Monday, July 13, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Woke up about 5:00 am, after a night of short sleeps, broken by waking up to roll over or pull more sleeping bag over me. So I had a quick breakfast of a Rebar© and Advil© washed down with the last of my water.
I was on the trail by 6:00 am, heading for Botanical Beach and Port Renfrew. The trail was good; few climbs, and lots of elevated boardwalks to keep feet out of easily-damaged areas. The last 7 km was a lot closer to an exhausted march than I would have liked. Interrupted sleep means I wasn't bouncing back as well as I had hoped. My legs were tired but willing, but my feet wasted no time in hurting. I had moleskin on all my blisters and hot spots, but my feet just hurt. It was the old brain that was the most tired, though. I was moving along at my pretty-standard kilometre every 25 minutes or so, but it was taking a lot more concentration to remember to do things like lift my feet all the way over an obstruction. Even so, I was off the trail at the Botanical Beach trail head at 9:00 am.
From the trail head, it was about another three kilometres into Port Renfrew along the paved road. I found the hotel where I was to catch the bus back to Victoria the next day. When I called to see if there was space on the Friday bus, I found out that daily service didn't start until the following Monday, so I was stuck in Renfrew for the night.
Main Street, Port Renfrew 2009
But first things first. Port Renfrew is only about 150 families in size, and mostly strung out over a couple of kilometres long strip, with not a whole lot of width to the town. So it wasn't hard to find anyplace, and I quickly found the Coastal Kitchen Café. The only real restaurant in town, its open early and serves big portions. I ended up eating there twice, breakfast both Friday and Saturday mornings. My Friday celebratory breakfast tasted great; a big load of French toast and my first cup of coffee in a month. The restaurant uses thrift-store mugs, and sitting amongst the ones to chose from was my mug. A large (two-cup) ceramic blue-and-white spackleware mug, I bought this mug back about the time the kids were first born. It was the mug I used for years on the farm—I even made a spruce cap for it so I wouldn't get sawdust in it while I was working in the shop. I think it eventually broke, but here it was, sitting on a tray in a café in Pt. Renfrew. The owner actually offered to give it to me, but after so many years, I figured it was time for someone else to own it. But is was nice to see it again.
After breakfast, I ended up walking through town and found a place that actually caters to hikers—a laundromat and (more importantly) a coin-operated shower! The general store sold me a single razor and five bucks later I felt (and looked) more civilized than I had in days.
Friday morning in Port Renfrew, 2009
I ended up getting a hotel room for the night—ever been in a place where you weren't even tempted to take the travel shampoo? Well, that was the West Coast Trail Motel. Rooms weren't bad, but I had to clean the filthy coffee maker before it could be used, and the shampoo was in little tear-open pouches. The minute your hands are wet, you can't possibly open them, so you use your teeth with the risk of having shampoo breath afterwards. And seriously, who puts two copies of the same art print in a room? You can't get two different prints for the same price? From a customer service point of view, shouldn't you tell guests that “the satellite is down and there's only one channel” at check-in? Honestly, the room was way over-priced. However, the bed was nice.
Saturday was spent drinking tea and reading second-hand novels from the rec centre—run by an amazing woman. Breakfast was again at the Coastal Kitchen Café—the “fisherman's breakfast.” This was three eggs (not local, not fresh, not free-range), “the best sausage on the Island”(not local, not fresh, almost cold, and certainly not “the Island's best”), hash-browns (very hot potato-based food-like substance), toast (thick slices, but of a mediocre bread) and the whole works cost me $8. Man, sure let me know what I have been taking for granted.
Ocean spray, Pt. Renfrew 2009
The West Coast Trail Express bus picked us (myself and the other three hikers) at one end of Pt. Renfrew and then drove through town, picking up a dozen or more people fresh off the West Coast Trail and hauled us all back to Victoria. The bus had a sign up saying “for your comfort, this vehicle is equipped with air-ride suspension.” I figure that means that for most of the ride, you're suspended in the air. But the Express is a great service, running hikers and gear from Victoria to pretty much any point along the West Coast between Sooke and the north end of the West Coast Trail. It is exactly the right scale for the job, and serves the community well.
Eventually, I made it back to Victoria, and bused home on the municipal service. Happy to have been gone, happy to have successfully hiked the JdF, and happy to be back home.
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Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Chin Beach to Sombrio Beach, that was the plan. After last September and taking four hours to make the 6 km hike (leaving me utterly exhausted), I thought that planning Chin to Sombrio as my hike for the day would be about right. I even planned for a rest stop after climbing out of Loss Creek (which I believe is the most vertical metres of the entire trip). But things didn't go as planned.
Instead, the entire hike from Chin to Sombrio, beach to beach, took 2 ½ hours. And then I stopped for breakfast . Heart, lungs and legs were working in perfect harmony—I have no explanation as to why. But the climbs and descents were nothing like ten months ago. I pulled in to the campground at Sombrio and made some oatmeal, and as I was eating it, a group of six hikers was just leaving Sombrio for Kuitshe or Payzant campsites. I cleaned up my utensils, abandoned a water bottle (not on purpose) and decided to set out to Kuitshe about an hour after them.
Eagle on Sombrio Beach 11 June 2009
The trail is not solely in the bush—quite often it leaves the bush and traverses the beach. Meaning that if you don't pay attention to the tides, you can get stranded or find the beach impassable for a couple of hours. This sounds like a big deal, but it really isn't. Tide tables are posted at each beach, and you can time your hike around the tides. What is difficult is finding the place where you exit from the beach and head back along the trail. These points are supposed to be marked with large orange or red float balls hung in the trees. But time, sunshine and weather have destroyed some of the balls. Others are small and branches have grown in such a way as to screen them. Finding your way on to the trail is often an adventure in itself.
The rest of the hike, from Sombrio beach all the way though to the end at Botanical Beach, is rated as moderate. The elevations are lower and the transits along the same elevation are longer. The trail itself is about the same, with water working its way downslope finding the trail and turning it to mud. Or, in some cases, the water decides the trail makes a good stream bed and flows along it for five or ten metres before returning into the loam.
Fern unfurling along trail to Kuitshe 11 June 2009
The beaches were covered with sand fleas by the thousands—little springtails that would cluster on bits of seaweed. As I walked by, they would leap wildly, this little fountain of bodies going every which way. Or crabs in the intertidal zone; left with the tide pools, rocks or washed-up clumps of seaweed to hide under, there were thousands of them as well, all between 10 and 30 millimetres across. Those that could, scurried under rocks or seaweed as I passed. Those that had nowhere to go, backed up, flashing white-edged claws at me, warning me not to come any closer. Of course, while their claws were only a millimetre or two long, this wasn't much of a threat, but they did the best they could with what they had.
There were other discoveries along the trail as well; apparently slugs like orange peel. And they like it a lot. The peel I saw hadn't had time to dry and shrivel, yet there were several holes the size of toonies in it and a couple of slugs still working it over. And both ants and millipedes like dead slug (I knew something had to, but had no idea what did).
My plan had been to stop at Kuitshe—well, that had been my plan after storming the hike from Chin to Sombrio. But I got to Kuitshe and found that it was still early, I was still feeling strong, and there really wasn't any reason to stop, so I carried on. I ended up at Payzant campsite, about 13 km further along than I had expected to be—and only 7 km from the end of the trail at Botanical Beach. There had been quite a few people on the trail, enough that I was surprised by how busy it was. This was, after all, mid-week in early June. But like Chin Beach, Payzant filled up as the evening wore on. I arrived about 4:00 pm and the first four of the party of six I'd met at Sombrio came in about 4:30 pm. The last two didn't make it until 6:15 pm—late enough that their mates were starting to get worried.
So after all, it was a 19 km day. A great day physically, and a personal best. I was beat, at the end of it, but just tired, not feeling destroyed. Dinner and sleep would serve to restore my strength and, even more importantly, replenish my sugar stores so that I could do it again tomorrow.
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Monday, July 6, 2009
Saturday, July 4, 2009
This was the day of the hike I had been dreading the most; Bear Beach to Chin Beach. A little over 10 km long, it is rated as “very difficult.” Last September I hiked from Sombrio Beach in to Chin, a distance of 6 km and rated as “difficult,” a hike that had radically changed my perceptions of the JdF and my own fitness levels.
Chin Beach 2009
When I hiked from Sombrio to Chin, I had expected a challenge, but nothing like what I was confronted with. The first kilometre out of Sombrio is brutal, and by the time I made it to the old logging road at the high point of the trail, I'd climbed about 160 metres—much of it more than once. By the time I got to Chin Beach four hours later, I had used up all my energy reserves, and I ended up setting up camp and then sleeping for a couple of hours, quite exhausted from the hike. The next day I was facing either going back the way I'd come (no thank you!) or continuing into a section of trail I didn't know, but that was twice as long and rated as even more difficult. I ended up pulling the pin the next morning, hiking out to the highway some 200 metres above me ( a heavy climb, but the least objectionable alternative at the time).
Over the winter, I was certain that I wanted to hike the JdF, but that rating, “very difficult,” kept raising its head. The 10 km kept growing in difficulty in my head, getting longer, higher, and more wild. I thought about it, and the more I thought about it, the worse it got. So facing it on my second day out, well, I was not happy. In fact, I was very nervous.
When planning the hike, I had set aside 6-8 hours for this section of the trail. My thinking was to hike to the halfway point (or better, if I was lucky/strong enough) and then break for a good lunch and maybe a short nap before taking on the second half. I was looking forward to having finished this section, but I wasn't looking forward to doing the actual hiking. I ate breakfast, refilled my water bottles, and was on the trail just after 8:00 am.—and was on the beach at Chin at 12:30pm.
It's not that the hike wasn't hard, it was. It just wasn't brutal, and nowhere near as hard as I'd built it up to be in my mind. Going back over the map, I see that the trail never gets more than about 100 metres above the beach—only two-thirds the maximum height on the Chin to Sombrio section. I can't really figure out why it's rated as “very difficult,” except that its twice as long as the Chin-Sombrio section.
Beautiful, though. Some points look down on some lovely looking beaches, although there is no land access to them. My timing was apparently off, though. The couple who left 10 minutes behind me kept seeing Grey whales at the lookout points, while I only saw one seal lazing about while hunting the near-shore. The couple figured it was the same whales, moving down the coastline at about the same speed that they were. Mostly I was seeing the slugs, spiders and millipedes along the trail.
Slugs on the end of a log
This actually makes sense; I was more focused on the microcosm rather than the macrocosm (well, maybe not the micro-, but at least the “small-cosm”), just as the outward journey of the hike was reflecting the more inner-directed journey I was on. There was a tremendous amount of inner monologue going on in my head, liberated by the physical demands of the hike. It was very difficult to achieve the state of inner silence, of “just being” while hiking.
I also spotted a couple of red squirrels along the trail. At first I thought they were immature greys, but as I got a better look, I realized my mistake. The Grey squirrels are an imported, invasive species that are driving the red's out of their traditional territory, driving down their numbers until they are a threatened species in Canada.
This should actually be a self-limiting problem; the Red squirrels are small (about half the size of the Greys) and are supposed to taste bad. But the Greys are not only larger, but are actually quite tasty. So one could eat local and help re-balance the local environment. But just as with the feral rabbits up at the University of Victoria, there's the Bambi factor at play. People don't want to kill anything cute. And they certainly don't want anyone else to kill anything that's cute. The fact that both the Grey squirrels and the rabbits are massively destructive bits of unharvested protein that would be better in a stew pot than running around loose, doesn't matter. They're cute, and mustn't be killed. Just ask the seal hunters about how that plays out (okay, the seal hunt is based on false reasoning and is pretty stupid, but the opposition isn't based on sense, but the Bambi factor—which is why pictures of big-eyed whitecoats are used by the opposition, even though the whitecoat harvest was banned decades ago).
Camping on Chin Beach isn't the same as it was ten months ago; then I was alone until the morning, when who surfers appeared out of the bush at 7:30am. Now, early June and there are well over a dozen hikers in the campsites tonight. The mountains across the Strait are sheathed in mist all day—a mist that turns out to be smoke drifting down from forest fires hundreds of kilometres north of us. As if to relieve my frustration at being so crowded when I would rather be alone, I spot whales spouting off the point a kilometre or so northwest of the campsite.
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