Our level of risk each differ and it’s the same with what we find scary and dangerous as well. How do you end up doing things out of the ordinary? Sometimes, you might have to get a little crazy but for Mike, it was more about trust and what lead him to redefine his life through amazing experiences.
Born and raised in the Niagara region, Mike learned about the outdoors through the camping trips he would go on regularly with his parents and the Scouts, which he was involved with for a number of years. But it wasn’t until his late teens when he decided to make a living from it.
“I got my first summer job as a gate attendant in Algonquin Park. I fell in love with the outdoors and canoeing. After that summer I didn’t want to be an event planner anymore. I wanted to work outside.”
He went on and studied Geomatics and Forestry in hopes to get closer to his dreams. After a suite of odd jobs, he moved to Alberta to work as a Junior Forest Ranger Leader where he spent all summer in the woods with a crew of seven high school students who he taught full-time what it was like to work in forestry and natural resources.
He loved the job but not where he lived, and after two summers he needed a change. Mike had a piece of paper in his wallet. Written on it was a bucket list he had made after the passing of a friend’s grandmother’s made him reflect on his life goals. On that list was going to Burning Man, an arts and culture festival held in the Nevada desert. He decided to go for it and hitchhiked his way there and back.
“I did the Burning Man for a week. I just loved it. The community feeling and the ideas shared were amazing. There was extreme self expression and acceptance. You could do whatever you wanted and nobody would judge you.”
Mike had a ferry ticket going from Bellingham, WA to Skagway, AK a few days after the festival, and he had to find rides to take him there. The plan was to cross into the Yukon at the Alaskan border to work for a dogsledding company voluntarily for 6 weeks — it was a bucket list item to see the Northern lights in the Yukon.
Mike had no defined plan for what to do after, or even during his time up there, he would just have to make it across the country hitchhiking.
“I took a Map of Canada and put it up on Facebook. I told all my friend to tag themselves where they are on the map if they wanted me to come and visit. So that’s how I planned my trip.”
It took him six weeks to make it all the way to St. John’s, NL. Armed with his massive hiking bag, winter boots and tent, he banked on the generosity of strangers to take him from one place to another, stopping in Kamloops, BC, Edmonton, AB, Timmins, ON, Baie-Comeau, QC, Truro, NS and many other places to meet friends along the way. It was not always easy but Mike still has vivid memories of the people he rode with.
Mike finally made it to St. John’s in the tour van of a Reggae band he had met in Corner Brook, and he needed a rest. The guitar player offered him a place to sleep for a couple of nights. The house was located on the coast, offering beautiful ocean views over the cliff.
“I remember walking to the coast and the wind was blowing so hard at my back, helping me to the coast, and I remember looking at the Atlantic ocean and being blown away and so proud at the same time to have done it. It was a very emotional moment.”
Over the next couple of days, Mike enjoyed the city so much he decided he wouldn’t leave as planned. He moved in with the guitar player, pursued his university degree, and found himself a dream job as a conservation officer in Gambo, NL, making the rural town his permanent home.
He loves the wilderness Newfoundland brings and enjoys discovering the island’s canoe routes.
“I enjoy the quiet moments. Being in a canoe, everything slows down. it’s really calming. There is only a few canoe routes in Newfoundland but there is no one on them.”
He gets out as much as he can on short trips and tries to make time for longer expeditions a couple of times a year. Now that he is settling, his outdoor time provides him with the adventure he needs in his life and he looks forward to teaching his future children the values he cherishes.
“I feel kids these days have a nature deficit disorder. They are connected 24 hours a day and people are afraid of the outdoors. Everyone is afraid to go out, get dirty, and eat a little bit of dirt. When I was young, I would go out with my bike and wouldn’t come back until the lights were out. My parents had no idea where I was. People say that times have changed but I don’t think things got any more dangerous. People just got more scared. I want my kids to be free and not afraid.”
Because when he hitchhiked across the country, he learned important lessons about fear and trust.
“What I learned from that whole experience is that people are really good. Some people picked me up and gave me rides all over the country, not knowing me but somehow trusting me. And then there were people not giving me rides. Probably for a variety of good reasons, but all these people that picked me up and the thousands that didn’t they are all somehow good people. They would have had the opportunity to hurt me had they wanted to, but no one did. That is pretty amazing since all we hear is that the world is a bad and dangerous place.”
Mike has many vibrant memories from the rides he got, the good and the bad ones, the diversity of people, their kindness or weirdness, the cold nights and the fun times. Just like on an expedition, you’ve got to plan, yet be ready for the unexpected. But the unexpected is often what you remember the most. What Mike remembers? How people’s trust carried him to his current life just like the waters he loves to explore.