Do you ever get that feeling? A pull to be in the forest, along a seaside cliff top, or climbing a trail to a wide sweeping view? A nature boost can calm you down, feed your soul, get your appetite peaked. But it's the really gritty hikes that force you to dig deep, that 'brand' your brain with memories and a sense of accomplishment you'll never forget. Here are our stories of 5 tough, remote, and ultimately spectacular journeys that leave you weary to the bone and smiling ear to ear.
Ladders and more ladders, up and up, the 40 pound backpack on my back starts to feel like I'm papoose-ing 3 grown men up this endless climb. Rung after rung I raise a foot, a hand; I look up at Allan's feet, the rhythm of his steps keeps my own feet climbing. We make our way up the gully wall, pull ourselves onto the rim, and pause to look through the trees at the river below. So serene. So severe.
And on that day went. Roots pushing into the soles of our feet as we negotiated along the narrow forest path trying to save backs and knees. Muscles maxed, we waded along endless soft sandy beaches, through boggy mud, and across freezing cold rivers. By the time we put up our tent that evening, all we could do was collapse onto the ground in our hastily strewn sleeping bags, feet throbbing. Truly! Throbbing. Then...I felt warm hands grab my toes, soft lotion ease the throbs, and a firm, gently rub. Ahhh. My feet had never felt anything so good! A massage from an angel, my angel! I "ooh" and "ahh" and am completely unable to move. Eventually I grab Allan's feet and chuckle at his even heartier "oohs" and "ahhs". Foot massages better than sex. Who would've thought I'd find this on the West Coast Trail?! One of the many images burned into my brain: feet; taking my already memorable journey up a notch into the magnificent.The Details:
Vancouver Island's West Coast Trail is 75 km (45 Miles) of exquisitely varied terrain and hefty challenges. 5-7 days long, this remote shoreline trek features rivers to cross, deep gullies lined in endless ladders, and an intense bouldering moonscape that greets the crashing waves of the open Pacific. From towering old growth forests to sandy river mouths, the camp spots are a welcome sight at the end of long, arduous days. Even in this rainforest be wary to ration your water; unless you come face to face with the coast's heavy, relentless rain. In which case: rationing not required!! All in all, spectacular views, countless physical challenges, and some highlight gems including a beautiful cascading waterfall, native villages, and possible bear and cougar sightings. Isolated and strenuous with breathtaking scenery around every corner, this demanding adventure is known to be one of the most grueling treks in North America. The West Coast Trail is a lifetime experience that will push you, delight you, and leave you with an appreciation for your feet that you will never forget.
This article does not cover everything you need nor does it intend to. Please take the time to be prepared for this hike as it is for experienced hikers and you can quickly get into a bad situation if the weather turns or you experience an injury.
Find out more about the West Coast Trail here:
Oh, and you'll likely need to make a reservation. As grueling as this hike is, it's a popular one.Highlights
* sun hat
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Wandarrah’s House - Luang Phabang
Wandarrah, the woman we are staying with, is wonderful and I’ve grown quite fond of her. She brought me some rice last night for my ailing stomach. She has been very welcoming and willing to share information about Laos with us. She is a very talented weaver and teaches young woman the art of weaving on beautiful large wooden frame looms in a shop beneath her house. She also teaches in the villages, does her own weaving, and runs her small guest house. The woven pieces from her shop are so gorgeous that I have a hard time holding back from buying too much! But today I found a beautiful skirt that fits me to a tee. And just what I wanted! The nicest part is that Wandarrah has woven the cloth herself which makes it very special to me.
Wandarrah at her favorite place!
The beautiful fabric here has really renewed my interest in weaving and textiles. Maybe when we get home I will take the time to look into the subject more thoroughly. I remember how much I enjoyed studying textiles… I’m delighted to see all the beautiful workmanship. It’s like a small wick inside that needs a match to start the flame, but once lit the light grows ever stronger.
It seems the time in Luang Phabang has slipped by very fast. Yesterday we planned to leave but it was raining so hard we spent a day just hanging out. It was perfect; so pleasant to have a chance to speak more with Wandarrah and learn about her work and family. She is kind, more willing than most to be friendly. Calm and giving, with confidence and curiosity. Allan asked her about some wood he saw delivered to the house and found out they are building a second house in the Lao traditional style out near the big water fall. She will set up more looms to teach the villagers out there and also open up rooms as a guest house.”
She had a look at my scarf from Thailand and says it has been woven by the Lao people who now live on the opposite side of the Mekong. Many people fled over the river during the communist revolution in Laos in ‘75. Now more Lao people live in Thailand than in Laos.”
Dawn Market - Muang Sing
The following morning I awoke at 5:30 AM. I didn’t want to miss anything. As I made my way down the hall I poked my head out over the street: three women with baskets on their backs were briskly walking towards me. Their outfits of many colors on black, short skirts and small jackets, were topped with gorgeous headdresses; like small pillbox hats covered in embroidery, tassels, and silver. Their beauty in the hazy blue glow of pre-sunrise caused a rise of anticipation within me. I quickly dressed and followed the people down the road.
I sat alongside the open stalls, watching the people. The costumes of tribal folk mixed among the local women in Lao woven skirts and colourful blouses and men in western dress made a curious mix. Soup was cooking, tea boiling, and veggies were set out on tabletops for inspection. The sun rose in a red glow, large and round and shining across the green hills through the haze to cast it’s gold early morning light upon the market.
Dawn: the market wakes up
As my timidity left me, I walked slowly between the stalls, curious to see more closely. Both the people and the goods were as interesting as the other. Three mornings I wandered there and watched. I saw many interesting veggies and more modern wares, but the wildest to me was the meat. I saw mini dried frogs, a beautiful blue and black feathered bird, plenty of chickens, turkeys, fish. Each day a cow was slaughtered and the meat table was covered in all the bits of cow - every cut of meat with some hanging above, others laid out; intestines, liver, etc. I didn’t look long enough to put a label to much of it. It really sets your mind off thinking of the human being as just another animal in the food chain.
Get it while it's fresh!
A mix of melons, cucumbers in neat piles, bananas, and plenty of greens. The first morning I saw a woman carry in a rodent the size of a small dog or cat. It must have been strung up still alive, but later I saw the same type of animal with its throat cut lying dead. I’m not sure if it was the same one; a fellow traveller thought it might be a mongoose. A multitude of ‘barnyard’ birds ran about here and there on the fringes, others with legs tied or in basket cages stacked among the produce. And among it all were needles and thread, t-shirts and umbrellas, fabric and lighters and coke and cigarettes. A woman spun thread with a drop spindle. A young boy served up hot dumplings. An old woman offered a huge chunk of opium.
Spinning yarn in the morning light
Other than the Lao people I saw at least three tribal groups: Hmong, Akha, and Mien/Yao villagers, many in breathtaking local dress. The men tend to wear more western garb, but some still dress in traditional garments, perhaps topped with a western style hat. It intrigues me to see the mix of local and western wear together. The juxtaposition is truly magnificent in its capture of the present; an illustration of the changes coming to these people. Change I am a part of, just in being here.
Muang Sing is the central market for the area and each morning at dawn the villagers arrive in town from the surrounding area. A bustling exchange of food and goods goes on for 2-3 hours as the sun rises.
Hmong, Akha, and Mien/Yao villagers
Slippers - Nom Tha
The highlight of the day was an old tribal woman who came by selling her handmade bags. Beautiful smile! Allan couldn’t resist - his second bag that day! He’s as bad as me when he feels the presence of these gentle people (they’re probably all hard core business women!). Anyways, next thing you know the woman pulls out a pair of slippers- hand done! I let out a gasp...they were the style of the antique ones I’d fallen in love with in ‘93 in the museum in Chiang Mai. They are beautiful! She asked 500 kip ($5US) and I couldn’t bear to bargain her down an inch! I’m so thrilled with them; and to top it off they even fit me. My only wish was that I knew what tribe she came from...we asked her, but she couldn’t understand.
Handmade slippers (South East Asia)
Buddhist Puja - Huay Xai
We made our way up the hill to the monastery, climbing wide steps with brightly coloured serpent ‘rails’ and frangipani blooms sprinkled about. At the top we heard chanting. The monks were having puja and their soft voices spread out in the thin blue air. I turned to see the Mekong and it’s final reflections as the sky slowly began to darken. To hear the puja for the first time since Ladakh makes me feel calm. I feel pleased to find some Buddhist spirit here in Lao where it feels very secular to me. The chanting monks were seated facing a beautiful large Buddha. We spent several moments just to listen.
The next morning I woke up early to take a walk at sunrise. I’d enjoyed that so much in Muang Sing! I went down to the river to gaze at everyone beginning their day. Walking up the hill I noticed the monks coming down from the temple in a single line. I quickly ran to our room and out onto the veranda for a better view. Young monks in gold with bright orange belts and gold alms bowls hanging from fabric shoulder straps came down and began to file into the street. Some went left, others right, all carrying their bowls and remaining in a line. A couple of the monks wore saffron shaded robes and at least one had on deep purple. Several were in bright orange robes and purple stoles. The colours! So rich in the early morning light. The monks proceeded down the street where people from the town knelt and shared rice into their alms bowls. Such a beautiful ritual. I’ve heard of it, but never been about so early as to see them. The image is so rich in me that Huay Xai will be held this way in my mind: vivid colour, calming song.
Huay Xai and surrounding areas
by Julie MacDonald
photography by Allan Weston
All Rights Reserved 2015 Kaikuna Clothing
HIKING INTO THE SUN
I’ve always loved the sunrise. The darkness slowly giving way to a dim world. The surreal feeling of being suspended between night & day. The first sliver of fire orange edging over the horizon, captivating blaze of light, & revealing of landscape. Grey tones shifting to a world of color.
Hiking to see the sunrise from a peak is among the most rewarding of treks. Hauling oneself out of bed early to fight the inner “why am I doing this?”. Climbing under a sky of stars, one step at a time, destination only an idea in your head. The sky becomes all; the ground just a small circle of step by step motion to an unseen goal.
Any seasoned traveller knows the magic of a climb to witness the rising of the sun, as if you are up close, right there in it. We put up with the crowds, the cold, the early rise. All for those few moments. Time evaporates, surroundings disappear, and you feel that simple sense of awe. (breathe)
It seems wherever you go, there is always a bus & a guide ready to take you on this classic journey. Blaring foreign music, cigarette hanging out the corner of the mouth, superstitious icons surrounding and hanging from the dash; at first glance you wonder if it’s wise to put your life in the driver’s hands. But the warm welcoming smile and hearty greeting dispel any thoughts of abandoning ship...after all, you did make it this far. And the guide is always calm and reassuring, resting in the confidence of foreknowing the magnificence you are about to experience.
Although it may seem mundane in it’s commonality, each hike, each sunrise, always offers something different. Small details make each experience unique.
Satisfaction of having conquered a great climb begins as soon as the sun lifts up into the sky. A feeling of accomplishment settles in, allowing you to give yourself time to relax, chill out, ease your way through the rest of the day; resting in the memory of magic and beauty experienced in the moment of the sunrise itself.
The hike down can initially feel anticlimactic, but more often than not, becomes a surprise & delight as you now see the landscape that was earlier hidden. The wonderful moment when you untie your hiking boots and pull out your feet, letting that relaxing sensation flow up your entire body right to the top of your head. Hot coffee.
I can easily say that some of my favorite climbs have been those rewarded with the rising of the sun. Here are a few favorites:
Mt. Sinai, Egypt - Romantic in it’s historic context as “Moses Mountain”, the birthplace of the ten commandments, Mt. Sinai rises up out of the desert sands of the Sinai Peninsula. The relatively easy trek is frequented by travelers and pilgrims alike.
Surreal mountain-scape sunrise from Moses mountain
Grab a cup of tea served from tiny shacks at just those spots where you need a bit of a break. Beware of elevated prices, Egyptians drive a hard bargain! Enjoy the banter of the barter, then take a few minutes to sit inside by the fire and listen to the passing tromp of fellow seekers. Waiting out extra time here is much more comfortable than at the top!
The top of the mountain is freezing!! But wonderful; with a solitary Coptic Church surrounded by a gaggle of tea shacks where you can pay an arm and a leg for a wool blanket to wrap up in. You will need one.
We welcomed the sunrise along with a band Korean tourists, Russian pilgrims, and a hodgepodge mix of fellow backpackers. As the sun peaked over the horizon, the shouts began...we looked below us to our Korean companions flailing their white gloved hands madly in the air while yelling ‘Hosanna’ through their surgical style white masks. The serenity was broken, abruptly replaced by a different kind of awe in the dawn. A sunrise quite unlike any I have experienced before.
The clear morning light revealed an amazing multi coloured mountain scape of textured ridges. Escaping the chill air, the tourists had descended, leaving us to enjoy the landscape in peace and eventually make our way quietly down the mountain to find ourselves back in the contrasting scorch of desert heat.
Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii - This is a beautiful volcano with a myriad of hikes to explore, resting in a National Park. The sunrise can be seen without a taxing climb here, but you will have to bundle up as it can be extremely cold and windy! You can drive all the way up to the peak and park in the lot.
Needless to say there are plenty of tourists here. But once the sun begins to appear all else drops away, leaving only the beauty of the ocean and island view below, making it well worth the early rise and long journey. Descend into the crater for the 13 mile hike and quickly the hordes drop away leaving you to enjoy the epic beauty of this magnificent volcanic area.
Silver sword, 'Ahinahina' - unique to the Hawaiian Islands, grows at the top of Haleakala.
Crowds gather to welcome sunrise on top of Haleakala crater
Welcoming the sunrise from the top of Haleakala crater
Mt Batur, Bali - This night hike is fantastic & full of pleasant surprises. Our young guide, enthusiastic and welcoming, surprised us by clearing trash all along the route. A new movement in Bali is bringing awareness to the negative impacts of plastics and garbage.
Suddenly we were joined by several friendly (& clean!) dogs. They trailed at our feet, keeping us moving at a good pace up the steep and curving trail. Stopping to catch a breath and rest burning legs, and glancing into the darkness in an effort to see what lay ahead, we were rewarded by the site of a floating string of lights, like fireflies, winding it’s way up towards the stars & marking the path in it’s journey upwards. Fellow trekkers with their flashlights! Curious, bold monkeys hung about in the treetops looking for spare change or a chance to pilfer a free snack once the day arrived. And, eventually, an expansive view of a broad lake surrounded by the high volcanic peaks, making you feel as if the world rolled out from the bottom of your own feet.
From atop Gunung Batur, the sun rises above the clouds revealing Gunung Abung
For many travellers and tourists, a hike to see the rising sun can be the pinnacle of their trip. Some find it to be spiritual, almost as if you’ve been brought closer to the rest of the universe; perhaps closer to God? Or, at least, closer to the source of life energy.
In some sense, we all still worship the sun.
by Julie MacDonald
photography by Allan Weston and Julie MacDonald
All Rights Reserved 2015 Kaikuna Clothing
Green everywhere; rich and deep, pale and shimmering, reflecting light. All I see is green. All but a trampled brown path below, a narrow strip of sky above. I hear a gentle rustle like a trickling stream; the sway of tall, now thin-now thick stalks, their leaves dancing, whispering. A sense of calm. The air is moist, earthy and fresh; it even smells green. A touch of breeze feels thick, heavy and warm. But the forever forest creates a cool sanctuary.
Rain begins. All senses are invigorated, exaggerated...greener, wetter, cooler, fresher. The steady sound of pattering drops against the sturdy stalks and softly bending leaves, almost hypnotic, completes the isolation. You feel you’re in another world as the green envelopes and empties you; alive and wet!
The Bamboo Forest hike on Maui’s east coast is a worthy end to the scenic coastal drive from Paia to Hana and Haleakala National Park. After gazing at spectacular beaches and waterfalls, and navigating along the winding road aside steep green covered slopes, a hike in the bamboo forest is a fitting place to find oneself; to reflect and recharge.
Bamboo is amazing and exotic. Not only is it beautiful, but it gives us a wide array of products created from this abundant resource. From furniture and flooring to bike frames, food, and flowing fabrics, we find more bamboo items in the market than ever.
When travelling through more remote areas of Asia I remember seeing bamboo used throughout the villages in many ways: for homes, irrigation, tools. Tourists bring home carvings, wind chimes, and musical instruments. Bamboo is prolific, like shells in a seaside curio shop.
So, why was I having such trouble finding out about fabrics made from this abundant material? Searching the net, I was lost in a confusing dialogue between fans and foes. How does fabric from bamboo fit into the many other choices we have as designers and consumers? Why do some folks hate it while others love it?
I dug in, determined to find a path through the opposing views, to find my way through this interlocking knot of often contradictory information. I found myself back in the forest, having lost my sense of direction entirely, when it came to getting solid info. Such beautiful fabric; soft and comfortable, breathable and easy care. It’s excellent for hiking as it wicks moisture from the skin and reduces odor. Rayon from Bamboo is a delight to wear. What is there not to like?
Eventually I’ve come to a basic understanding of this fabric. Like most things, there is both the exciting and the ugly. Here is a simple break out of what I have learned:
The bad stuff:
- bamboo needs to be processed into viscose when it becomes a fabric
- the processing is much like that of pulp and paper and is often accomplished with the use of
- with these toxins used in processing, it can result in water and air pollution
- harvesting bamboo can be done well or very poorly
The good stuff:
- bamboo is a super fast growing plant and can grow several crops per year
- doesn’t need all those horrible pesticides and herbicides so is easy to grow organically
- biodegrades fast
- doesn’t use much water at all to grow - this rates as a 5 star quality for me
- the plant is a sustainable resource
The Really Good stuff:
- the processing of bamboo into rayon viscose can be done in a much cleaner way
- this involves making the process a “closed loop” where the water is recaptured and reused
and air pollution is minimized to a very low level
- there are regulatory bodies that are helping to monitor harvesting methods
- much the same as the processing of eucalyptus trees into Lyocell fabric and beechwood
trees into Modal fabric, there is a realistically possible future for recycling all 3 of these
cellulosic fabrics - research is presently in the works
So, when you next find yourself in a forest of swaying green bamboo, take a moment to look around; remember how amazing this beautiful grass truly is. Whether in Hawaii, SE Asia, or South America, get out into the forest, surround yourself in bamboo. Wrap up in it too. I can’t promise it will keep you from getting wet, but what you will get - from both the hike and the hoodie - is a lasting smile.
Check out Kaikuna’s Bamboo Women’s Hoodie at: http://www.kaikuna.com/collections/jackets
by Julie MacDonald
photography by Allan Weston
All Rights Reserved 2015 Kaikuna Clothing, LLC
I hadn’t expected it. My reaction. I mean, I’d seen hundreds of photos and video clips. I knew they were as common as mice. But...in that moment I suddenly felt a childhood dream - I hadn’t even know it was there - taking me back to the wonder and awe of an earlier me.
Kangaroo. In the grass. Real. Wild. Lit by the sun. I teared up; then laughed at myself...so ridiculous! But I saw the entire continent of Australia in front of me in that quirky, lopsided creature.
Australia is a traveller’s dream: endless beaches, open spaces, exotic animals. A world away, yet easy to fall into a rhythm of belonging. The brash, friendly people and shared language allow for a sense of ease that settles the visitor into that relaxed feeling of looking at a dark sky full of stars.
Time spent in Oz creates a link between you and this amazing place. The wonder of the creatures has never faded for me and, despite years having gone by since my time there, I find memories of exploring the vast land return and inspire me frequently. When brainstorming a design for a traveller’s hoodie with an inner smartphone pocket sewn into the kangaroo style front pouch, the name was already there: the “Hidden Joey”. Baby kangaroos, called “joeys”, nestle safely in their mom’s front pouch. That’s exactly what this inner second pocket is meant for: keeping a smartphone safe and secure, easy to grab and to keep tabs on.
Thanking the joeys didn't even cross my mind. But, coincidentally, within weeks of our hoodie launch, I heard about forest fires in Australia. Loss to wildlife and their habitat has left many surviving joey orphans of kangaroos who didn’t escape the blaze. Found in their mother’s pouches, many joeys have been rescued and are being cared for by the International Foundation for Animal Welfare, IFAW.
And here’s the kick: they have launched “Project Pouch”, a shout out to the public to donate pouches for the orphaned joeys. I couldn't not do it!
Enthusiastically, I pulled out the many piles of excess fabric I’ve been hoarding over the years and started a search: super soft cotton, fun prints….finally a great use for it! Before long I had put together several pouches in various sizes. Simple to sew and fun to get creative, I am thrilled to donate and be able to give back directly to the creatures who inspired me!
IFAW, founded in 1969, rescues and protects animals around the world with projects in over 40 countries. They work to sustain habitats and healthy animal populations while promoting awareness of the interconnectedness of people, animals, and the environment.
Feeling inspired to dust off your machine, pull out some old fabric, and sew up a pouch?
Find more information about IFAW and Project Pouch at:
Check out the Hidden Joey women’s hoodie at: https://www.kaikuna.com/collections/jackets
Proud to be a member of 1% for the planet. 1% for the Planet’s mission is to build, support and activate an alliance of businesses financially committed to creating a healthy planet.
by Julie MacDonald
photography by Allan Weston & Julie MacDonald
All Rights Reserved 2015 Kaikuna Clothing