Hikers in their final stretch of the 75-kilometre West Coast Trail have two questions for fresh faces approaching in the opposite direction: “How much further to the trail head?” and “How are you so clean?”
My new hiking boots were still mud free when a tired traveller suggested turning back: “Do something else with your vacation,” she urged. But me and four urbanite friends were sure we’d enjoy a week with nothing to do but walk with a 30 pound backpack.
I think it’s fair to say that most people my age would consider this poor use of precious holiday time. Nature, for many twenty-somethings, was something pushed on us by our parents that we’d now rather imagine than explore.
Tents are for music festivals or weekends on the lake with a well stocked cooler, not to be carried on our back with quick dry clothing and dehydrated dinners.
There are, of course, pockets of adventurous young people. Among them, the energetic employees at Robinsons and other outdoors stores. They undoubtedly know my type, the Hipster Gone Wild looking for an athletic tee in v-neck and the hiking boots that need the least breaking in.
As Parks Canada and BC Parks both celebrated their centennial this summer, much has been said about making our protected wilderness areas more accessible, particularly to the one in 10 Canadians who now live in urban centres.
A growing number of Canadians have never set foot in a national park.
While I made the final adjustments to the height of my hiking poles and tugged the waist strap on my pack extra tight, I couldn’t help but wonder if the West Coast Trail will one day fall into obscurity.
Will future generations willingly spend a week in the wild or be satisfied having nature narrated to them on Planet Earth?
From a conservation perspective, fewer people in the parks means less environmental disturbance. But since moving to the Island seven years ago, I’ve seen the West Coast Trail as a right of passage.
I seems like every British Columbian over the age of 40 I talk to has hiked it at least once. My aunt once ran it in a weekend, carrying nothing but Cup-a-Soup and a garbage bag to sleep under.
Though inexperienced hikers are advised not to do the trail, it seems to me a good introduction to multi-day treks.
Purists will tell you it’s not a trail, but a hiker’s highway, in part because of the number of people that do it — up to 25 permits are handed out per day from each of the two trail heads — and because of all the hiking aids, including ladders and boardwalks.
The trail has deluxe composting toilets, bear bins, cable cars, ferries and two restaurants. There’s cell phone service and rescuers in zodiacs to evacuate the injured.
Still, seven days of hiking for six to ten hours per day can be described as nothing short of an endurance test.
My group started on the easy end, closer to Bamfeild. We had three long-easy days hiking along beaches (including bare foot for a stretch), before hitting the infamous 100-rung ladder section and other challenging terrain closer to Port Renfrew.
Counting down the final five kilometres, we couldn’t wait to see civilization again. I’d managed to pick up a nasty stomach virus on Day 3 and one of my companions was hobbling from blisters-turned-gaping-open wounds.
Even the healthy among us were exhausted and we’d become the ones asking passing hikers how far to the trail head.
Still, we finished the trail triumphant and over a well-deserved dinner at Canoe Club agreed, we’d definitely do it again.
—Sam Van Schie is a reporter for the Goldstream News Gazette.