Wild Side Trail with a Three Year Old

–submitted by Mathew Lettington; Read the full report on his blog

Dear Hemingway,

We did it! We survived our first father-and-son backpacking adventure. I’m happily writing the trip down as a success! We picked the perfect location, Flores Island’s Wild Side Trail, and lucked into a spate of great weather. Of course, our adventure companions helped us enjoy the trip all the more. We were just two members of an eighteen-person trip that I was co-leading. Trips of this size are often complicated, and the Wild Side Trail is fraught with additional issues. This trip proved no different. Aside from the normal challenges with the water-taxi, some of our hikers had contacted me the night before because they were stranded with a broken axle.

As I expected, you fell asleep on the drive to Tofino on the day before the trip, which made you grouchy and unwilling to go to bed that night. What’s a dad to do? We made the best of it by wandering the mean streets of Tofino, even though it was well past your normal bedtime. I treated the trip with the care that it deserved: we ate pizza-by-the-slice, I bought you a toy car at the Co-op, and when we returned to the hostel (the Doctor’s House, as you called it), we watched the sunset from the big window in our room. It was ten o’clock by the time you were asleep, after we read all the way through the Five-Minute Star Wars Stories book–twice!


Total Distance: 15 km
Total Time: 3 days




Getting up on Saturday morning was a struggle. But by 7:00 am, we had wandered through the fog-laden streets to a local bakery to find coffee, hot chocolate, and fresh baked goods. I even bought you the cake-pop you wanted. We ate these goodies sitting on the edge of the government dock, feeding the birds and watching the fog lift to reveal the buildings, the boats, and eventually the distant island-bound mountains. You had a great expression on your face watching the fog lift. I wish I had caught it on camera.

Tofino Harbour

As our group started arriving, you occupied yourself at the water’s edge, and when the two boys arrived they joined in with your fun. When our water-taxi didn’t arrive on time, you chased after me as I chased around trying to track it down. Sometimes I forget how long my legs are! You ran along behind me to keep up. You were sweating by the time I scooped you up, and I could feel your heart pounding! You were already worn out and we hadn’t started the hike.

It took two boats to move everyone, but eventually, we all made it to the Island. On the boat, you and the other boys bounded around, looking left, right, and hopping out on the open deck– you loved it! By the time we docked on Flores Island and paid our fee for the Wild Side Trail, it was lunch time. We had a snack and started walking. You were so tired that you begged me to carry you, but I was saving my energy for the tougher sections. I am so impressed at how you listened, and even more impressed that you walked the arid two-kilometre road to First Beach on your own.

hiking the Wilde Side Trail, Flores Island
Now how do I get up there?

Our large group split into two. We walked with the family group, with the goal of hiking the seven kilometres to Cow River; the other group’s destination was Cow Bay. We let the short-legged ones set the pace. You chased after the other kids on the beach, which made the walk quicker than I expected. Even in the forested headlands, you moved well over wet roots, dilapidated boardwalk, and thick mud. But, in the end, you needed my help– seven kilometres is too far for a toddler to walk!

When I picked you up and carried you on my shoulders, you chattered on about the things you saw, and ducked low when we passed below hanging branches. You’re almost forty pounds now, too heavy for me to shoulder for more than twenty minutes at a time, so we took turns: you walked a bit, and I then I would carry you a distance. I’m sure you walked at least four kilometres all by yourself! Around 3:30 pm, we arrived at the river. I was tired, but thrilled to be at camp; you must have felt the same, because you excitedly played on the rocks with your new camp buddies.

I brought a few small cars and a shovel, and you found a container on the beach: perfect toys for the three of you to play with. Together, you played a game the three of you created– the kind of game that only young children can understand how to play. After dinner, we walked the sandy beach and explored the rocky outcroppings that were now exposed by the falling tide. You climbed high on the rocks, confidently placing your feet and even catching yourself when you lost your footing. You’re getting more capable!

Bedtime finally came, but you were still wound up because the sun still shone brightly. I coaxed you into bed by promising you an episode of Paw Patrol. As you lay and watched, your body became still and you yawned. After three stories, I asked if you wanted me to sing to you. You provided a confused response: “But the light won’t go off?” I reassured you that it would go off on its own, and that it would be okay for me to sing with the light on. You didn’t even make it through the first verse before you were snoring!

You slept for more than twelve hours without waking once. When we emerged from the tent, the beach was engulfed in fog, and tendrils of mist swirled across the beach and through camp. It was still too cool for just a shirt, so we bundled up and ate our oatmeal in our warm jackets. Once you were fueled up, you stormed off to play with your new friends. You played hard, even managing to get a dumptruck load’s worth of sand in your hair, but it didn’t bother you one bit so I didn’t say anything about it.

hiking the Wilde Side Trail, Flores Island



The day’s adventure was a walk up the river, first to the bridge and then to the beach beyond. The ground was uneven, and although it was mostly dry, you were slower than the older boys. Their longer legs and stamina allowed them to race ahead, and once they were out of earshot, you lost motivation and I carried you toward the bridge. As we wandered along the route, looking deep into the dense forest, you talked about bears and we made whooping sounds now and again to scare them away. We stopped at the large CMT close to the bridge and explored it. I asked you to pose by it, but you insisted on crawling inside the hollow base! It took quite some time for you to get out but we finally caught this picture!

The next stop was the bridge. I thought you were going to jump, or fall, off the edge because the sides are open and you didn’t seem to care that you were dangling your feet over the edge. We stayed for a short break before travelling to the beach through the muddiest section of the trail. I think you were still tired from the day before, and you struggled; I carried you to the beach, while you used your hands to chop away at the branches and grab at each ribbon we passed.

hiking the Wilde Side Trail, Flores Island

By the time we got to the beach my back was sore, and I knew there was no way I could carry you all the way back. When the other family decided to return along the same route by which they arrived, we chose to follow the coast in hopes that the tide would be low enough to cross the river. We struck a deal: You would walk the beaches, and I would carry you through the headlands. At first you pouted about the deal, but in the end, there was enough to look at that you didn’t want to be carried.

It was great to watch you explore the beaches and climb over large rocks, and listen to you babble away about everything you were seeing. When we were midway down the second beach, you looked behind us and noticed a group of strangers coming. You treated it like a game, and it was cute to listen to the story you created. We had to run away, because they were coming to get us – let’s run away! We ran along the beach towards toward the secret tunnel of trees. We stopped in front of a bush, and with one last look over our shoulders to make sure we weren’t being followed, I pushed the shrubs aside and we entered into the secret path up to Don MacDonald’s cabin.

hiking the Wilde Side Trail, Flores Island

When we emerged at the cabin, a confused look crossed your face. I wonder what questions went through your head when it emerged through the trees. If one doesn’t expect to see a cabin in the woods, I’m sure it’s a surprise to find it! We opened the door and went inside. You looked around the cabin and listened as I told you the story about my first trip to the Wild Side Trail. You got the condensed version: I went with Michael. It was wet. It was really, really wet!

We left the cabin and I carried you along the path to the river crossing. As we walked, you continued to collect the extra ribbon off the trees (some of them had more than three feet of red ribbon dangling). We broke off small sections, and by the time we made it to the beach, you had a fistful of ribbons. You were so protective of them; you wouldn’t let me hang them up in different trees, and you demanded that I keep them in my pocket so you could explore the large rock outcropping. When we arrived at the river, it was already low enough to cross. I carried you on my shoulders over the slippery, seaweed-covered rocks to the point where the river is at its shallowest. I didn’t even need to take my boots off –it was very shallow.

hiking the Wilde Side Trail, Flores Island

Back at camp, you used the ribbons to decorate the large boulders. You called to me: Come see! You even pulled at my hand until I came to view your handiwork. You had marked all of the “dangerous” rocks. Red ribbon decorated every rock in the area. I was worried about the mess, but it wasn’t long before you and the other boys collected them all and played some new game with them. Aside from your rocky adventures, you and another boy found a piece of lumber and made an impromptu teeter-totter. It provided a significant amount of entertainment for the three of you.

In the early evening, the sun was in full force. The only thing that kept us from frying was the cool breeze coming off the ocean. Although some called it cool, as soon as we were out of the wind, we overheated. It was hot enough that you stripped off your clothes and we played in the waves. You didn’t want to put your clothes back on, so I let you play naked on the rocks. Around this time, the second group arrived at our site. Rishi told me that when he came around the corner, you stood tall on the high rocks, threw your hands in the air, and yelled “I’m naked!” while wearing nothing but a smile on your face.

hiking the Wilde Side Trail, Flores Island

The evening of the second night wasn’t as smooth as the first. When it was time for bed you were overtired, dehydrated, and unwilling to go to sleep. Eventually, in the tent, you started crying because you couldn’t have any screentime; that lasted just five minutes, and then you were snoring.


Day Three- your strongest walking day

We awoke to a beautiful day, not even a hint of morning fog. The only thing that kept us from overheating in the early morning was the shade from the tall trees that line the beach. The families were packed up and moving by 9:00 am, because we were worried that our little hikers would be wiped out from playing in the sun the day before. It turned out that our worries were unfounded! We kept the same deal: you walk the beach, and I carry you over the headlands. This let you run ahead over easy terrain and allowed you to recover over the more challenging sections. Additionally, we stopped at each headland for a break, water, and snacks. The more frequent breaks and early departure time kept your little body energized. After an hour, we were already about halfway back to the edge of Ahousaht!

hiking the Wilde Side Trail, Flores Island

We walked as a group for the first bit, but when two village dogs sauntered down the beach on their way back to Ahousaht, you chased after them. Despite my explanation that they were dogs, you insisted they were wooves. I went with the flow. With your hastened pace, you outpaced the other boys and zipped across two beaches. Before I knew it, we were only one headland and a short beach walk from the start of the Wild Side Trail at the edge of Ahousaht. The dogs had long disappeared over the headland, and we paused here for a long break and allowed the others to catch up.

We arrived back at the first beach much quicker than anticipated, but this meant that we had time for another long break that included some swimming! You stripped down and joined the younger brother running in and out of the waves. I laughed as you squealed and splashed in the waves. What wasn’t great was brushing the sand off your bare bum when you came out of the water and sat on the sand! Yikes, I bet you learned a thing or two about how uncomfortable sand can be.

hiking the Wilde Side Trail, Flores Island

On our return to the boat, you walked almost the whole way. By the time we walked the beach, through the cranberry bog, and into town, we were both thirsty and ready for the boat ride home. You really wanted to sit on the top deck of the boat. You were all smiles as we sped along the water. The cool breeze was chilly after the hot day, and you snuggled close to me to stay warm. Eventually, you closed your eyes, though I couldn’t tell if you were sleeping or if you were just protecting your eyes from the wind.

On our way out of Tofino, we stopped for a bite to eat at the Wildside Grill. You must have been starving because you ate your whole piece of fish and wouldn’t share your fries with Shawn. Don’t worry, he still got some. Do you remember all the birds that Shawn kept pointing to? Every time you turned your head to find the birds, he grabbed a fry from beneath your hand- you never even noticed! I thought you would be full after lunch, but when I mentioned ice cream, your eyes nearly popped out of your head. You had strawberries and cream; I had strawberry. In the end, was it worth it? When I asked you if you had fun, you told me Yes!

It’s great to know that just the two of us can head out on adventures already. I regret that our next trip won’t be for nearly two more months! On our next trip, we will bring Mom and Octavia on an overnight kayak trip to Valdez Island. I can’t wait!


I love you, Hemingway!

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