West Coast Trail

originally published: 2012-08-29

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Throughout our hiking together, several little routines had emerged, and though we both started out rough at the start of the Juan de Fuca trail, by the West Coast Trail we had things well in hand. Each morning I’d hear the watch’s tinny alarm (too high for Graham’s failing hearing), and wake Graham by starting to sing, “Morning has Broken,” he’d typically join in by the second line. Once the song was completed, he’d fumble for his pants and beadle off into the bush to relieve himself. While he was occupied, I’d get up and start packing. The largest portion of my packing was really stuffing my sleeping bag, then I’d roll up the mat, and stuff it in its bag, and dump my excess clothes down the tube it created.The next thing I needed at this point was the food, and after that I’d be ready to strike the poncho, so typically I’d go fetch both containers from the food hang and cache, and have my own morning urination. By the time I returned, Graham was usually at the point where he needed to put the bear vault inside his pack.

Once the food was stowed, it was time to pull up stakes. With the ponchos, one walk around pulling up stakes, dropping sticks, and bundling ropes, and the shelter was down. If I was ahead of Graham, which I often was, I’d carefully drop his centre hood point to take my ice axe back.

Our two ponchos were usually set up in a leap-frogging lean-to design. We’d also learned not to use both ice axes in construction, in case someone had a cat hole emergency, or we wanted a weapon in the night. The first poncho would be open in whichever direction the wind was least likely to come from, or a log. Two or three stakes would hold the back edge flush with the ground, a stick would hold up the middle front loop, two sticks would hold up the middle sides, and ropes would extend from the front corners. The hood would be cinched tight, and attached to the middle front pole of the back poncho, which would be open to the sheer back of the front one. Thus, the front poncho was the windbreak for the back poncho, and also a natural privacy screen. We couldn’t see each other, but Graham would occasionally reach his hand out under the bottom of the back of his front poncho to hold my hand.

Graham mostly ended up in the front poncho. This was mainly because, when Robin and I sleep in a bed together, he’s always to my left, if we’re both lying flat on our backs. When Dave and I sleep in a bed together, he’s also to my left. Dave and Tracey also sleep with Dave to the left of Tracey. My parents sleep like this, too. In fact the only couple that doesn’t are Robin’s parents.

I had noticed on the rare occasions when Graham was not to my left, that I’d wake somewhat disorientated. If I am sleeping with a man, never mind technically in separate shelters, he should be on my left. Graham kept joking that it had something to do with his snoring, and that the snoring should always come from the same direction. That didn’t really make much sense to me – it didn’t have a lot to do with noise, it had to do more with presence, or aura. Call it a body heat signature if you like; the other warm body should be on my left.

Anyway, once the ponchos were bundled into their pockets, along with the ground sheets, we broke trail. The first slug we saw each day, we greeted with, “Slug ‘O the Morning to you!”

After about an hour of hiking, we’d typically stop for our morning stretches and breakfast break. Then there’d be only a short mid-day break for GORP and biltong. (At least once we got the porridge going, which was mostly on the WCT)

If one of us had to take a leak – the euphemism we eventually agreed on, since I didn’t like ‘pitstop’ – the person in question would request to drop behind for a moment, while the person in front went ahead a little ways, and stopped, and waited for them to finish. Occasionally it happened that both of us had to take a leak at the same time. So after one was finished, they’d move ahead, and stop, and the other person would take their turn. Eventually the phrase I coined for this was, “Leak-frogging.”

Throughout each hiking day, at every KM marker, we’d stop and give each other a victory hug. At some point, we’d stop and read the Psalm of the Day from my Siddur (organized by days of the week), and though mostly on the Sabbath, we also tried to do the walking-and-bowing morning prayers as often as possible. Most days we said a rosary, and I tried to write down the intentions, but occasionally I forgot. If there was an unusual tree or rock formation, sometimes I’d stop to climb it, and Graham would take pictures. If there was a stream deep enough, I’d want to swim in it.

As the trail followed the coastline, with numerous streams letting out into the sea, the trail would typical dip down into a stream valley, and then climb back out to a cliff, to dip down into the next valley. On the Juan de Fuca, you mainly accessed the valleys by switch-back trail. On the West Coast Trail, you mainly accessed them by extreme ladders. I can tell you which method I preferred, but we’ll get to that. Typically, we found that having me lead for the uphill, and Graham leading for the downhill, worked best. Often there were quite big steps down on the downhill side, and it helped to have him go ahead and help me down them. At half a foot shorter than him, stairs are more serious for me, and we were both mindful of preserving my hips.

Every evening we made dinner, away from our camp, and after dinner, would boil a pot of water for the grain porridge which we’d leave to set overnight and eat for breakfast on the trail the next morning. After climbing into our sleeping bags, before sleep, we’d alternate reading each other a chapter or two of Dawn Treader, from the Chronicles of Narnia.

We had a good, stable, and supportive trail life developed by the time we got on the West Coast Trail.

We woke up in the somewhat bustling and noisy campground in Port Renfrew, managed by the local reserve, sang our wake-up song, and started packing down. Graham, I think, got distracted by needing to use the facilities, and this caused some strange inefficiencies, that required unnecessary multiple trips to the main office. While he was gone, I threw up in the bushes, and noticed they had ripe salmon berries, so I picked some for him.

However, we managed to be packed down and at the little wharf behind the orientation office well in time. I borrowed the landline phone from the ferryman, so I could quickly call Robin and confirm that he knew we’d survived the Juan de Fuca and were starting on the West Coast Trail. He was confused as to why we were starting the WCT a day late in our schedule, but said he knew we were alive because he’d gotten the online notification that we’d picked up the food parcel. Still, I think it was nice for both of us to hear each other’s voice. I wished I’d had the opportunity to phone Dave, but couldn’t really push the ferryman’s good will.

There were two or three other two-person groups on our flat-bottomed boat. The ramp at one end, and the overall shape of the boat put one vaguely in mind of the D-day boats, a somewhat unfortunate comparison, since it made a person think we were setting off to assault the Trail, and indeed, we did all seem to tumble off the boats with our packs, ready to defend ourselves from whatever the Trail would put in our way.

The first thing we found was cluster of signs set just into the forest from the beach, with the Trail going steeply upwards from that small, flat region. All the groups came up short, and looked over the signs, and tightened their gear, and took pictures, and did their assorted, “Go team whatever!” signs to each other. Graham and I got someone to take a picture of the two of us in front of the West Coast Trail sign.

For the first few feet, we were packed together, but the other groups quickly ran ahead, and we let them. At the top of the first rise, we pulled off the trail for our stretches and GORP. (That first day on the trail we’d agreed to go completely on GORP, and start porridge for the next day)

As it grew hot, we unbuttoned our long-sleeve shirts. Long since I’d established wearing just my bug top under it, with the long-sleeve shirt loose over it. Typically, it hangs closed enough, anyway, but you can see my breasts this way if you’re really looking.

We passed a few people coming the other way, including a father hiking with his teenaged son and daughter. I think both children noticed my open top. I got what I thought of as a curiosity/interested/lust look from the son, a bit of a pursed/disapproval look from the daughter. I was amused, and considered it continuing my work to normalize breasts.

Around this time, I had my first fall. I was walking uphill on a log, got near the top, overbalanced, and fell flat on my back, fortunately cushioned by my pack. I’m sure it looked more serious than it actually was.

I was also finding my pack really heavy, and I stopped paying attention to where I was leading us, and we got lost for a short while. We stopped, and reassessed, and Graham agreed to carry the bag of grain porridge.

We had our GORP lunch at the Donkey Engine, which was a rather interested rusted hulk, and after lunch I wanted to try the walking prayers again, but I stumbled, fell, and stabbed my hand with my ice axe. We had a long sit for a bit, while I cried, and got frustrated, and bitterly complained why this trail should suddenly be so much harder, since it was the same coastline as the previous one.

While fruitless in itself, I did suddenly remember that with no food in my pack left at the end of the Juan de Fuca, I’d adjusted the shoulder yoke on my pack. At the start of the WCT, I hadn’t adjusted it back, and so I was carrying a very top-heavy load without realizing it. I adjusted it back, and it helped my balance considerably.

We continued on until Beach Access B, which was full with a quite large group. They told us Beach Access A was still vacant, and just a bit further, but it took us a while to reach it. Once we got there, there was another couple camped in the dead centre of it. They told us they’d gotten there about fifteen minutes earlier. We asked if they minded us staying in the same area, and they indicated that we didn’t have much choice.

Graham and I went down to check out the beach, and I swam a bit while he rested. Then we came back up, and he went down again to get water. I started dinner, while he set-up our tents. Dinner was our second Italian Tomato, although the seasoning packets I had brought for them, seemed to give us both indigestion, so I skipped using it in the second meal.

By the time dinner was over, I was fading fast. I’d injured myself twice already, my pack was heavy with food, and I knew I was going to get bitchy. I went to the shelter Graham had set up, and was annoyed that he hadn’t gleaned the site or laid down my groundsheet, mat and sleeping bag. He had done those things in the Salal Headland at Tom Baird. I wasn’t really angry at Graham, but I was tried and frustrated, and finished setting up my encampment, and crawled into bed without saying another word to him. He’d gone off into the woods to try and cache the food. I could hear him crashing about in the forest, but I didn’t care.

I would have been more sympathetic if I’d known how long he spent trying to hang the stupid food. We’d initially scorned our neighbours for hanging their food cache right above their tent, but that was before Graham found out there was nowhere else nearby that would work to hang it. He told me later that he spent several hours trying to hang all of it, and then went back to his tent, and then later got up again when he realized he needed to separate it out of my pack. I guess Graham didn’t get much sleep that night.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

In the morning, before we left Beach Access A, Graham and I each took a turn with our ice axes in the outback. I was disguised by the slushy snow of toilet paper and disturbed earth all through the small access trails behind the main campsite, and was thankful, again, that we’d decided to be woodpulp free. There was certainly enough salal. (Ideally, if you use TP, you’re supposed to pack it out, because if you try to bury it, animals will unbury it and it doesn’t degrade that fast. True, they can unbury your leaves just as easily, but then they look like any other brown-stained leaf, not this stark, bleached white mass all over the place. You could technically try to burn the TP, but it’s hard to turn it all to ash successfully if you don’t know what you’re doing or, well, ask Ullrich about the Great Ass Wipe Fire of 1965)

We started the day low on water, but after the night he’d had, Graham didn’t want to climb all the way down to the beach to get more from the stream, so we just started off. It was also lightly drizzling. We were both worried that this would be it, our good fortune with the weather was over, and now it would rain for the rest of the trip, but about a half-hour later the rain cleared up and that was all the rain we had.

The first stream we came to at first looked promising, and we started to take out our water filtration kit. I accidentally knocked the cap and kit over the railing, and scrambled down after it. Once I’d retrieved it, I saw the water was really quite brown, and we shouldn’t refill there anyway. Trying to climb back onto the bridge, the log I’d lowered myself down by, crumbled and gave way and I fell a few feet. In the ensuing scramble to regain the bridge, I put out my hip again, quite badly.

The next creek was much nicer, and we stopped to refill all of our water supplies, and also wash the mud out of our pants and shoes again.

My hip joint had gone back into place, but it was quite stiff and painful, and there wasn’t really any opportunity to rest, so we went on. We got to the top of the gorge that led down into camper creek, with a long series of ladders to drop into the valley. We started down the ladders, and every rung was pain. While I found the usual scissors-stride motion with walking wasn’t too bad, the knees-up-marching-step for climbing ladders was agonizing. Graham started to notice when my breathing changed to short gasps.

Graham did his usual of trying to brainstorm about the problem, and its potential solutions. It’s sweet of him to want to help me, but sometimes all I want from him is to just shut up so I can concentrate on what I’m doing, especially if I’m climbing down a dangerous ladder, in pain, and really don’t want to try to divide my attention right then. At one point, while I was part-way down a ladder, he actually tried to point out a patch of moss to me, and I didn’t hear him clearly, and thought it was important, and had him repeat it. Moss? Why do I need to care about moss right now?

About half-way down into Camper Creek, I happened to mention that, of course, all of this was probably being exacerbated by the weight of my pack. Graham immediately volunteered to take my pack down, and then have me climb down just by myself. At the time, that seemed silly to me, and I told him I just wanted to get down into the valley, and we’ll worry about it later.

We made it to the bottom of the ladders, and stopped to rest. At that point, I could barely move. We cuddled; I cried, and Graham tried to make me see reason. We’d already lost some time, and he thought it would be best if we just stayed in Camper Creek for the day, and reassessed our goals. I didn’t really like either option – I didn’t want to miss the Folk Festival by taking extra time to get to the end of the trail, and I didn’t want to go out at Nitinat Narrows, roughly half-way along the trail.

I was dealing, roughly, with a crisis of “machismo”, which Graham much later coined, “machisma”, the feminine version of the same phenomena. I didn’t want to give up on finishing the trail, and I didn’t like the fact that, at 29, my hips were degrading at a rate that it would be dangerous for me to continue. Of all our problems encountered over our summer of hiking, I think Graham did the best at helping me through this one. He just held me, quietly, while I cried it out, and gently kept reminding me that the goal was to hike the WCT, to get on the trail, and see some of it. The goal wasn’t to try to finish in an arbitrary time frame. He didn’t make a million inane suggestions, he didn’t keep talking when he had nothing left to say. We identified the two options, agree that getting out at Nitinat Narrows was the best one, and let me process it.

After a while, I was starting to chill, and wanted to start hiking again before my hips stiffened into complete immobility, now that we’d rested for a bit. We put our packs back on our backs, and came down into Camper Creek.

First we had to cross the creek on the cable car, which looked scary but was actually a lot of fun. I was disappointed when the short ride was over. The cable car gave us a wonderful overview of the camping area around Camper Creek. A long, gravel beach, snaked alongside the creek, under the overhang of the cliff we’d climbed down by the ladders. Nearer the open ocean, where was a low dyke of gravel narrowing the outlet of the stream, and then another sandstone cliff rearing up on the other side of the narrow valley. We gathered that the stream actually flows through the gravel dyke, into the ocean.

We walked all the way around, but settled on the first campsite we’d seen, a small grotto carved from the salmon berry bushes. We set up, and then I just waded into the creek fully dressed, stripped naked once in the water, rinsed out my clothes, and set them up to dry. I swam around for a bit, and Graham came in for a short swim, but got out and cleaned himself off pretty quickly.

Other campers were starting to fill in the other campsites, but I didn’t much care and wandered around, enjoying the sun on my nudity, until the wind started to pick up. Graham did his best to ignore me, and not look in my general direction. I realized being near-sighted gave him an advantage at this.

I walked back to our tents to grab my warm change, and when I turned back to the beach, I saw a garter snake darting across our encampment, heading for the next patch of salmon berry bushes. Excitedly, I scooped it up and, clothes tucked under one arm, dashed back down the beach to where Graham was fussing with our laundry.
“I have a present for you!” I announced happily.
“What is it?” He said, extending his hands, but keeping his body turned away from me at a 45. I put the snake into his hands. “Wendy? What am I holding?”
“A garter snake, of course!”
“Damn!” He said.

He turned his back to me, and cautiously inspected his prize. He inquired after my camera, and I told him it was still back with my stuff. He ran off to get it, still carefully holding the snake, and I was dressed by the time he got back. We took several photos of him posing with the garter snake. I’m always amazed by how gently he holds them – they never seem to pee on him, he’s like a snake whisperer or something.

He asked me which way the snake had been travelling, and I showed him, and he let it go to resume its journey into the salmon berry bushes. Then he made a wry joke about naked girls handing men serpents. I think we may have mixed up how the original book went on that.

We settled down to make Miso soup for lunch, with extra seaweed and mushrooms. After lunch we went for a walk along the beach, and saw more anemones. I tried my phone but couldn’t get signal.

Later we made our usual dinner, it was Pad Thai night, and played Gin and said a rosary. Graham went and talked to the ranger, who said we should have no trouble getting out at the Narrows. We went to bed early, and read Narnia and slept.

It was a beautiful day, doing much to restore our spirits, and giving us both a chance to just take in nature. I think we’d both been pushing ourselves, and each other, harder than we realized, and were missing out on much of what the trail had to offer as a result.

Monday, July 16, 2012

We got up, packed down, and I still wouldn’t let Graham carry my pack out of the valley for me. We stopped for our stretches, and porridge.

At some point on our hike, Graham failed to see a spear of wood, concealed by foliage, sticking out at neck height and stabbed his collarbone. He was more surprised than hurt, but it left a bruise. A bit further on, and I slipped and banged my shin quite hard. Then we both stopped to pray.

At Sandstone Creek, there was a quite high bridge over a broad, flat plain of sandstone. Near the downstream drop-off cliff, there were some interesting potholes, and on the next shelf of sandstone below the waterfall, there was a pothole that looked as deep as I am tall.

Graham came up behind me as I was gazing over the cliff; he’d been talking to the mother-daughter team that had just overtaken us. “What’s up?” he asked, and then saw what I was looking at. “Ah,” he said. By then, he’d long gotten used to my proclivities, and knew I was always in my best mood after a swim.

He discovered that someone had set up a rope to help people walk down the cliff, and then it was easy to lower ourselves onto the next sandstone shelf. I went first, while he arranged the gear we left up top, and lost no time in shedding my clothes and sliding into the deep pothole. It was a perfect temperature, and proved to be about six feet deep at its deepest point, an absolutely perfect Wendy-sized bath.

When Graham was ready to get in, I respectfully removed myself to the far side of the pothole, and then turned fully around while Graham preformed his ablutions. I don’t know exactly what he does during the bathing portion where he gets me to turn around, but I assume it involves giving his bait and tackle a scrub. Unlike me, though, I don’t think he ever actually takes off, or pulls down his bike shorts.

The water was lovely, but once Graham was ready to go, it was time for me to haul myself out and dress. Once Graham is dressed, it’s best to start moving quickly before he starts to chill. On the way back up the cliff, Graham noticed one of the tiny potholes contained a drowned, brown field mouse.

We hiked on until we got to the top of the gorge containing Cullite Creek. By the time I got down the ladders into Cullite, my hips were wrecked again. Cullite Creek was also a narrow valley between sandstone cliffs, but most of the campsites fronted the ocean on the spit of land before the creek. The cable car would take us out the next day, instead of in.

We found a place to set-up camp, which was sort of in the middle of one camping area, and had agreed to take a nap. We woke from our nap at 19:00 with several large groups pitched all around us. We went onto the gravel beach to make dinner, Black Bean night, and watched the fog roll in and the world become more and more grey. After dinner, we said our rosary, and I started on a sonnet while Graham did dishes.

July 16 (MF) Intentions:
1) Holly
2) Making it safely to the beautiful safehaven of Cullite Creek
3) Graham
4) Wendy
5) That the spiritual journey, which is taking place in parallel with the physical one, continues.

I had accepted that we’d wasted too much time now to make it to the end of the trail, and was coming to terms with just appreciating the peace of the forest. I also conceded that I had been completely wrecked by the time I’d climbed down into each valley.

We went to bed early, read from Narnia, and slept.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In the morning, it took us a full hour for us to do the cable car and ladders to get up and out of the Cullite Valley. Graham was carrying my pack for me, now, and it helped immensely but was incredibly slow. He’d climb up one ladder with his own pack, I’d climb up sans pack, then he’d climb back down and get my pack and bring it up to the next platform, then rinse and repeat. I was dealing with guilt that Graham was being forced to do so much for me. I’m used to helping others; I felt like such a princess relying on his aid. I was also embarrassed that a man a quarter century my senior was ‘hacking it’ better than I could. Graham for his part, just kept gently reminding me that I had an injury, and that that was what partners did for each other.

Eventually, I got over it, because my other choice was to break myself to the point I’d need an evac. One other thought that saw me through was the reminder of a bit of dialogue I’d had with the ranger running the orientation session before we left. She was telling me this story, about the last time she’d done the trail. She only gets a chance every few years. Partway along, she busted her knee slipping on a boardwalk. Her friends were concerned for her, and told her she shouldn’t complete the trail, but needed to come off it. She had protested, saying, “No, I’m the parks lady! How bad does it look if the parks lady can’t do the trail?” But her friends did eventually persuade her to come off the trail. What I told her was that, as the parks lady, she has all the more responsibility to be able to assess her own condition, and make the safe choice to come off when she needs to. It’s up to her to set the example, rather than try and push herself, and encourage reckless machismo in others.

I remembered this conversation when I sat at the bottom of a valley, barely able to move my legs – I needed to set my own example, and accept my limitations, also. When I was at summer camp, taking leadership training, we were taught that your group only moves at the pace of its slowest member. Every person faces different challenges, and every person has a different level of challenge. For some people, their challenge is Everest. For other people, getting dressed in the morning is a monstrous hurdle. For most people, it’s somewhere in between. I had thought my challenge was finishing the West Coast Trail by that coming Friday, but it was beginning to look like spending a week on the trail, and finishing the hardest of the two sections, was a more realistic goal, and one both Graham and I could finish as partners, safely, and healthily.

It’s a hard thing, going through that sort of maturing process. When you’re very young, you think you can do anything, and fortunately you can recover quickly from any experience that shows you something you can’t do. Aging, in some ways is limiting, but there’s value in knowing your own parameters, and there’s a lot of freedom, and room for play, once you know where those limits lie.

Sometimes, you really do need to stop and watch the river pass you by. There’s a whole lot of garter snakes, and frogs, and slugs, and ripe salmon berries you might miss if all you’re trying to do is outpace yourself.

At the top of Cullite, we met a group we started to call the Dynamic Trio – Tim, Christy, and Saltana (or something). We’d actually seen them at Camper, and talked to them briefly about our system. Christy was the black one, Tim and Saltana were white. As they came up the ladders, Christy screamed in agony with each step. Upon talking to them, we learned that they were each carrying about 60lbs, and that Christy had torn something in her thigh. They were also the ones we’d seen with two actual tents, and a Coleman grill stove, which just seemed ridiculous. They were very interested in how we were getting by with so little.

Logan Creek was a bit of a nightmare, the steepest and longest ladders we’d seen, and one of them was missing a crucial first rung. Long, steep ladders dropping down onto a suspension bridge, and long, steep ladders climbing back out. On the first side, there was a narrow platform before the bridge started, on the other the ladders rose right off the bridge.

Graham and I had developed our system of signals for crossing bridges and going up and down ladders, adapted from rock climbing lingo: “Ready to climb?” “Climb on.” “Ready to hike?” “Hike on.” Some of the ladders and bridges were long enough that it wasn’t easy to tell when the person in front was safely off them before continuing. I had a hard time convincing Graham, once I got to the end of the suspension bridge, that I wasn’t ready for him to start hiking until I was well up the next ladder.

We stopped for a rest once of out of Logan Valley, and the Dynamic Trio overtook us again.

We came out on the beach at Walbran, and hiked along the beach to Bonilla Point. With our two half-days of rest, combined with hitting an easier stretch of trail, we were making excellent time. At Bonilla Creek, there was a lovely waterfall we stopped at to refill water, a hammock, and a newly constructed Sawdust Treehouse, as I had come to dub the composting two-level outhouses that were replacing the traditional pit outhouses.

Each Sawdust Treehouse had a ground floor consisting of a mesh cage full of sawdust and waste, and an upper story with a traditional one-person cubby, seat, and hole. The waste drops into the cage, and the user can sprinkle more sawdust on it from a bucket.

This particular Sawdust Treehouse was accessible by a short ladder, unlike the actual stairs most of them had. I thought this rather a cruel joke – you thought you were done with all the ladders for the day? Well, here’s one more! Haha!

Graham decided to test out the facilities, but I wasn’t really in that sort of crisis, and the ladder depressed me. I opted instead to water a salal bush while he was busy.

Once Graham was finished, he wanted to try out the hammock, and I was feeling silly, so I sat in his lap while we swung in it. This was a bit of a mistake on my part, as the combination of our close proximity, and the motion of the swinging hammock put me too much in mind of other rhythmic activities.

As we started off hiking again, I confessed to this momentary lapse in judgement, concluding that I was now, “Walking it off,” Graham sighed, but had no real further advice to offer.

We continued the short ways to Carmanah Creek, which I think was a mistake. The campsites at Bonilla were nicer. We ultimately didn’t find anything suitable in the Carmanah campground itself, and moved out along the beach until we found a bit of sand sheltered by a drift wood log. This made quite comfortable camping, except for part of my tent collapsing in the night. It’s hard to make a stable structure on sand.

I went partway back down the beach, and set up supper, enjoying my little stove bubbling away against the dramatic backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. That night was our second Tex-Mex, Graham opted to cube the cheddar rather than trying to grate it again. While preparing supper, we saw the Dynamic Trio walk past us, on the way to Chez Monique, but we were too tired to contemplate walking out to the beach restaurant and back. We ate, made porridge for the morning, and retired. Graham actually came around into my shelter for our rosary, and then we read more Dawn Treader to the sound of crashing waves.

July 17 (GD) Intentions:
1) Thanksgiving for the trip, and for Him guiding us to make the best decision
2) My own strength, and continued contentment
3) Holly
4) The dynamic trio, and specially Christy’s thigh
5) Our political leaders

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

We rose and packed down quickly, and reached Chez Monique, the beach-side bistro, quite early. There was already another couple there, coming from the opposite direction. Graham and I both had breakfast of bacon, two eggs, toast, hashbrowns and, to my eternal delight, real tea! They also had an assortment of luxury treats. I bought some brownies and Nanaimo Bars. I also bought a copy of the proprietor’s CD. I probably wouldn’t have done that, if we weren’t so close to coming off the trail at the Narrows. The food was good, and it was a comfortable place to linger for a bit. I tried Graham’s phone, but couldn’t get through the American bureaucracy on collect calls.

As we set off, we saw a stellar jay. We climbed up to the lighthouse, which involved a fair amount of stairs. I was grateful to rest and linger once we reached the top, and it was a beautiful and peaceful place to rest. In amongst the ugly equipment for the lighthouse, the lighthouse keepers had eeked out a small paradise: a truck garden stood between two small bungalows, and there was a labyrinth at both ends of the lawn. The circle one was very elaborate, with little beach treasures people had added, the other was star shaped and merely a mowing pattern in the grass. There was even a partial whale skeleton sitting in front of entrance to the lighthouse itself.

The scene reminded me of an old song, and I was surprised when I hummed a few lines, that Graham didn’t know it. I’d also forgotten it was used in a Clockwork Orange:

I Want to Marry a Lighthouse Keeper
Erika Eigen

I want to marry a lighthouse keeper, and keep him company
I want to marry a lighthouse keeper, and live by the side of the sea
I’ll polish his lamps by the light of day, so the ships at night can find their way
I want to marry a lighthouse keeper, won’t that be okay?

We’ll take walks along the moonlit bay, maybe find a treasure, too
I’d love living in a lighthouse, how ’bout you?

I dream of living in a lighthouse, baby, every single day
I dream of living in a lighthouse, the white one by the bay

So if you want to make my dreams come true, you’ll be a lighthouse keeper, do
We could live in a lighthouse, the white one by the bay
Won’t that be okay?

We did our morning stretches, and rested on the bench for a bit, then Graham suggested doing my walking-and-bowing morning prayers while walking the labyrinth. We walked along the circle labyrinth, speaking the prayers, and watching how the solitude and peace of the place, and the special magic bound in labyrinths wove us towards the centre. Once we reached the centre, I did the final prayer of the set facing East.

Graham said at that point that sometimes there’s a straight path out, or you can just step out, or walk the longer path back out again. I couldn’t imagine breaking even the invisible walls of force in a labyrinth. As you spiral in towards the labyrinths’ centre, the lines of magic swirl and bind tighter and tighter, until they converge, with you as the prize, at the centre. The only way to reverse that process, is to unwind back out again. Like everything else in life, it’s a balance, you can’t go to one extreme, and then cheat, and break the bonds. Do that, and you’ll put the balance off somewhere else, somewhere not as well chosen or favourable.

Graham and I walked the path back out of the labyrinth, and I took pictures of the stones. Graham had the flat skipping rock I’d found for him, and he asked me to choose a place to place it. I found a light coloured boulder, which the dark coloured skipping rock contrasted against perfectly. On top of his flat rock, I placed the perfect periwinkle shell he had given me. We each left a gift the other had first given each.

We got ready to leave, and donned our packs, before the lighthouse keeper came by and pointed out the star-shaped labyrinth mowed into the grass on the other side, that we had at first over looked. We opted to walk that with our packs on, which was rather silly, while talking to the lighthouse keepers’ daughter.

We were finally set to leave, again, when we ran into the Dynamic Trio, who had just come up, and they were studying another information board, which indicated there was a view of a sealion pull-out rock, and then Graham wanted to check that out, of course, with his monocular.

We finally did leave the lighthouse, and Graham tried for an outhouse advertised on the map, but it was an only pit outhouse, now boarded up. The site for the next Sawdust Treehouse had been chosen, but was not yet constructed. Graham said it wasn’t very urgent, and we went on.

The trail got very bad, and washed out for a section, and there was a rope over a small cliff of mud. Graham went down first, but while I was repelling down the rope after him, my ice axe got hooked on the ledge, and I swung my breast into it. I got very cross, and threw it down, Graham jumped out of the way. He’d shouted something to me a moment earlier, and thought I was trying to take the injury out on him. I wasn’t, but I was injured, again, and frustrated, again.

We got as far as Cribs Creek, the last safe watering until after the Narrows. We set up, ate porridge and went for a walk along the beach. We found a nice rock to sit on, and had our Random Rosary Rest Stop

July 18 (MF) Intentions
1) Holly
2) Pauline
3) Dinane
4) The sea, the creatures within it, and its protector
5) The land, the creatures on upon it, the elements, and their chemist

After which, we fell asleep curled up together in the sun, which was probably the time we exposed ourselves the most to the sunlight.

By the time we awoke, I was getting turned on again, so Graham suggested we “walk it off.” We were also looking for somewhere I could take a bit of a swim.

On our walk, we found a float half buried in sand. It seemed the local custom of hikers to find floats that had washed up, carve them with their initials and date, and leave them festooned around the campsites. This was a float no one had found yet, so we both set to digging it out. I said something like, “You did a good job at finding me a distraction,” and Graham responded that it wasn’t him who’d put the distraction in our path. I conceded the point and, later, as we were uncoiling the long length of rope which had been initially attached to the float, noticed that there was symbolism here also – G-d sent us a rope to untangle, while I worked on untangling the Gordian knot of my feelings for Graham.

After we were done with the rope, I still wanted my swim, and we’d found a shallow pool that was quite warm. I went in briefly, while Graham waited, then we headed back and started preparing dinner.

While making dinner, several other people came by to talk, and I promoted our ultralight system to them.

Graham meanwhile prepared things for a bonfire. I had been saying the entire trip, that all I wanted was one evening with a fire where I could eat cooked s’mores and now, on our last night on the trail, this was our last chance. Once that was done, he continued working on my design for the float which read, “Beige Brothers 2012. Wendy + Graham.” Beige Brothers was the team name I’d come up with for us. When we write our book on ultralight camping together, that’ll be our brand name.

After dinner, with was Pad Thai again, Graham tried to find where he’d set up things for the fire. In the meantime, other people had bonfires going, and I befriended a group of boys, and invited ourselves to their fire in exchange for some treats. Graham came back, to find me mostly settled, and consented to stay there. He’d eventually found his prepared firewood, and had brought it along. The boys didn’t really need the extra wood, they already had lots.

The group I’d randomly fallen in with turned out to be good for Graham, because all of them spoke French, and we had an impromptu bardic, which meant I got to hear Graham go through his French folk song repertoire at least once on our hike together, which was special and meaningful for me.

We helped the boys put out their fire, and then retired to bed. We read a chapter of Narnia, about the Island of Darkness, where all your dreams come true, and that triggered a few things, and I had a good discussion with Graham about signs and religion and so on. After that, we slept.

Thursday, July 19th

We rose early, at 06:00, and were on the trail at 08:00. We climbed out of the shallow ocean basin, onto the rock reef that surrounded it, with the help of the two brothers who had talked to us about our gear. We kept up with them for part of the way, until we came to a very sheer cliff that marked the edge of the surge channel we were supposed to be looking out for. There was a rope down the sheerest side of the cliff, but I thought I could do better on the ocean side. Besides which there was a greater chance that if I fell, I’ll fall into the kelp-strangled water, and not on actual rock.

Graham didn’t like either option, but ultimately, after watching me disappear over the cliff, followed my instructions. I found it thrilling; he found it frightening, but after rock hoping carefully across slippery boulders the size of small cars, we were on the level with the beach again, and the way was easier.

As advertised, walking along the rock shelf at low tide was an easy and fun route. I enjoyed my feet soaking in warm, clear water, instead of heavy mud. The others took the next ladder back up to the trail, but we stayed along the beach, subsequently we found a little forgotten cove that not many people wind up in, in which someone had set up a driftwood bench, with a float holding flowers, and some glass bottles. Graham changed out the flowers, and we sat and did our morning stretches and had breakfast.

We continued to walk along the beach, until we did have to go into the forest near the start of the reserve. We found a nice place to rest, on another driftwood bench overlooking a cove the reverse peoples obviously use as a summer camp. The section of the trail after that was an abrupt, steep root ladder up a small cliff. I was starting to tire, and I was in pain once we got to the top. There was a lovely natural bench made from a hummock of hummus trapped in some roots, and we sat to rest. Somehow, we wound up lying down, with me spooning Graham, and passed out for about twenty minutes. It cost us some time, but restored both of us.

Just before the Narrows, we passed through sections of the trail that were open to the sky, but bordered on both sides by tall, thickets of salmon berry bushes. I was chatting with Graham, when I turned a corner, and met a black bear cub coming on. It stopped when it saw me, and scampered back to mom, who was picking berries about twenty feet from me. I stopped, bent low, and started walking backwards hissing to Graham, “Mother and cub! Mother and cub!” This might not have been the best use of our agreed upon signals, but I figured ‘cub’ at least related more to ‘bear’ than “Come here!” did. We backed up until we found a place to sit and wait, and sang the hiking song loudly:

I like to go awandering,
Along the mountain path,
And as I go, I love to sing,
My knapsack on my back.

Valdaree, valdari
Valdaree, valdari, hahaha!
My knapsack on my back!

After a few rounds of this, Graham decided it was time to continue again, but first we prepared ourselves by both taking a leak.

We went past the spot the bears had been, but they were both long gone.

We continued singing, and suddenly we were at the turn-off for the Sawdust Tree House, and a bit beyond, the Narrows itself. The trail literally led down straight to the water, hemmed in on both sides by the salmon berry bushes, and then a board led across to the ferry dock and crab and salmon shack.

On the dock, you can get either a plate of two salmon fillets, and a baked potato with butter for $25, for a freshly steamed whole crab for $25. I already knew what I wanted, but Graham wanted to pull me aside to discuss how much cash we had left, which seemed prudent but I was tired and craby and wanted my seafood (see what I did there?).

I went back to the mouth of the trail, intending to have a private conference with Graham. Graham was following me, but then turned back to ask a whole slew of other questions of the ferryman. By the time he did join me, I’d counted all of my cash, and determined that from my stores alone I could afford both the cost of the ferry, and lunch for both of us. Graham had some cash, and paid for one of the items. We got into a small debate, where Graham was trying to figure out if he would have the salmon or the crab, or if we should get one of each and share. I was getting more petulant by the minute and explained, patiently, that I don’t eat cooked salmon, and wanted a whole crab to myself.

We went back to the ferryman, and ordered our meal. We played Gin while waiting for our food. I was partially surprised that the crab didn’t come with butter, but knew that when it is served like that, it’s considered the height of rudeness to ask for it. This was freshly trapped crab that had been alive moments before it was broken apart and dropped in the pot, and it was sweet and flavourful enough without any seasoning or accompaniment.

We did give each other a taste of our respective plates. After I’d extracted every morsel I could, I tossed the fragments into the water for the spring salmon fry, who will be next year’s fillets, to glean what they could.

I knelt at the edge of the dock, and washed my hands and face in the water. Something dropped, and I saw a little brown object sink down to the bottom through the clear blue water. The salmon fry went down to look at it, but finding it inedible, quickly lost interest. I hadn’t been holding anything in my hands, and didn’t seem to be missing anything, so I assumed it had detached from the underside of the dock.

I went back to where Graham was sitting, and went to take out my camera for something. When I pulled the camera out of my pocket, I noticed something wrong. Normally that pocket carried my camera, the lip balm I had been using largely to grease my knife with, and the folding knife itself. Now the camera had only the company of the lip balm.

After rummaging around for a bit, and trying to figure out when I’d last seen my knife, I suddenly connected it missing to the little brown object in the water. If it had fallen straight down, and stuck in the kelp so that all I could see from above was the butt of the handle, it would look to me like nothing more than a brown dot.

I went back to the edge of the dock, and sure enough, there it was.

I went back to Graham, and somehow managed to communicate what had happened while stripping down. I took off my top, but kept my shorts on. I jumped, feet first into the water, as I couldn’t tell the depth, and swam to the bottom, groping in the kelp until my hand closed around my knife. I came back up, and announced that I’d gotten the knife, then asked how to get out. They guided me around the boats to a ladder on the dock.

I climbed out and Karl, the ferryman, showed me the solar camping shower they sometimes use, and I sluiced off the salt water with some warmish fresh water.

I gave the knife to Graham to rinse and grease while I dressed, and sat in the sun a bit until I was warm. We both dozed for a bit until it was time to go.

We were given these sort of giant, bright parkas that doubled as life jackets to wear on the ride up the narrows, and I sat in front of Graham, and pressed myself back against him while he held me, and our fingers intertwined.

The boat ride up, with one other couple coming up from the easier side of the trail, was thrilling. All around us the forested mountains rose sharply, seemly from the very edge of the water.

We got to Nininht Narrows wharf, and Karl said he’d meet us back there the next day to give us a lift up to where the West Coast Express shuttle would meet us, and show us the river access where we could wait. He told us to use the beach access to get to the commercial campground adjacent to the docks, and bid us farewell for the night.

The four of us walked up to ‘town’, most of which was centred around a gas station cum café. The staff at the café were new, but managed to produce chicken strips, fries and gravy, which is one of my favourite meals, anyway. Graham used the facilities, while I tried to get the wifi going on my phone; I eventually succeeded in contacting Robin.

Graham came back from the bathroom, to inform me of a wondrous new invention, that was just like salal leaves, but more papery. Our food came and we ate. Afterwards, I used the facilities, and told Graham that people had been using salal for thousands of years; I didn’t think the new invention would really catch on.

I’d gotten a hold of Robin, but still hadn’t heard from Dave, and I really needed to establish he was going to pick us up the next day. I resorted to using the payphone, and finally got to talk to him for a bit. It was very good to hear his voice. He used the last few seconds of my call to tell me all the ways he loved me, and how proud he was of me, and so on. Graham interrupted me to try and tell me something, which did prove important later, so I missed some of what he said.

Once my call was done, we headed back through town, down to the commercial campground. We decided to try another walking rosary.

July 19 (GD) Intentions:
1) Thanksgiving for safe passage into Nininaht
2) Nininaht and Diditah communities, and whose who help support the trail
3) Holly
4) Black bear and cub, and the other creatures
5) Anyone who does or did need help, that we didn’t hear about on the news while we were out of touch.

We walked along the beach into the campsite, and then tried to find the office. Several RVers told us the office was actually back up near the gas station café, where we’d just come from, and they’d already done their sweep for the night. We were distressed by this, and asked how we were supposed to pay, and were told it was a pretty casual system. If they miss you; it’s free.

The campground was very crowded, and was mostly designed as gravel RV pads. We made friends with some RVers next to a vacant pad, and they gave us some of their water. We tried setting up on the gravel, but couldn’t really make our stakes go in. Graham was getting into that mindset where he didn’t want to see any more options, he wanted what he had to work or, if he could, force it to work.

Eventually I convinced him to walk around with me, and we found a triangle-shaped almost-clearing as a nexus point between several campsites. It wasn’t entirely flat, but the ground was hummus and it would work. We found a tree near-by that was perfect for our food hang. We set up, and then invited the RVers to come look at what we looked like when fully set up.

We both used the outhouse, and then walked out onto the beach to do a bit of dishwashing, and watch the sunset, then we turned in. We read some Narnia, and had an early night.

Friday, July 20, 2012

We woke, packed down, and walked back to the dock. Karl showed up, on schedule, and we piled into his black pick-up. He drove us out of town, pointing things out to us on the way. I let Graham sit in front, knowing he’d want to interview Karl, while I zoned out watching the world scroll past the windows.

He showed us where the West Coast Trail Express would stop, and then the access down onto the river. We thanked him, got our stuff, and headed down the access road. It branched into two forks: one was blocked by a very large, bleached log, the other didn’t have any beach.

We eventually figured out that the log was a blessing, because it provided a perfect overhang, so we spread out the mats and watched the river. It was quite early in the morning, and the shuttle wasn’t due until the afternoon. We ate GORP and biltong for breakfast, played Gin, and read Narnia. I told Graham that we’d probably be up quite late at the festival, and should try and nap a bit if we could. We snuggled down together and napped. We woke and talked some more, I was getting heightened again, partially in anticipation of reuniting with Dave that evening, and was flirting a bit with Graham. Graham himself, I think, was surprised to find himself a bit more confused than he is normally able to keep himself. I told Graham that I was getting wound up, and Graham said that he didn’t think it was fair of him to put me in a position like that, so I told him it wasn’t him, really, that was winding me up, I was doing it to myself. He sort of reflexively responded, “Well, I like to know I have something to do with it.” I caught that, and said, “Oh, ho! You just said you didn’t want to wind me up, now you’re saying you like knowing you’re a factor! You can’t have it both ways.” “OK, now I’m ‘confused’” he said, and shifted irritably.

Throughout the day we each, of course, occasionally got up to pee, and established our separate sides for doing this. Graham got up at one point while we were napping, and didn’t know he was only partially screened by the reeds. I was able to see a bit of his stream, though not the instrument that made it, and that bit of naughtiness was also contributing to my feelings.

At last it was time to head back to the shuttle stop, and we decided to do a walking rosary. We got to the main road before we were finished, and saw the other couple waiting there, also. We thought we had a lot of time, so decided to stop there and finish the rosary, out of respect for the other couple, when the West Cost Express Shuttle drove right past us, and stopped. We scrambled after it, one of us holding our place on the beads.

Once we came up, the driver spent a few moments in confusion. He wasn’t really expecting any passengers at this stop, let alone four. Graham and I were out of cash, but agreed to phone in our VISA number to their dispatch once we got to the gas station where Dave would, hopefully, be picking us up.

We got on the shuttle, and both couples went to the very back behind two young groups of campers. Graham and I finished our rosary, as the bus started moving.

July 20 (MF) Intentions:
1) Holly
2) Robin and Marissa
3) The water, our most precious resource
4) People who have come off the trail with us, and anyone injured on the trail.
5) Folk Fest

– M is for Machisma

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