This hike took place on unceded and ancestral Hupač̓asatḥ and Ts’ishaa7ath territories. This land is currently managed under the BC Provincial Park system. Here’s their website with information about this park: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/taylr_am/ Here’s a link to the BC Parks Map that shows where Friesian Creek is in relation to the main park: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/taylr_am/taylor_arm_map.pdf?v=1536084085088
When I was a kid I basically lived in water. I regularly did swimming lessons and climbed my way up through the badge-ranks eventually completing life saving and synchronized swimming (the badges are on my red fleece camp blanket if you ever see it in a photo or real life). I remember diving off the lower and middle boards without a care in the world. I even remember jumping off the “small cliff” into icy-glacier fed creeks swallowing my breath as I swam against the current to the surface. But as I got older and I got fatter when I dove I went deeper and when I swam I got slower. I just couldn’t keep up with the other kids on the swim team and dropped it for whatever else teens did in the 1990s.
I also grew up on and in boats. From floats to fishing boats, canoes and small ferries. Yet, I am still struggling with my PTSD from a parent who would rock the boat like the lake monster would get us. As I got older and got fatter I became more afraid of my inability to get back in the boat if I fell out. Or terrified that I was too fat for the life jacket or that it wouldn’t be effective at keeping me bouyant. Routine feelings of fish biting my toes, scraping against fallen trees under water in lakes, getting caught in slippery long lake weeds and hearing the real stories of kids I knew drowning in lakes, rivers and creeks just started to feed my emerging anxiety and I straight up just started to say “no thanks”.
In my teens I continued to leisurely swim in the pool or at the local hot springs and I would totally still swim outside, but only if I could see the bottom and knew there wasn’t anything gross or “unsafe” in there. One of the last times I swam as a teenager was the day after my best friends died in a car accident and as I tried to climb out of an icy cold lake I scraped the front of my left shin on a broken Corona bottle stuck in the slippery clay. I probably should’ve gotten stitches. But, as I rode into my twenties I started to hate my body in a bathing suit even more and for almost a decade I didn’t wear tight lycra in water and used the excuse of not having a bathing suit to get out of any water activities. I even remember so stubbornly sitting with my feet in the water along Lynn Creek while friends enjoyed themselves and now, looking back, I regret how I punished my younger self.
Needless to say that when I moved to rural Japan in 2004 I didn’t pack a bathing suit. I ended up living in the hot springs capital of my prefecture and immediately got into the culture of getting naked and bathing with a handful of other women in an onsen (the town’s name was literally “red water” because the blood of samurai ran through the hot waters of the community hundred of years before). A few times a week I would drive my Suzuki Jimny up mountains and through rice paddies to my favourite steamy hot bamboo tubs. Often, after a group shower, I would settle into the quietest places with the best views of the moon while cicadas hung in the bamboo bushes and praying mantises crawled along the edges of the tub. My only friend in town was male so we would sometimes drive to an onsen together and once there split up to head into our own gendered tubs. When I moved there I learned really quickly that I was the first white/western woman to live in our small town in over a decade. At the onsens this meant that instead of everyone looking away from me because I was fat, everyone looked toward me to examine my whiteness. Constantly. It was unsettling at first but because the people I saw in the onsens weren’t interested in what my size my body was, instead they were surprised to see a white woman in their midst, my bathing ritual was liberating for how I thought about my body (and rightfully complicated my relationship to my whiteness).
Throughout our friendship, the Japanese friends I made there shared their experiences of body shaming and fat politics with me and I’m so humbled to have unpacked a lot of this stuff together. While I was there, and after I returned, I wanted to be accountable to the colonizing aspects of my trip and what “finding myself” felt like as a white person in Asia. It feels like an extraction to only reflect that “I had this amazing experience in Japan and came home a new person”. Rather, the experience of repeatedly being completely naked in groups of strangers and having those strangers not fat shame me like I expected was encouragement to unpack more than my backpack when I got home.
Within months of being home I slowly got back to it. I got myself a bathing suit and I started swimming again. As the years went on I strapped on more lycra and began to get into public hot springs and swimming pools. I would now do a cannonball off the lower diving board, sit in a canoe, swim to a dock and even trust that I could swim in a lake when I couldn’t touch, but could still see, the bottom. When I moved to the Alberni Valley a half dozen years later I faced the renewed challenge of swimming in lakes where the water is so deep that you can’t touch the bottom or even see it. There was no slowly wading in and, once in, everything underneath me would be a black abyss. Even though every time I swim at a beach like this I’m a little terrified, the deep waters found in the Alberni Valley are my most favourite swimming holes.
Abutting the Alberni Valley Community Forest, the Friesen Creek portion of Taylor Arm Provincial Park is easy to miss. Just a kilometre or so west of the Park’s group campground and main beach, every day hundreds of motorists drive past the small parking lot en route to their dreamy Pacific Rim vacations. When I lived in the valley we would hit the blinker just before the bridge and hope the driver speeding down Highway 4 behind us would avoid rear ending us and slow down or safely go around. A few years ago Highways put in a left turn lane making both finding the parking lot and getting into it much safer. Now you just head west from Port Alberni and once you pass the main entrance into Taylor Arm Provincial Park you take the next left turn lane off Hwy 4. Once you’re parked and out of the car you can head through the large boulders and down the old, rock road. At the bottom of the short hill you’ll walk through an old gate and onto a softer dirt trail. At the end the trail forks: you can either go left and cross the dry creek bed to where the outhouse is or stick to the right where you’ll find a rocky beach and maybe some space in the shade.
This year I was so proud to wear my bright pink high waisted bikini while swimming in Taylor Arm. Friesen Creek is where I like to work on my deep-water anxieties. This meant that despite my body confidence, within a few metres of the water’s edge the sharp, sandy drop off meant I couldn’t touch the bottom (or see it) and I was slightly terrified. With goggles on all I could see is the kind of darkness only found in the deepest waters, but I could get a refreshing swim in without having to go very far from shore. The water here is definitely choppier than the main swimming holes along Sproat Lake and the depth of the water means it is so clean and chilly it makes for the best refresher on a hot, sunny day. This year the cascading ridges and the peak of Klitsa Mountain were hard to see through the haze, but the view from the banks of Friesen Creek was still awe inspiring.
Notes: This beach is good for older kids with strong swimming skills or who are wearing life jackets. When my kid was a baby he was always in a life jacket here. The drop off gets steeper the closer you get to the mouth of the creek (and shallower along both edges). This beach isn’t too busy and if it is they’re likely all locals (we often run into people we know here). Make sure to cover your food at all times as there’s wasps in the nearby foliage. There’s also a number of handmade signs asking you to pack out what you pack in (including garbage) and I didn’t have any cell reception at this beach on this day, though depending on the direction of the wind other visits I did. In the spring and fall there’ll likely be water in Friesen Creek so be extra careful if you’re just heading down for a short walk (or polar bear swim).