Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hiking the WCT: Day 8, 14 June 2009

[Welcome to Day 8, my final day of Hiking the West Coast Trail.  Please see my previous posts (Day 0, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7) 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.]

Perfectly packed (so as to be balanced on its own) backpack.  I've got skills now!

This was it.  Day 8.  We were headed back to civilization.  Boo.  Hiss.  I'm trying to calculate when I would have actually been ready to go home because I was most definitely not ready to leave on Day 8.  Obviously, there's that point that you reach when you've stayed too long and it's different for everyone.  It's probably safe to say by Day 30,  I'd have been ready, if for no other reasons than to take a very long hot shower and go to a quadruple-feature at the movies.  Oh, wait! And to see my family.  That's right, I have a wonderful husband and three terrific children, all of whom I would see tomorrow!

You see, I tend to be rather focused on whatever thing I'm currently into.  For all of October, I listen to my Halloween play list, decorate like crazy, read horror novels and even change my phone screen and Kindle skin to something suitably horror-ific, like a spooky tree or vampire fangs. The point is, I tend to enthusiastically embrace whatever my current adventure is, be it Halloween, Oscar season, or our 2007 family trip to New Zealand & Australia (when I watched every New Zealand & Australian film I own on DVD in the weeks leading up to our departure.  That included all 3 Lord of the Rings films, The Piano, The World's Fastest Indian, The Man From Snowy River, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the DesertMuriel's Wedding, and all three [then] of Baz Luhrman's films, Moulin Rouge!, Romeo & Juliet, and my personal favorite, Strictly Ballroom.)  I'm sorry; I digress...again.

So I gave myself up to the amazing experience of hiking the West Coast Trail. To live, to be free for a little while, to run wild.  I'd be back home in Austin, back to my family again soon and they'd get me back as good as new, probably better, but for now I deserved to be here utterly and completely, without guilt or apologies. (Of course that didn't stop the tears when I called at the ferry station later that day to say we'd made it back and heard my two year old daughter say "Mommy come home.")  I'm a free spirit up to a point...and that point was drawing poignantly near.

Jen testing out another fishing net hammock before departing Michigan Creek Campsite.

We had a hard 7:30 departure that morning as we said adios to Michigan Creek because we had to make it to the trail head at Pachena Bay - 0 km mark!! - by 12:30 pm to get John & Carter back in time to make their plane.  That was a full 12 km in half a day and only slightly less than our maximum distance the entire day before of 13.5 km.  We hiked inland on the trail proper the entire distance except to stop at KM 10 to visit Pachena Lighthouse.

Though less impressive than the picturesque Carmanah Lighthouse, Pachena did have its charms.  Arriving from the trail you don't have the opportunity to admire the distant silhouette, but there's a quaint, white-picket-fence gate you enter through and this whimsical sign post showing the direction and distance to countries all over the world. (And the back sides are all labeled with different locations as well.)

No need to ask for directions.

Now look at the photograph below. I'd like for you to imagine what I'm doing to get this angle.  The ground sloped down away from the lighthouse and I kept trying to get both Mother and the entire beacon in the same shot.  I finally laid down in the grass spread-eagle, with my cheek planted to the moist turf to make it happen.  I Am Victorious!  (Never mind the sniggering and good-natured cat calls from behind me by the gang.)


Despite the constant forest hiking and the lack of high profile obstacles [that would be the surge channels and ladders], we still saw amazing things that last day.  We seemed to be in a section of the trail that must be exposed to the strongest winter winds because there were more giant felled trees in that 12 km distance than in all the rest of our forest hiking -- we'd be tromping along when directly in front of us this enormous, overgrown mass of tangled limbs and looming earth would materialize. It was the root ball of a felled tree.  I counted 15 of these gnarled beasts and those are just the ones in whose shadows we passed.

M & K told us that in the winter of 2006, there were 17 storms in November alone as opposed to the more typical 3-4.  There was concern that the park would open late because Parks Canada didn't know how extensive the damage was until they got out on the Trail that April.  Normally, in this northern-most forest section, nearing Pachena Bay, roughly 100-200 trees fall during the winter months.  But that year, there were at least 3000!  We just kept passing tree after tree after tree that had fallen across the trail and been later cleaved directly where it bisected our path.

Kelly beside the massive root ball of a felled tree

And just about the time I'd think we'd seen every type of trail boardwalk there was, we'd be surprised by something else unique.  This area was almost like horizontal ladders that zig zagged through the forest, including these stair-step planks laid shingle-style over a tree trunk that spanned one section.

Next there was no boardwalk, hardly even a trail, and although I'm quite certain Mark and Kelly knew precisely where they were headed, to us it seemed like you looked for a massive sawed off tree and skirted it until you could see the next one ahead.  And the next one.  There was a bit of a forced march feel that day and though it shames me to admit it, I found myself thinking (for the only time save the last hour of Day 3, just before reaching Walbran Creek) are we there yet?  I was definitely losing some of my thrill of the trail, not because we'd been hiking it for 8 days or because I was having any less spectacular of a time, but because it was impossible not to think about the fact that it was almost over.  This time tomorrow, we'd be at the airport, headed back to civilization.  Time would speed back up.  The restorative sounds of rushing surf and whispering trees would recede, replaced by the more caustic urban ones - gritty engines, jarring cell phone rings, too many voices.  And I would be back to squeezing just one more thing in.  One more errand, one more project, one more commitment.


 Thankfully, somewhere near this point in the downward spiral of my traitorous thoughts, another colossal tree blocked our path, this one piled high enough on top of smaller felled trees, to allow us to climb both over and under simultaneously.  Time for a photo op!  [And Bam! Just like a toddler, I'm distracted by the big, flashy thing in front of my eyes and forget how depressed I was starting to get. Whew!]

 It is not an oxymoron to climb both over and 
under a tree simultaneously. (At least not on the WCT.)

 If you are starting to wonder why I've fewer pictures of Melly this day and more of myself, no, it's not because I'm feeling under-represented in the photo department nor am I maxed-out in the mom department; I'm actually protecting her.  I'm not kidding here. This is about a 7.5 on the self-sacrificing-for-your-mother scale.  If you do the math (8+1), we haven't had a real shower in 9 days, our soap has run out (because someone kept extravagantly insisting we had to use it for our underwear.), and I guess it was warmer that day because every picture I seem to have of my mother she is sans toque.  And you may recall that Melly herself said she tried to keep either her toque or her Tilley on her [scary] hair at all times.  So, she is thanking me right now for showing my hideous hair, not hers!!  Or, mostly, at any rate...

The last physical KM marker!  (There's not a 1 or a 0)

Proud Mamma

Like so many of the unique idiosyncrasies of hiking the WCT, we had to leave the forest for the beach, in order to head back into the forest at an invisible trail head entrance where we would then reach the official trail head at KM 0.  We had reached the throat of Pachena Bay, a very roughly teardrop-shaped bay with a wide, flat, shallow expanse of shore where we were essentially finished, though not quite, for those of us with a middle name of Stickler...

All eleven of us (thanks to reuniting with our good pal Simon who waited
for us to say goodbye and take our group photo.)

Another 1/2 kilometer back inland and there we were: The Finish Line! [And here I've been saying it wasn't a race...] It was 11:54 am on June 14, 2009 and we had successfully completed hiking the 75 kilometers of the West Coast Trail!  Hoo-rah!  Yes, we are known in many circles by many names, but feel free to just call us Rock Stars.

Rock Star One & Rock Star Two

After much rejoicing, photo-opping, and pack-removing, we wandered into the trail head hut where Mother and I each purchased a commemorative 100 Years Pacific Rim National Park/West Coast Trail pin.  Once again we met up with Simon who had passed us in the forest at his much faster solo pace.  In addition to joining in our triumphant photo session, he had a bit of news to share.  Simon had heard from two German guys (Seriously, this is how it is on the WCT!) that one of the nefarious speed hikers from Day 6 -- and I imagine it was the more arrogant, dark-haired one who had barely acknowledged us, he'd exuded so much disdain -- had hurt his knee. I hope it was some emasculatingly [Yes, I realize that technically, this is not precisely a word.  But it should be.] trivial incident where he simply planted his inappropriately runner-clad foot and twisted his unprotected ankle, crashing down on his unsuspecting knee.  [I know, that was petty; I sincerely apologize.  Consider it a grievous (but only momentary) lapse in my otherwise altruistic judgment.  I'm better now.  Honestly, I wish all hikers well, wherever they may roam!  Except snotty I'm-not-really-a-hiker-and-I-think-I'm-better-than-you hikers.]  Thankfully, however, most people you meet on the WCT are friendly and the desire to share information is strong so there was usually a brief greeting and the occasional exchange of news such as upcoming trail conditions or animal sightings.

And you (or at least we!) seemed to bond incredibly quickly. Case in point: I came across the following quote in my journal: "Met up with Simon for the rest of the nights at camp." It was written on Day 6, which meant we only had two more nights plus Day 8.  And yet Simon seemed almost as much a part of the gang as the rest of our group.  In my experience, there were really no strangers on the West Coast Trail.  Of course, if you ask my husband he'd say that I'm the kind of person that likes knowing people. I like that I know most of the folks at my gym by name.  I like being part of a community.  And I liked feeling like I wasn't a stranger on the West Coast Trail.  I felt like I belonged there. [contented sigh]

Simon was looking to catch a ride but unfortunately we had no room in our van and had to make our final goodbyes.  Exhausted but exhilarated by our collective accomplishment, we traveled the 78 km down Bamfield Main, the uber-bumpy non-paved logging road that leads from the trail head to Nanaimo A number of folks slept on the drive but Mother and I chatted off and on with Kelly and Lauren while Mark drove.  We started food-dreaming aloud, and K & L mentioned Nanaimo Bars, named for the Vancouver Island city to which we were headed.  Intrigued by the "chocolate, coconut, custard" description, I made a note in my journal to research them later.

When we got to Nanaimo, we made a quick stop at pay showers for John & Carter to clean up before dropping them at Budget Rent-a-Car so that they could make a hasty getaway to the Comox, BC airport to catch their early flight.  Then we headed to Safeway, where Bill's lovely wife and mother met us. We made our hugging farewells to Bill and as they headed off, the rest of us made a beeline for the restrooms inside Safeway and then to the deli line to get mammoth sandwiches.  Despite vigorous, repeated hand-washing, the cracks of our palms were still dirt-stained; lasting evidence of our Herculean efforts, I like to think.

 Clockwise from bottom left: Melly, Wenke, Mike, and Jen (only my left since I'm taking the picture!)

Once at the Nanaimo ferry terminal, we had quite a bit of time to kill before the next Tsawwassen ferry departed so we lined up our packs against the windows, arraying ourselves in a circle on the floor, in the space between two rows of seats, sharing snacks and playing a card game called 31.  (It felt very much like being around the campfire again, familiar and cozy.) Mother and I both called home from a payphone since we hadn't been in contact since leaving Vancouver.  Naturally, I cried on the phone and upon returning to The Circle, everyone sympathized as I told them why I was upset.  Clearly related to me, Kelly got choked up too as I haltingly relayed Vivi's 2 1/2 year old "Mommy Come Home" speech.  Mark affectionately called her LCM - Little Crying Machine, which made me laugh because a) hello, I'm clearly another LCM! and b) it reminded me of one of Rand's very old, very silly nicknames for me!  The terminal started filling up as it got closer to boarding time, but, surprisingly, we still managed to maintain a very roomy area.  I really don't think it had anything to do with our diminished hygiene over the past 9 days.  We still didn't smell.  My hand to God.

I can't believe I didn't take a single picture on the ferry that day.  I have a couple of Mother and I on deck of the inbound ferry but we look far too fresh to be convincing here at the end of our trip.  Besides, what I really want is one of the last 8 of us (Mark, Kelly, Sue, Mike, Wenke, Lauren, Melly, Jen), content in our grubbiness, amiably lounging in our little section of the ferry, already starting to reminisce.  [And you wonder why I take five-bazillion photos?... in the hopes of avoiding just such an omission as this.]  We ended up back in story-telling mode and Sue entertained us with an absolutely hilarious story to which I cannot, for the life of me, remember the details, but I noted in my journal as the "bringing towels/owning brothel" story.  It was something about carrying clean towels as she walked through town and some man asked her about them and her sassy, on-the-spot response was that she owned a brothel and... Damn it!  I'm clearly missing the punch line but it was too good not to mention, even half-remembered, here.  [Note to self:  In future, journal even more meticulously and obsessively!]  And If Sue writes me back to refresh my memory, I'll update, I promise!

At one point, Mother and I went on walk-about, taking a gander in the ship's cafeteria.  There was a long line as we waited to purchase cold drinks, standing beside various refrigerated cases.  And what did I happen to spot on one of the glass doors? A neat, little typed label: "Nanaimo Bars"!  Back at our seats, after telling the gang what we found, everyone was mystified that I didn't buy one, but I explained that I didn't want to be disappointed by a less-than-perfect version that might disenchant the delectable dessert for me before I ever actually made it, so I would just wait and find the recipe online and try it at home. [Which I did.  And they are awesome.  Here's the recipe, if you want to try them.  But I warn you: they are addictive.  Truly the work of the devil.  At least he's an excellent chef.]

 Last shot of my hiker alter ego

Once back on the mainland and in our big white van, we dropped off one after another, saying goodbye to our new friends. Sue was traveling on to Cambodia and Vietnam before heading back to England and Wenke was hoping to go back to Chez Monique to interview Monique before flying back to Germany.  And I believe Lauren was returning to her rafting guide duties in Calgary.  We didn't have to say goodbye to Mike just yet as he was staying at our same motel and we agreed to meet up for a late dinner after the three of us cleaned up.  When Mark & Kelly dropped us off, we reclaimed our excess baggage that had stayed in the van (Our Vancouver Starbucks mugs, culled clothes, my hiking book and...extra soap!!) and made our sincerest, most heartfelt goodbyes with promises to keep in touch.

The shower I took that evening was quite possibly the best in my life: long, nearly scalding, and I washed my hair three - gasp! - times, just because I could!  Dinner with Mike at Fogg 'N Suds across the street was lovely - Mother and I enjoyed bacon, cheese, and scallion pierogies and employing our own version of Mark's no-ice-cream-on-the-trail sentiment, we both indulged in slushy Pina Coladas.  Mmmmm…  After a relaxed meal, followed by big bear hugs from Mike, we parted ways and headed to bed for a fabulous night's sleep before our morning flight home.

Technically, it was now Day 9 since it was Monday, June 15th and Mother and I were back at D/FW airport after flying jointly back to Dallas.  We hardly spoke the entire flight as we furiously wrote, remembering detail after detail, filling in the last pages of our journals (along with both sides of an unused barf bag and 2 cocktail napkins crammed full of tiny scribbling for me), pausing only to look up at each other when needing to confirm various tidbits. We'd shed our Indiana-Jones-style adventuress garb and had donned our everyday wear but don't be deceived by our commonplace appearances, those were just our Mother/Daughter/Wife disguises.  We were still the wild-and-crazy-hell-on-wheels-the-fun-never-stops-take-us-to-the-egde-of-the-volcano-and-throw-us-over-and-we'll-bring-you-back-a-rough-hewn-basaltic-blade-with-which-we-made-our-escape women that you've come to know and love.  [I'll admit to an eensy bit of hyperbole there.  And, okay, yes, I did recently re-watch Cast Away. So?]

And in the immortal words of The Terminator: I'll be back.

Look for our next adventure in Fall 2012!  We're tackling the mountains of British Columbia this time:  Hiking The Chilcotins.  [And I promise not to remodel my house again, thereby slowing down my writing & posting to a near glacial pace.]


  1. Catherine SikoraJuly 23, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    Once again, you have outdone yourself! I cannot express enough what a good writer you are and how magnificently you weave a story! I was riveted to this last post and so looking forward to your next one! Each post made it clearer to me that I would never want to do this, and this last one did me in - no soap! Ugh! My skin is crawling thinking about it! You never cease to amaze me! I could just write as long a comment as the blog posting I am so full of admiration for you and it! I will reluctantly say goodbye to this lovely adventure and be happy that I can revisit it at any time! Thanks Jen!
    Love, Catherine

  2. I enjoyed living vicariously through your writing. Funny, gorgeous, and highly enjoyable....just like you!

    I love Strictly Ballroom. :)

  3. I stumbled across your blog while looking for info on the West Coast Trail. Your detail is amazing and all the info you provided has made me want to hike it even more. We are planning on doing it in September with the same company that you did. Really Looking forward to it! Thanks for your blog - it's really well written

    1. Hi Erin, I'm so glad you enjoyed reading and even more thrilled that you are going to hike the WCT yourself and with Sea to Sky no less!! Please ping me back after your trip-- I would love to hear how your experience is!! I just returned from our mountain hiking with StS in the Chilcotins which was equally spectacular in very different ways. I hope to find time to write about that soon... :-) Cheers, Jen

    2. I will for sure Jen! Thanks again - Erin

  4. Loved reading through your blog! I'll be hiking WCT this august and have been researching and preparing as much as I can; was happy to stumble across this detailed account of the journey. So much to look forward to now!! I agree with you, reading up doesn't spoil the excitement, it builds the anticipation!