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Are You Tough Enough?

Michelle Gjerde

Author: Michelle Gjerde

Article:

In 2008, my husband announced he was going to walk the Great Lake Walk, a 56-kilometre walk or run around Cowichan Lake on Vancouver Island.  I wasn’t sure I could do it, but after some deliberation, I decided I was going to make time in my busy schedule and go for it. 

Together, my husband, Lionel, my son, Justin and I successfully completed our first ever endurance event. Little did I know that was the beginning of something really exciting. 

The following year, we decided to walk the Great Walk, a 63.5-kilometre walk from Gold River to Tahsis that covers some of the most rugged and beautiful country in the world. With lots of training and careful preparation we successfully completed the event in better form than the Great Lake Walk. The three of us unanimously decided our next challenge would be the Kusam Klimb. 

The Kusam Klimb otherwise known as Mt H’Kusam is a wild 23kilometre loop heading straight up Mount H’Kusam and down the Stowe Creek watershed in Sayward, British Columbia. The trail was developed through 15 years of dedication construction by local resident Bill West-Sells, who initially carved a trail up through the forest for a waterline.

As the event grew closer I started to hear gruesome details about how difficult the Kusam was going to be, and I questioned whether I was tough enough. I started a mental checklist to mentally and physically prepare to survive the Klimb. The night before I meticulously laid out my clothes, packed my snacks, filled up my camel pack and slipped into my comfortable bed hoping for a good night’s sleep. At 4:30 a.m. I rolled out of bed, feeling well rested and slipped into my running attire, joined my husband and son for a quick breakfast, and then we made our way out in the dark and left for our journey to Sayward. 

Upon our arrival, volunteers greeted us with warm smiles, goodie bags, our race numbers and wished us good luck. Participants were steadily arriving dressed in a variety of attire, from high performance runners, to hiking boots and skate shoes. The sun was coming up, and you could feel the excitement building as the participants were finding their starting place, stretching, shaking out the bugs and anxiously pacing waiting for the event to start. 

The weather conditions were ideal, the morning was cool and crisp, and the forecast was going to be clear, sunny with moderate temperatures. 

We took our position at the starting line, and the starter’s gun went off at 7:15 a.m. 

Like a herd of cows we started out on the road at a nice steady pace, a quiet hum of footsteps and the swoosh of packs and clothing as we headed toward the beginning of Bills Trail. 

Feeling over dressed and with a full pack of water, I decide to hang back to pace myself for a strong finish. 

I hadn’t even got my breath back before we start heading straight up. Overheated, I stripped off my jacket and felt refreshed by the cool air. Grateful, I was well equipped with lots of fluids, I gulped several mouthfuls of water and continued up the beautiful mountainous terrain. Keeping up a steady stride, I felt my calves tighten and my hamstring working hard as we pushed forward on the steep trail. The forest was dry and the landscape quickly became rocky and rugged. Encompassed by rustic beauty, my thoughts were interrupted by an unexpected loud drumming sound deep in the forest. Grouse beating the air with their wings reminded me we were not alone as the gap widened among the competitors. 

Falling into a steady rhythm, I pushed ahead of several Kusum climbers who had fallen to the side of the trail, learning on a tree to catch their breath and stretch their muscles. Feeling a little light headed as we a reached a scenic viewpoint, I chased down a few bites of an energy bar with some Gatorade. After a quick a moment to catch my breath and take in the beautiful view of the Salmon Valley below, I went on.

The terrain continued to shoot rudely upward, and ropes had been strategically positioned to help us maneuver up the face of the rocks. Carefully grabbing roots, rough ledges and ensuring I had a good footing, I crawled up the mountain. We had a short moment of reprieve to stretch out our legs and enjoy the familiar hiking stride before the incline continued. 

The air got colder, and as we rounded the corner, we came upon patches of snow, and then we were greeted by a wall of snow. I followed the footsteps of the frontrunners and made my way up the slushy, cold wet to the summit of the race. 

We were greeted by several enthusiastic volunteers perched at the top singing a familiar birthday tune. What a perfect place to celebrate a birthday. 

I took a few snapshots, rehydrated, had a quick snack, lathered up in sunscreen and savoured the magical moment of time I was sharing with like-minded individuals during this memorable event. My heart was pumping, the cool air felt invigorating and the warm sunshine gave me renewed energy to begin the descent. 

After a quick turn, we were surrounded by large old growth and lots of deep snow. Rappelling over 1,500 metres of melting snow with a 1.5-inch rope sliding through my hands down the steep hill, I was grateful for the recommendation to wear gloves and to avoid colliding with other competitors and falling into the deep wells around the trees. My hands were frozen and my cheeks were numb as I slid on the back of my heels down the narrow trail carved by other racers. Although the grade was very challenging and the slippery ice and snow made it treacherous, this part of the event was exhilarating, and I found myself living in the moment. 

After 100 metres, the snow petered out, and we were running alongside a stream. I felt like a rabbit hopping over roots, carefully negotiating stumps, jumping over and through  puddles, and I realized I was having the time of my life. My legs were sprinkled in mud, and I was mesmerized by the carpet of old growth on the forest floor. 

The landscape was constantly changing as we raced from the summit. We continued down the flag-marked trail and splashed through several creek beds. Bear scat, which we carefully dodged, checkered the overgrown logging road as we dippsy-doodled our way along the switchbacks. 

When I started feeling tired, my son offered to take my pack and encouraged me to persevere. My legs felt heavy, but I continued to give everything I had left in me to reach my personal goal. 

We wove our way through the trails, and as we ran across the finish line, the volunteers cheered us on with whoops and smiles. 

It was a fabulous day and I was so happy to share it with my family.  Every moment of this experience gave me time to reflect on the purpose of my and life and my well being. I came to the conclusion  after hiking the Kusam Klimb that challenging these wild adventurous events fills my soul with passion and excitement that makes me feel alive. It was an amazing event, and I am already plotting my strategy to improve my time next year. 

I was tough enough! Are you?

This entry was posted on Friday, September 10th, 2010 at 9:12 am and is filed under FEATURE. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Synergy Magazine: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada