With each step Matthew Jefferson takes, the 120 pounds of equipment he’s carrying on his back gets heavier and heavier.
The closest town is probably three days away. Jefferson knew this journey would be physically demanding but he wasn’t expecting it to be so mentally draining.
Just as he feels like giving in to the exhaustion, his travelling partner Mark Vigers starts singing Hakuna Matata. Jefferson joins Vigors in singing the famous Lion King song which means no worries, and immediately boosts his spirits and evaporates his fatigue.
Jefferson and Vigors are walking across Canada to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous woman.
Jefferson was inspired to go on this journey after his aunt Frances Brown went missing last fall while mushroom picking.
As previously reported by The Interior News, the 53-year-old Indigenous woman failed to return to a meeting place with her cousin on Oct. 14 in the Kitseguecla Road area.
“How can I reach as many people as possible, and the easiest way to do that is by walking,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson quit his job and started planning his journey for three months. During that time he reached out to various organizations for support and figured out details like which routes to take, what equipment he’ll need and how much food he can carry.
Jefferson started his walk on June 1 in Victoria.
Vigers is a backpacker and photographer from Scotland who had been in Canada for just over a year when he hitched a ride outside of Nanaimo in order to get to Victoria from two German fellows.
While driving back to Victoria the German men saw their friend, Jefferson, walking along the highway to Chemainus and stopped to say hi.
Jefferson and Vigers hit it off right away. After a few days of camping together Vigors decided to join Jefferson on his walk.
“I figured that would be the best way to see even more of the country, meet more locals and get involved in the Canadian culture and see a lot more than most travelers would,” Vigers said.
Jefferson didn’t plan on getting a travel buddy.
“I was so flabbergasted,” Jefferson said. “Somebody so estranged to all of this deciding yeah why not. It was a very sort of Forest Gump moment.”
The pair have walked to Tofino, Nanaimo, took a ferry to Vancouver and continued on to Hixon. They reached Prince George last Sunday.
In total they’ve walked around 1,100 km. They walk an average of 25 to 45 km with 120 to 150 pounds on their backs for six to eight hours a day.
Jefferson and Vigers day starts at the crack of dawn. They usually have oats and apricot for breakfast with sock coffee.
After doing some stretches they sing the problem-free philosophy of Hakuna Matata as a part of their morning ritual.
“Everybody knows Hakuna Matata, it’s a worldwide thing,” Vigers said. “It’s a good way to boost morale.”
They sing the song when they’re going through a rough patch such as a up a big hill or are dealing with bad weather.
The pair will also sing We are the Champions and Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, and some Bon Jovi from time to time.
The Witset Band and the social development department of the Witset Band donated $500 each to fund Jefferson’s journey.
“There should be way more awareness and way more work needs to be done. I’m just glad [Jefferson] and [Vigors] are a part of that,” said Witset social development manager Priscilla Naziel.
Parks Canada has given them two annual passes so anytime they’re in a provincial park or a reservation area they can camp there for free.
Strangers have contributed to their trip along the way as well.
A waitress and a chef paid for their food and drinks in 70 Mile House. Other patrons of the restaurant donated money to fund their journey.
“[I’m] extremely humbled that there’s so much kindness and generosity among Canadian people,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson said he expects to complete the walk sometime between March 18 and April 18, 2019 in St. John’s New Brunswick.
Jefferson said they’ll be in northern Ontario once winter starts. It will take them three months to cross the province.
“Going to bed sore. Waking up sore and having to do it all again. It’s a day-to-day mental grind … [but] the people that we meet make it all worthwhile,” Jefferson said.
Anyone interested in Jefferson and Viger’s journey can follow their facebook page The Walk to Remember.
Donations to support the journey can be made on The Walk to Remember gofundme page.
The search for Brown has continued at a smaller scale, David deWit said.
“The search is continuing at a small and focused scale and at this time there is no capacity for volunteers,” deWit said.