Something about driving your vehicle onto a ship to cross an international border is intriguing and so we had altered our plans once again to do just that. We arrived in Port Angeles, Washington about two hours prior to departure and had no problem getting a place in line for the popular Black Ball Ferry to Victoria, British Columbia. We even had time for a sit down breakfast at a busy main street diner, an authentic gathering place for working locals who apparently had hearty appetites. The portions were huge and the people watching and eavesdropping was enlightening. We had such a great experience while in coastal Washington that we would have delayed our departure had it not been for the anticipation of what was yet to come.
The 23 mile crossing of the Straight went quickly. After going through customs “drive through” style, we found ourselves being pushed and pulled right through downtown Victoria in the congestion of traffic coming off the ship. It was late in the day and a two hour drive to Nanaimo was ahead of us. We would come back to Victoria another day when we were fresh we thought and we pushed on up the coast highway. Vancouver Island is not small. The main north and south road is over 300 miles long and the highest point is over 7000 feet. The majority of the island is not reachable by road so there is a ton of wilderness. Some doomsayers say that Vancouver Island is not a safe place to live in the event of earthquakes. After seeing how beautiful it is, I say “who cares?”. I’d live there in a heartbeat if circumstances allowed.
On the way to our reserved camp site in Nanaimo, we stopped at a farmers market to replenish our food supply. A small metal building was stocked to the ceiling with locally grown fruits and vegetables, we learned that almost everything grows on the island. In its offerings, this place made Whole Foods look like a small town convenience store. We arrived at our wooded seaside campsite in the late afternoon and we popped up Alexander Supertramp, ate produce for Dinner and turned in for the night. Fires were not permitted due to dry conditions on the island so we laid in bed and read as we discovered that our campground was anything but peaceful. I kid you not, dozens of french speaking children were shouting and screaming at the top of their cute little lungs. They were apparently having the time of their lives at some sort of youth camp nearby. Plans are meant to be changed, right?
We did end up staying in the campground one more night, enduring not only the Mickey Mouse Club but the addition of family reunion next door and one particular woman who never stopped talking. We needed a day of rest anyway and we rode our bikes into town and ate dinner. Nanaimo is a port town, pretty rough around the edges and very industrial. The harbor is a hub of activity with people coming and going by private vessels, ferries and float planes. As the day progressed, we decided that we would leave our reserved campsite and drive to the remote west side of the island in the morning.
I still had warm coffee in my cup as we arrived at Cathedral Grove, an old growth Cedar forest in the interior of the island. We spent an hour or so walking among the giants and snapping pictures, before continuing up route 4 to Port Alberni and the next 60 miles through the wilderness to the coast. The fog was thick when we arrived at a seaside village called Ucluelet and contrary to the rumors we heard, there were campsites available. We pushed on up the coast past Long Beach to the end of the road at Tofino. All of the bonafide campsites in Tofino were taken, reserved months in advance. Fortunately for us, there is a campground there that is something like a hostel for tents and R.V.’s. The rule seems to be that if you can find a place to put yourself, we will gladly accept your $60 and “no we don’t do windows..or bathrooms”. Oddly, it turned out to be the quietest night yet..go figure.
In the afternoon, we rode a couple of Kilometers into the village of Tofino and had sushi on the patio of an Inn. We watched seaplanes coming and going and eavesdropped on a table of four Vancouver “Valley Girls” talking about how they “Soooo had to do this again”. Yea we do a lot of people observing, please don’t judge us for that. After dinner we photographed and pedaled our way back to camp just in time for sunset. The beach at Tofino has dozens of tiny timbered islands just off shore which adds up to fertile subject matter for the photographer. When the golden hour hits and there is that much to photograph, I can take my tripod and become entranced, losing all sense of time. As darkness fell, a crescent moon appeared over the horizon and people huddled around bon fires to stay warm.
Not crazy about staying another night in a parking lot and having to get up very early in the morning to make the long drive back to Nanaimo, we opted to head back across the island and we found ourselves that night in Qualicum Beach. We had now spent seven nights in a row in Alexander Supertramp and we longed for a hot shower and a running toilet and needed to do laundry, we rented a room for a night. It felt ok to have all the luxury but we both admitted that we missed sleeping in the camper. Early the next morning we headed for the port at Nanaimo to catch our reserved spot on the ferry to Horseshoe Bay on the Canadian mainland. We never did make it back into Victoria but no worries, we know we will go back some day, perhaps we will also go back to Tofino to watch the monster surf during a winter storm.