Exhaustion is a natural aftereffect of every adventure I take.
Whether it’s due to the physical exertion itself, jetlag, or a combination of the two, it’s always nice to spend some time unwinding and settling back into the routine at home. There’s time to unpack, peruse through photos and reflect on the memories.
After a few weeks, however, a stir-crazy feeling always sets in and it’s time to start dreaming again.
This year has been no different.
The ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro in early June was the most physically demanding adventure I’ve undertaken thus far. It taught me a lot about myself and how much I can handle, and it set a high bar for future trips.
Of course, the Kilimanjaro trip was in the works for three years. Extensive planning went into it, along with five months of training and about $5,000 in expenses for gear, vaccinations, airfare and outfitter/park fees.
My mind has drifted in recent weeks to where I’ll go next. Switzerland is always an option for me — especially after seeing photos of friends of mine playing in the Alps again this summer. New Zealand has been a destination of choice for a few years. Some friends have proposed a November jaunt to Costa Rica.
On Thursday, two months to the day that I left the trail at Kilimanjaro National Park, a new long-term idea landed on my radar.
James Kuhleitner — a friend I met in Switzerland in 2007 and spent a few days hiking with in the Alps again in 2009 — proposed an idea for the summer of 2012.
In the same breath that Kilimanjaro was the big trip for my 30th birthday, James will turn 30 in 2012. He’s long dreamed of trekking the West Coast Trail near his native Vancouver, B.C., and wanted to gauge my interest.
I was on board immediately.
According to the trail’s Web site, the West Coast Trail “has the reputation of being one of the most grueling treks in North America. It is isolated, strenuous, physically challenging and potentially hazardous. It is also extremely rewarding due to the spectacular scenery and unique setting.”
The trek would take about a week and cover about 75 kilometers (47 miles).
Much of the trail is supposed to be slick because of the amount of rain along the coast. Numerous steep slopes will be tackled. Some rivers will be crossed by cable cars (small metal carts that move along a cable and are pulled by gravity). Portions of the trail are on the beach and can be under water depending on the tides. Bears and cougars — the animals, as well as attractive older women I suppose — may be encountered on the trail. Hypothermia is a risk because of the frequent rainy conditions.
All of those facts are enough to frighten my wonderful mom, but they only serve to entice me. I enjoy physical challenges and I love challenging the elements. Trips like that help you figure out how much you can take.
Plus, it will be an outstanding time with my friend, and James will bring plenty of experience to the backcountry from his time working and playing in the Alps, to working as a heli boarding instructor in Banff and numerous other camping trips.
He’s someone I credit with helping prepare me for Kilimanjaro. We did a two-day trek in Switzerland for his birthday in 2009. Day one lasted nine hours, and we gained 800 meters of elevation during the final two hours to Blumisalphutte (2,837 meters/9,307 feet). I entered the trip in the best shape of my three Swiss trips (2006, 2007 and 2009), but I failed in almost every way possible. Blisters thrashed my heels thanks to boots that weren’t broken in nearly as well as I’d hoped. I didn’t carry enough water and got dehydrated almost to the point of collapse. In fact, James didn’t have enough water either, but he jogged to a nearby farm to refill our bottles so we could make the final push to the mountain hut. Plus, my legs weren’t nearly as strong as I thought, and I literally dragged myself up the mountain with my hiking poles for the final two hours.
Every mistake I made, every area where I was underprepared, all of it reinforced just how hard I needed to train in order to take on Kilimanjaro. They were valuable lessons, and they were only learned because James wanted to do the two-day trek.
The lessons of that trip, the lessons of Alaska in 2008 and Kilimanjaro in 2010 all will come in handy for the West Coast Trail in 2012. It’s still a long way away, though, and until then I’ve got a lot more dreaming to do.