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Vancouver Island Chapter 3

Tofino, VanIsl, British Columbia


Reflections

As I'm working on this blog post, it's late and I'm sitting on Saoirse's deck overlooking the dock. The tide is low and it's overcast tonight, dark, save a pair of street lamps and the distant glow from the Tla-o-qui-aht community of Opitsat, on the island of Meares.



It's my last night here in Tofino. Tomorrow I board a sea plane to Vancouver where I'll box up my bike for the last time before shipping it to Boulder, while I fly on to North Carolina to spend time with family.


Kismet

I wasn't supposed to be here at all. My original plan was to continue cycling north along the east side of the island, then dip into the very remote and expansive Strathcona Provincial Park.


No doubt that would've been an amazing experience, but it would have kept me on the go with so many miles to cover to get there and back.


Alas, Saoirse and I kept in touch and he remained true to his offer to let me stay at his home even though he was still working away on Salt Spring Island for the next couple weeks. When I arrived to his place in Tofino, I found the key his neighbor left out for me, walked up the stairs, through the door and was immediately mesmerized by the view.


I stayed for a week, which was by far the longest I'd stayed in one place in a long time. It was an incredibly generous gift that allowed me to process much of the adventure that was finally coming to a close.


BC day

Canada has a lot of public holidays, and I was in Tofino for BC Day—a three-day weekend in British Columbia.


Saoirse messaged that he might head over for the long weekend, if I was okay with that. I responded with, "mi casa, su casa," which I quickly worried might be construed as more dickish than witty...


To my relief he responded with a laugh emoji. In fact, it turned out to be kind of perfect (his words, not mine) because he grew up in Chile and is fluent in Spanish.


The dock

The day he returned to join me at his home in Tofino, we sat in the wooden Adirondack chairs on his deck, drinking Pimm's and lemonade, talking and watching the activity on the public dock below.


The dock, he explained, is the main artery between the First Nations populations who live on the remote islands off the West coast, and the big city resources of Victoria and Vancouver.


All day long it bustled with boats and sea planes bringing goods and people to and from. One day, a cheery group loaded tables, chairs and fresh bouquets onto a boat that sped away deep into the inlet until it was finally out of view.


Another day, there was a group of teenaged boys standing at the edge of the dock, teasing each other as they mustered up the courage and took turns jumping off into the freezing water.


Most days an ambulance raced, sirens blaring, onto the dock where it waited for an inbound boat. The modest Tofino hospital services a wide area, including the surrounding island villages.



Each morning, we sat in those wooden chairs sipping freshly-ground coffee from the French press.


Every now and then he'd grab a pair of binoculars and inspect the bay, as if from high in a crow's nest, getting a closer look at boat activity and looking for the lingering mist from spouting whales.


The deck

I became somewhat obsessed with sitting on that deck. I must have spent a combined twenty four hours out there. Reading. Listening. Eating. Talking. Writing. Drinking. Staring.


I watched as thick layers of fog floated ominously into the bay; how it collected near the water's edge, grounding all sea planes and contributing to an eerie silence.


Twice a day the tide waters rose and receded, causing the floating dock to lift and fall against the massive wooden pylons that otherwise held it in place.


The second-story deck faced north-northwest and was situated at the end of the peninsula, which made it a great spot to catch the sunset.


At night I slept with the sliding door and windows open, listening to the sounds and feeling the intermittent cool mist of fog on my cheeks as it pulled right through Saoirse's studio flat.


The beaches


It had been a long time since I spent time on the ocean. And this was my first time experiencing the Pacific for more than a couple fleeting hours at a time.


The beaches around Tofino are special: soft sand, clear water, beautiful old growth cedar forests and reliable waves that attract surfers from around the world.


One day, I cycled down to Chesterman and Long Beaches. Despite being mid-day, they were completely socked in with a heavy fog. It was incredibly stunning, and moving. This time of year is typically very foggy in Tofino, with August lovingly called, "Fogust" by locals.


In the evenings I hiked to Tonquin beach, where I'd kick off my Tevas and jog along the shore, stopping every now and then to pick up interesting rocks, shells and the occasional sea glass.


Sea kayaking


Not having much sea kayaking experience—in the actual sea—I booked a six-hr tour up Lemmens Inlet.


It turned out to be a beautiful day, allowing for clear views of the surrounding snowcapped mountains and far away islands.


Our guide knew a lot about the marine life and history of the area. He pointed out ochre sea stars and harbor seals, and showed us how to find, harvest and eat kelp. It's tasty and quite salty, by the way!


The gardens


Ever the flora enthusiast, I made time to visit the local Naa'Waya'Sum Gardens. It's a beautiful area combining art and plants in a natural setting.


Something I really enjoyed and appreciated was how they allowed the art and the forest to coexist naturally over time. Many exhibits were installed in the 80s and now had chipped and faded, were covered with moss and had plants growing through them and on them. Some had even decayed and partially toppled over.


Their imperfection was what made them perfect.

The gardens also had the largest Western Red Cedars I have ever seen—by far!


After moseying through the sprawling gardens, I enjoyed tea at the garden cafe. It was an herbal blend made from plants grown just beyond where I was sitting on the cafe's outside patio. With no agenda, I settled in and began reading a new book called From the Ashes, by Métis-Cree Canadian author Jesse Thistle.


Salmon BBQ

On Friday, Saoirse invited me to drinks and a traditional Tofino salmon Bar-B-Q with his friends. We met Aaron and Norma in town at Wolf in the Fog where we celebrated a career milestone for Norma over cocktails and local seafood.


Afterward, we went back to their place for a traditional Tofino salmon BBQ!


Holy smokes how fun! I got to meet so many wonderful and interesting people, including a traditional carver and a woman who had just bought a Surly Disc Trucker and was excited to bikepack.


Aaron cooked up the huge salmon they caught earlier that day over an open fire and then we feasted, continuing to talk and laugh and visit until almost midnight.


Surfing

On Sunday, Saoirse took me surfing! I was a bit nervous as we hopped in his truck and headed down to Long Beach. Something about the ocean scares me.


I'm not afraid of the ocean, per se, just acutely aware that at any moment it could take me out with its rip tides, relentless crushing waves and lurking sea life. At one point I actually asked him about the likelihood of getting shredded to pieces by sharks. He assured me I would not get eaten by a shark.


Wetsuit: on

The climate in Tofino is very mild. While the rest of Canada and the western US were experiencing scorching summer temperatures, Tofino stayed consistently in the low- to mid-60s F.


The water, on the other hand, was quite cold—to the point there were signs at most public access areas warning of the risk of cold shock.


Wetsuits were a must while surfing. Luckily, Saoirse had an extra one that fit me pretty well. When we got to the beach he handed it to me and wished me luck as I headed to the changing room.


Whoa. I have mad respect for people who have to wear these things all the time. Getting it on is an art and a science and could be an Olympic sport in and of itself. Needless to say, it took me a while as I bent in ways I didn't know I could bend, and ultimately shimmied into the suit.


I was exhausted and had to sit for a minute.


We grabbed our boards, velcroed the leash straps around our ankles and headed into the water.


In an attempt to teach me, he simply instructed, "start paddling before a big wave, then do what feels natural," before turning away and paddling out to sea.


What a guy thing to do.

I stood there in the shallows, wide-eyed, watching him paddle into the deep. I had so many questions. Instead, I walked out until the water was near my shoulders and watched him. After observing him and getting a feel for the motion of the ocean, I made a few attempts of my own.


Saoirse did offer sage advice once I got going, like, "you might go further if your board isn't backwards."


Making a big dramatic facepalm with my hand, I could only laugh at myself. From that point, I made sure to remember to always turn and point the board in the direction I was going. There's a lot of back-and-forth in surfing...


Although I never made it up on my feet, I did ride some really fun waves all the way to shore on my belly. I definitely see the draw of surfing.


Noticing the tide rising and it becoming harder to reach the ocean floor, I decided to turn in. In particular, I got hit by a big wave that sent me spinning underwater, my board flying in the opposite direction and saltwater filling my nasal passage and mouth.


In that moment I was shocked back to the day I nearly drown after falling off an oar boat on some Colorado River white water. It was a turbulent, uncontrollable feeling I hadn't felt in a decade, and it scared me.


Wetsuit: off

If I thought putting my dry wetsuit on was hard, taking off a wet wetsuit is a whole other level. I thought I was doing well until I got the ankle cuffs down past my heels and the neck opening down to just above my elbows. It inadvertently put me in a straight jacket position with the crotch mid-thigh and I couldn't move my arms at all, either to pull it down further or back up to begin another fresh attempt.


I desperately wanted Saoirse's help to peel it off, but at the moment my bare chest was exposed and I was concerned someone might call the police if I did a topless penguin waddle from the changing room back out to the beach where we had set up our beach towels etc.


Meanwhile, Saoirse had expertly changed out of his wetsuit right on the beach, with only the cover of a beach towel around his waist.


Whale watching

One day I booked a whale watching tour. In the morning a group of nine, including myself, donned bright red-orange PFD suits and boarded a Zodiac boat.


The morning fog had lifted just overhead, and combined with nine-ft swells created quite the mood.


For the first forty five minutes, we zipped around the sea, stopping in areas whales had recently been sighted by other boats. But the only thing we saw was a trio of playful sea otters.


Then all of a sudden there was a deep puff sound and a cloud of mist hanging low on the water.


Then, to my complete and utter amazement, a gigantic Humpback whale breached out of the water; its massive body contorting before crashing back into the water.


It was absolutely marvelous.


Then it waved its tail at us.


And then, as if that weren't enough, it breached for a second time.


I was speechless. Just sitting there not sure whether to cry with joy or clap my hands and laugh with joy. Either way, I was just beside myself, filled with insurmountable joy.


At that moment, perhaps also filled with joy—and breakfast—the man sitting two down from me abruptly stood up, leaned over the edge and puked his brains out.


Laundry

It's silly, but I had fun doing this little photo shoot of my reflection in the dryer machine door while doing laundry one day... Gotta find something to pass that time...



A couple fun shots from around town



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