When Michael Yellowlees, of Dunkeld and Birnham, Scotland, departed Tofino the first week of March 2021, he knew he was taking a risk.
Yellowlees left the west coast of Vancouver Island without fanfare, on foot, pushing a small cart and accompanied by his Husky dog Luna. His destination? Newfoundland.
It took Yellowlees four days to reach Port Alberni, and it was raining. He wants to thank the people of Vancouver Island with giving him the confidence early on to keep going.
Michael and Luna reached Cape Spear, Newfoundland on Dec. 5—8,000 kilometres and nine months after that first week on Vancouver Island. A crowd of people cheered him on as he took his final steps to the lighthouse on the easternmost point of Canada.
Yellowlees—known by his more than 10,000 social media followers as Michael from “Michael and Luna – A Rewilding Journey”—used his walk to raise funds for Trees of Life, a Scottish organization trying to restore or “rewild” Scotland’s Caledonian Forest. A man with dual Scottish and Canadian citizenship (his mother was born in Toronto), Michael chose Canada for his trek because of its wilderness and the historical connection of Scottish people who emigrated to Canada.
“It was obviously a risk,” he said, days after reaching his destination. “I left you in Port Alberni and went up and over the Hump to the far side of Cameron Lake. It was one of those nights it was heavy rain steadily and you think it couldn’t get heavier and it did.” He managed to find shelter at the end of the lake to dry out.
Word got out of his trip thanks to a pair of media interviews he did while on a grocery stop in Port Alberni. The next morning as he and Luna were preparing to leave the lake, the first car that passed him tooted its horn. “I thought he was angry with me that I was on the road. Then it started happening more and more, and suddenly people were waving at me. It filled me with a little bit of confidence,” he said.
The heavy March rain was the first of nine months of extremes: from record heat to wildfires, flooding and cold temperatures. He and Luna managed to stay ahead of it all—even crossing on the ferry to Newfoundland: two days later, a record storm washed out the road.
It’s difficult to talk about his trip and the reason behind it without talking about weather and climate. It’s the whole reason Michael does what he does. “We live in a really strange time right now,” he said. “They’re predicting the world will be uninhabitable in the next 30 or 40 years if we don’t change things.”
He thinks of his sister’s children—including a new nephew born while Michael was on his walk—and says he worries about their future. “It does terrify me to think about what sort of thing they’re going to have to live through if it continues the way it does.”
He hopes that the walk he recently completed, and the global attention he received for it, will continue the conversation.
Michael pushed both his body and spirit to the limit to accomplish his goal. “There were loads and loads of low days where it seemed overwhelming. Hard to get up and get moving again,” he said, adding that his knees have been “sore and tired.” He is experienced at lone treks, having walked across India a few years ago. That walk took him a month—eight fewer than his trip across Canada.
“When I’ve done long distance walking before, the light at the end of the tunnel is not that far away,” he admitted.
One of the toughest days of his trek occurred when he was still in British Columbia. “I was only about three weeks in and the weight of the whole thing was on top of me. I could suddenly see ‘wow, I’ve been walking for three weeks, I’m pretty tired and I’m going to be at this for another seven months’ at that stage. That was one of the toughest days, and possibly one of the days I might have quit.
“The next tough period was just after the halfway mark (east of Winnipeg). I had a moment of real celebration—‘well done, we’re halfway across Canada!’ That lasted for about 30 seconds and then I went ‘wow, I’m only halfway across Canada.’ The couple of weeks after that were mentally tough.”
When he was a couple of days away from Cape Spear, Michael said it didn’t feel real that his trip was finally coming to an end. ‘There was a sadness to it, in a sense. A weird sort of sadness to the (trek) being over.”
In the same breath, he said he feels his work is only beginning. His fundraising campaign reached $50,000 as the year turned to 2022, and Michael hopes to keep his core message of rewilding part of his homeland in the front of people’s minds. “I think this has just been a year doing a lot of groundwork, doing the hard work and turning the soil and now we get to go and do some other work. We’ve made a stage for ourselves from which to work from.”
Michael and Luna will spend the winter in St. John’s, having secured a small apartment. Michael will spend the winter putting together an album of music inspired by his trek, and working on a book about his experience.
I asked Michael if he could go back anywhere in Canada, where would he want to go? “That’s a good question,” he said. “I’m going to go everywhere again. That’s the plan for next spring.”
He would like to go back and visit the many people he met along the way.
“I’d like to do the reverse trip, but driving this time. I don’t want to walk it.”
— Susie Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor