Hearing a knock at her door on July 19, Beiseker resident Jeanette Richter opened her door to be greeted by German-born hiker Melanie Vogel, accompanied by her trusty dog, Malo.
Vogel, who has been hiking the TransCanada Trail since June 2017, wanted to chat with Richter about the Meadowlark Trail. The president of the Meadowlark Trail Society – which is attempting to construct a pedestrian and cycling pathway linking Beiseker and Irricana – Richter invited Vogel in for ice cream. There, she delivered the sad news to Vogel that the Meadowlark Trail, a branch of the TransCanada Trail network, is still not open to the public.
Changing her plans from walking along the Meadowlark Trail to instead trekking west along the tiny shoulder of Highway 567, Vogel began her walk to Airdrie. She stopped when she spotted a red barn located east of city limits.
“There was a young girl playing basketball outside the house and I asked her if there’s a possibility to pitch my tent over [by the barn],” Vogel explained.
The girl grabbed her mother, who granted Vogel permission to camp on their property, welcoming the hiker with open arms.
“[Our] interaction, it amazed me because normally there are a little bit more questions…this was like meeting an old friend,” Vogel said, adding the family was very excited to host her and thought her adventure was intriguing.
Vogel’s story begins five years ago, when she initially set out on a cross-country trek along the TransCanada Trail in Newfoundland. The trail, which is the longest network of multi-use recreational trails in the world, spans 28,000 kilometres across all of Canada.
“I have a very strong longing for the road,” Vogel said, regarding her motivation for embarking on the cross-country journey. “I really want to be out on the road for a long time to satisfy my wanderlust and to fulfil my desire for adventure.”
Kicking off the voyage in Newfoundland, Vogel headed west toward the Pacific Ocean. In Manitoba, the solo hiker was connected with her four-legged companion Malo. She found the lost dog on the road and could not locate his owners, despite a month-long search and frequent visits to the Winnipeg Humane Society.
Malo was especially useful when Vogel found herself stuck in Yukon due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vogel had reached the Yukon in March of 2020 and was hosted by local residents for three months before the uncertainties of the pandemic led her to temporarily halt her journey.
Vogel spent the next eight months employed in the Arctic and she even obtained a Yukon driver’s license. She renovated a camper van, which she plans on living in after completing her journey along the TransCanada Trail.
In April of this year, Vogel was finally able to restart her journey, as provinces had started to open their borders and COVID-19 restrictions began to be lifted. Vogel travelled from Yukon, through the North West Territories, and south into Alberta, where she walked through Beiseker and spent a night in Airdrie.
Since trekking through northeast Rocky View County, Vogel has cleared Calgary city limits, passing westward through Bearspaw, Bragg Creek, Canmore, and Banff. She is currently on the last 2,000 kilometres of her trip, hiking through the Rocky Mountains as of press time towards her final province of British Columbia.
Although Vogel is hoping to finish her trip by the end of October, she said she no longer has any expectations set in stone. Oftentimes, her voyage has been stalled because she was invited to socialize with other hikers she’s met along the trail.
“I made so many schedules and timelines and plans,” she added, with a laugh. “I never met my timelines. It’s always something that happens in between.
“That’s part of the journey – to get to know people and see how they live in their provinces and make friends along the way.”
Technically, Vogel has been completing the journey solo, but she said meeting people and finding helping hands along the route has made the trip possible. Without the kindness of strangers, she said she would have quit a long time ago.
“The kindness of the people all across Canada, and there is no difference between provinces, it reinstates my faith in humanity that people are good,” she said.
Many strangers have hosted Vogel in the last three years, supplying her with a safe place to sleep, meals, water, and words of encouragement. When she hasn’t been able to find somewhere to sleep, Vogel pitches her tent wherever she is allowed to do so.
Regarding food, Vogel replenishes her supplies at local convenience stores or supermarkets and she typically travels with a three-day food supply in tow.
Vogel said the biggest lesson she has learned while living on the trail is how much possibility exists in slowness.
“Slowing down has been an incredible opportunity to meet new people [and] to really connect with nature,” she said. “We are almost trying to outrun ourselves. We are always rushing so much through our lives … it’s good to slow down and to be aware of all the opportunities we have … there is a whole new world unfolding when you slow down.”
Upon wrapping up her cross-Canada trek, Vogel hopes to travel back to Germany to visit her family, who she has not seen in the last eight years. Additionally, she plans on writing a book detailing her adventures along the TransCanada Trail.
Those interested in following Vogel’s trip can visit her Facebook at bit.ly/3Jx0B7B. Vogel also has a blog called Between Sunsets, where she documents her extensive travels.