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The first time I met Nekky, I shook his hand and announced in disbelief to everyone within earshot that he had the softest hands I had ever felt. Like, ever. Like freakishly soft. (Seriously, you should feel them).
Three days into the West Coast Trail – a 75km backcountry trail along the West Coast of British Colombia that involves muddy trails, boulders, rocky shorelines, negotiating steep slopes, climbing ladders, using cable cars, and wading through rivers – I surveyed these silky wonders. One hand featured a single digit wrapped up mummy-style in white tape (I finally got to use that first aid kit that, thanks to better judgment, keeps making the packing list despite its associated weight, lack of use, and my constant attempts to downsize) and the other hand was adorned with a bandaid (now anything but sterile) hanging on by a corner attempting (and failing miserably) to cover that inside spot just below the base of the first finger – that blister-prone spot that gets torn to shreds if you are doing chinups or hanging from monkey bars. Or, as it turns out, if you grab the steel cable of a cable car pulley system (crossing any one of the rivers too deep to ford on the West Coast Trail) before it comes to a complete stop. Yep, ouch.
Hiking from north to south, the first day had seen us quickly establishing which four songs would be stuck in our heads and belted out at random over the next five days; the second day had seen us tackling 28km (because we had stopped too long to watch whales and dolphins frolicking, yes frolicking, to lock down the 32km we had originally planned); and the third day had seen me declaring that my burning backside (a result of trudging countless miles through deep sand) had better net me an ass I could bounce quarters off of. Those first three days had also yielded the first (of many to come) trail mileage marker selfies, the first (of many to come) ladder ascents and descents, and the first cable car crossing in which Nekky insisted we take two trips and that I should go first with the backpacks (coincidentally this was also the first time I protested and was sent sailing across alone and terrified anyway).
In the first three days, we had read tide tables for the first time, set up camp on the beach for the first time (above the tide line, yay us), and felt smug for the first time when others had failed to do the same. We tried for the first time (and last) to pass an impassable (not just a clever name) headland when we missed a trail marker. We saw our first cougar tracks and bald eagles and sea lions (both hearing and smelling the latter before they actually came into view), and my heart jumped for the first time when Nekky confidently looked out to sea, pointed, and yelled, ‘Shark!’ when what he really meant was ‘Something with a fin, or a tail, but it could be a shark for all we know, let’s hope it’s a shark, because that would be awesome!‘.
All in all, smooth sailing (first aid kit use notwithstanding). So when the first drops of rain woke me at midnight on night three, I wasn’t even surprised. I mean, I had all but asked for it.
I had asked for it when I wondered out loud what the trail would be like if it was muddy. I had asked for it when I complained of being just a little too warm. I had asked for it when I noted my sleeping bag was perhaps excessively rated for this particular hike. I had asked for it when I briefly begrudged the space the rain gear was taking up in my bag. I had asked for it when I soaked in the rays on the rocky beach at camp the night before. Yep, I had asked for it.
What I had apparently asked for amounted to about 25mm of rain. Which in turn amounted to those WCT conditions I had heard so much about. To be honest, it kind of scratched an itch for me, no longer needing to wonder what it would be like to navigate the south end of the trail (the ‘harder’ end, by all accounts of those hiking south to north whose unmerited superiority complexes did not go undetected) in actual ankle/knee deep mud (depending where you put your foot) while navigating giant tree root entanglements, washed-out bridges, and sloppy slopes. Nekky, on the other hand – despite the soggy, half-smiling selfie he indulged me – slipped and turtled in the mud before we even left the campground on that rainy morning, and it was all but confirmed that this was not an itch he had been quite as keen to scratch.
But scratch, we did. Soaked to the bone, and with one of us (not me) suffering from serious chaffage brought on by soggy drawers (apparently that’s a thing?), we arrived at camp at the end of day four just as the sky began to clear, as promised by the only hiker we had encountered on the trail with a satellite phone and a direct line to the outside world (aka his father-in-law) and a forecast. In terms of fostering common ground out there, the promise of the return of sunny skies was perhaps a close second only to the information that came from the man we encountered on the morning of our fifth and final day.
Nekky gave him what I can only describe as a bro nod and I tried not to overhear the conversation that accompanied the Karate Kid wax-on/wax-off gestures they were delivering near their respective nether-regions. Whatever the question, the answer was apparently solid stick deodorant. The man was wielding a women’s brand, and his hiking partner shrugged indifference. I can only assume (dear god, I can only hope) that she was going without fresh pits for the remainder of the hike. Oh, the sacrifice.
I was grateful that the forecast held true and it seemed we would not be needing this home remedy afterall. Unlike other trips where tough packing decisions had been made in the name of keeping things lightweight (ie; keep the first aid kit, take out the deodorant), I had a whole stick of Secret with me on the West Coast Trail. And sure, it’s strong enough for a man, but I think we all know it’s made for a woman, and I wasn’t keen on relinquishing it for what I think we can also all agree would be the ultimate test.
The previous day’s downpour makes for a messy final 5K to the finish, but as we descend the final ladder to the boat that will shuttle us to our awaiting car having met our goal of a five-day finish (four and a half, really), having witnessed beauty and wildlife unlike any we see in our neck of the woods, and having felt the gratitude that exercising two feet and a heartbeat often brings, I feel pretty satisfied. I instinctively look to my hiking partner for approval. I can tell what he is thinking: “Yeah, but does it even count if there is no blood?” There is a small trickle coming from a kneecap (his, not mine, though barely discernible what with all the mud caked in the same general area). If this is indeed the measure of success, he has won. And yes, that’s a third bloody limb (for those who are keeping track).
Blood (or lack thereof) notwithstanding, there is something super satisfying about carrying all you need to survive on your back (unless we had encountered a bear, we didn’t have bearspray…the kid at MEC said we didn’t need it); about being completely off the grid and communing with nature, new friends, and the company you keep; about amassing trail stories and wilderness wounds and dirt under your nails. And about hands that are a little rough around the edges (and also in the middle bits), even if they are still freakishly soft.
(Oh, and about that ass. No such luck with the quarters. But you should totally do the West Coast Trail anyways.)