When my husband and I told our friends and family three years ago that we were going to hike the West Coast Trail, the most common initial response was, “WHHHAAAAAAATTTT??? I can’t believe you’re going to do that!!” Now that we have decided to do the trail again (we fly to BC in a week), the most common initial response was, “WHHHAAAAAAAATTTT??? I can’t believe you’re going to do that…AGAIN!!” The reaction is understandable. Running 75 km along the west coast of Vancouver Island from Bamfield to Port Renfrew, the trail is difficult. It’s arduous. It was previously called the “Life Saving Trail” or the “Shipwrecked Mariners Trail” as it was used to get shipwrecked survivors OUT of the wilderness to safety. If you Google “hiking the West Coast Trail”, some of the top results include “How Not to Die on the West Coast Trail” and “15 Reasons Why you Shouldn’t Hike the West Coast Trail“. Plus, we’ve already done it once. So why am I doing it again?
1. Because I can.
At the risk of sounding like a would-be Everest climber, I’m hiking the trail again because I can. As a severely asthmatic (and severely accident-prone) kid, I was never very athletic. I broke my toe in grade 6 answering the phone. I broke my nose in grade 8 failing to catch a pop-fly during softball practice. I spent many a winter evening in the emergency room at the hospital getting asthma attacks under control. From childhood to my early 20s, running, hiking, and playing sports always came with the fear that the asthma would kick in and I would not be able to get my breathing under control without help. Fortunately, with the help of new medications, and a very supportive husband, family and friends, I have now been able to overcome the physical (and psychological) barriers that were holding me back, and the experiences I’ve had as a result have been amazing!
2. The terrain and views are extraordinary and varied.
Hiking the West Coast Trail gives you the privilege of experiencing a beautiful part of our country that few people get to see. Walking alongside the Pacific Ocean could mean trudging through soft sand or walking on the hard ocean shelf. The ocean views are amazing – on day one of our hike in 2014 we were entertained by whales breaching out of the ocean. You sleep on the beach with the sound of waves crashing in lulling you to sleep. (Although, to be honest, you’re so tired from the day’s hike you could be lulled to sleep by a freight train). Then there’s the forest. The trees are ancient, huge and majestic. The manual cable-cars carrying you over huge rivers are fun and exhausting all at once. The boardwalks can be a welcome sight (if they’re new) or a challenge to overcome (if they’re falling apart). The ladders are high and never-ending. But the trail never gets boring; there’s always something new to see or experience.
3. You are completely “unplugged”.
The trail is remote, and unless you decide to truck along a satellite phone, you will be completely unplugged from phone calls, email, social media, and yes, even fantastic blogs like this one. It’s a rare opportunity to disconnect, live in the moment, and enjoy the people you are with. Aside from the vacation from electronics, the physical act of hiking the trail provides a vacation of sorts from your thoughts. Hiking the trail requires focus. You need to be mindful of a potentially deep mud bog, or a broken boardwalk, or a log crossing 20 feet above the ground. You can focus only on the terrain and putting one foot in front of the other, otherwise, you risk injury. You don’t have the luxury of worrying about work, family or other obligations, because you need to worry about the 30 stories worth of ladders you’re in the process of climbing. It’s a wonderful, rejuvenating state of being.
4. It’s a challenge to overcome.
Hiking the trail is a challenge. It tests your physical endurance – trudging over rough terrain with 40 pounds on your back; pulling drinking water out of streams; no showers, soft beds or creature comforts for a week. It also challenges your emotional endurance. You figure out how to keep smiling when you are up to your knees in mud, or when you are on your last day and so close to the end you can taste it, and suddenly you have to climb uphill. Again. Just when you thought it was almost over. I have never felt such a sense of accomplishment as I do when I complete a hike like this. It’s one of the main reasons I continue to hike.
5. It’s a fantastic opportunity to connect with people.
When I hiked the trail in 2014, it was with my husband and two close friends. This time, I am hiking with my husband, his sister and our brother-in-law. Facing the same challenge and accomplishing a goal together strengthens bonds and creates lifelong memories. I often trade stories and memories of the trail with the friends we hiked with in 2014. I am looking forward to creating new memories with family this year.
6. The rewards waiting for you after the hike is over.
I could say that the journey is the reward in and of itself. That getting back to nature and enjoying the satisfaction of having accomplished this goal is all I need out of the experience to feel fulfilled. But I’d be lying. One of the best parts of hiking the West Coast Trail is the end of it, and the rewards you feel you are entitled to after finishing. So make sure the cider’s cold, the chips are crispy and the steak is medium-rare, because as soon as we get back to civilization, I’ll be ready for a little indulgence!
As I prepare for our next West Coast Trail adventure, I’m excited about the experience to come. How will the trail have changed over three years? How will my body handle the experience, being three years older? Will the burgers at Chez Monique’s and the halibut at the crab shack be as tasty the second time around? What will my hiking companions (one veteran and two rookies of the WCT) think of the experience? When I read this blog after completing the trail a second time, will my reasons for hiking it again still ring true? I think they will. And I can’t wait to find out!