My Solo Journey Back Across Canada in 5 days…….
After I dropped Frederik off at the airport I headed back to Stanley Park for a run, swim and to meet up with my old roommate Cam at the beach. (I moved out to Vancouver for a summer in 2014 and lived with 3 guys, Cam, Bryan and Todder). I stayed with him at his apartment close to downtown for a couple nights, not doing a whole lot or anything but research for where our soon to be road trip might be. A couple days later I left bright and early in the morning to hop on the ferry over to Vancouver Island. Last time I was living in Vancouver I made it to the Island for a long weekend with Bryan to his families home, but not to Victoria. This time my first stop would be Victoria, to check out the old historic city everyone raves about.
July 19th , Victoria
I got up at 4:30am to take the 6 o’clock boat then drove straight to Victoria’s central park. I was so tired that I did not even make it out of my car. I half ass put up my ‘blinds’ around the car, laid down in the back in my bed and passed out for an hour in the parking lot. I only woke up because a couple of guys were walking buy close to my car commenting on the fact that I was sleeping in the back. I meandered around the park for a while, which was filled with the giant trees, then headed downtown. Out in front of a very nice hotel, I looked like a dirt bag, as I changed in the street and ate a box of cereal with milk out the back of the car, getting many unpleasant looks.
The city was beautiful, green and surrounding a harbor. The buildings were old, some parliament style. The fisherman wharf was unique, one half filled with rugged fisherman and their boats, coming or leaving for the day. The other side of the harbor was lined with colourful floating houses and food stands. I walked around the bay and through the city for a while until I got bored of just seeing buildings. After only exploring the best that nature has to offer across the country for the past couple months it was hard to be overly excited about a city for an extended period of time.
So I left earlier than planned for the west coast of the Island. Originally I had wanted to hike the west coast trail, however money was tight, so instead I opted to hike the Juan de Fuca trail. It is just a little further north than the west coast trail, nearly free and accessible. I got there a whole lot earlier than planned so I took my time packing my bag for the next three days, I took my dinner down to the beach, then set up camp among all the other hikers cars for the night as I hadn’t paid online for a camping permit that night.
July 20th Juan de Fuca Day 1
The light woke me up way earlier than I intended, I ate, packed up lunch, and then was off hiking before 7am. I had broken the trail up into a 3-day stretch. Today was going to be the longest of the three at 21km, and according to the map online, this would be the toughest section. So just get it all out of the way on day 1 when you’re fresh!
For the first 9km I did not see a soul, just a couple tents on the first beach campsite. There were many cars in the parking lot that morning but everyone was still taking their time waking up. It was nice for a change, to be by myself, in my own head and in pure quietness. I had a feeling of overall contentment. As I rolled into Bear Beach at 9:30 to take my early lunch break everyone was just finishing up their breakfast. By 10:30 everyone looked like they were about ready to pack up and walk. So even though I was enjoying my time relaxing on the beach, I got up and hurried out, not wanting to be caught up in the ‘crowd’ of other hikers.
I was entering the most difficult stretch of the trail but it was hard in an unsuspecting way. The incline was not that long, maybe 100m to 200m but then you round the hill and go back down again. The tough part about this was that the hills were constantly rolling for kilometers, slowly wearing away your legs and energy. Just as you get a bit of a break from it, it starts again. You never really get into a rhythm, which is usually the nice part about a long hike. I slowed down a lot, I was definitely out of hiking shape.
I could hear behind me that two guys were starting to get close, because they were talking loudly and were ruining my silence. So I took a rest on a beautiful little bridge, waited for them to pass me, and hoped I gave them enough time. Well it totally did not work, we played a back and forth game for the following 11km, but they were nice enough. As well it wasn’t such a bad idea to be close to others since the island is littered with cougars that might like to pickup a loan hiker and I had no bear bell to scare them off.
The path was a little bit treacherous due to the mud. It was so slippery that I fell several times, becoming covered in mud from my socks to my shirt. So when I finally reached the campsite I picked the first suitable spot on the beach, laid down my mattress pad, and passed out for an hour. It was a beautiful little platform above a rocky beach looking across the bay at mountains in the horizon. I took a dip to rinse of all the mud as more people filtered in to find a spot to crash for the night. The night was beautiful, I watched the sun set alone, and cherished the solitude as I fell asleep at 9:30 to the sound of loons.
July 21st Juan de Fuca Day 2
This morning I woke up at 8:30! Quite late in comparison to the rest of the trip, but clearly I needed it. I only had 11km today so I took my time getting ready, eating breakfast, taking my morning beach stroll exploring. The water was perfectly still and the day remained like that for most of my hike. I left at 10:30 to hit the trail and I was surprised by the fact that I was still one of the first people to hit the road that morning. It seemed so late for me! This stretch was not supposed to be as difficult as the first day, but my drenched clothes and sore legs begged to differ. I only saw one other person that day, who was coming from the other direction, this was the hike and solitude I had been waiting for.
I reached Sombrio beach at 12:30, taking the opportunity to call this spot lunch while exploring a waterfall and the beach. I did not end up moving for 2 hours! Canada is just so beautiful. Just after 2pm I decided it was about time to get up and go. I still have another 4-5km left until I reached my campsite, which was at kilometer 33. I had almost been convinced by other hikers to stay here for the night because it was just so beautiful, however I didn’t want my last day to be another 20km. I could have stayed and just finished here, walking out. There was no pressure for me to finish it, I was alone, no one was holding my accountable, but I just felt I had to finish it for myself. So I moved on slowly.
One of the great things about hiking alone is also one of the worst things about it. It is just you and your thoughts. I have a bad habit of being in my head too much, running through everything over and over again, which I am trying to work on. But sometimes I just let it go. But then it spirals out of control and I want to yell out loud “get out of your head Taylor!”.
I arrived to the campsite and no one was around. I set up, a little uneasy as it was in the middle of the woods, silent, and for some reason spooked me a little. By the time I went to the coast to eat and write others had joined. Actually the whole campsite turned out to be filled with just women! A bunch of different groups hiking with just their women friends, it was so inspiring. Outdoor weekend getaways are not for just men. Suck it society.
July 22nd Juan de Fuca Day 3
I rained all night, which was nice so there was a white noise and I couldn’t freak out in the dark listening for bears. I woke up at 7am, was sick of my disgusting oatmeal with chocolate protein powder, so I packed up my wet stuff and left before my stomached realized I was hungry. The day was a bit dreary but perfect for feeling like you were walking through a rainforest. I didn’t hit the coast much that day till the end, but this section had to be one of my favourites because of the thick greenery and moss. The constant mist kept me cool throughout the day and the fog hung in the braches of the giant Douglas Fir trees coated with lichen. Again, I did not see anyone for hours, and walking through this forest and fern covered ground was an enchanting experience. I felt constant joy and excitement around every turn, how fortunate am I to live here and be able to visit these areas.
The trail section was 14km that day and ended at Botanical beach. I had left my car at the south start, China beach. My plan was to hitch hike back to my car, if anyone wanted to pick up a dirty, sweaty, wet hiker with loads of stuff. It took a little bit longer than I had anticipated to get a ride, but when I did I was surprised who picked me up. Two guys in a Porsche stopped! I had even put my thumb down for them because I figured they would just fly by, but they were German so it makes sense why they stopped and not all the Canadians. I was worried about getting their car all dirty but also it wasn’t theirs, they were working for the company that weekend. It worked out great and I got to feel what it was like to ride in a luxury car, wow, going back to the vibe will never the same.
I packed down and headed to Bryan Pawlina’s house, one of my roommates from UBC, who lives in Courtney. It had been 3 years since I had last seen him and his family, and I was so excited, they were all crazy but so welcoming. It was a longer than expected drive across the island, but beautiful. When I arrived I got to meet Bryans girlfriend and hangout with his parents for the night as they were working on space engineering stuff together for a conference in Australia, freaking smarties. The following day, as I woke up at 6:30am only to wait 4 hour for Bryan and Jenny to wake up, we took a drive through a logging zone. Once was open to the public but had been closed off for years. Finally this summer they opened the roads on the weekend for other to enjoy a very pristine nature. The mountains and lakes were beautiful. On the way in I saw a black bear just running through the water. On the way out though our truck stopped right in it’s tracks as we rounded the corner to see a cougar! When we returned for dinner Bryans mom had made us am amazing moose roast, first time I had ever had this type of meat. I had to find a place to stay the night, which wouldn’t be that hard, as I did not have a boat ticket for a day and a half. So as I was leaving his mom invited me to stay another night! So I said yes because I did need a bed for the night. Their dad, his mom and I took off to the beach for a sunset stroll, just like the time before when I had visited. That night was also the night Frederik and I consolidated our plans. Again I was up late, due to time the difference, and working out logistics. We agreed on South America, I cancelled my flight and the rest was history.
I was up early, said my goodbyes, and was off to Tofino, another places I had wanted to visit last time I was out west but failed to do so. Bryan’s dad had given me specific instructions to stop at the only virgin forests on the island on my drive over. It was beautiful, much like the ones I had see coming up the American Coast but Douglas Firs with slightly different thick vegetation. Cathedral drove was just as pretty though. When I reached the beach I made a surprisingly all right lunch with mac, cheese and red curry paste before heading over to rent a surfboard. Long beach was crowded but I understood why. I was beautiful, perfect sand, and a beginner surfer’s paradise. I struggled for about an hour before I gave up and passed out on the beach. I most definitely did not get the use for my money out of that rental.
In Tofino the local Co-op was the hot stop for dinner as many budget travelers made a make shift dinner down by the pier to watch the sunset. The town is small, a littler touristy if you are on the main strip, but I didn’t go there. The pier, with the boats, water, and green mountains in the background caught my eye. I wished I had a kayak in this moment so badly. Well post sunset I had a bit of a drive ahead of me. I would be getting into Nanaimo at 1am, I had a boat reservation for 5:30am, so once I arrived I just passed out in the back of the car for a couple hours, setting my alarm in order to wake up in time to board the boat. Or so I thought
I woke up at 4:55 to a loud announcement saying that it was the last chance to get on the boat. In a panic I jumped in the front seat and whipped around, managing to be the last car let on the boat. My heart was racing so fast I couldn’t fall back asleep the whole 1.5 hours back across to the mainland. When I finally reached Isabel’s house I was so excited to see her but so tired that I crashed on their couch in their living room for what was suppose to be 30 minutes and turned out to be 2 hours. Fort Langley is a beautiful little part of the Vancouver outskirts. They were in the final stages of building the big, beautiful home, which had taken them the last 4 years, so I felt bad that I didn’t help most of the weekend because I was sleeping or trying to organize everything for the upcoming trip with Frederik.
Around 2pm we headed over to her friends house to borrow a few kayaks, visited her work, then headed to Maple ridge for a little adventure. It might have only been a 20-minute drive in the country but wow; it really made you feel like you had escaped the city life into the great outdoors. After throwing the kayaks into the water we paddled across the river, which was a lot more difficult than I anticipated. It turns out it was a tidal river as it let into the ocean and the current going out was strong. Which also meant that the water level was down as we headed back into the valley. We only bottomed out a couple of times, but all in all it was a relaxing, winding ride through the tall grass. When we reached the beach and camp ground we parked the kayaks and went for a little walk back through the woods. It let out to a giant rocky waterfall to complete our little adventure. I was just supposed to be a quick getaway however we did not end up getting back to her house until 9pm! Everyone had already eaten and were in bed, so we snacked, she went to bed, and I went back to the computer to organize with Frederik.
Isabel and her daughter have a summer tradition of morning bike rides, so I joined and got a tour at the same time of their town. I was a nice day, one I had needed for a while, to not do anything, just relax and organize. The following morning, after re-packing my car for the drive back home across the country, I said my goodbyes and headed back downtown. First stop, a run and a sad attempt at abs in Stanley park, then I meet back up with Cam at the beach, join his work friends for dinner, sleep and woke up early ready to roll on back east.
July 28th The Start Of The Long Journey Home
I was headed towards Banff, my route of choice was through Squamish and past Whistler in attempt to avoid the forest fire smoke and also this was supposed to be the most scenic route. I had fond memories from years ago hiking to Jeoffrey Lakes, so I made sure to stop there, in attempt to have one hike a day my whole way home. I had a small delay in Squamish due to my engine light turning on, which put me back a couple hours. So when I arrived at Jeoffrey Lakes the crowds were huge. It was Friday, people had taken of work early on this gorgeous summer day, and I was there with the crowds. Perfect. Last time this was not as popular of a destination, but I learned from Isabel later that everything was now way over crowded, you couldn’t even camp anywhere without making reservations months in advance.
The walk was still beautiful, everything as I remembered, but with a lot more noise. I still tried to enjoy it nonetheless. However on the way down I had the strangest encounter. I just turned a corner when a guy stood in my way, then exclaimed wow what are the odds that two solo hikers might meet each other on this trail!? (high weirdo). Then he asks if I would like to walk and talk with him. I said no because I was going down, and he just wouldn’t take that for an answer, then finally worked me down enough to sit on the log right there. Mistake. I was taken so off guard, so bewildered by someone so forward and obnoxiously confident that I failed to hold my ground but I made sure to sit across from him. He tried to move closer, even show me some sort of karate chokehold. He asked me not to go to Banff and stay, asking which was worth it Banff or the chance for us. I said Banff and left. What the shit just happened.
Thanks to the many slow downs of today I didn’t make it to Revelstoke like I had hoped. So not to long after dark I pulled over at a rest stop and slept there for the night.
It is impossible to avoid the forest fire smoke in Alberta and British Columbia this summer and Kamloops area, a place I inevitably had to drive through, was getting it really bad. As I drove through, mid day, I slowly entered the clouds of smoke. The sun slowly started to fade away and the sky turned more opaque and a red-orange colour. It was a spooky experience for that section of the drive.
On my way to Banff I stopped at a few of the more popular and beautiful short hikes, in order to try and still get one hike in a day. Emerald lake was so packed with people on a Saturday that I had to park all the way at the bottom of the hill. I dodged my way through the crowds until I actually made it over to the far side of the lake where there was no one, but it was a little bit of a boring flat walk. I had had very fond memories of Moraine Lake from years ago when I had visited and was looking forward to visiting here the most. Again, this experience was much different. The park was crowded so I had to park far away. The tiny trail to the overlook had a constant stream of people, and there was not a single spot you could get a good view without someone in your way or without hearing all the loud noises of people. The sign beside me proclaimed that the settler who had found this location experienced nature here like never before. I was trying to do the same but coming up short. Last time I had thought that I would get married here one day, but after sitting here for a while it changed my mind.
I left a little bit aggravated with Yoho National Park and headed to Banff to make it in time for a friends concert. I had met Olivier back in France. I was taking a long weekend off school and went to Grenoble for fun. I was couch surfing in the town, staying at Ivan house, as was another women and Olivier. We had got along for the couple days or stays overlapped and kept in touch over the year. He saw that I was out west and with me then driving home it turned out our paths would cross over again. I thought I was on time, so when I entered Banff I decided to take a little ‘shower’ in the river before going to the concert. I was not in any hurry at all, I thought I was early when I showed up to the music hall, but I found out quickly that was all wrong. I did not realize that I had cross into a different time zone. So instead of being on time I had just missed an hour of his performance. I saw the last 30 minutes which were great but I felt like an idiot.
He was here as the arts academy as a student for the week, so we grab lunch on their little campus and then proceeded to watch the best ballet show I have ever seen called Noetic. It was a lyric performance combined with science while building a structure in the meantime. We walked down to the river, it was a nice night, and just hungout and talked. Followed it with a beer and then crashed.
It was an early rise and shine but good for me as I wanted to get on my way and get a hike in for the day. I hadn’t changed from the night before so I sat there on the side of the road eating my breakfast in my dress. Dirt bag. I headed to Kadanascis region, the place where I camped for my first time ever, a place where few tourists went as it was a decent way out of the way. Right now there are record breaking forest fires this summer so hiking in Banff was not a good option as the smoke was lingering on the outskirts of the city. It is hard sometimes choosing a hike of Google, you really don’t know what you are getting and what is better, but I picked a random one and went for it. Something else that makes it especially hard and maybe no so smart is not having data or a cell phone plan, so you’re really screwed if something goes wrong, like running into a Grisly bear in Grisly bear country, something I was terrified of.
Anyways the hike was great. I turned off the main highway, down a long gravel road, through the sharp Rocky Mountains to finally come across the trailhead. Online I had read that this would be a 5-6 hour round trip hike, so when I made it to what appeared to be a summit in 1.5 hours I was convinced I had to go on. Nope. I just walk 2x faster than your average person I suppose. I sat there for a while, taking in the view, until I decided it would be a good idea to go down to the valley on the other side and get to the river. I never actually made it there but I will tell you it sure added a lot more difficulty to my hike having to come back up that steeply incline mountain side.
The goal for today was to make it to the other side of Calgary, which still meant hours of driving after no sleep the previous night and a tiring hike. At some point on the drive, which was now boring as hell since I had exited the mountain range and started on the flat plains of central Canada, I had an emergency pull over. I was transporting a box of Bryan’s belongings for him to London, so that way he could take it to school in Torono, and it came in super handy. I grabbed m pillow, set it on the box in the passenger seat, and passed out right then and there for a solid 10 minutes. So refreshing.
After calling a truck stop home for the night I started my long couple days drive across the great plains for Canada with a trip to Dinosaur National Park. I was driving right past it, not even an hour detour, and I bout this is something I would come back for so I felt it was necessary to make the stop. You cannot walk around the park alone among to cool sandstone formations, but there are about 5 short trails that lead you through them and show you were they found the skeletons of dinosaurs. It was a cool hour, actually way to warm to even enjoy it almost, and I was now back on the road. It was like driving though Kansas all over again, except this time alone, not nearly as fun. It is a bit scary to say, but in conditions like that, sometimes you zone out driving and wonder how you made so many miles…..
I crossed all of Saskatchewan that day, sleeping just across the boarder into Brandon, Manitoba.
The following day I don’t think I even took a break. I was in the zone, driving non-stop and made it a little ways into Ontario. The drive is a nice change when you enter Ontario for the first 2 hours. It is green, there are trees lining the road the whole way, something you haven’t seen for what feel like ages. However then your eyesight claustrophobia sets in. When I finally broke of the the long line of cars, on a two lane road through never ending tree line I was so excited to see, and see something so beautiful. The sun was setting so I drove up a little higher to a road side lookout, ate dinner and watched the sunset over the bay, the little islands and rolling hills. Not to far down the road I ended up driving around Terrance Bay, looking for a place to sleep, which ended up being in a motel parking lot.
I ate breakfast in the beach in town, took my morning walk, before I headed back on the road, eyes set on making it to my grandparents cottage by nightfall. On the road I stopped for lunch at a cute coffee shop, sitting beside a elderly man who was trying to accomplish his second time biking across Canada for months on end. Then I pulled over to chat to another man who was walking with a giant sign hanging off his bag. I gave him the rest of my water as he explained his history of depression, and how he recovered from it while creating awareness on his first time walking across Canada. Wow to both of these guys.
I crossed into Espanola around early dinner time, giving my another hour and a half or so before I made it to the cottage. The last couple hours are always the worst to any drive. However I would argue that after driving for 5 days it makes it that much more worse, you’re just that much more anxious to get out of your car and the dense line of closing in trees for a while. It felt great, like home, after months on the road to turn down tobacco lake road. I left my car down on the road, snuck to the back of the house, and walked in while everyone was watching TV, asking if they had any leftovers from dinner. They both turned around looking very confused, grandma after a bit gave a little scream followed by my name. Grandpa eventually walked over, seemingly happy, but still very confused. It was a bit of a funny underwhelming reaction. I meant to arrive the following day with my family, however some how I calculated wrong, or just did I just out my blinders on a drive more a day than I had anticipated? Either way it was great to relax with them for almost a full day before the rest of the family arrived. Mom did her predictable shriek and dance and we enjoyed the rest of the week together at the cottage, and three weeks at home before I took off again on another road trip south.