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On August 12, 2023, Jamieson Findlay and his friend Bill Barkley embarked on an adventure that they will never forgot. They are currently hiking along A2A's Pilgrimage for Nature Trail, a 640-km trail that connects Algonquin Park in Ontario to Adirondack Park in New York State. The route is linked by existing trails whenever possible, and they will be trekking through wilderness trails, rail trails, back roads, and main roads. Jamieson Findlay, a storyteller and grant writer for Nature Canada, jumped at the opportunity to be the first to complete the entire length of the trail. Bill Barkley, is an experienced wilderness canoe camper and joined the trek to support his life-long friend.
This exciting trek is a collaborative effort with Nature Canada, a leading conservation organization dedicated to protecting Canada's wildlife and their natural habitats. The A2A region plays a unique role in conservation across eastern North America, and we are hopeful that this expedition will raise awareness of the essential work that we are doing to benefit ecological connectivity, and its role in providing resilience to the changes the world is experiencing with climate change.
After 36 days Jamie has finished this through hike of the "Pilgrimage for Nature Trail!" On Saturday September 16 Jamie made it to Algonquin Park. He was joined by Bill Barkely to finish the final leg of the journey. We want to congratulate Jamie on this amazing accomplishment! He is the first person to have completed a through hike of the A2A trail! Thank you to everyone who has supported and followed Jamie and Bill's Journey!
Here is an update from Jamie from his last few days on the trail,
Success! And what a trip it's been (for the mind as well as the body).
Yesterday (Friday, Sept. 15) I cycled one of the most beautiful sections of the Pilgrimage for Nature route, along the J.R Booth Heritage Rail Trail that follows the Madawaska River into the village of Whitney. In the evening, I was joined by Bill Barkley, my stalwart trekking companion who did the American section of the trail with me, and by longtime friend Dave Trattles, on assignment as a photographer for Canadian Geographic. After a night at the Rolling Rapids Motel in Whitney, we cycled into Algonquin Park along Highway 60, stopping at the Eastern Gate to say hello to the staff and take a few more pictures, and continued on to the Visitors' Centre. Bill had packed a bottle of Barkley's craft cider (made out of apples from his orchard), which we opened for a celebration. Moose were invited, but alas, none showed up.
So it's done - the tangibles of A2A (rain, wind, wildflowers, clouds, sun, mud, rivers, lakes, pavement, limpid pink salamanders, ospreys, foxes, coyotes, deer, night-calling loons and owls, trees healthy and lightening-shattered, people of all ages and outlooks, mushrooms - but not the hallucinogenic kind!) all belong in the past now. It's a moveable feast, to borrow Ernest Hemmingway's phrase - I'll carry it around with me for the rest of my life.
Today is day 35 of the Trek. Jamie is making quick progress as today he cycles to Whitney, the gateway to Algonquin park!
An update from Jamie,
"Today, thanks to the organizing efforts of Bill Schroeder, friend and supporter of A2A, I did a talk at the Madawaska Valley District High School in Barry's Bay, ON. I spoke to three classes of grade nine students about the trek. They had written down some excellent questions, such as "Did you hunt and fish on your trek?" ( No, just foraged for berries and mushrooms) and "How did you maintain personal hygiene?" (When you're trekking, personal hygiene is a journey rather than a destination!) Then I met the mayor of the township, a councillor, and several people associated with the Railway Museum in Barry's Bay, who were all very welcoming and supportive of the trek. At noon, I cycled the JR Booth Heritage Rail Trail from Barry's Bay to Madawaska - a gorgeous stretch of land, with plenty of moose habitat (wetlands) but no moose, unfortunately. Tomorrow I cycle to Whitney, the gateway to Algonquin Park!" -Jamie Findlay
Today is day 31 of the Trek. Jamie has made good progress this week and is starting the last leg of the Pilgrimage for Nature!
Here is an update from Jamie:
Ballads in the night, the tree of shoes, the Old "Kick and Push."
"I stayed two nights ago with Dave Miller, former A2A Executive Director and current board member, and his wife Debbie. In the evening, around the campfire, Dave got out his guitar and treated us to some fingerstyle magic, including a song about "Nimblewill Nomad," a wanderer, neo-hobo and the oldest person to have completed the Appalachian Trail. Sometimes I feel a kinship with Mr. Nomad. I bet he can feel his joints at the end of the day, too.
Still, I'm making progress. Two days ago, thanks to Randall Goodfellow, another friend of A2A, I borrowed a bike and cycled 65 km between Westport and Levant Sation. Dave Miller came to pick me up, and after a restful night, I walked the K & P trail (Kingston to Pembroke... the old "Kick and Push") to Calabogie. During the walk, I came across a strange "Tree of Shoes" (see photo below), which I guess is a homage to all the shoes and boots that have trod this trail. Today I continued walking the K and P to Renfrew. Tomorrow I start the last leg of the Pilgrimage for Nature Trail!
I am indebted to all the A2A friends and board members whose generosity and hospitality helped me through these last few sections of the trail: Emily Conger, Randall Goodfellow and Dave Miller. These folks lent me bikes, gave me food and accommodation, and shuttled my heavy pack to points further along the trail. Thanks also to Doug at Wordsmith Printing in Westport, who printed off my A2A publicity cards free of charge."
Today is day 26 of the trek.Unfortunately Bill had to return home to his orchards, but Jamie has been joined by fellow hiking enthusiast, Lisa!
Here is an update from Jamie:
"Bill Barkley, who has been my stalwart fellow hiker since Day 1 (August 12), has had to return to his orchard (it's the height of the apple-selling season). I miss his wry humour, his woodcraft skills and his ability to connect with everybody we meet. Fortunately, just as he left, another friend and hiking enthusiast, Lisa, joined me for a few days to do the section from Larue Mills Road, ON, to the village of Delta. But this section is all on roads, and boy, did Lisa get a baptism of fire.
It was hot when we set out four days ago (30 degrees), and it got even hotter with each successive day. By Tuesday ( Sept. 5), we'd had enough of walking paved roads in the punishing heat. Fortunately, in the village of Lyndhurst, we managed to rent a canoe and continued north, padding out of Lyndhurst Creek and into Lower Beverley Lake, where we eventually reached the little inlet creek that led to Delta. At one point, passing marshy shoreline, we heard the sound of large animal moving and snorting in the reeds. A moose! (So we thought). We edged closer in the canoe, cameras ready. More snorting followed.... then a loud "moo!" Cows had come to the water edge seeking relief from the heat. A disappointment, but to make up for it, we saw herons standing sentinel-still on the shoreline, and turtles paddling away under the water surface. Got into the town of Delta around five, and since we'd been camping for the last few days, treated ourselves to a stay at a B and B. Tomorrow I set out for Westport!" -Jamie Findlay
It's day 22 of the trek and Bill and Jamie have officially crossed over to Canada on August 30!
Here is an update from Jamie:
“Well, it's nice to be back in Canada. We stayed at Wellesley Island State Park Campground on the night of Tuesday, Aug. 29, surrounded by large RVs and trailers. We crossed the Thousand Islands Bridge on Wednesday, August 30, and spent a few laid-back days at the house of Emily Conger, A2A board member. Great food, great conversation and a chance to rest our weary feet. Thanks again, Emily! Emily also provided bikes so we could cycle about 20 km to Mallorytown Landing, Ontario, site of the Visitors' Centre at Thousand Islands National Park. Here we gave a talk on Sept. 1st about the Pilgrimage for Nature trek. Soon we will launch into the Ontario section of the route, starting at Larue Mills Road near Mallorytown.” - Jamie
"Three days ago, we found ourselves in the little town of Gouverneur, NY, and were looking to get to Oxbow, fifteen kilometres to the west. But that would have meant walking paved roads again, and we were getting a bit tired of that.
Then we had an idea.
A woman gave us a lift to an Amish farmhouse just north of Gouverneur, and we approached a simple white building with horses in a paddock, tiered birdhouses, and kids in bare feet darting about on the front porch. We explained to the adults about our trek, and how we preferred to travel by any means other than mechanized transportation, and that we needed to get to Oxbow to get back on the A2A "Pilgrimage for Nature" Route. They said they'd be happy to give us a horse-and-buggy ride, but could only take us halfway to Oxbow - it was by then close to 4 p.m., and they wanted to get back before dark. We gladly agreed. A young Amish guy named Levi loaded up our packs in the buggy and took the driver's seat. His easy amiability won us over right from the beginning. At one point, a pick-up passed the buggy, stopped in front of us, and spun its tires so that smoke blew in our faces. I thought it was a local yahoo trying to make trouble, but Levi just laughed.
"We sometimes do work for that guy," he explained.
He dropped us off on the county road, and we paid him even though he said we didn't have to, then we walked the remaining eight kilometres to just outside Oxbow. A sign loomed ahead in the twilight: "Rooms, Food, Beer." The Riverside Hotel turned out to have the latter two, but not the first. (It also had a pool table and a lively crowd, including a guy in a T-shirt bearing the line: "The first rule of gun safety: carry one.") A friendly waitress told us a place we could camp, and in the morning, we bought breakfast from an Amish farmer nearby and then walked to Oxbow and beyond, hoping to get to Redwood. But we didn't make it and had to camp on state forested land at the end of a side road that had no water but plenty of mosquitoes. We were woken by coyotes in the middle of the night, yipping, howling and snarling - they sounded very close. Getting up in the morning, we walked into Redwood and called Anna at the Indian River Lakes Conservancy (IRLC), who kindly gave us permission to camp behind their building. We spent the day in Redwood and today met Anna at the Conservancy office and learned all about their work. For a quarter century, IRLC has been stewarding land in the north country of New York State and preserving critical habitat for the unique plants and animals in the region. Anna said they'd love to contribute to the vision of the A2A Pilgrimage for Nature Trail by providing trail routes through forested land, alleviating the need to walk on roads.
From Redwood, we walked to Alexandria Bay, which is where we are now. We're within sight of Canada!
P.S. I mentioned in my previous dispatch that I've given Bill the nickname "Panama Jack." He has an amazing eye for seeing things on the roadside - he found two pairs of sunglasses, one of which was the Panama Jack brand. He cleaned them up and now wears them regularly, thus becoming the coolest vagrant in the St. Lawrence Valley." - Jamie
It's day 14 of the trek, and Jamie and Bill are about 70 km away from the border!
Here is an update from Jamie:
"We walked out of the Adirondacks a few days ago and reached the little town of Harrisville on Aug. 22nd, hoping for a hot shower and a bed in a hotel or B and B. But there were none to be found. At the insistence of some locals, we did some discreet "hobo camping" nearby (i.e. in a place that wasn't officially a campsite). A very friendly State Trooper stumbled upon us at 10 pm, listened with interest to our explanation about the A2A trek, and said he would check to see if we could stay there - "If I don't come back, you can stay put!" He didn't come back. We salute the NY State Troopers for their forbearance towards tramp environmentalists. In the morning we went to the tiny Harrisville Library, where we printed up little cards describing our trek - so many people have been asking about it, we thought they'd be handy. They were. We wrangled an invite to stay at the farm of a very friendly couple about 10 km north of Harrisville, where the beautiful flowerbed was edged in cement blocks painted red, white and blue, and where Trump was revered... and where we had amazing hospitality, including a shower, a bed and a hearty breakfast. Then we walked out of Harrisville on paved roads... A bit different experience for the trails of the Adirondacks, but after all, animals have to deal with roads, and so should we. And roads have their own archeology and artifacts - Bill will send you some pictures of what we found. Incidentally, I have given Bill the nickname "Panama Jack" - stay tuned for the reasons behind this very suitable appellation. We diverged slightly from the official route in order to walk to the town of Gouverneur - because it has a laundromat! We stayed in the Lawrence Manor B and B, and when the owner, Donna, heard about our trek, she waived the fee. So we're about 70 km from the border. Backs are a bit sore from carrying our packs but otherwise, we're ready for the next stage!" - Jamie Findlay
It's day 11 of the trek, and Jamie and Bill have finished the first leg of the trek!
Here is an update from Jamie: "We have made it out of the Adirondacks and are at Harrisville. First leg of the trek successfully completed! But this area of New York State is seeing a historically wet summer, and we had to do a lot of slogging through muddy trails and a lot of fording of streams. Apart from that, we've been to a blues concert in a tiny, wonderful place called Wanakena; eaten wild cherries (from the black cherry tree) and blackberries; swum in wonderfully clear mountain streams; and thought up ghost stories (with an Adirondack flavour) around the campfire. Fortunately Bill Barkley (fellow trekker) is a whiz at lighting fires even in super wet conditions. A lot of people helped us, especially Bill Brown, A2A Board Member, who gave us bikes so we could cycle from Long Lake to Horseshoe Lake (instead of walking the highway). Alex French, another board member, helped us get to Streeter Lake and gave us some conservation background about the Adirondacks. To everybody we meet on the trail, we explain what we're doing and why the A2A Corridor is so important. A guy we met at Chair Rock Flow Lean-to said that, as far as he knew, there was no resident population of wolves in the Adirondacks, but that occasionally one comes from Canada - take a bow, A2A Corridor!" - Jamie Findlay
It's day 5 of the trek, and Jamie and Bill are in the town of Long Lake. Over the next 4 days, they will be travelling through Horseshoe Lake on Route 421, then on the Cranberry Lake 50 trail through Five Ponds Wilderness to Cranberry Lake, Wanakena.
Horseshoe Lake is in the Horseshoe Lake Wild Forest near Piercefield, NY. The 17,123 acre first offers visitors a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities such as biking, fishing, camping and hiking. After resting for the night, they crossed the headwaters of the Grasse River and hiked the Cranberry Lake 50 trail towards the south bay of Cranberry Lake. The terrain in this area is relatively gentle, passing through pine northern hardwood forests, along wetlands, and to remote ponds. The Dead Creek flow trail takes them up to the hamlet of Wanakena, a small year-round community located along the Oswegatchie River and the southern end of Cranberry Lake. Later that evening, they had a wonderful time listening to a blues concert.
Today is the day Jamie Findlay and Bill Barkley embark on their 5-week adventure! They began their trek at Harris Lake in Newcomb, NY, on the Northville-Lake Placid Trail. The NPT is a lightly travelled foot trail that runs 138 miles through the Adirondack Park in northern New York State. Laid out by the Adirondack Mountain Club in 1922 and 1923, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation maintains it.
Over 4 days, they made their way through the western portion of High Peaks Wilderness, a 275,460-acre wilderness area in Adirondack Park, along the shores of Long Lake, to the town of Long Lake, NY. The High Peaks Wilderness Area is known for its mountainous terrain and contains most of New York State's highest summits, including the two highest: Mt. Marcy (5,344 feet) and Algonquin Peak (5,114 feet).
The A2A challenge: my upcoming walk of the Algonquin to Adirondacks (A2A) Trail – A Pilgrimage for Nature
I’m ready for slow travel—moving at the pace of a flowing river or drifting tumbleweed and experiencing the land up close. That’s why, starting on August 12th of this year, I’ll be walking the Algonquin to Adirondacks (A2A) Ecological Corridor on the A2A “Pilgrimage for Nature” Trail.
The Trail runs for roughly 640 kilometres from upper New York State to Ontario’s Algonquin Park. I’ll be joined by my friend Bill Barkley, another aficionado of slow travel, and we’ll be walking to raise funds and awareness for the work of Nature Canada and our partner, the A2A Collaborative, whose mission is to connect lands and people across the A2A region.
Connecting landscapes is vital to halting and reversing nature loss. In many parts of North America, roaming animals face deadly obstacles: cities, roads, railways, dams and agricultural development.
Ecological corridors such as A2A allow animals relatively safe passage. This helps wildlife populations mix, strengthening genetic diversity. Corridors also allow species to expand their ranges, a need that will only intensify with climate change.
And corridors allow humans to expand their horizons! So far, nobody has walked the A2A “Pilgrimage for Nature” Trail from end to end, and we’re a bit daunted… but mainly excited. It’s the kind of walk that combines the call of the wild with the call of the open road—along with the call to get in halfway decent shape before setting out!
A MOOSE SHALL LEAD THE WAY
The “animal inspiration” for the A2A Corridor was Alice the Moose who, decades ago, was radio-collared and tracked as she journeyed north from Adirondack Park into Canada. She swam the St. Lawrence River and walked across one of Canada’s busiest highways, the 401. Her final destination was Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park, where she lived out the rest of her days.
Alice’s journey came to symbolize the need for wildlife to move—and so began the work to establish the A2A Collaborative to protect and restore this essential corridor.
The A2A region is home to some of the last large-scale, intact forest and wetland linkages left in eastern North America and also shelters an impressive number of rare species. Protecting it and enhancing its features is the mission of the A2A Collaborative, a U.S., Canadian, and First Nations partner organization.
This work of the A2A Collaborative includes everything from providing tools and resources for private landowners, to assessing the ecological health of various sections of the corridor (such as the Gananoque watershed), to determining where wildlife passageways should be built across Highway 401.
One of the Collaborative’s biggest projects has been to create a 640-kilometre route for human travellers, inspired by Alice the Moose. This is the A2A “Pilgrimage for Nature” Trail, which Bill and I will be walking. We will be starting in the Adirondack High Peaks region and going north, crossing the American–Canadian border at the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River and then continuing on to Algonquin Park. On the way, we’ll be putting up signage, documenting our discoveries and adventures, and generally doing all we can to add to the store of knowledge about the Trail.
Stay tuned for updates on this A2A Challenge Walk, and if you’d like to support the walk, please click on the link below. Your contributions will be split between the two registered charities (A2A and Nature Canada) and will help support our joint efforts to protect nature, link landscapes and expand horizons!