Dwayne Buckle entering the Hope area, on day 50 of his trek from Red Deer, Alberta to Port Hardy mostly along the Trans-Canada highway. (Eppo photo)

Dwayne Buckle entering the Hope area, on day 50 of his trek from Red Deer, Alberta to Port Hardy mostly along the Trans-Canada highway. (Eppo photo)

Facing the elements, from Red Deer to Port Hardy through Hope

Dwayne Buckle passed through Hope on day 50 of his trek to honour his family and the toll of cancer

When Dwayne Buckle is walking along the side of a busy highway wearing a toque that says “F#@k Cancer” in bold letters, he often has people pull over to speak to him.

A lot of people thank him, others cry. Most of all, people want to tell him that what he is doing is really good.

”I’ve heard stories of how they’ve lost their family members, I’ve heard stories on how their family members went through hell but they survived. And then I’ve heard it where they developed cancer, survived it, developed it again, survived it,” Buckle said as he stopped for a rest day in Hope on Dec. 9 – day 50 of his walk from Alberta to B.C. – before taking off down the Trans-Canada Highway towards Bridal Falls.

Buckle had just walked the Trans Canada highway down the Fraser Canyon to Hope, where he had many encounters with locals. A few people stopped to give him impromptu history lessons and point out scenic areas. A family showed up with donations for his walk as well as “amazingly spicy but great” dear sausage, a gesture that had him tearing up.

Buckle spent a few moments marveling at the peace, the quiet and the view at Jackass Mountain, and as he came down through Yale he found some true Canyon hospitality. Stranded in the town with no hotel rooms available and facing the prospect of walking all the way to Hope, he ended up staying at Susan and Darwin Baerg’s B&B at no cost.

Meeting James Luke of Highway Thru Hell fame was also a highlight. “For being out there and being alone, you’d never imagine how many people are actually looking out for you. It’s pretty incredible,” he said.

In between the meetings with strangers, there is both struggle and monotony. Buckle walks an average of eight to 10 hours a day, covering around five to six kilometres an hour, and takes a rest day every 80 to 90 kilometres. He carries a 40 pound pack, which weighs more when soaking wet. When cars are coming at him at 120 kilometres an hour, or the times when he is secluded and alone on the road, it can play on your mental health he said.

Buckle uses music to motivate himself as he walks, it’s a combination of a little bit of everything yet Metallica is how he chose to rock his way down the Canyon.

There is also plenty of time to think, and Buckle thinks most about his family. He is walking for his aunt, cousin and grandfather who “did so much, and I was very selfish when they were so selfless.” They encouraged him to pursue his career in firefighting, and days after he completed his certifications his aunt and his cousin passed away within days of each other.

“I get to say sorry by travelling over 1,600 kilometres…to say sorry to the ones I let down,” he said of his personal journey, which has morphed into something beyond what he ever imagined when he started out.

“Nobody knows when your family is going to get sick and that’s why I took it seriously about doing it in the winter. Because we never get to decide when we get sick,” he said. And facing the elements – rain, sleet, snow – is nothing, Buckle said, compared to what those who face cancer go through including his own family. “That’s why…Lake Louise or Rogers Pass, the Canyon, you can only just keep going forward, because that’s all they did.”

His friends kept telling him to share what he was doing, and after some initial trepidation, he made his Facebook account public. This is where he posts daily updates – photos of himself, people he meets along the way, views and video check-ins.

This is the 40-year-old’s second long-distance walk – he came back from a mental health walk for his sister from Cranbrook to Victoria and still had the energy to go on another trek. Buckle said it wasn’t a question of whether or not he would walk during the pandemic, however, from the beginning of the trek he’s been wearing a mask, washing his hands and staying two metres from people.

For anyone who wants to support him along this walk, Buckle said the biggest help would be to donate to the Canadian Cancer Society. All of this money goes to the society, not to his trek, as Buckle said he is spending his own money on getting to Port Hardy.

“Sometimes you’ve got to pinch yourself. This is only supposed to be a walk for my family and now it’s all this. And I just hope all the donations hit that page,” he said.

“There’s a lot of room for humanity still, despite everything that’s going on. Everything might fall down around us, but these horrible diseases don’t go away by themselves either.”

People can also follow along as Buckle makes his way, one foot after the other, down into the Lower Mainland and onto Vancouver Island via his Facebook page Hike for the Cure.

– With files from Zoe Ducklow