“For some parts of the trek I felt like I was sort of flying by the seat of my pants.” Jamieson Findlay.
By: Erin Postma
Jamieson Findlay works for Nature Canada as a science and conservation writer. Jamie learned about the A2A Trail about 4 years ago when he was working for Parks Canada. He came across the Algonquin to Adirondack Trail while he was writing a piece on animal travellers; Alice the moose was one of them. The A2A trail “A Pilgrimage for Nature” is based on the migration path of Alice.
On August 12, 2023 Jamieson Findlay and his friend Bill Barkley embarked on a 650 km journey from Adirondack Park to Algonquin Park. This exciting trek was a collaborative effort with Nature Canada, a leading conservation organization dedicated to protecting Canada's wildlife and their natural habitats. On September 16th, 36 days after they began their journey, Jamie along with Bill crossed into Algonquin Park. This week I had the pleasure of talking to Jamie about his experience on the trail.
Here are a few excerpts from my interview with Jamie.
Erin: Why did you want to hike the Pilgrimage for Nature Trail?
Jamie: There were a few different reasons why I was drawn towards hiking the “Pilgrimage for Nature Trail.'' The Adirondacks are one of my favourite places. My parents also live near the Thousand islands so I am familiar with parts of the A2A region. The Pilgrimage for Nature seemed like a more manageable through-hike than others, like the Appalachian Trail. I was ready to do something out of the ordinary. I spend a lot of time at work in front of a screen and I wanted to take this opportunity to get out into nature and really experience it. My friend Bill was also interested in doing the hike. The time was right and everything seemed to come together in a way that created a perfect opportunity to do this trek.
Erin: Do you have any previous experience with long distance hiking or through hikes?
Jamie: Growing up I spent a lot of time outdoors. My family really enjoyed hiking, camping and canoeing, but I am not a hardcore hiker or backpacker. I did a hike to the Everest Base Camp, which was a 2-week long trip, but it was very different from the A2A trek.
Erin: How did you prepare for the trek?
Jamie: Unfortunately, I did not have much time to prepare for the trek due to a very busy spring and summer. I was able to do a few short hikes in Gatineau Park. I tried out a few different packs and broke in my hiking shoes. I would usually put some stuff in the pack, like a case of beer, in an attempt to prepare for carrying the packs on the trail. I wished I’d had more time to study the route. For some parts of the trek I felt like I was sort of flying by the seat of my pants.
Erin: What was the highlight of the trek?
Jamie: Overall the trek was a great experience. I learned a lot, particularly from Bill. Bill has excellent backcountry skills and knows a lot about nature. My favourite parts of the trail were the first part of the hike through the backcountry of the Adirondacks. I also loved the last section from Barry’s Bay to Algonquin Park. I followed a rail trail that went along the Madawaska River and was a very beautiful part of the hike.
I also met many people along the way. Everyone we met was very friendly and interested in the trek; some people even offered us a free place to stay. A highlight was getting a horse and buggy ride from an Amish farmer who was very nice. We also stayed with a very interesting couple who taught us a lot about the history and conservation of the Adirondacks. But some of the best nights were staying in town and stopping in at the local pub for a beer and some french fries!
Erin: What was the hardest part of hiking the trail?
Jamie: The hardest part of the hike were the long sections of walking along paved roads. Walking 7-8 hours a day on pavement with heavy packs is not fun. That’s why, towards the end of the trek, I switched to biking. There were also some nights where we were not sure where we were going to sleep. There were no B&Bs or campgrounds around so we had to “hobo” camp some nights. Sometimes we would just pitch a tent on public lands, but there was always apprehension and uncertainty that came with that. One evening was particularly bad. The mosquitoes were bad, there was no water and we spent the evening listening to some coyotes fighting nearby. Bill usually insisted on breakfast and coffee in the morning, but that morning we skipped it and headed out right away.
Erin: Bill had to leave, to go back to his orchard part way through the trek. How did Bill's departure change the experience?
Jamie: Bill and I got along really well; we had a great time together and shared a lot of laughs. I was able to learn a lot from Bill. It wasn’t the same when he had to go back to his orchard. It was nice for me to have someone to share the experience with. When Bill left I was joined by my friend Lisa, who hiked with me for 4 days. I was only on my own for about 10 days near the end of the trek. By the end I was tired of walking and thinking about getting back to work and finally experiencing the accumulative effects of the pack. The end was not the same as the beginning. I missed having a hiking partner.
Erin: Did anything surprise you about the trail?
Jamie: Something that surprised me was the amount of people I came across that did not know about the A2A corridor. People knew a lot about the A2A region and the area they were living in, but they were not aware that it was part of this big ecological corridor. It's important to get people to see their backyards as an important piece of the bigger ecological picture. Many people were very happy to talk to me and learn more about the corridor.
Erin: Any animal encounters?
Jamie: We encountered some wildlife along the way including turtles, salamanders, mink (we believe) and coyotes. We had one pretty interesting encounter with coyotes. One night we could hear a pack close by that sounded like they were fighting. Unfortunately we didn't see any moose, bears or wolves. It's sad to say but we encountered a lot of roadkill. I think that we must have seen more dead animals than live ones.
Erin: Did you notice changes in the trail as you moved further north? Changes in terrain, ecology, people?
Jamie: The route starts in the High Peaks and Five Ponds areas which are all wilderness and you are hiking through the backcountry. Then once you leave Adirondack Park you enter the St. Lawrence Lowlands, where you find lots of agricultural land and settled towns. Then as we made our way north we entered the semi-highlands and then returned to the wilderness. The wilderness sections bookend the route. Leaving the wilderness meant hiking a lot of paved roads instead of trails. Throughout the hike, the people we met were all very friendly and interested in the hike. It was interesting in certain areas of the United States, like upstate New York, we noticed that people were very open about their political stances.
Erin: If you could pass on any advice to others wanting to complete a thorough hike of the A2A trail, what would it be?
Jamie: If people would like to do the whole trail, I would suggest using different modes of transportation. There are times along the trail where biking or canoeing would have been better than walking. I had access to a lot of help and resources from people along the way, which I was very thankful for. Tapping into this network of people along the trail that are connected with A2A would be beneficial. I found that people were very willing and happy to help him along the way. Some general advice for being in the backcountry is to be prepared. There is no connectivity in some spots so you have to be very self-sufficient. Also pack as light as possible; those packs get heavy!
I just want to thank Jamie for taking time out of his schedule to talk to me about the trek! If you want to learn more about Jamie's trek and the Pilgrimage for nature click the button below.
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