Bhaktimarga Swami, the Walking Monk, stopped for a rest in front of the Miner’s Memorial while passing through Kirkland Lake on his third trek across Canada. He began his journey in British Columbia and plans to finish in September in Newfoundland.
Kirkland Lake Nothern News (ON)
Friday, June 29, 2007, p. A1
KIRKLAND LAKE – Bhaktimarga Swami is putting his heart and soles into an inspirational trek across Canada, walking for spiritual and personal growth, to inspire and be inspired. A journey that recently took him down the Mile of Gold.
More than 30 years ago, Swami – formerly John Peter Vis – adopted an Eastern order of monastic life and became a member of the Hare Krishna. The name he has taken on, Bhaktimarga, means “Path of Devotion” in Sanskrit. Swami, “Owner of Oneself,” is a title added to one’s name to emphasize learning and mastery of a specific field of knowledge. In the cross-country voyager’s case, it is the field of bhakti-yoga and mantra meditation.
And the assumed moniker describes the cross-country voyager in a nutshell.
Though a hike across the world’s largest country would be, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime undertaking, Swami is on the second leg of his third crossing. Completing his first 7,800 km pilgrimage in 1996, walking from British Columbia to Newfoundland, he completed the circle in 2003, walking from Cape Spear, Nfld. back to Vancouver Island.
With close to 20,000 km under his feet venturing into the remainder of his third tour across Canada, the Walking Monk took some time to explore Kirkland Lake before continuing down the road. Seeking out alternative routes when possible to avoid main highways has offered him a chance to explore the smaller, less-known towns.
“This time around I’ve gone on some of the roads less traveled, like Hwy 11,” Swami said. “All the marathoners go on Hwy 17 but I decided I wanted to do something different and go through all these worthy towns.”
Though he walked his first two treks straight through, prior commitments forced Swami to break this cross-country hike in half. Picking up where he left off at the Ontario/Manitoba border on May 10, he plans to reach his destination – once again Cape Spear, Nfld – by September.
“It’s a sensational, perfect ending place,” he said. “It’s the eastern most part of North America. There is nothing else beyond that.”
Spending the night camped in Sesikinika on Monday, Swami was off to an early start the following morning, continuing south to North Bay, then onto Highway 17 toward Ottawa.
“I guess a dream is to hit every town and village in Canada,” he said.
With distances of 45-50 kilometers to cover each day, the monk starts walking by 3:30 a.m., mainly to beat the heat and enjoy some quiet time on the road by himself. With a short nap later in the day, he climbs back into bed around 10:30 p.m. Approximately nine hours of each day is spent traversing the sometimes rugged Canadian landscape.
And when treading a rugged landscape for long stretches, foot-care is of the utmost importance and making proper footwear a necessity, according to the monk. Trying to avoid sounding like a commercial, Swami swore that the newest craze in footwear – Crocs – were the absolute best.
“You cannot breathe in running shoes,” he said.
“Crocs are light and airy and the water just slides off.
“The Creator made our feet so they would touch the earth and a shoe that will allow for embracing different terrain is advantageous.”
The monk goes through one pair of Crocs every month and will have walked six pairs into the ground by the time he reaches Newfoundland in September.
Despite taking care of his tender tootsies, he admitted the trek has had its challenges and has taken a toll on his body. With muscle pain and inflammation around his knees – something he hasn’t encountered previously – Swami has been slowed down tremendously, cutting back by 5-10 km a day.
The Northern Ontario roads in particular have added an extra obstacle to contest with. Built to allow run-off, the shoulders are sloped toward the ditches, and create an uneven plain to walk on.
“After a while it does a number on your body if you do that every day,” he said.
However, he admitted the strain on his body hasn’t been the most difficult part of the trek.
“You expect a bit of pain doing this but you learn detachment from the body,” he said. “The most difficult aspect of the walk is going through a long stretch where there’s no human interaction.”
As he wrote in his online Report from the Road, “The art of walking is of secondary importance. It is the people you meet and observe that makes it all worthwhile.”
He explained there are two different kinds of monks; those who are hermits and live in solitude, and those, like himself, who just want to hit the road, go out, get inspired and meet people.
“That’s the tradition in India – where the Hare Krishna originates – to roam with no fixed address,” he said. “I’m a little more motivated with a little more direction. I know where I’m going and study maps every day.”
The Walking Monk has been met on his journey by police officers, pedestrians and more frequently motorists, who stop to talk or snap a photo.
“I guess people are intrigued with the notion of a monk coming their way,” he said, adding he has also been met by bears, moose and other wildlife. “I’ve never seen as much wildlife coming at me as I have this time around.”
Though he does the majority of the walking solo, he is occasionally joined by his vehicular support person and videographer, Doug Kretchmer, along with his parrot Billie, and Yovany Cabanas, a Hare Krishna hailing from Cuba who joined Swami in Kenora.
When walking 7,800 km, spending time deep in thought is inevitable, and it is that aspect the monk finds so refreshing.
“You’ve got a lot of time to think about the past and the future, about yourself and about the world and what you might be able to do about it,” he said. “Sometimes you have to make self-improvements before you can make the world a little better and I’m motivated to encourage people to do that.”
Swami has met other marathoners along his route, whether they be bikers, runners or motorcyclists, and admitted they all have the same thing to say.
“It’s a healing process,” he said. “You’re on your heels and you’re being healed.
“Walking is like exhaling,” he added. “It’s a release.”
While he walks, he also practices meditation. He carries with him a little salmon-coloured sack, which holds his japa beads – a string of 108 mantra meditation beads that he uses while chanting the Hare Krishna every day for several hours.
“It’s very engaging,” he said. “It’s a spiritual workout.”
Though Swami, dressed in a traditional monk robe – salmon in colour – stands out against Mother Nature’s backdrop, a purpose of his walk was to be, in essence, a part of it, experiencing the sights, the sounds and the smells.
Originally from southern Ontario, the monk had an innate passion for Canada and had always wanted to see it close up, rather than from the view of a speeding car window.
“I have a passion for nature’s aesthetics that are so abundant in our country,” he wrote on his website.
However, the reasons for his venture are multifaceted. Experiencing back problems in the early 80s, Swami sought the care of a Chiropractor, what essentially became the origin of his “walking madness” as he described it.
“I didn’t want to have to see a Chiropractor for the rest of my life, so I decided to do something about it,” he explained.
To aid his pains, he started walking in the ravines in Toronto and got back into the habit of walking.
That said, his motivation lays deeper yet. He is not walking for a specific cause or organization, and his goal is not to collect money. He is walking mainly to inspire and be inspired, and meet people along the way.
“This is a venture of friendraising, not fundraising,” he said.
“I would just like to get people to slow down and take time to acknowledge each other. The number one thing is all of us together; number two is you. If it’s just you first, you’re left out.”
Each pilgrimage across Canada has been filled with bountiful experiences, beautiful sights and memorable people, and for Swami, the 7,800 km of engaging spiritual growth has proved to be nothing but sensational.
“Each time going at it, it gets better,” he said. “Maybe I get more confident about the road and the people, and maybe they feel the same way. It’s a reciprocation and it’s been really pleasant.”
To follow the Walking Monk’s journey across Canada, visit his website at www.thewalkingmonk.org.
On th News – Monk Taking Trek all in Fine Stride
Arron Pickard Daytime news editor The Daily Press
Monk taking trek all in fine stride
Scott Paradis / The Daily Press Local News – Friday, June 22, 2007 @ 10:00
Bhaktimarga Swami’s faded salmon-pink robes clash with the light-green shrubs and dark evergreen trees to his side. His brown Crocs are almost camouflaged in the dirt along the highway’s shoulder. Swami, a 54-year-old Hare Krishna monk from Toronto, started walking from Victoria, B.C., and on Thursday he found himself on Highway 101 between Timmins and South Porcupine, still heading west. When Swami finishes his walk in Newfoundland, it will become the third cross-Canada trek that he has completed on foot. Altogether, his legs have racked up more than 13,000 km. “Every day it is a great adventure,” Swami said as he took a break down a trail away from the highway. “You see a lot of wildlife and learn a lot about the different (features) of mother nature.” Swami isn’t walking across Canada for any particular cause. He isn’t collecting money for a non-profit organization, nor is he promoting awareness for a specific political issue. Instead, in a way that wasn’t intended to echo the hollywood splash of Forest Gump’s famous run, the monk is simply walking for walking’s sake. “Your body is half made of leg, so you have to ask yourself, do we utilize them enough?” he asked. The short answer is no, he added. Swarmi hopes that by walking across Canada more people will think about walking themselves. But a walk across Canada has its share of challenges. In Northern Ontario he has faced two completely different sets of challenges. The first was in May, when unseasonably cold weather brought snow. Later, came blackflies. “It’s an exercise in toughness,” he said about every challenge he faces. “It’s a good thing to go through.” The monk walks about 45 to 50 kilometres a day. His days start around 3 a.m. so he can beat the heat. Sometimes he will do additional walking into the evening hours when temperatures begin to cool. Swami has visited Timmins before, but never during his cross-country walks. Every time Swami does walk, he finds a new route. Instead of walking straight across the country he said he “zig-zags” in an effort to see more towns and cities.