DAY 0: VICTORIA TO PORT RENFREW TO LADYSMITH
After three months of training—and countless hours of making trip lists, shopping, and packing—Brandi and I left Victoria after work on a warm, dry day near the end of June. In two cars, we caravaned to Port Renfrew, munching a dinner of turkey sausage and string cheese on the way. Just north of Port Renfrew at the Pacheedaht First Nation, campers fished from sun-dappled sites that sloped gently to the river. We dropped B’s car in a lot across the street from the West Coast Trail Information Centre. From there, we wound in my car across a narrow back road in the failing light to Lake Cowichan and Duncan. Every so often a black stump seemed to move, like a bear (or even a sasquatch!). But oncoming traffic and uneven pavement were the only real obstacles. From Duncan, the Island highway took us to north to Ladysmith. Above this much wider road, a mauve twilit sky opened up and stretched high, the hilltop trees silhouetted jagged and black against it. The beauty tracked us all the way to the home of B’s parents, where we bunked down for the night.
DAY 1: LADYSMITH TO PORT ALBERNI TO BAMFIELD
After a red-eyed wake-up at 5 a.m., B’s generous (and long-suffering) parents drove us to the dock in Port Alberni, where the passenger ferry to Bamfield–the Francis Barkeley–was tied up. We bought our tickets and boarded to order coffee and toast from the galley kitchen. The artful arrangement of the toast triangles led me to exclaim, “You probably have a four-year degree in Culinary Arts!” The sandy-whiskered cook grinned. “Just a one-year certificate. But eighteen years in the industry.” “It shows.”
The boat was full of day-trippers cruising to West Bamfield. Their shoulder purses, cotton summer whites and sandals contrasted sharply with our thirty-pound backpacks, synthetic hiking gear, and heavy-duty boots. Most of us lounged outside on the sunny deck during the sailing.
The boat stopped at Kildonan to drop off propane tanks on private docks next to float homes. A winch lowered the tanks and released them where they wobbled and came to rest, upright.
At the Kildonan Post Office, a lady hopped off the boat with a few newspapers, some shopping bags, and a parcel, then let herself into the PO and gathered the outgoing mail. A pair of wharf dogs gobbled treats tossed by crew members and barked their thank-yous. As the boat pulled away, the post mistress gathered up her bags and newspapers and trundled up the dock towards shore where a few houses were huddled.
The scenic ride also took us to Haggart’s Cove to drop off lumber and finally to West Bamfield, where the daytrippers disembarked in search of ice cream while more freight (including a fridge and a queen-sized bed) was unloaded. By then, there were only two other passengers left: a woman from Pachena Bay who usually travelled by truck but had ferried into Port Alberni for some appointments. She filled us in on the controversy over a proposed LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminal in her community. “The Chief and Council have voted for it, but I’m against it. What about our land? And how will it benefit our people?”
Another passenger was a diver on her way to spend nine weeks at the marine research station in Bamfield—part of a diving scholarship she’d won to travel the world helping different organizations that needed a diver’s expertise. “After this, I go to Costa Rica, then Australia.”
After a five hour trip, we arrived in East Bamfield. My cousins Bob and Rick met us on the dock with Bob’s dog Sheba—a friendly, amber-eyed German shepherd/coyote cross who looks a lot like a coastal wolf and is apparently the cause of 80% of the wolf sightings in Bamfield! We were fed well and generously with ham and potatoes and enjoyed an evening of visiting and music-making.
DAY 2: PACHENA BAY TO DARLING RIVER 14 KM
Pachena Bay beach—wide and sandy—provided a gorgeous place to stroll while we waited for the mandatory orientation at the trailhead. A handful of people were finishing the trail as we waited: one woman dropped her pack and ran the last hundred meters, an exhausted grin on her face. Limping, bandaged, or stoically gliding, they all seemed weathered, more a part of the natural world than we were.
Inside the information centre, we met a few fellow trekkers, received a map, and learned from a young Parks employee about ferries, cable cars, tide tables, and the boulders at Owen Point. Reassuringly, cougars hadn’t been spotted since early May, and evacuations of injured hikers were at a record low of only six so far this season: the dry weather was making the trip much safer than usual. And even though the dryness had prompted a province-wide fire ban, we were allowed to build campfires on the beach.
The low tide meant we could start the trek on the beach and postpone our encounter with the fabled ladders for awhile. Once we climbed up a low bank into the forest, the trail stretched out flat and clear, with just a few gentle inclines for several kilometres of pleasant, shady walking. The sea lion haul out at KM 9 was teeming not only with growling and sparring sea lions, but with gray whales. They blew spume and occasionally flipped their tails. Their backs were ridged, with vertebrae poking up through the spine all the way to the tail. They were hard to capture on film, and the pictures make me think of all those photographers who have tried to prove the existence of Ogopogo with just a dark horizontal line in the water.
We lunched at Pachena Bay lighthouse, then walked to Michigan Creek and took the beach trail to Darling River at KM 14, where we camped and made the first of our “just add water” bagged meals (Cuban Coconut Black Beans and Rice). What the food lacked in flavour the atmosphere more than made up for: gray whales blew all through the meal.
DAY 3: DARLING RIVER TO TSUSIAT FALLS KM 25
Slept twelve hours after the exertion and intensity of the day before. No sooner were we boiling water for our cinnamon-banana-oatmeal-quinoa and powdered cappuccino than the pair of women who’d camped next to us doubled back. “There’s a bear cub on the beach.” Soon other hikers warned us of a bear sighting a mere thirty feet from us, by a tire swing at the neighbouring campsite. We were potentially caught between a cub and its mother. So we packed up as fast as we could—having inhaled our breakfast—and took the inland trail. We practically jogged for a kilometer or two. Just when we thought it was safe to slow down, we found fresh bear scat on the trail. Yikes.
At Valencia Lookout (named after a ship that went aground in 1906), two red Adirondack chairs sat waiting for us. We sank into them to have a snack. More gray whales broke the surface just below the cliff. Pointy black fins made me think at first that I was seeing orcas, too, but it was likely either a side fin or half a tail fin. A pair of women from Bellingham stopped and joined us. One of them videotaped the whales and the other chatted. “Are you on your way in or out?” she asked. In or out? What was this, The Heart of Darkness? Then I noticed her feet. The toes of her hiking boots were held together with kelly green duct tape. “I had to borrow it. I wouldn’t have made it out otherwise.” I confessed I’d forgotten my roll of t.p.—an oversight that had been causing B and me no small amount of stress. The woman from Bellingham counted off squares that she’d need for the remaining day or two and gave me the rest. “Thank you so much!”
At Klanawa River, KM 22, I suggested we stop for the day. B. wanted to press on. We agreed to a swim. After floating and scrubbing with Campsuds, I felt refreshed enough to carry on. It meant a ride in the cable car, after all! B climbed into the car and placed her pack opposite her. I pushed her like she was on a zip line in a playground. She coasted to the middle of the creek and lost momentum. We each grabbed the line and pulled hand-over-hand until she reached the platform on the other side. It was my turn. “Whee!” The first half of the crossing felt like a ride. After that, the upper body burned.
Two kilometers on forest boardwalks brought us to four interlocking ladders that led down to the campground at Tsusiat Falls. Trekkers camped on the open beach, much like at Sombrio (a popular camping beach on the Juan de Fuca Trail), but a high log provided some shelter. We were flanked on one side by a tour group (the matching gear gave them away) and on the other by a pair of late arrivals, a mother and daughter who, like the women from Bellingham, were on Day 5 of a south-to-north trek. They seemed haggard, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes for an hour before working up the strength to pitch their tent.
We were starving, and we feasted on Chicken and Vegetable Gravy with Mashed Potatoes, followed by a Mixed Berry Crumble…both very good, to our taste buds, at least.
The broad falls at Tsusiat spill into a pond. We brushed our teeth downstream of it as the sun was setting pink, a quarter moon waxing.
DAY 4 TSUSIAT FALLS TO CRIBS CREEK (KM 41)
A rocky shoreline led from the Tsusiat Falls campground to Tsusiat Point, also called Hole-in-the-Wall. From a distance, the round gap in the rocks resembled a white bead.
The power of water to erode “rock-solid” material never ceases to amaze. At low tide, we could (and did) “thread the needle”–or rather, string the bead.
For much of the day, the trail passed on or above long beaches where gleaming teal breakers rolled in, at times six or even nine feet high, I’d guess. The clifftop vistas were especially stunning. To protect wildlife habitat and to restore sand, no camping is allowed on that stretch. Backpacking is probably the lowest-impact kind of tourism this region could encourage, but even so, the campsites encroach on the shore, and some trekkers leave behind debris, including empty Gatorade bottles. At least in this section, the camping ban preserves the pristine beauty of the beaches.
At Nitinat Narrows, we reached the first of two ferry crossings within the WCT. Ferryman Doug was so quick to pick us up, we barely had a chance to drop our packs.
The square-sided aluminum skiff could have seated fifteen or twenty, but the two of us were the only passengers. We landed at the dock to find picnic tables under umbrellas teeming with diners: this was the “Crab Shack” we’d been hearing about from dreamy-eyed northbound hikers. After kilometres of tranquil hiking, it was jarring to come across a noisy lakeside pub (yes, patrons were carousing over beer!), but we soon warmed to the idea and ordered a plate of food.
“Only two people have touched that fish before you,” ferryman Doug pointed out. “The guy who caught it last night, and the cook who prepared it today. That’s as fresh as it gets.”
As we waited for our food, a full boatload of schoolkids from Nitinat Village passed through on an “Ocean Day” end-of-the-school-year field trip. A couple of teachers marshalled the kids as they milled about, running up to shore to use the outhouse and then reboarding the boat. A Dididaht elder who was accompanying the school group took a moment to point out to us the salmon fry swimming beside the dock. They were a mix of sockeye, coho and chum, some of them spotted. It is unusual for salmon to spawn in salt water, but these ones do: the emerald green water of Nitinat Lake remains almost totally saline all the way up (twenty-two kilometers to the village).
Our lunch arrived: a moist, pinkish-red filet of sockeye salmon and a large, fluffy baked potato with butter. The fish was tender and bursting with sea-steak flavour–especially after a diet of packaged food. Carl Edgar, the genial patron, was supervising the staff from a lawn chair as they took orders and served food. When I ordered a coffee after lunch, he raised his own thick white mug. “We just added coffee this year.” He took a sip. “We had so many people asking for it!”
“I’m glad you did.” I stirred in some cream (real cream from a carton!) and tasted it: so hot and strong, it made me sigh. “That hits the spot.”
With Gatorade transferred into our Nalgene bottles–Doug kindly topped them up with ice!–we brought up the rear of the southbound hikers. A couple of kilometers’ easy walking on shaded boardwalks through forest and marshland allowed us to catch up to the group ahead of us, a party of three young men and one young woman. A reddish-brown dog with Labrador features had followed the foursome from the Crab Shack! They’d urged him to “go home” to no avail. One of the men gave the dog some of his drinking water as we all discussed what to do. No one wanted to turn back since it was already a long walk to the next campsite. Luckily, at Cheewhat River, we met two First Nations trail guardians who’d been alerted about the dog, named Keeneye, as people at the Crab Shack had radioed ahead. Keeneye had been known to range all the way to Carmanah Lighthouse, another ten kilometers on. “But there’s been cougar and wolf activity in the region,” explained the older trail guardian. “So it’s risky for the dog to be out here on his own.” They coaxed him to turn back and eventually grabbed his collar. “We’re going home, Keeneye. This way.”
Glorious kilometers of smooth earth gave way, as the afternoon progressed, to challenging patches full of roots—gnarly in the literal sense of the word. On the whole, our sixteen kilometer target distance made for a long day, including some meditative walking, some grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it walking, and lots of grateful, soaking-it-up, appreciative walking, especially in the shady forest with its pine-needle-strewn floor.
No creek mouth to swim in at the campground today. Down the beach, a dozen trekkers surround a blazing campfire, comparing stories. I passed them as I tramped across the sand to the food cache, headlamp bobbing, hauling my sac of food stuffs and toiletries. Tonight, for the first time, we’ve avoided congestion and have pitched our tent at a respectful distance from our neighbours. The constant roar of the surf makes a wonderful backdrop to sleep.
DAY 5: CRIBBS CREEK TO WALBRAN CREEK, KM 53
Rain started at Cribbs where we’d camped on the open beach, making for a long slog along gravel to the creek, outhouse, and food cache. On the plus side, the brand new outhouse was sheltered by trees and smelled of the cedar it was built from. With their ladders, the two-storey, cedar-chip outhouses feel more like treehouses. After using the toilet, it’s tempting to linger on the landing, enjoying the view.
The rain made packing up more challenging, though it was rewarding to use the rain gear we’d invested in: B had comparison-shopped for a Goretex jacket, and I’d made a last-minute trip to MEC to buy a rain cover for my pack. In caution-sign yellow, it should be harder to lose than my previous black one. But when we finally broke camp at 10:30, morale was sinking. Was the dry spell broken for good now? Would we be wet for the next three days? During the beach walk, my right boot sole detached and began to flap with every step like a flip flop.
Cribbs was low enough to cross on a sturdy plank laid over the creek. We then beach-walked until a buoy showed us it was time to cut in. Thanks to the creativity of past trekkers, often the buoys are not only trail markers but dangling gardens.
Near the Carmanah Lighthouse, arrows carved into a squat wooden sign gave a choice of two directions: Bamfield or Port Renfrew. The sign was ornamental, but it reminded me that the shipwrecked sailors who struggled to shore long ago might have been totally disoriented. (The disposable camera is showing its uneven quality here…but hey, it looks like we did the trail in the 1970s!)
Built in 1891 as a life-saving effort for sailors, especially fishermen, the Carmanah Point Lighthouse dazzled with the colours of the Maple Leaf flag. The manicured green lawns and gardens and the well-kept buildings evinced a powerful human will to impose order on the wilderness.
The next descent by ladder at around KM 44 led to Chez Monique’s, an open air, beachfront eating establishment located, like the Crab Shack, on First Nations land. Hikers weren’t the only ones gravitating to Monique’s. A boat dropped anchor just off shore, and three of its passengers disembarked in wetsuits to surf the waves. After a few rides, they waded to shore and headed to the restaurant. Burgers were $20. We’d been told it was a ‘burgers-only’ menu, but fresh vegetable soup and bread at $5 were also on offer. Spooning hot soup under a waterproof awning was the perfect antidote to being wet and chilled. Luckily, the rain had stayed at drizzle-levels and showed signs of tapering off altogether. At Monique’s, I was also able to buy a length of Gorilla tape, which I wrapped around a pen, for fixing my boots later on. (B. wisely pointed out that I should dry the boot out by a fire before taping it up.)
We bought some melt-in-your-mouth homemade Nanaimo bars for the trail. A casual question about the Nanaimo bar from a woman we’d camped next to the night before—“what’s in that?” and my response, “you’re not from BC then?” led to a long conversation on the beach later when we split into Canadian/American pairs—Brandi pulling ahead with E, a former UN worker and now a student of naturopathy, and me lagging behind with C, an ESL teacher and aspiring Sociology professor who lives a few houses down from my former home in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood. We compared views on memoirs and writers like Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, and Bill Bryson. “Wild was bad for the PCT and bad for women,” C said. “I mean, how many people think it’s okay to hike unprepared and alone after seeing that movie? And why does a woman traveling solo always have to be finding herself?” She recommended The Empathy Exams—a collection of essays that blend personal narrative and social criticism.
This exchange took place while we picked our way over rocks and through boulders, encountering two dead seals, one fresh, one somewhat decomposed. I nearly stepped on the first—spotted black and white and still as a rock. It was shockingly human as it lay on its back, its chin raised and a stone tucked under its front flipper–held to its chest the way a child might clutch a teddy bear.
Walbran Creek, where we stopped for the day, widened into a pond at the mouth, and we swam and washed in it. Floating on my back gave me a near-mystical experience of weightlessness. My body drank in the coolness of the water—it felt as if I were icing all of my sore muscles at once. After days of carrying 30 pounds or more, it was blissful to be buoyed in turn. B warned me not to stay in too long because of the risk of lowering core body temperature. We both layered up, crawled into our sleeping bags, and napped for two hours! Refreshed, we made dinner and a fire. One stick of firestarter was all it took to make a blaze from the tinder-dry driftwood. We attempted to dry the underthings we’d swum in as well as my boot sole.
Then the moon came out. It was just a quarter moon, but in the absence of electric light, it really glowed, casting a gorgeous silver sheen over everything. B went to bed, but I stayed out, doing pigeon pose against a log before reclining on it to stargaze. The Big Dipper was easy to spot. Another constellation might have been the ‘W’ of Cassiopeia, but really it looked more like a seagull. What would the constellations be called if the West Coast Aboriginal people had named them? The hijinks of the ancient Greek Gods seem worlds away, but Raven is everywhere.
We’ve been warned to expect difficult walking tomorrow: bogs and ladders and roots. But my knees and ankles are holding up—better than my boots. I just have sort of a “stitch” under my right shoulder blade. Onward!
DAY 6: WALBRAN CREEK TO CAMPER BAY KM 62
The double caves at the mouth of Walbran Creek and their reflections in the water mesmerized me this morning. Perched on a clifftop tree, an eagle scanned the sea for fish.
In this landscape, the focus on nature in traditional Aboriginal stories makes so much sense: for an audience that spent a lot of time outdoors, references to the natural world would be immediate and intuitive in a way that today, for many people, they are at a remove. But wow. The land is still here. The animals are still here. As the revitalization of Aboriginal cultures gains momentum, and as environmental awareness spreads in the society at large, I only hope that the land gets better and better cared for—both celebrated and conserved.
Before leaving camp, we patched my bootsole with Gorilla tape and a piece of fluorescent orange emergency rope. The result is quite an eyeful! I also slathered tiger balm on the tight muscle under my right shoulder blade.
We left camp by climbing up a ladder under the cable car line. True to the warning about difficult terrain, we met with many trip-hazard roots and some muddy patches until a long stretch of boardwalk cut through a bog. Giant skunk cabbage grew beside sheer, moss-covered rock faces that exploded with rose-peach blooms. Amidst thick salal flourished a shrub with four-petaled white blossoms.
“It looks so much like dogwood,” I said to B. “But it can’t be. Dogwood’s a tree, right?”
“It must be dwarf dogwood,” she said.
At KM 56 came the first ladders of the day down to Logan Creek. After about four flights, they spat us onto a suspension bridge—but this was not a bridge like the one at Pete Wolfe Creek (on the Juan de Fuca Trail near Mystic Beach) or the one in Lynn Valley, North Vancouver. In those places, the word “bridge” fits. The “bridge” at Logan Creek was just a narrow plank bounded by wire. I wasn’t sure my pack would even fit between the flimsy-looking “guard rails.” B pointed to a stack of fallen logs underneath the bridge. “That’s the old bridge,” she explained. “It fell down, and they built the new one over top it.” Not exactly reassured, I inched across.
On the far side of the bridge, a ladder rose straight up. “It’s totally vertical!” B exclaimed. With no incline, this ladder called for a new strategy: the waltz. I held the ladder as if it were my dance partner and found the rhythm within the climb.
Reach the right arm,
raise the left foot,
bring the right foot to meet the left.
Raise the left arm,
lift the right foot,
bring the left foot to the join the right.
The steady beat made the motion fluid, and the wooden rungs seemed to carry me. I experimented with different patterns and rhythms as we descended and ascended at Cullite Creek—the height of a twenty-five storey building—and dropped down again at the end of the day to Camper Bay.
On the stretches of trail between ladders, we had to step constantly over exposed roots—a sign of how much the weight of trekkers has eroded the soil. We also walked over deadfall, often with notches cut into it to create a step, and cross-hatched to prevent slippage.
In the past, the trail included many of these fallen logs, which were often thirty feet above the ground. Fear of these high log crossings actually prevented me from attempting the WCT earlier in life. I’m glad I waited, because changes to the trail have made it much safer now. On today’s hike, there was usually the option to walk on the ground, and none of the logs was more than about six feet off the forest floor.
So it was a smooth, slow day—slow because we really took our time, not wanting to trip or twist an ankle. The tiger balm eased the tightness and discomfort under my shoulder blade. Amazingly, the tape-and-rope fix-up job has held on my boot; the gaiters are probably helping, too.
This immersion in nature and in outdoor exercise feels like reintegration, an aligning of past and present into a whole. The cedar trunks have long, vertical strips of bark—their texture somewhere in between cardboard and leather. Fallen cedar branches, with their lacey, two-dimensional leaves, look like green doilies. These details resonate bone-deep. Why?
It comes back: a cedar tree grew in the front yard of my childhood home. Its branches hung close to my bedroom window, sometimes creaking, sometimes scraping the shingles on the side of the house. So these trees, this landscape—I breathe it, somehow. It cradled me as I grew. A childhood spent roaming a neighbourhood that had been converted only recently–and only tenuously and partially– from Pacific rainforest has given me a life-long love of fresh air and walking, and the trees: they’re like friends. Every tree we climbed, we named.
After days on the trail, there’s a strong sense of being held and nurtured by the land, and it’s literally true: even in an artificial indoor environment, the resources we need to sustain life are ultimately derived from nature. The land is essential, integral, core. Kids need to feel this connection, I think; extended time outdoors is a holistic experience that puts urban existence into perspective.
The Camper Bay site is next to a creek– so handy for gathering water, washing dishes and brushing teeth (not to mention rinsing muddy calves after hiking). I was tempted to swim, as at Walbran, but a stiff wind was blowing. Even without submerging myself in cold water, I was chilled and made do with a sponge bath. The frogs were ribetting a steady chorus but have stopped, almost like a switch was turned off. The gush and roar of the open ocean beyond the breakwater of stones and logs continues. This is our last night on the open Pacific before we move into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Whale sightings have tapered off as we have travelled south. Cape Flattery (in Washington State) has appeared directly across the channel, and the familiar silhouettes of the Olympic Mountains cover half the skyline now, though so far only as foothills. Tomorrow night, we’ll camp in a sheltered cove.
DAY 7: CAMPER BAY TO THRASHER COVE 70 KM
Quarters at Camper Bay were tight; we were woken up early by the voices of seven men who’d slept next to us but for a log. The decision of the day was whether to follow the beach via the fabled Owen Point with its cave and house-sized boulders or to take the inland route.
We stayed inland, crossing over many fallen trees and weaving through groves of old growth cedar and ferns. Their massive girth was truly awe-inspiring.
Fog hung in a thick wall, and horns sounded during the hike. When we arrived at Thrasher, the sun was shining on the beach, but across the bay (Port San Juan) the hilltops barely crested a low-lying grey cloud. We ducked under the branches of a massive fallen tree that divided the beach into a main crescent and a small peninsula on the south end. This south section was a refuge from the crowded main beach. We soothed our swollen feet in the crashing surf. We cooked and ate two backpacker meals: until now, we’d been splitting only one every night. What had we been thinking!? It was easy to finish one bag of Chicken Vindaloo each. As the afternoon wore on, the sun dwindled on the beach and the fog lifted across the bay, revealing the treed expanse of Port Renfrew.
We built a fire, and I pulled out a paperback novella—Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson—set in the interior in Lytton, BC, a dry landscape of sage brush near a confluence of two rivers. The character of Hetty Dorval is a home-wrecking, heart-breaking scarlet woman of the 1930s, so it was interesting to see how that trope served the plot, but it was the depiction of the BC landscape that most drew me in. After six days of hiking, the very act of reading—of withdrawing into the world of a book—felt luxurious. Every few pages, as if eating a bon-bon, I added a small piece of driftwood to the toasty fire. (I was also literally nibbling on an Ecuadorean chocolate bar!) I drank in the heat. The bright orange embers, the cool salt spray, the pounding waves and the deepening hues of the twilit sky—it was all soul food.
Daylight lingered until 9:15 p.m. or so, and now the moon has waxed half full. A treed islet off the next point, moated by the tide, shows only its black silhouette. We have a semi-private nook to camp in, although large parties wedged in beside us late in the day. These north-to-south trekkers, only one day in, look clean but sound anxious. “We can’t baby them,” a woman next to us is saying about a pair of laggards in her group. “It’s not our fault they didn’t train!”
I don’t know how we appear to them—perhaps oddly introverted and remote. But we feel seasoned, serene as Buddhas, filthy but happy. Almost out of food, we can’t wait for a restaurant meal tomorrow, as well as hot showers and clean laundry. I re-duct taped my boots tonight: they have to last only 6 more kilometers!
DAY 8: THRASHER COVE TO GORDON RIVER 75 KM
Our food supplies had dwindled to a couple of power bars each, my boots were shot, and we were craving showers. Motivated, we were hiking by 9:00 instead of our usual 10 or 10:30. The ferry from Gordon River to the WCT information centre and parking lot left hourly starting at 11:30, we’d heard, and we aimed to ride the ferry at mid-day. The first kilometer angled nearly straight up, only part of it on ladders. Trudging vertically on bare earth was harder than climbing rungs, but the hiking poles helped. We weren’t as shocked by the difficulty of the terrain as we’d expected and made good time. We stopped for snacks at the day’s halfway point, the Donkey Engine: decades ago, the forest was logged, and the rusted equipment still stands like a museum exhibit.
On the last leg of our journey, a panicked adrenaline flowed. We ramped up the pace. At about 11:30, we finally met northbound hikers. “How long have you been hiking?” I asked one young man.
“How long have I been hiking?” He repeated the question as if I were interrogating him on his years of experience and questioning his readiness for the trail.
“How long have you been hiking today,” I said quickly. “How many minutes?”
“Oh. About an hour.”
He eyed my bootsole, from which duct tape was flapping freely, as if he were a new recruit watching an amputee get carted off the battlefield on a stretcher.
“Run!” I shoved B from behind. I called over my shoulder at the bewildered newbie. “We want to catch the 12:30 ferry. Enjoy your trip!”
The terrain grew more and more difficult, but we planted the tips of our hiking poles into the ground and vaulted over roots (hiking-pole-vaulted, that is). We jogged down shallow inclines.
“You’re nearly there!” one first-day hiker soon assured us. “Just fifteen minutes to go!”
But it was the longest fifteen minutes of the trail. A week ago, I’d seen a northbound hiker drop her pack on the beach and run to the Pachena Bay trailhead. Her energy and haste had confused me then. Now I understood. We were like marathon runners sprinting for the finish line. We drew on a hidden reserve of fuel as we chased our goal. And we really didn’t want to miss the ferry and be forced to wait for an anti-climactic extra hour. So we ran until, after a quick descent to sea level, we reached the end at about 12:15. To signal to the ferry operator, we hoisted an orange buoy attached to a pulley on a tree. And then we waited. More than anything, we wanted to finish the trail quietly as a pair. But as the minutes ticked by–12:30, 12:35–we felt sure we’d be overtaken by other parties.
No. When the ferry pulled in at 12:40, we were still the only two waiting. Boarding the boat involved one more rock scramble. The crossing was quick, we disembarked on a dock, and the trip was unceremoniously over. The ferryman said, “The girl in the office is on lunch, so just stuff your passes through the slot in the door.” That way the records would show that we’d made it off the trail.
Alone in the parking lot, we changed into fresh clothes, quaffed raspberry lemonade and snacked on Kettle Valley chips—all of which we’d planted for ourselves in the trunk of the car. We then drove into Port Renfrew for our just reward: an epic all-day breakfast at the Coastal Kitchen. And here my Moleskin notebook ends.