I belong in the woods. Staring up at tall green giants is where I feel most at home. Forget city streets and the confines of buildings I will take wilderness over cityscape any day.
But where does this love of all things wild come from? It wasn’t until my 30th birthday that I actually looked up from the trail to consider this question. I had accepted my bush woman traits and true love for dirt as part of my cellular make-up. But there is more to it than that.
I am sure it all started with a salamander. Or a newt, depending on who you are talking to on Vancouver Island. Growing up in Victoria with my Mom and sisters was a great life full of laughing fits, singing, dancing and plenty of urban adventures. But spending the weekends and summer holidays in the wilds of the Cowichan Valley with my Dad was a super-natural life and one that I was completely smitten with.
After dinner walks were never considered optional at Dad’s. Not walking after supper would be like not brushing your teeth before bed. It just didn’t happen. These strolls were not about fitness or physical health. They were about nature’s gifts, self-guided exploration and mini-adventures. And salamanders. Dad was forever peeking under dead logs, searching among lily pads and peering to the forked tops of trees, looking for creatures great and small that would capture our interest and spark our imagination.
After dinner walks turned into weekend hikes. Weekend hikes turned into overnight adventures. From as early as I can remember I spent my summer holidays in the Comox Valley at our family cabin at the Alders Beach Resort in sunny Merville. And when I was finally old enough I was invited to partake in the annual Seads family hike up Mt. Becher. Accessed via Forbidden Plateau I will always remember that first trip up the mountain in Strathcona Park. It was the longest hike of my life. It was muddy and cold at the top. There were Whiskey Jacks eating sandwich crumbs off our heads. My 70 year old Dutch relatives were leading the charge with ease. I loved every minute of it.
One summer my Dad and I decided to go alone and make an overnighter of the hike.
This is where the safety angle of this article comes in.
We forgot our sleeping bags. I will add that my Dad packed the bags for the trip as I was only 11 at the time. We were at 5000 feet looking directly across at the Comox Glacier as the sunset cast a beautiful pink wash on the alpine when we made the chilling realization that we had no beds to sleep in.
It was the longest night of my life. We had a little radio and we sang and ran around the tent fighting mosquito’s off to keep warm. We ate rations of our food throughout the night to keep our thermal rates up. We suffered mild hypothermia and the strange sensations and hallucinations that go along with it. We packed up and headed for home when the sky turned from black to ink blue. We survived to tell the tale and we still laugh about it to this day.
The moral of the story is simple. The trails hold untold adventures that will give you the priceless gift of lifelong memories with your friends and family. Whether you are looking under a log for a newt in Seal Bay Park or eating wild blueberries in Strathcona Park you are creating the ties that bind. And you are planting the seeds of the wild into the hungry minds of your children. Water them and watch them grow.
Leaving the familiar safety of your neighbourhood sidewalks and venturing into the beautiful forests of the wilderness brings unknown adventures and creates plenty of special memories for you and your family. By following a few safety guidelines you will ensure that all of your hiking experiences and family memories are positive and fun. Here are some things to remember before you hit the trails:
Trail Safety Tips
- Buddy Up! A wise hiker travels with a friend in case of emergency.
- Be aware of your surroundings! Learn some basic map reading and navigation skills before you venture off the beaten path.
- Uneven ground poses additional hazards such as roots, rocks, fallen logs, loose gravel, sand, slippery slopes and even water. Shorten your stride, slowdown, and take your time. Adjust your pace if you are unsure of your footing…safety first!
- Wildlife. Safe animal encounters provide wonderful educational opportunities for all ages and can create very special memories. However, it is important to avoid close encounters with large wild animals and the best method is prevention. Simply making your presence known with conversation along your hike will inform animals of your arrival and give them time to move away from your area. Never let small children walk or play unattended in areas where cougars are known to predate. Children are much safer at your side.
- Take care of the Forest! Take the opportunity to educate your family about the stewardship role we play within our forests and parks. Teach them the value of these special spaces and the code of conduct that all responsible hikers are bound to. ‘Take only pictures, leave only footsteps’ is a great place to start!