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Hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail – Part III

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!

See my first 2 posts about the Juan de Fuca trail here: Part 1, Part 2


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!

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Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail – Part II

As you may have gathered from my previous blog, we had a bit of a rough start to the Juan de Fuca trail. However, Day 1 was our longest day, so we were optimistic about Day 2. We aren’t the swiftest moving people in the morning, but we had everything packed up and ready to go by 10:30am the following morning and hit the trail. It wasn’t much improved over the day before and still had some pretty muddy sections, but we were well beyond caring and they didn’t slow us down too much.

We were excited to reach our first suspension bridge, which saved us from a long hike back across the river. There’s a few suspension bridges on the trail and they’re all quite large and impressive. We joked that the trail was so crappy and muddy because the park spends all the camping fees on really nice suspension bridges and boardwalks at the beaches for day users!

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First suspension bridge of the day!

After about 3km on the trail we finally hit the coast. We stayed pretty close to the coast on Day 1, but there were no long beach sections. Sometimes we’d pop out on the beach for a minute, but the trail would always head back into the trees. So we were very excited to finally reach our first real beach stretch. The rocks and cobble are still hard on the feet and aren’t that easy to walk on, but we were definitely happy to have a break from the mud.

It’s not too far from Little Kuitshe to Sombrio Beach, which is the second and final bail out point on the trail. We walked along the beach for about a km before reaching the main part of Sombrio Beach where there is a parking lot and a campsite. It is a little disappointing to hike 18 km to a beautiful beach and then see day users who drove there. It takes away from the wildness of the trail and the feeling that you’ve reached a reward after a long day of hiking. But I suppose it’s also nice that everyone gets to enjoy such a beautiful place.

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First beach section

We crossed our second suspension bridge over Sombrio River and then continued further up the beach to stop for lunch around the 5 km mark. We had 12 km to hike on Day 2 – we were hoping to make it halfway before lunch again – but it was so nice on Sombrio Beach that we figured it was a good stopping point.

We experimented with some dehydrated dips from MEC for our lunches. I had a spicy southwest hummus and a three cheese bean dip that we just had to mix with water. While not the lightest, we’d brought pita to eat it with. I was impressed with the dips considering they were just powder and water. The hummus dip was actually the consistency of hummus, which I had been dubious about, and the bean dip had a nice flavor. Unfortunately, I don’t do great with spices and both of these dips were pretty spicy, so I won’t be buying them again, but I would recommend if you’ve got a better spice tolerance than me (which most people do). Emily’s opinion was that without the spice they probably wouldn’t taste like much of anything.

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Sombrio Beach – we hiked that whole coast!

We hit the trail again around 2pm with 7 km left to do after lunch. It still wasn’t the best time, but we hoped we could keep up a 2km/hour pace for the rest of the day. Up until Sombio, the trail had been marked as “moderate” on our map. The 7 km section from Sombrio to our destination at Chin Beach was marked as “difficult”, so we weren’t really sure what to expect.

Unfortunately for us, this section did prove even more difficult than the previous day because it was not only muddy, but steep and muddy. We went back into the woods at the end of Sombrio Beach and were afforded some of the best views on the trail up to that point. We had a great view looking back up the beach and along the wooded coast. It was a bit surreal because we could see the entire way back to Port Renfrew and it was pretty impressive to realize we’d actually hiked the entire coastline. There’s a nice waterfall at the end of Sombrio Beach that we hiked completely around, including over the top of it, so it really added to the photos.

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Waterfall at the end of Sombrio

The first 2 km out of Sombrio Beach were killer though. It started off with a small climbing section to get back into the woods. It was very steep and we had to take our packs off and hoist them up in order to climb up. It was just as muddy as the rest of the trail, but much steeper. There were several old boardwalk and stair sections, but they were almost completely deteriorated from use and made the trail even more difficult to navigate. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining, but there were some pretty sheer uphill sections covered in slippery mud, as well as some deep watery mud sections. Needless to say, we were soon covered in mud again and huffing and puffing as we (literally) pulled ourselves up the slope using tree branches, roots, and rocks.

We’d consulted our trail notes before heading into the woods and had been promised a flat logging road section in the middle. I’m pretty sure this was the only thing keeping us going because those first 2-2.5 km’s were just awful. I don’t think I’ve ever been as relieved as I was to finally see the logging road after hours of climbing. It was a little piece of heaven on the trail for us and it really did a lot to lift our spirits.

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Still technical…

The logging road was pretty cool. Since it was a road (and not a trail), it had decent drainage and we didn’t encounter any mud along it. The trees are of course all super tall around the road, so it had a bit of a romantic feel at times and a creepy feel at other times. But it was long; it extended for the better part of 2 hours in long, straight sections. Around every turn we’d be praying it would continue and then we’d be so relieved to turn the corner and see it stretching ahead of us for another several hundred metres. I can’t recall what kind of pace we kept on the uphill section, but I know it was pretty terrible and the 2 km on the logging road definitely did a lot to improve our time.

But all good things must come to an end, which eventually our logging road did. Unlike the previous day, or even that morning, it was totally empty on the trail. We hadn’t passed a single person since we’d left Sombrio Beach and by the end of the day we would only pass one group of 2 guys. The trail was kinder to us after the logging road though and had a lot of gentle ups and downs along a much less muddy trail. The only downside was that the trail makers that had been consistently located at every km disappeared along this section of the trail. We’d gotten used to the presence of the trail markers, so it was very discouraging not to see any and we had been worried we were making exceptionally poor time.

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Logging Road!

Eventually we reached our third suspension bridge of the day (which was on the map and finally gave us an indication of where we were). Around this point I consulted the tide maps and started getting a little concerned. There’s several “tide cut-off” points located along the trail that you need to monitor because once the tides reach a certain height, the beach becomes impassable and you have the wait for the tide to go back down.

I had consulted the tide tables prior to the trip, but I wasn’t too concerned because they would only be impassable in the evenings and I’d been sure we’d be to the campsites long before it became a problem. There was one tide cut-off point right before our destination at Chin Beach that would be impassable after 7:30pm. We hadn’t been making the best time, but we were hoping to make it to camp by 6:30pm. This would give us enough time, but I’m a notorious worrier about this kind of stuff and since my tide tables were for Port Renfrew, I was concerned it might be slightly different at Chin Beach and I was terrified we would get cut off from the campsite and be stuck there until midnight when the tides went down.

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Tide cut-off

Unlike me, Emily is not a worrier (or the biggest empathizer) and tried to tell me to get over myself, but I got quite the adrenaline boost in the last hour and pushed us along to our destination. At least it took my mind off my aching back and feet I guess.

We did make it to the cut off in time, but even Emily had to admit that it was pretty close. There’s sheer rock along the edge and we could see how far the tide was going to come up against the rock and it was getting pretty close to the rock when we arrived. But we had enough time and it was just a short 300 metre walk across the beach to the campsite.

Chin Beach was a much improved campsite over Little Kuitshe and had the benefit of being almost totally empty. We were the last (and only people) to enter the campsite from our direction, and there were 3 other groups up at the other end of the beach who were hiking the trail from the opposite direction. Since we were the only ones at our end, we found a truly amazing campsite and used 3 for ourselves. It had a beautiful beach view, a benched cooking area, firepit, and a nice sheltered area to pitch our tent.

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Campsite at Chin Beach

Thai sweet chili pasta was on the menu for supper and we enjoyed hot chocolate with a shot of fireball to warm us up as the sun went down (thanks Carolyn for this excellent idea!). We tried to get a fire going – actually we did succeed – but the wood was still too wet from rain the day before and we couldn’t get more than a smoke fire going. We enjoyed hanging out on the beach and watching the tide come up. We spotted several seals hanging out just off the shoreline and watched them for a while before hitting the sack to rest our weary feet!

Overall it was another challenging day, but it was also a much more rewarding day. The views were a lot better along the trail in this section and it was nice to camp on the beach and go to sleep to the sound of the waves against the rocks.

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Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Tour of Rio’s Top Attractions

On our second visit to Rio we stayed in Zona Sul, home to Copacabana and Ipanema beach. We immediately preferred it to Lapa. Our hostel was located just 4 blocks from Copacabana beach and the atmosphere was immensely different. Copacabana stretches for 5 kilometers in an arc across south Rio until it reaches the Copacabana fort and Arpoador, where it continues into Ipanema and Leblon beach for another several kilometers. The weather cooperated great and we headed straight for the beach upon our arrival.

We arrived on a Saturday, so the beach was packed with locals and tourists alike. We found a nice place to lay our towels and settled in for the afternoon. The waves along the beach are enormous, but it’s so hot and humid it doesn’t stop anyone from cooling off in the water. We had to be so vigilant with sunscreen while at the beach, but managed to avoid getting burnt (except for the tops of our feet).

You can’t spend very long at the beach without noticing how many people make their livelihoods from it. There are locals roaming the beach all day selling every kind of product imaginable. The first people you notice are those renting beach chairs. It seems each person manages a different area of the beach and as soon as you enter their section, they try and get you to rent a chair or umbrella from them. Then there are the people selling beach goods, from towels and cover-ups, to sunscreen, bikinis, sunglasses, hats, beach buckets, and even inflatable children’s pools. Finally, there’s the people selling food and drinks. They’re my favourite, you could easily spend the whole day on the beach without having to go in search of food. There are guys selling sandwiches, mozzarella sticks, prawn skewers, chips, ice cream, and our favourite, acai! The second day we went to the beach Emily flagged the acai guy down from halfway up the beach! The last are those selling drinks. I still find it very strange that drinking alcohol in public is legal in Brazil, so there are tons of guys roaming the beach all day with coolers of beer and trays of caipirinhas.

Sunset over Ipanema Beach

Sunset over Ipanema Beach

On our first day, we decided to walk up Copacabana Beach to the Arpoador in Ipanema to watch the sunset. The Arpoador is a huge rock that juts out into the ocean between Copacabana and Ipanema. It has a great view of the sunset over the mountains and was packed with people on every inch of the rock on Saturday evening! We found a spot and enjoyed watching surfers ride the waves as the sun dipped behind Ipanema.

It was calling for a cloudless day on Sunday, so we decided to attempt to see Sugarloaf and Christo Redentor in one day. We visited Sugarloaf first; it was pretty early so we had a quick ride to the top without any wait. The cable car first takes you up to Morro da Urca, the smaller of the two mountains, and then a second cable car takes you to the top of the iconic Sugarloaf mountain. The view from the top gives you an amazing 360 degree view of Rio. We could see straight out to the Christ the Redeemer statue, with the beaches on one side and Lapa and Centro on the other. After we snapped a few photos, we discovered a little path going down the back of the mountain that it seems most tourists ignore. You couldn’t see the view there, but you could enjoy the jungle on the back of the mountain instead. We saw some interesting bugs hanging around and watched a group of marmosets jumping from tree to tree.

View from Sugarloaf

View from Sugarloaf

We messed up the bus stop location after we left Sugarloaf and spent a fair bit of time wondering around, somehow ending up at Botafogo Bay, but we found it eventually and hopped on a bus to Corcovado. We were impressed with our quick ascent up the Sugarloaf, but we paid for it at Corcovado. The later in the day you wait, the longer the lines get. In order to go up to the Christ the Redeemer statue, you have to take an old tram through Tijuca National Park, up the side of the Corcovado, so only so many people can go up at once. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long to get tickets, but our tram ticket was for about an hour and a half after when we purchased it. Things could have been a lot worse though and we just used the extra time to go in search of lunch.

It was a nice ride up to the statue, but I have to admit the tram was a bit dated. It’s a narrow ride up to the top, so there’s only one track and you have to stop 3 or 4 times on the way up at wider sections to wait for the tram coming down to pass. It took about 30 minutes, but we were dying at the end from the heat in the un-air conditioned carriage. The view from the top was worth it though!

Christo Redentor

Christo Redentor

If we had to pick, we both agree that the view from the Corcovado was better than the view from the Sugarloaf. However, the crowd was not. It’s a very narrow platform at the top with a lot of people crammed in taking pictures of both the statue and the view. It made me almost thankful for the bottleneck at the bottom, which at least slowed down the flow of people. We stayed for a little while to take our pictures and admire the view, but it was a bit too crowded for us. You can’t help but admire the statue though!

View of Sugarloaf from the Corcovado

View of Sugarloaf from the Corcovado

Up until now, our schedule has been pretty packed with activities, so on Monday we finally had a nice relaxing day at the beach. We slept in and then made our way down to Copacabana Beach. Our strategy was to spend an hour or so in one spot and then pack up and move a little further down the beach, eventually making our way to the end of Ipanema Beach. It was extremely hot, so we spent a fair bit of time cooling down in the waves. It was definitely a nice relaxing day and was less crowded since it was a week day. We finished off with some shopping in Ipanema and took a break from Brazilian food and shared a huge plate of nachos on the beach for supper.

A great day at the beach!

A great day at the beach!

We’re in Ilha Grande now for the last leg of our vacation. It looks like our good luck with weather has finally run out and it’s calling for rain the next few days. But we’re going to try and make the best of it and hopefully we’ll still get to enjoy Ilha Grande’s premier beaches!

Maria

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