Jul 12, 2005

Wolvenspirit's Summer Excursion Part II of V: Victoria Island and the Road to the Rockies.

In the early afternoon of Monday, June 14th, we left the great city of Vancouver in our wake. Seeing the region between Vancouver and Tsawwassen in the daylight, I was surprised to learn that much of it was flat prairie. The drive was not particularly interesting until we reached the ferry port. The ticket booth collected nearly $50 Canadian from us, and directed us to one lane of many where vehicles idled, waiting to board the ferry. It was about an hour's wait, but my music kept me from growing too impatient. My lane finally started moving, and I followed the ramp which led directly to the car garage on the vessel. From there, we basically did what the Canadians did, exiting the car and climbing up the stairs to the main floor.

The ferry boasted quite a few amenities: a small gift shop and snack bar, full-fledged diner, arcade, sun deck, and some very nice areas to simply lounge around. The food was surprisingly decent, considering it very closely matched the standard American menu. It's a convenient place to eat, anyway, since it wastes no extra time to do so. After finishing my baked potato and caeser salad in the dining section, the desire suddenly hit me to go outside and escape from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding people. I walked up another flight of stairs and opened the door to one of the sun decks, and I literally felt like I had stepped into a brand new world.

It was no longer at all sunny, and surprisingly few people were loitering outside. I had a nice little stretch of the deck entirely to myself. As soon as I felt that chilly Canadian breeze against my face and my body, I knew I would be staying out there for awhile. It really only made sense to me that the majority would stay indoors where it was warm, safe, and settled, and I would feel much more compelled to lean against the side railing and be entranced by the elation of cruising along the water at a decent speed, watching the ferry approach a big band of rainclouds over distant realms as the cold wind caressed me. It's hard to describe in words the feeling that comes about in situations like these. I feel so liberated, invigorated, and euphoric. In a sense, it "feels like flying." I would say it's an emotion to die for, but more accurately, it's a sensation to live for. I love gazing over distant landscapes, watching the rain, feeling the strong wind, moving at a rapid pace ... this ferry trip was all that in one.

About an hour and fifteen minutes later, we reached the Nanaimo port on Vancouver Island. All the vehicle passengers were asked to return to their vehicles well ahead of time. I remember spending a good few minutes standing by the rig, looking through a window at a large flock of seagulls swooping up and down behind the ship, certainly appearing as if they were having a whale of a time with the quirky air currents back there. Eventually, we exited out the opposite end of the ferry and immersed ourselves in the new terrain. It was no less lush and verdant than I expected, and seemed very rural. It was also raining quite heavily at the time, and my father could not seem to stop himself from complaining about it. I ignored him, though, instead concentrating on the music playing on the surprisingly good electronica music radio station.

In truth, we had no real plan; just ideas. We had previously been considering bungee jumping at Nanaimo to kick things off, but because of the weather and the fact that we could not even get ahold of the outfit, that fell through rather quickly. In actuality, since it was already approaching late afternoon, our primary focus became the search for a place to stay. A hotel was not in our interests so much as a decent place to camp. We stopped at a Husky gas station to pick up groceries, and spent awhile scoping out nearby campsites, none of which looked particularly special or suitable for tent campers. Eventually, we got ahold of a map and located an interesting feature by the name of Cowichan Lake, which apparently offered a large variety of campsites. Therefore, the winds of fate just happened to sweep us in that direction.

A lonely two-lane highway led farther into the central regions of the island, deeper into the countryside. It only seemed more beautiful and pure the farther we went. Not to mention, the weather seemed to be breaking. We passed through a very secluded lakeside town, full of charming summer residences, before the road turned to gravel. A few more miles of passing through deep forest and turnoffs to old logging roads, we reached a place called Pine Point Campground, and decided to scope it out. I fell in love with the place almost immediately. It was a beautiful wooded area right by the lake, offering dozens of campsites, a very, very small fraction of which were actually occupied. After all, we were actually there just before the peak season. I was content to throw down my sleeping bag and stay there for the night, and that is precisely what we did. We chose a spot which contained a picnic table and a firepit about fifty metres inland from the lakeshore. The atmosphere of this place was simply stunning. In certain places, I truly feel as if I belong. It leaves my soul in an unparalleled state of contentment. As I strolled alone along a stretch of beach at twilight, gazing over the distant mountains, I was reminded that I would always feel much more at home in a place like this than in an upscale hotel where you could phone in a clean towel anytime you wanted to. This was a place I could simply be myself--and wanted to. Though I may have been taken lakeside camping when I was much younger, I had no memory of it, and I could now see why it was so highly rated. It was much different, even, from camping next to the ocean, which I was much more accustomed to. The lake was even more peaceable, the distant tree-covered shores and mountains across the water providing a sense of visual harmony and ambience I had never experienced before.

The next morning, I was awakened early by the shrill cries of black ravens, which would be a common sight throughout our entire Canadian trip. I ambled over to the picnic table to discover that they had stolen and devoured an entire bag of potato chips that my father had left out. I didn't care much about what the camp robbers did, as I find potato chips to be mediocre at best. Those pesky birds, though, clearly have a master plan, and that is waiting for unsuspecting campers to wander away from camp just long enough to steal as much of their food as they can. I am sure similar incidents have happened to countless naive campers. Fortunately, we had a way to keep our food out of their reach.

This was essentially a day off for us. My father more or less slept all day, and I spent much of it simply prowling around, riding my bike along scenic backcountry trails. I went almost as far back into the small town we had passed through, but determined a turning around point a little sooner than that. I can honestly say nothing particularly exotic happened that day, but I enjoyed the calm and relaxed nature of it- and I certainly did not mind spending more time with my thoughts in such an inviting spot. I literally did not see a human being all day long. I truly was happy to be there.

When tomorrow afternoon came, though, we packed up and moved on, journeying back closer to civilisation. Again, we had no specific plan, but made a spur of the moment decision to take a survey of the city of Victoria. On the way there, we stopped at a few points along the wonderfully scenic Cowichan River. Even the drive to Victoria was quite interesting, passing through pleasant forest and by high scenic overlooks. My father decided that a hotel stay was in order, for the purpose of doing laundry and having an actual bed to sleep on, so one of our missions was to locate a decent play to stay. We ended up in downtown Victoria without the aid of a map, and coincidentally parked right in front of the famed Emperess Hotel. I bought a couple post cards in a harbourside gift shop while my father went to the nearby information centre and found us a cheap hotel only half a mile away in downtown.

And it turned out to be a very unsettling place. The lady at the front desk actually recommended we check out the room to see what we think of it before paying up, so we did just that. The rather dirty elevator was frightening enough in its tendency to creak, groan, and rattle every few seconds. When we entered our room, flies were buzzing everywhere; there were no screens on the open windows. We had a very nice view of a brick wall and an alley full of garbage dumpsters. What a far cry from the Renaissance. This was a real dirtbag motel, and though my standards aren't exactly very high, this was far, far below any place I would feel comfortable staying in. I probably would have been more comfortable sleeping out in the street. My father and I agreed that we had to find something better than this. Though I found Victoria charming, I had an underlying urge to escape from it as quickly as we had arrived and head up to the Canadian Rockies, back to the soul-soothing pleasantness of the backcountry. We returned the door key and headed back out.

I actually decided to spend a couple hours shopping around downtown Victoria, getting an overall feel for the city. For some reason, something about it felt somewhat unsettling. I could not seem to feel as comfortable there as I did in Vancouver. Perhaps it was something in the air that day, or purely my imagination. Whichever the case, I was not heavy-hearted about leaving. I did find a precious little wolf plush that I could not bear to forgo purchasing; I figured it would make a nice gift.

At this point, we were just about on schedule to depart from Vancouver Island and head to Alberta. A few kilometres before the port at Schwartz Bay, though, we found a Quality Inn whose rates were actually cheap and was of reasonable quality. Since the daylight was fading and the concept of hot showers, warm beds, and clean clothes appealed to us, we opted to settle in for the night. It was quite a pleasant little inn considering the price, and it was hard to imagine a much more convenient location. The windows in the room were open, but there were no flies buzzing about, and the view was satisfactory, featuring a grassy courtyard area and beyond that, a residential garden. Staying in a hotel can be a nice experience after spending a number of days outdoors.

After a free, but utterly mediocre continental breakfast, we packed up, did our laundry, restocked our goods, and jumped on a morning ferry. The ride back to the mainland was every bit as pleasant, and instead of getting the "Queen of Westminster" boat, we got the "Queen of Victoria." I rather enjoyed watching the seagulls gliding effortlessly in air currents alongside the ship. They were barely moving along faster than the ship itself. The ferry ride was at least two hours long, and by the time we returned to Twawassan, it was already mid-afternoon. Days spent traveling can fly by all too quickly it seems, which makes me more appreciate the days spent relaxing in one place. They seem to progress at a much more comfortable pace.

The next few hours would be spent driving great distances. We made only a couple stops between Vancouver and Jasper National Park--Wal-Mart for a metric ton of groceries and miscellaneous items, and one or two fuel stops, yet we did not reach the actual town of Jasper until around 4:30 a.m. the next day. Incredibly, I managed to do absolutely all of the driving. Several times, my father reminded me that he would be willing to take over the responsibility if I became too exhausted, but I was compelled to challenge myself to drive the entire distance. There was something spectacularly surreal about driving through the middle of the night along a desolate highway through beautiful, unfamiliar countryside, my favourite music blaring on the stereo and a sleeping passenger in the back. It was also raining rather heavily most of the way there, which only supplemented the effect. More than once, I found myself driving through fog so heavy I had to slow down to a crawl just to proceed through it safely. Some food and a large caffeinated drink facilitated my efforts in reaching our destination. There was something very magical about plunging deeper and deeper into the great beyond, clicking off the kilometres in murky darkness through what was not too long ago in history an unpenetrated frontier. At this point, if they hadn't already, things were truly shaping up to be an adventure I would not soon forget.

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