We all have it – that one special place, our home away from home. This is a place where we feel our most sincere self. For me, that place is Pacific Rim National Park on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island.
Last year when I visited Pacific Rim for the first time, I fell head over heels in love with the place. Something about it simultaneously instilled in me a sense of belonging and kicked my adventurous inclinations into high gear. What could be better than that? There was so much to see and so many places to explore! My only regret upon leaving was that I had not had more time in this beautiful place.
So, I promised myself that I’d be back – with a fairly open-to-interpretation caveat of “one day”. At the time, I was living in Ottawa and the likelihood of me returning was a fairly distant one, but the experience I had in the short time I was able to spend there had me pretty set on eventually going back.
As luck would have it, that possibility turned to reality when I moved to Vancouver earlier this year. A quick “Doing the West Coast Trail in June. You in?” text message from a close friend had me setting off on another Pacific Rim adventure much sooner than I had ever expected – or dreamed!
I had virtually none of the gear I needed for a week-long trek through the temperate coastal rainforest of the island. I also had not taken much time to think about how physically prepared I was (or, to be more precise, wasn’t) for seven straight days of trudging along with all of my food and gear weighing me down. But, I’m all about new adventures with old friends and wasn’t about to let that hold me back. My answer was an unreserved yes.
As anyone who has done the trail will tell you, it can be much more challenging than you expect it to be. The only multi-day trips I had done before were canoe trips, so the whole experience of carrying 45 pounds on my back was new to me, and I’ll admit it took some getting used to. But there’s just something about the magic of the rainforest, the crashing of the waves on the beach, and yes, even the seemingly endless mud pits you have to sludge through, that made the entire experience remarkably surreal and, in the end, totally worth it.
One of the best – and certainly the most unexpected – things that happened was when we made friends with our fellow trail-goers. On the second night of our trip, our little group of three merry travellers suddenly turned into a group of 13, as we gathered around the first of what would be many bonfires together that week to eat dinner, swap stories and share some laughs.
That’s what I love the most about national parks. They’re a gathering place for people to come together, build lasting memories and share – laughter, stories, campfire popcorn, you name it. Best of all, they’re a place to share adventures in some of the most beautiful and interesting places in the country.
So yes, it was challenging. But it was also incredible that my friends and I got to explore and be completely immersed in a natural environment that was so different from everything I knew. The rain did little to dampen our spirits, and the adventures we had and the memories we made will last forever!