West Coast Trail Day 2 – #redtide

Day 2 reflectionIf I die tonight, tell my mother I love her and my father that he is a good dad.  Tell my brother he rocks. Tell my husband I chose him for the happiness he brings me. Tell Oliver he is a strong young man who can do anything he sets his mind to, and to not be so hard on himself. And tell Hugh that his is good and kind, and that he is going to do amazing things in this world and touch the hearts of many people.

I’m sitting in my tent at the end of day 2 silently freaking out.  Today I ate something I shouldn’t have and the consequences could be deadly.

***

Day 2’s agenda was to hike from Darling River through to Tsusiat Falls (14 km), and the morning started out beautifully with breakfast and a show thanks to the gray whales.  They were just offshore, as usual, and we watched as they dipped and dove through the water. And we even saw one whale breach three times!  Beautiful.Day 2 breakfast beach treasure

After eating breakfast and packing up our gear, checking in with each other for any miscellaneous aches and pains, we hit the trail.  The day was filled with beachwalking, ladder climbing, and strolls along mossy, slippery boardwalks.  We saw the whales quite a bit, and goggle-eyed sea lions watching us from the water as we walked, just their little heads poking up. Very curious little fellows.Day 2 trail shots

We passed the site where the 253 foot iron steamer Valencia sunk offshore in 1906, losing more than 125 lives.  Of the many vessels that sunk off this Graveyard of the Pacific, public outcry for the Valencia was the loudest, and helped push for the further development of the WCT and the building of the Pachena Lighthouse in 1907.

Why the fuss? Hard to imagine in this day and age of instant news and social media.  But reading the Valencia‘s account is bone-chilling, and apparently the wreck surpassed all but the sinking of the Titanic in terms of “sheer horror.”  The passenger ship became engulfed in fog, and the hull was pierced upon the jagged West Coast rocks. The captain chose to jam the ship into the rocks about 30 yards offshore rather than sink in the deep water.

Passengers were tossed overboard [by the pummelling waves] almost immediately. Women and children were lashed to rigging out of reach of the sea. ‘It was pitiful to see women, wearing only night dresses with bare feet on the frozen ratlines, trying to shield children in their arms from the icy wind and rain,’ writes freight clerk Frank Lehm.  Daybreak brought a grisly spectacle. ‘Bodies hung suspended from the rigging like flies in a web. Once rigor mortis had run its course they loosened their hold and tumbled into the water or onto the deck with a flaccid thud.  More corpses drifted between ship and shore, scoured of flesh and features as if by a giant cheese grater,’ Graham writes.  One lifeboat finally made it ashore and its crew soon found the telegraph trail, made it to the lineman’s cabin, and cabled Cape Beale.  Another vile night passed as rescuers struggled along the trail and ships sailed from Victoria to lend assistance. ~ Ian Gill, Hiking on the Edge

There were survivors, but not a single woman or child lived through the ordeal.  No remains of the Valencia can be see from the trail, although we did pass relics of other wrecks, including a boiler, and anchor and other bits and pieces.Day 2 more trail shots

It was actually at Trestle Creek, where we spotted the anchor on the beach, believed to be from the shipwreck Janet Cowan, where I made a really dumb choice.Day 2 Anchor

Trestle Creek was a great spot to stop for a break, and many other hikers had the same idea. We bumped into folks from our camp last night, and then also a large contingent hiking from the South. As we snacked and people-watched, I observed that a bunch of Japanese hikers weren’t nibbling trail mix or protein bars; instead, they were full on cooking a meal, with their stoves out, pots bubbling, etc.  It seemed like a lot of work to me!  I usually save my cooking for mornings or evenings only while on the trail.

Upon closer inspection, I realized that the menu was comprised of shellfish, which was undoubtedly harvested from the very beach upon which we were sitting.  The hikers coaxed the meat out of the shell using a gold safety pin and then dipped it in a sweet chili sauce they’d brought along. The side dish was steamed seaweed.Day 2 red tide

I couldn’t believe it. Didn’t they know about red tide? How the higher levels of neurotoxins in the algae could then cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in all the mussels, clams, etc?  This was a big deal at the WCT orientation – harvesting is off-limits and consumption could cause death.  But here they were, happily noshing on a free meal from the sea.

I poked Hugh.  “Check that out!  Don’t they know that’s not cool?”  And then when one of the ladies went to wash her dishes, she used the freshwater source as opposed to the preferred method in the WCT literature – the ocean.  “OMG – does no one read the WCT rules??”  I was high on my rule-book horse.  What kind of eco-monsters were they letting on the trail?? So many people disregarding the environment, etc.

But then I decided I wanted a photo of the shellfish (because the zoom on my camera wasn’t good enough), and went over to speak to the hikers. Oh man, they were soooooo nice and sooooo hospitable.  Really, really lovely people. They laughed and joked, and said sure I could take a photo as long as I didn’t work for Parks Canada.  They told me all about their hike, their cooking… and then they passed me the safety pin.

Ugh.

Even in my regular, at-home existence I don’t eat shellfish. With my father highly allergic to shellfish, we just never had it around the house growing up. In my adult years, I’ve tried out a variety of it (gagged through oysters, plugged my nose through mussels, etc) but it never really was my thing.  And here I was, taking photos of these nice people and trying to get to know them, and then boom!  I’ve got to partake.

They say going on the trail brings out things in your life that are forever present. Issues you need to deal with, reoccurring challenges, all of it is magnified.  And here I was: I just can’t say no. I didn’t want to be impolite, to offend anyone, to cause a situation of conflict. I politely declined once, twice, three times. They kept asking. Offering.  So, I just did it. I ate it. Regardless of the fact I could die. And the fact that this choice also made me a ginormous hypocrite.  Epic fail.

I mentally plugged my nose and scooted the tiny portion of meat to the back of my mouth, as to avoid any tastebud contact.  I chewed. It squidged about in my mouth. I chewed some more. They were all watching me so carefully.  I swallowed, and smiled. They smiled when I smiled.  I thanked them and complimented the food. One of the ladies brought over a new pot of seaweed, and they started feeding this to me as well, telling me it was sweet (it was). It was fine – I could eat however many pots of seaweed as necessary to get me through the rest of the conversation. But then one man said he was going to get me a “good one.”

No! Not another! Nooooo!  I politely declined, but of course the pin came my way, this time dunked in chili sauce. “Is good!” the man insisted.  Another death sentence down the hatch.  Then two more.  I wrapped up my visit and got back to my crew.  It was time to move on. But my head is spinning…What have I done?Day 2 cable car

Right after our break came our first cable car in order to cross the Klanawa River, which required all hands to be on deck.  We sent P. across, then M., and then Hugh and I together.  The 10-second thrill was quickly replaced by the need to start hauling oneself via rope, hand over hand, to reach the platform on the opposite side of the river.  I’m really glad all four of us worked together to get across the Klanawa! In retrospect, keeping it to one person and one bag per cable car is the best way to go.Day2 cliffs

Just two more kilometres through the rainforest along a cliff we caught glimpses of tonight’s home sweet home, Tsusiat Falls.  We scrambled down a set of ladders to the beach and scored a sweet set of spots all together in a little driftwood fortress, complete with a “living room” for our campfire.Day 2 fortress

The fresh water source for this beach was Tsusiat Falls themselves…lovely falls with a little “swimming hole” at the bottom (again, people were swimming, bathing, brushing their teeth and washing stuff in this small body of water…the same water we were filtering to drink. But post-shellfish-madness, I’d given up my fight on the subject and just had to let that go in my mind. After all, I could be dead tomorrow).

The beach was really spacious with lots of room for tents and campers. Hugh started the campfire. This particular beach was crazy good for driftwood, and Hugh made a great fire. Mind you, it did take a little patience. We quickly discovered that no matter how bone dry the wood felt, it didn’t burn easily and it took a while to build up strong, hot embers.Day 2 campfire

After dinner, I went for a wander up and down the beach, soaking my feet and legs in the water, letting the waves push and pull, push and pull.  It refreshed the body and the soul.  Bedtime came soon enough.Day 2 Tsusiat Falls campground beach

Day 2 beachDay 2 Tsusiat Falls

***

All I could think was that I was truly going to die. Tonight. Miserably.

I’m tucked away in my tent for the night, after a such an amazing day, and I keep going back to the shellfish.  What a stupid thing to do.

Part of me is like, HA! Sucker, give it up – you’re going to be fine. Stop playing the victim and love that you lived in the moment.

The other part  is whacking me in the face with a phone book – you just threw away your life because you avoided honesty in expressing your opinions and beliefs just to avoid a (possible) conflict, dumbass!!

Only time will tell.  I fall asleep to the setting sun and the melody of crashing waves.
Day 2 Tsusiat sunset
Tomorrow – Tsusiat Falls to Cribs Creek (if I live, of course.)

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