The ambulance sped away, leaving me and my dog, Bree, alone again by the side of the highway. For the first time, fear clutched my chest so tight that I wanted to go racing after the retreating vehicle, arms waving hysterically so they would stop and save me.
From what, I don’t know. The paramedics had only pulled over to see if I needed water or a ride to the next town of Woss. As usual I declined with a smile and waved them on. Immediately after, I felt a strange certainty deep in my bones; I had just made a huge mistake.
This was three days journey north of Campbell River. I was now walking the wilderness half of the island and was filled with an acute excitement as well as being a bit nerve-wracked to be out there alone. The traffic grew scarcer the further we went and I was increasingly aware that I was wandering in bear country. My two large cans of bear spray usually gave me some comfort but not on that particular night.
Huddled up together in our tiny tent and unable to sleep, Bree growled low and menacing at whatever was out there for hours. It was the first and only time in my life where I really did not expect to survive the night. In fact, I felt genuine surprise when I woke up the next morning and was actually alive. Yay alive!
Back on the road, the world seemed a good and friendly place again. Two days later we camped in a small clearing off the highway that looked like it was a fisherman’s hangout spot. There were burned out car seats scattered around and piles of fish bones. I was nervous about the bones attracting wild carnivores but they seemed to have already been picked clean and I didn’t have time to find another suitable camping spot anyways.
Another day walk walk walk. Before I started the journey I had thought that I would have so much time to think about my life and the world and the universe… grand thoughts you know. But mostly I just ended up thinking about about Frodo and Sam (aka my feet). One step, two steps, three steps, ouch… Occasionally interrupted by musings on where I would find the next source of water (always an issue).
The road was crowded by trees and a thick wall of brush and one day I noticed a slight rustling sound. Something was in the forest, keeping completely even with us but out of sight, stopping when we stopped and moving when we moved. After about ten minutes of nervousness I realized that I was hearing us! The sound of our own footsteps were being echoed back to us off the broad leaves. A silly scare but still, what a relief!
Worse, was the day that I got caught with my pants down. Literally. I needed to pee so we went a little ways up a side road. I left Bree tied to my backpack in the shallow ditch, while I scrambled a few feet further into the trees. There was hardly any traffic in that part of the world so I didn’t think it was a big deal, but of course, mid-stream, a big white pickup comes bouncing around the corner. For once the trees were actually sparse, leaving me exposed. I just pulled my hat down over my face and pretended not to see them and they slowed down but kept going.
On another bathroom break I came across some bear droppings and got the hell out of there as fast as I could. At a rest stop, I overheard some tourists excitedly talking about the bear they had just passed in their car. I wasn’t quite as excited about it, as you can imagine! Not on foot and with a probably delicious looking little white dog at my side.
But really, most of the walk was peaceful and full of new and wonderful pleasures. For example, every half an hour or so I would plop myself down at the side of the road, sit on top of my backpack while I took my shoes and socks off, and then I’d smoosh my poor tired Frodo and Sam into the cool dirt. I know it sounds bizarre but man was it ever heavenly.
Almost as good was something that in the past I had always taken for granted. After days of sleeping on the hard, rocky ground without so much as a sleeping pad and in a tent that was damp and too short, collapsing on to a real bed in a hotel room in Port McNeil was absolute paradise.
The next and final day we walked in to Port Hardy, the end of the line. I limped barefoot into the ocean and stood staring out at the horizon, trying to keep balance on the rocks with my sore feet and shaking legs. I was in shock, almost unable to believe that we had made it. My dog and I had actually walked more than 500 km’s (300 miles) alone, all the way across Vancouver Island. A huge accomplishment for us. And we weren’t even eaten!
That walk was just the beginning of many adventures over the past year but it will always hold a very special place in my heart. The moment I stood there in the ocean, it was bittersweet. I was ecstatic to have made it but I also knew I was going to miss it. And so was Bree. I had never seen her happier than those days she spent on the road, exploring with her human. But like all other journey’s, it had to end some time. Only then could the next adventure begin.
“Not all those who wander are lost” J.R.R. Tolkien
Be sure to check out my next adventure! The Breaking of the Hermitage!
Or check out more stories from my walk across the island!