I understand that not everyone can walk away from a job, especially if you have a family, mortgage, responsibilities and promises to keep. My situation and circumstance have allowed me to undertake this walk, adventure and dream, which I am thankful for.
My Walk: Barrie, ON to Anchorage, AK by foot.
I once worked within the tempered glass walls of an open office; surrounded by HSE bulletin boards and corporate posters with slogans across scenes of young, hip, smiling ‘professionals’ around loose papers, laptops, and coffee mugs. In front of my desk was row upon neat row of evenly spaced people sitting at immaculate white desks on space-aged black plastic mesh chairs. It was here, after looking out over a concrete landscape under the searing summer sun and unlimited blue sky, that I began planning a long-standing dream: to embark upon a multi-year 7 500 km solo and unsupported walk from my hometown of Barrie, ON, to Anchorage, AK.
The day I walked out of that office and lifestyle was no different than the day I walked into it; no profound stillness or moment unfolded, just another day. I packed up my desk, shook a couple hands and walked out that large glass door — a thoroughly empowering moment, but nothing changed. The only change was my commitment to pursuing this dream of mine. No excuses. No turning back. No regret.
One night, just before leaving Calgary, AB to start my walk in Barrie, ON, I stood in the middle of my apartment’s barren living room where 11 plastic totes of all my belongings sat in front of me: a laughable Rubik’s cube of possessions. There was lots of change in the air that night. In those last few months I had quit my job, sold my belongings on Kijiji, paid off my debts, and created months of dehydrated food. But it wasn’t until later that night, after taking a deep breath, holding it in, and letting it rush from my mouth, when a nervous smile began to creep across my mouth. In a wavering tone of confidence I said to myself, “no turning back now Matt.”
That first day of My Walk, May 17, 2017, is still fresh in my mind: the anxious pit-of-your-stomach feeling mixed with childhood Christmas morning enthusiasm; looking across the calm waters of Kempenfelt Bay with the water teasing the rocky shoreline; and the memory of looking back as I walked towards my future on that humid May morning, a scene that will forever be imprinted in my memories. The bounce in each step during those first thirty kilometers will likely never be matched again; it felt like a victory walk. That night’s camp location revealed a long forgotten beauty as an orange beam of light from the setting sun was cast between a corridor of trees. I can still hear the sharp sound of dead leaves skipping across the forest floor and smell that rich, damp, organic fragrance; reminding me of my long forgotten Sugar Maple friends. That night felt as though I was reliving a past life.
It is now April 2019 and the last couple of years feel as though I have been following an uncertain trajectory towards Anchorage, AK.
On May 17, 2017 I made my first steps along the shores of Kempenfelt Bay in Barrie, ON, where I was instantly transformed from a paper shuffling ecologist to a long-distance walker and occasional dumpster diver. Even though I like the latter better than the former, both will still be around after I complete My Walk in 2019 but in a different form and relationship. These past two seasons of walking have made me realize that romantic dreams of adventure are hard work and sacrifice in disguise. Walking is the easy part, but putting life on hold, which is what I thought I could do, is not that easy.
Even though My Walk isn’t what I expected it to be, I am thankful for this. It was born from a dream, rooted in adventure, but has been about forming connections, connections with people, the land and, most importantly, me. Before embarking on this walk I was always in a rush, never listened, and lost connection with myself and my surroundings. It took listening to realize this after a man from Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation in NW Ontario said to me: “The reason you feel more connected is because your feet are in contact with the ground you walk upon.”
I have learned that, over time, relationships untangle, bonds break, and new relationships and bonds form. Time does this for everyone. And with each bend and length I walk, it slowly changes me, for better or worse.