Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hiking the WCT: Day 4, 10 June 2009

[Welcome to Day 4 of Hiking the West Coast Trail.  Please see my previous posts (Day 0, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 ) for the start of this little adventure. Remember, all photos can be clicked on to see a full-size version in all its glory, as well as see any fine details I may refer to.]

We had a luxuriously late morning Day 4 as we weren't departing until 10 am.  Of course, I still woke up at 6:45 am.  (Something about sleeping in a mummy bag -- a tapered sleeping bag which narrows at the head and feet -- keeps you from sleeping in too late.  I think it's because I tend to move around when I sleep and it's nearly impossible to turn over inside a mummy bag.  I'm like a beached whale minnow that flops awkwardly from one side to the other, sleeping bag and all.  It was a little like when I was pregnant and trying to turn would wake me up because my stomach got in the way, but instead it was the strait jacket camouflaged as my sleeping bag doing the trick.  Okay, it wasn't really that bad.  Well, maybe just for the first couple of nights.)  I found the tent empty when I awoke and discovered Mother down the beach a bit, leaning against a log writing in her journal.  I snuck up with my camera and got a couple of great photos before she realized I was there.  Turns out she'd been up since 5 am or something similarly insane.  (Given that we are so alike in so many ways, I probably have that to look forward to in another 10-20 years, but I'm hoping there's enough of Daddy's late night tendencies in me to temper it. I like to be up early but if a clock face's leading digit shows something smaller than a 6, it's still nighttime, as far as I'm concerned.)

I quickly settled down to write as well, both of us catching up from our busier days.  Breakfast, although the usual, was a bit more relaxed since we weren't rushing off quite so early.  For once, we saw most of our fellow hikers packing up camp and heading out ahead of us, including the irrepressible Boris and his companions who, by the way, were never friendly like he was.  Despite being out of his element, he always seemed cheery (and not the least bit embarrassed by their lack of preparedness) whereas The Natashas never said a word to us.  (Maybe they were mortified? Or possibly just miserable.)  Speaking of Boris, the last time Kelly chatted with him, giving him tips on what to expect up ahead on the trail, she said he nodded towards our group, looking specifically at my mother and Sue and said to her, "Those two older ladies must be in really good shape.  They're kicking my ass!"  This, of course, made us all roar and immediately moved to the #1 spot on our Favorite Quotes of the Hike list.  Melly & Sue: You go, Girls!

Before leaving camp we spotted three bald eagles circling together near the treetops above us.  Once again, tracks greeted us in the sand as we headed out that morning, this time Wolf!  Since we were staying on the coast all day, we had a somewhat staggered departure since we could spread out a bit, yet still be in sight of one another on the open shoreline; Mark didn't want anyone to miss spotting the wolf tracks as we passed by so he marked them as such when he departed with the first of our group. (Came in handy, too, when identifying photographs!)

We would be hiking along the beach for the entire 7 kilometers today from the mouth of Walbran Creek to Carmanah Point and its picturesque lighthouse.  It would be a relatively short day with only 5 hours of hiking; however, in some ways it was worse than our first 3 days.  Much of the coast along this stretch was sand (or pebble, amounting in the same result) which sucks your will to live as the shifting wet sand clutches your boots, burning up half of the momentum of every step so that you feel like you are taking one step back for every two forward.  (Can you tell hiking sandy beach wasn't my favorite?) Luckily there was one bright, shining exception which was another expanse of sandstone shelf.

In addition to its ease of travel and other-worldly beauty, the shelf has another spectacular attribute: tidal pools.  We found oodles of pink and green sea anemones as well as spiny purple sea urchins and one real treat -- a red sea urchin, which Kelly had never seen in person before and said was the highlight of our entire trip for her!  There were also many large -- 12-18" in diameter! -- starfish, orange and, my favorite, purple, along with armored black chiton.   Kelly also showed us bull kelp -- one of the fastest growing organisms on the planet -- it grows a foot a day! -- which has hollow bulbs allowing it to float on the surface of the ocean.

Sea anemone surrounded by purple sea urchins.

The Elusive Red Sea Urchin

I was so enamored of all the tidal creatures that Kelly, Mother, and I ended up way behind the rest of the gang and Kelly finally had to put the kibosh on my photography so we could catch up.  Thankfully, stepping out is not hard to do on the shelf.  While hiking, we chatted with Kelly about various topics and Mother asked her what percentage of the Sea-to-Sky guides were men vs women.  I expected it to be about even but it turns out they have more female guides.  Kelly said that male guides have a tendency to just push the group on, powering toward whatever particular end, whereas, women are usually more empathetic and tend to be more aware if individuals need rest or assistance.  Clearly this is not always the case as Mark was very attuned to how we were faring and both he and Kelly were near prescient in their awareness of our need for a break or a helping hand.

The first, distant view of Carmanah Lighthouse was highly anticipated thanks to Mark's continued praise. (Although not highly anticipated by me, I must admit.  I like lighthouses fine; I'm just not into them)  And he did not disappoint.  As we came around the next point of the coast, suddenly there it was.  Off in the distance, a white, fairytale castle with flaming parapets nestled in the lush forest hills, framed in the foreground by a sea stack to the left and the forest on the right.  It was spectacular, coming in and out of view for the rest of our short day, each time ever larger, inviting us to draw nearer. (Okay, so maybe I'm into lighthouses after all.)

Sea Stacks at Bonilla Point

We lunched near KM 48 by the waterfall at Bonilla Creek set back from Bonilla Point, where the lighthouse was supposed to have been situated.  (When the materials to lay the foundation were brought in by boat there was so much fog the ship ended up at Carmanah Point instead.)  This was clearly another frequented way station as there was a cozy set up of log benches with a large, flat table-like piece of wood in the center and even a fishing net hammock tucked under the trees which Bill immediately took a shine to.

We set about preparing another delicious (Do not read a sarcastic tone here despite the proximity to the iffy-sounding word "rehydrated"; it really was delicious!) lunch:  rehydrated hummus with lemon oil, sun dried tomatoes, and the ubiquitous roasted pepper & garlic seasoning, tuna, crackers, dried wasabi peas (which made me want to yell banzai each time I popped one into my mouth!), and beef jerky (which Wenke's response to seeing was, "What the hell is that?".  I guess they don't have jerky in the Deustchland, which is a shame, really, because German Jerky has a nice ring to it, don't you think?)

Mark, Jen (me!), Bill, & Kelly prepping lunch.

While we were all relaxing and eating, Kelly suddenly pointed off in the distance, spotting a pair of river otters emerging from the shallow, rocky water.  We saw them lope across the beach we'd just crossed and into the woods.  Mother and I dashed over to get photos of the tracks but saw not another whisker of the creatures themselves.  That put our Tracks count to 4:  mink, bear (a now unrecognizable shot of a print in mud from which I have spared you), wolf, and sea/river otter.

Fresh River Otter tracks! 

Before leaving Bonilla Point, while brandishing his cell phone, Mark announced that he was making our Dinner Reservations.  In addition to Carmanah Lighthouse, the other item Mark had been alluding to all morning was our dinner plans as [the royal] we would not be cooking our own meal that evening.  We'd be eating at Chez Monique!  Having read a number of books about the WCT prior to our trip, I had read that there was an open air "restaurant" by this name but some of those books were older, one almost 20 years, so who knew what might or might not still be there given the highly changeable nature of Vancouver Island's West Coast. (Incidentally, back in the Spring, while reading these various travel essays and hiking guides, Rand asked me, wouldn't it spoil the trip by reading ahead about the experience?  I just looked at him, my brow furrowed, incredulous, and answered him with what I thought was obvious, "Hell-lo-oo, An-ti-ci-PA-tion!?"  Not to say that the trip wasn't fabulous because it totally was, but the months of reading, thinking, planning, shopping, dreaming, anticipating made it that much more fantastic.)  The point of that particular digression was to say that having read about Chez Monique ahead of time, only made it all the more exciting when we found out it still existed and that we would be eating there that very night.

After lunch it was back to more slow & steady sand slogging.  The thing about the sand is, you can not hurry.  Normally, while hiking in the woods or on the shelf, I could slow to snap a picture (or two or three or four) and then just hustle to stay with the group.  The sand, however, forces a consistent pace no matter what you do so the more photos I took and the more Mother and I lingered to admire our surroundings, the further behind we became.  Which meant when we arrived at Carmanah Point we were the last to pick our tent site.  Luckily, it was a large, flat open area so we weren't at much of a disadvantage.

We ended up choosing a spot surrounded by old driftwood logs set up in a somewhat rectilinear pattern, our own WCT's version of a white picket fence.  We were near the creek as well, which was handy as it was Laundry Day!

After setting up the tent, we unpacked our grungiest things and using the fine beach pebbles of the creek bank, we scrubbed the dirt and grime out of our clothes.  (By this time we were rationing our multipurpose soap for bathing and hand-washing only so I kept telling mother she couldn't use any for her clothes.  I'm sure you can imagine how she responded to that so I magnanimously conceded but only for underwear!)  We hoped everything would actually dry for once, with a few more hours of sunlight available to us, especially given our custom clothes drying rack, below. (We were the envy of the entire camp site!)

Having arrived at camp just after 2 pm, we felt like kids waking up to find that school is closed and it's a snow day!  With so much extra time, we hardly knew what to do with ourselves.  Once our clean-up tasks were completed, Mother and I settled down to write and play a few hands of gin rummy.  (Mother has the final score in her journal and I can't recall which of us was the grand winner but at that point, she was totally trouncing me!) Meanwhile, guess what the rest of the Team was doing?  Napping.  And napping some more.

Napping again. (Sue)

Napping in the sun. (Wenke)

Napping under [protective] cover. (Mark)

Before Mark settled down to rest, he told everyone to check out the dinner instructions up in the kitchen and once again reminded us to dress appropriately, teasing that she had a dress code. So, at 5pm, dressed in our best (i.e. cleanest) hiking finery, we all headed down the beach toward Chez Monique, its tarp walls and roof visible in the distance just over 1 click away.  We carried our nearly empty food sacks, wondering what surprises the evening held.

Monique's is a motley collection of tarp and wood structures and outlying tents, nestled at the foot of the forest right on the beach amidst the driftwood logs littering the length of the coast.  As we walked closer, I realized there was a more permanent wooden structure set behind that turned out to be her house.

Monique is an extraordinary woman.  She's French Canadian and her husband, Peter, is a Ditidaht.   She's been living on the West Coast Trail for 20 years!  She and Peter starting out selling snacks and drinks to hikers, hauling their wares each day the few kilometers to get to the coast but over time built their home directly on the WCT, expanding their offerings as they expanded their property.  All of their supplies -- foodstuffs, fuel, building and planting materials -- and family as well, are brought in by Peter in his hand-held motor boat from Port Renfrew, including our planned food drop which arrived just after we did.

Peter arriving
 In addition to a large tarp-roofed, open-air dining room in front, set back to the left was a separate three-walled outdoor kitchen complete with a large work table; 3-4 propane stoves; a pegboard filled with 10-15 graduating sizes of skillets; shelves of sodas, beers, and pantry items; cooler after cooler after cooler; and a stainless steel sink whose running water came out of the sawed-off end of a garden hose that originated from the nearby creek.  Behind the kitchen was Monique's ever-expanding organic garden where she grew all her own produce, including all sorts of things her horticulturist instructors told her that she wouldn't be able to grow there but did and successfully so!  (Besides studying horticulture, in which she was the top student, she was a self-taught computer expert!  This woman has skills.)

Chez Monique's kitchen.

Up behind the garden was their private home, a creatively repaired building that incorporated tarps, hoses stapled in place over heavy plastic-covered wall sections and your more traditional screen and glass door.  Up front to the right of the main dining area was another structure -- part lean-to, part tent with a hand-lettered wooden sign reading "Bedroom" and appeared to be somewhat partitioned off within.

Open air restaurant

This homestead is all the more incredible once you learn that two years prior, in the winter of 2006, the storm season was horrific (17 storms in November alone compared to the usual 4-5) and Monique and Peter returned to find the entire site washed out and have since rebuilt everything that we saw there.

The outside wall to the kitchen (a.k.a. construction techniques on the WCT)

Monique was a character -- as loquacious as her husband was quiet -- who clearly enjoyed socializing and seemed to have a special friendship with Mark.  She told us story after story, ranging from the fascinating to the hilarious.

The incomparable Monique!

When we arrived, we were greeted by an assortment of folks- a number of which were family-- 2 grown granddaughters and their young children -- as well as 3 WWOOFers.  A Wwoofer is a volunteer from World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms which is a kind of exchange program that places volunteers on small organic farms around the world for a hands-on learning experience while they provide help to the resident farmer.  The WWOOFers were quite a mix-- a Canadian, a Swiss librarian, and, believe it or not, a guy from Houston! (Naturally, he and I had the obligatory Oh, You're from Texas too? bonding micro-moment.)  We had the place to ourselves that night, whether by design or accident, I wasn't quite sure, and were invited to choose a tasty beverage from the kitchen shelves before settling down to the tables.

Melly and Sue relaxing at Chez Monique!

Most of us took the opportunity to enjoy either a beer or a soda and then wandered around, taking photos, fascinated by this unconventional way to live.  Monique soon gave us a personal tour of her garden, naming every single plant as she led us past, and being sure to point out to Mark which ones were the "can't be grown around here" varieties.

The usual fare at Chez Monique in addition to beer and soda was burgers, fries,  some breakfast foods, and abundant snacks for hikers to enjoy there or to pack for later: fresh apples, kiwis, oranges, candy bars, jelly beans, even marshmallows (which it turned out Wenke loved!)  We, however, were in for a special feast thanks to the longstanding relationship between Monique and Sea-to-Sky Expeditions.  But, you'll just have to take your own trek with Sea-to-Sky to enjoy a similarly delicious spread. No spoilers here!!  Don't wait too long, though; Monique's the type of individual that seems like she'll survive anything but who knows when the next super storm might hit and if Monique and Peter will be able to rebuild again.  I felt privileged to have met such an amazing individual and experience just a taste of what life is like for her.  (And, yes, I even romanticized being a WWOOFer  until, that is, I noticed that Monique's cat, Mess, appeared to have made their Bedroom Tent [the front lean-to] his personal litter box.  Hmm...guess he's named appropriately. )

As we relaxed at our tables, conversations blending and shifting, who walked up but none other than Boris!  It turned out that The Natashas had reached their limit and the three were admitting defeat.  Thanks to Peter's help (and boat!), they would be heading back to Victoria but not for another three days, when Peter would next be heading that way.  They'd set up their tent not too far from CM, as if taking comfort in their snug proximity.  We made our final, enthusiastic goodbyes to the ever-smiling Boris who had come to almost feel like part of the group to us.

Goodbye Boris!

As we were finishing our delicious meal, Monique was preparing to head out (by boat, of course!) to take advantage of some big going-out-of-business sale to purchase building and garden supplies.   Mark, ever the gentleman, took her hand and led her out through the treacherous rocks to where Peter waited at the boat. (This is the only way in and out of the cove for them to get to their homestead.) We all waved her off until the morning when we would once again enjoy her food and company (assuming our precious pocketbooks were willing)
Mark escorting Monique out to the boat.

Despite our lavish dining experience, we all made it back to camp and still managed to wind up in the kitchen, drinking hot tea, coffee, and cocoa and trying another round of the Pub Quiz.

[To keep reading, here's Day 5]


  1. I think we both had a little trouble getting used to the mummy bags. Just about every night I awoke while trying to turn over in my sleep--an impossible task in the aptly named mummy bag, so it was unzip, turn over, zip again for athletic sleepers like us!
    Another LOL thinking about Boris' comment about Sue and Me. However, being called an 'older lady' hurt my pride and reminded me how much I needed the make-up and hairdo I had abandoned during our adventure.
    So the beach walking "sucks your will to live, huh?" I had NO idea you felt so vehemently about it. It was tough and tiring with a pack I agree, but after Mark (or was it Kelly?) told us that wolves, in an attempt to minimize their energy output follow in the tracks of another wolf, I began doing just that. Didn't you notice how often I was just behind you or somebody else on the beach? I would say it reduced my effort by almost 50%, which was very helpful with the whole will-sucking thing!
    Another LOL at you coined phrase "German Jerky." The incredulous look of revulsion on Wenke's face was about as hilarious as her remark when she looked at the jerky.
    Like you, I loved reading the books about the WCT and looking at the amazing photos. After you gave them to me for Mother's Day, I savored each one and imagined our trip as I did so. When Kelly and Mark first talked to us about Owens Point or Tsusiat Falls, they would have just been names to me were it not for those books. Yes, Rand, it's all about the anticipation!
    I think we might need to sensor Day 4 for your Dad. I don't know if we want him to read about us using sand for washing instead of soap. I'm not sure he is ready for that! :)
    The final Gin Rummy score was Jenny-429 Mamma-323, but I consider it a running tally, so until the next time...
    As for Monique, she is a true pioneer woman--tough, resilient, capable and definitely a woman with skills. In the wilderness of Vancouver Island, given a pocket knife and a Q-tip, she could probably build you a shopping mall! (For non-cinephiles, a "Six Days, Seven Nights" reference.)
    Thanks for another GREAT day!

  2. Oh Jen, after reading your mother's wonderful additions to your fabulous blogs, I am so verklempt! You both just impress me so much! I am giggling and crying at the same time! I must really protest, though, that you won't reveal what the big treat was at Chez Monique. You know there is no way in hell I would ever set a pinkie toe on that trail, so it will not spoil anything to let me in on it, and I suspect the same is true for most of your readers. I could never have been content to take limited pictures everywhere! We always overdo it in the aquarium section of any zoos we visit, and I am so envious of all the cool sea life you got to see in the wild! Those pictures are awesome and I look forward to seeing every one of your photos when I get back to Texas! Thank-you so much for writing this blog. It is so enjoyable and it is the only way I will ever do this journey!

  3. I love love love these entries, and blame you completely for me not doing anything I was supposed to do this afternoon. Love your mother's additions. Such an amazing trip, and I can not believe the details....especially love the food entries! Yum!