Vancouver Island -Part II
After returning from Hornby Island we drove across Vancouver Island to the west coast. Before we started the journey we resupplied and checked out a great market called “Goats On The Roof” in Coombs, BC. Goats On The Roof is the kind of place where you can find imported foods, gifts, housewares, freshly baked goods (which my family could not get enough of), and just about anything else you could think of. Just walking around is an experience, but what makes it even more fun is there are literally goats on the roof! The market has a sod covered roof and thirty years ago the goats were introduced to “mow” the sod. Since then, the goats have been hard at work, and stopping to see them has become just as much a part of the experience as going into the market.
Our first destination on the west coast was the small town of Tofino. Tofino is located at the northern tip of the Esowista Peninsula. It is well known for its year-round surfing, endless ocean views, old growth forests, white sandy beaches, and great food. The drive there, however, isn’t exactly easy. The single lane road is narrow and bumpy, and at times, it twists and turns sharply past beautiful lakes and rivers and through ancient rain forests. On our way there, we stopped at Cathedral Grove where we walked under the lush canopy of 800 year old Douglas firs (the largest was 76 meters tall and 9 meters in circumference) and moss covered cedars.
We also stopped for a short hike to Hole-in-the-Wall in Port Alberni, which is a large man made hole in a shale cliff. The hole was originally made to pipe water from one place to another, but now water flows freely through the opening creating a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole below. Had the weather been nicer and the water warmer, we might have taken a dip!
When we arrived in Tofino we found a campsite at Mackenzie Beach Resort (“resort” being a synonym for “campground”). To my dismay, we weren’t able to find a waterfront campsite. It seems as though there are very few waterfront campsites on Vancouver Island, which is probably a blessing and a curse. While the idea of camping on the beach, or on a bluff overlooking the rugged coastline and beautiful beaches is appealing, I’m sure the pristine beauty of the island would be lost if thousands of campers were allowed to camp by the water, day after day, year after year. So, instead of waterfront, we opted to camp in a glorified parking lot with lots of sun! This actually isn’t a complaint! I was tired of the dark, forested camps we had been staying in. I wanted the sun. I wanted to feel WARM! Plus the indoor common area at the campground had recently been renovated and now had a den-style indoor fire pit for it’s guests. Bonus! Once we settled into our site, we walked to the beach where we hung out until sunset.
We got into a good rhythm of doing school work in the mornings and set off each afternoon for some sort of adventure and fun. On the first day we hung around Mackenzie Beach. We blew up the paddle boards, which we hadn’t done since we were at Kokanee Provincial Park weeks before, and enjoyed several hours of paddling and searching for starfish on the rocks. It put a smile on my face to feel the swell of the ocean and breathe in the sea air. Our curiosity led us into a small cove with a beach and we got off our boards. The girls played and played in the sand, in the water, and on the rocks. John and I happily watched them enjoying themselves and talked about our long term plans.
What we were both feeling was we were all really needing a change from what we were doing. We also realized how much the weather had affected our demeanor, our ability to get exercise and be outdoors, our ‘routine”, our mental ease, and our living space. Our initial, broad idea, when we left Durango, was to camp in Rigdiculous for the first five months (bringing us to November). At that time, we would store the rig and fly to Southeast Asia where we would spend six to eight weeks traveling. Then, shortly after that, we would fly to Spain and rent an apartment for several months to learn Spanish and have a home base. The thought of doing that now was feeling overwhelming, for both of us. Traveling through SE Asia wouldn’t lend to creating the consistency of routine we both felt we all needed. Really, traveling through SE Asia would be more of the same…moving from one location to another, traveling, adventuring, seeking the internet, trying to do school, etc. On top of that, the home base we were seeking wouldn’t come for another four months from then! I was already waking up in the middle of the night worrying about how much school we were/weren’t doing and continuing on this path of unknown and instability was becoming stressful for me. I’m a planner, and while I had embraced the spontaneity of our trip thus far, I was really starting to feel the pull for more of a home base, structure, concrete plans, and doing school on a more regular basis. John was amazing and supportive, as always, and open to the idea of changing the plan and doing what was right for the group (and especially me). We knew our initial plan wasn't the right choice. But what was? John suggested the idea of starting our Spain chapter earlier and postponing SE Asia. We talked about this idea for quite some time that afternoon and on and off the following day. While there were still some faults in this plan, somehow it felt like the right thing to do for both of us. When we eventually brought up the idea to the girls they were ecstatic! We had forward momentum with the new plan/idea from the whole group!
The next day we drove to Long Beach, which is the longest beach in all of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. It stretches for 10 miles and is absolutely breathtaking! John and I ran together on the beach while the girls bobbed and weaved ahead of us on their bikes. It was so much fun! John and I had forgotten that we used to do this with the girls, run while they biked. It’s such a great way for us to get exercise and get the girls out too. While John and I talked and watched the surfers in the water while we were running, the girls giggled and practiced riding without hands. I loved watching them having so much fun and hearing them yell “Mama (or Daddy) LOOK!” as they proudly biked with their hands out to their sides. When we were done we ate lunch on the beach and then joined the other surfers in the water. Well, actually, John, Ellie and Isla joined the other surfers in the water! I decided to take on the “important job” of photographer (which actually meant - Mama ain’t goin’ in that 55 degree water)! John gave the girls a brief surf “lesson” and then they were off, learning how to surf on our paddle board. It was fun to watch, and it didn’t take either of the girls long to get up and surf all the way in.
By the way, we now call ourselves a “surfing” family and joke about seeking rad waves when we talk about going places!
That night John and I had our FIRST date night of the trip…and it was absolutely amazing!! As a birthday present to me, John and the girls had worked out a plan….the girls would stay in the camper, which would be parked near the restaurant of choice, and watch a movie while John and I went out. It would be a win-win situation for all! The girls would enjoy the treat of watching a movie and John and I would enjoy the treat of some time to ourselves and dinner out! I, of course, had no idea about the plan, but when I was told about it, I was thrilled!
We drove into town, for the first time, and took the girls out for pizza and walked around. When we got back to the camper they ate ice cream while John set up the movie. They were so excited! When we left them, they were happily snuggled in our bed in the camper with the iPad and all the duvets, blankets, and pillows we had. We kissed them goodbye and went out. As soon as we sat down in the restaurant it FELT like date night! We couldn’t believe it, we were giddy! John and I enjoyed uninterrupted conversation, delicious food and wine, holding hands, an the ease of just being a party of two! We savored our time and didn’t rush back.
The following day was my birthday and after John and the girls made me breakfast and showered me with cards we got on with our day. The girls and I did some schoolwork while John made some calls for work and booked our tickets to Spain (we leave November 13th)! When we were finished with work and had tamed our excitement about “moving” to Spain, we went out to lunch. We biked to Tacofino, a well known food truck, tucked away in the back of a parking lot, that serves up outstanding Mexican fare. When we arrived there was a long line, but we knew we would have to wait. We had heard the food was well worth waiting for, and it did not disappoint! The food was some of the best Mexican food we had had on the trip. From there we rode to Cox Bay to watch the “Queen of the Peak” Women’s Surf Championship. None of us had been to a surfing competition before, and it was fun to see what a surf competition was all about. There was a line of pop-ups on the beach selling food and merchandise, and a tall tower in the middle of the row, where the commentator, judges, and photographers were stationed. The competitors were broken into two groups, 16 and under and 16 and over for both the longboard and shortboard competitions. The girls really enjoyed watching the younger competitors. We stayed for a couple hours watching women (and girls) rip it on the waves! It was awesome! At one point, when I was putting on another layer of down, I kind of chuckled to myself when thought, “aren’t surf competitions supposed to be held in the glorious warm sunshine in places like Hawaii?”. I never would have thought that I would watch my first surfing competition, or any surfing competition for that matter, on an overcast, grey day, wearing a scarf, multiple layers, a down jacket, and a beanie! Nevertheless, it was fun, and new, and we all really enjoyed ourselves.
Weather has played a big factor in guiding our direction while on the island. With three days of good weather forecasted when we arrived in Tofino, we planned to stay until the weather turned. Just as predicted, when we woke up on the fourth morning, the weather had rolled in. We packed up and it the road. We stopped in Ucluelet, BC where we intended to do a hike along the coastline. However, it turned out to be quite miserable hiking in the wind and cold rain, so we turned around and got back in the rig. From there we continued south to Port Renfrew, in the pouring rain, and camped for the night. Once again, we fell asleep to the sound of raindrops on the camper. When we woke up the rain had stopped. While we were having breakfast at the table in the camper, Ellie spotted an owl way up in the trees. What a blessing! He/she was beautiful. We figured the owl might be out in the open enjoying the rainless morning as well!
After breakfast, we did a short hike to Botanical Beach where we explored the well known tide pools that are found there. The pools are filled with a variety of colorful plants and animals - starfish, anemones, barnacles, snails, algae, sea urchins, muscles, and seaweed (plus so much more that I couldn’t identify). The tide pools are nestled deep within sandstone rock that has been shaped and carved by the sea. Watching the waves crash up on the rock, one can sense the power of the ocean. I found myself wondering how these delicate organisms and plants, living in these tide pools, can survive the crashing waves and harsh changes in weather and temperature. Somehow they do. I guess that’s the beauty and wonder of nature.
That night we ended up getting a waterfront campsite, which was totally unexpected! As we were driving, heading to a Provincial Park to camp, I noticed a group of RV’s in the distance that seemed to be parked next to the water. We couldn't tell if it was a day use area or a campground, so I asked John to pull over. I was happy to find out it was a campground! All the sites were right on the water and they faced the Olympic Peninsula. It was a pretty special spot, made even more so, knowing it was our last night of camping on the island.
The west coast of Vancouver Island is rugged an untamed and a place I would return to in a heartbeat. Maybe next time in the summer! Although, in the summer the island is inundated with tourists, and the beaches, trails, and restaurants are packed and parking is difficult. While we may not have had the warmest, or driest weather, we got to see and experience Vancouver Island with far less people then most. And for that I am grateful.
We are currently camped in Pacific City, on the Oregon Coast, soon to turn inland and head towards Bend, OR. In the last few weeks I have found myself thinking about how lucky I am to have a husband who was willing to embark on this journey with me, and how our two daughters have, for the most part, smiled, laughed and explored willingly and openly along the way. We have grown as individuals and we have grown as a family. It isn’t always pretty, but it’s a journey we are learning from together, and I dig it!