Vancouver Island - Part I
Let’s just say this…the pitter patter of rain on the camper is a sound we were are all used by the time we left Vancouver island! We’ve experienced rain on and off throughout Canada, but we got soaked on Vancouver Island and never really dried out! With that said, it was a magical and memorable three weeks.
When we woke up in Nanaimo, after taking the ferry from Vancouver, the rain had finally stopped! Since we weren’t planning on staying in Nanaimo we decided to go out for breakfast and walk around to at least get a feel for the town. We meandered for a couple hours along the waterfront boardwalk and then strolled into the Old City Quarter. Being in a coastal town was a nice change! Although it was overcast and chilly for most of our walk, the sun popped out towards the end.
With the sun peeking out from the clouds, we decided to stop for a mountain bike ride on our way to Qualicum Beach (where we were planning to camp). I haven't spent much time writing about the mountain biking and forests in Canada, so I might just do that now. Unlike the riding in Colorado, the forests in BC are wet, dark and dense! The trails are covered with damp, brown pine needles and the roots are often slippery and wet. The trees are huge, moss is growing everywhere and the forest floor is covered with giant green plants and ferns. It’s exhilarating to ride in a forest that feels so alive! On the flip side, these same forests can feel eerie and spooky. On more then one occasion, John and I have ridden on our own and come back spooked by one thing or another. A lot of the forests are second-growth forests that have regenerated from the first clear cut. But, the old growth stumps are still standing and can easily be mistaken for a large animal when you’re flying down a trail. It probably didn’t help that when we first arrived in Canada we started seeing signs at trailheads cautioning people about bear activity - and not just black bears - Grizzlies! This time of year is berry season and the bears are busy concentrating on eating and fattening up for the winter. Signs suggests traveling in groups of four and to carry bear spray. The signs also say that mountain biking and trail running greatly increase your chance of a bear encounter! So……..when John and I have found ourselves alone in a quiet, dark forest, in the middle of the nowhere, on a trail that’s not very well marked (which was pretty typical), we have felt unnerved! Carrying bear spray and wearing a bear bell does’t quite feel comforting!
We have always known that Vancouver Island would be one of our last, if not our last, destinations in Canada. So when we arrived we really felt like we had completed the journey! We were excited to be out of the mountains and on an Island experiencing the coastline and the sea. When we were in Qualicum Beach we had our first chance to play on the beach. After being out and about on our bikes, we decided to bike back to camp, pack up most of our stuff and drive to the beach. We ate lunch by the water and lingered in the sun until it set behind the trees.
The next day was a bit grey and overcast, but we packed our raincoats and biked south to Parksville (another beach town) anyway. When we arrived the tide was out so we decided to ride on the beach to collect shells and have some fun. After lunch we biked home in the rain!
It is salmon season on the Island and fishing for both saltwater and freshwater salmon is abundunt. In fact, when we were camped in Qualicum Beach both the girls got a chance to reel in a 10-15 pound salmon. There was a local guy fishing in the river, where we were camped, and he was really interested in teaching the girls a thing or two about salmon fishing. He handed the rod over to each of the girls so they could get a feel for it. I wish I had taken a picture, but I didn’t have my camera. The salmon they caught was beautiful and they had such great facial expressions during the process!
From Qualicum Beach we continued north to Campbell River. Campbell River is known as the “Salmon Capital of the World”, because it has five species of salmon that come back to Campbell River to spawn - pink salmon, coho salmon, chinook salmon, chum, salmon, and steelhead salmon. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the salmon in the river. We only stayed for one night and when we woke up the next morning it was absolutely pouring! With the forecast calling for a couple days of rain we weren’t exactly sure what to do or where to go. After a little head scratching, we decided to keep heading north toward Telegraph Cove.
We haven’t had many technical “issues” since we left Durango in June. However, the rain we experienced during next couple days really put Rigdiculous to the test (and actually all of us)! Back home, the solar has always charged the batteries perfectly. We live in such a sunny area that we never knew that there was a problem with the truck charging the batteries. But with all the rain and grey skies we were experiencing on the island, it didn’t take John long to we realize that there was a problem. Without strong battery power we can’t run the fridge, the heat, or any of the electrics for that matter. With four people sleeping in the camper, with all the windows closed, day after day, and with all our wet clothes trying to dry out, we started to get a lot of condensation. We literally had water dripping down the walls and windows of the camper! So much so, we briefly thought we had some leaks!
When we arrived in Telegraph Cove after a two hour drive the camper batteries were not sufficiently charged. John was perplexed and concerned, but there really wasn’t anything he could do. We left the camper and walked around Telegraph Cove in an absolute downpour. Telegraph Cove is a former fishing village turned tourist destination/launch point for eco-tourism. I absolutely fell in love with this tiny fishing village! Maybe the rain romanticized our experience, but I couldn’t get enough of this picturesque village with its old buildings, wooden boardwalks, and history.
We grabbed a drink and a bite to eat at The Old Saltery Pub. After eating some of that freshly caught salmon (pictured above), we found a campsite and hunkered down of the night. We went to bed wet and cold. We didn’t run the heat because we were concerned about draining the batteries. It POURED all night. The next morning we checked out the Killer Whale Interpretive Center and we also looked into going on a boat tour to see the Orcas or Grizzly Bears at Knight Inlet. The only availability was for a couple days later. Although we REALLY wanted to check out these amazing animals, it was pouring and cold. With no change in the forecast in the near future and with a camper that wasn’t working 100%, we decided we didn’t want to wait around. We hopped in Rigdiculous and started heading south.
Just outside of Telegraph Cove is a dryland log sorting facility used by the logging industry. When we were driving to Telegraph Cove we were intrigued by what we saw, but it was late and it was raining so we decided we would check it out on the way back. Logging is the main industry for the north part of the island, but we have seen the scars of logging throughout Canada. One of the ways John and I want to “teach” the girls on this trip is by talking about and/or experiencing some of the things we are encounter along the way. While we were stopped on the side of the road taking pictures, John had the idea of driving down to see if anyone could explain what was going on at the sorting area. When we walked into the office we couldn’t find anyone, but as we were walking out a voice called down to us. We explained that we were homeschooling our children and asked if someone might be able to tell us a bit about what was happening at the facilty. The woman happily obliged and before we knew it, we were in the Control Room of the whole operation and she took us step by step through the process.
After our “field trip” we got back into the car and continued south. The rain continued as well and we sprung a leak in the cab of the truck! There wasn’t much to do, but laugh at our situation! We were getting saturated! We later learned that on one of these rainy days it rained almost four inches! That evening we pulled into Ripple Rock Campground in Browns Bay where we scored a waterfront campsite! It was such a nice change from the forested campgrounds that we had been camping in. John took on the task of figuring out what was going on with the batteries right away. He essentially had to dig into the electrical guts of Rigdiculous. I hadn’t realized how stressful the situation was for him. He said he felt like the guy on the bomb squad - sweating, not knowing which wire to cut. With his three ladies kind of tired of being wet and cold, he had to get it right, and he did! With the issue fixed, we turned on the heat and let the warming and drying our process begin! We woke up to pretty dense clouds and fog the next morning. We walked around the campground checking out rocks and tide pools and the boats at the marina. We hung out, enjoyed glimpses of the sun and watched whales in the distance. We also got to see a few harbor seals and dolphins.
Checking the weather, at this point, was a daily occurrence and while we were lounging in Browns Bay we realized we were about to get a good weather window. We decided to take full advantage and planned a mini bike tour. Our destination, Hornby Island. Why? Because it seemed like a great adventure! In order to get to Hornby Island, one has to take a ferry to Denman Island, drive across Denman Island, and then take another ferry to Hornby island - we thought this sounded fun to do on our bikes!
Although we had a contact on the Hornby Island, Han, (someone John’s brother had met in Baja and stayed with last summer), we didn’t reach out to him until we knew we were going to Hornby. John and Han were able to exchange an email prior to us leaving Vancouver Island, but we didn’t get Han’s second email which said…. “please stop by” and “definitely come with your camper” until we were boarding the ferry to Hornby Island. Oops! We had heard that after Labor Day Weekend Hornby Island shuts down, but we didn’t really know what that meant. We left the rig with snacks on our bikes, a few leads for a place to stay, and a positive attitude that it would all work out!
When we got off the ferry we grabbed lunch at the first restaurant we saw then biked to Han’s house. We essentially showed up unannounced since we never got a chance to reply to Han’s email. When we arrived Han was in the driveway saying goodbye to a friend. We introduced ourselves and Han graciously invited us into his home. We sat in the yard, where we chatted and ate delicious homemade dried pears. We ended up spending a couple hours chatting with Han and listening to fun stories about the evolution of his home, property, and the island itself. Looking at the time, we realized we needed to get going. We wanted to see some of the island and we needed to figure out our accommodation for the night. Han (and his wife Laura) knew we didn’t have a place to stay, and as we were leaving, they offered for us to stay with them if we didn’t find a place. We said thank you and said we would be in touch.
While we were putting on our helmets in the driveway, I was feeling a bit uncomfortable about our situation. Here we were, on an island with little open in the way of restaurants and accommodation, and only a couple hours of daylight left (not enough time to take two ferries and bike across an Island to get to the camper). We had an offer to stay at Han and Laura’s, but I was feeling badly about imposing on their evening - two hours before we hadn’t even known each other! John and I briefly talked and realized we wanted to accept Han and Laura’s generous offer. John went back up to the house and told them we would like to stay. We made a plan to be back in time for dinner.
We ended up staying with Han and Laura for two nights! And, if the girls had had it there way, we would have stayed even longer! Han and Laura were wonderful and made us feel so welcome. Laura cooked us delicious homemade meals and Han made us amazing coffee each morning. They both shared stories about the island, Baja, traveling with kids, and Han’s work in the bush. Laura built puzzles with the girls and Han introduced the girls to a video game! John and I were taught how to play the card game “Oh, Hell” and were included in a night of cards with their friends. We, in turn, tried to be helpful by washing dishes, stacking firewood and the girls even vacuumed! I think all the Shaws would say that our time on Hornby Island was made even more special due to the time with Han and Laura. We met as strangers and parted as friends with the hope of crossing paths again. Thank you Han and Laura for letting us into your home and into your lives so unexpectedly. We look forward to seeing you again.
When we got back to the rig, John and I were both feeling a sense of relaxation we hadn’t felt in a while. Being at Han and Laura’s was like a vacation from our vacation. We didn’t plan, (okay, maybe a little bit), we didn’t think about school, we just enjoyed each moment.
We are in Seattle now and I’m feeling that same sense of relaxation. We’ve enjoyed three days of city living, beautiful sunshine, vibrant fall colors, and the closeness of friends and family.
We start driving south today and are heading for the Oregon coast - we’ve got another great weather window to take advantage of!
I hope this finds everyone enjoying fall and the friends and family that surround you.
Lots and lots of love from ALL the Shaws.
PS - yesterday I had some technical difficulties and lost a large part of what I had written - ugh! I wanted to get this out so my editing and writing was quick this morning. I’m sure I didn’t catch all of my typos - sorry for that!