My wife and I had been hiking on the North Coast Trail for the better part of a week already. The trip had started with a 45 minute boat taxi to the remote Shushartie Bay on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Scrambling off of the boat, onto the empty rocky coast, we saw bears on a distant beach and cougar tracks ahead of us. It was going to be an adventure.
The next few days were both breathtaking and punishing. We waded through knee deep mud, crawled up root filled vertical embankments with 40 pounds on our backs, picked our way across boulder strewn beaches and had a very close run-in with a very large bear (who looked even larger when it got up on its hind legs to check us out). But we were rewarded with some of the most beautifully rugged beaches and mesmerizing sunsets we’d ever seen, and a true sense of isolation and wilderness.
All together though, by Sunday afternoon we were beat. As we approached the last stretch of beach before our campsite, we stopped to fill up water. Our pump had jammed and it took us almost forty minutes to fill up a few liters. With our bottles finally full, we put our packs back on and headed off for the final kilometer of hiking. After just a few steps the skies opened up. We were broken, we trudged slowly along the beach – giant waves crashing and the wind pelting rain against our sides and our faces. Legs jelly, bodies bruised and adrenaline gone, we were both thinking that thought that comes up at least once on any genuine wilderness adventure. Why are we here? Why aren’t we sitting in a lounge chair by the dock or the beach with a drink in our hand?
And then we saw it. Not some fantastic hidden view, or unexpected miracle, but a little duck, struggling to make its way back to the sea. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was doing. It was struggling, but it didn’t seem to be in pain. It looked like it was learning to fly or something. Trying to soar straight into a headwind, two wingbeats forward and one gale-enforced tumble backwards.
Noam and the Duck
Our moods turned 180 degrees. It wasn’t some corny epiphany or lesson we learned from the duck. The duck didn’t turn to face us and, like some divinely placed oracle, tell us that the real joy is in the journey or that struggle brings great achievement. It was just a duck. But somehow watching it, being present in this ridiculous rainstorm on a wild beach with this duck, made us smile and laugh. We watched and cheered as it slowly made its way back to the sea, smiles on our faces, and then we made our way to our final campsite at the edge of Nissen Bight.
When the rain finally abated, we set up camp, tied a line for our clothes, a tarp just in case, and watched the sunset – relishing our last night on the North Coast Trail.
Setting up camp at Nissen Bight
Sunset at Nissen Bight
I’ve been lucky to hike through many spectacular places. One of the most beautiful things about an adventure is that you don’t know what will register with you, what will make its way into your heart and etch itself into your memory. The epic mountain views and jaw-dropping sunsets are, without a doubt, mind-blowing. But sometimes, after all of the grandeur, it’s that little duck that sticks with you, and keeps calling you out for more…