At the unruly hour of 4:40 am I awoke to no alarm, but to shear readiness for our great adventure. Matt and I spent the last week on the west coast, best coast of Vancouver Island, hiking the forty-seven kilometer Juan de Fuca trail, located just outside of Port Renfrew. When we set out to write this blog, we wanted to keep notes of all of our beautiful adventures, and as the year has passed, I have become enthralled with sharing not only our travels, but our real life adventures. These come in the form of our career journeys, our struggles and of our day to day musings. I’ll admit that I have enjoyed digging deeper and being honest with where my heart is in my posts, sharing what God is revealing in my life throughout my day to day. This post goes back to our roots of why we started this blog , to share our adventure and to inspire you to try a trip like this one. Not only will you read up on a few tricks and tips we want to share about this hike but you will see how we experienced God’s protection and care for us over these five days. We saw prayers answered, anxiety settled and were able to take in God’s most glorious creation without distraction. This is the Juan de Fuca, in all it’s glory, through these eyes of mine.
Preparation for the Trail
I am sheepish as to how short this section may be, because our preparation level was a lot lower than I care to admit. Prior to this trip, I had never been on an overnight, carry your own pack type hike. I have hiked, but not like this. We did not train, nor did we start small. We jumped into this hike with both feet, no looking back. This means that if I can do it, you can too.
As for the equipment, we were fortunate enough to not have to buy all brand new camping gear, as Matt’s family has had experience with this type of endeavor, we borrowed the majority of our camping equipment from them. We made a trip to MEC to purchase some camping soap (good for body and dishes), fuel and to buy our freeze-dried dinners. Other than our small grocery shop for food the night before, we were set. Essentials for this trip include: Tent, sleeping bag, Thermarest, mini stove, pot, water pump, hiking boots and Starbucks Via’s.
Home to Payzant Campsite
As I mentioned, it was as if God’s hand was on this trip before we had even arrived. I thought I had set an alarm for 4:40 on Monday morning, but as it turned out, I had only created the alarm. Believe it or not, I awoke at exactly 4:40 am. I soaked in every moment of my last warm shower before heading out the door to catch the 7 am ferry ride from Tsawwassen to Victoria. We ate the most expensive Triple O’s breakfast the BC Ferries could offer, and ate as if it were the last supper. I pictured myself on a near starvation diet as soon as we hit the trail, but as it turns out, packing thirty Babybel cheeses alongside many other snacks and meals were more than we needed to “survive”.
We enjoyed the scenic route from Victoria, through the quaintest city of Shirley to park our car at China Beach, the final destination on our trail. Before our trip, Matt had researched how we could get from China Beach (our finish line) to our starting kilometer at Botanical Beach. There was a shuttle that only ran once a day at 8:05 am, so that was ruled out as an option, and there weren’t any taxis that drove out to the middle of nowhere. According to a few sketchy blog posts, our best option was to hitchhike. I for some reason wasn’t as worried about this part, but Matt had some concerns as to who may pick us up. We tucked away our thumbs for creeper vans and motorcyclists but were prepared to proudly wave them at the sight of a Tesla. It was only twenty minutes later that a painted van, with the words “West Coast Trail Express” stretched across it’s doors came to our rescue. The shuttle that only ran once a day was making a private charter at Botanical Beach and was willing to drop us off at our exact starting point. We were dumbfounded by our incredible blessing and thankful for Mike the bus driver who cared to pick up a couple of hitchhikers.
We begun our first seven kilometer hike through the marine-side forest at about 12:45 on Monday. It was an easy enough trek, which made the adjustment to the heavy packs bearable. We stopped to see a few of the tidal pool beaches, watch the waves crash on the rocks and eat our leftover pizza from the night before. We followed the orange tags right to our campsite where we were welcomed by a mom and her two daughters eagerly waiting to ask us for some hot chocolate powder. From the first day on, most of our campsite neighbours were headed in the opposite direction than us. They were coming from China beach and finishing where we began. We grew to like this dynamic, we constantly had warnings and encouragement for what was to come our way from the people passing us by. I was surprised by how sore my feet were when we arrived at camp, all I wanted to do was pass out. Matt set up the tent as I went down to the stream to pump filtered water for dinner. We drank hot chocolate in a secret spot by the waves and turned in early to prepare for a long day of hiking to come. Our first sleep was less than comfortable, our makeshift pillows out of our fleece sweaters were no good for our necks and it was a cold night to boot. We allowed ourselves to sleep in and did not begin our day of hiking until 10- regrets.
Payzant to East Sombrio Beach
The hardest day of them all. Day two was a grind, and we were told it was only going to get harder as we moved from flat ground to switchback hills. I learned after kilometer two on our second day that stopping for breaks only did more harm than good. Every time we stopped for a bite or to catch our breaths, my feet would seize up and my body grew more tired. Knowing this early on was a blessing as it made days 3-5 much easier on my body, but having eleven more kilometers to hike after my body already felt crushed was not a good sign. We heard from many on coming hikers to watch for wasps. We were mentally prepared for bears and cougars (as mentally prepared as you can be to run into such beasts) but we had no idea that wasps were such a trending topic for this trail. Of course it was on the longest day in which I felt a sting in my leg and had been hit from the pesky creatures. We were told to wipe the sting before applying After Bite since wasps leave a scent in their stings to alert other wasps that you are an oncoming threat. This made sense to us later because so many groups stated that only one of them had been stung, and multiple times. The sting made me a little more miserable. I had learned from my mama that if you apply extreme heat to a bite or wasp it destroys the sting and itch. That evening I let the bottom of my coffee mug singe the sting on my calve and within minutes the pain completely disappeared. I was proud to share that knowledge to every wasp victim to come.
We arrived at kilometer 11 for that day and I crashed. I sat on the beach for close to half an hour with my head on my thighs, ready for a wave or a bear to just take me where I was. My legs were stiff, pack felt extra heavy and my moral was low. Two more kilometers might as well have been a marathon, it seemed impossible to keep going. I was pushed hard for the next hour, walking along the rocks as my ankles twisted and turned. To make me wince a little more, this beach is well known for day hikers and beach bums. As I passed a couple tanning on the side of the west beach, the man had the nerve to tell me I looked like I had a long day. I probably shot him a nasty look of terror. It had been a long day and I did not need someone who walked five minutes from their air conditioned car to tell me that. I know Matt was tired of my grumbles but we managed to pull through to the campsite on the east side of the beach seven hours after we departed. It was to our dismay that our water filter had clogged and was pumping a liter of water for every half an hour of pumping. Water become sacred, and we had no back up. Despite the misfortunes of the day, this was where we camped right on the beach. It was a beautiful location, and just a couple yards from a waterfall canyon. We ate our chicken pasta from the bag and cuddled on a log watching the waves inhale and exhale. We prayed together before going to bed that our days to come would exceed our expectations. Thank you God for hearing my tired heart.
East Sombrio to Chin Beach
The trail was set to become harder and harder. We were told that days three and four were going to be tough, and after what was supposed to be a “moderate” day I was sure that I was going to pass out from exhaustion on one of these two days. We set our alarm for six so that we could get an earlier start on the day. We packed up camp, kissed the sweet beach goodbye and began our trek through the deep mud to Chin Beach. This trail was particularly overgrown and muddy. The first two hours took awhile seeing we had to maneuver our way on sticks and logs to avoid three feet deep mud pits. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the trail evened out at the top of the mountain and we could follow an even logging road for a kilometer and a half. This gave our burning legs a rest and a chance to recuperate. At this point we were still hiking with a broken water filter, so we drank a lot less liquids than we should have. We were thankful to run into a few people on several occasions who warned us of wasp nests up ahead. We ran through them victorious, not a sting in sight. Though Chin was a shorter hike of eight kilometers, it was much more up and down. I was pumped with how positive I was during this stretch and we made it to our camping spot in three and a half hours. Chin beach was home to a sprinkling waterfall, raining down off a beach side cliff. We could “shower” for the first time in a few days of amble sweating. It was the cool refreshment we needed on that third day. We were some of the first hikers to pitch our tent at Chin, and thankfully we were. Chin beach turned into a small city in the span of a few hours. Matt acted as the camp host, greeting people with a warm smile and sharing the whereabouts of the water source, bear caches and outhouses. He ensured everyone was well taken care of; it was rather amusing. As day turned into night, Chin beach was still welcoming more and more hikers. The spots began filling up and people were forced to pitch their tents on the rocks. It was a crowded site, and it unfortunately took away from the romantic sunset that evening. Thankfully for us, among the flooded beach was a man who knew how to unclog our water filter. He showed Matt how to take it apart and remove any blockages. This was a life saver for us as we needed a lot of water to get through the next leg of the trip.
Chin Beach to Bear Beach
“Oh just you wait for Bear”, “the Bear hike is relentless, you just go up and down for hours”, “I think you will hike over twelve hills and don’t get me started on the wasps”. The dreaded day from Chin to Bear. This hike was thirteen kilometers of mountainous forest. We left at eight am, prayed for protection and ease and were given just that. We were not once stung and this so happened to my favourite day. It was by no means easy, but I had so much joy in heart, that no wasp or mountain could get me down. I did not want to stop hiking, I wanted to power through and get to camp as fast as possible. Matt had an all star attitude, encouraged my eagerness and kept it together when we wanted to stop. Keep in mind his pack was twenty pounds heavier than mine. We walked six hours without stopping for lunch. It was a quieter day, with many less hikers on the trail. It was an eerie feeling being all alone in the woods, but my bear scaring clapping made the hike louder than it needed to be. When we arrived at Bear Beach, we were the only campers. There was no one to be seen, but a humpback whale that made an appearance an hour after we settled in. We were a tad concerned for a group we had been leap frogging with the entire trail, they had yet to show up to camp hours after we had arrived. When they finally showed, they told us they had taken an accidental hour detour that led them to the highway. I was thankful we hadn’t been following them because that may have been a merit for a few choice words. We ate our just-add-water Pad Thai on the beach and scanned through all our pictures, laughing at our sweaty, disgruntled candid shots. It was the perfect end to a great day and our adventure was coming to a close sooner than we would have liked.
Bear Beach to China Beach
The last ten kilometers of our trip. We were in a bit of rush to make it back in time for youth group and since it was a Friday we knew the ferry would be a mad house. There was more beach walking than expected but our packs were lighter and we were set to get it done quickly, averaging approximately three kilometers an hour. We walked like warriors for our last two kilometers from Mystic Day Beach to China Beach. We passed beach goers through the forest and they kindly backed off to let us pass. It was though for that last hour we were accomplished celebrities, where people were humbling themselves as we stomped passed them triumphantly. Their beach bags were no match compared to our hefty packs. In my head, I was walking with scratches and dirty sweat marks on my face, like I was emerging from the forest into civilization for the first time in months. It was the end of our marathon, our grand victory across the red ribbon awaited us. We stood proud and tall at kilometer zero, we did it. I managed to suck up as much mental grit as I could to hike as long as we did. It was the highlight of my summer. I overcame my fears, I pushed myself harder than I thought possible and I witnessed God’s tender hand, caring for our every need throughout this trip. He cared about my fear of the wasps, he cared about my tired mind and our clogged water pump because he cares about me. I am learning more and more about the power of prayer, and am taking more to the alter as I ask God to move the mountains. I spent fives days walking in prayer because praying allowed me to focus more on God than my mental state. It was a perfect trip to rest upon God, say goodbye to the distractions of my cellphone and spend time with my husband before September ferociously hits. So often I hear people say they hear God in nature, I did not go into this trip expecting to connect with the Lord like I did, but I am amazed at what limiting the busyness of the everyday can do for your relationship with him. I have been back for a few days and I already look forward to another trip like this because of the goodness it did for my soul. For now, I am prepared to slow myself down and focus on God from where I am, praying consistently and seeking him in all aspects of my life, not just in the wild.