Inspired by Forest Woodward’s film, The Important Places, which was in turn inspired by a poem of the same name written by Woodward’s father when his son was born, we’re setting out to create a living document of our Important Places.
For, while we find beauty, health and expression in most every wild place we visit, there are a few that, for some reason(s) or other, just vibrate through our being with a particular resonance.
We begin with East Sooke Park, a biogeographic marvel that fills the better part of the East Sooke Peninsula, jutting out into very nearly the southernmost point of Vancouver Island, the first landmass from which the west-bound traveller from our home in Victoria, BC, can see out into the open Pacific.
East Sooke Park
Last week there was a huge swell that propagated through the Pacific Ocean. It came from a really really big storm in the Southern Ocean and generated this big, long period swell. There were huge waves in Chile. There were big waves in Peru. Huge waves in Mexico. Big waves in California that came all the way up here. And then a few days ago guys were surfing that swell, that started in the southern hemisphere, on northern Vancouver Island. And my wife and I came and ran [East Sooke Park] last weekend. We were running along this trail that you don’t normally think about as being alongside open ocean, but from the higher points on the trail you could actually see the lines of that south swell as they moved into the Strait. You could see it.
I feel that this is a really unique spot because it’s a turning point between our inland systems and the oceanic system.
Earlier this year I interviewed writer Malcolm Johnson for a personal project I was working on. The project set out to create a visual and textual document recording the relationship of people of the coast to their coastline. In Malcolm’s case I asked him to meet me at a special place on the coast to tell me the story of that place’s meaning to him. He chose East Sooke Park. It’s a choice I could have equally made. It’s a place equally special to me.
Over the course of the run that day we flushed - to our surprise - a bald eagle from a low roost next to the trail as we came around a corner, pausing to watch it escape skyward on a thermal. We saw seals bobbing in a gentle swell. We watched from the cliff above, gobsmacked, a beaver swimming along the shoreline through a forest of kelp blades - after, that is, confirming with each other, three times, that our eyes were working correctly.
On a separate run I’ve watched to my great entertainment a family of seven river otters cavorting in the waves. A gigantic bull sea lion “followed” me along the coast for a half hour amidst another run. Friends have seen migratory grey whales just offshore.
East Sooke Park is wild, with the attendant life to prove it. But it’s not just the animals that keep calling me back. Across its 3500 acres, the park’s own faces - its topography, the views it affords, its habitats and microclimates - are constantly changing. Up and down hills along the Interior Trail that cuts through the park’s heart, you traverse cedar hemlock old growth on the wetter west-facing slopes, arbutus groves higher up and on the leeward (east) slopes, lush fern forests out of a fairy tale, dank marshes, sunny rock outcroppings, side trips to climb two small mountains from which you gain views of the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, to where that protected sea between our Island and the Coast meets the open Pacific. Running this route you feel as though you’re getting the entire Vancouver Island Experience on a single trail.
And then - if you’re running a long loop from the Aylard Farm parking lot at the south end of the park, as is our preference time and fitness allowing - you reach Iron Mine Bay and the Coast Trail. And realize that this has all been an amazing warm-up to the real magic - and challenge - that will take you back along the edge of the ocean to your car.
We don’t always explore East Sooke Park at a run. Sometimes we slow down to look at it more closely. (Though it was on a run that we looked most closely, nearly tripping over a couple on their hands and knees looking for Ground Cones, in the process introducing this cool species to us.) We bring visitors out to share this unique and wonderful place. We adopt the pace of our young girls, bringing a Jetboil to brew hot chocolate out on the rocks. We linger at the petroglyphs with the tourists. We shuck a batch of fresh oysters (bought elsewhere) on the beach. When he was still alive I chased my dog through the tall grass in the meadows. We keep coming back, with various groups, at myriad paces, to explore the nooks and crannies and stories that it continues to reveal.
But most often we come to run. To bathe in the unique beauty and diversity of its nature, yes, but also because despite its pretty face, the park plain and simple packs a wallop. It’s hard running; and so it’s rewarding. We often have folks from areas with more obvious mountains ask us where we get our fitness to climb hills. They assume that because a trail follows a coastline it must have the contours of a beach. They couldn’t be more wrong.
I’m terrible about measuring my runs and keeping and comparing data - frankly, I don’t really care - so I can’t tell you how much elevation you’ll log when you do this run. But I can tell you that the trails of East Sooke Park will challenge you in ways that might surprise you. And that this is a good thing. A thing that favours leaving behind your preconceptions about performance and pace times. A run here should more accurately be described as an adventure. Only the hardest of hard(wo)men can hold a true running gait along the Coast Trail in its entirety. And even in saying that I’m only speculating as I’ve never seen it done, certainly not by me. Expect to be quad-assisting as you hike up steep trails clinging to rock faces. Expect to need to stop at the top of those climbs to catch your breath. Expect to be so happy you did when you’re rewarded with views out to sea. Expect to need to be nimble on your feet on the flatter sections and careful as you go on the downs.
Expect, throughout your visit to East Sooke Park’s trails, to be grinning. Expect to be fulfilled body and mind. Expect to be already planning your return.
To better get to know East Sooke Park, start with the photo gallery below, which includes images made during a variety of trips, at a variety of paces, through a variety of seasons and weather.
If you'd like to visit in-person, everything you need in order to find your way there is included in our related post on The Outbound.