Preface: I wasn’t going to post anything about this trip because it did not turn out as I had hoped. I had high expectations related to my performance and related to the visual content I was hoping to produce. After reflecting for a bit I have decided to share my experience because it’s often in failure that we learn the most.
So early last year I started scheming. I have 4 brothers and two of them live in Seattle. They recently purchased a sailboat and have been learning how to sail. After confirming that they could get the boat safely out of the marina and back I proposed the idea of sailing to Vancouver Island so that I could do some trail running. I have wanted to do the West Coast Trail and the Juan de Fuca trails for a while now, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Once my brother’s said they were down for the journey I blasted out a request to my running friends and immediately filled the four available beds.
Initially my trip partners included my two brothers Eric and Johnny, my VTRunCo partner Justin and his wife Mary, and my good friend Ben and his wife Chrissa. Somewhere along the way, while catching up with my buddy of all buddies (another Justin), I added an 8th person with the understanding that someone would be sleeping in a hammock on the deck… Probably me!
As life goes… Things happen and plans change. Ben and Chrissa were moving to CO and things fell into place nicely for them. They sold their house here in VT and lined up jobs and shelter out West. However, Ben’s new job required that he be around in mid August and they had to bail.
Justin and Mary also suffered a significant life achievement that took them out of the running… They were going to have twins! As a father of two young kiddos I knew how much work they were in for and totally understood why they backed out to focus on saving $$$ and time off.
So, when all was said and done it ended up being my two brothers, one of their friends, myself and my best buddy of all time… Justin Wold.
This is where things kind of start to fall apart in my mind. It’s not that things actually fell apart. But, this is when I realized that this trip wasn’t going to be the trip I had initially envisioned.
When I hatched this plan in my head one of the goals was to create high quality images and make a short movie about the trip. I’ve always really loved creating beautiful images, and more recently I’ve started dabbling in video. I wanted to use this trip to practice those skills and was really hoping to produce a short video I would be proud to share with the world.
After Justin, Mary, Ben, and Chrissa backed out I stopped believing I could make something worth watching. None of us really want or like to be on camera. However, if everyone only had to be on camera a little bit and we were all in it together it wouldn’t be so bad. But when it ended up being just myself and Justin Wold… I got stuck. At the time I told myself I was just respecting Justin. I know being on camera isn’t his favorite thing to do. I didn’t want to pressure him, and so I would just bag the project.
Well, after thinking about this quite a bit I’ve come to the realization that all of that was a load of BS. The reality is that Justin would have been more than willing to participate if I had been willing to participate. It was my own fear of being in front of the camera, of talking to the camera and being on camera that tanked the video. It’s hard to sit here and write this knowing that people are going to read it. But life didn’t get in my way. I got in my way.
The thing is it probably would have been a pretty good video. We started later than I had planned, underestimated the difficulty of the terrain, didn’t have a good communication plan in place with our car pickup, got pinned down by a bear, and probably didn’t pack enough calories. Additionally, Justin twisted his ankle about 5km into what was supposed to be a 47km route, and we both got stung by wasps! It was a total show and just the type of stuff that would probably have made a good video.
This was my first failure… Self sabotaging my video plans because I was too chicken to get myself in front of the camera.
Now let’s talk about failure number two.
Our second failure was not actually completing the Juan de Fuca Trail. This one didn’t hurt nearly as much because it was mostly the result of our unfamiliarity with the terrain and the resulting poor plan. Neither of those are good things, but it’s not like we didn’t try. We just based our plan on poor assumptions.
It started in the morning. I had wanted to be at the trailhead and moving by 6am. The problem was that the trailhead was about 40 minutes away and I had to convince one of my brothers to come with us so they would have the car to pick us up at the end. We ended up pushing our start time back a little and didn’t get on the trail until 7:20am. If we had had that extra 70 minutes we could have definitely finished.
Things started off pretty well. The trail was relatively smooth and we could run easily and navigate the root systems while making steady forward progress. Then around mile 6 the character of the trail changes a bit. The climbs are a bit steeper, longer, muddier, and covered in more roots. We’re not moving as fast as we’d hoped, but we’re still feeling good.
Mile 9 takes us 32 minutes to complete. At this point it’s been raining on us for a little while, and the trail is muddy! We’re talking 30-50 yard stretches of thick, sloppy, shoe sucking, mud… And don’t forget the roots.
Additionally there’s actually quite a bit of elevation considering the trail follows the coast. None of the climbs are very long, but they are steep and the up and down is relentless. Look at the elevation profile below. It looks like the edge of a saw blade. And the flat sections… Those were the beach walks where you’re hopping from one large wet rock to another.
I should have done more research. The FKT is currently 5hr 14 min and was set by a guy that was way faster than us. It’s not that we didn’t research the trail, but we didn’t think to consider the character of the trail. I had hiked a few miles of the southern section a number of years ago and just assumed that the rest would be more of the same. My research focused on the beach walks, tide tables, and overall elevation. The problem is that those things don’t always tell you the full story.
I estimate that we could have finished the trail in about 12-13 hours. Unfortunately we had told my brothers to expect us at the end around 8.5-9 hours after our start. So when we crossed the 10 hour mark and were still out on the trail we had a decision to make… Do we push on and hope my brothers didn’t freak out? Or do we bail at the last trailhead and try and get a cell signal so we can call them and let them know what’s going on and where we are?
In the end we bailed. The last part of the trail was supposed to be the easiest, but who really knows. We had already blown our scheduled meetup time and decided the priority was getting in touch with our crew and letting them know we were OK. When we got to the road there was no service… go figure. So we started walking and eventually hitched a ride in the back of a pickup with a nice couple. My brothers had actually decided to leave the trailhead and were going to drive up and down the road as they had assumed something hadn’t gone to plan and that we had probably bailed. Fortunately we saw them while in the back of the pickup and were able to flag them down. If we hadn’t gotten their attention who know’s how long it would have beeen before they came back to check the trailhead.
Did I make a short film… No. Did we complete the entirety of the Juan de Fuca in a day… No. But does any of that matter? In the end it was a great trip with some of my favorite people in the world, and I learned a lot.
I’ve been experimenting with video for a little while now and want to continue improving. I started with some simple montages set to music and am wanting to build and expand on that. Making a video is hard. There are so many pieces that go into making a great video and if you’re missing anything the final product suffers. Every time I go out and make something that fails to live up to the product I have in my mind I identify something new that I need to do or capture. If I keep trying, I’ll keep moving forward, and eventually I’ll get to the point where I can make my vision reality.
On the running side the big take aways were that I need to do more downhill running, and that spending a whole day outside, moving through the woods under my own power is where my happiness lives. For a long time I lived a life where I regularly spent hours on my bike or in my kayak every week. As life progressed and work and kid responsibilities increased I stopped moving as much. While I’m still able, I need to do this as much as I can and make it one of my life’s priorities.
Anyway… That’s about it. I’ll definitely be going back to this area to complete the Juan de Fuca in the near future. In the meantime stay tuned. I did shoot some video and I’m going to try to piece something together. I can’t let myself off the hook that easily.