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Crazy ’mericans do the West Coast Trail

By on September 27, 2017 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments


On a trip like this, you don’t want to take a political activist or a high maintenance person, but a teen wearing crocs? He’s ok

By Kim Anderson

It all began in a conversation with a coworker as he was describing a long coastal hike on Vancouver Island.

Tobin looks out at the Pacific Ocean after camp is set up.

I’d never heard of the West Coast Trail, but within five minutes of hearing his stories it made my bucket list. It wasn’t so much his description, but the change of his voice, the widening of the eyes and the animation of his expression that drew me in like a child to the candy aisle.

Some adventures are OK by yourself or with a new friend, but this one had only one option: taking my best friend. When it comes to suffering, too many details, sleeping together, and the daily change of plans, you don’t want to risk spending this time with a political activist, or an OCD, or high-maintenance individual.

I mention these types because, quite frankly, they rarely leave their baggage at home and you end up becoming their unwilling emotional cargo porter.

The West Coast Trail is a 50 mile trail that travels on sand beaches, limestone flats, over multiple rivers and streams, up-and-down cliffs, through knee-deep mud bogs, across 70 plus bridges, 40 plus ladder sections, cable car crossings, and ferry crossings.

It’s located on the Pacific side of Vancouver Island in the south west corner. There’s one dirt road to either end with no trails or roads off the trail for the whole 50 miles.

It was started roughly 150 years ago so that the stranded sailors from the numerous shipwrecks along that part of the island could have a path back to civilization. The remoteness, cliffs and density of the forest made it impossible for lost sailors to survive. About 60 years ago the Canadian government turned it into a national park.

When I called my best friend Mark Henson from East Wenatchee, he was totally in. He asked about bringing his oldest son Tobin, who is 15, along with us.

“Why of course!” was my answer. I love Mark and his passion for raising his kids. Not only would it be a great shared experience, but Tobin would get to see how we play in the wilderness, also we could pass along the childlike joy of our surrounding creation.

When it came time to register for a permit to do the trail, I was only able to secure a permit for the lower half of the trail. Well, some trail is better than no trail and would still give us 25-30 miles of hiking.

On our first day leaving Wenatchee in July, we drove to Canada and caught the Tsawwassen ferry, then drove three hours across the bottom of Vancouver Island to the southern end of the West Coast Trail.

In the morning as we hastily packed our gear. I noticed Mark and Tobin having a serious conversation. Tobin had forgotten his shoes. He was now going to do 25-plus miles of the West Coast Trail in his Croc sandals.

Guess he’ll learn next time to check and recheck his own gear.

I went into the ranger station to look around and randomly asked what the possibilities were for us to do the whole trail? I figured there might be some no-shows or last-minute cancellations. The Ranger made a phone call and responded with, “Yes.” We were doing the whole trail.

Mark and I told Tobin who said, “I only have crocs?” His dad responded with, “It’s only 20 to 25 more miles.”

The ride to the trailhead was almost four hours on the rockiest, bumpiest roads, at speeds I’ve only seen on Fast and Furious movies. I laid on my seat hoping to survive what felt like space shuttle lift off while Mark sat in the front seat holding a vomit bag just under his chin.

We finally arrived and disembarked. Around 2 p.m. we all gathered with other hikers for the hour-long orientation. They told us about bears, cliff walls, cougars, unique toilets, tidal chart reading, surge channels, mud bogs, which ladders are missing rungs, and many other potential ways to harm, maim or injure ourselves.

Once Ranger Susie was done, we got our tickets stamped and hit the beach. It was 3 p.m. and we had 12 miles to hike to reach the first camping spot. In our excitement we forgot to stick around and ask questions! We defaulted to our typical work mode, “Let’s just get to our next spot and figure out the details along the way.“

We had already heard this was the most uninteresting section of the trail, so we just put it in high gear and arrived at the beach camp around 8 p.m.

The next morning we awoke to a teenager bear cub interested in our camping spot. He stayed about 50 yards away while we packed.

This day’s hike meandered through the rain forests, along many cliffs that drop hundreds of feet into the Pacific, and across long sandy beaches. We only crossed paths with a few other hikers until we reached Tsusiat Falls.

This was one of the highlights of the trip: a perfectly shaped waterfall bursting from the forest that ended in a perfect infinity pool flowing into the ocean. At the bottom, on the beach there was a freshwater pool kept separate from the salt water by a sizable dune.

We were hot and tired, so we stripped to our skivvies and jumped in. We sat on a sandstone ledge under the falls letting the water pound the dirt and grime of the day off of our skin and souls. As the other, more timid hikers saw our joy and lack of inhibition, they joined us in the waters.

We staggered back across the sand to our packs and lay down in the sand and sun.

Once revived, we packed up for another few miles to our next beach camping spot.

Each night, Mark dealt with our water filtration system while Tobin and I prepped a spot to set up our tent and fire pit. My dinner usually consisted of some type of meat, cheese and nuts while Mark and Tobin feasted on some rehydrated potatoes, rice or noodles.

Let me digress here to say that the majority of people take five to seven days on the trail, usually putting in 6 to 10 miles daily allowing for more time in the evenings as they would be setting up camp around 3 p.m. Because of our time constraints only planning for half the hike, we ended up doing the whole trail in 3 1/2 days.

We spent lots of playtime at unique spots and didn’t feel like we missed anything. We just hiked each afternoon and evening instead of sitting at the campsite like everyone else.

Another highlight at the end of day two was that Mark found a very nice fisherman’s machete while searching in the back of a cave. He presented the finding to Tobin. Being a 15-year-old male, he looked as if he had just won the lottery. We found an old washed up wetsuit and made a sheath for it. He looked like Jeremiah Johnson with his mini sword strapped to his backpack.

The next day while we were walking through the woods, Tobin was lagging behind and Mark and I were together upfront acting a bit like middle schoolers…. laughing and making jokes. This is the positive way to keep your mind off your aching muscles and blisters.

Because we rarely saw people during this section of the hike, I was shocked to see a mature women suddenly in front of me. She looked at Mark and me and said in a sarcastic tone, “Well, I can sure tell that I won’t have to worry about any bears on the trail for the next 500 yards!“

Mark and I looked at each other and giggled realizing that she had probably heard us from quite a distance.

This is where we got our first name, “Team No-Bears.” Remember my earlier comment about not hiking with certain people? I guess this is why she was alone.

Hiking from north to south, the terrain gets more difficult with increased mud bogs, ladders up-and-down cliffs and tidal beach heads to skirt. Yet the beauty and our awe only increased as we met with epic views around each new rock outcropping or obstacle.

On the afternoon of the third day, we were late to the low tidal exchange that would have allowed us to skirt a rock outcropping.

Assessing our situation, we realized that we would have to either walk back many miles or wait a few hours for the tide to finish raising and falling. Of course we chose option three.

I took off my boots and pack and free climbed around the rock. A slip here might not have ended in death, but it sure would have done a little damage with the waves pounding on the rocks below.

Once above Mark and Tobin, we used a rope to pull up our three packs, which was no easy task. We carried the rope so we could hang our food at campsites that didn’t have a bear locker.

Mark and Tobin then climbed and skirted the rock face.

The group of people waiting out the tide on the other side said that we were, well, “Crazy ’mericans.” The joys of receiving our second team name.

The day drug on a bit as the heat and lack of water started to take its toll on us. However, we knew somewhere ahead of us was a small restaurant in two beach tents, run by a small Indian tribe that served hamburgers. Of course, it was many miles farther than we thought.

On arrival, there were four Europeans drinking beer on the logs at the beach. The front tent was nearly empty with no signs or waiters, just a small Indian girl playing in the sand with various shapes of driftwood. Finally, an Indian walked by and pointed to an opening at the back of the first tent, which was really just a tarp covering a small space about 20 by 20.

It was a little creepy, like a horror flick as you are saying: “Don’t go in there!”

Hunger and desperation pushed us forward till we entered. As our eyes adjusted to the lower light, we were in a makeshift kitchen. The blonde-haired rather large Indian asked, “What will it be?”

Looking around, there were multiple dogs on the dirt floor, dishes heaped up in the sink, coolers on the floor, and a table of baggies stuffed with various types of candies. We had two choices: a burger with or without cheese. In the coolers were cans of beer and pop. I quickly assessed that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to ask to see their food handlers permit.

Besides, after traveling to various countries over the years, we defaulted to our old safety standby, “When in doubt, wash it down with lots of alcohol to kill any unwanted critters.”

We ended up sitting in the kitchen and chatting it up with the proprietor for an hour. To our surprise, she was an amazing woman who only served the best products that could be boated in: Fresh bakery buns, Angus beef patties and gourmet cheese.

It was delightful and ended up being one of the highlights of the trip.

A 16-ounce can of beer and a burger ended up being about 30 bucks, but it was worth every Loony.

Day four was riddled with huge mud bogs, broken walkways and climbs up steep sections using ropes to go up steep tree-rooted hillsides.

Mark and I both fell through broken sections or into nasty bogs of mud. Neither of us, fortunately, was injured. Tragedy this far from civilization would take days to coordinate and execute.

Mark and I were also nursing blisters while Tobin and his Crocs had no blisters, but he did say that the bottoms of his feet were sore.

At lunch, we had to wade a shallow river. On the other side were numerous hikers resting and assessing their timing and afternoon plans. While I sat on the beach airing out my blisters and overlooking the ocean, Mark and Tobin walked over the river and had various rock skipping contests.

After an hour, all the other hikers had continued their journeys. We then started off, but couldn’t tell from the map if we were supposed to go up the river a bit or along the beach… So we took what seemed to be the most natural path up the river. After 100 yards Mark said in a loud voice, “Oh sorry! “ I looked in his direction and saw two ladies stark naked in the river.

Oooops! Wrong way, but we did get to add another sighting to our “natural-things-we saw-in-the-woods” list.

Our camping spot ended up being a small cove surrounded by giant cliffs. It was so pristine as the water was an opulent green with a small river running to the ocean. We couldn’t resist ourselves, so we stripped down again to our skivvies and ran into the ocean. Then to the river. Then back to the ocean. Then back to the river. Refreshed and clean nature’s way.

However no other hikers joined us in our exuberance this time. We just looked at each other, grinned and said in unison, “Team ’mericans.”

Our last day on the trail, we timed the tides so we wouldn’t have to hike through the woods, but could hike on the beach around Owen’s Point.

Everyone we met on the trail said that this option was spectacular if you could do it. Of course, “Team ’merica” was all in.

Words or pictures can’t describe the surge channels, tidal pools and rock formations that the ocean had created in the limestone coast.

The intensity of the sights and sounds and vibrations of the ocean drumming the rocks lifted my soul to another time: back to the summer days as a child when I lost myself playing in the beach sand for the first time.

Some parts of creation are not meant for description, but only to be experienced.

Kim Anderson teaches local high school students Computer Technology and Video Game Programming at the Wenatchee Tech Center.  He tries to help his students discover the amazing land we live and play in instead of being strapped to cell phones and social media. His mantra is: “I live what you watch!”

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