The advantage of fear in nature, it is allowed to pass as it is not instutionalized. Mel Vogel, March 12, 2018.
But for you to fully understand this article, for you to really get to know her, you must first get to know me. See, as opposed to what I did in last month's episod, I didn’t conduct an interview. I didn’t even contact Mel. She is keeping me at bay without knowing it, by the emotions that she makes me feel: she has undertaken something that feels familiar, yet that is completely out of proportion compared to what I have ever undertaken.
And thus I am reading, I am learning, I am mixing my own thoughts with hers. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I read on her Instagram that she slept well, or that she had a rough night. She motivated me to dig out every one of my travel journals, which have been filling a whole section of my bookcase. She is describing things that echo with something in me. I recognize emotions, stories, fears.
I recognize the light, the shades; the feeling of being stripped to the bare necessity, to the immediacy of the moment, and of finding there all that one could need.
I recognize the people that will give you all that they have, because through you they, too, are hitting the road. To some, you’re a reminder that they must live; to others, you’re a reminder that they have lived. You walk into a café to order a slice of pie, and walk out with a warm meal, a note with an address nearby where you’ll sleep tonight, while strangers will wash your clothes and fix a hot breakfast that you’ll eat at the table, with the cat, the dog and the youngest of their kids.
I recognize the oatmeal and the coffee, in the morning as you emerge from your tent, the whole business set in a precarious balance on your cheap stove, boiling in water that was filtered the day before. A spoonful of brown sugar, a handful of dried cranberries: that taste, that warm feeling at the core of your stomach with the scent of dew all around, you will never forget about it. You will die thinking about it.
I realize that in each and every one of our travels, the road acts like a thread. It ties all places together, it ties me to them in a solid, tight knot. In fact, if our travels were stories, the road would probably be the main, recurring character. A deus ex machina, a primal being that I have come to seek. It is transience that I look for. The itinerary for the sake of itself. Travel Journal of Carrie Speaking, July 30, 2017.
But back to Mel Vogel. Do not be fooled by her sleek Instagram and her elegant, filtered pics: what she’s doing implies constant pain, intense fatigue, as well as a harsh, slow, and yet ecstatic letting-go of the self. As days, weeks, and months go by, one grows: the body grows stronger and can cope with the 60-lb backpack; the spirit grows bare, and thus can open itself to the world.
Lots of things have changed in the past 3 months. I gained strengths to carry this heavy pack and can walk easily 25 km a day while in the beginning I struggled to make 15 with these 57 lb extra weight. Lots of my initial fear has vanished. I have become accustomed to bear poop all along my way and find so much beauty in small little details along the trail. It's not just the bigger but smaller wildlife that fascinate me daily and once in a while I cry from being carried away by my surroundings. I am incredible content paired with moments of awe and happiness. People wonder if I am not lonely or bored. I am not. Ever. There is so much to explore, so much to think about. It's only those highway parts that yes become a little draining at times but once I am on the trail again my spirit lifts up instantly. And then there are all these awesome people in the communities I am passing trough. I experience kindness on an almost daily basis. This journey is more than I ever imagined. It's exhausting but the rewards of connecting with nature and people alike keeps me going hopefully all the way to Vancouver Island. Mel Vogel, September 11, 2017.
Hospitality at its best. Last night Mary picked me spontaneously up at Freshmart after people helped me to find a host for the night when I arrived at 7.45 pm in town. That day I had stomped trough high snowdrifts and deep fresh powder snow after the big snow storm. Thanks to Ian who made my hike on the ungroomed St. John River trail possible by lending me his snowshoes until mine will arrive in Grand Falls next week.
This is Vera in the photo who got up 6.30 am this morning to back cinnamon rolls for me and bring them over to my host family in the morning. She was followed by Dawn who stopped by with a pot of sea food chowder. While all this happened Robert was grooming the trail to be ready for an early start tomorrow and a less exhausting 20 km hike to Florenceville. These are people of Hartland in NB. This doesn't hit the news. Mel Vogel, January 7, 2018.
I am laying in my sleeping bag and can't sleep. I crawled in my tent around 7 pm tonight. I ate a piece of bread with ham and ate some almonds. The last piece of bread is for tomorrow with maple butter, ham and an orange. I met a man on the trail an hour before I settled in and it made me uneasy. He asked all the usual question but the last one was, how old are you. And as I tell him I am 43 he tells me I look a lot younger. As we talk his eyes wander to my legs in leggings. I remember all that as I lay down. I try to convince myself that he won't look for me in the darkness of a trail. In this cold. A dog barks in the close distance. I go for a second pee. I try to get compfy to sleep. The worry about the man vanish as I suddenly hear the most creepiest, weirdest voices outside my tent. It sounds like a group of ghosts or vampires. But it's coyotes.
It's a new day. The world is spinning. The birds are singing and fear has passed. I knew it would. It's what I try to convince my mind with when it's raging. Fear has been my companion since the beginning. We have quite an intense dialog from time to time and it's good like that. My fear last night showed me that I have become too easy and settled on the trail. Fear arose as I didn't feel able to act on the situation and protect myself as I had burried all my protections in my backpack. In addition I left an opened pack of ham just out in my little food bag. I knew it was wrong but I didn't care enough as I have gotten too comfortable on the trail. I did let my guards down. The voices of the coyotes of last night were like ghosts flying around my tent laughing at me. Stupid girl. They gave me a third last warning before they disappeared for the rest of the night. Mel Vogel, March 4 to March 5, 2018.
As Mel is looking at her second year on the Great Trail and she is heading west, I relive with her a part of my own travels, a part of my own life on the road. I wonder what will be her next meal, her next epiphany, who will be the next trail angel she meets. I think about all the meals, all the epiphanies, all the faces that were the dots along my own road.
Before I leave you to Melanie Vogel’s journal, let me tell you a short story, one that was told to me by a retired woman who was traveling by bike and sleeping in hostels, while I was traveling by car and sleeping in a tent. Her story takes place in British Columbia, a province that I have come to grow fond of, and that will be the last province crossed by Melanie Vogel in her own adventure. The road is a very long string of stories, passed from traveler to traveler, that contains a piece of our humanity.
Before she leaves, the woman tells us a story from her time in British Columbia, when she was younger and hitchhiking through the province. One day, a retired fisherman came to her and asked: “Would you agree to rent a car for me?” He explained that he didn’t have the required papers to rent a car under his name. All his life, he had hitchhiked his way around and benefited from the kindness of random drivers. Now he was dying from cancer.
So he wanted to drive through the province and pick up as many hitchhikers as he could ! The lady agreed, and both of them drove around, looking for those who travel by foot. That turned out so well that everyone kept in touch, and ended up partying together till dawn, in a log cabin the fisherman had rented for the occasion. They were 70.
I’ll write an email to the lady to ask her for more details, and for more stories. With that story she reminded us, or she reminded me at least, that there is a world out there, filled with people and stories that couldn’t exist in the inertia of the other world, the world of cities and small towns. That world out there is in constant motion, rid of social norms, rules of probability, and likelihood. That world revolves around an entity, almost a deity, which we call the road. Travel journal of Carrie Speaking, August 19, 2017.