After finishing the PCT, I was floating through life for a couple days. I was able to join another hiker on a wine tasting weekend in Penticton, British Columbia. The whole thing was quite surreal and foreign. It didn’t feel like I was really off the trail. In my mind, it was just an extended town stop.
Beneath the surface I was a mess of anxiety. Too many people around. Conversations full of fluff. Hearing “chit chat” around me made me want to puke. No one seemed as genuine or joyful as the people from the trail. My patience for it was nonexistent. I wanted quiet again and open space and interactions full of integrity. I wanted the trail back badly.
It wasn’t just the things I wanted to avoid but really the feeling I wanted back. The feeling of hard work from sunup to sundown, the lean fitness, the sore muscles, the dust on my face, the fresh air in my lungs, the sweat running I to my eyes ans the familiar sting that follows.
Back in the real world, I felt like a sloth. Itching for action and activity. Sitting around felt hollow not restful. I felt as if lard was pooling around my bones with each moment that passed as I sat. Sat in cars, sat at restaurants. Not only that, I missed sitting on the ground, on mossy logs, on granite. These comfy padded chairs everywhere made me slump into terrible posture.
So, I decided to get back on the trail. This time, it would be the West Coast Trail. Lucky Winner was excited about the idea and so I had a partner in crime and a lift. Touted as one of the most treacherous trails in British Columbia, the 75km of coastline supposedly took an average of 6 days to complete. Rooty trail with steep climbs and descents, rocky rugged beach, and a myriad of ladder climbs. Hearing a Canadian describe this trail you’d think they used it for special forces training. The stretch of coastline had once been called the “Graveyard of the Pacific” due to the shipwrecks it caused. A trail was first created to give shipwreck survivors a chance if they made it into the rugged isolated forest. It was first called the “Dominion Life Saving Trail”.
I had heard a man had run the trail in 10 hrs . So, obviously, 48 hours would be plenty of time for me. As cocky as that sounded, in truth, I was nervous as heck and I wanted the trail to humble me. I enjoyed that about nature and trails. And, also in truth, I only had 48 hours in order to get back to Seattle in time to meet my folks. So the plan was set: hit the trail Wednesday and get out and back to SEA on Friday.
It took a 4 hour drive to get to Vancouver, a ferry to cross to Vancouver Island, and another 2 hours to reach Port Renfrew. Due to an accident on the road, it wasn’t until Wednesday morning that I’d get there. And then, I waited. I waited for the ranger station to open. I waited for them to give a required orientation on the dangerous trail, and finally I waited for a $15 dollar ferry ride that crossed only 100 yards of water to the trailhead. I hate waiting. An impatience that existed before the trail has only grown in me. Finally, at 11:35am, we were on the trail. We technically had 49 hours before the last shuttle would be able to get us back to our car on Friday.
The trail was tough. We slipped and slided, churning our legs in the thick mud of steep slopes. My muscles burned as I pulled myself up embankments root by root. Muscles I hadn’t used in months were finally getting worked. Up and down 30 foot ladders as my fear of heights battled my bodies natural function. Deep breaths and focus perservered to move me along the ladders of wobbly rotting wood. We pushed it from the get go. And, my stomach sunk as the light waned. Over 9 hours of ceaseless hiking, we covered only 17 tough kilometers. Less than two kilometers per hour. I began to doubt my ability to pull this off.
Doubt is no friend of mine though. Out here, with no way out but down the trail, determination would have to be my companion. I pushed doubt from my mind and began planning.
The next day we’d have to do 37 kms to put us in range for Friday morning. A tall order considering the short days and challenging terrain. I imagined the tireless pace we would face the next day. I let the sound of ocean waves soothe me as I set up my tent near the shoreline. As I had learned on the PCT, worry would serve me little and getting a good night’s sleep would be my best preparation. So, with my mind calmed a dozed off.
At 0620, with just enough light to walk safely, we headed out. I pulled us in an elevated xable car across a river valley to start the day. I was sweating immediately as I pulled the thick rope thereby propelling our hanging cart towards the other side, the rocks and water far below. I felt like Indiana Jones.
The day started slow with deep unavoidable mud pits stealing our balance and grasping at our shoes. Sinking to our knees, the going was slow. Our ability to slush through improved and finally we were tracking a 3km/hr clip. It required light jogging on stable ground between the ladders and mud pits.
Just after midday, we reached a river crossing that would require we take a first nation ferry across. As we arrived, we found a host of hikers enjoying fresh salmon and crab. Lucky Winner wanted to stop and enjoy a good meal. I felt it was an unnecessary waste of time. That said, watching the salmon steaks cook on the grill, I was easily convinced. It was a good decision. The salmon had been caught the day before from the river we now sat next to. It was possibly the best salmon I had ever had.
The other hikers, looked at us oddly. We were covered in specks of mud, we had painted our faces with the stuff, my light trail running shoes had big holes in them, my short running shorts had holes, and we ravaged our food picking it apart with our hands. They sat relaxed, eating with all the manners of a fine restaurants, gaiters covering their big heavy hiking boots and full leg safari pants. The contrast between us was clear as day. Jaws dropped when they heard we’d be completing the trail in 48 hours. I couldn’t help but smile at their shock. I reminded them and myself that this trail had been run in 10 hours. I wasn’t special nor fast. And yet, they insisted what we were doing was remarkable.
We didn’t stay long. With a full belly of real food, we were off to the races in the afternoon. Near the end of the day, as the sun sprinted to its hiding place we came to a 2km beach section. A group of hikers were camped there, sitting around a campfire laughing amongst themselves. We bursted out onto the beach where they sat, surprising the bunch of them. They asked if we were camping there. We explained that we’d push on until last light. They looked at us with pity, their eyes said “oh you don’t know what you’re doing”. One man insisted that the tide was too high. To high for what, I wondered? I laughed 30 minutes later when I found that he had been right. We had trudged down the beach. Alas, the tide was too high. Too high for someone scared of climbing over boulders and under driftwood. Too high for a man without the stones to jump from slippery rock to rock, timing their jumps with the waves. Too high for a man who can’t stand the cool feel of wading through the surf at sunset. So, he was right.
But, so were we. It was a wonderful and exciting end to the long day. We tallied 37km for the day and set up our tents overlooking the ocean. The next day would require 20km. Exhausted, I was sleeping soundly as soon as my head hit the pillow.
The last day brought a relativrly easy trail and thr kilometers flew by. We jogged the last few kilometers counting them down and realizing for tge first time tgat barring injury, we would actually make it! We trotted to the ranger station at 10:28am making it a journey of 46 hours 53 minutes. I was ecstatic. I was back. Back on the trail. Back testing myself and discovering new capabilities. Back to the sweat and the exhaustion.
We played frisbee and enjoyed the giddiness. We enjoyed Jim Beam. We waited for a bus back to the real world. The real world that would bring little more than fluff and anxiety to me. Little more than sloth and excess. But that was a says off still. So we felt the sweet soreness of our muscles as we threw the frisbee the cool misty morning. The real world could wait.