The Clayoquot team from UCL have recently returned from Vancouver Island and, by the sounds of things, a few close encounters with its flora and fauna. Here’s another entry they’ve kindly written for me:
Since our first blog from the civilization of Nainaimo, we set off across the island along the treacherous ‘Highway 4’ – testing our faith in Adrian’s driving abilities! Thankfully we all lived to tell the tale, all the time admiring the phenomenal scenery, but similarly concomitantly realising that this environment was no ‘walk in the park’…ba-dom SHHHHHH
We arrived on the Esowista Peninsula, home to the well known communities of Tofino and Ucluelet. We were relieved to be in our research area, and we promptly found a suitable campsite on the shore of the Ucluelet Inlet and erected our surprisingly large tent! Although not suitable for future hiking…the seemingly unnecessary size of the tent proved priceless and offered us a safe place to escape from Arjun’s nocturnal need to ‘spoon’. We then camped the majority of our trip on the stunning Rainbow Beach which is a land-bridge between Kennedy Lake and Clayoquot Arm Lake. At the end of our stay there we paid our respects to the site by spending a day collecting litter from previous, less considerate guests.
From our carefully chosen campsite we got into a daily routine that involved waking at 5am to get an all important brew on the go (for Adrian’s survival)! On a breakfast of oats, we launched the canoe from our campsite and headed across Kennedy Lake to its south-west shoreline in order to access our research sites which were generally a kilometre-long hike in through dense, scraggly forest.
Originally we intended to wake later in the day but we soon realised that travel in this part of the world was no easy task and depended on your ability to learn new ‘walking’ techniques. These included: rolling, ducking, diving, running, scrambling, climbing, sliding and the all important falling to reach your final destination. It was not uncommon when laden with research apparatus for a one-hundred metre ‘hike’ to take half an hour. To call this method of travelling ‘hiking’ would be an understatement – we prefer to deem it “Forest Free-Running”.
The challenging terrain did force us to use the 4×4 vehicle from time to time due to one research site being outside of our realistic hiking range. This presented a new set of challenges for the intrepid explorer! These challenges appeared in the form of fallen trees (R.I.P. wing mirror), boulders, running bears, and when on a supply run, low supermarket walls (R.I.P. front bumper).
To complete duties which required being along the highway we acquired some second-hand bicycles. This was all to reduce our carbon footprint, save fuel costs and further challenge us physically, because of course we weren’t challenged enough! During our spare time we endeavoured to use our wheels to further explore areas under our own power. We were able to combine cycling with hiking to discover hidden beaches and see aspects of the logging industry that boggle the mind. However, the logging roads took their toll on the bikes – as can be seen through Arjun’s rear wheel bearings literally disintegrating!
Throughout our trip we were constantly aware of the danger of wildlife lurking in the shadows! From our first sighting of a bear (IN TOWN!!!) to an intimate encounter with a whale in the remote Sydney Inlet, we were not disappointed but in fact quite relieved to not have experienced a pod of orcas at close range!
Having arrived amidst one of the driest summers on record in British Columbia, and having witnessed a forest fire first hand in Whistler before the trip, one of our most alarming moments was upon hearing thunder crack at close proximity whilst deep in the forest with no quick exit! It is astonishing how fast and unpredictable forest fires can be. We feel very fortunate to have survived the trip with only a few cuts and bruises! However, we did have one moment of panic when we got lost in dense forest with too much canopy cover for the GPS to handle! It is shocking how quickly a situation can change from something controlled and comfortable to harsh and intimidating!
Throughout our trip we were able to draw on each other’s motivation and positive energy which was no doubt facilitated by an anomalously sunny ‘Fogust’. We kept things balanced by assigning Sundays as ‘Luxury Day’ – which included such indulgences as lie-ins (!), grazing, excessive amounts of coffee, and ‘solitary’ time (an expedition must)!
On a final note, we would like to say just how much the locals made a difference to the outcome of this expedition. Their unique insight and boundless sympathy broadened our horizons and added value that we could not have foreseen.
This challenging environment holds many forms of adventure, wisdom and insight for those who seek to find it. We did, and it was an unforgettable experience.
One of the resounding lessons of our time in First Nations territory, and one which has become part of us and that we wish to share with everyone was their philosophy of nature: ‘everything is one, everything is connected’.
Jennifer, Adrian & Arjun