I haven’t been blogging here lately because I recently started a book blog and I’ve been doing a lot of blogging at The Paperback Princess instead. But I’m going travelling soon, so I logged back in to this blog to write a post and realized I wrote an entire post about my last day on the Juan de Fuca trail that I never posted. So if you’ve been waiting in anticipation for this for the last year, here’s some closure! I’ll follow up shortly with some information about the next trip I’m taking!
Day 3 had me feeling pretty nervous. The Juan de Fuca trail map marks this section as the “most strenuous” section of the trail. Most people do the trail the opposite direction as us to get the hard part out of the way first, but we wanted to get the longer distances done first, which is why we did the trail backwards.
About 20 minutes before we planned to get up we were woken by the pitter patter of rain drops on our tent. I have a good backpack and a good rain cover, but I still have irrational fears about hiking in the rain and having my sleeping bag get wet (even though the rain has never once seeped into my bag). I admit to a moment of weakness when I heard the rain on our tent. We had no way of knowing how long the rain would last and the idea of hiking through the “most strenuous” part of the trail in the rain was not appealing. I am now embarrassed to admit that I did float the idea of turning around and hiking back to Sombrio Beach to bail instead of finishing the 21km left of our journey.
We took our time getting ready in the morning – we boiled water for our oatmeal through the tent flap and tried to pack up everything inside the tent to keep our things from getting wet. While we packed we debated. Admittedly, the first two days of the trip had had some extremely challenging times and I struggled with the idea of two more days of wet and exhaustion. But I struggled more with the idea of giving up. I knew that if I gave up on the trail I would never come back and do it again.
Fortunately, the weather came back on our side and the rain started to clear out just when we got out of the tent to take it down. By the time we got the tent packed away, it had dissipated entirely and we decided to continue on our journey. I am so glad of that decision because it really was upwards from that point forward for the rest of the trip and we had a great time on the last 2 days of the trail!
It was definitely a wet start after the rain and we struggled to hoist ourselves up onto the rock at the end of the beach to get back on the trail. I believe we had to take our backpacks off 3 times in the first km to manoeuver around and over trees and boulders, but things shaped up after that.
It was still pretty muddy along the trail, but nothing we weren’t used to. The trail markers pretty much disappeared along this section, so we had no idea how far we’d gone, but we felt like we’d been making good time. We heard from other hikers that we would see a trail marker after 6km, which was our halfway point, so we made it our lunch goal again.
Day 3 was the first day where we finally actually made it to our lunch goal, which was huge cause for celebration! There was still some challenging, muddy sections along the way, but there were a lot of people passing us in the opposite direction and we were reassured by how remarkably clean they all were. We didn’t want to get our hopes up, but we were optimistic that the mud must clear up based on the state of everyone we passed.
Fortunately, it did about 5 km in, and though there were a lot of up and downs along this section, it was easily our best day on the trail to date! The hilly nature of this section is what gives it a “strenuous” rating, but me and Emily will take the hills over the mud any day! After the 5 km mark the mud all but disappeared, the sun came out, and we had a pretty great day ambling along the trail and silently mocking all the people we passed who were still trying to stay clean and avoid the mud. We knew they were in for a treat.
In retrospect, I’m even more glad we did the trail backwards because the last 15-ish km had pretty much no mud. I can’t imagine starting on the easy trail without mud and then having to deal with the trail getting progressively worse as we went (as well as the distance). So we were very assured in our decision to do the trail backwards and really enjoyed the last two days.
That’s not to say there weren’t still some challenging sections. There was a particularly awful river crossing where we had to haul ourselves up using a rope, but overall our spirits were much higher! We reached Bear Beach in record time for us, hitting the first campsite at about 4pm. Bear Beach is 2km long and has 3 campsites spread out along it. The first one didn’t look that great and we figured the furthest one would be filled with hikers who had been coming from the opposite direction, so we decided to head for the middle campsite.
There were only 3 other people at the campsite, so again, we had tons of space to ourselves and found a nice place to set up our tent. Since we’d arrived at camp 2.5 hours earlier than the other 2 days, we had more time to relax and we played a few games of cards. It was a little windier on Bear Beach, but we had a great view of the ocean and the clouds had cleared off entirely during the day, so we stayed up watching the tide slowly moves its way up the beach all evening.
Day 4, our final day on the trail, was easily the nicest. The sun came up early and there were blue skies all day. I’d been worried about Day 3 because Emily, who’s done more extended hiking than me, warned that from her experience Day 3 was the hardest on your body. Day 4 ended up being the toughest for me though. Fortunately, it was the easiest day on the trail by far (no mud and limited ups and downs), but without obstacles to distract me, my aching back was the only thing I could focus on. My body was definitely tired of carrying a pack and while it didn’t really slow down our pace, it was pretty uncomfortable.
The views along the trail were amazing though. We hiked mostly along the bluffs and with the clear skies, the ocean was the most fantastic shade of dark blue. We had 10km left to go on the final day, but we didn’t have a lunch packed, so we decided to push forward through 8km to Mystic Beach for our lunch stop. We snacked on the way there and planned to eat our way through all our remaining food for lunch when we reached Mystic Beach (for me this mostly consisted of the last of my jerky and trail mix and a mars bar).
We stopped for a few short breaks, but we made great time, arriving at Mystic Beach around 2pm. Mystic Beach was definitely one of the more beautiful beaches along the trail, mostly because it’s the only sandy beach. It was a bit jarring when we popped out on the beach though because it was like an immediate entry back into civilization.
Mystic Beach is only 2km from the trailhead, so it’s a popular destination for locals and tourists and was reasonably crowded with day-trippers. I was sad to leave the remoteness of the trail. When you’re on the trail, it’s just you and the trail and it’s easy to forget about the outside world. The trail feels like this living, breathing thing – it’s always changing, but you can’t change it. You can only adapt to it and push through. Sometimes it will reward you and sometimes it won’t. The trail really tested us throughout our trek, but I also feel like I learned from it and grew with it. It was my first through-trek, so it’s kind of hard to describe, but it felt so much more special to me, like I could now claim a piece of this trail for myself.
I know I don’t actually hold any claim to the trail, but I really felt like I could appreciate it more. Mystic Beach is beautiful and I understand why people flock to it – it’s a gorgeous place to spend the day and take pictures for your Instagram to make everyone else jealous. But it’s only a piece of the trail, arguably the most beautiful piece, but for me it made me appreciate all those other parts of the trail and the more subtle beauty. The rainy, rocky outcropping and tide-pools where we started our journey, the wet bridge crossing the river and falls at Payzant, when you first break through the forest onto the beach at Sombrio, rejoicing along the logging road, ambling up and down over the hills and through the sparse trees, the mink we saw running across the rocks on Bear Beach.
The trail really was more than the sum of its parts. Seth read my first blog and told me my account really didn’t make him want to do the trail. Yes, it was definitely a challenge, but I definitely don’t regret it. Through hiking is quite different from setting up a base camp and day-hiking, mostly it’s harder, but there’s the reward of really feeling like you’ve gone somewhere and accomplished something, physically and emotionally.
Arriving at Mystic Beach also felt very liberating. There were a ton of teenagers doing the whole dog and pony show in their little bikinis, running around the beach, posing under the waterfall, and playing in the water with their inflatables. So it was kind of freeing to walk onto the beach smelling and looking like actual death and just not giving a shit about any of it. You don’t care what you look like in the woods and when you’re on the trail your only concerns are your immediate needs. You eat when you’re hungry, you sleep when you’re tired – it’s simplistic. In that moment we wanted to lie on the beach and gorge ourselves on jerky and mars bars, so that’s what we did. We dumped our bags and kicked off our boots and didn’t care a bit what anyone else thought of us.
We lounged on the beach for quite a while – our reward at the end of the trail – before backing up our bags again for the final 2 km. We had a quite a laugh on the way out because the trail is, of course, pristine for the last 2 km. It’s all brand new fancy boardwalks, stairs, and bridges over the tiniest trickle of water or mud. So we were a little peeved all our trail fees were likely going into maintaining a 2 km section of trail for day-hikers who pay nothing, but hey, I’m glad it’s there for everyone to enjoy and I’m more often in the position of the day-hikers than the trekker.
I definitely was challenged by the experience, but I also learned from it. I’m a little addicted to backpacking now and I’m sure this will only lead to more and more adventures!