Two-and-a-half years and counting: woman ‘through-hiking’ to three oceans

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Melanie Vogel started walking on June 2, 2017 in Cape Spear, Newfoundland. She arrived in Slave Lake on October 4, 2019. She’s ‘through-hiking’, walking in one go, the Great Trail from the Atlantic to the Arctic to the Pacific.

The Great Trail, formally called the TransCanada Trail, is the longest recreational trail in the world. Sections allow use of OHVs, hiking, horses, skiing, etc. It is made up of trails, roadways and waterways. The total length of the trail is 24,000 km across 13 provinces and territories. A map is available on thegreattrail.ca.

There are three kilometre zeros on the trail which connect the three Oceans around Canada. These are Cape Spear, Tuktoyaktuk (Northwest Territories) and Victoria on Vancouver Island. Vogel plans to hit all three.

Other people have hiked large portions of the trail.

On May 31, 3017, three days before Vogel left, Sarah Jackson arrived in St. John’s, Newfoundland, after ‘through-hiking’ from the Pacific to the Atlantic. She didn’t go to the Arctic.

A man ‘section-hiked’ the trail over 10 year, starting at the Pacific, going to the Arctic, and finishing at the Atlantic s. Another woman cycled, paddled and hiked the trail. A couple hiked the trail with a focus on birds.

Vogel started out the trip alone, but six months ago in Manitoba she rescued a dog, Malo.

“I think Malo is the greatest gift the trail has given me,” Vogel says. She’s thankful “for the love that has grown out of this companionship.”

Vogel met Malo at a time when she was starting to question her ability to go on.

“There is no timeline in this journey,” Vogel says.

Vogel took one year to plan the trip, but couldn’t plan for everything before hand. Before she started, she thought the journey would take two years. Two-and-a-half years in, she’s only two-thirds of the way.

Last winter, minus 40 in Manitoba kept her off the trail for five weeks. During that time, she applied for and received a grant for polar exploration equipment, including a down snowsuit. In a blizzard, she tested her new tent in a field.

Vogel received a Woman’s Explorer Grant among other grants and sponsors for her trip.

“It’s nice to have specifically received the woman’s grant,” Vogel says. “The outdoors are still men dominated.”

Vogel hopes to inspire women that if they have a dream they can achieve it.

Along the trail, Vogel is camping and being hosted by people.

“I didn’t know when I started out how much support people would give,” she says. “The kindness of Canadians has been proven through nine provinces.”

A few weeks before arriving in Slave Lake area, she posted on the Slave Lake Community Discussion. Sheila Willis contacted her, hosted her in Smith and told her about the history of the area.

Between Smith and Slave Lake, the Great Trail is a waterway up the Lesser Slave River. Vogel walked along the Old Smith Highway (2A) which follows the river.

It took her two days to walk from Smith to Slave Lake. She camped at the Saulteaux Landing on kilometre 30 or 31. Two men stopped by on their way to the city. Darcy McKay offered her a place to stay with his wife, Theresa, in Slave Lake.

A few kilometres from Slave Lake Vogel called Theresa, who confirmed the invite.

As Vogel entered town, another guy pulled up beside her in a truck to ask if she was the woman walking across Canada and if she had a place to stay. She was very grateful for the welcome she received in Slave Lake.

Vogel thinks she’ll reach Tuktoyaktuk sometime in the new year. After that she will either get a ride or walk the full distance to Victoria.

After leaving Slave Lake, Vogel went along the south shore of Lesser Slave Lake. The Great Trail goes along the north shore, but it isn’t in good condition at the moment.

Women and men often tell Vogel that they think she is brave.

“Yes, I was scared when I started this journey,” Vogel tells them. “but as you face your fears they disappear.”

Vogel is often asked why she is going to the Arctic in the winter.

“With all of the knowledge, I have gained over the last two-and-a-half years, I want a new challenge,” she answers.

There are three dangers in the Arctic remoteness, cold and darkness. The darkness in the day is a bigger fear than the cold for her.

“The Great Trail is knitting a whole country together as it is leading through so many communities big and small,” says Vogel. “Here I am walking it, interconnecting loops through storytelling about this land and the many people I cross paths with. There is one common pattern that forms the pattern of my story; it’s this of kindness.”

This isn’t Vogel’s first time backpacking. She travelled through Asia, Australia and New Zealand from 2011 to 2013. She wasn’t hiking the whole time, but was travelling light and staying in hostels.

Vogel has lived in Canada for 11 years. She grew up in Kamenz, near Dresden, Germany.

When Vogel moved to Canada in 2008, she didn’t realize she’d be here so long.

“Now it’s become my home base,” she says.

Vogel’s lived in Toronto and Vancouver.

‘Through-hiking’ the Great Trail took her “love for the road to the next level,” Vogel says. She’d become very interested in Sarah Marquis, who had walked from Siberia to Australia, with a boat or two in the process.

“Once you’ve started walking, you realize the beauty of walking and the importance that comes with it,” Vogel says. “I find it a beautiful way to connect with the land, the people, and of course, mother nature.”

At times, she backpacks and at others she also pulls a wagon. Vogel carries everything she needs with her, including water, so she dresses seasonally. A friend in Ontario, mails the next season of equipment to an upcoming location and Vogel mails the last season’s back.

“I hope I will finish by the next winter, but we’ll see,” Vogel says. Afterward, “I’m going home to Germany to see my family, probably write a book and plan my next adventure.”

Mel Vogel and Malo on the Peace River Trail. The leg of the trail which runs from the southern edge of the MD of Lesser Slave River to Moose Portage east of Smith.
Mel Vogel and Malo take a short afternoon break on the edge of a field while walking the dusty gravel road on the Carberry North Cypress Trail to Neepawa, Manitoba.

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