by Hank Leukart
July 20, 2008
Saved by the sun
A sparkling, clear day follows our worst day on the West Coast Trail.
Hank looks out at a spectacular coastal view near the West Coast Trail’s halfway point near Dare Point (photo by Brian Leukart)
This is the third 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 — For well over eight hours, through a stormy coastal night following our hike’s worst day, my brother Brian and I endured the loud, ceaseless pop, pop, pop of rain pouring on our tent’s rain fly. We nestled in our sleeping bags, remembering the immense value of a warm, dry shelter. Then, as morning broke, the wind slowed and the rhythm of the pop… pop… pop… on the rain fly began to slow and finally stopped. We lazily and reluctantly made our way out of our tent to take a look at the new day.
The bright sun shining down on our beach seemed like a miracle.
Slowly recovering from the soggy night, we sluggishly unpacked our wet clothes, prepared a hot breakfast, and sat in the sun, soaking up the warm rays. After thoroughly drying out and regaining energy, we packed our bags and began walking down the sparkling coast under a crystal blue sky toward Chez Monique. When we arrived at the peculiar “restaurant” in the wilderness, we ordered two enormous $17 cheeseburgers and a couple of beers, despite the nagging feeling that we had to deplete our own food supply as quickly as possible to lighten our packs. As we gazed out into the ocean, Monique (of Chez Monique fame) told us that her husband braved the ocean’s intense storms daily in a tiny inflatable zodiac to transport restaurant supplies (propane, frozen ground beef, and beer) to the island. Based on our experience with the previous day’s typhoon, $17 seemed like a bargain for our two imported burgers. As we ate, we chatted with a Japanese exchange student who worked on Monique’s organic farm as part of a foreign exchange program. We tried to imagine the look on the girl’s face when her university told her, after she had signed up to live in Canada, that she would be growing organic lettuce under a tarp for a woman named Monique cooking frozen burgers on a propane stove in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. There’s no way she could have understood in advance the extent of her predicament, living in a place accessible only by inflatable zodiac and visited only by obsessive backpackers.
The exchange student asked how we had braved the previous night’s storm, and we described our fire-lighting difficulties and mentioned that we had lost track of the middle-aged hikers Curt, Ed, and John and the entire Sea to Sky guided hiking group of which Australian Larissa and Wisconsinite Lis were a part.
“Sea to Sky? Oh, they stayed with me in my room last night!” The exchange student pointed to a shelter built with logs and tarps. “We made them a big dinner and cheesecake for dessert!”
Brian and I laughed. We couldn’t believe it. Had we hiked only one more kilometer the night before, we would have been sitting dry and warm in a tarp house enjoying cheesecake with our fellow hikers! We determined that their group had cheated and had missed out on an important character-building experience. Of course, the whereabouts of Curt, Ed, and John were still a mystery; we suspected that they were probably 20 kilometers ahead of us, eating Jack Daniels-marinated meat from a grizzly bear they had killed using a bow and arrow fashioned from driftwood.
After thanking Monique and her exchange student employee profusely, we continued down the beach. We walked up a cliff above the ocean to visit the gleaming Carmanah Lighthouse, a dazzling white and brick red structure with colors so brilliant we suspected its keepers awoke early each morning at three o’clock to repaint it. When we asked about the diesel generators and helicopter landing pad adjacent to the lighthouse, the keepers told us that due to the lighthouse’s remote location, boats delivered diesel fuel for their electricity generators, and helicopters delivered mail weekly and groceries monthly. I silently wondered what would happen if the owners tried ordering a billiard table from Amazon.com.
Singing a new song we had composed on the fly, “Time to Paint the Lighthouse,” Brian and I continued on the surprisingly firm beach trail under a stunningly cloudless sky, amazed at the energy and stamina the sun brought us. We hiked for what seemed like forever, kilometer after kilometer, never tiring, with Blueberry Crisp Clif Bars to fuel us (these things are amazing!). Even when we arrived at our intended destination, we decided we weren’t tired and continued on to Dare Point, the hike’s halfway point.
On Dare Point, with the calming sound of the surf in our ears on a deserted beach in the wilderness, my brother and I cooked dinner and played board games together as we watched the orange and yellow coastal sun set on the misty horizon. Halfway through our long journey, as dusk fell on us, the West Coast Trail — the so-called Graveyard of the Pacific — became one of the most stunningly picturesque locations on Earth.
Did we escape the Graveyard of the Pacific alive? Did we find the manly middle-aged hikers, the Australian, and the Wisconsonite again? Find out in the final essay in this four-part series.