The idea of attempting the new 700-kilometre long-distance walk in Prince Edward Island was a beacon of hope in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic. It was March 2020, and I needed a challenge and something to look forward to when we could travel again. Seeing family who live in PEI added incentive to head east from my home in Prince Edward County, Ontario, as did my fundraising for a worthy cause.
I sent away for maps, assembled gear and began training for the days that waited ahead. I would need to average 20 kilometres a day for 32 successive days. For the fundraiser, I contacted PEI’s Lennon House, a recovery home for people with addictions and co-occurring mental health disorders. Having lost a partner to addiction, it’s a cause to which I relate. I hoped to raise $7,000 during my 700-kilometre walk to fund an art therapy program. Lennon House founder Dianne Young loved the idea.
On September 3, 2021, eighteen months later, I took my first step on the trail. It wasn’t the auspicious start I’d imagined. I’d missed my flight from Toronto, then landed in Charlottetown the next day in torrential rain courtesy of Hurricane Ida. Thankfully, things were quickly back on track once I headed out.
The Island Walk is described as a circumnavigation of PEI that “takes you along the ocean, much of the Confederation Trail, red dirt roads, beaches, and through quiet secondary roads.” There were a few not-so-quiet road walks, but otherwise, it’s an apt description. The official start is in Charlottetown, but the route is a loop so you can start anywhere along the way and travel clockwise or counterclockwise.
My brother and his family live in St. Peter’s, which is where I’d intended to start. Delayed by my missed flight, I instead set off from New Zealand, a hamlet in PEI, to keep the lodging dates already booked. I walked 22.67 kilometres on day one, further than the 21 kilometres on the suggested itinerary. By doing some longer distances, I completed my trek in 30 days instead of the proposed 32. A couple of detours pushed the kilometre count to 714 by the time I finished.
Christine RenaudMany days brought sunshine during the journey, but an equal number were overcast, often with breathtakingly beautiful cloud formations. Winds were plentiful and brisk. A few days brought challenging rain. Regardless of weather, the natural beauty was spectacular and the terrain flat and easy, although the Bonshaw area and Hunter River had notable, satisfying hills. I ate lunch near ocean waves crashing against reddish-brown cliffs or in tranquil coves where the water lapped serpentine stretches of smooth sand. PEI’s distinctive red clay roads were gently undulating, forest-framed and soft underfoot. They slowed my pace as if by osmosis. The Confederation Trail portions were an oasis of calm with picnic tables and shelters. Every night, I wrote about the day's journey on my blog to upload the next morning.
The highlight of the experience, without a doubt, was meeting the people of PEI. Islanders helped allay my most pressing worry of where to stay and how to get to and from trailheads. There are commercial accommodations, of course—the island thrives on tourism—but most were outside my budget and rarely close to the route. The island trail community stepped up beyond my wildest expectations. Hikers and non-hikers alike welcomed me into their homes. Being a fundraiser, my trip allowed me some comfort with accepting their generous offers.
Three nights I stayed in the charming home of Freda and Edwin, farmers of wild blueberries. Ruth, a fellow hiker, opened her beautiful home to me where I sipped early morning coffee overlooking the West River. Ellen and Brian hosted me at their spacious oceanside cottage in spectacular Cape Wolfe. At Seal Cove Campground, I had a great private cabin with sweeping water views, and at the family-owned Sunny Isle Motel in Summerside, Myles provided laundry service when I got caught in a downpour on a particularly hard day. When the trail was close enough to my brother’s place, I basked in the hospitality of family.
Walking long distances every day is a mental game as much as a physical test, as anyone who’s done it knows well. It’s a rare opportunity to spend a lot of time in your own head, and a restorative, expansive exchange between your body and soul. Prince Edward Island presented nature in all its glorious forms to help me do just that. With everything I needed carried on my back, a long multi-day walk was more than adventure; it was freedom and fertile ground for personal growth. Lennon House grew, too: through people’s generous donations, $7,460 was raised, making the adventure that much sweeter.