Filmmaker aiming to be 1st person to hike, canoe 'Great Trail' stops in Saskatoon

If she's successful, Dianne Wheland will be the first person ever to hike and canoe the Trans-Canada Trail —  also know as the Great Trail.

Trans Canada trail, now known as Great Trail, longest recreational trail in the world

Dianne Whelan is am award-winning filmmaker, author, photographer and public speaker. (500 Days in the wild/Facebook)

If she's successful, Dianne Wheland will be the first person ever to hike and canoe the the Great Trail.

Formerly known as the Trans Canada Trail, the Great Trail runs about 24,000 kilometres through 13 provinces and territories. It goes from Cappahayden, N.L., to Victoria, B.C., and includes a section through the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

Wheland took her first of many steps, and paddles, about four years ago in St. John's, N.L. She has been working her way west ever since.

She arrived in Saskatoon last week. Before that she was canoeing through the Qu'Appelle Valley, and from Outlook, up along the South Saskatchewan River.

Solo but not alone

She's done most of the trail by herself, but the documentary filmmaker, photographer and author from B.C. said she doesn't feel alone.

"I always use the parallel of a tree in a forest. In a forest it looks like every tree stands alone, but in effect, beneath the surface of that forest all these trees are actually interconnected," she told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

"I have done a lot of the journey on my own, but I haven't in the sense that I've been given an incredible amount of support from a few people and endless numbers of strangers across this very kind country of ours."

Among her many adventures, Whelan followed an old rail line across Newfoundland into Cape Breton. She also paddled in Lake Superior to the Path of the Paddle, which she said has about 200 portages — some of which are four kilometres long.

"The beautiful thing about the water trails is that you're following the most ancient trails on this land. You know that you're following trails that Indigenous people have used for thousands and thousands of years," she said.

Dianne Whelan canoes on the Path of the Paddle in February. (Jenica vaneli/Facebook/500 days in the wild)

"It was really beautiful and full of stories. I mean, it's a storyteller's dream, really, moving across this land."

The adventure-seeker said she isn't rushing through the experience either.

She's has been been making stops along the way to meet people and swap stories.

"There's no, 'What's the deadline here?' I'm on a journey and until the journey is over, I'm on a journey." she said.

"I think that's also why I've been safe. I've been out there for four years and I haven't, as of yet knock on wood, had to detonate any kind of S.O.S."

Whelan said she is focusing on getting the most out of her experience on the Great Trail, rather than trying to finish it as soon as possible.

"I think there's something in today's society where it's all about the thought of extremism, you know, about how fast we do something or how hard we do something," she said.

"As a woman I just try to bring a different sensibility to that. It's all about connection. It's all about being present and it's all about taking some deep breaths and enjoying the moment."

Saskatchewan hospitality

Whelan said she has been 'profoundly moved' by some of her experiences in Saskatchewan —  both with the people and landscapes. 

"My heart has been blown open by Saskatchewan," she said.

She said one of her most memorable experiences on the trip when she was paddling through the Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation.

Whelan said she was greeted by kids and community members on the shore line who were holding signs and cheering her on. They sang her traditional songs, she said, while also gifting her sage and a blanket.

She received another gift when she arrived in Saskatoon as well.

"Earlier that day I said I really need to get a watch," she said.

As she and her friend, who was in the canoe with her, paddled up to the Saskatoon Rowing Club she was met by two men. After telling them about her experiences, one of the men gave her his watch.

"I had not mentioned to him anything about needing or wanting a watch... I was really profoundly moved."

Whelan is making a documentary about her experience called 500 Days in the Wild.

With files from Saskatoon Morning


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