Hi, my name is Lana Harrison, otherwise known as; Deanne’s Mom, Nana to her children, lover of the outdoors, fellow adventure seeker, traveler, fellow yogi, and as our age gap shortens, best friend. Deanne has asked me to write this month’s blog about my experiences on the West Coast Trail this summer. Though Deanne definitely has more energy and passion for all of the adventures she pursues, I do my best to keep an open mind and give it my best shot. I attend a weekly yoga class that Deanne instructs, as well as supplement that with classes at my local yoga studio, and I have been on a Yoga retreat to Isla Mujures, Mexico that Deanne and Mandy led. That was an amazing week. I loved it and can’t wait to do that again. Yoga has impacted my life in such a positive way; physically, spiritually and emotionally. It has helped me to feel empowered as a strong, determined, calm and happy 58 year old woman. One of the best perks is spending time with my daughter, who….if you can’t already tell….I admire.
More recently we have expanded our adventures together to include hiking. I can’t do the running thing, but I’m often told that others have to run to keep up with my walking pace! A friend lovingly refers to me as Lana-Long-Legs! A couple of years ago we were in Canmore for a Girls weekend; Deanne and Lindy (also my daughter/friend) and longtime buddy, Maligne. We hiked HaLing Mountain which inspired me to want to continue. I have hiked and back packed previously, but not for quite some time. Actually, the tables used to be turned. I used to be the adventure leader, both as a Mom to three children and as a Brownie and Girl Guide leader. Deanne has been exposed to the great outdoors and adventures at an early age.
When Deanne said she was putting in a team for the West Coast Trail this summer and asked if I wanted to join them, I was all for it…..but could I do it? I’m a 58 year old woman in OK shape but not athlete status! Crap! Can I do this? 75km of intense terrain…..6-7 days carrying a 40 lbs. backpack, tenting along the way. I mentioned to a few friends that I was considering this adventure and received mixed reviews. Some thought I had lost my mind and would never make it. People much younger and in much better shape had a very difficult time. Others, like my husband Doug, my brother Gord, of course Deanne and even my doctor, were encouraging and supportive. So, nervously I bit the bullet and committed to join the team. Now, anyone who knows me, or Deanne, would know that once we’ve made a commitment, we are doing it…..come hell or high water!
Ok I’m doing this. I’d better get my act together. It’s January, I’ve got eight months to train. This was the turning point in my fitness regime. Yoga 4-6 days a week, and once spring came I walked, hiked, did stairs, ate healthy food. Even just saying “did stairs” made me feel more athletic! I had a new found energy and I was excited for the upcoming adventure. Our team was made up of a great bunch of people. We supported each other through all kinds of obstacles and got out together to train in large and smaller groups as we could.
My first test was a Heli-hiking trip to Kimberly on the August long weekend with Deanne, Dianna and Steve, some of the members of our WCT group. What a great time! This was one of the Top Ten adventures of my life! Dianna says it was one of her Top Five adventures but I am quite a bit older than her so I’ll stick with Top Ten! A couple of firsts for me on that trip. My first time in a helicopter, which was so, so cool. The views were breathtaking. We were fortunate enough to have a clear day even with new fires burning less than an hour away. If you ever get the opportunity, do it!
Our full day of hiking in the mountains was challenging, but it was supposed to be. And, I did it! I made it. My quads hurt for the next couple of days afterwards but it was a good hurt. My team was right there with me offering support and encouragement when I needed it. Love those guys! Oh yah….the other first was doing ‘Crow’ pose in a meadow in the mountains.
I blinked and it was September 2nd, at 7:00 am and Deanne, Derek, Marie and I are loaded into Deanne’s car, with a massive “Adventure’s with Deanne” decal on the rear window, cruising down the highway toward the West Coast. After a brief layover in Vancouver, where I had yet another first…..Stand-Up Paddle boarding on the ocean! And guess what…..I did it! Deanne, who knows me so well, had interpreted my non-committal answer, “I don’t know….what if….” as a YES and booked me in. Can’t wait to do that again either!
Deanne explained the adventure of us getting to the South Trailhead on last month’s blog so I’m just going to fast forward to….My Adventures on the West Coast Trail.
The ferry from the Parks Canada Trailhead Office to cross the Gordon River is full of hikers, all with an oversized pack strapped to their back and a look of anticipation on their faces. A rather grumpy old guy is the captain and he skillfully drives the boat down the river to a spot that we recognize as the start to the hike. The 50ft ladder going straight up is a dead giveaway. Oh God, what have I got myself into?
Our team of five is the first group to climb the ladder from the beach up into the forest. I watch Deanne limberly scale up the ladder with relative ease. She reports that it’s not that bad. I carefully start my ascent. One…step….at….a….time….okay! I can do this. Careful not to slip, careful to grab onto the sides of the ladder instead of the possibly rotten rungs as we were warned, careful not to lose my balance (having 40 lbs strapped to your back does something to your balance), careful not to look down (I still hear Deanne’s voice calmly saying, don’t look down, just straight ahead). A sigh of relief as I make it to the top. Okay, not so bad. I can do this. Onward we go. We are hiking the WCT. This is it, what I’ve been working towards for months, looking forward to for months, maybe years! I am slightly uncomfortable as one of the straps on my back pack is digging into me, the sternum harness is pulling too much, the waist buckle is too loose. We stop to adjust. I’m wondering to myself if I can work through this for the next 6 or so days? Well, I’m doing it, aren’t I. Here I am, on the WCT. We carry on, scrambling up, over, around, down….at one point I lost my footing and slipped. Down I go to my hands and knees. I’m ok though. Really! I am loving my surroundings, loving the people I am with, loving my choice to tackle this adventure. Honestly, I’m kind of proud of myself. For the next few hours we continued to hike on what was the hardest conditions I have ever hiked. Many, many ladders. Ladders up and ladders down. My shins are getting bruised. Derek was the ladder ninja. He always took my trek sticks so I didn’t have to manage them, or put them away at each ladder. At some point Marie and her sister, Jo went ahead, leaving Deanne, Derek and I as a threesome. One of them would go ahead of me and one would always stay behind. I am thankful for their patience. I know that Deanne would have skimmed through this a lot faster without me slowing her down. I needed to be careful though; I couldn’t risk getting hurt. The last km was hiking down from the forest to the campsite on the beach were we would spend our first night. I was tired and needed to stop more frequently to rest and catch my breath. It’s right around the corner, right? Then, finally, we made it! Wow. What a wonderful feeling of accomplishment! I scramble to get my pack off and lay down on the sand. Silently saying to myself, “I did it! I really did it!”
Marie and Jo thankfully already had the tent I was sharing with them set up. I mean, there wasn’t a whole lot of gas left in the tank if you know what I’m saying! Everyone else had a little dip in the ocean to freshen up before the camp got too busy. It was midafternoon. We found the fresh water source and treated and replenished our water supply. By 5:00 we were cooking dinner. Hmmm, what to have tonight, so many options. I settled on Lime Curry Chicken, and I must say it was delicious, as far as dehydrated food in a foil package goes. Feeling much better and more energetic after some down time and getting some food in my belly, I decided a lovely cup of tea would be just the thing! Deanne and Derek were on their way to the Food Lockers so I asked them to bring my tea back with them. They reported they couldn’t find it. It must have fallen to the bottom of the Dry sac. In a bit, Derek came with me to look again. It had to be there. But it wasn’t. What was I going to do? I had a zip loc bag with single servings of Starbucks coffee, green tea bags, and Crystal Lite to kill the taste of the water! Now the only thing I had to drink for a week was water that tasted like earth or worse. I walked back to our campsite feeling frustrated and just mad at myself. I must have left it out somehow. The wear and tear of the day was definitely having an effect on me. I felt like I could cry…..over tea bags!! As I walked through the sand down the beach towards our camp, holding back tears, I felt myself trip and fly into the air, landing on a stick, a root I think, sticking up out of the ground…onto my knee. Well, that was enough to open up the floodgates. Not really because I was in pain, though it hurt, but more because I was tired and just wanted a damn cup of tea! Right away Deanne was there and offered to hug me at the risk of making me cry….but it was already too late. Everyone was asking if I was ok. I responded that I was fine, but continued to cry! Not that convincing I guess. I hear Deanne say, “I think it’s a combination of being startled and she’s mad about the tea!” We soon realized that my little trip might be more serious. My knee was swelling and it was difficult to put weight on it. I was still hopeful that it was just bruised and I would be fine by morning. I could push through the pain of a bruise! We planned to hit the hay early as we had to be up and gone by sunrise in order to beat the tide on the next leg of our hike. I knew the next day would be a difficult trek scrambling over boulders that were wet and slippery. No place for someone who is injured. What was I to do? I knew full well that one of the golden rules of the WCT was you could not leave a team member on their own. I hated to have anyone have to quit after the first day! I didn’t want to quit after the first day! I was so careful on the treacherous trail all day, and then I trip on the beach? How is that fair? I quietly spoke to Deanne before going to bed and told her that though I would do my best to keep going, we should probably have a plan B for the morning so I don’t hold everyone up getting out and on the trail in the morning. Deanne tells me that Derek, my favorite son-in-law, has already volunteered to stay behind with me and be evacuated off the trail with me if I can’t continue. I have a bunch of feelings swirling around in me right then. Gratitude, sadness, hopefulness, love, pride and a dash of feeling sorry of myself.
Somehow I sleep, waking at 5:00 am to the waves crashing, still in total darkness. My knee doesn’t feel too bad….does it? Just a bruise…..I think. I want to do this. All the training, the preparation, the expense, the need to finish. I have something to prove, not just to everyone but to myself! Ok, I start my little mantra, I can do this. Surely, it’s just a bruise. I wiggle out of my sleeping bag and awkwardly attempt to stand up between the tent and the fly. Right away, I know it is something worse than a bruise. I would be putting myself at serious risk to continue and it certainly wouldn’t be fair to my team to have to limp along with me. What if it got worse at a point where I couldn’t be rescued as easily as this beach? It was really my only option. I limped over to Deanne and Derek’s tent. They were awake. I gave them the news that I wouldn’t be able to continue. My heart broke for Derek. What a selfless act for him to volunteer to stay behind and take care of me…..and be evacuated off the trail with me. Deanne has promised to come back with him next year.
Sadly, I watch Deanne, Marie and Jo pack up in the dark and head out to continue their adventure. Again, a few tears were shed. From this point on, we will have no contact with them for the next 4 or 5 days. I’m hoping they will be ok. They were worried about me too I think.
Deanne left us a couple of packages of coffee, although they were decaf, they tasted pretty darn good. Soon the sun was up. Time for operation rescue. Deanne left one of the radios with Derek. He tried tirelessly to reach out to someone and get the message out there that we were looking to be evacuated off the trail. I soon realized that I’d better send word with some hikers that were hiking out today. The hikers that were going the opposite direction of us and today is their last day on the trail. I hobbled to the next campsite but they were carrying on North, the same as the girls. The next site seemed to be just getting up so I carried on to the 3rd group down the beach from us. A young, pretty girl saw me approach them and came running over to me asking if I was ok. She was British, I think, or Australian, either way a lovely girl. Her name was Charlie and she was meant to be the lady that I ran into that morning. She assured me that everything happens for a reason and she suggested that perhaps this happened to give me a sign and to prevent me from getting more seriously injured, or worse had I continued. She told me I was wise to listen to the signs that were given to me and that she would absolutely help me and take word to Parks Canada. We talked a few more times before she headed out with her group, equipped with my completed evacuation request form, hugging me and wishing me well. I will never forget Charlie and how kind and gentle she was. She honestly touched my heart.
Back at our campsite we rustled up some scrambled eggs and be darned if I didn’t find my zip-loc bag of coffee singles and tea bags in the bottom of my back pack! That was bitter-sweet! But we enjoyed another cup of “real” coffee. Derek continued to try the radio but he found that it would only receive, not transmit. We had to rely on Charlie and her team to get word back. I would sit on a rock for a while, then move to a log for a while, all the time my eyes are scanning the water for a rescue boat. Derek must have put on 10 kms just pacing up and down the beach and climbing up on the rocks to watch for boats. There were are couple of young ladies that had decided to spend one more day camping before hiking out. Other than them we were the only ones on the beach until around 1:00 or 2:00 when the first group of hikers came in from the North. The group of family and friends, made camp for their last night on the trail. After chatting with them they asked why we hadn’t just sent a text? Turns out they were from Washington State and the cell tower that they were getting service from worked for them if they were around the point. A young and energetic girl, who had barely arrived, hopped up and sprinted out over the rocks to get a signal and she sent a text to the number provided to us in our information package. We later found out that text goes to Parks Canada in Jasper and then gets forwarded on to the appropriate people. In the end, the Port Renfrew Search and Rescue got the text and the note from Charlie within 15 minutes of each other. It must have been around 3:30 or 4:00 when Derek heard on the radio that they were sending someone to rescue us. Soon, my knight in shining armor appeared. The three other crew members dropped off Dave, a paramedic, to assess me while they scooted over to pick up the lighthouse operator who was off duty. Dave took my vitals, was shocked at how high my blood pressure was! He gently and carefully felt my knee and leg. He had a suspicion that it could be a patella fracture (broken kneecap). He definitely agreed that I made the right call. There was no way I could have continued. Dave was so calm and kind. I know it is his job, but he was so personable and really put me at ease. Other hikers were coming over to ask questions, get advice about their blisters; to pop or not to pop? Don’t pop!! The Zodiac returned and as it was too choppy to load us off the rock, Dave’s partner, Kyle rowed into shore, picked us up and took us back to the Zodiac.
A 20 minute boat ride and we are back to where we started from the day before. Butch Jack Marina & Hiker Ferry Service. There was an ambulance waiting for me, which Dave had warned us there would be. Two female ambulance attendants greeted me with a smile and helped me into the back of an ambulance, another first. Again, they assessed me and were concerned about my high blood pressure. They mentioned they would get moving to the hospital in Victoria as soon as they checked me out. Hold the phone…..I didn’t need to ride in an ambulance to the hospital. Besides, we were out of province and the cost could be $1200 to $1400!! I didn’t think Alberta Health Care covered ambulance rides, so I declined and Derek called Ashley, my angel of a niece who lives in Sooke, about 1 1/2 hours away. She said of course she would come get us, just had to farm out her kiddos and would be on her way. Now Derek had already made friends with Butch, the grumpy Ferry captain. Butch not only let Derek us his phone, still no cell service, but he stoked a fire in his outdoor living area and invited us to hang out and wait for Ashley there. Grumpy Butch ended up being one of the nicest, most sincere people I have ever meet. Butch pulled up a comfy chair in front of the fire for me. He made a footstool out of a 5 gallon pail and a cushion. He brought me ice and made sure I was comfortable. He gave us beer and feed us candied salmon that he had made. It was to die for!! I fed my soul with the scenery. We saw elk across the river. Butch has the life right there on the water at his marina where he lives. And the most important gift Butch gave me, is he became my friend! I will never forget the kindness he showed me. Honestly, there was nowhere else I would have rather been for those couple of hours. When Ashley arrived, I almost didn’t want to leave. I reluctantly got up out of my cozy chair and asked Butch if I could give him a kiss. He said, “What about your husband?” Ha-ha. I gave him a quick peck and slipped a small tip into his pocket as he won’t take any money for the beers, and we were off. Till next time my friend. Thanks for everything!
My niece Ashley is a gem. She immediately made us feel at home and took such good care of me. It was late by the time we got back to Sooke so she took us out for Sushi, the best sushi ever and a well-deserved glass of wine. Her husband Brian had made us up beds in the tent trailer which was luxurious. In the morning, Derek watched their two sweet little girls while Ashley took me to the doctor and for x-rays in Sooke. It was that afternoon that we got confirmation that indeed, I had a fractured patella. No weight bearing for 3 weeks and I had to wear a knee immobilizing splint for the next 6 weeks. Ugh. Again Ashley dashed me off in pursuit of a splint and crutches. We ended up having to wait until the next day to get the splint in Victoria on our way to the airport.
That couple of days hanging out with Ashley and her two sweet daughters, Saylor, 4 and Alabama, 2 were so precious! I just loved getting re-acquainted with the woman, mother and wife she has grown into. Her husband Brian was so kind and hospitable too. Arriving home after a long day to company, yet he had a smile on his face! I will always be grateful and hope I can return the hospitality to them one day.
Okay this is starting to sound like a greeting card, I’m aware of that. Even WestJet was super awesome. Brian dropped us at the front doors of the airport and Derek grabbed a wheelchair and took care of me until my husband Doug met us in Edmonton. Derek managed our packs, and made sure I was ok. He truly had my back, right from the start of the trail, through the evacuation and getting me home. He even bought our plane tickets with his air miles! Derek, you are my Hero!
Speaking of heroes, Deanne has always been my Wonder Woman. Even as a little girl, she wondered about this and wondered about that until she found out! She got out there, she tried it, she learned it, she liked it and she shared it with others. Thank you for inspiring me to try it and to be all that I can. It’s always an adventure with Deanne!
Just a quick update on my broken knee cap, I saw my doctor after coming home. She monitored my progress with weekly x-rays and set up an Ortho consult. I am doing much better now, healing well. I start physio in about a week and hope to be back to yoga in the next couple of months. Oh and my blood pressure, totally normal.
So, this is a rather lengthy account of my Adventures on the WCT yet I still have so much more to say. I had the most amazing time, met the most amazing people, learned so much about myself and others. I am truly grateful for my experience; every single moment of it!
Oh and by the way….I will definitely go back!
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