Aug 21, 2008

THE SEA LIONS SLEEP TONIGHT

Michigan Camp, West Coast Trail – "The second biggest ladder is 10 minutes from the station," the warden counsels.

Oh man is she correct. Four feet below the rungs salal sprouts. But my gaze gumbies past my feet and stretches 20, 30, 40, 60+ feet.

The bear canister shifts ominously in my 60-lb pack (yes, yes, far too heavy: I know). I buck my knees onto a crossbeam. And I wish I'd specialized in something clean and safe and dull. A genre with fab goody bags, perhaps.

I am very open to bribes of cashmere, beeswax cosmetics and obscure vodka blends. Instead, I get a stellar view of sea lions, twisting on hot rocks like bratwurst. Two bellow mouth-to-mouth – WARGHHHH! – but the afternoon blazes too hot for battle. A lil' one bobs into the middle. "C'mon guys, don't fight," his posture telegraphs.

As per tradition, we collapse at Michigan, the trail's first north-south camp. Buoys shag the trees: once beach-access markers, they've become the graffiti medium here: words gouged deep into the styrofoam. John + Adele. Troop 786. Bamfield or bust.

Like a cheerleader, the rainforest glistens – not sweats – in the sunset. Over the silhouette of firs, spruce and pine, the sky's pastels slide into even softer-focus. My companions Maria and David finagle a spot by some college students' fire.

Before I join them, I curl around my notebook on a tide-crusted rock. Exhibit A: pretentious reporter playing with GPS. But that's the job. The whole reason we're here, camped alongside the graveyard of the Pacific. I'm drafting a chapter of Frommer's new hiking tome.

Sure, I swore off guidebooks a while ago, but, well, the trail called, potent as any wild.

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