The most thrilling aspect of participation in sport is the total pursuit of victory against elite competition. Athletes frequently say the greatest satisfaction is victory achieved with maximum effort despite incredible adversity. For those who do not play sports at a high level, backcountry hiking is an example of a local activity where one can experience the emotions of victory, struggle, and perseverance.
In 2009, I decided to hike British Columbia’s legendary West Coast Trail. I recently had started car camping and thought I could figure out what would be required to do the 75 km Vancouver Island hike. I naively picked up an 80 Litre pack and bought a compact tent.
The only thing I did right in my preparation was making sure that my hiking shoes were broken in. I had no rain gear, no hiking poles, no thermals, a cheap sleeping bag, and my pack weighed a crippling 90 lbs! My pack was so heavy because I brought food like peanut butter and tins of sardines and salmon. I also brought three thick, hardcover history books. The hike would turn out to be one of the toughest and most rewarding experiences of my life.
My first day hiking was absolutely brutal, as it involved difficult navigation over roots and through the mud of the rainforest trail. There were also significant rises and drops in elevation gain as well as the ladders. The West Coast Trail has dozens of extremely long ladders which are quite scary to climb when soaked and slippery.
The first day, I hiked only six kilometres in five hours. My knees were throbbing, and after a frigid night, I hid in my tent from the rain while rehabbing my knees. I also did not realize that my pack was not waterproof; I left it outside the tent and everything got completely soaked, including my unsealed toilet paper. The icing on the cake: a bee stung me twice in the neck as I was trying to relax and read.
I had to dig deep the next morning to achieve victory over the trail. I slipped and fell multiple times, enduring several cuts from sharp barnacles as I climbed over massive beach boulders. My persistence ultimately would pay off, though. The rest of the hike included spectacular scenes of shorebirds flying in poetic unison, cute crabs scurrying on the rocks, bald eagles, sea lions, and rich ocean life in the tidal pools. I slept on beaches every night entranced by the roar of the ocean.
On the last day, the sun came out and I finally could see the beautiful ocean at the end of Canada. I hit the marker for kilometre 75 singing in celebration after conquering the West Coast Trail. Each summer since then, I have hiked a new national park with different challenges in my duel with nature.
If you are looking for a competitive challenge, the backcountry might be for you.