Otonabee-South Monaghan Township pair complete 700-kilometre Island Walk

They’ve climbed the highest mountain peaks in 10 countries, overlooked Tanzania atop the towering Mount Kilimanjaro and scaled more than one of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountaintops.

Karen Simpson and her partner Jeff Bauer — Otonabee-South Monaghan Township residents — live life on the edge, pushing themselves physically and mentally.

Normally, the globe-trotting pair set their sets on international targets to satisfy their itch for adventure. But when the pandemic hit, their dream to tackle the historic Camino walk in Spain was dashed.

But that didn’t stop the determined duo.

Instead, they turned to another famed long-distance walk — this time in Canada. Last year, when Simpson turned 60, she and Bauer set out to take on the Island Walk in Prince Edward Island — dubbed the “Canadian Camino.”

As the nickname-nod to Spain’s marathon march suggests, Canada’s version is no walk in the park. The trek is 738 kilometres long and takes 30 plus days to complete.

Unphased, Simpson and her partner hit the trail. That was, until, hurricane Fiona hit, cutting their trek short.

“The only thing that could have taken us down was a hurricane,” said Simpson.

Forced to return to Ontario, Simpson, following her own motto of “Git-R-Done,” was determined to return to P.E.I. to finish the Island Walk.

Simpson and Bauer did just that.

Hiking 22 to 26 kilometres a day in six to eight hour bursts, the pair worked their way along the trail, staying at bed and breakfasts and meeting locals as they went.

All the while, Simpson documented the journey on social media, continuing a personal pledge to journal her physical feats online, something she’s been doing since 2011 when she vowed to push herself physically and mentally.

“It really started before we turned 50. We wanted to start getting healthy and our kids were going off to university and we just wanted to start taking on some challenges and that’s where it really started,” explained Simpson.

“We started training for climbing our first mountain. Facebook was a big thing for most of our friends and they asked that we start putting our journey on there, it just went from there; started a blog on our adventures, the successes and failures.

“We find it as motivating as we hear other people are finding it. We get the tears and the encouragement and enthusiasm coming from people who are following it online.”

Along the way, Simpson and Bauer soon became familiar faces to local Islanders who would often cheer them on with messages of support.

While Simpson is no stranger to tough terrain and even tougher physical tests, for her, the Island Walk was a stark reminder that walking — 700-plus kilometres of it — is tough, too.

“It’s easy to say, ‘it’s just walking, how hard can it be?’ But it’s hard to go 25 kilometres every day. There will be some points of joy, sometimes pain starts to set in. then you have to come up with ways to distract your mind and keep your mental focus. Walking isn’t easy.”

Simpson, a longtime nature-lover, often found herself in awe of the scenery that surrounded her, it was the people that truly struck a chord with her.

“We’d have people stopping along the side of the road, you need a ride? The people came out to the finish line and hugged us and cheered us on for those final few steps. It was so beautifully appreciated, just the whole experience in P.E.I.,” Simpson said.

Simpson and Bauer crossed the finish line on Sept. 10.

Ultimately, Simpson hopes her long-distance trek will set an example for others.

“It’s definitely all about inspiring others to do more than they think they can do.”

Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner