Monday, 6 March 2017

My West Coast Trail Experience aka What Adventures are Really Like as a Mom

Me, looking for cell service (photo by The Lost Girl's Guide to Finding the World)
We all see them--- on Instagram, at Starbucks, at the hairdresser. Those uberfit cool moms who still do amazing things. We see them and we think HOW THE HECK ARE YOU BENCHPRESSING MINIVANS when I can't even get my kids into the car?

Ahem. Sorry. Maybe I'm the only one.

In any case, the other day one of my friends told me she thought I WAS A COOL MOM WHO DOES COOL STUFF. Once I stopped choking on all the coffee I had just snorted up my nose and spit on my children, I thought about it. I guess we did take a 7-month-old to Kenya... and braved some fun beach vacays to Cuba with two littles... and explored Vancouver with toddlers...

Then I had a revelation. An ephiphany. A MOMentus realization:

I actually DO cool things. It just never feels like it when you're the one doing it. 

Speaking of which, remember last fall when I kissed the kids and husband goodbye to hike the world renowned West Coast Trail with two of my favourite friends?

Hey, there they are!

I think I said I'd blog about this trip... six months ago. Procrastinators. They're the worst.

So here's what happened. 

I have this amazing friend, Lesley, who sets off on outdoor adventures of all types and when she started talking about the West Coast Trail, I wanted in.

There's Lesley! She's adorable as well as brilliant. 

Then, my other adventurous friend, Ashlyn, got on board (she's an incredible blogger, writer, travel personality and photographer-- check her out here)...

Ashlyn, pestering the locals. 

I knew this would be the trip of a lifetime. I also knew that these girls were tough enough and experienced enough to carry me out of the wilderness and fight off bears for me, but those were additional bonuses.

So today, for Mom Tip Monday I'm sharing about my West Coast Trail girls' trip and what it feels going on an exciting adventure when you're also a mom of littles. I don't know if this qualifies as "tips" but then, does anything I do really qualify as advice for other humans?

Exactly. So here we are and maybe a glimpse into our trip might give another mom the confidence to get out of the house for an hour at the mall, an evening date night, a girls' weekend or even a longer adventure sans bébé.

So here goes.

As a mom, the trip doesn't start when I leave on the plane. It begins a month prior when I commence panicking.

Here were some of my thoughts preparing to leave my family for a week.

1. But I'm not done breastfeeding. I can't leave.

2. My baby will die.

3. Oh yeah, she's 13 months old.

4. I'll die. My breasts will explode.

5. Who will look after my children?

6. Oh yeah. My awesome in-laws and their OTHER PARENT.

7. Oh I feel so guilty about leaving my kids.

8. Oh I am so excited about leaving my kids.


10. Ow my back. I am so out of shape. Why didn't I start working out a month ago?

Fast forward a month (and no, I didn't start working out and yes, that was a mistake) and off I go on my adventure.

Here are a few of the things that were critical for a successful mom trip:

1. A supportive spouse.

Check. Nathan was so excited for me to go and talked me down from the crazy ledge.

2. Resources. 

From finances (thanks, Bank!), to a support system of amazing people taking care of your people (thanks parents in law!)  and enough time (thanks awesome employer for an extended leave), if the resources aren't in place, I'm miserable, stressed and overextended.

3. A Plan.

I used to be a "Let's figure out where we're sleeping when we get there!" sort of a traveller. Now I'm all "BUT CAN I PHONE THE KIDS?" and "WILL I MAKE THE PLANE?" Hopefully I'll calm down again soon but that's the current status.

Real life selfie before leaving. 
So with all those factors in place, off I went, chest aching (internally not externally--- yay weaning!), feeling all the feels a plethora of emotions. My plane was delayed, rerouted, my luggage was lost (no big deal, JUST WHAT I AM SURVIVING ON FOR THE NEXT 7 DAYS), but at the end of day one, there I was, at an incredibly beautiful Victoria home (thanks Sam!), chilling on Vancouver Island, backpack located and *ready* for adventure.

This is THE LIFE. 
By ready I mean I was physically there. So if there is one tip I have for you that's worked for me in real life and crazy adventures: The main thing is to just show up. You can do anything with a lot of whining, complaining and no other options.

Off we went. After the bus forgot us (and then came back to get us) we bounced and banged (why did we drink that wine last night?) our way along logging roads with young and dewy hikers until we reached our destination, the beginning of the West Coast Trail.

Yup. It's raining. I am undeterred.
If you're not familiar with the West Coast Trail, it's a 75 km hike along the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada  (You can read about it here). It's stunningly beautiful, really really wet and has *approximately* two billion ladders up and down steep ravines. It's also a 5 to 7 day pack-in-pack-out deal and the trail is restricted to a certain amount of hikers at a time so you need to reserve a place on it in advance.

After a mandatory orientation (Don't die. Here's how you might die. Sign here so we're not sued if you die), we started off on our trek. I immediately wiped out, so that should have been foreshadowing. I am not afraid of heights but I am afraid of falling off heights, so it was good to get a wipe-out out of the way. It settled me down considerably.

Please help. Oh, you're also carrying a giant pack and in the middle of nowhere. Okay. I'll just cry and then walk until this mud dries and falls off. Cool. 
It rained. It was hard work. I huffed and puffed and swore under my breath at the gentlemen breezing by us (turns out they're from Winnipeg and awesome) and then I realized, I can do this. 

So my second tip is:

Do adventurous things with people who you really like and who won't throw you off a cliff when you're a whiny baby. 

Literal cliff. 

My friend Ashlyn, contemplating throwing me off a cliff or nature or something. 
For me, confidence is gained as I move forward, whether in travel or in anything requiring skill or stamina. As we got our groove on the hike, I started to relax and enjoy the time with my friends and the incredible views. 

Photo by The Lost Girl's Guide to Finding the World

Being surrounded by the majesty of rain forests and rugged coastal vistas will put most of life into perspective really quickly. 

Ashlyn enjoying the view.
However, now that I'm a parent, it's harder to stay in the moment. 

It goes like this: Wow! I can't believe how lucky I am to be here. I want to drink this in. I want to stay here. I want to hike everywhere and sell everything I own and live in a tent. 

Two seconds later: What am I doing here? I'm wet and tired and hungry. I smell bad. If I fall off this cliff, my kids will never forgive me. I miss my babies.

And let's just say I felt a certain disconnect around the communal campfires. While everyone was bonding over travel tales and rowdy rumours, I was missing my little fam-jam. Picture the scene: a roaring driftwood fire on the beach and the milky way over the crashing ocean. 

Rugged hiker dude: This one time, in Borneo... 

Me: So, this is a picture of my three-year-old and she is SOMETHING ELSE.

Rugged hiker dude: ... Yeah... I have a nephew?

Me: And here's another one. Oh, it's for sure bedtime. Yup. Way past 9pm. Gotta use the potty. Night night!

At least our tent looked cool. (Photo by The Lost Girl's Guide to Finding the World)
He liked hearing about my kids, for sure. 
But as disconcerting as it was to be way outside my normal 8pm couch time and stay-at-home schedule, it was also freeing.

Chatting with other adults from all different life perspectives (former Bachelor Canada contestants, personal trainers, film producers, helicopter trash picker-uppers, beekeepers and hotel owners to name a few), I was reminded how much fun it is to people watch get to know a wide variety of people in a common experience.

And then there was US. Lucky everyone else. 
So, looking back, how was my West Coast Trail experience?

It was challenging. 

It was hard. There wasn't a moment when it wasn't hard. This likely speaks to the lack of shape I was in at the time, but it made me vow to take better care of my physical self and remembering slogging through mud along the side of cliffs has been pretty motivating to me. I realize that if I can conquer 75 kilometres of dangerous paths, I can fit in 30 minutes of exercise most days. It also made me realize that I should have brought a warmer sleeping bag. I wore all my clothing and froze every night.

It was breathtaking.

I thought that the forests would be stunning along this trail (and they are)...

Photo by The Lost Girl's Guide to Finding the World
but I didn't realize how unique and wild the beaches would be. From Avatar-like rock structures...

Photo by The Lost Girl's Guide to Finding the World
to limestone shelves...

Yup. That's my thumb. 
 to boulders 

to pebbles...

When you saw those footprints in the sand, it was there that I carried you. That poem? LIES.

with all manner of wildlife in between, the beaches absolutely blew me away. It's easy to get perspective on the world when it is so big and vibrant and we are so so small. Camping each night on a different incredible beach was a highlight of the trip for me. 

It was unforgettable.

After dealing with postpartum anxiety this last year, concentrating my efforts on not dying and accomplishing something felt GOOD. It felt real and tangible and good.

Oatmeal again? Just kidding. Lesley made us phenomenal and lightweight meals.

Did it mean I wasn't scared?

Get real. I'm still me. I was the person filtering my water by the stream and instead of thinking Kumbaya thoughts, I was remembering that this exact stance is when cougars attack people leaning over. Speaking of not dying...

We didn't die there as the tide went ripping through that tunnel.

Yup. That's the tide coming in AGAIN. We didn't die there either. (Photo by The Lost Girl's Guide to Finding the World)
That felt like we were dying but it was just our arm muscles. 

Outside of the unforgettable scenery and physical challenge, I won't forget the conversations with Lesley and Ashlyn.
How's that for a picnic table?

I won't forget watching people rappel out of helicopters and collect thousands of cubic tons of collected debris washed up from the Japanese tsunami.

I won't forget the bear that wandered through camp one night.

I won't forget the friends we made.  

I won't forget convincing Monique (of Chez Monique's) to let me use her satellite phone to check in on my family and how good it felt to know they were okay. 

I won't forget watching rowdy teenagers on a school trip ford a very cold stream.

I won't forget crossing this bridge. 

Photo by The Lost Girl's Guide to Finding the World

I won't forget the seals barking along the coast.

I won't forget the trolleys across ravines. 

I won't forget every single ladder. 

I won't forget the light through the forest. 

Photo by The Lost Girl's Guide to Finding the World

I won't forget the quiet and the mist.

Snack time. 

I won't forget the sunsets.

Okay, that bedtime view is kind of okay, I guess.
No filter required. Naproxen on the other hand, definitely not optional.

I won't forget the feeling of looking down the last ladder and knowing we did it.

No big deal. We'd do it again. In like a week though. Where are the showers?

I won't forget how good that first beer and fish and chips tasted after we were done or how luxurious the shower in a Victoria hotel felt.

But most of all, I won't forget that every now and then, my soul needs reminding of the person I still am underneath my mom hat.

And I will never ever forget how good it feels to come home.

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