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The breezy benefits of walking across Canada in a kilt

Michael Yellowlees and his retired sled dog Luna are raising money and awareness for reforestation efforts in his native Scotland
20210826 Michael and Luna KA
Michael Yellowlees and his dog Luna are walking across Canada to raise awareness and funds for Trees for Life, which seeks to reintroduce lost tree species to the Scottish highlands. The pair stopped in to Sault Ste. Marie on Thursday morning on their way east. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

A Scottish man walking across Canada to raise money for reforestation efforts back home says Canadians should appreciate the beautiful wilderness we have.

"It’s very precious. It’s what we are trying to reestablish back home in Scotland,” said Michael Yellowlees in an interview in Sault Ste. Marie on Thursday.

Yellowlees began his walk across Canada on March 1 and has had his Alaskan husky Luna with him every step of the way, with hopes of reaching St. Johns by October.

“I came out to Canada in the winter and was working on the west coast as a gardener and then working with sled dogs over the winter," said Yellowlees. “Luna was one of the dogs there and now she is very much part of the family."

“She is used to running like 100 miles a day, so this is a nice step into retirement for her,” he added.

The pair are a little behind schedule, in part because of Luna taking a one week vacation by herself in the Canadian wilderness earlier in the journey.

“She has done it before. She will run off and come back 10 or 15 minutes later,” said Yellowlees. “Trying to search for her in the bush was a little scary."

She did eventually turn up and Yellowlees added a GPS device to her collar.

The new target date to finish the walk is mid-November.

“It’s been a long, long road and I am looking forward to seeing the Atlantic. As much as I am enjoying the country and every step of the adventure, it’s tough going. It’s mentally exhausting. I am looking forward to getting there," he said.

Yellowlees has been walking the entire way wearing his traditional Scottish kilt.

"The kilt is a magical thing because when it’s cold it keeps you warm, but when it’s warm — it’s breezy," he said. "It works both ways."

It has the side benefit of drawing attention to him while walking and Yellowlees said he's had many interesting conversations along the way.

“I am walking along and all of these Canadians are saying their roots are from Scotland and telling me their family name," he said. 

It also helps him bring up the Trees for Life cause he is walking in support of, which funds rewilding efforts in his native Scotland.

“Back in Scotland we are starting again because our ecosystem is very damaged," he said. “Their number one goal is to restore the Caledonian Pine Forest that used to stretch coast-to-coast across Scotland and now there is very little of it left."

Yellowlees said the last stretch of the journey, from Fort Francis to Sault Ste. Marie, has probably been the most difficult and the pair switched to walking at night to beat the summer heat. 

"Along Lake Superior there's a lot of ups and downs and with the heat it’s been a tough go. Lots of thunderstorms and the bugs at night have been horrific at times. A tough section," he said.

Still, there has been other rewards for Yellowlees.

“I heard wolves howling the other night as I was walking along, which was a bucket list item for me. To hear wolves howling in the wild was a fabulous moment,” he said.

Throughout the journey, Yellowlees said Canadians would bring up Terry Fox, who in 1980 attempted a walk across Canada on one leg.

"I had heard of Terry Fox before I came to Canada and I heard his name all across Canada as I was walking," said Yellowlees. 

That led to an emotional moment for him when he stopped at the Terry Fox memorial on the outskirts of Thunder Bay.

“The guy must have been in agony," said Yellowlees. "The level of guts and bravery it took — it brought me to tears. He was an amazing guy."

Long-distance walking has become a passion for Yellowlees. He has completed similar walks in other countries like India, but this is his first time exploring Canada.

"I am seeing it in a very beautiful light exploring it on foot like this — it’s a beautiful way to see a country. Every step of the way has been beautiful,” he said.

You can follow the pair's progress or contribute to their cause by following the Michael and Luna - A Rewilding Journey Facebook page.

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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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