Taking on The West Coast Trail

Taking on The West Coast Trail

February 01, 2022
Audra Fediurek found herself in the middle of the summer's record-setting heat wave last July. She was hiking alongside the seashore with her husband, with no shade in sight and no nearby exits. Audra is HEABC's Vice-President, Human Resource Strategies and Services; her portfolio includes Health Match BC. She is also a weekend adventurer. Audra and her husband had decided to take on the West Coast Trail, a multi-day trip, as part of their summer vacation. She recounts this story as she appears on zoom in mid-September, smiling with an inspiring light-heartedness. "Of course, we didn't know what was going on; we just knew it was super hot! Luckily, we were doing a part of the trip that had a lot of beautiful waterfalls to cool off in." But towards the end of the strip, it was all exposed sandy beaches. "It was such a hot slog," she continues. They were quite literally living the adage, "the only way out is through." Despite the apparent difficulty, she recounts this tale with fondness.

Parks Canada describes the West Coast Trail, which traverses the west shoreline of Vancouver Island, as both iconic and a 'bucket list challenge for many hikers." Audra, who moved from Toronto four years ago, shares that although this hike might only interest some, British Columbia truly offers outdoor experiences for those at every level. "It goes to show, if outdoor recreation is interesting to you, you can adapt it to your fitness and accessibility." From walking to hiking to mountain biking! "There are so many different things you can do."
Living in British Columbia opened up new possibilities for Audra: "Back in Ontario we had done numerous overnight canoe trips, but had never done a proper 'put everything on your back and hike for multiple days.' And now we do it all the time." She smiles as she acknowledges her competitive side but says she and her husband have learned not to compare themselves to other people. "It's amazing; I always tell people, 'no matter what you do in BC, you'll always find someone who's doing it more intensely than you!" For example, the average time to complete The West Coast Trail is seven days. Audra laughs, recounting that they completed the West Coast Trail in six days, but that if they hadn't pre-booked their bus ride home, they could have finished it in five. As proof of their golden BC rule, they, of course, met people who completed the trail in an astonishing two days, one night – "you'll always find someone who is more fit or more intense," she says, visibly impressed. 


When asked about what keeps her coming back to nature, Audra explains that for her, it is a beautiful way to connect with her friends or her significant other without any distractions. It's also a great way to exercise and relax. "There's also a lot of research that link good mental health to being around nature." Audra also addresses the level of commitment that such a trip requires, which is a part of the appeal. The West Coast Trail is incredibly remote. "There's no exit point: you can only exit where you enter, exit at the end, or there's a mid-point where you can get a ferry out." She says that there's something that happens to you mentally, knowing this. "It's just me, and nature, and fellow hikers. […] There's no cellphone, there's no service, there's no 'I could just skip over to town if I wanted to' or 'my car is just around the corner – this is just truly an escape into nature." Audra says that it can create an opportunity to find new parts of yourself.
She describes her overall experience as meditative, especially hiking alongside the sounds of the ocean. However, this doesn't mean that there weren't moments of doubt. After a long stretch under the grueling sun, with sand compared to a 'hot stove,' Audra and her husband arrived at a completely deserted campsite. Considering hikers are coming from both directions, it was so unusual that they started to worry that they had deviated from the main trail. They were also somewhat concerned about the possibility of needing to hike further under the heat. "We couldn't figure out what was going on." They thankfully noticed a little clearing in the trees, which they decided to investigate. It's with a smile and relief that she continues her story, "there must have been around forty campers all huddled where there was shade! […] And everyone just pitched tents wherever we could under the canopy of the trees, because nobody wanted to sleep on the hot sand." "So that was fun," she continues, describing how you get to know people in the most unique situations.  
This story ends with a real sense of accomplishment. Although this experience could have been all about the heat or on the juvenile cougar spotted by fellow hikers - a story for another time - Audra instead focussed on reconnecting with what matters most. Never has such a challenging few days been more appealing; perhaps we can all find ourselves through adventure and come out a little stronger and taller on the other side.