Why does anyone decide to step away from their life for a month and walk 700kms? A time-out? An opportunity for reflection? A spiritual pilgrimage? Slow tourism? For me, all were reasons.
Two weeks into the pandemic my middle son who lived with significant disabilities died from complications of non-COVID pneumonia. In the early months of 2022, as COVID restrictions eased, I craved a sustained stretch of solitude to reflect on the many changes in my life, a chance to discern a new way forward following his death. While I dream of someday walking the Camino, when I learned about The Island Walk I knew I wanted a Canadian Camino to be my first pilgrimage.
I own a small class C RV and the idea of camping and walking my way around PEI appealed to me. I reached out to Bill Kendrick of Experience PEI and together we developed an itinerary of campsites interspersed with roofed accommodations for the month of June. In late May I left Ontario and began driving to PEI, stopping to visit family and Hopewell Rocks at the Bay of Fundy along the way. I arrived in Charlottetown on May 24th, began walking on May 26th, and completed the Island Walk on June 27.
Hands down, the highlight of my Walk was the people. During my Walk I met so many friendly and supportive people, some on the trail, but many who helped me get to and from the trail and ensured I was comfortable and fed throughout the entire month. There was Bill, my shuttle driver who drove me at the beginning of my Walk, as well as the day of my final section. He met me in Joe Ghiz Park with a bottle of bubbly and cheered me as I walked the last few meters. Mickey, my shuttle driver throughout the middle section, picked me up in the morning with hot Tim’s coffee. Wanda satisfied my craving for pancakes as well as my visiting sister’s craving for lobster (order a “Hot Bob” at the Boathouse and you’ll get a good laugh). And then there was James at the Boathouse at Siren’s Beach whose bread pudding was so good I proposed marriage on the spot. The fact that we’re both happily married was a minor inconvenience! Seriously, if you go to PEI and don’t eat his bread pudding you’re missing something amazing.
The only thing that might rival the wonderful people of the Island was the scenery. From the seals’ bobbing noses at the Northern Tip, to the bright red roads, to the ubiquitous purple lupines surrounding picturesque lighthouses, the scenery was varied and beautiful. While it is hard to choose a favourite section, the two days walking through the National Parks was a highlight. The sustained stretches walking the Confederation Trail offered the opportunity for quiet contemplation that I craved and I returned to Ontario with a sense of peace.
I have received several messages from people asking for practical and logistical details, so I’m happy to share a few below.
- I organized my trip with Bill Kendrick with Experience PEI. Working with him was enormously helpful and in my opinion money well spent. He is familiar with the Island and the Walk and knows the businesses that support Walkers. For example, Siren’s Beach at the Eastern Shore offers a “Walker’s Package” that provides accommodation and breakfast, as well as shuttle drives and packed lunches if needed. Bishop’s Rest Inn provides both accommodation and breakfast, but will also prepare dinner. The proprietor is a red seal chef and the food was amazing. Do not miss his cinnamon buns. In our family we take cinnamon buns very seriously, and his pastries were the best I have ever eaten.
- I have extensive experience hiking the Bruce Trail in Ontario. For wilderness trails I wear traditional hiking books and use poles. I dispensed with both for the Walk. For the Island Walk I usually wore Hoka sneakers, with the exception of rainy days when I switched to waterproof Oboz. I brought my poles but didn’t use them once. During June the weather was comfortably cool and I always wore long pants and long sleeved shirts. On the Confederation Trail there are mosquitoes and long sleeved shirts sprayed with a DEET based bug spray kept bug bites to a minimum.
- There is a decent amount of road walking if you’re planning to do all 700 kms, but many of the roads are quiet country roads. Some are dirt roads with no traffic. There are a handful of sections when you will walk along a very busy road. Initially I was worried about these roads, but traffic almost always slowed and gave me wide berth, including the seven kilometres along the Trans Canada Highway. The catch with road walking was that there weren’t always places to stop and have a water break – you can’t easily sit on the shoulder of a road. I usually enjoyed my snack or lunch on the front steps of a local church or a community centre, and would note these stopping points on Google Maps. As well, bathrooms can be scarce along many stretches of the Walk. Some stretches along the Confederation Trail have bathrooms, but not all. Prior to walking each section I would usually review the Island Walk map alongside the Trail Guide and Google Maps and note stopping locations, possible bathrooms, and other amenities.
- The bulk of my hiking experience is along wilderness trails where you can usually see the next painted blaze from almost anywhere you’re standing. Initially I was worried about the infrequent blazes of the Walk – for the Island Walk you will walk kilometres without seeing a blaze. I needn’t have worried. As long as you’re paying attention you can’t lose the trail. I periodically used Google Maps to confirm where I was, but I never got lost and I always felt safe.
The Island Walk is a wonderful opportunity to complete a sustained pilgrimage in Canada. I left Ontario looking for an adventure, a chance to experience a solo trip, and an opportunity to have time alone and reflect after an overwhelming and tumultuous two years. The Island Walk promises that Walkers will “come back different” and I can confidently say that I returned home changed, finding peace somewhere along the 700kms. Walk the Island, you won’t regret it.