Jack Knox: Victoria woman set to become an Island trailblazer

‘I play games with myself to save water,” reads one of Isobel Glover’s journal entries. “I’m not allowed to drink until I get to so-and-so landmark in the distance.

“Once there, I need to sit down and wait to drink until Dad catches up: cooling off for a moment helps reduce how thirsty I am, just a little bit,” the 20-year-old Victorian writes. “Then, only one sip at a time. It takes an incredible amount of self-control not to gulp your water when every nerve in your body is aching for it. I have to tear my water bottle away from my face to stop myself drinking.”

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Running short of drinking water isn’t something you associate with Vancouver Island — but then, neither is contending with a midsummer whiteout, and Glover did that, too, high in the mountains that many Islanders don’t even know exist.

It’s all part of an 850-kilometre adventure that will, in the next couple of days, see the UVic science student become the first person known to have hiked the entire Vancouver Island Trail from end to end.

Or, rather, she would enjoy that distinction if there were actually a complete trail to hike. As it is, there are gaps on the route, ones that forced her to forge a path on her own through wild, forbidding terrain. Pause a moment to think of that — remembering that she’s just 20 — before continuing on with this, a remarkable story of a young woman who wanted to prove a point.

Glover is, among other things — former provincial kayaking champion, lead violinist for the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra — an avid backpacker and outdoor enthusiast. So avid that she wanted to show others that hiking on Vancouver Island is a readily accessible, low-cost and environmentally responsible activity. That’s how she came up with the idea for her The Island In My Backyard expedition.

Glover set out from the family home in James Bay on June 20, hoofing it to 10 Mile Point, the Island’s easternmost spot, as the first leg of a journey with a terminus of Cape Scott, its westernmost location. She got to spend that night in her own bed, but after that it was camping time: Goldstream, Shawnigan, then on and on as she headed up-Island.

She has covered every metre of it by foot. Often she has been joined by family or friends, but sometimes she has been all alone. She keeps in touch with the aid of a satellite device, and meets her support crew at prearranged points to resupply. Sometimes that has meant hiking with two days worth of food and gear, sometimes eight (knowing that a two-month trek requires a balanced diet, she put considerable effort into dehydrating and preparing food).

Mostly she has followed the Vancouver Island Trail, also known as the Spine Trail. A lot of people have spent a lot of time piecing that recreational route together, largely by linking existing trails. The dream is for a continuous route from one end to the other, but they’re not there yet, leaving Glover to bushwhack through places whose names — the Beauforts, the Bonanza Range, the Shushartie Bay estuary — are unfamiliar to those of us whose lives are largely confined to the paved bits. She pored over maps and satellite photos to plot routes through the unfinished portions.

“She just keeps discovering her way,” said dad Todd on Monday. He joined her at Woss for one of the tougher stretches, including a couple of mountain ranges so steep and impenetrable that Todd had to haul himself up by the wild blueberry bushes. “Isobel looks at me and goes ‘that’s just normal.’”

He acknowledges worrying about his daughter being out in rough terrain and about the predators — four-legged and two-legged alike — that she might encounter. As it turns out, she was unfazed by the bears she saw, and in any case they did less damage than the squirrel that chewed its way into her food bag as it hung from a tree.

Todd related that while driving to Port Hardy with his wife, Imogen Glover, and expedition helper Lise Jensen on Monday. It turns out their daughter is a little ahead of schedule. She has “scampered” down the challenging North Coast Trail after the clearing the dense and wild Shushartie estuary.

They’ll hike in to Nels Bight to meet her tonight, then join her on the last leg to Cape Scott on Wednesday. One final good day’s slog to the trailhead on Thursday, then home, a dream made true.

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