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Travels with Brian

Travel staffer Brian Cantwell, his wife and their two cats traversed the Oregon shore in a rented motorhome. Read their adventures here.

June 26, 2009 at 1:00 AM

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Wild Pacific Trail is wild and wonderful

Posted by Brian Cantwell

UCLUELET, B.C. -- Our first encounter with the Pacific Ocean on this trip couldn't have been better, thanks to a bunch of people we don't know and never heard of, but who deserve their praises sung to the highest hills of Vancouver Island.

They are the members of the nonprofit, all-volunteer Wild PacificTrail Society, who have created a wonderfully accessible and well-designed trail that puts visitors close enough to this rugged and surf-splashed coastline to get saltwater in their eye.

Before the road's end in Tofino, we took a short detour south to Ucluelet because we'd heard about this new trail -- still a work in progress -- and let me tell you why we were glad we did.

Barkley Sound and the Broken Islands as seen from the Wild Pacific Trail.

For one thing, I had always wanted to see the wild waters of Barkley Sound. Some years ago, we had set out to sail here but a crew member's illness turned us back.

Now here we were, on the Wild Pacific Trail's 2.5-kilometer Lighthouse Loop, with a ringside seat to watch the rolling white combers bash themselves silly on Barkley Sound's Broken Islands, which look to have gotten that name because someone came along with a Jupiter-sized sledge hammer and broke a big island into a bunch of little ones.

I mean, there are rocks and reefs to the right, left and center -- everywhere you look. As my daughter and I sat on a sun-warmed afternoon and made PB&J sandwiches at a trailside bench, surrounded by twisted cedars and the lushest salal in the hemisphere, our soundtrack was the whoosh, whoosh of surf hitting half-submerged, knife-edged rocks; the clang, clang of a bell buoy just offshore, marking a ship-eating reef; and a baritone whooo-whoo sound like someone blowing into the neck of a beer bottle -- coming from another buoy off to our right, probably marking a nest of sharks so large as to be a hazard to navigation.

My overriding emotions were of (A) enthrallment, at the bare-knuckle, beautiful seascape, and (B) relief, that I had never brought my boat into this mariner's nightmare.

Lollipop clusters of moss coat tree
branches along the trail.

A helpful informational placard along the trail told how many ships had perished here, including one just in front of where we stood, a British four-masted bark headed for Port Townsend that blew off course and crashed on the rocks in 1905, with the loss of all 27 people aboard.

So the location makes this trail exceptional. Add to that the many thoughtfully placed benches -- most in little private alcoves just off the trail -- that are perfect for whale-watching, bird-watching or a knapsack picnic. And besides the ocean views, you enjoy a walk through a mossy temperate rainforest with salmon berries, thimble berries, huckleberry, ferns of many kinds, skunk cabbage and rhododendron. Halfway around the loop is the red-roofed Amphitrite Lighthouse.

Hikers pass the Amphitrite Lighthouse.

The trail is wide and graveled, to stand up to the heavy use it deservedly gets. It has ample free parking, trash receptacles and helpful signs and maps.

And all it costs is whatever you feel like dropping in a donation box.

It can grate to be forced to pay to visit the outdoors, but here I was eager to pony up a few bucks. These folks, originally inspired by the vision of Ucluelet's "Oyster Jim" Martin, have earned every visitor's gratitude.

To learn more, watch this video, narrated by Jason Priestley. (Yes, he's the "90210" guy, all grown-up now. He was born in Victoria, and he and his family now own the Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet, just a short distance from the Wild Pacific Trail.)

Walking On The Edge from Lance Blackwell on Vimeo.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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