If you haven't guessed it yet, I love backpacking. Maybe it is because I can be alone in my head and in nature. Maybe it is the physical challenge or just because I like living wild with adventure. Perhaps it is because when you are interacting with people everyday, you realize that people kind of suck. In person, people are pretty self-absorbed, rude, and they do not really care about one another.
On the trail, hikers are generally kind, but visit an on-line backpacking group or forum and peoples true colours come out. People can be horrible.
To be blunt, I don't have much faith in humanity.
I tend not to have to deal with many people in the backcountry, and this generally suits me just fine.
This is my (kind of long) story of my day-to-day trip report and journey on the Rideau Trail, and how complete strangers restored my faith in humanity through genuine kindness.
The Rideau Trail
Image below provided by the Rideau Trail Association
Hiker Lingo Definitions
Nero: A hiking day where you hike a shorter distance and have a partial rest day (generally in or near towns)
Zero: A day off of hiking when you are not gaining any milage on the trail
Trail Magic: Acts of kindness and generosity on the trail towards hikers that influence positive trail experiences, such as: meals, rides, laundry...
The Big Plan
I had planned my hike months before. I researched the trail and reached out to fellow hikers who had completed the trail; like Bruce 'Dudley' Watts, at Campology for advice. I logged a ridiculous amount of hours on the RT website, watched videos and poured over maps in planning.
I planned to camp at Provincial Parks and campgrounds (which I made reservations for), a friends yard one night, Lock Stations run by Parks Canada, a couple of trail shelters, and had planned to respectfully camp on public land for a few of the nights.
My goal was to hike home in 14 days. I had planned mostly 20 km - 35 km days depending on terrain, road walks and distances between planned camping spots. I had a couple of planned nero days to have some rest time.
So, on a Sunday morning in July 2021, I took the train from Ottawa, Ontario to Kingston, Ontario - to start my adventure.
I disembarked the train and started walking to my motel. I had the first 5 days of hiking maps printed, and the rest divided and shipped in resupply boxes. I had all the GPX Files downloaded on my phone integrated with the Gaia app. But, for the 5 km or so to my motel, I was using Google Maps.
Google Maps led me astray and the planned 5 km took me 16 km to reach the dingy motel I was staying at. Great start...ugh....
I finally checked in and then toured the local area a bit and then settled in for the night.
Trailhead location in Kingston, Ontario
I dipped my toes in Lake Ontario and started my journey. It was hot as I made my way towards my planned campsite. Most of the trail was through Kingston on paved side walks until I made my way to the K & P trail of hard packed gravel.
I was finally weaving my way in and out of forest paths and farm fields and searching for water. Found a hard to access swamp and drank and filled as much as I could like a camel. It was a long 32+ km day, with feet not accustomed to paved roads.
The weather was hot. When I say hot, I mean 35+ degrees Celcius, and very humid during my trip. Staying hydrated was issue. Throughout my trip I would have stretches of 10+ km with no water sources, and I was going through water fast! Many of my planned water sources were dried up.
Luckily, it stormed all night and cooled the night temperature down. I finally got some well earned sleep.
I trekked on and eventually came to a junction in the town of Sydenham that had a grocery store! I picked up a fresh and green lunch and took a well deserved break in the shade during the heat of the afternoon.
I hiked on back roads with an umbrella to help reflect the heat, always making sure to prevent heat exhaustion. I was 50 km into the trail and had just turned off a backroad onto a forest trail again. I could feel the temperature difference in the shade of the trees. I was searching for a discreet place to camp for the night.
I met a gentleman out on the trail. We started to chat and he was interested in hearing about my hike. I told him I was looking for the section of public land to camp that I had found via the online Crown Land Atlas, but according to the signs it was private property.
He offered for me to set up my tent in his yard just back at the road and trail junction.
I followed him out and he and his wife fed me supper, shared a few beers, laughs and stories. Mark and Irene were lovely people!
I set up my tent and they even hooked up an outdoor shower for me. It felt fabulous to wash off the sweat and grime, let alone soothe the bug bites.
I couldn't believe how kind they were to a stranger!
Backcountry campsite #2 Frontenac Provincial Park
As I hiked towards Gould Lake and the days final destination: backcountry campsite #2 in Frontenac Provincial Park, I was glad to be hiking less roads. I was content seeing the beauty around me as I reflected on how Mark and Irene took in a complete stranger. I only had just over 20 km today, and it was supposed to rain until late afternoon. It didn't matter. I had a bounce in my step today.
I woke up to rain. My legs felt great and I was ready to go. It rained on and off all day. I walked through the beautiful forests of Frontenac Provincial Park, and was able to drink my fill with all the water around me.
I hiked along the Catarqui Trail and its seemingly never ending hard packed gravel. My ankles were starting to get sore but I pressed on. Ticks, rain and the dense raspberry bushes ripping up my cheap Frog Toggs rain coat and my legs, the magic from Mark and Irene's was starting to wear off and I was starting to feel defeated.
I almost stepped on a porcupine, I was soaked and completely pruned. It was getting late and I was racing against the coming dark. The now booming thunderstorm was merciless.
The terrain of flat hard packed trail changed to rugged trail finding through chest high raspberry and blackberry bushes. The earth felt like it was shaking from the thunder. The forest was getting very dark.
Allan and Ellen Bonwill Shelter Plaque
What was supposed to be a 25 km day turned into 30 km to the Bonwill Shelter.
I made it to the shelter, my heart lifted as I was hoping to dry out. It was filled with wasp nests. So, I pitched my tent right outside the shelter and ate supper in my tent, my wet hiking clothes hanging inside with me.
It was a tough mental day through the rain. I knew I had a nero the next day, and held onto that as I drifted to sleep.
I only had about 13 km to hike today towards Bedford Mills. I was going to camp in a friends yard and pick up my resupply box that they were holding for me.
I walked through some beautiful pastures and backroads talking to cows along the way.
My ankles were still bothering me, but the sun was shining and I had a nero today.
I spent the afternoon lounging and drying out my gear and refilling all my food from my resupply box.
View from lookout at Foley Mountain Conservation Area
I hiked through forests and down backroads in the extreme heat. Despite the recent rainfall, water was hard to come by.
As I marched on I had people wave from their porches and run out to offer me water refills.
It was my longest and hardest day; the longest mileage in a day of my trip (33 km) and over the highest points on the trail. I was trying to make it to the Narrow's Lock Station.
By mid afternoon I started to feel dehydrated and defeated, again. I was drenched in sweat, barely able to keep myself hydrated, my ankles were killing me and the thought of the remaining 11 km or so of mostly road walking was discouraging. I was exhausted. You know those moments when you ask yourself 'why am I doing this again?'.
I met two section hikers and we had a short break on the side of the backroad in a small patch of shade. They said they lived in Perth and were doing sections of the trail on weekends. I agreed that the trail was best suited for section hiking and not thru-hiking.
I told them about how the trail had been and that I was headed towards the next Lock Station.
I jokingly said that I would sell them my soul if they had a cold beer! We laughed and wished each other well.
I made it to the Narrow's Lock Station, set up my tent, drank what seemed like 17 litres of water, took a dip and set my supper to soak.
I was stretching and realized that my ankle pain was likely due to my fast pace, and lengthened stride I was making on the hard pack gravel and pavement. I had always hiked in the backcountry needing more calculated steps and shorter strides. I would try to shorten the length of my stride in the coming days.
Suddenly, one of the hikers Jessica, I met earlier showed up with a couple of ice cold beers! After hiking and driving home, she came back to see me. I couldn't believe it!
Ice cold beer and good company is some of the best Trail Magic in my opinion! We chatted for a while, exchanged contact information and I was left glowing from making such a wonderful hiking friend, and maybe a little bit from the alcohol!
My ankles hurt, but I was so inspired to keep going.
I continued on my hike, reflecting on the kindness of strangers...
I hiked what seemed an eternity, but was only about 19 km to Murphy's Point Provincial Park. My campsite seemed huge with no car parked in it.
I quickly checked out the shower facilities and the laundry area.
I walked to the park store to get some change for the machines. I discovered they had ice cream! After my cold and creamy delight I was able to have a shower and wash my hiking clothes.
Sunrise at Lally Homestead, Murphy's Point Provincial Park
I hiked through a mica mine area. Many of the holes were filled with stagnant water and the mosquitos were swarming. It was hot, and the heat and dehydration from the last few days was starting to really get to me. I felt like my planned 23 km today might as well have been 300 km.
I was trying to care and rest my ankles when I could and hydrate, but I was slowing down. I took a lot of breaks in the shade.
I crossed a long and high beaver damn. The water was dark and deep on one side and the other side was a high plunge down. I don't think I could have crossed it without trekking poles.
I found my planned campsite, and fell asleep by 7:00 pm to a hoard of ticks crawling all over my tent.
Icing swollen and painful ankles
My ankles were screaming at me. But the morning was cool, at least for a few hours.
I hiked through forests, down backroads in the extreme heat I knocked on a few doors to refill my water bottles. I was amazed at how many residents were not even aware that they lived right on the Rideau Trail, but they happily obliged and wished me well. One family even gave me a box of cookies for my travels!
I was spent, but these small things like water and cookies gave me the boost that I needed to keep hiking.
It was a big day with just over 30 km. I walked through Perth towards todays destination, Smith's Falls. It was a town, and a greasy burger sounded divine after living on dehydrated meals.
I set up my tent at the Smith's Falls Lock Station, picked up some burgers, ice cream and some ice for my ankles.
This was my second Lock Station campsite. The staff at the Lock Stations are amazing and friendly. They went out of their way to help me, even taking my battery bank and charging it for me!
After a stormy night, I hiked towards Merrickville. The first few hours of hiking my ankles felt great! I kept going.
The last 10 km of my 28 km day were the most painful I had done.
When I arrived at the Merrickville Lock Station, the pain was unbearable. I had been managing with elevation and anti-inflamatories, but could not stop or control the pain.
It was day 10. I had hiked just over 250 km and only had 4 days left to finish. I realized then, that I should have planned a few zero days to rest and recover. Hindsight is always 20/20.
I made the decision to go back to the previous town I had stayed in the night before; Smiths Falls, and take the train home. It was devasting, but I knew I could come back hopefully in a few weeks to finish. The pain was becoming crippling and knew it was time to go home.
I was camping at the Merrickville Lock Station. I had just had an ice cream cone, ordered a pizza and went for a swim. There were some families swimming enjoying the sunset. I asked around if anyone was heading towards Smiths Falls the next morning...no one was.
Sunset at Merrickville Lockstation
The Return Home
So on the eleventh morning, I packed up. I would try to hitchhike to the train station. It was about 18 km via the highway. I knew I could walk it if necessary.
As I was hauling my backpack onto my back, a fellow who had been swimming with his family the night before pulled up.
He said, he felt he needed to drive me so I could get safely home and recover. He drove me to the train station.
I almost cried. Simon went completely out of his way to take the time to help a complete stranger. After chatting on the drive, we discovered that we had a friend in common in the small town I live in. It made me think what a small world it really is!
Returning to the Trail
Day 0 (Part 2)
I returned to the trail a few weeks later. Although my ankles were not perfect, they were good enough to finish what I started.
I took the train back to Smiths Falls with a plan to hitchhike to Merrickville, where my last footsteps were.
My prepared hitchhiking sign!
I was standing on the side of the highway in the blaring sun. A shiny BMW pulls over. I was stunned.
The window went down and this lady asked if I was a RT hiker? I said yes! She told me to hop in.
Turns out she and her friend were section hiking the trail. Ruth drove me right to my last location at the Merrickville Lock Station.
We even saw each other a couple of times on the trail afterwards.
I couldn't believe how lucky I had been yet again, on this trail. People were so kind!
You often hear of trail communities (mostly in the United States) on long distance trails like the Appalachian Trail, but have not heard much about trail towns in Canada. I felt like there was a real hiking community!
Day 11 (Part 2)
Like the first portion of my hike, we were still in a heat wave. July and August in Eastern Canada is hot, humid and dry.
I hiked the 23 km to Cedar Grove Shelter. It felt amazing to be out again.
I set up my tent at the shelter, and filtered swamp water (trying to avoid filtering the leaches).
At midnight, it still felt like 39 degrees Celsius - according to Environment Canada. It didn't matter, I was back on the trail.
Photo taken by Ruth on raised bridge path built by the RTA volunteers!
I met Ruth again this morning! Their system of parking two cars at different ends was working well. She even snapped this photo for me.
Today I had been knocking on doors for water. The Jock River was dried up! I stopped at a driving range and the owner let me have lunch, fill my water and use their washrooms! They even had a cold vending machine full of carbonated sugar.
I was just over 22 km today, and as I headed towards where I planned to stealth camp that evening I passed a dirt biking moto-cross park. I thought it looked really cool seeing all these kids ripping around, so I popped in.
I asked the staff if I could take a break and fill my water. They asked about my hike and said I could pitch my tent for the night! There was running water and portable toilets! I had the whole place to myself for the night.
Day 13 (Part 2)
Today I was hitting the Greenbelt area near Ottawa. Some of these pathways I had cycled on years before. In and out of scrub forest paths and pavement. I was even able to stop for lunch at a McDonalds right near the trail! I enjoyed the air conditioning for a while before continuing on my way.
I made the 29 km to Wesley Clover Parks Campground. I showered and rinsed off the sweat and grime and ordered a pizza!
Day 14 (Part 2)
I woke with the realization that I would be finishing the trail today. I hiked along paths and saw landmarks I knew well.
As I approached Parliament Hill, I smiled in disbelief that I had hiked all the way from Kingston to Ottawa. I had hiked home 350.46 km in 14 days.
Trail Head in Ottawa
It was not the finish I had originally planned. But it was my hike. It was bittersweet. I was proud of what I had done, but saddened it was over.
When I look back on my hike, I think of all the tough moments I had: injury, bugs, dehydration and constant looming heat exhaustion. I reflect that all of these moments were mine: my memories and my personal victories. I wondered if I could have done it without the kindness I received.
If you have ever hiked, you know there are moments of great happiness and beauty. Other times fun disappears, and there can be misery and despair. The experiences I had, and the people I met gave me the support I needed during those hard times. It gave me hope for humanity. There is still kindness in the world.
I hope to travel the Rideau Trail again, and maybe pay-it-forward with some of my own Trail Magic.
Thank you to all the Rideau Trail Association volunteers for creating and maintaining an amazing trail. I would also like to thank all those who helped me plan, gave me rides, and most importantly, to those who helped a stranger.
Have you received or given trail magic? Have you hiked the Rideau Trail?
Share your thoughts and comments below!
Such a wonderful article. Thanks for posting it. I have always wanted to do that hike, but have not done so yet, and at 81 it may never happen. So it is good to read others experiences doing the end to end. Cheers.
Hey @Jennifer Brinkman,
So true! You hear about trail towns, but I never expected such a community on this trail!
Hey @JENNIFER BRINKMAN,
The community was amazing and it was completely unexpected!
Hi @JEFF TOOGOOD,
I am sorry to hear that your AT hike was cut short, but what an experience!
I would love to do the AT, but my life is not there right now. I still have kids at home, so hopefully eventually.
Are you planning on going back to the AT?
Hi Tina. I just finished reading your interesting blog about hiking the Rideau Trail End to End. Quite the challenge especially with your ankle issues. It was nice to read about community members and other Rideau Trail members helping you out along the way.