By JONATHAN WILSON
Bhaktimarga Swami wears traditional robes Tuesday as he walks near Kakabeka Falls on his third cross-Canada trek. Swami says the walks strengthen his personal growth and tolerance. A Hare Krishna monk from Toronto is well on his way to matching the coast-to-coast exploits of Forrest Gump. The famous movie character ran back and forth across America four times. Bhaktimarga Swami, 54, is halfway through his third cross-Canada trek, aimed at promoting meditation, pilgrimage and ‚Äúthe walking culture.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúI feel that the message to encourage self-discovery through walking is a job that‚Äės not finished,‚ÄĚ Swami said Tuesday near Kakabeka Falls. ‚ÄúI just want to keep going . . . perhaps I‚Äėll just walk until I drop.‚ÄĚ The walk begins each day at 4 or 5 a.m., and Swami spends about nine hours walking 45 kilometres per day. He carries with him a sack holding his meditation beads, and often chants and talks to the Creator along the way. The personable monk, who joined the Hare Krishna movement in 1973 and changed his name from John Vis, said he runs into a lot of cyclists and marathon runners, along with regular citizens curious about his exploits. ‚ÄúWalking in the summer, it‚Äės when people are out and about,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äės the real natural time to be there, and the really big part of this project is to meet people and get inspired . . . and to inspire.‚ÄĚ Today, he‚Äėll walk along Highway 11/17, from outside Kakabeka to Thunder Bay. He credits his new rubber Crocs with keeping his feet in good shape along the way. ‚ÄúThese are great, I‚Äėve tried everything,‚ÄĚ he said, though trying not to sound like a pitchman for the company. ‚ÄúFeet tend to crave for a break, but I find that I don‚Äėt need to have any change with these. ‚ÄúThey call them holey soles for more reasons than one.‚ÄĚ He wore running shoes the first time he walked the 7,800-kilometre route from B.C. to Newfoundland in 1996, followed by a return walk the other direction in
2003. ‚ÄúEach time, it just gets better,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúI learn more, certainly about myself.‚ÄĚ Last year, he walked from B.C. to the Manitoba-Ontario border, and picked up where he left off on May 10. He expects to reach the Atlantic Ocean in late September. On Saturday, Swami found himself walking in snow, something he didn‚Äėt expect to experience at this time of year. But he said the weather is part of his journey of personal growth. ‚ÄúBlazing sun, torrential rain, cold, hot, whatever, you‚Äėre learning detachment,‚ÄĚ he said. Swami said besides self-discovery, he‚Äės learned about the impact of litter from motorists, the craftsmanship of the beaver, and the generosity of strangers. ‚ÄúPeople are generally big-hearted, they really are good in spirit,‚ÄĚ he said. Dr. Prashant Jani, a local pathologist and assistant professor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, offered Swami and his two helpers a place to stay during their three days in the Thunder Bay area. ‚ÄúI pressured him to come and stay with me, instead of staying outside in a campground or something,‚ÄĚ Jani said. Jani said walking just two kilometres a day would be difficult for him to do, and he called Swami‚Äės daily marathon walk ‚Äúamazing.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúI like his promoting the environment and peace and nice activities,‚ÄĚ Jani said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äės something that not many people do.‚ÄĚ For more information: www.thewalkingmonk.org.