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Hannah Bywater continues family tradition of world exploration

'If there's one thing that COVID has taught me is that there's no time like the present to go out and chase your dreams'

For four generations the McNutt-Bywater family have been trekking across the globe, absorbing other cultures and experiencing amazing adventures.  

Fred McNutt is a long time North Bay resident who unintentionally spent two and a half years travelling the globe as a young man in the 1960s.  

“When I left Canada, I had no intention of going around the world. I had met a man at a lumberman's convention in Montreal and talked about traveling and he said to me he was shipping lumber from New Brunswick and he said I think I'll try and get you on one of our ships going to the United Kingdom,” says McNutt who took that offer and travelled with some university classmates. 

After ending up in Paris, McNutt thought about working on a cruise ship line based out of Norway, but wouldn’t be able to start for three months. During that time, he read a book about an American who had taken a motorcycle around the world and it fascinated him. McNutt says, “Around that time I met an American in Paris when I had a Lambretta scooter and I said to him ‘it's too cold, I'm not going to go back to Norway, how would you like to try to go around the world on the scooter?”’ 

That led McNutt on a journey through Spain, Morocco, back to England, then to India and Pakistan. While on this journey, McNutt also received a press pass from the North Bay Nugget and wrote about his experience and sent in photographs from his travels.  

“I wrote 27 articles for the Nugget and I had no other way to make any money. One of the people I interviewed was Tenzing Norgay who was the Sherpa who first climbed Mount Everest. We got together and had a little talk about his climb and about his life and what things were like for the Sherpas on the climb. I remember he was very proud of his niece who had just climbed Everest up to 22,000 feet without supplemental oxygen and that's quite a feat and so he was very proud of her.”  

McNutt says shortly after he and his travel partner, parted ways, “After Pakistan, we split up, and then I tried to travel with a Danish boy and then he got sick and then I travelled with a couple of Germans, and then eventually we're heading for Australia but I ended up taking a ship from Colombo, stopped in various places and then I took another ship to San Francisco before coming back home.” 

It was his return home that led to his parents being able to travel.  

“It was something I didn't think my parents got to do as their early life was during the depression and they worked their whole lives in the forest industry and in isolated places like Longlac and Two Harbors Minnesota. They didn't get the opportunity to travel very much and I know that my father was just waiting for me to come into the business so I could release him,” says McNutt.   

While his parents had to wait for retirement to get that experience, his daughter, Jennifer McNutt-Bywater continued to carry the family travel gene at a younger age.  

“I grew up in a very small town with a population of 800 people and there wasn't a lot to do. I would sit down and ask my dad if I could see his slides and I just remember as a young person looking at his travel slides, he was an amazing photographer, and very distinctly there's one particular slide where I'd see all these elaborate costumes that people were wearing which were their traditional wears. Honestly, I felt like I could smell the spices in those photos, there were just so exuberant and I remember thinking as a child I'm going to go to these places, this is what I want to do,” says McNutt-Bywater.  

“I remember when I was in grade 6 and I had this idea to just put my bike on the train from Temagami and get out to Prince Edward Island because I wanted to go and see Anne of Green Gables. So, I really had these aspirations of travel.” 

McNutt-Bywater won a scholarship to study at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark in 1985. Studying criminology at Carlton university, she took courses that were relevant to her degree while in Denmark and spent the next six months travelling around Europe.   

“On those travels, I met many Australians and they told me of their fair country and I came back with one thing in my mind and that was to go to Australia and the one thing that my grandparents and my parents always said was you can travel as much as you want but you need to get your education,” says McNutt-Bywater.  

“I had one year left to finish my degree so I came back and I funded all of my travels by tree planting and left for Australia for six months.” 

But those six months turned into a two-year stint where she says she had incredible experiences such as working on the movie set of Crocodile Dundee II. McNutt-Bywater would come back to Canada and continue to travel around here and throughout the United States of America before meeting Brent Bywater, whom she would later marry.  

McNutt-Bywater, who is the Owner and Operator of Vested Interest in Callander, says that business was made possible because of her travels to Asia, after earning a scholarship through Rotary International to study in Malaysia.  

“I went off to Malaysia and then basically, for the next 30 years, I was based in Asia and I would go back and forth two times a year. We started our business in Bali and then did business in the early years in Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal and Burma and then we narrowed down over the course of time,” says McNutt-Bywater.  

On one of their trips to Nepal, they attempted to travel across the Annapurna Circuit, a route that is up to 230 kilometers through the mountain ranges of Central Nepal. However, due to altitude sickness, Jennifer and Brent couldn’t finish the journey, but their daughter Hannah Bywater just accomplished it herself this past week.  

“I have a very large bucket list inspired by the people in my family and Nepal has always been on my list of places to go,” says Bywater.  

“If there's one thing that COVID has taught me is that there's no time like the present to go out and chase your dreams and I have been focusing on the small dreams, not so much my big life aspirations, but just accomplishing little things and travelling to Nepal has always been an aspiration for me.”  

Bywater did the Annapurna Circuit without a guide.  

“Everyone told me I should have a guide, out of a place of concern and love, but it was just a challenge that I really wanted to achieve and I wanted to do a solo trek. I did some research and I learned there are so many people doing this trek on their own that I can do it too.”  

Bywater did a five-day warmup trek through a conservation area with a friend to test her physical and mental strength, as well as make sure her gear could survive the 18-day journey that was to come.  

“I had a really great time,” she says, reflecting on the adventure.  

Bywater says there were times when she took the wrong road, which added significant time to her journey, but she also chose a longer route, enabling her to pass by numerous villages and experience what it was like to live in those mountains. Bywater says she would walk for 10-15 kilometers a day.  

“Physically my body was tired and there were a couple of mornings where I didn't want to get out of bed, but every morning I needed to do it. I wanted to do it. I knew I wanted to do it so that's when my mental strength would come in.  

Eventually, Bywater made it through the world's biggest pass at 5419 meters (17,769 feet).  

That is the highest I've ever been, and I felt like I was on top of the world. I had felt so much accomplishment and I was really proud of myself and now that I've done this, I feel inspired to go off on more, not this time, but the following trips when I return to Nepal.” 

Bywater is staying in Nepal for a few months to volunteer with a Nepalese family on a farm outside of Pokhara Nepal.  
A message that has been passed down from generation to generation is the ideology of seeing the world and immersing yourself firsthand in other people's cultures.  

“I think it's one of the great things that young people can do,” says McNutt. “Because of my experiences going around the world and going to all those countries, I have a different view of what I hear in the news and it's good for your understanding of what's going on in the world.” 

McNutt-Bywater says, “I think you can't live in fear because we could walk out of our house and be hit by a bus, if you can, you should travel around the world and have the experiences that all these generations have had.” 

Bywater says, “My parents started travelling with me when I was really young and so they exposed me to parts of the world that a lot of people my age weren't experiencing. I would have some things to say about Indonesia and about my travels and things that I was learning and also things that I was observing about the way of life that I was experiencing. Having the opportunity to be a part of that was very different from what we know in Canada and so it kind of challenged my little brain to think outside of the box and have a deeper appreciation for all of the luxuries and the life that I'm so familiar with in Canada.” 

She adds, "I think everyone is on their own path and I'm just grateful to have acceptance and support from the people who mean the most to me to continue on my own journey.” 

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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