The Wilderness Bug Is A Healing Bug

I love to hike, and I do it often- though you would never know it by looking at me.

I have read several of John Muir’s books, such as “Steep Trails“. I get lost in the nature visions that his field notes describe while hiking in a wilderness and mountains that were unknown to most people of his day.

I read books like Henry David Thoreau’s, “Walden“. Don’t such books make us all yearn for a more simplified life?

I grew up hunting and trapping, so the woods is the place of my childhood and young manhood.  The wilderness, in some inexpressible manner,  helps to make me whole. There is no better place to find ourselves, then lose ourselves again, in the sense of created wonder.

I read long distance hiking books about the various Caminos in Spain, Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. The “triple crown” honor is reserved for those who hike all three North-South American trails, totaling over 8000 miles.

A personal bucket list item for me was to hike the Confederation Trail on Prince Edward Island, my home, in Canada. My son and I did just that in 2015.  We hiked 300 km in eight days, with  half of one day spent off trail, due to my son’s ankle problem, and my massive heel blister.

My very first day on the trail, my new, (slightly broken in hiking boots), that I hiked 15 km in a dozen times, failed me at the first 25 kilometers. A huge blister formed  in my heel before I could catch it. I put  my old hikers back on for the second day,  and walked another 20 km that day, but it was clear I needed to tend to my huge wound, even with blister remedies applied.  So we took a zero day on day three. Good job, as the temps hit 32 C on Prince Edward Island that day. The humidity by the ocean makes that temperature unbearable. I treated my wound, and walked around home barefoot for the day, and painted a bunch of my lobster buoys, as I let the foot heal a little.

I enjoyed how each trail section has different ecosystems.

  • Tignish to Saint Eleanors –  this is real wilderness, bogs, swamp,  wild flowers, spruce forests.
  • Saint Eleanors , Summerside to Kensington – Goes through an urban center, and behind residential areas.
  • Kensington to Breadalbane – vistas of wide open fields and farms.
  • Breadalbane to Charlotteotwn – Woods, hills, and streams through hardwood stands.
  • Charlottetown to Mount Stewart-  Is close to civilization, it’s rural residential walking.
  • Mount Stewart – Morell – Amazing  salt marshes and rivers.
  • Saint Peters area is waterfront and rivers.
  • Saint Peters to Elmira, is hardwood forests with  little signs of humanity.

We were on a time schedule.

Therefore, we set out with the need to do over thirty kilometers per day, without any prep time. This was a bit ambitious, and we knew it. But we knocked out an average of 34 km per day, with a few almost 40 km days to make up for the 20 km half day caused by my blister, and Ben’s ankle.

We both enjoyed the experience so much.

However, several things we would change.

       1. We would not hike in July –  It is our national bird month, the mosquito.  If you hike later morning, you would have little clue of how bad it can get. However, if you hit the trail early, to make miles, you will find out. Camping would have been hell. I am a woods guy, but I had never seen the likes in all my life.

We had several bad days of mosquitoes. The first was near Mount Stewart, and the second was the last leg from Saint Peters to Elmira. In both places  we suffered clouds of incessant mosquitoes. Bug spray did nothing to help. We had to hike with ponchos on all day, with a little hole for our faces to keep our sanity. In one spot we walked though literal clouds of juvenile mosquitoes coming off the grasses in grey plumes as we walked through. We knew right away it was going to be a bad day. We could not stop to rest, but pushed on and on. Unfortunate, as the Mount Stewart salt marches section is one of the more interesting ecological systems. I highly recommend it. Find where the Trail crosses route 22 in Mount Stewart, just off route 2. Hike back towards Charlottetown until the trail curves back right next to Route 2. So worth it!

The last day we did 36 km in about 2/3rds of our normal time. I called our ride and he was totally shocked we had finished so early, asking if we ran the whole day. Well, actually, we almost did. We could not stop at all. We were moving as fast as we could go.

My son claims that he still suffers from PTS, Post Traumatic Stress flashbacks when he sees a mosquito.

2. Do Fewer Miles and Take More Time.  Most longer distance hikers lament this. Getting too fixed on the end goal, and not enjoying the journey enough. Both of us enjoyed the trip. However, we said we would love to do it again, but cover less miles per day, and not to venture out with  such a pressed schedule.

As my son summarized it very well,

Walking the trail is so much better than biking it. You get to see the same scenery from ten different angles, over ten minutes.

3. We would add the side trails –  If one wishes to add the spurs to Borden and Murry Harbour you can hike nearly 450km.

On a side note, one of the things struggles we encountered was a repetitive strain issue.  The trail is a flat old train rail bed, with a 4% incline, at most. Therefore, you are walking the same way, with the same gait, hour after hour, day after day, with little variety. On a wilderness path there is more variety in your movement, with more muscles engaged as you step around  trees, over rock, hop mounts, scale banks, or descend slopes.  Whereas, the Confederation trail is the same stride and gait, on a wide chip gravel path, all day long. The predictable rhythm wears thin on your body very quickly.  My son had ankle issues for days on the walk. I have never once had my knee lock up on hikes, neither before, nor since our Confederation trail hike.

However, I had one knee lock up, for several kilometers per day, almost daily. It was the strangest thing. I would do stretches etc, and nothing seemed to help make it go away. When the knee locking came on, with no advanced indications, I would almost fall no  the ground from the misstep it caused, mid stride. All of a sudden bu knee did not want to let my leg come forward. But it would also disappear as fast as it came on, after struggling for a few kilometers at half speed. It was usually one once per day, so strange.

The Confederation Trail is probably the safest trail in Canada. No bears, or poisonous snakes to contend with, and all of the trail within cell range.

We met mostly cyclists. We met only one couple hiking couple, on day six. They had hiked the whole trail before. They were  hiking 12 km a morning, training for a 1000 km hike in Ireland in the fall. They had also hiked the French Camino, which begins in France,  crosses most of Spain, to end in the city of Santiago De Compostela. They were the only hikers we saw the whole trip. There were, of course, a few walkers near the Charlottetown, Summerside, and Kensington, but even they are few.

The whole hike was like having the trail to yourself. The experience also gave me courage to hike more long trails. Because I realized I can do it.

Which leads me to our dream for this coming summer. I am hoping  it materializes.

I’m making plans, even now, right here in Africa.

Check back in a few days as I reveal the story.

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