Canada’s most western province, British Columbia, is loaded with backpacking trails that crisscross both the mainland and the wilderness of Vancouver Island and I am going to tell you about my experience on the grand daddy of them all. The West Coast Trail is 47 miles through a rain forest and is located on the Island’s Pacific coastline. This part of the ocean is known as the graveyard of the Pacific and at low tide, there is still evidence in view of many shipwrecks that caused survivors to plunge through the wilderness of fir trees, mud and rock to eventually carve out the West Coast Trail. In the early part of the twentieth century a telegraph line was strung down to Victoria at the southern tip of the island to relay news of maritime disasters. Pieces of the telegraph line and logging equipment are still visible today to the backpacking adventurer who takes on this challenge.
And what a challenge it is! Originally called a life-saving trail, I would rather call it a life-changing trail. We were two middle-aged men who had reached an age and stage in life when we either tried something well beyond our capabilities to see what we were made of, or we settled into our recliners and let the TV take control of what was left. Most of us in mid life are confronted at some point with the dilemma of deciding whether or not to capitulate and descend into old age or retain our dignity and enthusiasm for confronting life on its own terms and putting ourselves to the test.
After making the decision to take on the wilderness backpacking trail that always makes the top 10 list of “must do” hikes in North America, I knew that we had a long way to go to get into physical shape to tackle it. I was at least 40 pounds overweight and in addition to struggling through forests and mud, I was told that I needed to carry a backpack weighing about 50 pounds on my back for the full seven days. At that time, I had no idea about all the ladders we would encounter, the roots the size of pythons that spilled over the trail to trap my size 12’s and the beaches that swallowed up leg muscles as our feet sank deeper with every step. Fortunately, I fashioned a plan of exercise and diet that allowed me to get into the bare minimum of conditioning to allow me to experience the adventure of a lifetime.
We started out on a misty Saturday morning full of spunk and naiveté, fresh faced and clean – a condition that lasted about 30 minutes and then reality dawned, as in holy crow, what did we get ourselves into? For the next six nights and seven days we encountered absolutely incredible people, breathtaking sights and physical and mental challenges unlike anything we could have imagined. I would not trade 5 minutes of that week for a lifetime in a recliner. I learned more about myself and what I was capable of on our wilderness backpacking trail in remote BC than a year’s worth of self help courses could ever teach. Clearly, it was one of the defining experiences of my life and I look forward to sharing more of it with you in my next article. Until then.