The last time Yorkton This Week spoke to Zayell Johnston, he was part-way through his walk across Canada, stopping at home in Yorkton before pushing onwards toward Newfoundland. On the twenty fifth of November, Johnston reached the end of the road, putting his feet in the Atlantic Ocean as planned.
“It feels so far away now, that pinnacle moment at the end when you reach the victory. It was so brief, the journey was so long, it feels like I did it years ago. It was only two weeks ago but it feels so far away now.”
The journey began back on Feb. 10, taking him across Canada. The longest part of the journey was the trip through Ontario, which took two months, and which Johnston said was a highlight of the trip, whether it was the natural beauty of the area around Niagara Falls or the man-made monument that is Toronto.
“When I got over the hill, and I saw the whole stretch of just everything along Lake Ontario, houses as far as the eye can see, I haven’t seen anything like that in Canada... It was just endless houses and towns.”
East of Toronto, Johnston said that he found that he was finding the country’s history as he walked from place to place.
“It felt more like I was going back in time a little bit.”
Outside of Fredericton, NB, Johnston encountered a moose, and while he said they had a bit of a stare-down, the moose decided that he wasn’t all that interested in sticking around once Johnston reached for his camera.
“Nobody will believe me that the moose walked right in front of me!”
While he walked, he discovered he was walking for a purpose.
“It was almost like I was running away, I didn’t know where I was going. But every day that changes... At first, it was me getting away from everything, taking stock, and getting grounded again, and trying to figure out what I wanted to do. You know how you go for a walk to clear your mind? The first part of the journey was kind of like that.
“Then I started to run into people who were suffering from mental health, whether it was depression... These people had no problem giving me a helping hand... Once I got through Saskatchewan, I contacted the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), and I started walking for mental health.”
In the second half of the journey, he began visiting CMHA centers through the country. He said that as he talked about it more, people he knew were more willing to talk to him about their mental health as he began to talk about it himself.
Walking across the country has made Johnston more positive person, and people across the country were willing to help as he walked towards Newfoundland. His Canadian flag is covered in the names of the people he met along the way.
“It kind of reaffirms your faith in humanity... A lot of people in my generation are online, they always see the comment section, they’re cynical. It’s almost like you can hide behind a comment and be rude. Out there it’s totally different, nothing but nice, kindness, almost out of the blue and it takes you off guard.”
Johnston’s next goal is to get back in the gym, so he doesn’t gain back the weight he lost by walking across the country, and he hopes to work as a forest fire fighter in the next fire season.
“It’s all about setting goals, and working towards those goals. Once you complete them, you’ve got to get onto the next one.”
He recommends that everyone try something that they’ve always wanted to do. In his case, it was walking across Canada, but for others it could be trying something they have always wanted to do, or go a place they have always wanted to go.
“Once you step outside that bubble, you get a greater appreciation of the world around you.”
While the journey’s over, it’s documented on Facebook at “@justoutforawalk.”