Sunrise and low tide on the Trail showing of the sandstone shelfI was born and raised in Victoria, BC and still feel very strong about my roots that were formed on Vancouver Island even though I am now living in Calgary, AB. I had hiked the West Coast Trail on three previous occasions, completing the 75 km trail in anywhere from 5 to 7 days. With “1 Day for the CMHA” on my mind, it is easy to see where things went from there: “West Coast Trail 2010” it is! I would certainly not be the first person to hike the West Coast Trail in under 24 hours, but I’m sure there are not too many people out there lacking a running background that have completed this endeavor. However, safety on the trail was paramount and with the number of evacuations on the trail per year upwards of 100, I didn’t want to be another statistic.
Before the challenge I hadn’t run any further than 14km. I’ve always been a shorter distance runner, based on rugby’s demands, and claim to prefer running up stairs and hills as fast as I can over a long slow jog on flat terrain.
Some of the preparation runs that I did leading up to the challenge were Fish Creek Park, a Banff Canmore Loop, the Juan De Fuca Trail, and Lake Minnewanka. The Fish Creek Park run was the most ridiculous of the bunch and had me take the C-train down to the park, located in the South of Calgary, where I figured I would run around the park for a while then run back up McLeod to downtown where I live. I estimated the total distance to be around 34 km. Prior to that I had done one 20 km run, which is far from following what I preached as a trainer! On the way back up McLeod my legs hit the wall and with every attempt to jog they would cramp up – claves and quads! Feeling discouraged, frustrated and pissed off at myself, I decided to stop in at Limericks Pub for some rugby on TV, a clubhouse sandwich, and a beer! After consoling myself and resting the legs, I made my way back home for what was a good lesson learned.
Mount Rundle (one of the 4 from 2009) during the Minnewanka prep run
Once again, the training runs were a great opportunity to test out some gear. I decided to pick up some trail running shoes and after reading reviews, chatting to a few different people, and testing a couple pairs, I decided on the Saloman XT Wings. They are incredibly lightweight and have all the indicators of a durable shoe. There is also a quick cinch lace system for even pull and easy do up. A nice wide base around the heel provides excellent stability and they are very breathable due to mesh fabric covering the top of the shoe. There is a Gortex version available as well but my feeling was that not even Gortex was going to protect my feet from water and mud on the West Coast Trail!
I also purchased a smaller backpack with a water reservoir storage area. After trying out a Camel Pack version and returning it due to a crappy waist strap, I purchased the Miwok by Gregor and loved it. It has lots of great pouches for easy access to food, a built in suspension system making it lighter on the shoulders, and a great back-access water reservoir storage pouch. It didn’t come with a reservoir so I picked up a 3 liter Platypus hydration system. The drinking nozzle is a good non-drip design and it has a detachable hose for easier fill-up.
WHO’S COMIN’ WITH ME?
People who suffer from Mental Health disorders need support of all kinds. It is crucial to increase dialogue throughout society and raise awareness of Mental Health disorders. The goal is to remove the stigma that smothers individuals suffering from these disorders and encourage more support from everyone. The more support available, the easier it will be for those suffering to combat their disorders. In parallel to my challenge, I decided to recruit some fellow 1 dayers so that we could support each other along the way! I sent out some emails and made a few phone calls to old rugby friends and forest firefighting crewmates. There was a lot of initial interest that slowly fizzled out as people realized the enormity of the challenge. With about a month to go it was starting to look like a solo effort was, once again, on the horizon. However, to my delight, just when it was looking bleak, there were two late responses that came in with confirmation!
The first to confirm was Graeme Math who sent me a text message saying. “I’m in for the West Coast Trail! What do I need and when should I book my flights?” That’s commitment! Graeme is originally from Australia and of Malaysian decent. I worked with Graeme at a private personal training gym in Calgary, previously known as Innovative Fitness and now called INLIV. Graeme had decided to set up shop in Calgary in the middle of his world travels with plans to see what the Rocky Mountains had to offer him and his snowboard. Graeme comes from a boxing background had a perfect record while in Calgary!
The second was Quinn Barabash who replied with a voicemail saying, “Gimme a call, the West Coast Trail sounds like fun!” Perhaps some ignorant excitement, but that made three! Quinn, a ginger-locked adventurer extraordinaire, is from the Sunshine Coast of BC and we worked together in Burns Lake BC for the 2007 forest firefighting season. At the time of the voicemail, Quinn was in Quebec but said he would be heading out west to attend a wedding the weekend before the planned Challenge. Quinn comes from a wrestling background, which seems fitting as I figured he could probably wrestle any black bear we came across on the trail!
HISTORY OF THE WEST COAST TRAIL
Wildlife often seen along the trail include: cougars, black bears, wolves, orcas and gray whales, seals, sea lions, and eagles. During certain times of year, there is even the possibility of encountering seal pups on the beach. There are also abundant tidal pools on beach portions where hikers can see a variety of mollusks, sea anemones, and fish. At the mandatory orientation session prior to starting the trail, hikers are advised of trail conditions, expectations and how to react to possible encounters with dangerous animals (cougars, bears, wolves, and angry chipmunks).
The region now covered by the West Coast Trail passes through the traditional territory of the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht, and Nuu-chah-nulth peoples, who have inhabited the area for over 4000 years. Native trails, used for trade and travel, existed in the area prior to European contact, and the current trail passes through numerous Indian Reserves. In the 1970’s a lack of regulation resulted in hikers trespassing on culturally important and environmentally sensitive First Nations archaeological sites and villages on Reserve lands. As a result of the trespassing on the traditional territory and cultural property, hikers are now required to remain on the trail when passing through any Reserve areas.
European use of the trail area was originally for the construction and maintenance of a telegraph line between Victoria and Cape Beale. The reefs and breakers off the west coast of Vancouver Island had long posed serious danger to navigation. In spite of heavy coastal traffic that serviced the Pacific Coast between San Francisco and Alaska, the lifesaving infrastructure on the sparsely populated island was still primitive. One source cites almost five hundred wrecks around Vancouver Island alone living up to the area’s name “The Graveyard of the Pacific”.
Although some plans were already underway to improve the infrastructure, the public outcry that followed the wreck of the SS Valencia in January 1906, spurred the Canadian government to undertake a comprehensive plan for improvements. The resulting trail was called the "Dominion Lifesaving Trail", sometimes misidentified by modern sources as "The West Coast Lifesaving Trail".
The Infrastructure Improvement list included:
- The construction of a new lighthouse at Pachena Point (12 km south of Bamfield), near where the Valencia had run aground;
- The introduction of wireless telegraphy on the BC coast through the construction of five wireless stations at Pachena Point, Estevan Point (where a lighthouse was added in 1910), Cape Lazo (near Comox, on the eastern coast of the island), Point Grey (in Vancouver), and Gonzales Hill (in Victoria). Note that only Pachena Point is located on the Dominion Lifesaving Trail. Each station was initially expected to have a range of about 150 km, hence their spacing. The introduction of wireless service led to the rapid adoption of this technology by vessels plying the coastal trade;
- The construction of shelters at 8 km intervals on the trail. Each shelter had a telegraph with instructions for use in several languages, survival provisions like blankets and rations, and directions on navigating the trail; and
- Establishment of the Bamfield Lifeboat Station. In 1908, the station was equipped with a state of the art 36-foot motor lifeboat. The Canadian Coast Guard Station in Bamfield is still in operation and now hosts the CCG's Rigid Hull Inflatable Operator Training School.
The trail allowed shipwreck survivors and rescuers to travel the forest making use of the telegraph line and cabins. In 1973, the trail became part of the Pacific Rim National Park and is continuously upgraded.
BACK TO THE TRAIL!
We all had video cameras on the trail and put together some footage for you to enjoy. There are three parts and the videos are listed on the right hand column of this page but are in random order. They are also mixed in with the “4 mountains” video from 2009. Please enjoy!
After the adventure I took a few days to reflect on the adventure and figure out how to get my aching legs to go down stairs! It was certainly one of the most physically challenging experiences I have ever endured and the three of us felt very proud to have accomplished this feat.
Reflection on the challenge leads the mind down many different paths. I often consider how each of us felt over different sections of the trail and how there were many physical and emotional highs and lows throughout the 75 kms. We really stuck together and motivated each other through different tribulations. I am still amazed at how well Graeme and Quinn did with much less preparation time than me. They were running on about half as much training as I had, but there was no complaining and just a sense of will power and heart to push through to the finish. Additionally, this was their first time ever doing the trail, so one’s expectations are very difficult to channel correctly towards meeting reality, on such a technically difficult hike. I think I can speak for each of them to say that I’m sure they will be back to explore the trail. Hopefully at a slower pace to enjoy what the West Coast Trail truly has to offer.
It rained for a month straight leading up to our adventure, but somehow we timed our trek just right and experienced perfectly sunny skies throughout the entire day; it also rained for a week straight after we finished! None-the-less, it was very wet and muddy on the trail and we were not without our slips, trips and falls. The varied terrain includes: mud, roots, rocks, puddles, ups and downs, ladders, creeks and rivers, sand and pebble beaches, boardwalk, and sandstone shelf at low tide. I’m still not sure how we finished without sustaining major injuries! There were all sorts of falls for each off us, with notable favorites being: Quinn getting his foot caught between two planks on a bridge in the dark around 11 pm; Graeme coming to a full stop on his rear end while sliding out on a bridge; or me sliding off a section of boardwalk to land knee deep in boggy mud right in front of some other hikers! We were all certainly feeling the effects and I think it comes down to the fact that this wasn’t just a run. Running wears down the body through constant consistent motions; our time on the trail was filled with all sorts of gaits, terrain, ladders, leaps, and bounds, all of which led to more comprehensively haggard joints and muscles.
We learned a lot about what our bodies can handle. From three very different backgrounds, a boxer, a wrestler, and a rugby player, we were not accustomed to the type of endurance training required for 75 km of trail running. We carried about 20lbs on our backs, when the water reservoirs were full, and ate all sorts of bars, gels, jujubes, and trail mix. Due to the varied terrain along the trail, our pace changed depending upon the difficulty of each section. While not fiddling with video cameras or soaking up the beauty of the trail, we ran when we could and walked when we couldn’t, which moved us along at speeds ranging from 5-7 km/hr.
Finally, we would not have made it without the motivation and support from all our sponsors and Danskin family members (Mom, Dad, Uncle, and Sister) who helped support the three of us through transportation, cooking meals, and giving us a place to sleep. This is the same type of support that people struggling with mental illnesses need and I hope that our challenge helps to raise more awareness and understanding through the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). People often suffer in silence through their disorders because of the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Through the CMHA, your donations and awareness will go a long way to improving the lives of many individuals. We may have overcome a lot though our ‘1 Day for the CMHA’ challenge, yet this does not compare to the hardships endured by those dealing with mental illnesses every day.
On behalf of Graeme, Quinn, and the CMHA, I would like to thank everyone that supported us throughout this challenge.