by Hank Leukart
July 24, 2008
A Backwards, Morally-Ambiguous Fairy Tales slumber party
A hilarious story-telling game fuels the end of a long trek.
Socks and boots dry in the sun near the West Coast Trail's Michigan Creek (photo by Brian Leukart) (view all West Coast Trail: Days 6 - 8 photos)
This is the last essay in a four-part series about trekking the West Coast Trail. Read the entire series for the whole story.W
EST COAST TRAIL, Vancouver Island, British Columbia — When my brother Brian and I awoke at the West Coast Trail’s halfway point, we knew we had a lot of distance remaining, and we pressed ahead under a cloudy sky toward Tsusiat Falls, a 50-foot flood of clean water shooting over beach cliffs, 14 kilometers away.
On the way to the Trail’s second ferry crossing at the salt water inlet Nitinat Narrows, the trail became easier as we hiked on wooden walkway for several kilometers through an eccentric-looking bog with stunted-growth trees. Brian and I wondered about the kind of terrain under the walkway, terrain apparently so severe that Parks Canada felt it necessary to build a boardwalk through the wilderness. We stepped curiously off the platform, and when our feet touched the ground, we snickered. The bog was covered in “mystery mattress,” a terrain officially known as taiga — the same terrain we trudged through, without any walkways, for 55 miles in Alaska. Proud of ourselves that we had hiked for many days over ground in Alaska that here Parks Canada had deemed impassable, we were nevertheless relieved that we did not have to battle what we referred to as Nature’s Stairmaster again.
When we reached Nitinat Narrows, we rested on a tiny wooden ferry dock as the ferry captain caught and cooked us a large, salty crab for lunch. The crab was tasty, but with every ounce of crab meat we ate, the emergency food supply in our packs felt an ounce heavier.
When we finally arrived at Tsusiat Falls, we were surprised and excited to find the Sea to Sky group with Australian Larissa and Wisconsonite Lis, huddling in a cave eating dinner near the Falls. Thrilled to see us, they offered us some of their dinner, which we ate despite our continuing desperation to get rid of our own food. (At that point, we had started to suspect that we could have survived months on the trail with the amount of food in our packs.) We tried to entertain them with stories of our rainstorm survival and descriptions of our slipperiness scale and mud-handling techniques, and we reprimanded them for their “cheating” — eating cheesecake in a tarp house during the downpour.
Later, while my brother set up our tent, I, having not bathed since the hike’s beginning, took our biodegradable Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Liquid Soap and walked to the waterfall. I stripped off my clothes, lathered up, and stood in the river under the falls, with near-freezing water enveloping my body. Shivering and tingly (Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint is strange stuff), I walked back to the campfire, refreshed and ready for the hike’s final days.
That night, Larissa and Lis joined us in the dark by our campfire. We begged them to eat some of our dried fruit and shared a freeze-dried raspberry crumble dessert with them, anxious to eradicate food weight. As we ate, Larissa told us about her corporate consulting job and her dream to become a doctor eventually, Lis talked about her time in the Peace Corps in Africa and her later decision to go to law school, and my brother and I also described our recent career shifts.
Apparently, there’s nothing like hot, tangy, mushy raspberry crumble to catalyze a quarter-life crisis bonding moment. We were drunk with gooey raspberry goodness.
After a refreshing night next to the soothing sound of the waterfall, my brother and I awoke to another beautiful day with 25 kilometers and two days of hiking remaining. As we hiked toward our final campsite at Michigan Creek, we began playing a storytelling game that we affectionately titled Backwards, Morally-Ambiguous Fairy Tales. To play the game, two or more people take turns telling parts of a story, but there are three important catches.
First, the story must be told in a particular format (“Once upon a time…”/”And every day…”/”And then…”/”And then…”/”Until one day…”/”And because of that…”/”And because of that…”/”And ever since that day…”). Second, the story must be told in reverse, so that the first person to take a turn concocts the end of the story and the last person to take a turn invents the story’s beginning. Third (and possibly the most fun), the story must include morally ambiguous characters or elements.
On the way to Michigan Creek, my brother and I recounted the story of Santa Claus becoming leader of an elf forest to save the elves from an evil dictator, though he was motivated by dubious political aspirations. (Remember, in Backwards, Morally-Ambiguous Fairy Tales, even Santa Claus is not a completely scrupulous guy.) We described events surrounding a post-apocalyptic world in which wolves and cougars plotted to overthrow a donkey hegemony. (What could be more morally ambiguous than a political power struggle?)
We told a fable explaining how mice developed their teeth, about a teenage beaver and mouse who fell in love in Animal High School, despite the disapproval from their parents of interspecies relationships. (Anthropomorphic animals are a hallmark of famous fables by Greek writer Aesop and modern fable author Rudyard Kipling.) We even narrated a story about an evil team of scientists who created grizzly bear clones and also manufactured bear-proof food containers and bear-proof screwdrivers. (Plot points involving cloning are always an easy way to introduce moral ambiguity to the game.)
With the hilarity of Backwards, Morally-Ambiguous Fairy Tales driving us, we hiked forward without even stopping for lunch, and we arrived at Michigan Creek with a beautiful afternoon to spare. We were not surprised to find the manly middle-aged hikers and their sons already relaxing on the beach, petting their new pet wolf and eating a refreshing lunch of pure granite boulders. They didn’t even look tired.
After assembling our tent, we caught sight of Larissa and Lis on the shore, stretching their sore muscles. We grabbed our sleeping pads, walked over to them, and playfully suggested an ocean-side yoga class. Quickly, we were all doing sun salutations on the beach, looking out into the ocean. Off shore, whale fins jutted above the sea’s surface and water sprayed into the air from whale spouts.
As darkness fell, the four of us squeezed into a single tent. Below a moonlit sky, with the sound of the ocean outside of the tent, we had a Backwards, Morally-Ambiguous Fairy Tales slumber party. We stayed up late, laughing hysterically about our strange, invented tale of the trials of a Grapefruit Queen. It was the last night of our unique journey on the West Coast Trail. We never wanted it to end.
My trek on the West Coast Trail isn’t the only hiking adventure I’ve tackled. In 2007, I wrote about an epic hike my brother and I took through grueling Alaskan backcountry. Later that year, I wrote about a night I spent in an isolated area of Joshua Tree National Park. I also wrote about hiking to the top of South Africa’s Table Mountain and to The Wave, a sandstone formation on the Utah-Arizona border.