If my legs accept to carry me across the grass and into the street, I’m going to buy myself an ice cream. I’m dripping in a mixture of sweat and water from sticking my head under the park’s public shower, but I’m sure they’ve seen it all before and I want that ice cream. I’ve wanted it since the second bridge, when the thought of the freezing water below crept into my mind. Of course I was on a schedule and only took time to snap a picture of the canyon, and my fingers at that time passing by too fast. But now, many, many rocks, roots and spiders’ webs later, I will finally collapse on a bench and delightfully freeze my throat with vanilla and caramel.
When the bus dropped my off outside the Shire at Lynn Canyon Park, almost two and a half hours ago, I had just about had it with the uninterrupted chatter of a trio of Hobbits bound for the same destination, and who had been telling each other since Lonsdale Quay how wonderful the place was going to be. I knew that already and could have used a bit of peace instead, but they were so thrilled with the perspective of crossing the wobbly bridge and dipping their furry feet in the ice cold turquoise water of the creek that they made me wish I could just lean over and turn them to stone.
Hopping off the bus, I started at a brisk pace towards the Park’s entrance, anxious to leave behind the unavoidable crowds such a beautiful day had attracted. I crossed the suspension bridge in a hurry, contributing shamelessly to its irritating movement and probably blurring a few pictures as I went by. As I stepped up on the eastern side of the canyon, a small sign identified the Baden Powell Trail and pointed to the left and right with destinations and distances. To the left was Horseshoe Bay, over 30 km away; to the right, Deep Cove, 12.2 km and an estimated 4.5 hours. I boldly intended to make it in 1.5 instead.
Having never before hiked that section of the trail, I was vaguely aware that my attempt to run it in such a short time was probably as doomed as that of asking an Elfe for advice, but I like a challenge and I would do my best.
The first part was easy. A now familiar path went down along the creek, up high on its eastern bank, passing Twin Falls and the large bottom pool where I will go swim a little later this summer. Quite a few people – small and big folks – where walking up or down and I could hear voices through the woods, over a strong background of water falling from high. I started slowly, warming up my knees and ankles in preparation for the unknown terrain to come. The backpack, even with its straps short and tight, was dancing a little bit on my shoulders, weighted by the two Gatorade bottles, lembas and the camera. I had decided not to bring Abe and gone for the good old G3, sturdier and more compact. I would really have liked a picture of a dragon.
Eventually, the trail abandoned the river and turned sharply left, heading east over a first steep shoulder. I soon realised that, not knowing what lay ahead and with almost 12 km to go, I was going to have to pace myself and take it easy on the climbs. My hour and a half suddenly felt like it was swelling up a bit. I nonetheless decided to walk up the more vertical parts and run the rest. My legs were reminding me grumpily that the 11 km run around Stanley Park the day before might not have been the brightest idea after all.
The shoulder ended and as soon as the slope flattened, I resumed my run through the woods on a narrow and winding path. I couldn’t go very fast and had to watch my steps carefully to avoid twisting an ankle on the many rocks and roots. Stanley Park and False Creek are great, but they don’t prepare you for this kind of anarchy. The worse part of my usual city run is avoiding goose droppings and other runners.
I was finally alone. My breath was very short. Not wearing my MP3 player (I never do on trail runs because it would be a shame not to listen to the woods, the chirping of birds, to giggling of mountain streams, the whistling of leafs in the wind, my lungs on fire sounding like a fog horn) I was able to keep an ear in front of me and the other behind, watching for the unlikely Orc, even though this part of Middle Earth is rather safe and enjoyable. The tall trees were staring at me from above, murmuring to each other as I went past.
I crossed a mountain road and went down the other side of the small mountain. At the bottom, another bridge led me over the deep canyon of Seymour River. I took a picture and the ice cream dream was born. The other bank climbed steeply, the trail coming close to a few houses and disappearing again into the old forest. Some guy running with his dog passed me at a good pace and vanished ahead of me. I secretly decided he must have been living in one of the houses below and was only going for the daily 15 min jog. Now that I think about it, he must have been an Elve in ordinary clothes; he ran silently and effortlessly. Even the dog had something noble about it. Anyway, my ego was hurt and for a while I was breathing so hard I thought I had actually spat it out. I considered turning around to go look for it, but it would have chipped at my hour and a half goal even further and I figured that living without an ego couldn’t be so bad after all.
It was a long climb. Nothing like the Grouse Grind, of course, which ascends about 1000m in less than 2 km. But after the Grind, you are done. Here, I had to save energy to drag myself through a grass field, many kilometres away, to go buy an ice cream cone. I had started at an elevation of 155m at the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, gone down some 75m to the first fork and then climbed up to around 420m, top of the day’s route. When I reached that elevation and could finally see the trail angle east again and ease down, I glanced at my watch: 65 min since departure. I was in trouble. I would have to finish the run in 30 minutes to meet my deadline and had no idea of how much more lay ahead.
But the trail widened up a lot and started descending softly in a straight line. I picked up the pace. A few mountain bikers were climbing in the opposite direction with great effort, their wheeled horses stumbling on the stones in the trail. My breathing was back under control but the legs were stiffening. One bottle of Gatorade was gone, so was the power lembas. The trail now had small area maps that kept me updated of my progression, however without showing me the end of the run and the ice cream store.
I crossed Seymour Road, and kept descending. Finally, the sky appeared in a clearing through the trees. There was a gigantic power line above me; I followed it and came to a cliff overlooking Indian Arm. The power line was jumping right over it, lined with orange balls as warning for planes. The view point had to be close. I ran a few hundred meters to the right and I was there: barren rocks at the top of an intermediate shoulder not far from Deep Cove, which I could see down to the south. I snapped a few more pictures, sweat dripping into my eyes, and headed back out as fast as I could run, huffing and puffing under the disapproving looks of a father and two cute little girls who obviously thought I was crazy to hurry so much and would miss all the fun and beauty of the place. I had been walking and running for an hour and a half. My deadline had just expired, but I could smell the stables.
The trail angled along the side of the mountain, going up and down and crossing many small streams via wooden bridges. More people were coming, now, probably Deep Cove residents on their usual hike to the view point. My legs were becoming goofy and not lifting up as high as I ordered them to. A few roots caught me by surprise and it was miracle that I didn’t go flying all the way down to the village.
At last, some traffic noise, a few voices, echoes of a blacksmith at work and round Hobbit houses appeared down below. I came out into a street, suddenly stopped, turned around, and I was done. The Baden Powell Trail sign said “Lynn Canyon, 12.2 km, this way”. I looked down at my watch. Two hours flat. Oh well. I’d do better next time.
I stumbled towards the village core, legs of lead and sore back, stuck my head under the shower’s cold water, and looked around for an ice cream store. And still not an Orc in sight..