March 31, 1921
On Thursday March 31, it was the Behans who gave Burkman the slip as they became the first of the trans-Canada hikers to see the frozen shores of Lake Superior. “The wind was very strong and the waves were running mountain high,” Jack said. “A beautiful sight; one we will never forget.” The rail line impressed the men as well–”curving around and through cuts of rock hundeds of feet high, demonstrating the great engineering carried out in building the line.” The victorious hikers rested briefly at Penninsula after hearing from the locals that Governor General Victor Cavendish, the 9th Duke of Devonshire, was arriving in 10 minutes. The Governor General signed the Behans’ hiking book and told them they had a beastly trip ahead of them: he offered them a ride, which they refused, of course, but in a Royal way.
While the gregarious Behans were hobnobbing with near royals, and Burkman continued to make the best of things, the Dills, with much to prove, pushed hard. They did battle with a wind that almost bored through them on their 20-mile hike to Biscotasing. “At times I felt like finding a place to nap,” Jenny said. “But I didn’t.” There was no time to dawdle if they wanted to finish first, and she knew it.
The Behans ran into a blizzard that day. “Snow, more snow, and still snowing” was the best description Jack could put on the weather. “One h– of a day, the worst I was ever out it. Our position on the trail at the top of the page tomorrow will look sick, for we only did 16 miles today. At times the hikers could walk only two miles an hour, and on one occasion they were forced to crawl over a 150 foot long trestle bridge 60 feet above the ground. Clifford was very nervous: “With snow blinding my eyes, I crept ahead of the lad, and told him to take his time and follow me. We kept to the middle of the track, so we wouldn’t be blown into the gorge. Thank God we got over to the other side safely to Jackfish.”
Nothing was heard from Burkman on March 31. The mouse appeard to be at an impasse with the cats.
March 30, 1921
Burkman slipped away from the Behans early Wednesday, March 30, headed for Heron Bay, but managed only 10 miles before his rivals caught up with him. “Not only did I have to stay with the Behans yesterday, but I had to sleep with them,” Burkman complained to the newspaper. The truth is that it was 11 below zero, and Burkman was happy enough to have company. The hikers walked 33 miles to Heron Bay. Jack and Clifford smoked to provide some warmth, while Burkman sang from behind a layer of scarves that left only his eyes exposed to the frigid cold.
The Dills did not fare as well as the other hikers. They covered only 20 miles to Fogamasing, Ontario, where Jenny noted: “Everyone is laughing at the way Burkman had given the slip to the Behans and how the Behans were sleepng like dogs do–with one eye open–and it on Burkman.”
March 26, 1921
The lone hiker ws overtaken by his Dartmouth rivals on March 26 at White River, a place traditionally thought to be the coldest spot in Canada. “No doubt there will be some anxiety among my friends in Halifax owing to my failure to send reports during the past few days. The fact is that the telegraph operators along the line were tipping me off as to the progress of the Behans, and I was able to keep ahead oif them. On Friday, however, Jack got wise to what was going on and then made a determined effort to catch up.
Jack announced that he, Clifford and Charles were “star artists” in a White River “Y” lecture that day. ”This is a first for the ‘Y’ I can tell you.” On reaching the building the hikers found all of the citizens of the community–men, women and children–waiting to hear their hiking stories.
The Dills were unaware on Burkman’s situation when they woke up on Saturday morning. After wolfing down a glass of milk and a plate of toast the couple set off for Wanapitel–”see if you can pronounce it,” she challenged readers. They soon cncountered a rainstorm but “after a thousand miles of hiking, weather conditions mean little to us,” commented Jenny dismissively.
While The Herald was reporting “love-in” between Burkman and the Behans at King, trouble was brewing in the Dill camp at Cartier. “Here is a little family squabble I must let you in on” wrote Jenny, coming all over girlie; “The other day, I got a letter from Charlie Burkman and then today I got another. Now that is not so much, but we were told at the telegraph office that Burkman had again allowed the Behans to catch him. Now Frank has it that he intends to wait for us. I told him he was silly, but he said it looked fishy to him.”
March 25, 1921
Burkman didn’t make a appearance on Good Friday as nervous friends had predicted. The attitude of the always pragmatic Herald was that Burkman had a gun, as as long as he was able to find food, he would be fine. The Burkman no-show left the Behans shadow boxing: they carried on at their own speed, but in a vacuum. ”It was a real day for us,” Jack smiled ruefully. “We cooked dinner on the side of the road, made tea and sat around like real pioneers.” After a one hour break, he and his son hiked in Franz, where they put up for the night. “It has been a fine day, and we are feeling ‘Jake’” Jack said.
March 24, 1921
The Behans finally surfaced at Nicholson on Thursday March 24. They had followed false tip given to them by an Indian guide and “lost 50 miles trying to gain 100 on Burkman.” Father and son left the CPR tracks shortly after passintg Woman River. They were told that a branch line used by lumber operations would cut 100 miles off their trip. ”After travelling for a day we came to a lumber camp and were told that the tracks ended there and the only way we could get back on the main line was to retrace our steps. This we did; peeved but wiser, determined to never again put faith in Indian guides.”
It had been an emotional week for the Behans, and after reading a back issue of The Herald, Jack was overcome: “It was better to us than a day’s rations, to once more see our paper.” Refuelled and refocused, the Behans spent a good night and awakened the next morning raring to take on the lone hiker–if they could find him.
After reading about the latest Burkman/Behan cat and mouse games, the Dills, who had just completed a 26 mile hike to North Bay, reaffirmed their solemn prediction: “There will be another team in that race within the next six weeks as we now feel positioned to go after a record.”
March 18, 1921
During the third week of March, heavy storms in northern Ontario had Burkman and the Behans working hard for every mile they gained. For three long days the hikers struggled, playing cat-and-mouse, with neither team able to gain a definitive advantage, but on March 18, Burkman finally gave the Behans the slip at Woman River, and the race was wide open once again. Burkman had stopped at Woman River to swallow a quick bowl of hot buckwheat laced with dried cranberries and skim milk, but when he was informed that the Behans were entering the town, he set off again.
350 miles behind the leaders, Frank and Jenny Dill had a quandry of their own: could they actually win this race? As they crunced along the railroad ties, heads butted against the icy winds, woollen mitted hans jammed deep into the pockets of their sheepskin lined coats, the tantalizing possibility ws shaing a dream: “I want all the people to know that our enthusiasm in this hike has increased, because we have so much to look back on and know what we can do.”
Three days passed without any word from the Behans. Not even Burkman could shed light on their whereabouts. In a terse dispatch from Nicholson, Burkman admitted to being as anxious as anyone about their disappearance. When the Behans and Burkman failed to send a dispatch to The Herald the next day, even the newspaper expressed concern, reporting a rumour that Burkman had tried to give the Behans the slip by taking a trail through the woods and had gotten lost.
Only the Dills sent in a night wire that evening. It packed a wallop and provided a welcome distraction. “We were attacked by a wolf!” Jenny said. “When we telegraphed yesterday, we stated that we would make 25 miles today, but we were feeling so good over an adventure that we had en route, that we decided to make 30 miles. . . . Walking pecefully along the track, our attention was suddenly attracted by the baying of an animal a hundred yards behind us, and before we could say Jack Robinson a big timber wolf sprang at Frank. I drew a revolver from my belt and fired. The bullet stopped the wolf, and Frank killed it seconds later with his .35 calibre pistol.” Jenny was very grateful to the boys of Dartmouth for giving her a gun as a departure gift. “This is the best day we’ve had since leaving Halifax,” she added, saying: “I cannot get the idea out of my head that this is some kind of omen, and we are meant to reach Vancouver first.”
March 16, 1921
This day The Herald reported that no clear winner in the neck-and-neck race between the Behans and Burkman had emerged over the weekend. This was confirmed by the hikers’ dispatches from Pogma where conditions continued to be brutal. “I left Cartier at nine and had dinner at Benny, at the Puly Wood Camp,” Burkman wrote. ”It was the best meal I’ve had since leaving Truro. Villages are pretty scarce here, with stations few and far between. The Behans arrived here tonight soon after I did. They are determined to stick with me, tho’ I am trying my best to shake them off.”
The Behans too had suffered through the long walk from Cartier to Pogma. “Big storm has been raging all day, and we have not made more than 23 miles. . . . Reached Pogma soon after Burkman. It snowed all night and snow was six inches deep when we left Cartier this morning. . . . Although the race with Burkman is a great human test, we are confident of wearing him down, and if it is fine tomorrow we will show him our heels.
March 15, 1921
As the Dills quit Ottawa on March 15, Alice Higgins offered up her final comments to the public. She was expecially interested in Jenny, as the female participant in the race, noting that Mrs Dill was too keen on the outdoor life to want to stay around the city very long, and no theatres or comfortable society affairs could tempt her.
March 14, 1921
BEHANS CATCH BURKMAN AND HIKERS
NOW RACE NECK AND NECK ON DOUBLE CPR TRACKS
“The battle is on!” declared the Halifax Herald on March 14. Canada’s greatest hiking contest ws now a neck-and -neck crisis. John Behan and his son Clifford and Charles Burkman had met, shook hands and played pool together. “But is it ALL OVER? The friendship is fine, but the men are out FOR HONOURS,” the editors assured readers.
March 12, 1921
“According to a telegram received from Behans last night, it looks as though the father and son hikers are cutting across country to head off Burkman without actually passing him on the road,” The Herald informed readers on March 12. They had just travelled a daunting 34 miles, and said that unless Burkman was able to put on an extra spurt, they would cut ahead of him somewhere in the Ontario woods the next day. Charlie’s friends claimed that Burkman was letting his rivals catch up with him, and would then step out and lead them to Port Arthur, his home town.
Jack took time out to say how pleased he was to read in the Ontario papers that the Dills had reached Montreal–but he also suggested that he did not consider them serious competition. The “hiking honeymooners” made 26 miles after getting off to a bad start. “We wandered along the track not noticing anything in particular,” Jenny reported, “when we suddenly found that we had taken a route entirely different from the one that would lead us to Vancouver.” After correcting their mistake, they made excellent time to Greenfield where Jenny fell asleep plotting their next moves. “The other hikers cannot be too far ahead of us, as we have been making great time, so it’s dollars to doughnuts that we will overtake them before Winnipeg.
The Behans failed to overtake Burkman over the weekend; in fact father and son managed to hike
Burkman with roller device
only 21 miles on Saturday, while Burkman was able to brag about covering 70 miles in two days. Some accomplishment for a boy with sore feet hiking alone! “The great race between Burkman and the Behans has turned into a gallop,” commented The Herald.
Burkman was now in a desolate part of the province, with few villages or people, which hampered the sale of postcards. There was little time for sales anyway, and in a Saturday night telegraph the besieged hiker wrote: “Left Warren at 8:40. Had a call in for 5:00 because I wanted to get to Sudbury in time to see a hockey game, but the hotel proprietor slept in, and I woke myself. Reached Sudbury at 10:00; I walked the rail most of the way; I have devised a roller skate conveyance to enable me to balance myself on the rails.
The dispatch from the Behans in Markstay was terse: “Left CPR hotel Verner and had breakfast. Good soul propritor: four dollars bed, breakfast, big hearted. Tough walking today: rained, frost covered rails with ice.” By the time they reached Bailey, the Behans were too tired to even know where they were, but they did know that they were sleeping nine miles closer to Burkman.
March 9, 1921
The hikers received a spectacular page 3 spread on Wednesday March 9 that included reports from the Dills and Burkman, but nothing from the Behans. In a strenuous effort to hold on to first place, Burkman travelled 25 miles through rain and lightning storms as far as Noth Bay. “Believe me, the thunder was fierce, and sent thrills through my body,” he said. He stayed at the Bay the next day to have his boots repaired and his gun oiled in preparation for his nothern Ontario adventure.
Curious to see the couragious little woman who had set a new record in feminine athletics, ther noted society writer, Miss MJ Dewar called at the Winsor Hotel on March 9 and reported: “I was surprised to find her so slight and girlish; her vivacious, frank personality greatly attracted me.
March 7, 1921
As the couple marched victoriously through the streets of the great Canadian metropolis to the Windsor Hotel, Burkman dispatched an admission to the public, hopiing for a little empathy. He had arrived in Mattawa at 9:15 that morning, then managed to hobble as far as Rutherglen in the dark. “My feet are so painful that I holed up foir the night, hoping aginst all adds to reach North Bay the next day” he said. “From ther Bay I planned to strike out for northern Ontario, and if all goes well, I hope to celebrate Easter Sunday in Port Arthur with my family. It may not mean much to readers, but I still hold a 100 mile lead over my rivals.
Jack and Clifford did not intend to slow down to accommodate any hiker, blistered feet or no. “We are intering the wilds of northern Ontariom a wondrous land if 60,000 square miles of boreal forests and hundreds of lakes,” Jack wrote
March 5, 1921
Burkman arrived at Mackey, Ontario with dukes up, ready to spar. “It makes me laugh to read the stories of the Behans and the Dills catching me before I reach Winnipeg, because the more I walk, the better I feel. I am only starting off on my real gait now, and if my rivals hope to catch sight of me this side of British Columbia, they will have to travel some.”
But readers were beginning to doubt that he still had the stuff to win the race. His rhetoric sounded as tired as sore as his feet, and in a March 5 headline, The Herald asked: “Will he?”
March 3, 1921
As the Behans made their exit from Ottawa, Burkman walked 32 miles from Egansville to Chalk River and marked the thousand mile point in this jouney. He had shifted gears and was no longer above tooting his own horn. “Chalk River papers are publishing reports that the Behans are on my heels. Are they really? If they are, my heels are much longer than their heels,” he mocked.
Haligonians were serious about the transcontinental race, and since it was now public knowledge that Burkman was quietly experiencing foot problems, his cranky behaviour and uneven hiking scores led one Halifax sport to bet “thousands of dollars” that the Behans would catch the lone hiker by March 12.
The Dills meanwhiule, were marching toward Cookshire, Quebec. After a long, hard 23 mile grind through harsh winds and bottomless drifts, they arrived there in good condition and spent the night at the Hotel Bury.