According to Kurt Vonnegut, “Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.”
This past Saturday a few friends and I journeyed from one end of the West Coast Trail to the other. At points I was jigging through a forest playground but as we neared the end my body careened down the trail like an out of control marionette. My puppeteer apparently sampling the local brew. As someone who usually leads I was humbled not only by the trail but by the support of three friends who got me through to the other end. Thank you Read, Kevin and Clay, we went far.
The trail was almost impossibly beautiful and the infrastructure that allows people to travel this coast’s tortured geography is inspiring. Kudo’s to Parks Canada for their vision and for maintaining this incredible wilderness experience.
Gratitude is also due to the the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht Nations for their stewardship of these lands. Their sense of place, commitment to their people and culture and what their future holds for was a frequent point of sobering and powerful meditation.
As I come to understand what the body is really capable of undertaking, this was an important learning experience. The day’s heat was unexpected and intense. A winter of training in Vancouver Island’s dark forests was unfortunately poor preparation for the realities of the day. The left side of my body now carries a darker hue, having experimented with being a human sundial once our tracks turned due North, and the lingering effects of electrolyte imbalances are still lurking. It is hard not to immediately look to the future in this fast paced world but the recovery process is providing some much needed space for reflection.
The last hours of the trail were a delirious haze. Dehydration, pain and debilitating self-analysis interrupted only by my adrenal glands spasming when confronted with ladder descents in total darkness. To borrow a phrase from acclaimed surf journalist Longtom, “Danger, real or imagined, sharpens the mind wonderfully.” Which might be why the time on the ladders sticks with me. When my hands touched the ladder rungs I was snapped to the present. The only place place we need to be.
I do remember the last minutes on the trail were exceedingly beautiful. The clear sky dripping stars, their light enough to silhouette the crowns of the ancient forest, the light of my headlamp scattering across dew covered ferns at the edge of the path and the muffled roar of the ocean in the distance will provide a point of reference.
We can deal with adversity, with challenges we once thought to be insurmountable, when we break them down and tackle them step by step. Time in the wilderness is never wasted and I look forward to this season’s journeys and shared experiences.