Just over one year ago I hiked the West Coast Trail along the west coast of Vancouver Island with my friend Kelly and his two teenage sons. I am not so much a hiker as a canoeist, so in the months leading up to our July 1 start, Kristin and I did less canoeing and far more hiking than usual. I often carried a pack full of heavy books and some lead weight.
The day came, the hike started, and since we were going north to south, the trail began deceptively well groomed and easy to walk on. Just as we were about to leave the trail head a group that included and 80 year old lady was finishing up. “This should be easy!” we thought.
But then we hit some ladders, and the day was hot, and there was no water refill for the first 12 km, and then when we finally hit the beach it wasn’t the nice hard-packed pavement-like beach that there is at Long Beach near Tofino. It was soft and loose and slanted and exhausting. We went to the campsite at Darling River which made for a 14 km day. We were all a little dehydrated and surprisingly tired given how nice the trail had been for the most part.
Then came the mud and roots. When I think of the WCT, and the thing they really don’t talk about in the promo material, it’s the mud and roots. Miles of it. Every now and then we would convince ourselves that the next kilometer marker must be missing since “For sure we’ve gone more than a click since the last one!” Invariably another 200 or 300 meters and there it would be. We started to refer to them as “West Coast Kilometers” because they seemed so much longer than any other kilometers we’d ever seen.
I can summarize the rest of the trip this way: mud and roots, interspersed with irritating beaches, surrounded by incredible beauty and encountering interesting people from all over the world.
As our final day wound down I can remember sharing with Kelly that I didn’t understand people who did it twice or more, as he had just done. He explained that it was for the challenge and the accomplishment. I said I’d thought it was about the scenery, which you couldn’t enjoy because you were always looking at your feet. He said “No, it’s about the challenge.” Now you tell me.
When I arrived home I explained to my wife that she would have enjoyed any single piece of the trail- truly spectacular scenery whether in the forest or on the beach- but she would have hated the trip since there seemed to be so little time to enjoy the scenery. If you weren’t watching your feet you were on your backside or your face. It happened to me several times.
But some time has now passed. I remember less about the mud and roots and more about the amazing campsites at the mouths of rivers beside the ocean. I think about changes I would make in my gear if I were to do it again. I remember the Belgian and Dutch and German folks who daily expressed amazement at all the space we had in this country, how when we would arrive at a particularly popular campsite and we Canadians would be mumbling about how many tents there were, the foreigners would marvel at how few there were. In so many ways they helped us appreciate not just the trail but our country and all the good things we take for granted.
Okay, I give up. When I do it again it will be with Kristin. We will be well trained. We will have hiking-sized gear not canoeing-sized gear. We won’t bring too much food like everybody does the first time through. We will take our time. We may have some 2 km days, we may camp multiple nights in the same spot, we will likely keep a proper logbook. And then, after whining about the mud and roots for a few weeks we will begin planning the next time.