West Coast Trail Day 6 – #mclovin

WCT ConverseI shook off yesterday as best I could.  Today was  Sunday.  Not that days of the week really meant anything. But I had been counting sleeps.

In fact, counting sleeps is something I do not only for the anticipation of Santa, but also when backpacking. No matter where I am, or who I’m with, or what day I’m on, I mentally take quiet notes of how many sleeps down, and how many to go. I often think about my husband, knowing exactly where he’ll be at 8:00 pm every night (the bath). And the cats, where they hang out (end of the couch and in Oliver’s room). And it’s with a certain longing I recall the lovely, civilized routines of emptying the dishwasher, drawing the curtains at bedtime…

And I woke up today knowing there was only one more sleep on the trail.  Huzzah.

M. and P. were up and at ’em at a decent hour. I think they’d done their chores and started packing up before I could even haul my sorry self out of the tent.  Camper Bay was still jammed with backpackers. At least a dozen tents huddled together on the sand strip, a rowdy mash-up of hikers from each direction, everyone in a different stage: cleanliness, happiness, denial, exhaustion, etc.  And of all these characters, I quite enjoyed the little crowd that had formed around P.

P. was a social butterfly. He didn’t even have to look for a party, the party had come to him. It was a fairly large group of, oh, “middle-aged women” I guess would be the fairest assumption, who were hiking south to north.  He held court as they flitted back and forth, chatting him up as they noisily gathered their gear. From the snippets of conversation amongst themselves and with others, I figured if I had to hike with these women, they’d drive me nuts with their regimented plans and know-it-all attitudes; but if I was in a pinch, they’d always take care of me.

I sat on my driftwood bench sipping a cup of coffee (which, btw, was courtesy of P. who had shared his cruise ship collection of instant coffee with us) and watched the ladies warily, from a distance, dote over P. The French couple lounged nearby at their fire pit, Converse-clad feet up on logs, making no move to get going at all.  Mathieu caught my eye and raised his sunglasses. “These women, they’re like BIRDS. Squawk, squawk, squawk. So LOUD.”  He slipped his sunglasses back over his eyes and jammed his hat down over his ears.  Even Anne, normally full of humour in the mornings, agreed. “Thank God they’re hiking the other way.”

Eventually, the ladies wrapped up and wished P. the best, and headed northwards along the trail.  M. and P. also wanted to get an early start on the day and, shouldering their packs, made their way towards the cable car.

Hugh finally poked his head of his little yellow tent in the newfound silence.  “What the heck was going on out here?? What a racket!”  He disappeared, and started shoving his pack out from inside of his tent. However, in forcing his pack through the fly, which was still fastened at the bottom, we suddenly heard a sharp CRACK and his tent buckled. It was just a broken pole.  Not a big deal, we’d figured we’d duct tape it tonight. Better Day 6 than Day 1.

With most of the campground mostly deserted, with the exception of Mathieu and Anne, we savoured the peace.  It was a blessing to gather one’s thoughts and set intentions for the day.  Live, love, happiness – let’s roll!

I pulled on my wet socks, laced my boots and headed to Camper Creek with Hugh.  We skipped the cable car and jumped stone to stone across the creek instead. The water was low enough that it was safe to traverse. At most, your feet might get wet. And, CHECK.! they were already wet, so no harm no foul.  We scrambled along the forest paths to catch up to M. and P.

Today’s hike was Camper Bay to Thrasher Cove (8 km + 1 km off trail to the camping beach).  We had a choice today to hike along the beach around Owen Point at low tide (it is impassable at high tide), where there was some serious bouldering and cool caves to explore OR take the forest route along boardwalks and tree bridges.  Because the tides this time of year were higher, and the hiking window along this stretch of beach was tight, we opted for the forest route as the safer alternative for our group.

Hugh and I met up with M. and P. on the trail and travelled with them for a bit before pushing on ahead.

Day 6 on our own

Today’s hike turned out pretty amazing. Our route made points of contact at two beach entrances for the Owen Point route, but otherwise it was deep in the old growth forest with mud pits, boardwalks, ginormous cedars and my favourite part, the log bridges high above the forest floor.   The “bridges” were simply fallen logs needed  to traverse mucky ground or small gullies. The logs could be fat or thin, mossy or slimy. At least they were chiseled along the top and notched for a bit of boot-grip.  At one point, we travelled about 10 feet off the ground along a linked log path, with 90 degree angles at the junction points, six foot high brush overgrown all around us. “Marco!!” I’d yell before dancing across from log to log.  If I heard a “Polo!” I’d pause on a log junction until a north-bound hiker appeared and could safely pass.

We hiked a bit with Ange and May, the Calgary girls, and were lapped by Mathieu and Anne, who were like antelope on the trail.  We stopped for lunch and a couple of extended rest breaks but didn’t see M. and P. so we kept on moving forward, leaving our leaf faces now and then.  By about 2:00 pm we’d  reached the junction for Thrasher Cove.  Here, I’m sure, many decisions have been made.  The end of the trail was only 5 km south at the Gordon River ferry crossing.  Many hikers buckle down and continue on to complete the trek on their final day. We knew Thrasher Cove was only 1 km away, and that was home for the night, so we took a right on the path towards the beach.

That last 1 km to Thrasher Cove took a looooong time.  We began to lose elevation almost immediately, and it was with a sinking realization that we knew to get back to the junction would require a very steep hike first thing in the morning.  The trail down to Thrasher was arduous, rooty and muddy.  My knees creaked anytime I had to make really long steps down off rooty edges.  The finale came in the form of several tall ladders, and then poof! we arrived blinking in the sunshine, feet on sand, dazzlingly happy.

Beach!  Seriously! Awesome!  I dropped my bag and walked straight into the ocean up to my knees. The cold water seeped through my boots and my socks, rejuvenating my feet and my mind. I splashed for a bit, washing off my boots and pant legs as well. Freedom.

The beach was already fairly clogged with tents, and the southern, sunnier end had filled up with brand new hikers who’d just started their adventures.  We trudged north along the sand, crossing the trickle of freshwater, and pitched camp across the wee channel from Mathieu and Anne.  They were  already completely set up, and were sunning themselves down near the water’s edge.   We threw hiking poles, Hugh’s tent fly and a few other bits of our stuff onto the sand near our spots to hold space for M. and P.’s tents.  Hugh immediately went about organizing a campfire for M. and P.’s arrival, digging out an old fire ring, gathering driftwood and shaving kindling.  He took about a dozen trips further north along the beach to procure all sizes of driftwood.

Day 6 on the beach

While Hugh prepped the fire, I washed out clothes, hung damp things to dry, set up the tent and re-organized my food bag.  I’d budgeted fairly well for my food. For each day I’d rationed 1 bag of trail mix + 2 bars (ie. Clif Builder Bars, Luna bars, Kind bars) for the trail, and then 1 breakfast and 1 dinner. There was also a handful of trail/lunch extras like Moon Cheese and beef jerky.  Hugh and I shared a lot of our trail food, so if I ran out he had more and vice versa – it just depended who had the easiest access to the snack when hunger struck.  I had two dinners and two breakfasts left (I think I’d skipped a dinner somewhere along the way) and no trail mix/bars.  Hugh had a bag of trail mix and some Ichiban noodles.  We pooled our rations and planned on finishing up most of it tonight and tomorrow morning, leaving the trail mix for the walk out.

Hugh’s tent pole didn’t cooperate with our duct tape and stick splint ideas, so we decided he’d share with me tonight. My tent did sleep two, and was a palace for one, so there was no problem fitting him in.

M. and P. arrived at Thrasher Cove around supper, and it was fantastic to see them. We had the opportunity to sit around the fire for a bit and swap stories of our day.  Supper didn’t take to long to make and consume, and Hugh continued to feed the campfire with driftwood.

Day 6 Thrasher Cove

It was both a relief and a sadness to be spending only one last night on the WCT.  Home is a good place, you see.

I wandered the beach a bit, chatting with the south-bounders.

Day 6 awesomesauce The hikers heading north all looked so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, not to mention, CLEAN.  Yep, I wanted no part of that. Haha. As well, I had no desire to get on my soapbox…I wanted them to experience everything for themselves, no expectations.  (And I’m also recalling all the “helpful” soapbox advice we received from passing hikers about the journey = 25% useful, 50% misguided, 25% grandstanding.)

We passed our last evening watching the tide creep in, to ensure our tents weren’t sucked into the ocean.  P. and H. had both gone to sleep a little earlier, M. stayed up to take photos. After the all clear, I headed to bed.

Good night, WCT.

Day 6 tide watch

Tomorrow – Thrasher Cove to Gordon River

 

 

West Coast Trail Day 5 – #pissedoff

0410 hrs, Camper Bay

Awake. In the dead of night. Drained from frustration.  Dirt under my fingernails – again. Stinking like a latrine.  An angry, sticky, stinging red rash on the inside of my thigh.

OMG. Why am I awake at this hour? It’s been a crap sleep following a crap day.  I’m a prisoner of my own mind.

Where do I start describing this past day’s adventures?  If I was to pull out my journal, you wouldn’t read a thing about the splendid suspension bridge at Logan Creek and the towering sets of ladders at either end. You wouldn’t know that we skidded along slick, moss-covered, broken boardwalks, some at crazy, rollercoaster angles. You wouldn’t see how we crossed a bog filled with mud pits and stunted trees, or traversed elevated log bridges suspended over a blanket of ferns.  You wouldn’t have even thought I was on the WCT. You would’ve thought I was pitching a fit in, say, traffic, or because my Starbucks order was wrong.

Day 5 grumpy kat

There just wasn’t a lot of joy on this day.

First, the spiralling-out-of-control hygiene issue. I think Bill Bryson captured it best from A Walk in the Woods:

You go through a series of staged transformations – a kind of gentle descent into squalor… At the end of the first day you feel mildly, self consciously grubby; by the second day, disgustingly so; by the third, you are beyond caring; by the fourth, you have forgotten what is like not to be like this.

And let me tell you, by the fifth day you can truly not even stand the chunky tang of yourself.  You catch a whiff of that juicy pong emanating from some unknown crevice and your head spins.  How, HOW in this modern world could I possibly not smell like fresh eucalyptus or baby powder?  I came to adore my tiny bottle of hand sanitizer because it had a faint after-scent of an orange orchard. I would often walk, just smelling my fingers, in order to feel human.

Second, there was pace.  We all have different gaits, and I was not in my groove.  At all.  Day 5 was our very first short day: Walbran Creek to Camper Bay (9 km), and also our first day hiking on the technical side of WCT.  Well, that 9 km hike took us 11.5 hours.  ELEVEN AND A HALF HOURS. I almost lost my mind. Admittedly, it came down to expectations. I didn’t realize it would take the four of us that long to complete this section.  They say the WCT is 30% physical and 70% mental. Well – I hadn’t budgeted mentally to be on the trail an additional three to four hours than anticipated that day. Nor did I set aside enough trail food for that length of time (read = hangry).

Third, pain.  While the true battle raged on in my beady little brain, after about eight hours on the trail, the body started to fight back as well.  I developed a long chafing rash on the inside of my thigh.  Hugh’s feet began to ache – as if on cue – and he was suffering terribly the last few hours. We were both pretty damn miserable.

If I had had the courage, I would have talked about how I felt with my hiking companions, or split up and hiked alone for a bit. To walk it out. To decompress. But I didn’t. And that probably added to my total vexation…not knowing how to be honest with myself or the group.  M. was silent. P. barked at us for jumping on the suspension bridge. Hugh bitched about his feet every 15 minutes. I was seething.  Good times, no?

We arrived together at Camper Bay sometime around 8:30 pm, the sun long gone.  All of our usual travel buddies had pitched camp between 3:30 – 5:00 pm which reconfirmed my crazy exasperation at how long we took.

To boot, the beach was NOT the utopia promised by hikers we’d met who’d travelled from the south, raving about the wonders of Camper Bay. Little did they know, the best was yet to come in terms of beach camping, and quite frankly, Camper Bay was a crowded, over-run, shanty town of tents squeezed onto a strip of sand behind a natural beach/rock wall so that you never really had easy access to the ocean. The water source was a stream and a pool (oh yes, guaranteed someone washed their stinky arse in that drinking water).  The best sites, of course, were already taken.  (Ummmm, mind you, I was so damn grumpy by this point, I may kinda have had a corrupted view on Camper Bay…)

Day 5 shantytown

We threw our packs down near our hiker buddies, avoiding one area of beach that apparently regularly got pummeled with rocks from the nearby cliff.  The French hikers, with great kindness, welcomed us to share their fire and offered up their large bag of filtered water so we could refill our bottles and prepare supper right away. Hugh and I gratefully accepted their generosity. We popped up our tents and ate, chatting back and forth with the friends from Montreal.  Hugh disappeared to bed after dinner and after taking some Advil for his bruised feet, and was out for the count.

After that, I just moved in slow motion. I’d caught one or two where-had-the-sun-gone snaps before it got too dark, just after we arrived. Otherwise, night was closing in.

Day 6 last of the sun

I still had to put the food away, visit the loo and all sort of other chores that seemed to take forever.  I hadn’t even taken my boots off.  I tried to shake off the day. Instead of the have-nots (no bathing, no post-hiking down time, no patience, no courage) I had to concentrate on the haves (alive, breathing, injury-free, kindness of fellow hikers, food and water in my belly).

It was 10:30 pm, sitting in the darkness by the driftwood campfire of the Calgary girls, when I finally peeled off my boots and my wretched, soaked socks. They stoked up the fire so I could hang my socks on sticks to dry. (Which truly is all aesthetics – nothing really ever dries on the WCT. ) I just sat and stared at the flames while they told stories of their day. When I finally rolled into my bed, or rather, on top of my bed, trying to air out my horrible rash, I could barely stand the smell of myself (how is it that I reek like an outhouse???) and I was exhausted by the ramblings and battles of my own mind.

Holy, I need to CHILL OUT.  A new day is about to dawn in two hours…

Tomorrow – Camper Bay to Thrasher Cove

West Coast Trail Day 4 – #keelykeelykeely

I was deep in another world.

It was vaguely post-apocalyptic, and sort of Waterworld (without Kevin Costner) but civilization had mostly ended and scattered populations floated upon the ocean. Hugh and I had sailed to the aircraft carrier that was now Great Britain and were to make contact with his Internet friends he’d met while gaming online for hours on end. They were going to help us “…because it’s raining out, but it’s not as bad as it sounds when you’re in the tent.”

It was M.’s voice blended with the rapid pitter-patter of rain on my tent fly. I struggled to pull myself out of such a deep sleep to comprehend what he was even saying. “…tides…leave by eight-thirty.”

“Right! Yes! Okay!” I tried to act like I was lucid. I shook myself awake.

Rain. Crap.

Yes, it’s the WCT, and rain is really the norm. We’d been blessed with our mild weather and gorgeous sunsets. If you want to talk Achilles heels, mine are not mud, heavy packs or long distances… mine would be dealing with group dynamics, and me/my gear being wet and being cold.  Now I’m sitting in my tent, strategizing how to pack up my stuff while keeping it as dry as possible.

We’d literally pitched camp where we fell last night right out in the open on the beach. No extra tarp cover. No forest cover. Just rain.  I typically pack up everything outside my tent, so I needed to switch up my method. I changed into my hiking clothes (always an awkward dance inside the tent), and started packing my sleeping bag, mat, camp pillow and clothes.  I tucked away my book, and because I didn’t know what to expect on my first day of rain, I also packed my camera (I’d just pull out my iPod for quick snaps).  I unzipped my tent screen and awkwardly put on my hiking boots in the vestibule.

Taking a deep breath, I unzipped the tent fly… it was grey out there.  A totally faded morning with drizzle from the sky.  M. was right – the rain was not as bad as it sounded from inside the tent.  I crawled out onto the wet sand, then propped my pack up on a log and threw my pack cover over it.  I trotted over to Hugh’s tent for a wake up call and gave him the morning weather report and timeline to get on the trail.  Time was important today for the tides.

With orientation for the WCT, each hiker is given a map with the tide tables – to match our hiking dates – taped inside. Some of the beaches are impassable when the tides are high, and it’s not worth getting stranded for hours on end, or wet.  Or in a worst case scenario – drown.  Today we were heading from Cribs Creek to Walbran Creek (11km) mostly along the beaches.

I wasn’t too excited about the rain.  It wasn’t hurting me, of course. But even though I had a waterproof coat and pants, I have this annoyance with being wet and cold, and today had the potential to suck.   I did my best to seem cheerful to Hugh, and he was keen to get up and get moving.

We both finished packing up in fairly good spirits but that fine sand stuck to everything it came in contact with…it was a total pain to fold up a wet, sandy tent that weighed a whole lot more now.   We ate a cold breakfast of trail mix and granola bars, not wanted to fuss with the stove and doing dishes in the drizzle. M. and P. are a solid pair, and took their time to prep a hot meal.  I didn’t have that patience.

Day 4 IG shots

We left Cribs in the cool drizzle, walking along the beach. It was wet and slow-going. I found the shifting sand combined with a snail’s pace to be frustrating. By the time we reached the short segment of forest leading to the Carmanah Point lighthouse, Hugh and P. were ready for a break. They parked it at the fork in the road while M. and I went to check out the lighthouse.  Just like Pachena Bay’s lighthouse, it was like entering the compound of the Others, from Lost. Manicured lawns, flowers, fuel tanks, a house, a swing set; general neat, tidy organization in the chaotic world of the WCT. Oddly enough, it held no appeal to stop and stay. We were barely at the start of our day – time to keep moving.

I was already wet. The raincoat was waterproof but my sweat created a cold layer against my skin. When we emerged from the forest onto the beach, I was thrilled to see Chez Monique’s, the second food stop along the WCT, and its spiral of smoke from the roof of the tarp shack. Hallelujah – a wood stove! I was freaking freezing. We sped up to cross the crescent of sand, eying up the handful of small boats clustered in the sheltered bay – always a back-up escape plan in mind…

It was still a little while before lunch, so the options were breakfast or burgers, and then anything from the extended convenience-store style menu.  We grabbed a free table, and set our wet packs off to the side. Hugh and I went to the kitchen and ordered hot vegetable soup, fully-loaded burgers and a handful of treats including Power-Ade, chocolate bars, butter tarts and gummy worms. I paid.  We spent about $70 there. Seriously.

I peeled off my raincoat and hung it over the back of the plastic lawn furniture. I went over and stood by the stove, which was outfitted with a dryer hose as a chimney.  There was a minor fire while we were there…and a conversation about a new shipment of supplies coming in soon.

Like the last stop, kids were taking orders and delivering food. But Chez Monique’s had a decidedly different feel than the crab shack.  Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the vibe… The kitchen was the happiest area of the place. Monique was there taking orders and managing her folks.  The remaining cluster of shacks had a very communal feel, complete with a roaming barefooted toddler sporting dirty curls and a bearded drifter who was one day short of his two-week commitment to Monique, and didn’t hold back in sharing that he couldn’t wait to get off the trail. It was a place that could be more oppressive than idyllic if one was to stay longer than just for lunch.

The highlight – the absolute highlight – of Chez Monique’s was a young Aboriginal boy with the clearest blue eyes and the most delightful confidence that only a grade 5er could carry off. That perfect moment in time, that quintessential 11 year old boy archetype – confident, free, innocent and unabashed. Clad in boarder shorts and a sleeveless Hawaiian t-shirt with palm trees, despite the cooler weather, he was a busy little employee, running to and from the kitchen, answering questions and visiting as he went.  He wouldn’t let you take the burgers from his hands, but insisted upon placing the food down in front of you.

I would totally hike the WCT again next summer just to see if that kid is still around. I would also make t-shirts and hats with his picture and wear them proudly. He was that cool. I will never forget his little voice, calling my name: “Keely! Burgers for Keely! Keely, Keely, Keely!”

We ate up and warmed up.  And then we left.

Hugh and I surged forward, fuelled and free. The next 8 or so kilometres were all on the beach. We walked at a comfortable pace, chatting amiably, stopping for rests and to reconvene with M. and P. every two kilometres or so, to ensure everyone was doing alright.  This pace worked so well for us, and really helped Hugh’s feet, and lifted our spirits on this dreary day.  We skipped the cable car, jumping across the stream on the beach. We rounded point after point, making our way to the evening’s camp. We walked on soft sand, hard sand, pebbles, rocks, boulders and tidal flats.  We saw beautiful rock formations exposed at low tide, with trees growing out of top; a handful of baby otters and an eagle; loads of sea urchin shells and pretty pale green, blue and white sea glass.  An unexpected journey, these beaches.

Day 4 going home

We arrived at Walbran Creek at a civilized hour, with the sun breaking through to give us two hours of complete and total humanity.  Hugh and I hung our gear out to dry on great driftwood logs before finally pitching our tents and setting up camp.

Day 4 beach life

The evening ablutions ran their course; water gathering and feeding took place. Hugh retired early, and P. and M. went about their own chores.  I did a lot of sitting and staring out at the ocean. I missed the grey whales from the past three days. The sun set once again, and I settled in to my little home, tent fly open to the ocean, to read.

Day 4 tent life

Day 4 Reflection 02Tomorrow – Walbran Creek to Camper’s Bay

West Coast Trail Day 1 – #westcoastbestcoast

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Day 1 walkingGo West!  Cheesy but oh-so-accurate when it comes to the siren call of Vancouver Island. I decided to go on a little walk-about along the West Coast Trail (WCT).  This is how it happened, for reals.

History: The WCT is part of the ancient paths and paddling routes used for trade and travel by Aboriginal peoples.  The 75 km route was further developed in the 1900s to assist with the rescue of shipwreck survivors along the “graveyard of the Pacific.”

Why: Why not?  The WCT is reputedly one of those epic hikes that I’d tucked away in my brain for a rainy day. When my cousin M. said this was the summer he was going, I kinda hinted I’d love to come along, and he was cool with that.  He was bringing his dad, uncle P., and I added my son, Hugh, to the roster.

Trail stats: The trail is supposed to be a miserable grind through unruly roots and muddy bogs, along slippery boardwalks & bridges and precarious bridges & ladders. Black bears, cougars and wolves await around every corner and up each tree, waiting to pounce and eat you for dinner.  If nothing else fails, the hypothermia will get you and the mice will chew their way into your gear and nibble all your trail mix, pooping as they go.

So, yeah.  Sounds like an awesome challenge, right?Day 1 good luck dog

Day One

“Your pack is way too heavy.” Albert hoisted my pack back onto the picnic table. “Open it up, let’s see what you’ve got in there.”

I had no intention of taking out a single thing from my 52 lb pack for the West Coast Trail. I was, however, entertained by this marauding stranger with the pick up truck, the Chinese music blaring from the stereo and the feather in his hat.  He had stopped by the campsite next to ours at the Pachena Bay campground, and I figured he knew the campers.

I quickly discovered  Albert’s M.O. was to stop at any site with hikers that looked like they were heading out on the WCT, offer them tea, advice and conversation, and in return, ask for some boiling water (for the tea) and the open mind to accepting a resume for any future tour guide or construction needs. Some people were receptive, some were not. He was ousted from the neighbouring campsite.

“Sleeping bag – okay. Tent – yes. What’s this? Your food is a hundred pounds!  There’s way too much in here.” Albert pulled out my trail mix bag in particular. He pointed to the M&Ms.  “You don’t need this much chocolate. You should give some to me. I love chocolate.” When I laughed off his request, he moved over to visit with uncle P. and cousin M. for a bit.

“Who IS that guy??”  Hugh, my son, had stayed hidden in his tent during this exchange, and had just emerged to pack up his gear and scarf down some breakfast.

Albert was a good guy.  He told us stories of the trail, life on the island, and the lies Parks Canada tells about “red tide” and paralytic shellfish poisoning. “I eat shellfish all summer long and I’m fine. They don’t want you to harvesting anything, that’s all.”Day 1 leaving Pachena Bay

It was day one for the four of us on Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail.  We were hiking 75 km North to South from Pachena Bay to Gordon River with the intention of taking 6 nights and 7 days to work our way through the coastal temperate rainforest and sandy beaches. Hugh and I were pretty stoked to hit this trail.  I’d hiked with Hugh before, and also with M. I had a good idea of their capabilities and hiking styles.  It would be my first time with P.

Today’s plan was to hike 14 km from Pachena Bay to Darling River: an easy stroll on well-groomed, rolling trails through the rain forest.  We dutifully took and-we’re-off photos in front of the WCT sign near the Parks building where we’d received our maps/tide tables and had our mandatory orientation. Crossing Pachena Beach at low tide, we spotted the forest trail markers (floats/buoys) and headed into the trees to find the path.Day 1 Pachena Bay

This was my first hike ever through a cedar forest with towering trees, a fern-covered floor and a somewhat eerie stillness.  The dirt footpath muffled our footsteps, and the farther we got from the beach, the darker and quieter the forest became.  We often didn’t see or hear other hikers coming towards us until they were a few steps ahead.  In fact, the first wave of hikers coming from the South were fairly early in the day, making tracks to complete their journey on the WCT.

All the northbound walkers were in good spirits and a few ladies apologized for their smell.  I couldn’t smell anything but I totally get where they were coming from at the end of a long trek!  Mmm that greasy feeling. But the big news on the trail that morning was actually a yearling black bear – with no mama bear in sight – hanging out by a nearby creek.  We didn’t see it… And then another set of hikers reported on the same bear, that it was now up a tree.  We still didn’t see it… The anticipation of seeing a bear faded as we continued on.Day 1 through the forest

Throughout the day we crossed bridges, ascended and descended several short ladders, and had a few cool rest stops.  Giant fallen cedars with their intricate root systems exposed towered above us as we passed by, housing a whole plant walls and newly-created eco-systems.Day 1 sea lions

Before we saw them, we could smell them: the sea lion rock just offshore was home to mammoth, lolling sea lions barking away at each other.

We visited the Pachena Bay lighthouse and chatted with the lighthouse keeper. He reckons he sees about 10,000 strangers a year walk through his white picket fence gate.Day 1 Pachena lighthouse

Getting  close to our destination for the night, we passed through the Michigan Beach camp, with loads of floats hanging in the trees. Day 1 Michigan Beach

Michigan Beach had a decidedly Bohemian feel. Talking to a couple of campers there, we learned that the gray whales were super active up and down the coast, and were particularly frisky today.  Almost immediately, we saw a whale exhale explosively through it’s blowhole right offshore, followed by the slow curve of it’s back and a showy little dorsal fin – spectacular!Day 1 Gray whales

We continued along the beach, with the sand constantly shifting beneath our feet.  Our pace slowed down a bit as we struggled to master walking in the soft sand. Two kilometres later, we arrived at Darling River, a lovely little camp area with a fresh water source fed by a small waterfall, and room in the forest and on the beach for tents.  Our very first night beach camping!  Hugh and I set up right on the beach with our tents, careful to watch for the hide tide markings (as not to be swept away unexpectedly in the middle of the night).Day 1 Darling River

Hugh hit the sack shortly after his tent was up. I wasn’t too surprised – it was an eventful first day with our very full packs.  I ate supper alongside our companions who each prepared their own dehydrated meals. It was neat to sit on large pieces of log driftwood, watching for the gray whales and listening to the ocean. The weather was warm without being hot, and Pacific smelled, well, like the sea.

M. kindly had brought back some filtered water for us all at supper, but as the sun set I needed to get more for the night and for tomorrow’s breakfast. It was dusk, and the “better” water was as close to the falls as possible.  Nobody was around the fresh water source anymore, and I kept thinking about our orientation session, where we were instructed to keep an eye out for the sneaky cougars… bending down or appearing small (ie. when one is busy filtering water) can lead to a potential cougar attacks as they’d view you as prey.

Boy, oh boy, I kept singing songs to those bears and cougars and I climbed over logs towards the waterfall.  I splashed my way across the stream to a gravelly sandbar, so that I could be out in the open and watch the forest on all sides.  It took forever to pump the water… the water on the North end of the WCT is a lot more silty, and requires frequent cleaning of the ceramic filter. And it never fails that when I go to get water, I somehow get covered in it as well. So, about 30 minutes later I singsonged my way back to camp, water splotches all over my pants, but unhindered by local predators.

As the sun finally dropped behind the distant outcropping, I sat in my tent, with the fly and the screen pulled back (no bugs!), sipping fresh water and contemplating the darkening sky. A good first day.Day 1 Darling River beach view

Tomorrow – Darling River to Tsusiat Falls