North?

PJ and I continued our walk across America and Canada on May 24th after we successfully crossed the International Bridge back into Ontario, cleared customs, and connected about a half-mile worth of steps.

It was much simpler getting back into Ontario than it was entering Quebec. The border agent only asked a few questions and didn’t even bother searching PJ. In fact, she never even saw him. I spoke to the agent inside the customs building while PJ lounged on the bus.

I met a man named Peter on the Bridge Bus. He helped me hold onto PJ while we crossed the bridge. The same driver from our first bus trip, Mike, knew the drill and was incredibly helpful once again. I’m positive having PJ completely block the aisle wasn’t up to code, but he sure made my life a lot easier and a bit more entertaining. Thank you Mike and Peter!

Walking north out of the Soo felt odd after a few hours. As the sun dipped lower in the sky, to my left instead of straight ahead, it felt as if we were walking the wrong way. I assured PJ we weren’t lost.

The Can-Can started climbing some pretty impressive hills outside of the Soo. I passed a sign saying “Welcome to the Superior Coastal Highlands.”

We crested a hill, came around a corner, and the road unfolded like a ribbon down into a valley and up a hill on the other side, four or five miles away. My adventure juices started flowing and I could barely contain my excitement as I let out a loud “whooooooo!” on the side of the road.

My enthusiasm was tempered a bit as dark clouds started moving in an hour later. I quickened my pace and got to a country store in Goulais River as light rain started falling. The cashier gave me permission to set up camp at the brush line next to the parking lot. It rained off and on overnight, but the clouds steadily cleared the following morning. I anxiously awaited my first glimpse of Lake Superior.

After walking through a tricky construction zone, I arrived in Havilland and feasted my eyes on Lake Superior. It was big, beautiful, and rugged. I greeted the lake with a hearty hello and said “I’ll begin my walk around you now.”

Batchwana Bay near Harmony Beach.

The Trans-Can circumnavigated Batchwana Bay for the rest of the day, giving me some great perspective on how vast Lake Superior is. In the distance I could see some impressive hills which I would walk in coming days.

Sunny afternoon skies gave way to dark clouds and the first rumbles of thunder of the trip.

As the storm approached, an older man pulled over and gave me a chocolate cupcake from a birthday party he was hosting that night. “You can probably camp in the bush at the Provincial Park three clicks ahead.” I didn’t understand two things – what a click was, and why we were weren’t invited to the party. Then I quickly remembered 36 hours on the road transformed me from a respectable looking member of society to a border-line lunatic walking down the road with a three-wheeled stroller.

As soon as the man pulled away, a biblical, torrential rain storm pummeled me. I arrived at the park 30 minutes later after several road-splash facials from passing 18 wheelers.

I took cover at the park’s information kiosk and called an RV Resort a mile down the road to get their camping rates. The owner must have taken pity on me because she made an exception to their “no tenting policy” and let me camp next to the playground, high and dry on a little hill, for free.

The rain let up later in the evening and I walked across the street to the bay, which was covered with a layer of fog. I watched the sun set and marveled at the blessings of the day, despite the soaking.

Another round of storms with some intense thunder and lightning moved through overnight but skies were clear in the morning, other than the consistent layer of fog around the lake.

The ensuing three-and-a-half day, 100 mile walk from Batchwana Bay to Wawa was pure magic. The highway followed Lake Superior’s rugged coastline for a few hours, then turned inland and climbed into the coastal highlands. The road was often even with the canopy of 100 foot pine trees. A relatively reassuring rope guardrail separated the pavement from steep drop-offs.

From the hilltops the lake was always hidden by a layer of fog. When the road returned to lake level, it would plunge into the fog and the temperature would drop 15 degrees.

I was able to camp within a stones throw of Lake Superior for two nights. Once on a little bluff overlooking the lake, and once on a sandy beach I found after doing some offroading on a hiking trail with PJ.

Our sandy camping spot. It was difficult to get to, but well worth it.

The sunset over Alona Bay. My tent was pitched about 10 feet from where I snapped this photo! What a view, and it only cost free dollars and 26 miles of walking.

There were two big coastal climbs that we walked up and down en-route to Wawa – Montreal and Old Woman Bay Mountains. PJ was loaded down with an extra 45 pounds of water when we left Batchwana Bay (there were only two campgrounds and no gas stations for 100 miles, and I didn’t want to rely on a campground for water). Fortunately, PJ is on a rapid weight loss plan. He looses about 12 pounds of water weight per day. The climbs came on days two and three out of Batchwana Bay, so he was a little lighter, making for slightly easier climbs.

We quickly climbed out of the fog at the base of Montreal Mountain and tackled the two mile ascent. It wasn’t like climbing a mountain pass out west, but still left me breathless (because of the elevation gain and the views)!

I ended up walking 36 miles the day before arriving in Wawa in order to have a short, two hour walk into town. My time in Wawa has essentially been a rest day. I chatted with a number of people in town while I wandered around, and also did a few of my favorite trip activities – drank chocolate milk, ate Subway, and grocery shopped.

The owner of the Wawa RV Resort, Renee, has let me camp for free for the night. I happily did laundry (and now have clean socks again!), trimmed up my beard, and have met some nice folks at the campground. A few of my neighbors popped by to visit and offered some friendly words of encouragement….plus a bag of homemade cookies and some warm popcorn.

I am about 290 miles from Thunder Bay and will turn back Ouest in a few days. White River (two days), and Marathon (four days), are the next stops on the bushy horizon.

Trip Stats –

Days – 48

Miles – 1,022.5 I hit 1,000 miles on day 47, which will end up being about one quarter of the way through my walk!

Peanut Butter Jars – 29

Roadside Change – $4.66 I only found one coin in the last six days. It was very rusty and difficult to identify, but I am pretty sure it is a well-traveled quarter.

Favorite Roadside Find – A toss up between a Florida license plate and an unbroken bong. Both led me to wonder why they were thrown out or left on the roadside.

Favorite Three Pictures

So many to choose from!

I was thrilled to get a selfie with yours truly, PJ, and the massive “Wawa Goose” all in one frame! I saw my first sign for the goose outside Deep River (350 or so miles ago). I couldn’t wait to honk at her when I arrived in Wawa (even though I honk at geese when I pass them daily on the highway). This one was a milestone!

This was taken from the highway shoulder as I started climbing “Old Woman’s Bay” Mountain. The fog was thick over the lake but the sky was clear after gaining a little elevation. To be honest, that old woman was a bit crotchety and stubborn, because that hill kept going, and going, and going. It was a challenge after I had already walked 27 miles that day.

I followed a little hiking path to the lake for lunch on my fifth day out of the Soo. This particular stretch of lakefront, which I nicknamed “Driftwood Beach” was littered with massive tree trunks and stumps that Superior had returned to shore. It was a reminder of the power that this lake has! It moves gigantic, hundred year old trees like toothpicks!

I am hoping to have a string of marathon distance days on my way to Marathon, Ontario!

Walk on!

-Ben

The Twin Soos

I left Sudbury, Ontario on May 16th and finally had my sights set on Sault Ste. Marie, the first big “Milestone City” of my walk. The Soo was just under 900 miles from my starting point, and is roughly one-fifth of the way between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans on my chosen route.

I came out of Sudbury walking hard. I was reenergized by a restful day-and-a-half break. The Morin’s revolving refridgerator door gave me plenty of fuel for the first three days of the seven day trek. I walked 90 miles in three days, camping next to “Jeremy’s Truck Stop” in Nairn Centre, then out in the woods for two nights before approaching Blind River.

On the walk out of Sudbury, I passed the Sudbury Smokestack, the second tallest structure in Canada (the first is the CN Tower in Toronto). The smokestack, built in 1972, is tall enough to get mining emissions into prevailing winds and out of Sudbury’s immediate atmosphere, into less polluted air. Construction occurred at a time when the city needed to take drastic measures to clear the air.

Near the end of my third day out of Sudbury, I met the Regional Chief of the Ontario First Nations. We had an incredible roadside talk about Native History, famous First Nation walkers, and society’s shift away from walking as a mode of transportation. As a touching gesture, Isadore gave me a wool blanket, which I used during the next few chilly nights.

I expected to maintain my 30 mile per day pace when I started my walk to Blind River, but I simply hit a wall. I walked about ten miles, got into town, and heeded my body’s advice, which was telling me to slow down. I went to Tim Horton’s for a cup of coffee and was immediately greeted by Fern and Kathleen McCoy. “We are the REAL McCoys,” Fern insisted after introducing himself. The couple invited me to stay with them for the night. “You were looking pretty tired when you walked up,” Kathleen told me. I agreed without a seconds hesitation.

I stayed in the guest bedroom/art studio at the McCoy house. Fern, who was in the middle of a food fast, sat at the dinner table and visited while Kathleen and I enjoyed homemade spaghetti and coffee. The couple (who were big hitchhikers and traveling musicians in the late 70’s) continually host travelers passing through town. They have hosted cyclists, hitchhikers, people down on their luck, and now, a walker. And considering they have seven children (five of which are boys), they knew exactly how to host a hungry and exhausted walker!

Fern and Kathleen outside their vibrant home. Fern’s father built the house 70 years ago.

It is always amazing what a good night of rest, some incredible company, and a massive portion of spaghetti can do! I ended the day after leaving Blind River 30 miles west near Thessalon and slept next to an old service road. Without any bugs (yet), I didn’t even bother setting up my tent. I slept like a baby under the warmth of my new wool blanket and a starry sky.

I came very close to the North Channel of Lake Huron twice between Thessalon and Bruce Mines. Overnight lows around freezing and cool morning temps have left me starting most days with my beenie and high-visibility down jacket!

On my sixth day out of Sudbury, I decided to give it my all in an effort to get as close to the Soos as possible. At about six in the evening, I left the Can-Can and followed a few country roads for the rest of the day. The walk led me through farm and ranchland.

There are many Amish families in the area. I was passed by a few Amish carriages on the highway. Off the Trans Can, I saw a few men out in their fields with horse drawn plows. Another was walking his fields, checking on his cows and calves. Amish homes were pretty easy to spot; no cars were parked outside and there weren’t electrical lines running to the houses. Their well kept homesteads typically had a long strand of clothes hanging from clotheslines stretching from the house to a tree in the yard. Signs advertising beautiful hand-built sheds (which were on display next to the road) led me to marvel at their independence from modern technology and the many luxuries people take for granted.

Only a few cars passed me during that four hour span. It was a beautiful evening and I enjoyed the peaceful, easy feeling of the countryside. For that four hours I was able to forget about everything and simply get lost in the moment. I walked until the sun dissapeared behind the bluffs surrounding Sault Ste. Marie.

One of the Amish homesteads, complete with pristinely cut and organanized wood piles.

Aftera 36 mile trek the day before, Sault Ste. Marie was a mere 17 miles away. I was in town by noon.

I was thrilled to arrive in the Soo! The next challenge for me was crossing the International Bridge (over which walking is illegal) where I could pick up a care package my folks had mailed to me, care of general delivery, at the post office. I also needed to mail some items home, which was significantly cheaper from the U.S.

My best option was to take the Bridge Bus, which conveniantly operates on the hour from 7 AM to 7 PM. I evenutally found the stop downtown. When the driver pulled up, he looked at PJ and I and just shook his head, looking down at the bus floor.

“Any chance we can hop on?” I asked the driver. He didn’t look too happy.

“Can you get him up the bus stairs?” He asked. I looked at the stairs, looked at PJ, and looked at the driver, shaking my head no. “Let me pull over up here,” he grumbled. The driver pulled into a parking spot up ahead so other buses could load and unload.

I introduced myself to the driver, Mike, and explained my predicament. “You have walked from where?” I told him my starting date, how many miles I had walked, and my plan for the next few days. He quickly became cordial and quite helpful. Mike lowered an electric wheelchair lift, which PJ perfectly fit on, and raised him up. I carefully pulled PJ onto the bus and held on tightly as we cruised over the St. Mary’s River into Michigan. We cleared customs with no problem!

I spent the afternoon walking errands…I stopped by a shipping store and mailed Forest (my backpack who has been my domestic and international travel companion for 10 years) home in an effort to have more room inside PJ for other pertinent items. Forest was with me for the entire walk in 2015, so it was bittersweet parting with him. I did keep the detachable top of the pack with me so a piece of Forest will still play an integral roll in my journey. Later on that afternoon I purchased a small camelback to carry. In honor of Forest, the pack is green, just like him. I named him Little Forest.

I have spent two nights camping at the Soo Locks Campground in the Michigan Soo, resting, enjoying the locks, and taking in other points of interest in this charming city.

The Soo Locks are a must-see engineering feat in Sault Ste. Marie!

My rest day in the Soo has also allowed ample time to prepare for the next leg of my journey, which incudes a BIG route change. I cannot walk across the International Bridge, which I knew about when I chose my route. Initially I thought I would be ok with skipping those three miles. Ultimately, the driving desire to “connect all my steps” will take me back into Canada and I will return to the Trans Canada Highway to walk around Lake Superior. The Can-Can will lead me along the hilly coast of Lake Superior’s Eastern and Northern Shores, and through plenty of “Bush,” as the locals say, before passing through Thunder Bay, where I will head south into Minnesota. The route will add about 190 miles to my walk, sounds physically demanding, desolate (there is a 100 mile stretch with no towns or services), and more adventurous than the alternative. I am all in!

Trip Stats –

Days – 42

Miles – 879

Peanut Butter Jars – 25

Roadside Change – $4.41 I found a loonie this week, which is a Canadian dollar coin. It has a loon on one side, hence the nickname!

Favorite Roadside Find – Not necessarily a “find” per se, but the wool blanket given to me by Chief Isadore was hands down the best thing I have acquired on the roadside during my walks! What a touching gesture!

Three Favorite Pictures –

My scenic country road walk approaching the Soo was foal of entertainment and serenity. On a side note, I clearly have plenty of time to create punomimal puns while I walk.

I have retired my first pair of shoes on the trip. The white Sauconys started showing their miles with holes around the pinky toes on both shoes, and the tread was nearly gone. A general rule of thumb is once they start talking it’s time to say goodbye!

I couldn’t decide whether this was a pickup truck or dump truck…It sure is nice to have spring in full swing, finally!

In the words of the late Tom Petty, tomorrow we go “Into the Great Wide Open!”

Walk on, eh?

-Ben

Deep River to Sudbury

It has been a very memorable battle with the Trans-Canadian Highway since Deep River.

I arrived in Sudbury, Ontario on May 14th after a seven day, 183 mile stroll down the Can-Can. For the first time on the trip, I sustained a marathon pace (26.2 miles per day) for a week.

Mattawa, with a population of 2,400, was the first significant town I would walk through on the way to Sudbury. It was a two day, 63 mile walk from my starting point. There were two gas stations in the first 25 miles, then a whole lot of nothing for 38 miles, aside from a few houses and signs warning me of moose.

The highway continued to follow the Ottawa River, winding through mixed pine, birch, and maple forests, over pristine creeks, and past lakes that still had chunks of ice floating towards shore.

I made a new friend 10 miles outside Deep River – a man named Jeff, who was walking from Ottawa to Mattawa with his dog Marley. I came across Jeff at a scenic overlook near one of the hydroelectric dams on the river.

Jeff had some choice words about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s immigration policies that I’m not comfortable repeating. Ultimately he just wanted to get away from politics in the capital city so he was walking to Mattawa to camp on Crown Land (the Canadian equivalent of BLM land) for a few weeks. It was pretty obvious he was excited to talk to someone. I was, too.

Cart party in the boonies! Marley was comfortably lying in the shade of Jeff’s cart. Although he had some pretty out there thoughts, it was fun visiting with Jeff. And I am all for walking getaways!

I ended my first day of the week in Bisset Creek, a town (if you could call it that!) 30 miles from Deep River. I camped in the woods just off the highway and made my first attempt at hanging a bear bag. My fellow Boy Scouts or any avid outdoorsman would laugh at the result, so I would rather not share the photo! On the bright side, PJ, my food bag, and I survived the night! I will get better at those moving forward.

The following day was a warm, windy, 33 mile walk to Mattawa. The miles drug on by the end of the day, but I had a host lined up for the night. The promise of a shower and a hot dinner fueled my steps.

The Trans-Can hugged the Ottawa River 20 miles from Mattawa, creating some nice scenery.

Daisy, my host in Mattawa, had a chicken and vegetable dinner ready when I arrived at her house. She also has two black labs, Toby and Raven, that reminded me of Tillman, the family lab back home. Toby loved me, but Raven wouldn’t stop barking and circling me. I blamed it on PJ.

I left Mattawa early the following morning and had a shorter 21 mile day ahead. Daisy put me in touch with a friend of hers named Tammy down the road.

I spent the first few hours of the morning at a riverfront park near the confluence of the Mattawa and Ottawa Rivers. Low clouds and bluffs bordering the water made for a picturesque writing spot.

A massive statue of “Big Joe Mufferaw,” welcomes folks to Mattawa. Big Joe was an 1800’s French-Canadian folk hero because he “stood up for the little guy” in Mattawa’s early frontier days when logging was the most prevalent industry.

I checked the weather forecast (it had rained overnight) before I left town and thought I was in the clear.

Instead, five miles outside of town, I started walking through a chilly, steady mist that lasted for three hours. None of the precipitation showed up on the dopler radar app I WAS using. Fortunately it has been dry since and I haven’t had to experiment with my new weather app yet.

I arrived at Tammy’s beautiful home in the early evening. She greeted me with a welcoming smile. Her lovable boxer named Rider warmed up to me right away. She fixed salmon and salad for dinner. I was amazed to be eating salmon for the second time in five days (my host Brian in Deep River cooked salmon, too)! I didn’t eat this well when I had a fully functioning kitchen back home!

I arrived in North Bay, a city of 50,000 people situated on the north shore of Lake Nipissing, the following afternoon. I took a nap at a lakeside park and decided to walk for another few hours. My initial plan was to spend the night in town, but I really just felt like walking!

I ended the day at a C-Store, appropriately named “How Convenient.” It was a stones throw away from the highway, so it truly was convenient. The clerk, also named Tammy, gave me permission to camp there for the night.

After my tent was set up, a local man named Mike, who was running errands and cruising down the highway on an electric bike, saw me and came over to say hello. We chatted for a bit and he gave me some valuable bear advice.

“I recommend you move your tent over next to the building,” he told me. I had pitched on a springy, lush patch of grass. “The bears are just coming out of hibernation, and it has been a long winter…really been winter since November. They eat grass like this to wake up their stomachs before eating more meat. Over there, under the light, they won’t bother you.”

I heeded Mike’s advice. After speaking with him for a few minutes, and hearing him tell stories of bear encounters he had in the bush, I figured he was right. I moved next to the building after he left, enjoying another wildlife free night.

I camped next to another gas station in Verner the follwing night before a difficult final 45 miles to Sudbury.

The 30 miles I logged on Mother’s Day proved to be the most challenging day of my walk so far.

It was hot, windy, and road crews had recently started grading the highway shoulder (I would give them a C- walkability wise). As a safety measure, crews will put down a mixture of rock and dirt and level it with the highway asphault. The problem was it hadn’t been completely leveled, or packed down yet, so pushing PJ over the rocks on the shoulder and through the loose dirt was a challenging process. High traffic levels kept me off the pavement. Progress was slow. I found myself frustratingly cursing at rocks. Swearing at inadimate objects is typically a sign I need a break from the road!

My day ended with a camping spot behind a utility building off the highway. I was exhausted. Fortunately , Sudbury was only 14 miles away the next morning, and I was able to follow quieter residential streets into town.

My host in Sudbury has been well worth the challenging walk. Lesley, her husband Paul, and their two boys, Matt and Griffin, have taken me in and shown me a lot of love! Lesley made baked chicken, quinoa, and spinach salad for dinner…And had two liters of chocolate milk to wash it all down. The family has opened their home – and their fridge – to me. It has been a walker’s paradise.

This morning I walked with her to work (she is an instructor at a hair style academy) and I was able to speak to her class about my walk, chasing things we are passionate about, and accomploshing goals, one step at a time. One of the students named Zach even gave me a great trim and freshened up my gnarly “road hair.”

It was a blast visiting with these students!

I will be leaving Sudbury May 16th. The Sault (pronounced Sooh) as the locals say, is my next destination on the Can-Can….180 miles and six or seven days away. I am hoping for smoother shoulders!

Trip Stats

Days – 34

Miles – 693

Peanut Butter Jars – 21

Roadside Change – $2.86. I found a toonie (Canadian term for a 2 dollar coin)!

Favorite roadside find(s) – Three signs – One saying “student driver,” one saying “slow down,” and one Ontario license plate. I would like to know how that student driver lost their sign!

Favorite three pictures –

The rocky hills around Sudbury were completely stripped of trees by the 1970’s. Some were burned as fuel to aid mining operations, and some died due to negative environmental impacts of mining. Many of the rocks maintain a dark, sooty hue from air pollution. Some 13 million trees have since been replanted. With lakes and forests scattered throughout town, it is a very pretty city now. This hillside, covered in birch trees, was looking particularly beautiful.

The best part about walking through a storm is enjoying the incredible cloud formations after the sun comes back out. This pic of the Can-Can was about four miles from Tammy’s home.

Downtown Sudbury. Enough said!

A huge thank you to Brian of Deep River, Daisy, Tammy, “How Convenient” Tammy, the Morin family, and others who were instrumental in finding me hosts this last week! You all are wonderful and I am so grateful!

Walk on y’all!

-Ben

Ottawa to a Deep River

I left downtown Ottawa on May 2nd and began the trek to Deep River, 115 miles away. Google’s Map encouraged me to cross the Ottawa River and walk through Quebec for another 30 miles or so, before crossing back into Ontario (across the Ottawa River again) and eventually meeting up with the Trans Canada Highway in Petawawa.

**Author’s note – I will refer to the Trans-Canada Highway as the Can-Can, a nickname I created because it rolls off the tongue better than Trans-Canada.**

The walk out of Ottawa began under sunny skies, but threatening afternoon clouds moved in. The road I followed out of the city was less than ideal – it was a two lane, narrow road, with an unpaved and often uneven shoulder.

The miles were slow going as I had to move off the road frequently when a line of cars approached.

I had walked about 12 miles when a woman named Catherine pulled over to chat. She is an accomplished, minimalist traveler who has hitchhiked all over Canada and the U.S. Catherine once hitched from the Western Canadian border to Mexico with a mere 80 dollars in her pocket! She got the ok from her boyfriend, Joe, and invited me to spend the night at her house. Joe did a 3,800 mile cycling trip in West Africa a few years ago, too, so I knew we would all get along!

Joe found me a mile down the road an hour later. I unpacked and collapsed PJ and somehow crammed all my gear into Joe’s little Hyundai, which was full of tools and work supplies for his roofing job.

I spent a wonderful evening with Catherine, Joe, and their roommate, Camille. We had a delicious, four course meal – homemade popcorn to start, then cheese, bread, and radishes. Grilled venison and vegetables were the main course, and we had homemade apple and pear pie for dessert. It all tasted delicious.

I learned more about French-Canadian culture and Joe put some popular Quebec folk music on my phone.

My incredible French Canadian hosts outside Ottawa.

Catherine dropped me off in the morning and I completed a 30 mile day of walking through the Quebec countryside. Passing showers accompanied me throughout the day, but temperatures remained in the 60’s.

I walked over three impressive bridges on the way back into Ontario the next day. Several dams, hydroelectric plants, and expansive views of the Ottawa River kept me entertained during my soggy, foggy walk.

PJ enjoyed the view of the Ottawa River from the second of three bridges we crossed to get back into Ontario. The rushing water flowing from the dam was incredible!

Later in the evening, the fog and mist cleared, revealing a large line of thunderheads due west of me. The impressive line was moving in my direction. The next town was still an hour away, so I walked into an experimental forest operated by the Ontario Provincial Government and found a spot to camp. An experimental forest needs an experimental camper, right? I pitched my tent before rain and gusty winds moved in. The storm violently whipped through the 100 foot pines, coating my tent with needles, bark, and dirt.

Sunny, blue skies greeted me in the morning. Over the next 45 miles of walking, I was met with hospitality and generosity that rivals anything I have experienced during my walking days!

Outside Pembroke, Julia and Tyler stopped to chat with me. They set up a host for me to stay with in Petawawa and brought me a homemade dinner and snacks I enjoyed on the roadside. Julia has continued the host search for me in towns west of Deep River.

Susan was my host in Petawawa. She is a very active woman who enjoys the outdoors year-round in Ontario. She sent me on my way with liquid heat, a full stomach, and great memories from the visit.

Erik and Aime tracked me down and dropped off what I consider to be a “Canadian Survival Kit.” They gave me a full body mesh bug suit, bear spray, and a four pound jar of peanut butter.

Wendy and Israel gave me a nice donation and offered different warnings about the road ahead. Wendy asked me if I was a “God fearing man.” When I said yes, she just said to be careful in the fields and forests of Ontario, saying witchcraft is commonplace in area, and if I get a bad vibe, to keep moving. Illegal marijuana grows and moonshiners are also prevalent in the woods to my west. “That should make for some interesting encounters,” I told her.

After a 21 mile walk yesterday, I arrived in Deep River where I am staying at a house with the brother-in-law of a man I met in St. Johnsbury, VT. I am doing as little as possible today to freshen up my feet. My dogs have been barking a bit over the last few days.

The list of things to be cautious about as I venture further west through Ontario continues to lengthen. The bugs (especially biting black flies, who even drive the moose population bonkers) will be out soon. Wildlife, including bears, moose, “mountain cats,” coyotes, and wolves are widespread. And, according to Wendy I should be wary of witchcraft, moonshiners, and marijuana farmers. Add in the busy Can-Can, temperamental spring weather, increasingly desolate country, and the typical rigors of the walk, I have one hell of an adventure ahead!

I am forever grateful for all the friendly Canadiens who have gone out of their way to help me in the last few days! Thank you all!

North Bay will be my next major stop. It is a little over 100 miles west of Deep River.

Trip stats –

Days – 26

Miles – 514

Peanut Butter Count – 15

Roadside Change – A still frustrating $.65

Favorite Roadside Find – A toy miniature horse found in Quebec. I named her Francy, and she will be traveling with me from now on.

Three favorite pictures –

This house must always leave the lights on if they need a solar panel that big!

I always feel right at home walking through agricultural areas. The big skies and wide open spaces make the possibilities in life seem endless.

Crossing the Ottawa River back into Ontario. Riverside bluffs, the mystical fog, and tall pine forests made this Colorado boy feel like he had arrived in the “Great North.”

Until next time…I’ll be walking on with my bug suit on!

-Ben-

Ouest We Go

When I arrived in Quebec April 24th, it was a bit of a shock. The street signs, shop names, detour signs, menus, you name it, were all in French. It was surreal to cross a single border, walk two miles, and be transported to a French world. My foreign language skills are limited to basic “restaurant Spanish.” I can communicate enough to get by with a Hispanic cook (and throw a few Spanish swear words their way when necessary), but the French language is well beyond my skill set.

I did figure out the directional words nord, sud, est, and finally, ouest, as I walked due nord to Montreal (though a kindergartener probably would have mastered those as quickly as me).

Ouest, of course, was my favorite. Not only because there is always something magical about traveling west, but because of the word’s resemblance to quest. After all, I am in the middle of a quest to the ouest, always searching for new adventures, new people, new inspiration, and continued growth.

Rules of the path. No number 1’s, no number 2’s, and always park at a bike rack. I understood that much.

Montreal was a very eclectic and enjoyable European-feeling city, but I was ready to get out back into wide open spaces after my two-night hostel stay on Rue de Bishop.

After walking due north into Montreal, I took a hard left and started walking west again, with my sights set on Ottawa, some 115 miles away.

I didn’t appreciate the size of Montreal Island until I spent an entire day walking from downtown back onto the “mainland.” It was a beautiful stroll, first through colorful neighborhoods, then onto a series of bike paths that followed the St. Lawrence River through affluent suburbs, past mansion after mansion. More and more people stopped to chat with me as I got further from the center of Montreal. An older gentleman named Richard (went by Dick) Clark gave me a crisp Canadian five dollar bill. Dick Clark gave me five bucks!

Another middle aged fellow who stopped me simply said “It gets more English the further west you go, and more people will talk to you.” I hoped so. After all, I only had a three week, well trimmed beard going. I didn’t think I looked too threatening!

After a 25 mile stroll I was off the island and closer to my second province, Ontario.

A substantial morning shower the day after leaving Montreal left me soaked, but afternoon sun and comfortable temperatures (and some incredible cloud formations) greeted me at the provincial border.

Storms clouds to the south and east of Highway 10 near St. Eugene, Ontario, over a massive cornfield. These storms missed me!

I expected the area between Montreal and Ottawa to be a little more populated. I clearly didn’t look too closely at my map. One of the counties I walked through had a whopping population of 12,000. It was mostly farmland.

In St. Eugene, I picked up the Prescott-Russell Rail Trail, which took me 60 miles west to the outskirts of Ottawa.

I didn’t have many human interactions on the trail. Temperatures cooled back into the 40’s and more rain showers moved through the region. People were few and far between.

I passed the long, quiet hours getting lost in the landscape. Tranquil hayfields, cornfields, and dairy farms gave way to forests and wetlands. I saw a number of blue herons, orioles, and even a few beavers. There were a few turkeys to gobble at, plenty of cows to moo at, and flocks of Canadian geese to honk at. I camped around the trail for two nights, lulled to sleep by endless bird chirps.

The donkeys had an interest in my walk. The goats…not so much.

The skies were sunnier when I approached Ottawa, and more people were on the trail. About ten miles from town, a woman named Helen was out walking her dog, Bodhi. She stopped me and we chatted for a bit. I was almost out of clean socks and desperately needed to do laundry, so she invited me over to her house for lunch and laundry.

I walked to her home in an eastern suburb. Helen had a plate of hot chocolate chip cookies waiting for me.

I was able to launder my damp, dirty clothes and air out my tent, which was throughly soaked by a heavy storm the previous night. Helen even treated me to lunch at a delicious Meditteranean restaurant. Considering she is an aspiring minimalist, avid traveler, and cyclist, we had plenty to talk about!

My first friends in Ottawa! Helen and her pooch, Bodhi. Bodhi was a street dog on the Turks and Caicos Caribbean islands before Helen rescued her. Lucky dog, I would say!

Four days of hard walking (25, 31, 32, and 20 miles) left a short, seven mile jaunt into Ottawa May 1st. I was lucky to find a room in the popular Ottawa Jail Hostel. The jail closed in 1972 and a hostel – while maintaining the feel of a jail – was opened in 1974.

It was certainly creepy showering and wandering this floor without a soul around!

I spent this afternoon walking around the Canadian capital city and enjoying the beautiful architecture of their Parliamentary buildings. The downtown area is high on a bluff above the Ottawa River. It is quite beautiful!

I had to snap a selfie with the Ottawa River and some important Parliament buildings in the background .

My walk takes me back out into the country tomorrow. I’ll be heading back into Quebec, across the Ottawa River, for a few days before my long awaited meet-up with the Trans-Canada Highway. I’m not sure when or where my next rest day will be. The road Gods and Mother Nature will dictate that.

Trip stats –

Days – 20

Miles – 400 (Nice and even!)

Peanut Butter Jars – 12

Roadside change – Stuck on $.65

Favorite roadside find – Canadiens litter very little! Nothing other than a few plastic bottles!

Favorite three photos –

The streets of Old Montreal.

Nearing the end of the Prescott-Russell Rail Trail at dusk.

The streets of Ottawa next to one of the Parliamentary buildings.

I hope everyone is able to get out, walk, and enjoy the springtime sunshine! Walk on!

-Ben-

Border Bound

The last nine days and 220 miles from Conway, New Hampshire, to Montreal, Quebec, Canada have had a little bit of everything…I checked out of my hostel in Conway and headed into the Appalachians on April 17th.

Highway 302, which I followed through the White Mountains outside of Conway, was not only beautiful, but had an absurdly large shoulder and minimal traffic. It was the perfect blend of solitude, natural beauty, and few people. Mother nature took it relatively easy on me, too. Highs were in the low-40’s, lows were in the mid-20’s, winds weren’t too gusty, and I only faced a few bands of rain and snow.

Highway 302 wound peacefully through the White Mountains.

There was still up to a foot of snow off the highway though, preventing PJ and I from camping in the woods (he can’t make it through more than six inches of snow, the sissy). We managed to find a spot next to Harts Location’s town hall, which was little more than a teel colored double-wide with two doors and a handicap ramp.

After walking over Crawford Notch (at a modest elevation of 1,775 feet), we descended into Bethlehem, NH, complete with a number of beautiful churches, numerous nativity scenes, and light posts still adorned with Christmas decorations.

I lucked out with hosts on back to back nights in Bethlehem and St. Johnsbury, VT.

My host in Bethlehem was a man named Bill, who is one of the area’s bond commisioners. I stopped by the police station in town on a whim, and patiently waited for two hours (it was cold outside so I didn’t mind sitting inside on a bench) as the chief and his deputy dealt with three 20 year olds who had been arrested for underage drinking.

Bill showed up to handle the bond paperwork for the youngins, and invited me to stay with him for the night when he heard my story. I guess you could say Bill bailed me out of jail, considering the police officers were going to let me sleep on the bench in the police station!

Bill the bond commissioner.

I entered Vermont the following afternoon, and was greeted by a nice guy named Kyle. We connected immediately because he biked from Kittery, ME, to Los Angeles in 2015. He picked PJ and I up in St. Johnsbury at the end of the day and I slept on a couch at their family’s farm house. It snowed about three inches overnight!

Kyle, along with three of the four family dogs. The family also included three cats, chickens, cows, and turkeys (who, as Kyle said, survived Thanksgiving).

I had one more blustery, cold, overcast Vermont day ahead after leaving St. Johnsbury. Highway 15 from Danville followed a snowpacked ridge, exposing me to maddening 30 mile-an-hour head winds. I eventually walked off the ridge and found a spot off the highway next to the Lamoille River to camp for the night.

Highly visible and bundled up as I approached Highway 15.

Walking in the cold has been manageable…The only aspect relating to cold temps that has gotten to me has been setting up camp at night, and breaking it down in the morning. Defrosting (my collapsible poles kept freezing together overnight and I had to defrost them with my fingers and breath) and packing up frozen aluminum tent poles is officially on my pet peeves list.

After a week of clouds, inclement weather, and cold, I was greeted with crystal clear blue skies near Hardwick, VT! It was like I was given a double shot of espresso!

With sunny, dry, and warmer temperatures in the forecast, I hoped to cover a little over 100 miles in five days en-route to Montreal, where I planned on taking a rest day while staying at a hostel for two nights.

Signs of spring were finally upon me with warmer days. Grass seemed to get greener with every passing mile.

I left Vermont after crossing impressive Lake Champlain and walked through New York for about two miles. I arrived at the Canadian border mid-morning on April 25th.

I was a bit worried about clearing customs. I look like a vagrant with my three week beard, cart full of camping equipment, and walking stench. I explained who I was and what I was doing to the border agent, who sat in his bank-like-drive-up-window suspiciously asking me questions. I pulled out my camping gear and stuff sacks to show I wasn’t moving animals, people, or drugs across the border. I went inside and needed to pull up my checking account online to proove I had the funds to support myself for the five week stroll through Canada. I was convincing enough and customs stamped my passport.

Bienvenue a Canada! The landscape dramatically changed in Quebec. I was instantly transported to farmland reminiscent of Illinois in March. The flat, wide open spaces were covered with corn fields, homey farm houses, barns, and silohs.

I walked 33 miles the day I arrived in Canada, entertaining myself by deciphering French signs, mastering the conversion from kilometers to miles, and attempting to pronounce town names like Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Saint-Jacques-le-Mineur.

I had difficulty finding a camping spot towards the end of the day (no stealthy spots and I wasn’t able to find a host, despite my best efforts) and walked an extra two hours after sunset. I eventually followed a snowmobile path into the woods and camped in a small clearing.

I made the final push to Montreal in the morning, navigating a series of bike paths, a few detours, and bridges in order to get across the St. Lawrence River. It was an overcast, showery day, but heavy rain only fell for the last two hours of the walk. Whew!

I checked into my 15 bed dorm style hostel room last night. PJ is safe and dry in a storage area the hostel shares with an adjoining restaurant.

I’ll be heading to Ottawa April 27th. The Canadian capital city is 115 miles away. Until then, I’m excited to explore Montreal!

Trip updates –

Days – 14

Miles – 285

Peanut Butter Jars – 8

Favorite Roadside Find – An unopened, edible-looking Hersheys Kiss found in Littleton, NH at 8 AM. I ate it….and it was delicious.

Roadside Change – $0.65

Favorite Pics –

A snow-kissed Appalachian landscape just past Crawford Notch off Highway 302 in New Hampshire.

The endless blue waters of Lake Champlain on a sunny morning, shortly before entering New York.

“Our Lady of the Mountains” reminded me to enjoy this journey one step at a time, and to live this life one day at a time. What a blessing!

Until next time! Walk on!

–Ben–

A Maine(ly) Chilly Start

I knew the water in the Atlantic would be chilly in mid-April, but I had to walk in anyway. The veins on the tops of my feet popped out as I entered and officially began my second crossing of America on foot. I touched the ocean at 6:30 PM April 11th.

Just getting to that point was a bit of an adventure. I took three trains from St. Louis (the first of which was delayed seven hours). I barely made my connection in Chicago, but arrived in Boston 24 hours later. From Back Bay station, I walked an uncomfortable two miles with Forest (my trusty backpack), two over-loaded duffel bags, and an umbrella to Boston North train station, where I boarded my final train to Portland.

I arrived in Portland at 2 AM. After three hours at Dennys (the only open restaurant) I picked up PJ from a UPS store. As it turns out, PJ’s shipping cost was 50 dollars more than my train ticket(s)!

PJ survived! It may have looked like a used camping gear yard sale, but I got everything in order.

From UPS we walked a chilly 10 miles (chilly will be a consistent theme during the first few weeks of my walk) south to Zephyr Cove.

Joan the crossing guard thought I was pushing a baby, so she stopped traffic. She laughed when I told her I was actually pushing soon to be smelly camping gear.

I started walking west early on Thursday, April 12th. I walked 15, 24, 23, and three miles, respectively, during my first four days on the road. I crossed my first state line and entered New Hampshire on day three.

Spring hasn’t quite sprung in Northern New England. Crocus, iris, and tulips just started sprouting in Portland, but colder temperatures and higher elevations inland have the region stuck in winter. Many hillsides are still covered in snow and lakes remain frozen.

I managed to dodge wet weather until I neared the White Mountains. Sleet and freezing rain pelted my tent as I camped next to a little lake three miles south of Conway. After packing up in 20 degree temps the following morning, I walked the last three miles into Conway as it snowed lightly. Fortunately Sunday morning traffic was minimal.

My body and mind will take time to adjust to the walking life again, but every morning I’m filled with optimism and gratitude for the upcoming journey! Temperatures may be cold, but I’ve been given an incredibly warm reception by the folks, and courteous drivers, of Maine and New Hampshire.

Bonnie of Freedom, NH, hollered at me as I walked through town, sending me on my way with two bananas, five granola bars, and her phone number in case I needed help.

I met Lois, an 87 year-old firecracker near Gorham, ME. Four times per week, she walks a segment of the highway picking up cans. It keeps her healthy, physically and mentally. She was scowering the hillside and climbing guardrails to get cans. I hope I’m as active as her at 87!

I am staying at a hostel in Conway, New Hampshire for two nights to warm up and, perhaps more importantly, to shower and do laundry.

From Conway, I’ll follow Highway 302 through White Mountain National Forest, then head northwest and meander my way on state highways to Lake Champlain and the Canadian border. The weather forecast continues to be cold and rainy/snowy/windy/sleety/crappy. It will be a slow-going challenge in coming days.

However, I am hoping the warm reception I’ve received cancels out the cold weather!

In every blog post, I’ll update you on miles, jars of peanut butter consumed (12 oz), days walked, my favorite roadside find, and my three favorite pictures.

Day – 4

Miles – 64

Peanut Butter Count – 3 jars

Favorite Roadside Find – A free leather couch where I sat, journaled, and ate a banana for 30 minutes.

Zephyr Cove at Sunset.

Slushy, icy New Hampshire roads.

Brrrrrrrring it on.

Until next time, walk on!

–Ben

Why Walk Again?

It has been three years since I began my first walk across America, and two-and-a-half years since I stepped into the chilly Pacific Ocean outside San Francisco.

In some ways it feels like a lifetime ago. But now that I’m mere days away from another cross-country trek, it feels like a matter of weeks. I’m getting my brain back into “walking mode.”

The urge to get back on the road never left. It is easy to romanticise about the beauty of life on two feet. The road brings about amazing experiences…sleeping under the stars in national forests…watching winter turn to spring, spring to summer, and summer to fall….having unforgettable encounters with perfect strangers….the list goes on and on.

But along with the rewards of the road come the challenges. Blisters. Cold. Heat. Wind. Rain. Snow. Crazy drivers. Bumpy or non-existent shoulders. Uncertainty. Sleeping under bridges. Mental fatigue. Muscle soreness. My stench. That list, it seems, is even longer.

So the question I asked myself, over and over again, before committing to another walk was “Do you really want to put up with that shit for six months….again?”

And after a hearty laugh, the answer was, unequivocally, “Yes.”

Not because I’m a glutton for pain and punishment, but because every uncomfortable mile walked will make my smile that much brighter when I get my next meal at a diner or have a pleasant roadside encounter.

Every blister is a reminder of how powerful a single step can be when paired with more steps.

No matter how much pain accompanies a journey, there is beauty that can be found at every turn.

Those beautiful moments that result from the struggle are what fuel me and make me feel alive.

I had a wonderful weekend in St. Louis with my mom, sister, brother, sister-in-law, and niece. A little family time is always a great lead-up to the solitude that is right around the corner.

My next post will be from the highways of New England.

Let’s get out and walk people!

–Ben

A few random photos from the weeks leading up to my train trip to Maine….

Missouri Botanical Gardens

My travel buddy to St. Louis. Thanks for the lift mom!

Wishing for a safe “Walk for 60” journey at the wishing bench in Lawrence, KS.

All packed up!

The Manitou Incline provides some nice training grounds.

Family time!

Where Will We Walk From Here?

I took 7,389,599 steps between Virginia Beach and Baker Beach. I walked for 191 days, and covered 3,250 miles.

I wore through six pairs of shoes, and walked in three other pairs that “didn’t feel right.” I had five pairs of sunglasses, and ended the trip with 16 pairs of socks and eight pairs of sock liners. I clearly didn’t learn how to pack light.

I licked 150 14 ounce jars of peanut butter clean.

Forest is still airing out in the brisk fall Colorado air. The dental floss I used to mend a tear near the bottom of the pack before I left Fort Collins is still intact.

PJ’s front tire went flat once, and I only had one rear flat, which popped at the exact moment I stopped to replace both well-traveled tires and tubes. His parking break is nearly ineffective, and his cloth is weathered and stained. I think he looks great.

My hair is a bit thinner now than it was in early April, and my feet are a bit lighter thanks to the loss of three toenails. A 70 percent toenail survival rate seems pretty good to me.

My Walk Across America exceeded all the expectations I had for it.

I’ve had a very difficult time writing this final blog post…This is the fifth draft I’ve put together. I’ve been left in tears after looking through pictures, listening to some of my favorite walking music, reflecting on memories from the road, thinking about all the people that helped me, and how my family has been with me every step of the way, and supported me through my triumphs and failures, before, during, and after this walk. I’m forever grateful for their support.

As you read on, please note I’m not much of a philosopher!

Mom and dad

My mom and dad formed a welcoming party at Union Station in Denver when I arrived back in Colorado. Four cousins and an aunt and uncle joined the party, too. I left Union Station April 1st, and returned October 9th, bringing my entire trip full circle.

Month Two and Three 062

One of my favorite aspects of Walking Across America was the simplistic beauty behind it. Once everything is boiled down to the basics, it becomes incredibly straightforward. I felt like I was able to act like a kid more than I have since, well, I was a kid. It was wonderful. Just getting goofy….Wearing whatever I felt like, taking funny pictures, talking to animals, and doing my best to look at the world through a child’s eyes. It’s amazing how much this changed my perspective during the trip. It will be something I continue to challenge myself to do. Maintaining that sense of wonder, dreaming, and feeling like anything is possible, because it is.

Walk Across America CO WY UT NV CA 1491

This was a light traffic day in California! Of course, dealing with cars was a consistent challenge. One challenge I had for myself was to not react to cars that were visibly pissed I was on the road. I had my fair share of “encouragement honks” and waves, but also had countless “f**k you honks,” too. I’ll admit I lost my temper once and flipped off a trucker who purposefully drove onto the rumble strips and angrily honked when he passed me on I-80 in Nevada. Other than that, I reacted the same to any honk, with a wave and smile, or nothing at all. This is reflective of the positivity I maintained throughout the trip. Of course there were bad days and hard moments, but I did everything I could to stay positive. This turned out to be one of the biggest lessons learned, and the greatest strength I utilized on the trip. Wearing a smile and putting an optimistic spin on every situation, no matter how difficult, kept my spirits high and made me more approachable. If I wore a scowl or was negative about things, people would have been less likely to approach me. A smile and positive attitude make you the kind of person people want to be around and help if the situation warrants it.

Go

I was helped by so many people throughout the country…People with varying backgrounds and situations, ranging from wealthy to homeless. All of them had two things in common: huge hearts and faith. There were countless situations on this trip when things looked bleak. Whenever that happened, a guardian angel came along, in one form or another, and helped. I’m thankful God’s disciples were scattered between Virginia and Baker Beach to lend a helping hand, and strengthen my Faith in the process. Thank you.

Walk Across America 655

My stay at Joe Bowen’s B&B in Bowen, KY, turned out to be one of the most inspiring nights of my trip. Now 72, Joe Walked Across America on stilts, twice biked across America, and built his house himself by hand. My biggest takeaway from our talks was follow your passions, and follow them with 100% of your heart. It’s not always easy, but imperative to do this if you want to succeed. I’ve taken this thought a step further…I’m not sure what the next step in my life is, but there is no way I’ll “fail” if I pursue something I’m passionate about and am 100% in. Even if I don’t succeed in society’s eyes, I’ll succeed in my eyes if I learn something and pour all of my heart into it. Ultimately, there’s only one person to answer to.

Salt Flats

When I was walking through the Salt Flats, a photographer named Ryan Trimble stopped to talk to me on his way back to Salt Lake City after attending Burning Man. Ryan specializes in portraits of “street people.” He saw me and wanted to hear my story. Reflecting on our encounter reinforces the importance of not rushing to judgment. Everyone has a story and everyone has unique circumstances. We can all work on remembering that before jumping to conclusions about a person based on their appearance or our perception of their situation.

One common question I’ve been asked since walking into the Pacific is if I’m a different person or if this trip has been life changing. Overall, I’m no different than I was in April. The problems I had when I left for Virginia are still prevalent. There is no “magic trip” or “magic pill” that can cure all that ails us. But, there are ways to alter our perspective and give us the tools necessary to conquer our demons and overcome life’s challenges, while making our lives richer and more fulfilling.

What my Walk Across America gave me was a fresh way to look at the world, left me with the confidence to know I can do anything if I set my mind to it, and has provided the tools needed to become a better person.

The primary reason it’s been so difficult to complete this post is because the reality my Walk is over has finally set in. Part of me is happy it’s over, while another part longs for the adventure the road brings. Then a thought occurred to me…Why does it have to end? We are given an incredible opportunity to live life to the fullest every day, whether we’re Walking Across America, or heading to a job we’ve held for 10 years. The opportunities to experience new things, challenge ourselves, meet different people, and enjoy life’s little pleasures are at our fingertips. It’s our responsibility to go out and grab it.

Find your passion, chase it, and don’t be content with ordinary. It’s not the easy path, and there are bumps in the road, but the results make every trial and tribulation worth it. An amazing journey starts with a single step. Take that step, don’t be afraid, and never look back. It’s amazing what happens when you put a handful of steps (or 7,389,599 in my case) together.

Walk on.

**My future plans are up in the air, but the first step will be writing a book about my walk. It’s overwhelming, and will be a mental challenge. In this case, I’ll put together one page after another. I’ve already started thinking about another walk, possibly this spring. I know that my “itchy ass” will continue to encourage a lifestyle that incorporates travel. Life is short and I want to continue to get after it.**