For nearly 30 years, Dr. Richard Zier-Vogel kept the smiles of Hintonites bright as their local dentist, but now he can be found walking across Canada with his ‘plod pod’ in tow.
His goal is to make the trek across the country with his homemade trailer tied around his waist before the winter this year.
Zier-Vogel initially fell in love with the great outdoors after moving to Hinton in 1979.
While living in Hinton for 30 years, he met fellow Hintonite and great outdoorsman Rick Zroback who shared his knowledge and love of adventure with him.
“Rick Zroback was a big influence on my life. When I first moved to town I probably met him in the first week or so and I think he was the one who got me to like the outdoors. He took me backpacking for the first time, took me on a long cross country ski for the first time,” said Zier-Vogel.
Since moving away from Hinton, Zier-Vogel worked as a dentist in Whitehorse, Yukon, while at the same time enjoying the outdoors.
“As far back as I can remember I always wanted to bicycle across Canada, 10 years ago I was between jobs and I had the time and I bicycled across from Vancouver Island to Cape Spear,” he said.
He met another traveller who was walking across the country during this trip, which inspired him to start his trek by foot in March 2018.
He initially set out from Beaver Creek, Yukon, which is the most western location in Canada.
From there he walked for two weeks to Whitehorse, where he lives, before heading to Saskatoon, Sask.
“That 500 kilometres let me know that I wanted to continue, but I didn’t want to continue setting up a tent each night and blowing up an air mattress,” he said. “So I made myself a little covered wagon, which became my shelter.”
When he arrived in Saskatoon he took a break for the winter months and went back to work during his break.
In the spring of 2019 he started walking from Saskatoon and when The Hinton Voice called him up on Sept. 6, he was walking on the side of the road just outside of Quebec City, heading east.
He explained over the sound of the wind and cars driving past him in the background that he only had about 55 to 60 days left of walking until his arrival at Canada’s most eastern spot, Cape Spear, Newfoundland.
He did take a break from his trek this summer to attend his daughter’s wedding in Vancouver.
At the wedding, he was able to walk his daughter down the aisle, starting a few kilometres before the aisle.
“We walked for about two to three kilometres before we hit the aisle, her in her wedding dress, me in my tux. That was the best walk this summer by far,” he said.
After this short break, he headed back to finish his trek.
“I think the toughest part was Ontario, north western Ontario, and what made it tough was the weather. High heat and high humidity every day. And facing thunderstorms, lots of mosquitos,” he said.
Each day he tries to walk 45 kilometres, which is just more than one full marathon each day.
“When the day is long and my legs are hurting and I’m tired and I just want to quit. I just think of Terry Fox and he did his 42 kilometres every day, that’s sort of what I strive for,” he said.
Bystanders often stop him to ask what he’s doing and who he is, which causes a lot of stopping and starting throughout the day.
He keeps people up to date through Facebook, and this is also a way for him to stay motivated as he doesn’t want to let anyone down.
Coming to the last couple of months on his trek, he admits that he’s looking a little thin after putting his body through all that work.
“I eat a lot of gorp, good old raisins and peanuts, that kind of stuff. I eat a lot of wraps, and peanut butter and honey and bananas,” he said. “My biggest fear is that at the end of this trip I wouldn’t like peanut butter anymore. But I still do.”
He often encourages people not to do this trip by foot, and if someone is interested they should grab a bicycle.
Zier-Vogel also walks to support “Little Footprints Big Steps” a Haitian project protecting street children.