Hiking at Sombrio Beach

Our last hike, earlier this year, was... challenging.

Dear God, we were out of shape.

We're STILL out of shape, but we're getting better. That last hike changed us. Doing something new and exciting often changes people, but then they tend to settle back into their old ways and forget the experience. Me too. I've been "changed" many times, only to revert back to what I was before the change. But some changes are very different, like the day I first met Jaq was different. Sort of like finding religion changes people, I think. Maybe. Maybe stronger, too.

Our first hike as a couple caused one of those changes. We both had an epiphany on that hike. As difficult and painful as parts of it were, the payoff was very, very worth it. So we've vowed to make it less difficult and painful so we can do it a lot more often.

And that means getting in shape. For Jaq it means getting back down to an earlier weight and quitting cigarettes. For me it means getting back UP to an earlier weight and quitting cigarettes. Living long didn't really mean much to either of us before if we could enjoy the short life. But now we've found something so enjoyable to both of us that we want to keep doing it into our 70s. So we've decided that the long-term goal is more important to us than the short term pleasure of a cigarette or a bag of chips. Maybe it's a typical middle-aged thing to suddenly realize that your health is more important than you used to think. I don't know. I've only been this age the one time.

Anyway, this particular entry isn't about getting in shape. It's about our second hike, this time to Sombrio Beach. It's a rocky beach on Vancouver Island's west coast where the waves crash into the piled-up cobbles and carry them up the beach. When the wave recedes the smaller and rounder cobbles roll back down toward the water, making a musical clicking noise. It's really pretty. There are sandy spots scattered about for camping, too.

It was only a short hike to get there, so we arrived right around lunch time and set up camp. One major change we made in hiking style was to leave the tent at home and use a tarp instead. It was a lot lighter, and we found ourselves warmer than our neighbors when it was chilly, and cooler than them when it was hot.

Yeah. I know. A tarp? It's something you have to nerve yourself up to try. If you've only heard about those crazy tarp people but never believed it, start believing it and give it a shot. It really is a better experience for a lot less weight. Really. It is. But, before you try it, read about it. There are wrong ways to use one that'll make your trip miserable.

The tarp took about half the time to pitch as a tent, and with practice it'll take even less time. In fact, it was so successful that we'll be making a lighter and better one for next summer. We'll also chuck the sleeping bags and start using a quilt, saving more weight. We were warmer with the bags unzipped and thrown over us like blankets than we were with half a bag lying uselessly underneath us.

We ate. We watched the ocean. We laughed at the squirrels. We gathered bits of driftwood for a small fire and collected and purified water for dinner. We relaxed in the sun.

This time we wore sneakers instead of boots and that made a big difference, too. We also brought extra footwear (and wouldn't you know it, but Jaq's shoes DIDN'T break this time) and were happy to have sandals for messing around at camp.

Often it fogs up at night, but our first night brought us the clearest and darkest skies I've ever seen in my life. It was truly breathtaking. We let the fire die and just sat together in the dark for an hour, gasping at the sky. Pretty romantic.

Then we climbed under our tarp and went to sleep. Or, sort of. Sleeping on sand sucks. It's not a soft, cushy forest floor. Sand is hard like cement, and no matter how flat your site is when you first set up, when you move around in your tent/tarp you make holes and mounds in the sand with your feet, knees and elbows. So figuring a way to soften the sleeping without raising our pack weight is the next thing on our to-do list. I've got some cool lightweight ideas that I'll share if they work out. Anyway, we managed.

The next morning Jaq woke with the creepy feeling that she was being watched. She turned her head and opened her eyes and saw a baby squirrel not five feet away just staring at her while eating his breakfast. Mama squirrel shouted and the baby ran away. It was cute as heck, and something that wouldn't have happened if we'd been in a tent.

We got up, ate our breakfast and proceeded to do some *serious* relaxing. Actually, Jaq relaxed. I played macho and gathered wood and prepped the fire for the coming evening and did some other stuff.

While hunting for wood I looked for something I'd read about in a local guidebook but had missed our first time here. I found it. A beautiful hidden waterfall. I came back to the camp and dragged Jaq over to see it. We ooohed and aaahed and cooled off in the mossy mist before returning.

Then the fog rolled in. It started misting, not really raining, but enough to thoroughly soak anything that was left out. So we grabbed most of our stuff and put it under the tarp to stay dry, then lit the fire early to sit by and keep our clothes dry. We could have sat under the tarp and played cards or yahtzee, but we didn't much feel like it. It was too pretty outside.

We managed to keep what we were wearing dry, me drying the front of my shirt, then wearing it backwards to dry the other side several times, but Jaq's pants got wet at the waterfall and we had a hell of a time drying them. We got them to the "damp" stage, but that was about the best we could manage. Next trip: nylon.

Once we turned in, her damp pants were too cold to sleep in. She stripped down to shorts and we cuddled. We stayed warm enough, and perfectly dry, but the lumpy sand made sleeping difficult.

We wound up waking at 6:00. It was still raining, so we decided to leave a few hours earlier than we'd originally planned. We shook the sand out of our bags, pulled up stakes and shook the water off the tarp, and broke camp in about 20 minutes. Then we downed a quick cup of coffee and hiked back out.

We consider our most recent hike a huge success. We had two wonderful nights, one sunny day and one rainy day, mucho surf, a beautiful hidden waterfall, a cute squirrel family, a bunch of Steller's Jays, a crazy variety of shorebirds and killer otters.

Oh yeah. I forgot about the killer otters. They had warning signs posted at the trailhead.


It was intimidating. They grow big up here in Canada. I read somewhere that in the past three years over a dozen hikers on the west coast have been mauled by otters. They scurry up to you in groups of three or four, running like the wind on their stubby little legs, and suddenly you're surrounded. They're all wet and shiny and cute and playful, but they're like a pack of wolves. Very menacing. Once you're surrounded they pummel you with oyster shells until you fall to the ground, then grab you in their little otter teeth and drag you to the sea where they tear you apart.

Oh, sure, they LOOK all Disney harmless, but never trust the otters. They're all business.

Actually, and I'm being serious now, there were bear warnings posted this time out. Too many idiots leaving their food about have attracted a bear to the area. Bears are smart. They can smell it, so they come. If they can't get to it they go away. If they CAN get to it they stick around because, hey, easy pickings. And it usually stays easy, because the next idiot leaves his food out, too. Soon, you've got a bear that sets up camp in the same area as people do and it begins terrorizing them for their food. They relocate the bear, but it either comes back or finds itself a similar set-up at a different camping area. Eventually the bear becomes a risk to people and they have to shoot it.

It's not the bear's fault. It's the idiots who reward the bear with easy pickings. I feel sorry for "Sitka," the name they've given this one. He'll probably be shot dead before the end of fall because people left their food within easy reach. Damn people.

Anyway, that's my trip report. Back to you, Chet.
I admire your wife immensely for possessing the ability to actually sleep on the ground. I hate camping...if I go camping, I will drag a freaking army cot with me so I'm off the ground. Ugh. Your descriptions were great, and I enjoyed the bear bagging stuff too...thank God here in Kansas we just have wild cats.
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