Our Backyard Camino - Ottawa to Rigaud

“There’s nothing to see here”   (click here for more birds, weeds, evidence)

Passing by our House near Renaud - Navan Rd.
There’s nothing to see here - it’ll be boring,” I said when we first set out on our 197 kilometre walk to Rigaud and back last spring. 

“It's dead straight, the land is flat, and there’re hardly any towns or even villages on the path.”

My words were intended not to dissuade, but to cover my butt.  I wanted to do the walk, but keep expectations in check.

“It’s okay, we’ll take our time and do bits and pieces when we can - it’ll be good exercise,” my wife said in agreeing to the project without disputing my caveat. “Besides, this is our home - we should know what it’s all about.”

About 30 Km more than Prescott Russell Trail
Starting in April of last year, my wife and I walked the path running from the bush near Innes Road and the 417 in Ottawa passed our house and on to Rigaud’s municipal boundary just inside the Quebec border with a net gain of about 5 kilometres at a time. 
From the late 1800s until the mid-1980s, the path served as the rail bed for the Ottawa-Montreal Line.  About seventy-five percent of it is the bike friendly and long established Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail.  A few years ago, the path was extended by upgrades to the Ottawa end which brought the trail along our backyard. 

Fog over Mer Bleue along Trail
Each weekend, we drove out to the furthest point of our previous walk, parked alongside the road, walked for an hour or so, turned around, retraced our steps back to the car, and went home for a shower and lunch.  More like running on top of a yo-yo than a sacred pilgrimage.
 “Well, maybe we’ll feel like we did something if we can finish it, but it’s sure not the Camino,” I said to emphasize how inferior our expectations should be in comparison to something like the celebrated Camino de Santiago de Compostela across Northern Spain.

I was right as the following photos and comparative report illustrates.

1)    Our Backyard Camino
Double Rainbow around 10th Line
You would have to force yourself to do the round trip at least four times in order to clock 800 kilometres,  which means returning repeatedly to contemplate the same damn sights over and over again and again and again in different seasons of the year, in different moods, in different emotional states, and even possibly in different personal circumstances.  You could spend years on the way.

Why the Camino de Santiago is better

You can boot through the whole 800 K in just over a month if you really push yourself, then put it behind you, and move on to your next spiritual, meditative adventure. 

2)   Our Backyard Camino

Red-Tailed Hawk -
Common  in Eastern Ontario
The route is straight, obvious, quiet, and tediously maintained all the  way to Rigaud.

 Why the Camino de Santiago is better

The route is clearly marked, almost all of it is paved roads with motorcycles, cars, and teaming truck traffic to keep you company; many pilgrims do not even need a map, or any special navigation skills to follow it all the way to the Cathedral on the coast.  Bars, shops, restaurants, water stations, tapas, and verifying passport stampers help guide the way.

3)   Backyard Camino
Belted Kingfisher - Eats bugs in the Ponds

The colorful, fluttering objects in the distance usually turn out to be some dumb birds or animals.

 Why the Camino de Santiago is better

In piazzas and shops that line the route, you can buy stuffed animals and colorful, fluttery shell-marked souvenirs from all over the world, mostly East Asia. 

4)   Backyard Camino

Franco-Ontarian farmers crossing the trail love to talk and are happy to tell you about their livestock, the changing weather patterns, and their lives.

 Why the Camino de Santiago is better

It’s Spanish.

Early Morning Walks - too dark - nothing to see
5) Backyard Camino

The only washrooms along the route are outdoor toilets at one of the Pavilions or the side trails into the bush.  There are no chip wagons.

Why the Camino de Santiago is better
It gives you a chance to test your fortitude and ability to commune with nature, camping out or staying in swarming hostels with shared facilities - if you don’t opt for a hotel.

6)    Backyard Camino
You are often surrounded by flat, lifeless fields of nothing but heaps of wheat, corn, and soya beans.  Dull.

Horses in the bush West of Frank Kenny Road
Why the Camino de Santiago is better

This pilgrimage on the other hand is promoted as taking you through rich, abundant, and diverse agricultural land teaming with the fruits of calm dedication, understanding of the natural world, and the warm sun.

7)   Backyard Camino

Just Weeds and Wild Flowers
There are no manicured gardens, flower beds, or trimmed hedges only overgrown bushes of wild flowers and blooming, bloody weeds.

Why the Camino de Santiago is better

You can buy flowers in the meracados.

8)   Backyard Camino
Beavers - Holding Hands
Beavers. Blisters.

Why the Camino de Santiago is better

Blessed Blisters.

9)    Backyard Camino

American Goldfinch clutch
Your poor companion is forced to listen to you talk endlessly about the wildlife and the trail not to mention your deepest feelings, hopes, loves, and dreams with only occasional relief in the rare encounters with passing strangers.  

Coyotes - best at a distance

Why the Camino de Santiago is better
Millions have walked the Camino with thousands all along it any one time.  You are often surrounded by bubbling amusement park style crowds, and you meet interesting people from all over the world - like the confused young Australian who is unsure of what brand of beer is the best, the American university professor who is sizing you up as fodder for his book, or the Dane who speaks his angst in body language and glares.

10) Backyard Camino
You really have to look to see any physical evidence of the historic rail line in the leaning

Small stretch of original tracks
Near 417 and End of Cyrville Rd.
poles, sites of abandoned rail stations, cast iron bridges over the streams, and markers like that of the Ghost Spas of Caledonia Springs. 

Ghost Spas - Once Luxury Hotels - Now Nothing

It means you constantly have to use your imagination in order to stay in the rational and make any sense of the dreary experience reminding yourself that you are walking a route that once carried Princes, Prime Ministers and piligrims, soldiers heading off to two World Wars, and produce and products that made our region what it is with the faithful going to meet the future Catholic Saint  Brother André in person at the magnificent domed St. Joseph’s Oratory (L'Oratoire Saint-Joseph), to worship at the enormous and ornate Basilica of Montreal or to kneel at Notre Dame de Bonsecours which holds the bones of

Cross marks Railway Grave
17th century  teacher and nun Sainte Marguerite Bourgeoys, a  woman who was known for saying crazy stuff like:

"Prayer ought to carry over into our thoughts, our words, and our actions.”

Why the Camino de Santiago is better

Somebody once said they thought the bones of St. James were buried around there.

Yep.  Nothing to see here.
 (click here for more birds, weeds, evidence)