In my last post I wrote about an intense personal challenge: backpacking the West Coast Trail (WCT). Here’s the continuation.
Below is a pic of us at the end of a long day on the trail – my husband Chris and I, and our buddy Dennis on the left. I was lucky to be doing the trek with these guys. They were amazing. We were a solid team and motivated each other when things got tough – often by loudly singing the Indiana Jones theme song. Strangely, that really helped us through the rough parts.
I have to say, I’m usually up for a good adventure, so I was a bit surprised at how the trail kicked me in the pants. Every day seemed to present new and unexpected tests of physical and mental endurance. At one point or another we each hit a wall, wondering, “Can I do this? Can I make it to the end?!”
During our 75-km/47-mile trek, we had two choices: hike along the beach keeping a close eye on the tide, or hike higher up on the inland forest trail. We chose a mixture of the two.
The beach route was beautiful but offered hazards of slippery, ankle-busting rocks, calf-busting sand, river crossings and surge channels.
The inland route was also beautiful, but offered its own special bag of tricks:
The mud, which got pretty tiring after a while.
River crossings – sometimes by cable car.
A looooong suspension bridge.
And occasionally, a washed-out trail with no clear indication of an alternate path to take.
And in between the beach and the upper forest were ladders connecting the two trails.
Ah, the ladders. One section of ladders extended 200 rungs up the cliff side.
Strangely, we were grateful for those ladders. They were easy to grip and a welcome break from the mud, water, roots, rocks, broken boardwalks and slippery logs of the forest trail.
So we trekked along, doing our best to ignore the weight of our packs, the screaming of our joints and muscles, and the crying of our heels.
We reminded ourselves to enjoy the moment and take it all in because it was so stunning. But enjoying the scenery was much tougher than you’d expect, because every single step required a decision: where’s the safest place to put my foot?
Inevitably, at one point or another each of us ended up like a turtle on its back, like Dennis here (sorry Dennis!):
But with all the obstacles, there were the amazing aspects of the trek we couldn’t replace: hiking among some of Canada’s tallest trees; relaxing by the fire in the evenings, sharing stories with fellow hikers that became friends; eating fresh crab and burgers (the latter in a makeshift ‘restaurant’ in the wilderness, but that’s another story); spending rare time together.
One night in particular, though, tested all my inner reserves of courage.
Late that afternoon as we were hiking the inland route, we somehow missed the path leading to the beach camp where we planned to spend the night. (All WCT camps are set up on the beach, none in the forest). And by the time we realized it, we also realized that it was another couple of kilometres to the next camp. Uh oh.
The WCT is a real challenge in full daylight – any step could result in a twisted ankle or much worse. At nighttime, compound that exponentially. Add in the fact that wildlife such as bear and cougar sometimes use the trail because it’s easier than travelling through the dense forest, and we were getting nervous.
It got dark very quickly. Alarm bells were going off in my brain. Our headlamps seemed oh-so-faint in the immense blackness around us. We stumbled over roots, slipped on rocks and tried to stay calm. Chris valiantly took the lead, and we made lots of racket, singing loudly – interspersed with lots of yelling (and swearing) – in the hopes of scaring any wildlife off the trail.
I was terrified. More scared than I had ever been in my life. Scared one of us would be injured (it would be almost impossible to get help), scared of being stuck in the forest overnight on the trail, concerned that we wouldn’t find the next pathway to camp given that it was pitch black out, and particularly worried that we’d encounter a very large, very hungry cougar.
We continued on for what seemed like an eternity. It was all I could do to keep from panicking, but I put on my big-girl-pants and managed to hold it together. We finally found a faint trail that led down to the beach, and made our way down to camp. We were so lucky. We set up our tent, made supper, I got very cranky (my post-fear reaction), and we went to bed. So grateful to be safe.
One morning we encountered fresh bear tracks, a reminder that we were treading in someone else’s home. And later we saw a bear on the beach, but after we made loud noises from a respectful distance, he headed on his way. He was beautiful. Mind you I’m glad we saw him in daylight, and not on the trail that night.
At the end of each day it was great to let go of our packs, take off our hiking boots and enjoy the scenery. We couldn’t have had a better view from our tent.
So amidst the obstacles and scary moments of the WCT, we were constantly rewarded with magnificent views.
And the sunsets were nothing short of spectacular.
And guess what? A day or so after our scary experience, we did it. We completed the West Coast Trail!
We don’t look quite as clean as we did in the beginning though.
In six nights and seven days, we experienced difficult moments, amazing moments, great camaraderie, really scary moments and amazing rewards. But there was so much of each in a short period that when we finished the trail, I was completely overwhelmed. I felt almost angry. It was the strangest thing. I needed to be alone with my thoughts while my brain tried to process it all, so I wandered around for a while.
Then it came, unexpected. Absolute, pure happiness.
We got in Dennis’ vehicle and headed back down to Victoria, about a 2-hour drive. It was a gorgeous day, we were driving along the coast, the ocean was sparkling and the sun was shining through towering trees. The windows were down, the wind was in our hair and we were listing to a great music mix Dennis had put together.
So what could have been ordinary – driving with my husband and our buddy, listening to music – became truly extraordinary. I was on top of the world. In that moment, anything seemed possible. Everything was infused with a glow and the world was perfect.
I learned so much from our WCT experience – but mainly, that our perceived limits are just that: perceived. If we face overwhelming challenges and fears head-on rather than crumple up in the face of them, we expand who we are and our belief in what we’re capable of. And the reward from that is immeasurable.
And… maybe, just maybe, we get to experience a moment of pure bliss in the process!
What about you? Have you conquered a challenge or fear and grown from the experience?