West Coast Warriors: What We Can Learn from Misadventures in the Outdoors

I daydream about my outdoor trips beforehand, like I imagine most things: with rose-colored glasses, pre-setting expectations for shadow-lit sunsets and weather worn rope swings on west coast beaches. I see sunshine and dew drops, slow camp mornings with Earl Grey tea; I envision exchanging whatever it is that’s going on in the ‘real world’ for a few golden hours in the woods. In reality, the camp stove usually doesn’t start, a raccoon tries to eat all the food, and it pours rain.


There’s something about a misadventure. I watch all of my expectations wash away with the torrential downpour threatening to soak through my bright pink raincoat, mentally count the hours down in my head until I’ll be warm again — too many. Slowly, I find that little inner bit of grit I forgot I had when straightening my hair 24 hours ago. The outdoors, is, well, uncomfortable. It’s wet and it’s dirty and it’s unexpected. We are so used to being comfortable that we forget these things. We need to be reminded, sometimes.

It was August long weekend, and I was headed out on a surfing/climbing trip to Sombrio, wedged in the back of a red pick-up truck behind my friends Joe and Taylor. My head was snug against the ceiling, and I was crouched down to avoid it hitting the roof with every pothole on the treacherous Sombrio road. It was the sort of evening where the sky was honey colored, perfect curves of waves slipping in between the surfers, bull kelp popping up — pop, pop, pop — five seconds after every break. I caught only two waves, but was content to sit on my surfboard, salty toes, looking across the ocean at the dense forest all around. We were just paddling in when Cole pulled up, looking defeated.

He had locked his keys in the truck.

The hidden magic Sombrio waterfall, my reward for getting through the whole ordeal

The hidden magic Sombrio waterfall, my reward for getting through the whole ordeal

All of my expectations for the weekend shrunk in an instant: we were in the middle of nowhere, with no cell service to call a tow truck, no spare keys, and Joe and Taylor were about to leave with a vehicle that only fit three people. I was lucky number four. It was decided that I would stay behind alone, while Cole went on a mission to get into the car. We had a long night ahead of us.

Being left on the beach wasn’t so bad, but getting locked in the outhouse was. It was the sort of outhouse that had no space to crawl under the door or over the roof, and with that formidable click of the latch, despair kicked in. There was nothing to do except pound on the door with my fists, pathetically yelling HELP! until someone heard me. I was at an all time low. Soon enough, I managed to find some new friends to help me pry open the door, and escape what I was sure was to be my untimely death by outhouse stench. I wondered when Cole would come back for me.

I went about setting up my tent, eating the assorted raw vegetables I had packed, thinking about what an odd situation I was in, stranded at the beach. No one would be able to contact me if Cole could not come back; my only choice for now was to stay put like a sitting duck. Well, I thought, there are worse places to be stuck. Some kind humans invited me to sit by their campfire, and I found myself taking part in a night of stories about things that couldn’t be explained — alien encounters, dream premonitions, and stars — and went to bed with my little mind blown, smiling in spite of it all.

Six hours later, around two a.m., I heard a rustle. It was Cole, looking rough. “Ali, this is it. I have reached the end,” he said, wearing a T-shirt, with an emergency blanket wrapped around him. “This is the worst day I’ve had in….in….forever.” I gave him the sleeping bag and fed him an apple, bracing myself to hear our fate. “I went back to Victoria, to get the spare keys from my car. Joe and Taylor dropped me off at my girlfriend’s house. She wasn’t home, so I wrote a note and took the car without asking, and drove downtown to my place. I couldn’t get into the apartment without keys, so I had to sneak in, waking up my roommate’s parents as I arrived. I grabbed the keys and went on my way…As I was driving through Sooke, a dog ran in front of my car. I swerved, and as I did so, his owner ran after him. I swerved to avoid him, too, and in the process, managed to launch the mouldy old Starbucks coffee in the cup holder into the air, all over the vehicle, and all over me. I pulled over at the nearest parking lot, and cleaned out the entire car. Finally, I got back to Sombrio. As I put the spare key into my car door, I realized something. Last year, I was in a bad car accident, and my car got totaled. I then got a new car; the exact same model. And guess what keys I brought here…”

Our campsite

Our campsite

So there we were, a good six hours later, with the wrong set of car keys. We were still stranded at Sombrio. At this point in the misadventure, if you have a good enough attitude, every bad thing that continues to happen becomes comical, and you find yourself in hysterics thinking “I can’t believe this many things have gone wrong!!” At two a.m. in the tent, I found myself laughing in spite of myself. If we could get through this, we could get through anything.

The next morning, we woke up determined. I was determined to find a ride to the nearest town to call BCAA, but Cole was determined to become a criminal. It was decided: we would attempt to break into his car. Three hours later, there we were, salty and sleep-deprived, attempting to pry open Cole’s car with some sticks, a camping stake, and some duct tape. Just as I was giving up hope, we managed to hook the duct tape around the handle and BOOM, the door opened. We started screaming and dancing around the parking lot, and, having finally earned our adventure, spent the rest of the day exploring waterfalls, climbing around, sunbathing, and eating a gourmet camp stove meal. And so, after it all, I got my sunset, even though I had to break into a car to get it first.

The thing about the outdoors is this: everything that you get is earned. The outdoors tests you; it makes you cold and uncomfortable and angry, and you only survive the weekend with a smile if you manage to find that extra bit of perseverance and optimism that you rarely use in the city. The friendships you build when you’re sitting in your car crying and eating ice cream because it poured rain your whole surf trip and the fire wouldn’t start and all you want in the world is to be warm are stronger than the ones spent shopping, or going out for coffee. There is a trust there, a particular bond that says, I won’t leave you alone on the beach for too many hours, and I will personally get the bear with bear spray if it comes after you. That bond is something special.

Cole all smiles after we managed to break into the car

Cole all smiles after we managed to break into the car

So here I am now, on Thanksgiving weekend, sitting on a beach just a few down from my last epic misadventure. This weekend we were tested with the sort of torrential rain that makes you forget what it means to be dry. All I could think about was my two midterms the next week, and how I wished to be at home with my family, eating my body weight in stuffing.

But then this. These thirty minutes alone on the beach with my thoughts. The hundreds of sea lions we saw yesterday, the moss covered rocks and exotic mushrooms seen along our hike, the new friendships, the shift in perspective that makes everything look suddenly different. I’m watching the waves break over the rocks on French Beach, listening to the sound of the rocks rolling over as they slide down the shore. The waves make my midterms look smaller, makes my stressed-out brain feel insignificant, and I suddenly realize that I needed this, in spite of it all. In the school year, I get so focused on deadlines and due dates and being responsible that I forget to go outside, to climb on real rocks, to sleep under big trees.


I realize I’ve been missing this. There is something intangible about the outdoors, the way that it makes you feel refreshed after a busy week, or is able to give you the clarity you need. It is inexplicably connected to our health, which is something I somehow always seem to forget until the next time I go outside. Every once in a while, we need to be reminded of how small we are, that we are resilient, and that we can deal with being uncomfortable. We need to be reminded that we need the outdoors to refresh and recharge us. We need to remember that we need the outdoors, as much as it needs us to protect it.

So go forth, my friends, and get outside. Don’t forget to take care of you, but don’t lock the car keys in the car ;).

I got my sunset after all =)

I got my sunset after all =)


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4 Responses

  1. Jes Scott says:

    What a great story! 🙂

  2. Aazim says:

    Nice one … Well written n quite an adventure

  3. Sarah says:

    Love this!!