It’s been nearly 2 years since I’ve been healthy enough to put on a backpack and head out on the trail (read about my lupus diagnosis here). 2 years since I had to get off the PCT and endure an insane roller coaster of physical experiences and emotional turmoil. I was giddy the night before we left. I had been very much looking forward to this part of the trip since we started planning it, 4 months ago. I was excited to a) simply feel well enough to even contemplate hiking and b) sharing my love for backpacking with Adam and Shasta.
I honestly have no idea what my future holds for my body. I find walking and hiking easier on me than mountain biking (but I so love biking). Physical activity is a large part of mine and Adam’s relationship: having an activity that we both can enjoy is important. And so I carefully read the trail descriptions to ensure it wouldn’t be TOO much for me, sorted and planned our food, I noted exit spots in case things weren’t going well, and we agreed to go fairly light in our gear and pack weight since it was a hut-to-hut hike.
The best laid plans always go awry: the trail was significantly more difficult than anticipated, we ended up doing 24 km one day, we slept in our (teeny) tent both nights, and the food I so carefully selected…sucked. Did that mean it was a terrible time? HECK NO! We had a blast! It was amazing! I was overjoyed in both the present experience and my accomplishment post-hike. Adam smiled and laughed and, upon his request, we are making plans for another backpacking trip this summer. I may never be able to do long distances again but I am so appreciative of being able to do even smaller trips. I couldn’t walk 100 m last summer. On this trail, I did 50 km.
The Trail: Sunshine Coast Trail (www.sunshinecoast-trail.com)
Start: Sarah’s Point, End: Powell River
Details: 2 nights, 50 km, hut-to-hut
Plan: 16 km, 16 km, 18 km (with the last day being an easy “stroll” into town)
The reality: 16 km, 24 km, 10 km (with very limited strolling that day!)
Day 1, 16 km (Sarah’s Point to Manzanita Hut)
Much to my surprise, we boarded the chartered boat with 10 other people and 2 other dogs. When I had reserved the boat about 2 weeks in advance of the trip, there was one other couple booked and I had been informed that if they cancelled, as it is a charter, we would still be responsible for the full charter amount. Imagine my shock when it turned out to be a full boat heading out to hike the trail! The official start of the 180 km Sunshine Coast Trail, Sarah’s Point can be accessed via boat and, more recently, a shuttle van. We opted for the boat simply because it was part of “the experience”. The ocean was mellow and made for an easy 20 minute ride out. As the driver pointed out our starting point, we stared and tried to figure out exactly how we were getting up the cliff. Pulling up to a small ledge, it was a matter of passing and tossing the packs up to the next person (bucket brigade style), hauling dogs up to where they can find purchase, and then the humans having to hop from the boat. People hastily grabbed their packs to make room for the next and made the short scramble up a few metres to the trail. An exciting start to the hike! Once organized, we were on our way (starting around 9:30am).
The first few kilometres allowed us to enjoy the ocean views. During this first section, we were amazed at the infrastructure that had been built. The tent pads were beautiful, outhouses clean and well maintained, and picnic tables along strategic areas. In addition to the huts, the maps showed many camping and day-use picnic areas. Impressed, we were looking forward to such luxuries throughout the hike. Very well marked – with blazes every 20 metres or so – getting lost would take some effort.
Although dismayed at turning inland at first, that feeling quickly passed. It was beautiful and I was hiking through ecosystems I haven’t had the opportunity to experience before. Green, lush, and full of water, the temperature was perfect and we quickly left most of the group behind. (Interestingly, Adam and I ended up being the most “ultra light” of the group. I laughed. As those who’ve hike with me know, I am NOT in the ultralight category. But this hike was different: we weren’t too remote, bears weren’t any more of a concern than normal precautions (i.e. no bear canister or bear spray required), we were hut-to-hut, only carried 1 L of water each and had limited clothing for only 3 days. I wasn’t trying to pack my life of potentially 5 months into my bag nor was I going into a fly-in only access area! Very different.) Sometime around 1pm, we started looking for a place for lunch. Our map
Unfortunately, the Wednesday Lake camping area was little more than a flattened dirt area, about 25 metres from a marsh-rimmed lake. Not in itself terrible – it is what it is – but what was frustrating was we had passed a beautiful rock outcropping, overlooking the Strait only to find ourselves in a low level, inland lake. At least we had a reasonable lunch of flatbread, carrots, and delicious, dehydrated, home-made roasted red pepper dip. It quickly rehydrated and we hungrily dug in. I then proceeded to gag and nearly throw up my formerly delicious, roasted red pepper dip. Less than 30 metres down the trail was a gorgeous look-out of the Wednesday Lake, complete with bench. *sigh*
Lesson: dehydrated food loses its freshness and flavour when not vacuum sealed.
By 4pm, we had made it to the stunningly beautiful, volunteer-built Manzanita Hut, so named due to the Manzanita – or Arbutus – tree. One other couple was there but had opted to pitch their tent one of the tent pads. Between laughing and gagging, we choked down what we could of a horrible dinner, knowing we simply needed calories, and climbed up the ladder into the loft for the night. After destroying Adam in UNO a few times, we laid down and listened to the woods. 30 minutes of incessant swatting of mosquitos and we literally pitched our tent in the loft of the hut.