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By Colleen Friesen

It's somewhere between the fifth and sixth muttered expletive that I'm able to finally heave myself on to the top of the cliff. Looking down, I realize that calling it a cliff might be overstating the geographic truth. In fact, once I'm standing solidly on the top, it's kind of embarrassing at just how little distance I've come.

The good news is that Tracey Hilton from Red Deer, Alberta is perhaps in worse shape than me. In contrast, she manages to keep the more colourful language to herself but I think she looks rather pale. And I can't be entirely sure, but I think she might have whimpered. The guide, and the other guests practically scamper up after us, like nimble goat girls. Tracey and I exchange looks.

I am on the first day's hike with Coastal Trek Health & Fitness Resort. I had pictured strolls on winding woodland trails. In my mind, there were nodding ferns and sightings of Bambi…or something. My imagination had not foreseen this rather gruelling Outward Bound thing. Did I mention that lunch was small? Did I mention the thigh-high bush whacking that came after lunch?

My idea of a spa getaway generally includes sleeping in and lounging about like a Harlequin heroine on a chaise lounge…while eating chocolates.

Waking from that morning's 6:15 a.m. knock, it is clear to me that the good people at this spa failed to read that part of the handbook. By 6:30 I am lying on a yoga mat with a view out of the floor-to-ceiling windows. The solidly-built resort lodge is on the top of a shelf in Courtenay's Forbidden Plateau. The ocean way below is covered by a thick fog that has created islands out of the Coastal mountains. Slowly, slowly it swirls and dissipates as we continue with our salutations to the sunrise.

Soon, it is breakfast and while I am drinking my coffee in the post-and-beam dining room, the entire panorama of BC's coastline reveals itself. The view reminds me of the float plane ride I'd taken the afternoon before from Vancouver's harbour . Glued to the little window, I'd watched the wonderland of islands, coast and the scrim-line of the sea below.

After my pick up at the Comox dock, and a bouncy ride up a gravel road, I'd arrived to meet the other guests. Tracey Hilton was one of them. A construction manager from Red Deer, Alberta, she was there for the full-week to learn to relax and with hopes of going home more fit.

But that was then, and this is now. Now we have done our hike for the day. We stumble out of the Suburban, bending stiffly to dump our boots at the door. Tracey and I agree to a hot tub after dinner. We also agree to forgo the aerobic session. We're both fairly convinced that we've had enough of a workout. Besides, dinner will be ready soon.

They say hunger is the best sauce. But I swear, that even if I had laid around on my chaise lounge and eaten the chocolates that a real retreat would have provided, I would have still deemed the meal excellent. The fact that I'd hiked myself senseless, only made it better.

Coastal Trek believes in sourcing as much of their food as possible from local, organic farmers. I can testify that I've eaten healthy food that ended up tasting, well, healthy, but not necessarily tasty. These people understand that satisfaction comes from eating well and making it taste good too. Maybe they think if it tastes good you won't notice the portion control.

And then, oh my. They deliver some handmade good-for-our-hearts dark chocolates.

Tracey and I lower our bodies into the hot tub. The moon hangs in the crystalline air. Steam surrounds us.

"You know," Tracey is speaking quietly. "That lunch was small yet somehow it was exactly the right amount."

"I know," I said, "Same with dinner. It was just right. I kept expecting to be hungrier after lunch. Maybe it was the fear factor."

Tracey grinned back at me through the fog. "Pretty cool we did that huh?"

"Yeh. Pretty cool." I realize I mean it.


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PHOTOS by Colleen Friesen

1. Camera Wars
2. Planning the Assault
3. Tracey on the rock
4. View from the Lodge
5. Looking for a little lunch?
6. Coastal Trek Spa & Fitness Resort Deck


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