A long walk east: Man's unlikely foot journey to Halifax inspires Facebook following
Micheal Sutherland poses for a photograph alongside his cart near Ingleside, Ont. on July 28, 2017. (Lindsay Wells/Facebook)
Published Tuesday, August 1, 2017 6:00AM EDT
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In Micheal Sutherland’s case, that journey is taking him to Halifax, N.S., and that first step came when his old motorhome died near Peterborough, Ont.
“I didn’t let it stop me,” the Ontarian reminisces. “I just grabbed a big bag of clothes and said, ‘I’m going anyway.’”
Inspired by a dream to see Atlantic Canada, Sutherland scrapped the motorhome, loaded up a push cart with necessities and began plodding east. Some six weeks and three pairs of shoes later, he’s now in Cornwall, Ont., nearly 400 kilometres into his epic, ambling journey.
With his floppy booney hat, long greying hair, bright orange safety vest, sweeping moustache, and shirt almost always undone to show off a burly, tanned chest, Sutherland’s hard to miss. And nearly everyone who stops to talk with him seems to walk away changed, his new friend Andrew Martin says.
“They go and they meet him and cry on his shoulder -- it’s the craziest thing,” he says. “And it’s all these people that work nine to five and have their lives and can’t go anywhere and here’s this guy and he’s walking across the country. And he’s doing it himself -- and it’s inspiring.”
Shortly into Sutherland’s trek, Martin spotted him walking past his home in tiny Marysville, Ont. From a police scanner, Martin knew to be on the lookout for an eastbound nomad.
“I went out and said, ‘Hey you’re going in the wrong direction!’” Martin recalls.
Out of equal parts fascination with the man and concern for his well-being, Martin and a group of friends soon created a Facebook group to track Sutherland’s movements. Less than a month later, “Where in the world is Micheal Sutherland now?” has attracted more than 6,000 members who post Sutherland sightings, organize meal and supply drops and share selfies and snippets of their chats with the vagabond. Nearly every post calls him an inspiration.
“I inspire them?” Sutherland, who has no access to Facebook, says. “I don’t think so -- they inspire me.”
Sutherland seems genuinely humbled by this online outpouring of support that he never asked for. Some members have even promised to drive him across Quebec into New Brunswick.
“I don’t know how this turned into such a big thing,” he says. “But I know it fills my heart and I know I have angels on my shoulders.”
Some days, he’s on the road. On others, Sutherland stays put to rest. Unless it’s really pouring out, he’s content sleeping in the open.
If you see Sutherland along a Canadian roadway, he probably won’t refuse a bite to eat or a bottle of beer. If you want to offer money, he’d rather you make a donation to Diabetes Canada. If you want a selfie, he’ll ask for a hug in return. But more than anything, he’d just be happy to sit and talk.
“Many people have come to me and they’re heartbroken and they just hold me and they hug me and they cry and they tell me their stories, which are incredible,” he says. “So now, it’s not about me anymore -- it’s about the people who I meet, and that’s why I can’t stop.”
It hasn’t always been easy. Sutherland’s feet are in terrible shape from his diabetes (“The skin and everything is coming off,” he says.) But thanks to his supporters, volunteer nurses from Bayshore HealthCare are meeting him every few days along the way
“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing,” he says. “And if I wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be able to talk to people who need to talk to me.”
Sutherland didn’t foresee any of this. As he’s quick to say, “I’m just a guy out on a walk.” But in the weeks since he abandoned his motorhome, his single-minded mission to dip his tired feet in the Atlantic Ocean has changed. Now, for Sutherland, after such an unexpected outpouring of love from a host of total strangers, it’s become more about the journey than the destination.
“At the end of this, I’m going to come back and thank every person that has helped me,” he says. “There’s a purpose for everybody in this world. And I never knew what my purpose was. All I did was go for a walk, and look at where I’m sitting now?”