STIRLING — Dirk Pfau is making his way across Canada the old-fashioned way, on a one-horsepower Chevy. The Toronto man is riding his horse — nicknamed Chevy — on a 4,200-kilometre, three-month odyssey from Ontario to B.C., living off the land as he goes. Originally from Germany, Pfau sees his trek on horseback as a unique way to explore the country he adopted as his home 20 years ago.
During a recent stop in the quiet southern Alberta town of Stirling, the 46-year-old construction supervisor admitted he’s “not a horse guy at all.” A city slicker from downtown Toronto, he had never ridden a horse until 18 months ago when he bought Chevy and began learning to ride.
Pfau is clearly a traveller with a penchant for adventure, however.
He’s been around the world five times and once even travelled by train for two solid weeks from Budapest, Hungary, to Beijing, China. He most recently travelled to Southeast Asia. He and his friend Paul Brandt — also a transplanted German — embarked on the journey together on May 2 from Elmvale, Ont., about 100 kilometres north of Toronto, after more than a year of planning.
Unfortunately, Brandt, who originally conceived the idea, had to abandon the trip after the pair reached Manitoba because he needed to attend to a family matter.
While crossing the Prairies alone, Pfau has ridden through a great deal of miserable weather during what has so far been a soggy spring and summer out west. The low point, he said, came recently while he was riding through a hailstorm in remote southern Saskatchewan.
“There was nothing (around). I just had to keep on riding,” he said. “There were times I thought ‘What am I doing here?”’
Weather woes aside, Pfau said he’s been amazed at the kindness and generosity he’s consistently been shown by people he’s encountered along the way.
When he arrived in Stirling, he bumped into town resident Darrel Still, who after hearing Pfau’s story, offered him and his horse a place to stay and helped him find a farrier to fit Chevy with some new horseshoes.
“We offered him to come and stay at our house, but he didn’t want to leave his horse,” Still said. “He said, ‘If I sleep in a bed, I’ll want to go home.”’
Pfau opted to sleep in a wooden shed beside the corral where Chevy was kept, just outside of town.
Other than store-bought beans, Pfau has lived off edible plants and fish he’s caught along the way.
A vegetarian, he did some advance research on edible plants and printed out photos so he wouldn’t make a mistake and eat anything poisonous. He has dined on the roots of bullrushes and burdock thistles, which he said are quite tasty. In addition, he has made good use of stinging nettles by boiling them.
“The juice makes great tea,” he said.
He brought only a tarp for shelter. “I use my saddle as a pillow, and I have my blanket.”
Pfau has been covering about 50 kilometres each day. Riding along back roads or in ditches along secondary highways, Pfau intends to press on through Crowsnest Pass into B.C. until he reaches the outskirts of Vancouver, where he has arranged to be picked up and driven home.