In a recent article it was pointed out how my generation, born between ’77 and ’83, has been subcategorized. Apparently we were the last generation not breastfed on technology. We were self reliant. We used maps and knew how to go places – from memory! We didn’t grow-up connected to the internet. We learned to type on a typewriter (I still say ‘return’ instead of ‘enter’). We remember phones that had the receiver connected to an actual phone and only used long distance with permission from parents. We actually know what DOS is. We hand wrote term papers using encyclopedias and microfilm for source material. More importantly, Seinfeld references such as “Top of the muffin to you,” or “No soup for you,” aren’t complete mysteries to us. We’re not exactly Generation X or Millennials. Instead, according to this article, we’ve been dubbed Xennials.
Normally I’m proud of our generation, but my twin brother, Josh, let us all down.
Let me backtrack.
July 22, 2017
It was 10 AM and I impatiently paced between camp and beach. It was 9 PM the night before when my twin, Josh set off with our only vehicles. Attached was his dirt bike, which he planned to use as a shuttle vehicle for the West Coast Trail (WCT). This infamous mud-dominated, ladder laced, bridge traversed, beach stamped, ancient forest maned trail is a 75 km jewel full of bears, eagles and various sea creatures. The trail is also the primary attraction of Pacific Rim National Park located in west central Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada.
The proposed shuttle was ~5 hours roundtrip. Yet by 10 AM the next morning it had been 13 hours! No buzz of a dirt bike had interrupted our morning, no phone messages or indication of where Josh was at all.
Imagined shenanigans for the holdup ranged from unruly locals to vicious animal attacks. I’d like to say I’m kidding, but after a night of yokels partying and dogs running into camp like we’re trespassing on Farmer Bob’s front lawn, it was a valid concern. Further proof came that morning when one of a line of beat-up diesel trucks in the camp next to us was turned on at ~5 AM and roared for the next three hours!
After most campers had made their exodus, my anger was further fueled by their mound of discarded beer cans.
Before leaving one of the Cro Magnon’s who’d ran their diesel and had the yapping dog, walked by on his way to the shitter. He turned my way and offered a kindly hello. All I managed in return was bared teeth that attempted an evolutionary leap into a smile and clenched fists that wanted to stamp ‘good night’ into his cranium. From my shanghaied sleep to presently being soaked from persistent rain, I wasn’t approaching anything close to civil or human for awhile.
With two of my brothers, Jessy and Jeremy, and Jessy’s son, Calin, we sat on the beach with our phones raised to the sky like we were trying to get a signal from God instead of from my still missing brother, Josh. We were like Millennials who’d lost their lifeline to their Universe of online communities, news and more. They can’t conceive of poor cell reception and, apparently, neither could we. Unfortunately for both, reality doesn’t curtail to whimsical wants. You can’t ‘unlike’ the yokels. You can’t ‘fast forward’ through the doldrums of a wasted morning. Most of all, there’s no ‘off’ button for reality.
Like the prodigal son returned home, hope surged when the distinct grumble of a dirt bike broke the mid-morning calm. Was it Josh? As I arrived, I saw it was. He was talking to his wife, Sally, the 6th and final member of our family adventure. Josh was just beginning his story, which after overhearing, I couldn’t help but repeat to him like an accusation. “You got lost because you depended on Google directions,” I repeated?
“Yeah, but….,” Josh began.
Someone told me that everything that’s said before the word ‘but’ is total bullshit. The fact was, Josh had fallen into a trap I’d not expect Xennials to fall into. Now I’m afraid Baby Boomers are shaking their heads in sadness because humanities last hope will one day be defined on a Wiki Page, as extinct.
Fortunately we’re family. It’s the reason we were all together on Vancouver Island. But the history goes back further. Ever since I was a kid family vacations have been a tradition. It’s been carried down from the days when my parents drove a black ford van whose four walls were carpeted in 80s musty brown-yellow shag! A return to when the demarcation line between parents and kids was a wall and door that separated the drivers cabin from the rear of the vehicle. A time when I remembered being shoulder to shoulder with my brothers because we had seen a burst of water shoot into the air and had no idea what it was, not until we were liberated from the van to see the most famous geyser in Yellowstone National park, Old Faithful.
These family vacations were the several weeks each summer we lived for. In between Dr. Pepper fueled battles so terrific the bangs and screams would interrupt the parents who’d momentarily turn their music down in the front of the van only to make sure no blood curling screams continued, we’d watch the American West roar by to the tune of the Grateful Dead or similar fare. We’d roar toward the next destination, some wilderness adventure or another, like we’d always done – and continued to do.
That love for family vacations has never faded, not one iota. Adulthood hasn’t weened us from the adventure we’d nursed our entire lives.
Back to the campground, the Cro Magnon’s had roared away in their diesel trucks. Left happily alone, we began shuttling gear and people on my brother’s dirt bike, but soon after a older woman, whose spouse was hiking the trail, offered us a ride. After jumping out at the Port Renfrew Ranger Station, she appealed, “Please keep an eye on my husband.” During the ride we’d learned that her partner was meant to be a group of 8, but had canceled 6 permits, the VERY same six permits we’d landed last second! Two thumbs up to them for giving us a ride and making our trip possible. What a small world.
The next 5 hours were spent sitting around because, as it turns out, wilderness orientations are required to hike the WCT and there are only two times a day that they are run. Because of Josh’s midnight meander, we’d missed the 1st one.
So what did we learn after (im)patiently waiting (and dishing out shit to Josh for being the cause of said ‘waiting’)? We learned that, surprise, there are bears. That there’s 100+ people rescued from the WCT each year. That there’s the need to know the 10 essentials, tide schedule and weather. Beyond that there’s the mud, roots and your personal limits to keep in mind. It’s not an easy hike, we’d been told. And, really, they’re right; it isn’t. More importantly, three brothers ganging up on any brother besides myself, is priceless.
While I respect Canada for educating hikers, it was too much familiar ground for me and I barely maintained consciousness. I did come to toward the end when the rangers closing comments assured everyone that the WCT, “…is a remote wilderness experience,” which stirred a chuckle after looking around me. While there are permits to limit hikers, that by no means equates to a lack of people. Over a hundred people can enter the trail from Port Renfrew and Pachena, daily. During peak season, July through August, the trail reaches that limit every day. While the proximity of so many people detract from the adventure for me, for others, the social aspect of this hike may add to their experience.
Fortunately for me, I didn’t see many people while hiking between camps. But even if I did, trails like the WCT are primers for people to get outside and adventure. There are other coast trails that offer solitude, including those nearby. What I came for was an introduction to Vancouver Island, a place I’d never visited, and an established path for the younger initiates of our crew to enjoy. With the parks maps and tide charts packaged for us, all we had to do was show up with our gear and go.
Following the orientation, we boarded the last ferry at 3:30 PM. The short ride deposited us on the far side of Gordon River. No one else boarded the ferry outside our group, so we were left to our own devices and glad for it. It reminded me of being a kid in that old black van, of how we felt to be released into the wilds.
Within 30-ft of leaving the ferry, we came to the first ladder. There’s no other trail where I have seen them in such abundance. Calin, the youngest of our crew, 15, counted all of them that we climbed, reaching more than 100 ladders. The best example descends into either side of Logan Creek some 20-30 stories. Collectively, 15 ladders exist there and all of this, while amazing enough, becomes even more impressive when you see, strung between, the 328 foot suspension bridge!
A funny story from day 7 involves a group of 5 we met on a set of 3 ladders. After each person went one at a time up 3 ladders and arrived at the top of each ladder, they’d belt out, “Clear!” This would be repeated for each person on each and every ladder to a patience crucifying tune of 15 times! Now, of course, being the cynical, funny twats that we are, in the weeks that followed, we’ve added to our growing catalog of catch phrases. This one is particularly versatile. Midway on the stairs at home, one of us will loudly shout, “Clear!” In the grocery store when we leave an isle, we’ll turn around and croak, “Clearrrrrr.” Even at an outhouse, we’ll proclaim, “Clear!” Although it’d be wise to be suspect of that declaration.
As mentioned, the ranger station offers a fantastic map. It’s invaluable. No need for a book or other references unless you are looking to learn detailed history of either trail or region. For this, we bought Blisters and Bliss. It’s regularly updated and a great source of local knowledge, trail facts, etc.
After studying the map I broke the WCT into two sections, separated by Nitinaht Narrows. South to Port Renfrew is the most difficult section (43 KM). North to Pachena is the much easier section (32 KM). You can also exit or enter the trail by boat to or from here. The older woman whose husband we were told “…to watch,” left from here. This is common, as the WCT can be exhausting and quickly become injury prone due to slippery roots, mud pits, logs, and rocks.
Returning to the trail, we were just north of Port Renfrew at Thrasher Cove on our first night. Five more would follow at Campers Bay, Walbran, Cribs Creek, Tsusiat Falls and Michigan Creek.
My favorite camp was Tsusiat Falls (25 KM). Picture a vertical waterfall above an oceanside freshwater cove with beach to your front and back. Mind you, there’s a lot of people and for whatever reason, the campers tend to conglomerate. Don’t think for a moment that you have a place to your own, even if it’s near dusk. Slowly people funnel into camp and will pitch a tent right on your haunches. I literally had a group of 4 camp no less than 6 inches from my tent! It became such a problem throughout the adventure that we’d lay our packs down for a few hours, then once most folks had arrived, we’d move to a more secluded spot.
My brother and I joked about campers proximity to one another, “Did you fart?”
We locked eyes and jointly mouthed, “It was themmmm!”
Walbran (53 KM) was my least favorite camp, but to be fair, it had nothing to do with the camp. In fact, the spot was amazing, almost as much as Tsusiat Falls. What turned the tide was an infestation of mice. Did you know mice don’t control their bowels? When nature calls, no matter where it is, they go. And if nature calls while they are on your face, so be it. They will crap on your face!
By the time I rose due to a swish of fur across my cheek and mouth, it was too late. Shit had been shat. Threats had been made. Words had been said.
Our exodus from the tent was swift and included all of our gear. When the vermin was proved gone, we returned everything to its place and went back to sleep.
My distain for mice has a long, troubled history. I once speared a mouse with a tent stake, fried with a stove and was even eaten while bivying. Don’t ask what I did to the mouse that made a nest of my twin brother and my ‘bank account’ we kept in the glove box, the sack of cash shredded like straw.
As a teenager, with my step sister, Antoinette, we chased a mouse throughout the house, stomping repeatedly, over and over again. Without really expecting it, I hit pay dirt – barefoot! You know that feeling you get when you know you’ve done something you can’t take back, like my friend Adam who went to brush his teeth on a climb, only to realize he had unintentionally used cortisone cream for toothpaste.
A second later, when I lifted my foot, our eyes locked in horror; there was nothing of a mouse left but roadkill and pooling blood. I guess, as Patrick Swayze intoned in Dirty Dancing, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!” Any mouse should remember that I’ve asked the proverbial Universe to pass on that, “Hell hath no fury like a man shat on!”
Between camps was a mixture of beach and trails. Depending on tide levels, headlands and surge channels can force you to inland trails. We planned ahead and managed to hike all passable beaches marked on the National park map. This was my preference. While I love forest, I’m a sap for coastline. It’s twice daily renewal with each tide reminds me of snow and how incoming storms cover all tracks. Similarly, every morning on the beach I would see the wild and serene majesty of this weather-torn shore as it has always been, as if I were the only one there.
The forest was another beast altogether. In the rain, it would be a trying affair. As we only had one rainy day and a few fog-smothered mornings, it was as pleasant as it could’ve been. Enormous trees swallowed the sky. Beautiful boardwalks wound through the forest. Remnants of rusted hunks of old equipment dotted the trail, an existence that hints at this path’s age. Unlike most trails, it wasn’t created for recreation, but for safety. Dozens of shipwrecks are evidence of a history of catastrophes along this shoreline, including the death of 125 of 160 passengers on the 1600 ton, 253 foot Valencia which sank in 1906 near kilometer 21. This wreck was the impetus for the creation of the WCT and its ultimate goal of creating a route for shipwreck survivors to make their way back to civilization.
We saw some evidence of wrecks, but more often it was wildlife we saw. Some of the more interesting encounters were 4 bears, one mink, a sturgeon, deer, multiple seal colonies, eagles and heron’s. Besides that we saw a giant whale carcass. This reminded me of running up and down a similar, less desiccated carcass when I was younger, jumping up and down to hear the “boom, boom, boom,” as if I were on a trampoline instead of a bloated dead animal that could swallow me up in its rotten flesh. I won’t lie, the thought has given me nightmares.
However, death is an integral and, more importantly, visible component of life on the beach. Nowhere else is either so apparent. The evidence is not hidden by forest, but laid bare.
On the sand, thousands of flea-like bugs gather around seaweed and swarm up your legs. On the rocky shores, lifeforms crunch under your feet and die no matter how careful you are. In miniature tide pool Universes, countless creatures go toe to toe, so much so that like a daydreaming kid, my imagination creates some anthropomorphic crustacean that is flung headlong into this primal arena. I learn that sea creatures are masters of their niche and even then their survival is always suspect.
As a human, our domination of our environment is supreme; we are the apex predator. We worry about kids, cars, jobs, health, but not being eaten for breakfast by a crab, fish, sea anemone or some other short toothed, pointy-armed creature of nightmare. Maybe back in the Permian period, about 300 million years ago, when there were insects measured in feet rather than inches, we’d have been a meal for Arthropleura, an 8 foot long centipede!
Another awesome addition to the WCT experience were the hamburger and crab shack offered at two different First Nations beach-side locations (stocked by boat). The crab shack was at Nitinaht Narrows (32.5 KM) and the hamburger shack was at Carmanah Lighthouse (44 KM). Nitinaht crabshack takes only cash, while the burger joint near Carmanah Lighthouse takes debit/credit! So remember at least fifty dollars Canadian.
The final miles of the WCT spun away the morning of day 7. Swarms of new blood, going the opposite direction, were just beginning to experience everything this amazing beach hike has to offer. Some are ill-prepared. One guy, for instance, had his sleeping bag tied to the outside of his pack and somewhere along the line it had been pulled loose and drug along the ground like a tail. Two couples carried their 10 pound tent by hand. I laughed thinking of them passing it up all 100 ladders they had ahead of them.
While my enjoyment was at the expense of the unexperienced, we’ve all been there. I once rappelled down a sport climbing route with my rope through the hanger. You should be horrified! How can I forget that time I got on a chairlift for the first time and was so damn scared because I thought I had to jump from the lift when it arrived at the top.
Those outdoor enthusiasts included parents and young kids, similar to my own family, decades past. They were hiking and playing. Others were wailing and crying. A few talented youngsters were poking faces into leaves by the dozens and leaving them behind. They looked like the mask from the movie, Scream. Pretty soon I’d hoped their family adventures would be like my own, they’d be the mile markers strewn along that highway of life, nostalgic lighthouses that bring everyone together year after year on the shore of some new and wild place.
Back to the end of this present adventure, the last mile passed by and feet strode from beach to parking lot. Faces were washed. Shoes and shorts were changed. Food was mined from the back of the truck. Yet, after more than an hour, Jessy and his son Calin hadn’t arrived. Did they get eaten by the mother of the bear cub we’d just sighted? Or had team bear spray, an unfortunate group who’d heedlessly released their entire can of bear spray in their tent, scared the bears away?
We continued to search between beach shore and truck, but couldn’t find hide nor hair of Jessy or Calin. Eventually, as worry began to mount, they strode across the parking lot like the last place finishers at a marathon. Jessy looked embarrassed, as he should’ve. Admittedly, he didn’t look at his map and mindlessly walked several extra miles, eventually forced to not only ask for directions, but accept a ride back to the trailhead.
I must admit, I had hoped we Xennials were indeed special, but we’re just as hopeless as my friends warn their kid’s when they don’t stop playing video games. But the idea isn’t so farfetched, at least in Sci-fi. In the book, “Ready Player One,” by Earnest Cline, he takes a Bill Gates like character, named Halliday, who instead of creating Microsoft, creates a virtual reality and marketplace. The entire civilization is hardwired into it. Meanwhile, the real world falls into turmoil. Then Halliday dies. He has such an obsession with the 1980s that he creates a game based on every movie, game, television show, etc., and the winner gets his entire fortune, making that person the wealthiest on the planet. All of a sudden, everything 1980s becomes the focus of everyone on the planet. Perhaps that’s what we need for a tidal shift in social behavior, just someone wealthy to offer everything they own if they can win a game.
Great Story! That trail looks so fun. I loved the few black and white photos you have in there, I’d love to see more.