“The Greatest Adventure is what lies ahead…” I sang the lyrics from the old Hobbit cartoon as I marched down the road with a crushing 35 lbs on my back and a big grin on my face. I didn’t have a single dragon to slay or a hoard of gold to burgle, but I was geared up and dying for my own adventure.
Trotting next to me was my best friend, the ever enthusiastic Jack Russell Terrier, Bree (named after the town in Lord of the Rings, not the cheese!). She wore a floppy, black, taped up thing, that was my attempt at fashioning her a rain jacket out of a garbage bag. (We’re pretty stylish, I know;)
The two of us strode north, away from the south coast of Vancouver Island, where I had begun the journey by touching the cold grey ocean water while Bree, completely unaware of the monumentous moment that it was, spent her time dashing around and smelling every rock, tree, and patch of seaweed she could get her nose into.
The goal: to walk the entire length of Vancouver Island, South of Victoria to the northernmost community of Port Hardy. Over 500 km’s (300 miles). Just me and my dog.
Only five minutes in, it started to pour rain on us. Oh well. That’s what you have to expect on Vancouver Island. Still, after just a few hours of being wet, with what felt like an elephant on my back, and wearing shoes that were too small, the realization hit me of the enormity of what I was trying to accomplish. Me, the girl that had spent years hiding away like a hobbit , barely going beyond her front door, and with absolutely no trekking experience… What the frack was I doing!?
Day two of our grand adventure. Much nicer out. As always Bree surged forward in excitement. Her energy and eagerness to go, even though she had no idea where we were going, amazed me, and I felt the constant need to reach down to give her a hug.
There is no trail that crosses Vancouver Island so we were on the highway, walking on the shoulder of the road with cars and logging trucks whizzing past. It didn’t take long to get used to it and to teach Bree to always walk on my side away from the traffic. I dressed purposely scruffy, with baggy pants and a hat that would make it difficult to even tell if I was a man or woman. From a distance anyway. In my bag, I had two cans of bear spray.
What I didn’t have was enough water. I kind of expected the highway between Mill Bay and Duncan to have an occasional gas station, and I kept expecting to see one around each new corner. But it didn’t happen. There was just lots of trees.
I kept a bit of water for Bree to have at any time but I was getting desperate myself. According to the map I carried (from the Backroad Mapbook of Vancouver Island) we wouldn’t cross a river until we reached the outskirts of Duncan! It might as well have been a million lightyears away.
The next few hours were a race to the river. The race was against the sun, which seemed to zoom toward the horizon, greedily taking its light with it. All I wanted was to lay down and not move again for a year but instead I forced myself into one hell of a speed walk, occasionally punctuated with moments of a weird shuffling jog. It took forever! But we did make it. We had the sun beat for the moment.
My legs shook so hard I thought I might fall over as we scrambled down the steep rocky slope to the water. It smelled vaguely like sewage. Disgusting perhaps but I was in no position to be picky. I threw two water purification tablets into my bottle instead of one and hoped for the best.
It was almost dark and we still had nowhere to sleep however. The bush on either side of the highway was too thick to even get through, much less with enough space to set up my tent. I wandered up a side road where there were some houses. Nowhere to camp. I went back to the highway and backtracked a few minutes, my eyes peeled on the bush to either side, searching for any sign of an opening. Finally, in a moment of despair I simply stopped and stared around me, wondering what the hell to do.
Then I saw it. The Traveller’s Inn sign, a beacon shining gold in the last rays of the sun. Not the sign to the actual hotel but instead it was the billboard, up on a hill, peeking down at us over the thick brush. Maybe, just maybe, there would be a clear spot under that sign.
We scrambled up the hill, through the bush, me getting scratched up and covered in some gross looking earwig type bugs in the process. But yes! There was a clearing under the billboard! There was even a little trail leading from it to the side road that I had explored just before. Yes yes yes!
The tent was so tiny that my head pressed against the fabric of one end and my battered feet the other. I didn’t care. Bree curled up and passed out on her makeshift coat bed almost immediately. She never was a night owl. Me, I listened to the breeze in the trees and the cars still occasionally roaring by on the highway below. Then later, as the night wore on, I listened to drunk people screaming at each other. They sounded so close that several times I was afraid that they were coming up the trail. What would they do if they found me? I didn’t know, but laying there, all keyed up in the dark woods, I had plenty of time to nervously mull it over.
Eventually the yelling died down, however, and something far stranger began.
Somewhere, out there in the woods, a lone man began to sing. It was a native american chant, haunting and tribal and surreal. I stared into the dark and forgot my swollen, blistery feet. I was still nervous yes, but I also felt… good. Really good. Soreness and sewage water and rain and thirst just made the experience that much more real. After all, my whole reason for being out there was to test myself. To do something hard. And really what kind of adventure would it be if it were easy. I finally fell asleep listening to the chant and feeling as though I had stepped into a new and wonderful universe.
“The greatest adventure is what lies ahead. Today and tomorrow are yet to be said. The chances, the changes are all yours to make. The mold of your life is in your hands to break.” From: The Ballad of the Hobbit
Be sure to check out the next instalment of my walk across Vancouver Island!: