After a weekend of reminiscing and inspiration in Nail Pond, P.E.I., Whitehorse, Yukon, dentist Richard Zier-Vogel was back on the road last week, intent on completing his cross-Canada walk to Cape Spear, Newfoundland by mid-November.
Zier-Vogel was visiting with Henry (Hank) Gallant, sharing stories of his journey with those from the coast-to-coast centennial trek made by Gallant in 1967.
While the routes taken by the adventurers varied early on in their journeys, Zier-Vogel has, essentially, been retracing Gallant’s route since Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, with the same destination in mind. Gallant had left from Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, B.C., while Zier-Vogel, who is on the third and final leg of his walk, started at the Yukon-Alaska border on March 31, 2018.
He launched the final leg in Saskatoon in April, 2019. His walk is in support of a child protection organization called Little Footprints Big Steps.
He learned about Gallant’s adventures while planning his own and reached out to him for inspiration and advice. They’ve communicated numerous times leading up to and during the walk.
“He’s 66 years old and I can’t imagine that,” Gallant said of the timing of Zier-Vogel’s adventure. Gallant turned 25 the day he dipped his foot into the Atlantic to symbolize the competition of his walk on Nov. 13, 1967. Emotion seeps in as he describes walking the final kilometres in the company of 1,500 school children.
Gallant, who set out on his walk on Feb. 6, in the snowy winter of 1967, is believed to be the first person to walk the then newly completed Trans-Canada Highway from coast-to-coast.
Zier-Vogel has set Nov. 15 as his targeted completion date, but admits finishing on Gallant’s 77th birthday would be perfect.
Despite the similarities, there are also several differences in the adventures. Gallant did it carrying a 25-kg pack and Zier-Vogel has a 75-kg "plod pod" trailer named Corinne Grace in tow.
He can simply climb inside his plod pod to sleep or to escape the elements, whereas Gallant had to set up his canvas tent or find a resting place in a haystack or a junkyard car along the way.
Zier-Vogel has found Gallant’s book, ‘The Walk – Ten Million Steps Across Canada,’ informative and entertaining. Gallant is now working on a book about the walk he completed across Europe 50 years ago.
There’s also the aspect of doing the walk in the age of digital communication, while Gallant’s mother had to travel by horse and wagon to a home a few kilometres away the few times they were able to make contact during his 280-day trek.
The diet, too, has changed.
Gallant often cut the ends off four to six eggs a day and drank them down raw. He also carried dehydrated food which would get wet when it rained – he ate it anyway. Zier-Vogel, a vegan, brings snacks with him but often relies on his debit card to make restaurant purchases along the way.
Perhaps the biggest change is in footwear, from heavy hiking boots and white woolen socks 52 years ago to lightweight running shoes and water-repelling socks today.
“We talked a lot of times. No matter what kind of long-distance walk it is, they are similar in a lot of ways,” Gallant said, as he and Zier-Vogel relaxed in Nail Pond.
He had picked up Zier-Vogel and his plod pod on the New Brunswick side of the Confederation Bridge on Sept. 27 and dropped him off at the foot of the bridge on the P.E.I. side Sept. 30, even walking with hime for a short distance.
“I think, ‘wow.’ To me, Henry was a legend,” Zier-Vogel said, recalling what he’s learned from Gallant in the nearly two years since he tracked him down.
“To me,” said Gallant, “with Richard it was to tell him, even at 66 - it sounds like a miracle, but - your physical body will take it. It’s your mental; it’s your mind that will tell you, ‘you’re crazy, you’re foolish.’ If you entertain that for any length of time, you’re not going to be walking anymore. You’ll quit.”
Zier-Vogel agreed. He shared stories about walking through towns at night and seeing the flicker of televisions and thinking, 'I could be sitting in my home watching TV,’ or getting the whiff of a Tim Horton’s coffee visible on the dash of a passing car.
Even going up and down hills harnessed to a plod pod isn’t that difficult, compared to wind in his face, he said. His runner’s build isn’t by accident; he has run marathons and ultra-marathons and 10 years ago he cycled across Canada, something he’d been wanting to do since he was a teenager.
“We’re upright. We’re meant to walk on our feet; we’re not meant to be using our cars all the time,” he insisted.
It was when he was about half-way across Canada on bicycle that Zier-Vogel met up with a cross-Canada hiker and decided he wanted to do that too.
“Now, I’m on the road that Henry walked on.”
Like Gallant, Zier-Vogel's P.E.I. portion of the walk was from Borden-Carleton, albeit from the bridge instead of a ferry terminal, and departed via a Wood Island's ferry. He and the Corinne
Grace were to subsequently cross Nova Scotia and take a ferry to Newfoundland for the final portion of the journey.
“I’m not walking back,” he insisted.