“In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.” ~ Aaron Rose
You know those rare, special moments when all seems right with the world? When you feel absolute, pure happiness?
In the past I’ve encountered such wonderful, unexpected moments after intense personal challenges. Maybe the challenge itself made those moments all the more remarkable.
A couple of those rare times came with the birth of my two sons. The moment when each little being arrived into the world and I became – for the first time, and then four years later – a mom. There was the incredible intensity of labour, and then, peace. And wonder.
But recently I was thinking about a different moment. This moment came, most welcome, on the heels of one of the toughest and most rewarding challenges I’ve faced: backpacking the West Coast Trail.
The West Coast Trail (WCT) is part of the Pacific Rim National Park along southwest Vancouver Island. It’s often called Canada’s top hike, and for good reason – it’s incredibly rugged and breathtakingly beautiful, with crashing surf, dense rainforest, old-growth trees and beautiful cliffs. It was created as a life-saving trail in the early 1900s for survivors of the many shipwrecks that happened along the coast at that time.
The WCT is an adventure, to say the least. A backpacker’s haven – or curse, depending on how you look at it. It’s 75 kilometers/47 miles long and typically takes six to eight days to complete. You start at one end and finish at the other. Sound obvious? Well, if you feel too tired, bruised, blistered or just plain fed up after day three to continue, you can’t call someone to come and pick you up. There are no roads in. So you’re in it for the duration – unless you need to be evacuated from the trail.
I embarked on this adventure in 2004 with my husband Chris and our best buddy Dennis. I’ve been friends with Dennis since we were 12, so if there’s anyone besides my husband who I don’t mind seeing me at my worst (mentally and physically), it’s him. Good thing.
Since Dennis is an experienced backpacker and Chris and I had done a bit of mountain backpacking ourselves, we figured, hey, we’re up for this! Sure, we’d read about it and heard it was hard, but given the trail follows the coast and there’s not a lot of elevation involved, it must be pretty straightforward, right? Ha!
Yup, it’s a hard trek. Awesome. Worth it. But HARD.
It started to dawn on us, what we were getting into, during the mandatory orientation session before setting foot on the trail. We were told a number of important fear-inducing little tidbits: several people (47, if memory serves me) were airlifted off the trail that season due to injuries. ?!? Also, bear and cougar were sighted on the trail the day before, including a cougar that climbed past a hiker on a trail ladder. WHAT? Oh, and we were instructed on tide tables so we could avoid the risks of being stranded at high tide.
Ummmm… remind me… why were we doing this?
Oh yeah. For the beauty of west coast wilderness and the Pacific Ocean, to spend time together (Dennis lives in Washington state and we live in Ontario, Canada), and for the physical challenge.
We got all of the above. And more.
The trek presented many tests of inner strength too – stuff we hadn’t contemplated – compressed into a 7-day time period: perseverance, patience, humour, the ability to deal with the unexpected, intense fatigue, and at times, fear – and the ability to work as a team under all those factors.
Without a doubt, the trail was as mentally and emotionally challenging as it was physically. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. (Even though there was a night where I didn’t know if we would live or die).
Here are Dennis, Chris and I before setting out. We’re a little freaked out from the orientation session, but excited too. I can’t believe how clean we look!
So we headed out with good humour and carried all the supplies we needed on our backs – food, cooking utensils, stove, sleeping bag, tent, clothes, first aid kit, rain gear, Fireball Whiskey (don’t ask), etc. – for a six night, seven day adventure.
My pack weighed in at 40 lbs, which scared me a bit. That was more than I had carried in the past and I was secretly wondering if I could do it, but I pushed the concern aside and away we went.
We were in a temperate rainforest which is famous for, well, lots and lots of rain. We really lucked out because our weather was fantastic, but we weren’t so lucky in that it had rained for three weeks straight before our arrival. So we encountered* lots and lots of mud and water on the trail.
*ran into, slipped into, fell into
Did I mention mud?
I’ll continue the rest of the adventure and tell you about one of my ‘best days’ in the next post. Until then, I’ll leave you with some pics from our trek: