Newmarket resident Bernie Brunino just got back from taking a walk. A long walk.
He recently returned from a 32-day, 700 kilometre hike circumnavigating Prince Edward Island. The Island Walk trail officially opened in September and Brunino was one of the first to complete it.
A seasoned long-distance hiker, Brunino was set to hike one of Europe's well-known trails but COVID-19 derailed his plans. He didn't want to travel to Europe during the pandemic so he started looking for "a decent sized walk" at home in Canada and that's when he stumbled upon a brand new trail in P.E.I
Brunino said he usually looks for longer and more challenging trails — his longest hike took just over three months to complete and crossed through four European countries — but the Island Walk gave him an appreciation for the beauty in his backyard that he wouldn't have experienced if not for COVID-19.
"There's a lot of history there (in Europe). Prince Edward Island, some of the towns there were incorporated in 1991 — I've got running shoes that are older than that! It might not be as rich in history as Europe but it's every bit as rich in beauty."
Brunino said he's always loved walking and has always been a physically fit person who works out regularly. Work prevented him from doing hikes for more than a day or a weekend at a time but those short stints were "never enough."
After retiring five years ago a friend introduced him to the Camino de Santiago hike that crosses through France and Spain and he's been "addicted to hiking" ever since.
He's happy to talk to people he meets on the trails as long as they don't ask how old he is (he's 70) — he hates that!
"I've had it happen more times than I like; once they realize how old you are they always look at you like maybe you shouldn't be doing this. It pisses me off."
While his wife has joined him for short stretches during some of his hikes, Brunino prefers to walk alone. The solitude, he said, gives him a chance to reflect back on his life and think about the things that really matter — like whether he's been a good father to his four kids or a good husband to his wife of 35 years.
"I enjoy my own company. I like to think a lot....There are things I would've done differently....I'm very selfish sometimes; these are all things I think about when I'm by myself hiking....It gives me a good opportunity to look at myself and the kind of person I am and whether I like it or not or whether I should change anything."
Since he began hiking he buys less material things for himself, he said. He realized "we squander way too much" and as a result he's made clothing donations to charity.
"Do you really need eight pairs of jeans? Do you need 15 shirts? If I could live three months out of a backpack then I really don't need a lot of the stuff I have."
Brunino is already planning for the trip he was initially supposed to take and thinking of where to go after that. He never does the same trail twice because the greatest part of hiking is not knowing what's going to happen, he said, and there are enough trails in Europe and North America alone to keep him busy for three lifetimes.
"I intend to stop only when I can't walk anymore."
Brunino said he's been able to see things in the world that just wouldn't be accessible if he weren't travelling on foot.
He's grateful to his wife for being so understanding with his "passion for hiking," he said, and in an online post from P.E.I he thanked her for her support and for "allowing me to see the world as I want to see it, and that's one step at a time."