As an 18 year old university drop out… What are you to do when everyone else is heading back to school in early September and you’re not because you’ve failed all your courses except English last fall? Better yet, now you’ve decided to become something of a ski guide; a dubious life choice at best.
My thought was to go hiking I guess. At some point my dad put a bug in my ear that the West Coast Trail would be something to do together that summer. Unfortunately work got in the way that summer but that bug was there. I figured it would be something perfect to get out of the house, away from the computer and feel like I’m doing something good with my life.
At this point I’ve spent some of my hard earned high school savings on enough gear to get by on a solo trip but in many ways I still had a lot to learn when it came to independent backcountry travel. At this point in my life I’d read Freedom of the Hills nearly cover to cover multiple times but all the reading in the world doesn’t prepare you for slippery ladders, noises in the night and sandy dinners.
Packing my pack I can’t remember ever looking at the forecast figuring “que sera, sera” and I was likely too busy convincing my mom everything would be fine. I had the good fortune of a very dry “wet coast” with nothing but sun and the odd trickle. Gaitors never even left my pack.
Bus and ferry and more bus carried me to Victoria. There I met up with a Ruby, who was there for school at the University of Victoria. I spent the Friday biking around the seawall learning Victoria has a lot of terrible drivers who don’t shoulder check or stop at stop signs. Later that night, Friday meant it was party night for the girls and I ended up getting lost going the wrong way on one-way streets as a designated driver. Still too young to join the party in the clubs. I packed and repacked my pack with food and gear while waiting for a call from the girls to go pick them up. Turns out driving stick isn’t too hard to figure out after working maintenance a golf course but that added to the excitement of being a small town kid driving around an unfamiliar place in the dark.
The next day Ruby dropped me off on a corner downtown where a shuttle bus drove me to the trailhead of the Juan de Fuca trail. Alone on the trail! Onto the adventure!
Most books and websites recommended 3-5 days for the Juan de Fuca. I ended up blazing through the 47 km in young man speed. When you’re 18, alone and just skipping around, dancing over mud holes using roots and half sunken planks it’s easy to move quick. The infrastructure, I immediately noticed, is fantastic and quite extensive. The trail in many places, well travelled and ‘groomed’. Bridges, ladders, pit toilet facilities. The Juan de Fuca trail was beautiful and showed a mix of old growth and second growth landscapes with beautiful beaches. Some areas however have road access mid trail which kind of pops the wilderness bubble that might of otherwise existed the entire length of the trail.
On the morning of the 3rd day I walked into Port Renfrew at the end of the trail and packed my bag with another 5 days of food. Port Renfrew if you’ve never been is a small town of approximately 500 full time residents and the little store there is pretty basic with mostly non-perishables. I food in the form of a few cans of meat and fish, and sidekicks. Then immediately it was onto the West Coast Trail.
Normally the WCT requires reservations but in early September it was no issue for me to jump on as one person. I went through the safety briefing where I was warned of pesky wave surges in the rocky beaches and was soon on a boat to the trailhead to set up camp at the nearest beach camp. The WCT shows the volume of traffic it received in the form of wear on the wood. Steps in ladders are grooved and boardwalks are in constant need of repair in the damp, dark climate. Whenever possible I made my way to the beaches to walk in sandals in the sand or walk on the rocky ocean carved flanks of Vancouver island. Sandals are great and you can walk through water, but sand rashes are not fun.
On a few occasions, sounds during one particular night kept waking me. Rustling in the bushes and something moving in the sand had me listening intently as I tried to decipher the sounds. I’d passed multiple warnings of a problem bear on the trail that made me unnecessarily nervous. It’s amazing how imaginations can run wild in the night.
Earlier that evening was especially painful. Cooking my sidekick pasta meal in my tiny titanium pot proved disastrous and the entire pasta dinner spilt into the sand. As my mother can attest, hunger is a vicious thing when you’re a lean, nearly 2-meter tall young male. Especially after an athletic day. I took my small foldable titanium spork and dove into dinner anyways. Crunchy bite after crunchy bite made it extra challenging. I might of eaten as much sand as pasta before I gave up on my meal. Picking up as much as I could, I walked to the sea and chucked it in for the crabs.
It was only the next morning that I put two and two together. All that rustling around my camp was likely the pack rats or mice scrounging whatever scraps of noodle I might of missed in the sand.
Again, moving quickly on the trail, I made quick work of the 75km trail each day. After 3 days on the West Coast Trail, day 6 total, I had reached the last camp just a few kilometers from the trailhead. Figuring that it would be nicer to spend my last night on the beach rather than the trail head park I set up camp early around noon. This meant lounging on the sunny beach in the shade of a tree. With nothing to do but lounge all afternoon, I really had time to appreciate the cold ocean breeze in the heat of the afternoon. Almost tropical on the Northwest coast. I watched as grey whales fed what seemed really close to shore, breaching in front of me. I was amazed that the waters were deep enough so close. It was exceptional. I sat there playing with the sand between my fingers and pondered life in a most cliché way.
There was no question though, this small journey solidified my bearing on life choices. There was no going back and I have not had a single regret.
Here is an assortment of random photos from the trip.