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'I walked here from Newfoundland'
To say that Dana Meise has walked across Canada wouldn't be doing him justice.
Not only has Dana hiked the Trans Canada Trail – which meanders across the country covering 15,000 kilometres between Newfoundland and Cranbrook – but Dana has made a point of truly experiencing Canada along the way.
The 39-year-old forest tech from Prince George, B.C. began his journey on May 6, 2008 on Cape Spear, Newfoundland, North America's easternmost point.
Since then he has passed through nine provinces, and along the way he's had amazing, uniquely Canadian experiences.
"I've built decks, I've worked on a lobster boat, picked mussels, I've planted a wheat field, I learned French in Quebec," Dana told the Townsman when he made it to Cranbrook on Wednesday, October 16. "I mean, passable French."
A British Columbian at heart, Dana reached B.C. just before Thanksgiving, after hiking seven days from Banff over the Rocky Mountains. He was exhausted, but overjoyed to be back in B.C.
"It's good to be home. Just the smell alone and the fresh air. I mean, welcome home, Dana.
"It's the smells, it's the energy, it's just where I'm comfortable. When I'm hemmed in by trees, that's where I belong."
He grew fond of the prairies after 4,500 kilometres, he admitted – until he left them behind and realized he was experiencing something similar to Stockholm Syndrome.
"Let's say somebody kidnapped you and after being there long enough you decided they were actually nice people. That's how I felt about the prairies," he said. "But then when they let you go, and you're like, 'I'm in the mountains!', it was like, 'What was I thinking? I love my life in B.C.'"
He got quite the welcome to B.C. on Thanksgiving, when he was walking through Wardner. After talking on the phone to his family, Dana sent out a tweet and Facebook post with his coordinates, joking that he would love a turkey dinner.
"I never thought in a million years anything would come of it," he said.
Fernie resident Joni Krats, who was spending Thanksgiving with family in Wardner, had been following Dana's journey online and quickly sprang into action.
"Out of nowhere, these people show up with a turkey dinner and a beer. I was so in shock and awe. They even brought utensils," Dana said.
Upon arriving in Cranbrook, Dana spent time visiting with friends and family in the area. He and his family lived here in 1979 and 1980, and he was full of fond memories of the city.
Dana remembers a life-changing experience while he was going to school at the now-closed Muriel Baxter Elementary. It was careers day, and his teacher asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up.
"Everyone was like, 'I want to be a fireman, I want to be a policeman.' I said, 'I want to be a fur trader and explorer.' The teacher looked at me and said, 'You can't. It's all been done.'
"I proved her wrong, didn't I? Miss Smith, where are you now? I walked here from Newfoundland!"
Motivated by that passion for adventure and by his father, who can no longer walk after suffering a stroke, Dana began his long journey five years ago. He wants to give back to the country he loves, Dana explained, by telling the stories of the people he meets and the things he sees along the way.
"That's what the Trans Canada Trail is about. It's about connecting community and people. So I'm not doing anything other than what the trail is designed to do."
Canada has an identity crisis, Dana suggested.
"I really felt like Canada had a lack of confidence in itself. We identify ourselves as Canadian through beer commercials and hockey, which is awesome, however we are a little more in-depth than that.
"I set out to show that we do have culture, and the Trans Canada Trail does it perfectly."
Along the way, he has passed through 800 communities and by the end of the hike, he will have been within half an hour's drive of 85 per cent of Canada's population.
He's suffered plenty of injuries, including recurring troubles with plantar fasciitis, a debilitating inflammatory illness of the ligament on the sole of the foot. Loneliness during the long stints between towns is a constant blight, he admitted.
"The truth of the matter is: it's been the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. By far."
The meandering path of the trail has taken Dana on a 15,000 kilometre journey so far, the equivalent of crossing Canada twice and the U.S. three times on highways.
"There was a sign at one point that said all of these different places around the world. You could go to Moscow, Jerusalem. I'm looking at this sign and thinking, 'I could go to any of these places, I've already walked further than any of these places.'"
But with great struggle comes great joy.
"Honestly, this has been the greatest thing I have done in my life, hands down. I've met thousands of Canadians, been in hundreds of Canadian towns and cities."
Dana is full of praise for the 23,500 kilometre Trans Canada Trail, which actually consists of nearly 500 smaller trails that will one day be fully connected, linking the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans.
But for now, the trail is about 80 per cent complete, which means at times Dana has been walking through forest and field, following the dream of a trail.
"I mean this with all my heart: if you really want to see Canada to the best of your ability and you don't want to plan your route on a highway, you could not do better than the Trans Canada Trail," he said. "It has done it all. It has almost never missed a historic site, and if it has, it's working on getting to those sites. It is the quintessential trail."
Dana has another 1,300 kilometres to go before he finishes the trail in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories. He aims to walk to Tuktoyaktuk next spring, but is determined to reach Victoria this year.
After leaving Cranbrook, Dana hiked the North Star Rails to Trails to Kimberley, then began the long, solitary journey across the Gray Creek Pass to Kootenay Lake.
When – not if, he insists – Dana finishes the trail, he will be the first person to hike the longest walking trail in the world.
He plans to write a book about the experience when he is done, and has already spoken to thousands of school children about his trip.
You can follow along with Dana's journey, including stunning photographs and touching stories of Canadians at their best, on his Facebook page, The Great Hike.