Hiking the Coastal Trail
“Bub, I was running out of steam a long time ago. Now I'm completely out of steam. 'Ain't got no gas in [her].'" I affect my best Billy Bob Thornton voice and use one of our favorite lines from Slingblade to try to lighten the mood, but the sentiment rings true. I'm done. I'm beat. And by my calculations, we still have nearly 6km (3.7 miles) of hiking over slick rocks, through thick mud, up steep hills, down slippery slopes, and across trails punctuated by numerous tree roots before we reach our campsite.
My legs are tired and sore. My breathing sounds like something between a panting dog and a wheezing asthmatic. My shoulders ache from the pack. The arches of my feet hurt. My feet keep sliding into the front of my hiking boots, mercilessly battering my toes with every downhill step. My left knee aches. My right hip burns with every tall step up. My stomach is rumbling. Breakfast had been a granola bar. Lunch had also been a granola bar. I am exhausted.
But most of all, I am thirsty. “HOW could we POSSIBLY have forgotten to bring the WATER?!” I ask myself for the thousandth time today.
The visitor's guide for Pukaskwa National Park in Ontario, Canada, in reference to the hike we are currently grueling our way through, reads:
White River Suspension Bridge via the Coastal Hiking Trail
18km, 15m elevation gain/loss, 8-9 hour hike return from the Visitor Centre, natural surface; some obstacles, loose rocks, and tree roots. Craving adventure? This full day hike to the White River Suspension Bridge is not for the faint of heart. Part of the rugged and beautiful Coastal Hiking Trail, the White River Suspension Bridge crosses 23m high above the Chiaaminwinigum Falls... We strongly recommend wearing appropriate footwear and taking food, water, sunscreen, bug protection and consulting the topographic map on opposite page.”
We did not read the visitor's guide.
When we set off that morning, we expected to hike a couple miles, snap a few photos, record some video footage on the GoPro, see the bridge, the falls, and maybe some wildlife, have our snack (the aforementioned granola bar), and be back by lunchtime.
We were grossly ill-prepared.
When we came to the boardwalk over the wetland area, roughly 1.5km from the Visitor's Centre, I thought, “We've walked quite a ways. We should be nearly there now.”
When we passed a small creek, roughly 4km from the Visitor's Centre, Marvin said, “I hear water. We MUST be close!”
When we arrived at the head of the Mdaabii Miikna Trail, 6km from the Visitor's Centre, carefully scrutinized the map that cheerfully stated “You are here” with a bright red star, and realized that we were just over 2/3 of the way to the bridge, we groaned simultaneously. In that instant, I almost blurted out, “I give up. Let's go back.” Instead I said incredulously, “That's IT?! We STILL have almost TWO KILOMETERS to go?!” But we pressed onward. I can happily report that the last two kilometers weren't nearly as difficult as the two previous kilometers, which I had thought would be the death of me and which had quite literally put Marvin on his butt once. As we walked through the forest, the trees began to thin, the sun burst through in happy little beams of joy, and FINALLY, more than three hours after starting this adventure, we arrived at the suspension bridge.
Now, we are on our way back to the campsite, and I have stopped in the middle of the trail, doubled over, breathing heavily, and admitting to my hiking buddy, my rock, my champion, that I am done. When we had left in the morning it was in the mid-50's Fahrenheit, with a heavy, misty fog covering every surface, and I had donned a sweatshirt to keep the chill off. Now the temperature has climbed to the mid-70's, and I am drenched in sweat. But after a few seconds' rest, I will my feet to move forward. “One step at a time. Left. Right. Left. Right. You got this,” I tell myself. The tired, hungry, thirsty me keeps thinking, “Need... water. So... thirsty.” And the go-getter, adventure-loving me keeps replying, “Let's not think about water right now. Let's think about dogs. Dogs are fun. We should get a dog. Maybe a golden retriever. They're smart and loyal, right? What should we name him? That lady we passed earlier called her dog 'Moss.' That's a good name. Very earthy.”
While climbing a particularly steep, rocky, slippery slope, I start to feel light-headed. So I plop down on a rock covered by a suspiciously damp sheen of mud, apologizing to Marvin for my pathetic state. The dizziness soon passes, and on we go. Two more times during that hike back, I say, “I'm sorry, but I have to rest,” and I plop down on the trail.
My legs refuse to lift my feet as high as they should, and I stumble over a tree root. “You are more tired than you have ever been in your entire life,” my body tells me. “No, that's not true,” I correct myself. “You survived Aunt Sheila's summer volleyball camp. Surely you can finish this little hike,” and I press on with renewed vigor.
With roughly 3.5km to go, I start to silently pray, “Please, just let me make it to the wetlands. After the wetlands it's easy. Please don't let me die out here. Please let me make it back to the wetlands.” And make it to the wetlands we do. From there, it's a fairly easy stroll through the woods and along the coast of Hattie Cove.
The Visitor's Centre parking lot is a welcome sight. We arrive back at the campsite, Marvin getting his last wind, just happy to be back, me dragging my feet with an ever-so-slight limp. We chug bottles of water. I lie down, every muscle in my body aching. Marvin builds a fire.
After a quick shower, I get to work on dinner, handing Marvin hot dogs to cook over the fire, and preparing baked beans and a Mexican-style corn, tomato, and jalapeno dish in the microwave. A gourmet meal it is not, but we ravenously consume every last morsel.
Was this vigorous hike worth it? We'll let you be the judge. Watch our YouTube video here!
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