Blowdown Showdown (Days 16-19)
The 3 rest days in total (15-16-17) that I took at my mom’s place were much needed. Walking around in slides, I was able to give my feet a real from my boots, which felt really good. I sewed my patch on to my pack, did laundry, waxed my boots, got a massage, and most importantly, lazed around doing nothing.
By the end of the break, I was re-energized and ready to get going again. But when I woke up the morning of day 18, my stomach was all rumbly with nerves. “Why? At this point I know what I am doing, and besides, the terrain I am getting into is easier than what I just did!” I thought. But still, the shaky feelings persisted.
I wondered whether I would ever feel relaxed and laid back with this whole hiking alone thing. I hoped that shift would come soon.
Don’t get me wrong, this trip has been a blast so far, and I’ve really enjoyed the experience. But it’s true that while I’m out there, I’m facing so many fears I didn’t anticipate that I was going to have to face. So far though, moving through the mental and emotional ups and downs of my journey has been the most rewarding part. I grasp at the confidence that hovers in my periphery. I hope that I can step into that confidence soon.
My mom dropped me off at the side of Highway 28 on day 18, and I turned to head north, up Strathcona Dam Road. Though I had come off trail in the town of Cumberland, an hour’s drive south, I had decided to skip the rest of the high-elevation section of the trail and come back to it later when the snow had melted a bit more. So, Strathcona Provincial Park and its meadows and mountains would have to wait. On this leg, I would instead be exploring the valleys of the Salmon and White rivers and taking the backroads to the town of Woss.
I crossed the Strathcona Dam mid-morning – the dam that creates Upper Campbell Lake. I wondered what the landscape had looked like before water swelled up the valley.
Following the dirt roads, I passed Garett Lake and Paterson Lake, and a smattering of weekend car campers. Despite my rumbly tummy, I choked down some lunch overlooking the calm water, reflecting the clear sunny sky. So far, my heel was holding up with the duck-tape-toilet-paper contraption I had constructed to stop the lump on my ankle rubbing raw in my boot, so that was a relief.
Cedars and Salmon
Along the way, I spotted some culturally-modified trees! These cedars have had strips of bark ripped off them, likely by First Nations peoples for use in various crafts. A horizontal cut is made on the bark, and then it is pulled out and away from the tree, ripping a strip all the way up the trunk. But because not all the bark is stripped, the tree is left to heal and continue living after the material is harvested.
Shortly after crossing the Salmon River, I rambled down a trail that wove through the mossy trees next along its banks for a kilometer or two. This was definitely my favourite part of the day. The river was so beautifully clear, rushing along its pebbly bed and making little rapids at corners and shallows. The shade and the soft moss underfoot was a pleasant break from the sunny gravel road.
Even after rising back up to the road, I got to follow the river up the valley for the rest of the day, catching glimpses through the trees. The sound of the water nearby felt strangely calming and reassuring.
Mountains rose on either side as I continued upstream, creating some cool waterfalls down the roadside cliffs.
I camped on the side of the road, before the mossy trail led back down to the river. I imagined the sound of the water washing away my worries and soothing my nerves.
Jungle Gym Time
Day 19 was long, hard, and frustrating. I spent most of the day winding my way along Grilse Creek, climbing over and under massive clusters of blowdown, and getting lost. The entire area was turned upside down by the last winter, with heavy snow piling on top of the trees, making it so that a breath of wind could take them all down, ripping them out of the soft soil of the valley. My morning, and my afternoon, was a jungle gym – and not the fun kind.
I came across a trail closed sign for the west end of the Grilse Creek trail – but since I knew that volunteers had been out here recently working to clear up the area, I decided to give it a try. What if it wasn’t that bad? Wrong – I should have listened to the sign. The forest looked like a game of dominos – rough-trundled trees tumbling downhill, making it impossible to see an easy path through.
I bailed onto a nearby. It was a little faster given the flatness of the road, but it too was cross-crossed with horizontal trees.
Upon beginning the east section of the creek trail, I was already a little stressed and overwhelmed. Would I get to my goal campsite that night, with how slow I was going? Then, my eyes spotted a sign. With my name on it?! Underneath Isobel’s name (the first person to complete the trail, in 2018, I believe!).
On seeing the sign, I cried. I remembered the love and support of those around me in my pursuit of this journey. It gave me renewed strength to push forward. I thanked the volunteers mentally for all their hard work in trying to keep this nightmare area of the trail walkable, for people like me and Isobel. How thoughtful, to welcome us to Grilse Creek!
The rest of the morning passed slowly. Thankfully, once I got past the steeper slopes and the ground flattened out, there was less to climb over. Gradually, the forest thinned, and walking became more enjoyable. The sun came out to say hi. And a bear came out to say hi too!
It was my first time seeing a bear out here, and my first encounter being alone. Up until that point, or of my biggest fears was running into one. What would I do? What would IT do?? I worried around and around. But in the moment, I didn’t ever feel in danger. I rounded the corner to see it (30 meters away maybe?), and since I was already using my voice to make noise, it just ran away. Simple! For all my worries, I would count this meeting as a ‘success’ – I came away with a little more confidence that I knew how to handle such situations – and, the first-hand experience that wildlife doesn’t just exist to come and get you. It’s usually just living its wild life out there and wants nothing to do with you, bumbling around, a mere passer by, just a guest in its home.
At the end of the day, I limped into Stewart Lake Rec Site, to thankfully discover an outhouse equipped with toilet paper (I was afraid I was going to run out). Glad the worst part of this section was behind me, I settled down for an early bedtime.
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