Where it all started
Back in January of this year, Kris had an early mid life crisis. He was bored with the 9-5, work to pay for your mortgage life and was on the hunt to find something new and exciting in his life. Around the same time, inspired by him, I decided to finally leave a job I hated that was making me truly unhappy with my life. A few months later in March, 3 days before my last day at that job, Kris proposed we sell the house, all our stuff and thru hike the Appalachian trail next year and In my new found freedom, I immediately said yes. We were giddy. All I talked about those last few days at work was the Appalachian trail and how we were going to summit Katahdin in 2018. Everyone was supportive, but somewhat skeptical. What if you don’t like hiking? Have you ever even gone camping? Are you sure you want to sell your house? What if it doesn’t go well and you come back early? We took all of this with a grain of salt. We had put our minds to it and were stubbornly moving ahead. As soon as I became officially unemployed I spent half my time looking for a job and the other half researching the AT and all the gear we’d need. I often questioned how we’d do out there, but had faith we’d persevere. Our relationship had blossomed on walking, this could only make us stronger, right? We had done an ill prepared portage trip a few years prior and had a blast, surely being prepared could only make things easier and more fun!
The first big purchase was our backpacks, which we tried out right away on our annual long walk across the city. We packed them up heavy with random items from around the house and set off to Orleans from our house in Nepean. It was an almost 36km day. It was a bit rough, as it was all pavement walking, but overall I thought I could carry my pack for 6 months. Over the next few months we started going hiking in Gatineau Park and eventually found the Rideau Trail right in our own backyard. One evening, while on a blue section of the Rideau Trail, we stumbled upon a sign letting us know we were 275km from Kingston if we kept following the orange with yellow tip blazes. Kris was inspired. Right away he said he wanted to hike to Kingston. Our first real test began.
The Rideau Trail
Unfortunately we didn’t have any time off until the summer, so we started section hiking. Spending afternoons out there was amazing. By the time July rolled around and our week long vacation with it, we were determined to spend as much time out there putting in miles towards our destination. So far, we had spent a total of two nights in our tent. One in our backyard during a rain storm and one in Smiths Falls on Canada day, again in a storm. Our tent had held up well against the rain and we were very happy with our sleeping arrangements. Now the real test, multiple days out in the woods! We packed up enough food for what seemed appropriate at the time (we quickly found out we had WAY too much food) and left from Perth on a cool Sunday morning. We underestimated the terrain and overestimated the damage our bodies could take and ended that trip early. We didn’t let that deter us though, we were more determined than ever to make it to Kingston. A few weeks later came our last chance to finish the Rideau Trail in one shot, our last week of vacation for the year. We tried, in vain, to pack less food this time and again we were off on a sunny Sunday morning. This time, we risked leaving the car on the side of the road in Bedford Mills (thank you kind strangers who didn’t tow/vandalize/steal our car). As with our last night on the trail on our previous adventure, we had trouble finding our designated camping spot with the map provided by the Rideau Trail’s website. We found a great spot nonetheless and made great time to be able to set up our tent and enjoy the evening relaxing and listening to the sounds of the forest (and nearby flight path). We were rudely awakened at 3AM by what we now know was a fox screaming. Shaken but still feeling safe inside our tent, we went back to sleep, wondering what lay ahead for us the next day. Thinking back on it, the days all melt together in the beauty of the woods and the calmness that takes over when all you have to do all day is hike.
Our second day out there was more challenging. We ended up sleeping in and leaving camp later than anticipated and Frontenac was more challenging than we thought. Once again, the terrain was surprising us. Never underestimate the Rideau Trail! Day 2 also included my first dreaded tick bite. I felt it right away, and Kris was able to remove it quickly. I’ve since looked into ticks and have concluded that it was a dog tick, luckily, so I was never in danger of getting lyme disease. But I will always remember the Cataraqui Trail as the place of my first tick bite. Awesome trail, repulsive memory. The scenery that day was as gorgeous as the terrain was tough. By the end of the day, we started getting pretty tired and grumpy. Kris’ knee hurt, so we were taking more breaks in order to not completely mess it up, and our pace took a beating. Well into Frontenac provincial park, the sun was setting and we were no where near our destination yet. Once again, the camp site on the map was near impossible to find and calling the park office to ask if they knew anything about it lead nowhere. So using google maps, we finally determined we were close enough and outside the park boundary, so we set up the tent to get away from the mosquitoes. I just want to mention here that I feel bad for all the forest creatures that live in the constant buzz of deer flies and mosquitoes, they’re incessant! From our short time in Frontenac, I’ve determined they have the highest concentration of deer in the province. We had a few deer visits while setting up camp, as well as in the morning, plus the other 9 we saw hiking on the slide lake loop. It was almost magical. That night we decided to set up our tent without the fly again to try to get a better view of the stars since we were on a mountain over looking Doe Lake.
After a quick check on the weather network, we determined we’d be okay. I don’t think the weather network has ever been so wrong! Around 10:30, Kris felt water starting to fall into the tent. He quickly went outside and set up the rain fly. After another quick weather check, we decided it didn’t need to be staked in 100%. Boy were we wrong! Around 3AM the worst thunderstorm of our lives started. Lightning was hitting way too close for comfort and at one point the fly lifted and let in the torrential downpour into the tent. After drying up as best we could, we lay there listening to the storm for what seemed like hours. Both shaken by this experience we, again, slept later than expected. We quickly got ready the next morning, talking about how close we came to dying the previous night. See, neither of us remembered how many trees we had for cover on this mountain, and both of us were convinced we were going to die, a fact that Kris kept to himself until morning. In retrospect, we were fine, unless a tree had fallen on us. It was quite the experience and I don’t recommend it to anyone. We hiked for about an hour in the beauty that is Frontenac before getting to the park office. We’ve quickly learned that park offices mean vending machines and cold drinks! After a pit stop to get rid of garbage and down a couple bottles of nice cold Pepsi, we were on our way again. Night three was to be spent in Sydenham. We quickly realized that our late departure and the terrain was going to make a stay in Sydenham hopeless. We could hear distant thunderstorms and didn’t want to get stuck walking in a storm in the dark, so we decided to rely on the kindness of strangers. We picked a house with a big yard and knocked on their door to see if they would be kind enough to let us set up our tent in their yard. To our surprise they said yes! Beginner’s luck, I guess. We set up in time to get out of the rain, staking the tent properly this time. Never making that mistake again! We lay there that night realizing we only had 2 more days left on this adventure! And looking at the maps, it looked like a lot of road walking, which means a good pace.
Reaching the Finish Line
The next morning we walked into Sydenham and spent an hour there buying snacks, some Subway, washing our hands and Kris’ shirt in Subway’s sink (who knew I would be dreaming about washing my hands.. Of all things!) and getting some new bug spray as we were quickly running out. Super cute little town, definitely going back at some point to visit the oldest general store in Canada! Sydenham is where we got onto the Cataraqui Trail once again and quickly got onto the K&P Trail. Being on flat land, our 4th day hiking went very well and we got to camp pretty early. This camp was slightly easier to find, thanks to the mention of power lines in the campsite description on the Rideau Trail website. We got to lay around for hours listening to the sounds of the nearby, nearly dry swamp. We slept well again that night, other than the coyotes howling to one another. The rest was well deserved and we felt brand new on our last day on the trail. We couldn’t believe we only had 27km left until we got to Kingston. All this hard work and it was finally within our reach. After running into a heard of cows in the woods and doing a bit more hiking through the forest, we cut back onto the K&P Trail, which would ultimately bring us into Kingston.
It was a hot and sunny day out on an open trail but that didn’t slow us down. Once in Kingston, the trail took us through the Cataraqui Cemetery, behind some suburbs, through some wetlands and finally along Lake Ontario. The trail definitely brings you to historical sights and my interest in Kingston has been piqued, I cannot wait to go back and find out about all the history the city contains. Finally, as clouds were starting to form and rain was looming, we looked ahead and saw a plaque. Kris didn’t believe it was THE plaque, the beginning and end of the Rideau trail, but it was. It was a bittersweet moment. Our journey had ended after a long day, but it was over. The idea of going home and going back to work was already on my mind, and I didn’t like it.
This summer I’ve learned a lot about myself. I can handle more mosquitoes than I had originally thought I could and I can push through when I don’t feel like going anymore. I feel like I’ve proven to myself that I can hike the Appalachian trail. I won’t quit for just any old reason, you’ll have to drag me off that trail kicking and screaming. Sure, our longest stretch was only 110 km, but I think about our time out there every day, wishing I could go back. Yes, even to the mosquitoes. I now dread being cooped up inside all day at work and Kris and I have been trying to plan another weekend of hiking somewhere away from the city. I look forward to next year more every passing week and know that before long, we’ll be take our first of 5 million steps on the Appalachian trail.