Best Anniversary Ever

Jaq and I have broken camping down into four categories:

Sherwood Park Camping - Named after the affluent suburb I grew up in. This is camping with a trailer or motor home.

Car Camping - Chuck your tent, sleeping bags, cooler and whatever else you might need into the trunk and head for a campground.

Backwoods Camping - Grab your tent and sleeping bag, stuff it into your backpack, and walk. Walk. Walk. Walk until your feet are stumps and then set up camp and start some water boiling to sterilize it.

Backwoods Beach Camping - Same as above, except your destination is colder at night, sandy and windy. Windy enough that your tent will blow away if you don't know how to peg it down in shifty sand.

Though we car camp a fair bit, neither Jaq nor I have ever hiked before so we decided to pick a beach only a couple of kilometers from the trailhead. Serious hikers would call us wimps and do 15 km or more in a day, but you've gotta start somewhere and we're not in hiking shape (yet). 2 1/2 kilometers was plenty for a first time. Oh GOD was it plenty! (Note to self: Buy a lighter tent and better packs.)

The first kilometer was beautiful. Hard and heavy walking, sure, but just lovely. Trees dripping with moss, birdsong, trickling streams, sunlight filtering through the mist... a nature-lover's paradise. Right after the 1 km trail marker things started getting a bit rougher and steeper (downhill), but nothing too serious. There was a neat 150-foot long suspension bridge over a little creek that we met again later further downstream. You quickly learn not to walk in step with the person ahead of you when you're on one of those bridges, otherwise it will bounce and sway and your stomach will do a little *flip* when you look down. But no problem.

About 1/2 a km further on, Jaq slipped on a root and went down. She didn't get hurt, but it was alarming. You don't want to twist an ankle or break anything out here. They'd have to chopper you out.

It started getting steeper fast as we approached the ocean. The last 1/2 kilometer was... tough. The last 1/4 kilometer was worse. The last 1/8 kilometer was a 60 - 70 degree slope, covered with slippery mud and trail stairs that had been washed out and would have been too slippery to use even if they were in perfect shape. It was scary, especially for Jaq who doesn't do well when you combine heights with slippery footing. You could easily snap like a twig if you fell and tumbled the rest of the way down. We made it, though, getting boots muddy as hell. Jaq's feet got soaked. :(

When we got to the beach it was B-E-A beautiful! Almost deserted, misty, rocky, cliffs, surf, waterfall... just gorgeous. We dropped our packs and I went on ahead to find a likely spot for the tent while Jaq stayed back waiting for the shakes (from the muddy slope) to subside.

We found a good spot on the sand, hauled our gear over and started setting up camp. While I was messing with the tent, Jaq started a fire and made the best damned pot of coffee ever! Then we looked at the ankle that she'd fallen on. It was fine. No problem. Her BOOT on the other hand was toast! The reason she'd fallen in the first place, and the reason her feet had gotten soaked in the mud, was because the boot's sole had separated from the leather upper. Almost totally. I whacked it against a log to shake the sand out for a better look and the sole came right off!

Oh fuck. FUCK! There ain't no way to get out of here in just socks or bare feet with a pack strapped to your back. At best, you'd have a bloody stump at the end of your leg. At worst you'd break an ankle or a leg. I'm thinking up ways to temporarily reattach the sole using two feet of duct tape I'd brought along for tent patching, some rope and a couple of bandannas. Nothing seems like it will hold up through the whole hike back. We're screwed. Royally. The best idea I have is to hike back alone with my pack, come back and haul her pack back up while she walks sans-weight on a temporarily patched boot. Even then, it's likely the thing will fall apart again halfway up, causing a slip and a broken ankle.

I'm worrying a lot, but we make the best of it. Anything we can do will have to wait until the next day, anyway, so we carry on camping. There's lots of sand, so Jaq can walk about without footwear. I go exploring along the beach, checking out other people's old campsites in search of firewood, when a chorus of angels starts singing. Sitting on a rock shelf, with a Holy-Grail-like glowing aura surrounding it, is a pair of men's running shoes.


I get closer and see that some jerk had tried drying his camp shoes beside the fire and melted one of them. One melted left shoe, one perfectly fine right. So he left the shoes behind like a littering weasel rather than carry them back up the trail. Heart racing, I try to remember which boot was busted, the left one or the right. I grab the shoes and race back to camp to check... YES!! We clap our hands and dance in a circle like little schoolgirls. Someone up there really likes my wife. He's got great taste.

Sure, the shoe is two sizes too big. But she can lace it up tighter and wear three pairs of socks. We're set! I grab her other boot to shake the sand off and check that the same thing isn't going to happen to this one, knock it against a log and... yeah. You guessed it. PLOP! Off pops the other boot sole. (Note to self: Inspect old boots more closely next time.)

Ah, crap! Back to square one. We look at the other half-melted litterbug shoe and try to determine if it's fixable. It turns out it isn't totally ruined. It just needs a bit of drilling through the rock-hard melted plastic for some new shoelace holes, some chipping and scraping away of the bits of sharp plastic charcoal stuck to one side and we've got an ugly, but servicable, second shoe. We're saved! There's one beach litterbug out there in the world somewhere who I'd actually like to hug.

We set the shoes on a log to dry out in the sun and got back to the business of camping.

We decided to explore the beach together. Cool rock formations, mussel beds, trickly waterfalls, lots of moss. It was nice.

Some people come tripping down the trail during the day, not carrying anything because they don't plan to stay, so there were a few folks about. We got to the other end of the beach and, aww... isn't that sweet. There were two lovebirds necking in the sand in a secluded spot on the beach. We decided to give them a wide berth for their privacy.

As we got closer Jaq said, "Sean?"


"Those two people cuddling? I don't think they're cuddling. The girl on top's not wearing a shirt. I don't think they have anything on under that towel that's slipping down, either."

"Oh? OH!"

"Let's turn back."

"Hell, no! I wanna watch. [thwap] I mean, okay dear."

Jaq gives them the "sorry, go on about your business" wave and the girl lifts up and waves back. I grumble something about binoculars that Jaq doesn't catch, sigh, avert my gaze and look the other way. We turn back toward camp. I wonder how they don't get sand in there.

The day goes on, we do camping stuff, the day-trippers leave, and it's just us and another couple our age on the beach, each of us at different ends. We might as well have it to ourselves. Glorious!

The sun goes down, the mist rolls in, the wind dies, the surf pounds, the tiny fire flickers and Jaq says, "Sean?"


"Remember that couple we saw earlier?"


"We're all alone out here..."

"Yeah. We are." I'm grinning.

The next bit of the story is private. But I learned that, if you're careful, sand doesn't get everywhere.

Later, dog-tired and finished our hot chocolate, we turned in for the night and slept with the sound of pounding surf in our ears. It was plenty warm enough, but the next morning I remembered why a slope of even a few degrees is annoying as hell when sleeping in a tent. We spent a good part of the night sliding toward the entrance. Oops. It was both the worst and the soundest sleep I've had in years.

We spent hours walking along the beach the next morning, poking into caves and gawking at starfish and anemones and crabs and wildflowers growing at improbable angles out of the cliff face, wishing we could take home this shiny rock or that perfect shell. We reminded each other that whatever we picked up we'd have to haul back UP the trail to our car, so we settled on two little stones and three small shells.

We broke camp, struggled up the first 1/8 kilometer and practically floated the rest of the way up the trail knowing that it got easier with every step we took. We got to the trailhead, threw our stuff in the trunk and drove home, getting the world's best slurpee along the way.

Next time we'll do a few things differently. Lighter tent. Better packs. Better BOOTS. Stronger rope (for those washed-out steep parts). More coffee! But mostly what we'll do is make sure to schedule two or three nights of camping instead of just one. It was fabulous, and one night wasn't nearly enough. We're definitely going again later this year.

We took three rolls of film, but only snapped off one roll's worth. No idea how they turned out yet, but if there are any gooders I'll share them once they're developed.

It was the best wedding anniversary ever! And nobody died.
Aww - sweet.
You didn't bring a WHOLE roll of duct tape?

Yeah that is what I both love and hate about camping. I don't mind the hike but all the rest....
Sounds like a great time (apart from the slip, the boots and the heavy tent). Remember your binoculars next time ;)
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