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CANADIAN TRAILS: Juan de Fuca Trail, Vancouver Island

The Juan de Fuca Trail is the gem of southern Vancouver Island trails.

The espresso maker quits growling as my friends Shawn and Sean pull up. I load day’s necessities into the trunk: trail shoes, coffee, water, homebrew beer and half a bulk bag of mystery nuts. The drive from Victoria passes quickly and without fanfare so too does the first hour of running, silent and shady over roots of giant Sitka spruce and red cedars and vivid green fern fronds, everything calm in the late-summer maritime air.

Knowing that we’ll be spending most of the day on the trail, we gradually fall into a pace determined not by kilometres or seconds but by breath and pulse, a natural rhythm that allows for pleasant conversation. There are no flat sections on this trail except along the boulder-covered beaches, dotted with tide pools. Sometimes the rugged coastal cliffs force us straight into the ocean, wading thigh-high through swell towards fishing buoys that mark the dive back into forest.

The rest of the route is climbs and descents, steep to the point of scrambling and without fail divided either by knife-edge ridges or rocky gullies draining tea-coloured water from the forest above. The trail itself is more liquid than solid and by the first water break we’re in equilibrium with the cold mud that covers us almost to our waists. Stops are short and filled with few words: the trees, ocean, sun and trail say it all.

Three hours later, colours seem more intense, log crossings dicier – and those mystery nuts have become irresistibly tasty. What water-break conversation there is now tends toward strange, giggle-filled topics. The overall feeling is not unlike being slightly stoned. In between breaks, we drift apart on the trail, maintaining our own states of motion amid growing awareness of tightening muscles. Conversation becomes limited to coyote-like yips echoing through the bush as steep drops pass under our feet. Six hours and we are trudging reluctantly up the final trail to the parking lot, passing beachcombers heading to the coast for the day. A quick thumb has us back to the car. Homebrew on the beach never tasted so good.

Things you should know:

To get there: head north from Victoria toward Jordan River and the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park.

The first two-thirds of the trail offer almost 30K of continuous climbing or descending over very rough terrain with no hope of an easy bailout to the road. Good endurance is required.

China to Sombrio is a five-plus hour run for people who run three-hour marathons – the full 47K is an epic.

Bring a first aid kit, a camera and stop for dinner at Mom’s Cafe on the way back to Victoria.

Jeremy Fyke is a PhD student in climate modelling at the University of Victoria.

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