A kilt, a cart and a husky: Scotsman learning lots about kindness, Canada on 'adventure of a lifetime'

·8 min read
Every morning Michael Yellowlees puts booties on Luna’s front paws to protect her from the long walk ahead. The pair average around 40 to 50 kilometres a day.   (Nick Purdon/CBC - image credit)
Every morning Michael Yellowlees puts booties on Luna’s front paws to protect her from the long walk ahead. The pair average around 40 to 50 kilometres a day. (Nick Purdon/CBC - image credit)

With around 5,000 kilometres under his kilt, Michael Yellowlees is on his third pair of shoes.

His dog Luna trotting at his side, Yellowlees has been pushing his improvised cart along the shoulder of the Trans-Canada highway since March.

"We're walking 40 or 50 kilometres every day," Yellowlees said. "But we're living an adventure of a lifetime. Canada is such a beautiful country in so many ways."

Man and dog are walking west to east, from Tofino, B.C., to Cape Spear, N.L., which they hope to reach sometime in December.

Their journey is to raise money for Trees for Life, a charity based in Scotland dedicated to "rewilding" the Scottish Highlands. According to the charity, only 2 per cent of the original forests in the highlands of Scotland remain.

"If you ever go to Scotland, you walk in the Highlands and you'll see it's a very barren landscape," Yellowlees said. "I've always found it a very sad landscape, walking through it. And then you find out it should be forested from coast to coast and be bursting with life, and you start to go, 'OK, well, we need to fix this.'"

Yellowlees hopes to do exactly that, and so far he's collected more than $25,000 on his walk.

Why Canada?

Yellowlees, who turned 32 on the road and celebrated with a steak each for him and Luna, got the idea for the walk last year when he was working at a sled dog company on the west coast.

That was also when he met Luna — a seven-year-old Alaskan husky and former lead dog of a sled team.

"This is a kind of retirement for her," Yellowlees said with a smile.

Nick Purdon/CBC
Nick Purdon/CBC

Yellowlees says the reason he decided to walk across Canada is pretty simple.

"You've got wilderness here, and that we don't have in Scotland anymore," he said. "We've lost it over the last few hundred years. The ecology in Scotland has been eroded and we're kind of left with the bare bones."

His eyes light up as he explains one of the greatest experiences he's had to date on the walk.

"Just the other night I'm hearing wolves howling, and for me that's like a bucket-list moment. That was spine-tingling and something that I really hope that Scotland will have in the future."

Rock star on the road

The journey is striking a chord with people across Canada.

Theresa-Jane Snyder drove a couple of hundred kilometres down the highway to take a care package to Yellowlees and Luna after she found out about them online.

"I think it's just brilliant," Snyder said. "I'm just inspired by him, by choosing Canada to walk across!"

WATCH: Michael Yellowlees meets Theresa-Jane Snyder on the highway near Deep River, Ont:

This is the effect Yellowlees has. All day long people honk and holler and stop to offer him food or water.

"People have just been glorious — right from the get go," Yellowlees said.

"The amount of times they've just lifted us up in our spirit — it's totally just carried us along."

Darla Stewart recently spent the day peeking out her windows and watching the road from her home in Point Alexander, Ont., so as not to miss Yellowlees and Luna.

When she finally caught sight of them she waved them across the highway to her house.

Nick Purdon/CBC
Nick Purdon/CBC

As they chat, Stewart fills Luna's bowl three times with water.

"This is what we do. This is the Ottawa Valley," Stewart said. "We call people in. We feed them. We put them on their way. That's what people do here."

Stewart invites Yellowlees for a meal, but he declines as he has already fallen a little behind schedule. He and Luna have to keep walking.

Stewart waves from her driveway — smiling.

"He's had long days, hard days, hot days, cold nights, and it's going to get worse before he gets where he's going. It's just uplifting," Stewart said. "I'm like a mom. You want to make sure they're safe along the way and they're not hungry."

Yellowlees continues on his way, and as the sun begins to set he turns down another stranger's offer — this time a place to stay.

Nick Purdon/CBC
Nick Purdon/CBC

Still, after only a few more kilometres Yellowlees and Luna are exhausted.

It's anything but glamorous, but Yellowlees turns his cart away from the highway and finds a secluded spot of grass just behind a gas station. He pulls out his sleeping pad and lies down under the stars.

He calls Luna over and she lies down next to him.

"You think of giving up all the time you know — all the way across," he said before shutting his eyes.

"You have moments of going, 'Oh, I don't know if I can do this,' especially early on when you have such a long road ahead of you," he said. "There's always these doubts. So you dream about giving up."

Four-legged inspiration

After only a few hours of rest, Yellowlees is awake. Each morning he carefully wraps Luna's front paws and slips on the booties she's started to wear to protect her from the hard pavement.

Then they're back on the road committed to walking another 40 to 50 km.

On days like this when he's tired, Yellowlees says with a smirk that he tries to convince himself that he's just taking his dog for a walk — a very very long walk.

In the end, Yellowlees says it's Luna who keeps him going.

"She's the motivator in all of this. She's the one pulling us along," Yellowlees said.

"The mornings where I'm laying in bed just sort of wanting to give up, she's the one licking me in the face and telling me, 'Hey, come on, let's get. Let's get moving.'"

WATCH: Michael Yellowlees talks about Luna's central role in his journey:

There have been lots of highs and beautiful moments on the road, but Yellowlees is clear about when he hit rock bottom.

He was on remote stretch of road east of Fort Frances, Ont., and Luna ran off. Yellowlees searched for days in the deep bush but he couldn't find her.

"It was the worst week of my life," he said.

"I was grieving her. I thought I'd lost her. And I've got to be honest, I was a mess."

Yellowlees says he never gave up hope that he'd be reunited with his companion, and he put the word out on social media.

Finally, on the seventh day, someone found Luna and they were reunited.

"I just got the most beautiful, beautiful hug from her. She came over, just gave me the most beautiful hug," remembers Yellowlees. "Then she fell asleep, fell asleep in my arms. What an amazing dog, you know?"

Nick Purdon/CBC
Nick Purdon/CBC

Luna was in rough shape when she returned — thin, exhausted and dehydrated. She was still wearing her leash and Yellowlees wonders if she got it snagged somewhere in the forest and that was why she didn't come back.

What is it that people say about absence and the heart?

"I just couldn't imagine life without her now. My life wouldn't be the same going forward," Yellowlees said.

He plans to take Luna back to Scotland with him when he finally returns.

State of the planet

Yellowlees has had plenty of time to think on his journey, and he says his thoughts often turn to climate change and the state of the planet.

He says there's a parallel between his journey and the work that needs to be done to solve the issue.

"We've got a long road ahead of us to get things back in balance," he said.

Yellowlees says he is part dreamer and part realist. He understands that raising money by walking across Canada won't solve the climate crisis, and so he tries to raise awareness of the issue with the people he meets on the road.

Nick Purdon/CBC
Nick Purdon/CBC

Nancy Rose read about Yellowlees' journey online and drove out to find him.

On the side of the highway they chat about Scotland and the Canadian wilderness, and then Yellowlees nudges the discussion toward climate change.

"With the climate crisis maybe we can blame the government, we can blame whomever," Yellowlees said. "But until we start to say 'we need to change this,' nothing will really happen."

Rose nods her head. "You are just an amazing person," she said. "I think there should be more Michaels and Lunas in the world!"

Nick Purdon/CBC
Nick Purdon/CBC

Soon enough, dog and redhead are back on the road heading east, one step at a time.

Yellowlees says he feels blessed to have witnessed the beauty of Canada from a unique perspective, and he has a message for Canadians about our wilderness.

"Look after what you have here. It's so, so precious and so important, and not only just look after it. Give back to it as well, be proactive in restoring it and looking after it.

"We can't give up. This is the future of the planet, so we can't give up."

WATCH | A Scotsman and his dog aim to cross the country on foot:

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