Zayell Johnston has slept in fields, next to rivers, and under mountains. He’s marched through sunny weather and stormy days. He’s clocked thousands of steps into the Fitbit on his wrist. He’s traveled across three provinces and he’s not even halfway done with his journey.
When people ask Johnston why he’s making this massive trek, they might expect he’s promoting a profound cause. He always gives a humble answer.
“I just felt like walking,” he said.
The Yorkton-born man is hiking across Canada. He reached his hometown in early June, taking a short break to catch his breath and catch up with friends and family. Johnston stopped in Yorkton a month earlier than he expected. He planned to arrive in town in time for his mother’s wedding. Johnston will be back into journey and far from Yorkton when the event finally happens. At that point, he’ll grab a bus home.
“Wherever I am on the road, I’ll hit pause [and] head back for my mom’s wedding,” he said. “I’ll be somewhere between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay.”
Johnston is no stranger to big on-foot journeys. After college, he backpacked solo through Europe. He planned to go with a friend, but when he backed out, Johnston had to change his plans on the fly.
“You need to adapt to your surroundings,” he said. “Every situation’s different.”
Johnston returned from Europe with an arsenal of travel tricks and one major desire: To walk across his home country.
“I want to see Canada,” he said. “There are people who don’t see the whole country.
“[I want to] see my own backyard.”
Johnston began his journey in Victoria, British Columbia. He knelt down in the Pacific Ocean and splashed the water in his face. When he arrives in St. John’s, Newfoundland, he plans to do the same thing with the Atlantic Ocean.
“I don’t know how I’m going to react when I get there,” he said. “Will I just go running into the ocean, just dive in?”
Johnston meant to begin his journey in February, but he had to delay his trip for a month due to the weather. Despite that setback, he’s making good time with his hike. He plans to be in Atlantic Canada by late October.
“I’m trying to beat the snowfall on the other coast,” he said. “I don’t want to walk through a blizzard.”
Johnston has covered a lot of ground in a relatively short amount of time. He didn’t think he’d plough through three provinces by June.
“I budgeted that I would go slower,” he said.
But even if he’s moving at a solid clip, that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy trip. He’s had to swap winter jackets and t-shirts several times during his journey. He burns 6000 calories a day. Sunburn, heat exhaustion, and below-zero temperatures are all risks during his voyage across the Great White North.
“The weather is never with you,” he said. “You have to work with it.”
Johnston faces a lot of these problems by himself, but he’s not entirely alone on his journey. Time and time again, strangers have stopped to talk with him and, if need be, offer assistance.
Johnston met a woman who invited him into her RV for dinner. Near Calgary, Johnston spoke with an elderly couple on his birthday. They let him stay the night at their home, giving him a break from outdoor camping. Johnston said he meets helpful Canadians on a daily basis.
“[I’m] surprised at the kindness of strangers,” he said. “Totally [takes] me back.”
Johnston set up a GoFundMe page for people who want to give him a hand during his trip. He’s mostly looking for money for hiking gear and for food (he’s lost 25 pounds since his journey began).
“I’m not really asking for much,” he said.
Interested parties can donate to Johnston at www.gofundme.com/Walkacrosscanada.
Johnston has faced challenge after challenge during his walk, but they haven’t deterred him from making it to the finish line. He said that anyone who wants to go on a similar journey needs to be fully committed to accomplishing their goal.
“You have to have the drive to do it,” he said. “It’s almost like torturing yourself at some points.
“I never have the thought where I want to quit.”
After Johnston lands in St. John’s and baptizes himself in the Atlantic Ocean, he plans to head home and find work abroad. He wants to visit Australia and Asia next. On his return trip across Canada, he won’t be walking.
“I’ll probably take a plane ride back and look down and say, ‘I was really stubborn,’” he said.