West Coast Trail
Although I spent most of the '90s mountain biking with friends, we departed from our usual activities for a six-day hike along the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island. Organized by Sandy, our group included Claude, Lisa and Bernie. Starting from Pachena Bay and finishing at Thrasher Cove, the trip was memorable not only for a serious injury that befell me, but for the coastal rainforest scenery.
The West Coast Trail is set in a wonderful landscape, ranging from lush green ferns, mosses and towering trees to barren, rocky, log-strewn beaches. But it wasn't a nature walk. Days of rain the previous week had left the trail muddy and tree roots slippery. So when low tides permitted, we eschewed the trail to follow the shore, although we had to contend with soft sand and beach detritus. And that was where I was injured.
It happened the afternoon of the second day. I was well ahead of the group, fairly running despite my 50-pound pack. Avoding the soft sand, I took to zipping along logs and jumping the spaces between them. That's when I felt a sudden, sharp pain, as if my left calf muscle had been thwacked. I thought I had stepped on a stick so that it had struck my leg from behind, like stepping on a rake, but a search revealed no such thing; there was nothing that could have struck my calf. I figured it must be a muscle cramp.
The others caught up to me and we continued to our next campsite. My lower leg was swollen and extremely sore, but I managed to hobble to our site and set up my tent. Exhausted, I crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep. While I lay in my tent, my friends discussed having a rescue boat take me off the trail. But I had no intention of abandoning the trip.
At four in the morning I awoke with a strange urge. I got up and jumped in the ocean (much to Claude's confusion who awoke to think we were breaking camp well before sunrise). I found the cold water refreshing, although I still don't know what possessed me to go for an ocean dip in the middle of the night. Afterwards, I returned to my sleeping bag.
The following days were difficult for me. Someone, Sandy I think, gave me one of her trekking poles. I wouldn't have gone far without it. The pole helped take pressure off my bad leg and often prevented me from falling – but not always. It hurt to walk, but when I slipped on a wet root or tripped on a rock, pain shot into my calf.
At the end of each day I was exhausted. So much so, that although my Thermarest air mattress developed a hole and didn't inflate, I hardly noticed the hard ground. With just a thin layer of foam under me, I slept soundly.
In the middle of our trip, my calf showed improvement. Either it was healing or travel became easier. I no longer struggled to keep up with my friends and sometimes I got ahead. But I was still worn out at the end of the day. I would have liked to explore the beach after setting up camp, or do a side trip to view the giant redwoods, but I could only rest.
Our last day was the toughest. After our campsite at Cullite Cove, the trail undulated, facing its highest and stiffest climbs. My injured leg was no match for the punishing terrain. After arriving at Thrasher Cove, where our trip ended, I could do no more. My lower leg was weaker and more sore now than the entire trip. Even walking on a flat, paved road was excruciating.
The following day, we drove back to Calgary and the next day, six days after injuring my leg, I went to the hospital. X-rays revealed a torn calf muscle. It had started healing, but the doctor estimated 25 percent of the muscle had been torn. (It took weeks to heal, but I remained active, cycling with my good leg.)
Some day I'd like to return to do the West Coast Trail – with two good legs! Like other hikers who have completed the trip and wish to return, I would take my time and spread the trip across more days. And most important, I wouldn't run and jump while carrying a loaded pack!
DAY 1: Starting out: Bernie, Lisa, Claude, me, and Sandy (I had no camera: these are Sandy's photos)
On the trail
Signposts by Pachena Point
DAY 2: Derelict donkey engine
Hole in the rock
Klanawa River cable car
DAY 3: On the beach
Dare Point campsite
Hiking on the coast
DAY 5: Logan Creek suspension bridge
Log bridges and steps were plentiful along the trail.
Cullite Cove campsite
Hiking among the tidal pools
Stopping for a group shot
Hiking on the shore
Viewpoint from the highest point on the trail
Thrasher Cove campsite