In August of this year I had the pleasure of guiding a group of guests from various parts of the country (one of the few times that the entire group was made up of Canadians!) Not only were we an inter-provincial team of hikers, we were also a mixed bag of ages and stages – young single professionals, co-workers on vacation, married couples on a kid-free getaway, retired solo explorers, and even a grandma on her second go round on the trail!
The day before we embark on the trail is always full of nervous excitement for our guests. “Did I pack warm enough clothes? ” “Is my bag too heavy?” “Am I going to get along with the other hikers?” “Am I strong enough?” As guides it’s fun to watch the anticipation, and nice to be able to provide guests with some comfort and reassurance that we are there to support them in every way they need. So while they are nervously fidgeting with their gear, adjusting their straps and re-lacing their boots, us guides are watching carefully and trying to make “educated assumptions” about group dynamics. How is this random group of different demographics, interests and abilities going to live and work together over the next 7 days, all while testing their physical and emotional limits? What is our plan to support the unconfident first-timer, the athlete with a nagging knee, or the senior who’s afraid of heights?
I have to admit, there have been times where I could tell right off the bat, this group is going to jive perfectly, and other times where I wasn’t so sure. This group gave me the latter feeling, I wasn’t immediately confident these strangers with absolutely nothing in common would morph into a cohesive group of supportive and encouraging friends. But, my prejudice was immediately squashed in those first few hours of prep, watching them come together as a team without any hesitation, and without needing any direction or encouragement. A lady that packed too many clothes loaned a warm layer to one who didn’t pack enough, a seasoned backpacker showed a newbie how to adjust the straps on her backpack to relieve the pressure from her hips, and another taught one a handy trick to fasten their hiking poles to their pack. We finished the final preparations of sorting out gear and food, and making last minute adjustments before enjoying a group meal at the local pub. That evening was spent sharing laughs and stories, and stirring in nervous excitement for the next morning’s departure.
Once out on the trail the supportive and cohesive dynamic continued, lending hands, sharing snacks, giving a boost over a big step. The whole team gelled amazingly well, and natural, respectful relationships formed instantly. At camp in the evenings the group would pair off, a couple collecting firewood, a few stretching together on the beach, and some going for swims. Each evening everyone would re-group for dinner and share stories and laughs around the campfire. It was easy going and effortless. That type of genuine loving feeling you get when you’re hanging out with lifelong friends.
Each day got better and better. The ‘weaker’ hikers gained strength, the stronger ones carried some extra weight, and each and every group member finished the day with a strong sense of achievement and satisfaction. Every evening we crossed the 'finish line’ together – with enthusiastic cheers and high-fives, before dropping the packs and setting up camp for the night.
Our final evening together is one I won’t soon forget. A relatively easy day meant we arrived to camp early, giving everyone time to relax in the afternoon sun, go for one last ocean swim, journal, read, play cards and take in the sunset. We were spoiled with wildlife sightings all week and this day was no exception. We watched a sow with two cubs playing in the driftwood a few hundred metres down the beach, and a travelling pod of humpbacks entertained us with our 3rd whale show of the trip.
Earlier that afternoon, shortly after arriving to camp, I went for a walk to the creek to collect water to prepare our final dinner. I rounded a corner and passed a solo-hiker, boots off, feet in the sand, lounging with a book in the shade of a giant cedar. I said hello and I noticed he had beautiful grey-blue eyes that reminded me of a wolf, and I thought he looked like pure, contented happiness. A few minutes later I passed by again, with my pot full of water and noticed he had packed up his belongings and was lacing up his boots. He said he was going to push for Tsusiat Falls, but was in no rush. After he hoisted his pack he handed me his paperback, "I just finished it" he said "and there's no sense carrying it!" He told me it was a great read, but if I wasn't interested maybe I could use it for a fire starter. I thanked him and wished him well on his hike, and we went our separate ways. I took the water, and the book back to camp, sat down and glanced at the cover. "Ego Is The Enemy" by Ryan Holiday. At first I thought, hmmm. I don't think I'll be interested in this book (I now know that was my ego talking). But I took a few minutes and flipped through the pages and quickly noticed that it was full of great stories of wisdom, anecdotal offerings of history, philosophy and citings of literary greats. All thoughtfully positioned to overcome limitations of leading a meaningful life. I was taken aback initially by the first few phrases I read, and how I could personally relate to them. I noticed that a lot of the book was broken down into short passages, anecdotes, and quotes, and I decided to lead the group in a little game. We passed the book around and one at a time, each guest opened the book to a random page, and had to read that page aloud to the group. I can't remember the exact words that were recited, but I can remember the feeling, and the attention of the group as each guest read their chosen passage. Some were thought provoking, some were a bit funny, and a couple were so jaw-droppingly accurate for the moment that we were experiencing individually, and as a group, that it gave us collective chills. We spent some time sharing readings and it became clear quite quickly that coming across this book was one of those serendipitous moments saved for those who are open to a little magic. That night we sat around the fire as always, but this time we felt even more connected. One guests asked if she could take the book to bed with her because she was so enthralled in it, I told her I would be happy if she kept it.
Weeks later I received an email from that guest explaining to me how the universe had brought that book into her life at a time when she needed it most, and has given her a new sense of direction and empowerment. I've said it before, and I'll say it again; there is something truly enchanting about the West Coast Trail, and no matter how many times I complete it, I come out feeling a new and different sense of wonder. Somehow every time, 10 strangers start on one end, and 10 friends come out the other side.
In our daily lives seemingly little occurrences like the book exchange are so frequent yet so unnoticed. Maybe it's the slow-pace of life on the trail that allows us the time to acknowledge them and appreciate their significance. I'd like to thank the wonderful group of strangers with whom I was lucky enough to spend a week in the woods, and an extra special thanks to the whimsical wolf-eyed hiker who passed on a bit of magic to a group of old friends.
- Talia Page (Owner - BCA Tours)