In June 2022, I completed the 700 km Island Walk, around Prince Edward Island. You can read about that walk over several posts, starting with this one.
This was before Hurricane Fiona caused so much damage on the Island, impacting many of the places which I had visited. Some of what I describe below may have changed by the time you do the Island Walk, but please, don’t let that stop you. PEI needs your tourist support as it recovers.
This post is about the final stretch of my Walk, days 25-27 between Murray River and Charlottetown. The links below have the details from the Island Walk website for the Sections that I covered.
Note, by the way, that the section #s on the official website are somewhat confusingly labelled based on each start point, and since the overall walk start point is also the finish point, the 1st section is labelled as “32-1” with its accompanying web page titled as Section 32 (because it starts at the end of the last section, which is section 32) and goes to the end of section 1; thus the 2nd section is labelled as “1-2” and its webpage is titled Section 1, and so on. Whatever, the links below reflect the sections as I walked them.
- Section 29-30 – 26 km from Murray River to Surrey
- Section 30-31 – 25 km from Surrey to Lake Verde
- Section 31-32 – 22 km from Lake Verde to Charlottetown
- Et finis!!!
I highly recommend that you use the Island Walk website and its directions for the details of the official route, since that route can change from time to time such as for detours around major road works. That said, I also encourage you to use the official route and its sections as a starting point. Find your own pace, detour as and when your fancy takes you, walk the sections in whatever order seems sensible, and remember – everybody walks their own camino.
If you are planning on doing portions of the walk spread over several months or years, this portion covers what, for me, was the least scenic part of the Walk, though the last portion from outside Stratford into Charlottetown would make a nice afternoon stroll. Otherwise, it’s the sprint to the finish, you won’t care about scenery if this stretch means you’ve finished the Walk.
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Once More into the Breach
Blinking myself awake on the morning of Day 26, I looked out of the window as I made coffee and packed a lunch. Sunshine. The weather forecast on that Saturday seemed innocuous, even a bit promising – warming temps, some clouds with a bit of sun, pleasant enough after the previous day’s walk in the rain. It was the lack of breeze that worried me. The day would be spent doing Section 30 of the Walk, “back on the Confederation Trail with a forested walk”, and those words meant just one thing to me – mosquitoes.
I prepared for them, ensuring that a long-sleeve shirt, my bug hat, and my rain jacket were ready at the top of my pack. Ann drove from our new digs at Vernon Bridge back to Murray River, a much shorter 15-minute run compared to those earlier in the Walk, and snapped a quick picture of me heading off for the day before she turned for Charlottetown to spend her day nosing about the farmers market.
This Section starts in Murray River across from the harbour, where the Confederation Trail crosses Route 4.
I started hopefully, crossing my fingers that I could get an hour in before the bugs woke up. And for the first kilometer or so the bugs weren’t too bad. “Maybe I’ll get away with this”.
Spoke too soon. Within another kilometer, I found myself warming up my swatting muscles, arms swinging in multiple directions. I gave in, and pulled on the bug hat, then the long-sleeve shirt. As the air warmed during the morning, the mugginess built with it under partial clouds, and I was soon drenched in sweat.
The Trail wound through fields and forests, first west and then gradually turning north, with occasional open spaces where a breath of air provided some relief, otherwise just a shaded tree-lined tunnel that could have been anywhere on the Island, there were no landmarks or features to draw the eye.
Two hours in and time for a rest break. Sitting on a bench, with clouds of mosquitoes eager for a bite, I suffered only long enough to drink some water before I was back on my feet, by now wearing my rain jacket since the bugs were nipping me through the long sleeves of my shirt.
Three hours in, all hope of a pleasant walk gone, resigned to a dreary slog of a day. Four hours and still bugs, still hot, still feeling ragged. A short lunch break spent swatting while eating. Five hours, then six, and still bugs.
By then I’d completed Section 30, where the Trail crosses a dirt road at Surrey. This is truly in the middle of nowhere, no houses or farms or sights of any kind as I crossed the dirt road, but it was a relief to dawdle in the breeze for a moment. I kept going to make a head start on Section 31, reckoning that if there were bugs the next day then at least I’d make that day shorter by continuing for a bit.
At last, after about 7 hours of near-continuous walking, I reached the next road crossing outside Iona, where Ann was waiting. Stepping out onto the road into the sunshine was like entering another country – the bugs only lived along the Trail, it seemed. I was dripping with perspiration, my clothes clinging stickily, and my arms and hands and neck were covered in welts.
Reaching the little cottage we’d rented, I collapsed into a chair, too spent to do more than hobble into the kitchen to make a strong cup of tea. Gradually, strength returned, and a hot shower restored me enough to eat dinner. It had been the worst day on the Walk, worse than my rain-slog from Kensington to Cavendish. I was knackered, physically and mentally. I could understand how the men working in the bush had been driven mad by mosquitoes. How had those poor guys fared when they built the railway that I had just walked as the Trail?
After that shattering day, I wasn’t looking forward to the next. The route I needed to walk continued to follow the Confederation Trail for the entire day, so I expected to be eaten alive once more. And it was going to be warmer as well. To add toil to misery, this was the penultimate day of the Walk for me, and I wanted to make a longer distance so that if it rained on my last day, as it threatened, then I’d have less walking in the wet.
Ann dropped me off at Iona. “Ready?”, she asked. I nodded – nothing for it except to get out and go. The Island Walk website hints at mystery for Section 31 – “A walk along the rail trail, including a rebuilt section that doesn’t follow the old rail trail route. There’s a story here…”.
But it later proved to be a minor mystery – there is a short kilometer or 2 stretch near Vernon River where you can see where the old rail line continues north while you bear off to the east for a bit before rejoining the original rail path. Walking that diversion, on a trail bed that, to be honest, didn’t seem any different from what I’d been travelling for several hundred km already, was a bit of a disappointment.
Before I resolved that mystery, however, I had to get there. The first hour or two that morning plunged me back into pest purgatory – long sleeve shirt useless against mosquitoes that bit right through, a rain jacket that foiled the mosquitoes while trapping my body heat and sweat underneath, and my trusty bug hat. Walk, sweat, swat, repeat.
Still, gradually and then with increasing strength, the sun burned through the morning’s haze, the wind shifted and increased in force, and the terrain around the Trail opened out into wider countryside. Blissfully, my steps lightened as I left the bugs behind, and I celebrated by taking a long break in the sun, just soaking it up.
This part of PEI is farming country with dairy and horse pastures, potatoes and market gardens. It’s also close enough to Charlottetown to appeal as get-out-of-the-city recreational space. Since it was a nice day, and a Sunday, the Trail was relatively busy compared to any of the stretches I’d walked yet.
A couple riding their bikes passed me, southbound – fit, tanned, silver-haired, expensive workout clothes, pricey bikes, weekenders from the City no doubt. An hour later, they passed me again, this time heading north. An hour after that, I passed them a third time, this time again heading south. “We meet again. Doing laps?” “Yes, we get our 50 km in by riding back and forth between parking lots near the Trail”. Of course you do, I thought.
Early in the afternoon, I passed the marker for the end of Section 31, near Lake Verde. The Trail continues from here, the home stretch into Charlottetown, and I found myself slowing as I walked the last few kilometers of the day. Cerulean blue overhead, blazing early summer sun, air that felt summer-humid, cicadas buzzing in the grasses. But more than that, a building sense that I should savour this, push back against the completionitis I had felt since East Point. I was nearly there. What next? No answer.
Ann picked me up at a petrol station near Mount Albion, only a 5-minute drive back to our digs at Vernon River – did I miss that 75-minute trek from North Lake back to Murray River? She’d been a dedicated sherpa, schlepping me for many hours to many points scattered around eastern end of the Island. I felt guilty.
When we got back to our cottage, we took a glass of wine out onto the little deck in the garden, which overlooked low hills dotted with sheep idling amongst tussocks of shaggy grass, reminding us both of the Dorset countryside in England where we’d holidayed years and years ago.
A bird flitted in the climbing roses. Bees snooped in the flowers. What next? I still didn’t know.
Back in the 1980’s, I remember watching a funny parody, a Second City TV sketch, with an absurd art-house poke-fun-at-Fellini plot that ended with the scene fading to black and the word Fin staring out of the screen. That last morning began with that closing scene playing in my head. What I was doing seemed absurd. Spend 4 weeks walking, literally in a circle round an island?
That morning, I had only to do the last 15 km of Section 32, from Mount Albion to Joe Ghiz park, perhaps a bit more than 3 hours even if I took my time. Ann was going to drop me off and then go on to Charlottetown, where she’d be at the park to watch me cross the symbolic finish line.
The Island Walk website calls Section 32 a “walk along the last section of the Confederation Trail into the town of Stratford across Fullerton Marsh.” I tried to take it slowly but adrenalin overrode my intentions, as the natural stride that muscle-memory automatically assumed clashed with my desire to soak in these last few hours.
I kept climbing small hills expecting to get a view of Charlottetown, but annoyingly saw only a few more low hills and some trees ahead,
I knew that I was within a few kilometers of the provincial capital, but since Charlottetown is not very big, there weren’t yet many houses about – it was still open fields and farms until I finally left the old rail line in the outskirts of Stratford and stepped onto the final stretch of back roads. It was quiet, with very little traffic. The first sign of impending civilization was a sidewalk. After 700 km, I’d finally finished road walking, becoming a normal city pedestrian again.
I stopped for a rest in Stratford at the Robert Cotton Park, where a sun-warmed bench nestled amidst trees and gardens offered a final respite. I felt like I was running late. My step counter confirmed that I’d covered more than 13,000 steps and therefore more than 10 kilometers – the pace I’d settled into for the past 4 weeks. But it also showed that I had only about 60 minutes of exercise, when I knew I’d been walking for two hours. I couldn’t understand why. Only later did it occur to me that in getting into better shape aerobically over the course of the walk, my heart rate that morning hadn’t been elevated enough for all of those steps to count as exercise – a good thing, actually. But a confusing one at the time.
That clarity came later. Instead, at that moment I felt like I was behind schedule, convinced I was farther away from the finish than in fact I was. I texted Ann to say that I’d be a bit late getting to the Park. The night before, she’d mentioned that our friends Carol and Michael from Lunenburg had come up as a surprise to meet me at the finish, so I told her to stall about with them and stretch out their morning coffee.
As I walked through Stratford, I kept checking my map. My sense of direction seemed off as well. The map said that I was on the route as I followed Bunbury Road east and then south to join with the Trans-Canada Highway, PEI Route 1, but I couldn’t see any of the Island Walk road markers that had been my companions for weeks. If they were there, I missed the one that leads you to a safe road crossing to reach the pedestrian path on the Hillsborough River Bridge, which enters the city from the south.
Instead, I turned a corner and saw the busy road in front of me leading to the bridge, and simply waited for a break in traffic to dash across and hop the barrier to land on the walkway. Having reached it, looking back over my shoulder I could see what would have been a better place to cross, at a set of traffic lights.
I walked more slowly now, coming to a stop just after crossing over the river. I at last had my bearings and could see that I was only about a kilometer from the park. I hesitated. The sense of ennui was overwhelming, combined with doubts – what am I supposed to be feeling?
I stood there for a bit, listening to the traffic rumbling behind me as I looked over the water towards Charlottetown. A decision slowly formed. I texted Ann, to ask if she would mind waiting a bit before meeting me in the park. I wanted to get there alone, to have some time to try to process everything before I saw anyone.
With that decision now made, completionitis kicked in, one last time. A final glance at the spire of St. Dunstan’s Cathedral, a mental foot to the floor to urge myself back into motion. A glimpse of what I assumed must be one of the final Island Walk road markers, pointing the way to the Park. Descending off of the bridge, I strode towards a cheerfully beckoning Welcome to Charlottetown sign, picked out in flowers on a low berm beside the busy road.
Over these last few hundred meters, the route skirts some playing fields as the highway becomes Grafton Street, bending west towards the downtown. Completely urban now, red dirt hidden under pavement. And then at last, the ultimate Island Walk marker, pointing right. I crossed the street to enter Joe Ghiz Park.
It was mid-day. In front of me, some youngsters in a supervised play group were being rounded up by the counselors and herded to picnic tables for a pizza lunch. I watched them skittle about, screeching, while I slowly drifted towards the big map that marks the official KM 0 of the Confederation Trail. Reaching it, I paused, and then took a big, theatrical, final, step.
I snapped a selfie standing in front of the map.
My expression seems a bit dazed, when I look at it now. Shrugging off my pack, I dropped it onto a bench and let myself slump down beside it. Nothing more to carry.
I was sitting there, mind blank, emotions churning, when I looked up to see Ann striding quickly towards me, with Carol and Michael hanging back a bit to give us some space. I stepped towards her, and reached out to enfold her in my arms, tears spilling, blubbing.
I started the Walk on June 1, 2022, a week after my original planned start. We delayed it because a few days before we were to leave for PEI, Ann was called in for a biopsy on her right breast. A routine mammogram had raised concerns. She’d already battled breast cancer once before, in 2013, and had been looking forward to hitting the 10 years cancer-free milestone.
We left for PEI not knowing the results of the biopsy. We both assumed a superstitious embargo about discussing it so we wouldn’t jinx the result, but I could tell that she already knew, deep down, that the cancer had returned. I asked her if she wanted me to cancel the Walk, at least until we knew more. No, she said. This is your dream, do it. Don’t put things off.
So I walked the Island Walk, expecting at each day’s finish that she’d tell me she’d gotten the call from the oncologist to confirm that her cancer had returned. And each day, she said nothing. I retreated into my bubble as I walked, and she drove around the Island and tried to enjoy the sights.
And so when I saw her coming towards me in the park that last day, the emotions were overwhelming. We did this together – I may have done the walking, but she had to do the waiting, and that must surely have been far harder.
Michael and Carol didn’t know, then, what Ann was going through, but they could see that the walk had affected me deeply, so they waited off stage, not wanting to intrude. When I finally stopped crying, I reached out to embrace them into this moment and thank them for coming, and after a moment to gather myself, we set off back into the city.
I was struggling with duelling emotions, on the one hand the endorphin high of the finish, on the other a mild panic as the thought “what now?” ran rampant through my head. I’d spent 4 weeks with a plan for each day, a routine. It was only just hitting me how much I was going to miss that. And what about Ann?
We found a pub for a celebratory pint and a laugh-filled lunch together, and then Carol and Michael headed off to explore PEI. Ann and I wandered about for a while, and popped into a small shopping mall down by the water. I bought myself a reward, a bottle of one of my favourite single malt whiskies. We picked up a pizza to go, and drove back to Vernon Bridge for one last night, eating outside with a glass of wine and watching the sunset. Didn’t talk much. Not much to say.
The next day we drove home to Lunenburg. Finished, just like that.
Processing it now, nearly a year later, I can recognize that the physical, mental, and emotional challenges had been more than I’d expected. But overall, there is still an overwhelming sense of satisfaction, of completion. And of gratitude – I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Ann’s support.
As I write this in the spring of 2023, Ann is doing well, once again cancer-free. We had learned, just after we returned home, that as she had suspected, her cancer had returned. She underwent a lumpectomy in August of 2022 to remove the tumour. She needed several weeks to recover from that, and then in the autumn discussed next steps and risks with her oncologist.
He pointed out that while her treatment had been successful, the fact that she’d developed cancer twice in the same breast meant that there was a high risk of another recurrence. The only way to be sure that it would not come back was to undergo a mastectomy. That was a shock – we’d been celebrating that her journey was now of recovery. But after reconciling herself to that course, and after a lot of deliberation, she decided upon a mastectomy and a simultaneous reconstruction.
The surgery in March 2023 went very well. She’s recovering nicely, already itching to be out in the garden. We’re both thankful that we could celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary at home, with a glass of bubbly sitting by the fire.
And of course, the world unfolded as it always does, heedless of our personal lives. PEI endured a devastating wallop from Hurricane Fiona in September 2022, which closed, washed out, or clogged with downed trees much of the Island Walk route. The Confederation Trail is maintained by volunteers and they were busy all winter cleaning up and rebuilding their own homes and communities; the Trail had to wait. But now it’s spring, and things have mostly returned to normal.
The Walk is still there, and over the past few weeks, as the instalments of this story have been published, I’ve been watching the numbers of views and visitors grow. I hope that means that people are researching and planning to do the Walk this year. It pleases me to think that the story of my journey might encourage people to try it.
With increasing numbers of walkers and cyclists, PEI business, residents, and governments will continue to invest in and embrace the Walk as a doorway to welcome visitors to the Island. There’s much that can be improved, especially in terms of rest stops and toilets along the road sections. It will take time, but like the forests hit by the hurricane, it will grow.
Would I do it again? Sure – it would be wonderful, perhaps a few years down the road, to see how things have evolved and revisit some special places. I loved Tignish, and the North Cape, and the beaches along the north shore, and little towns like Cardigan and Montague and Kensington, and the seafood restaurants, and the bakeries, the red dirt roads and the lushness of fields, the cows and the crows, and the ice cream shops all over the island.
But in the meantime, Ann and I have other things in front of us. My bucket list has more walks on it than I’m ever likely to do. So I’ll leave the Island Walk to others for now.
Everyone walks their own camino. Your turn.
Other Posts About this Journey
- The Island Walk (a summary)
- The Island Walk Part 1 – Charlottetown to Summerside
- The Island Walk Part 2 – Summerside to Tignish
- The Island Walk Part 3 – Tignish to Kensington
- The Island Walk Part 4 – Kensington to North Lake
- The Island Walk Part 5 – North Lake to Murray River
- The Island Walk Part 6 – Murray River to Charlottetown
- The Island Walk – Plans, Gear, and Lessons
Day 25 – Murray River to Iona Road
- Warm, muggy, with little to no breeze – perfect weather if you’re a bug
- Completed Section 30, as well as the first few km of Section 31
- Daily GPS distance = about 30 km, elapsed time just under 7 hours
- Fitbit daily stats = 31 km, 41,500 steps, 370 exercise minutes, 20 flights of stairs
Day 26 – Iona Road to Mount Albion
- Sunny and fine, breezier and for the most part a lover day for walking
- Completed the rest of Section 31, and the first few km of Section 32
- Daily GPS distance = about 28 km, elapsed time just over 6 hours
- Fitbit daily stats = 29.3 km, 39,200 steps, 335 exercise minutes, 23 flights of stairs
Day 27 – Mount Albion to Charlottetown
- Sunny day, warm and breezy – perfect for the finish
- Completed Section 32! Done!
- Daily GPS distance – 15 km, elapsed time just over 3 hours
- Fitbit daily stats – 15 km, 21,000 steps, 165 exercise minutes, 33 flights of stairs
Montague and Charlottetown are the biggest places near this part of the Walk. It isn’t really possible to walk from accommodation to accommodation here since you cover 50 kilometers of the Confederation Trail and there’s basically nothing near the Section end points.
Instead, I suggest booking something for a couple of days in either Montague or Charlottetown and then arranging pick-up and drop-off transportation to the walk route. In my case, for this part of the walk, since my wife was with me and could do the driving, we stayed in Vernon Bridge, which was right in the middle and made for short drives.
If you’re booking accommodation, I’d also strongly recommend doing that well ahead, however, especially in high season, since there aren’t a ton of places to stay.
If you base yourself in Montague or Charlottetown, you’ll find plenty in the way of grocery shops, restaurants, pharmacies, bakeries, etc. to keep yourself supplied and looked after.
In this part of PEI, you can use one of the Charlottetown taxi companies that cover most of the middle of the island, but that will be expensive – expect rates in the region of $2 per km. I did not use them, since my wife was with me and she did the driving.
There are other transportation options as well, for example tour operators who provide services such as I received from Stanley MacDonald in an earlier part of the walk. Lastly, there is the T3 bus network, which can get you to/from some of the points on the Island Walk route, though I suspect it doesn’t work that well for this part where you’re near the Confederation Trail. Still you might make it work if you walk to/from a bus stop to the Trail, so check their website for full schedule info.
As for sustenance each day, you’ll need to pack a lunch since you don’t pass by any cafes or restaurants, and I would always recommend taking some snacks as well. Don’t forget to bring lots of water – there’s nowhere to fill up on the Trail.
Finally, as for bio pit stops, you’re on the Trail until just before Charlottetown so it’s back to the bushes. At least there are benches and picnic tables along the Trail so you can stop for a rest.
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