Canadian filmmaker on how he documented his travels along the world’s longest trail

Some people buy a motorcycle or get a tattoo when they go through a midlife crisis. Dianne Whelan decided to explore the world’s longest trail.

The Canadian filmmaker spoke with CTV News Channel on Thursday about writing and directing “500 Days in the Wild,” a documentary that follows her six-year journey hiking the 24,000 kilometers of the Trans Canada Trail.

“I made a movie about Mount Everest and a movie about Canada’s northernmost coast, so from a professional perspective, making one about the world’s longest trail seemed like a natural next step,” Whelan said with a smile.

In reality, the combination of turning 50, the end of her marriage, and the death of her 16-year-old dog made Whelan realize it was “time to go out and check in for a while.”

“It was an incredible gift to spend six years out there, and in six years, I never met a single mean person,” he said. “It definitely gave me a new faith in humanity.”

Whelan’s journey began on July 1, 2015 in St. John’s, NL, and ended on August 1, 2021 in Victoria, BC. She said she spent time in indigenous communities and was received with grace and kindness. There were several cases where she became lost, but her fellow Canadians offered her shelter, water or places to stay.

“Sometimes when we watch the news, there’s a lot of darkness out there, but there isn’t. There are a lot of nice people out there, and when you go out and come back to earth, you can find a lot of them,” she said.

Featuring over 800 hours of footage and thousands of stills, the final project was screened at film festivals around the world and released in select theaters across Canada on March 1.

Whelan acknowledges that she spent a lot of time alone during the trip, but argues that she was never truly “alone.”

“Solitude reveals what a mirror cannot reveal,” he said. “When I was alone, I was never really alone, because humans are only 0.01 percent of all life on Earth. When you go out and spend time with nature, you can connect with the other 99.9 percent.”

Whelan said the six-year trip really made her feel connected to the web of life, and that if you connect with nature, “something ancient awakens in your DNA.”

“I tend to romanticize individualism, I go on these kinds of journeys. But one of the things I learned was that we are like trees,” Whelan said. “On the surface we seem to be alone, but beneath the surface, all those roots are interconnected.”

While it may be difficult for most people to make the same 24,000-kilometer journey that Whelan took, she encourages Canadians to spend some time on any part of the trail.

“When you walk a part of the Trans Canada Trail, you’re walking a trail that connects us all,” he said. “It’s a pretty incredible gift that we are leaving for the future. We are the descendants of yesterday but we are the ancestors of tomorrow. Leaving a public trail from coast to coast is an incredible legacy to leave for the future.”


Watch the full interview with Dianne Whelan at the top of the article.

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