COOPER DISCOVERER - Criss-crossing Lower Vancouver Island, or: A long way to propose

In light of this contest, I would like to revisit one of the better trips I've ever had, and one that changed my life forever:

Being ones that aren't big on parties, or doing normal stuff, we decided to load the family up and spend New Years on an adventure exploring the lower Vancouver Island, viewing some surfing areas, huge trees, hanging out in Tofino, and enjoying the beautiful roads and sights. Also I had a surprise in store for NYE.

Tuesday 29

Woke up around 6am to start prepping the truck for the trip, I had to salt the night before up on the Westwood Plateau in Coquitlam, and it would be midnight before I got home to my bed in Surrey. Short night sleep, but I typically run on 5-7h a night anyway.

In the bustle of the season, I neglected to drop off my rent cheque the day previous, and I wouldn't be back until after the 1st, so I needed to do that before I could leave. However, the office doesn't open until 8:30, and I had a ferry to catch in Tswassen, 38 minutes away in no traffic and I had to check in by 10:00. At least I have time to pack the truck while I'm waiting for the office to open.

Everything flows smoothly and we've got the truck loaded and ready to go; office opens, I drop the rent cheque and we're on the road. It's 9:15. On a Tuesday, in one of the most traffic congested regions of Canada.

Fortunately fate was on our side, there was just enough traffic to allow some comfortable stretching of my little black Ranger's legs, and not enough to congest and slow us down. We roll through the toll gate and into our lane. It's 9:43.

We got there with just enough time to get out and stretch our legs and snap a picture before the announcement for boarding came. Timing so far: impeccable.

Crossing to Duke Point was uneventful, nice views from the deck and mild enough temperatures to stand out there and enjoy them for a few minutes.

After we arrived in Duke Point, a coffee was overdue and Annie, our 5 year old daughter, was getting a little hungry, so a quick stop for some lunch and a coffee for the pilot and it was off towards Victoria down the Malahat highway. We stopped in Goldstream Park to check out Niagra Falls (I've seen the other ones, and these ones win on beauty, those ones win on power)...

Very big country. You can see my fiance in the bottom corner on the trail.

The falls are right off the road, quite popular, but not crowded. Easy to get to.

After that we continued on to Canadian Tire in Langford for a few last minutes things, before continuing on to Jordan River via Sooke.

The road was simply incredible, but by this point it was getting dark, so no pictures. Truly epic driving, and the scenery was fantastic, even in the dusk light.

We came into the Jordan River campsite with a beautiful, but quickly fading sunset happening before our eyes, sun dropping behind the Olympic Peninsula, casting a glow across the nearly pristine sky.

Setting up our site was a fairly practiced event, and before long we had the stove on and supper well on its way. I need to step outside the story for a brief moment to mention this stove. It, and the space heater we used to keep the chill off inside the tent, were purchased by my grandfather sometime in his 20s. They sat in my gramma's garage until a few years ago they were passed to me. Both are naptha, and both work as well as they ever had. The stove is in need of some new seals for the generator, though I will likely opt to just replace the whole tank as it has some rust inside. I will keep this one for posterity.

Anyway, we had the tent set up and bedding laid down before long. I will have a debrief of my take-aways from this trip after the report. With the early morning, and a day of being stuffed 3 wide in a Ranger, it was bed after a few short hours of watching the stars, and a half-assed attempt to start a fire with the wet wood available to us. We had some pretty cool neighbours that were in a van he had fitted out inside himself. They were a surfer couple, and she came over after they saw us working on our fire, to offer some dry kindling.

To be continued...
Wednesday 30

The next day I talked a bit to the guy (never did get their names), and told him about ExPo, since he said he could only find info and parts from the UK. I didn't ask to see inside as I feel that's a little too... forward... But he was a carpenter and from what I could see through the open door it looked to be pretty decently fitted out. We stayed and watched the surfers for a short time after packing up, but were quickly on our way.

The picture in he previous post is actually from this morning, I didn't have any from the night of our arrival.

Again, the driving was fantastic. We passed China Beach Provincial Park, and Juan De Fuca Provincial Park. JDF Provincial Park has long been on my list to visit, as I would love to hike the JDF Marine Trail; that's in the 3-5 plan. We continued on to Port Renfrew, and trucked on through to the Pacific Marine Road veering West, and heading back across the island. We were cruising down the road when one of our side-objectives came up on the right. Harris Creek Spruce, a Sitka Spruce, absolutely massive. 4m (13ft) across. A brief stop for some pictures and admiration and we were off again. The road was epic, the views were stunning, it was all solid secondary highway. Lake Cowichan was the decision point. We were looking at going through Youbou and taking back roads, but given the time of year and the fact that our primary objective was Tofino for NYE, we pressed on across slab, bound for Duncan and on to Port Alberni via Nanaimo instead of the Nitnat River Main. An adventure for another day.

Harris Creek Spruce

Pacific Marine Rd. @ Harris Creek Main (Truck Rd. 7)

HWY 18 on the way to Duncan

We took another quick stop in Nanaimo at CT for a few more supplies, and at a local bakery to pick up some nanaimo bars (my favourite desert bar, and named after this very town; I had to see how they stacked up against my mom's home made ones). Then it was off to Tofino, via Port Alberni.

The road is fantastic, as seems to be the status quo for the island. MacMillan Provincial Park is along the way, and although we didn't stop in this time, we have plans to go back for more exploring sooner than later and we'll be sure to stop then. More huge old growth areas to wander and view. Port Alberni had a small amount of snow, but nothing noteworthy. We pressed on. Sproat Lake coming up on our left.

As we came into Taylor Arm we began to see more snow, snowbanks but nothing too crazy and the road was bare and dry. Traffic was minimal and we toured on enjoying the views.

Snow Creek area, between Port Alberni and Tofino

Snow Creek area

Needle Peak

Sunset over Kennedy Lake

As we came up on Kennedy Lake, the sun was setting over the water and gave some incredible views as we came down the highway hugging the shoreline. We got to the bottom of Hwy 4, where it's left to Uclulet, or right to Tofino. Right it is. We stopped briefly at Wickaninnish Beach for a bathroom break, and a zip to the beach itself to snap some pictures of the sunset.

Same sunset as Kennedy Lake, over the Pacific

Post-sunset dusk

We headed towards Tofnio, it's about 5:30pm, and it's dark. We quickly discover that due to all the surfers, there are fairly strictly enforced camping rules near to Tofino. We found a decent campground and for $36 we had a power outlet and a chunk of ground to put our tent on. We also had the key to a warm bathroom.

...Stay tuned for more.
Thursday 31

In the morning, the girls were cold and still sleepy, so they opted to stay in the tent. Being an early riser and impervious to the cold, I wandered down to the beach to check out the pre-dawn views.

After a few hours I coaxed the girls out of the tent and we headed back down to the beach after a hot breakfast and breaking camp. We collected some shells, let Gabby get some exercise, and Annie too... then headed back to the truck.

We were off to explore town, the local park, and find a place for the night. The campground was acceptable, but given that it was NYE and the girls had already had 2 frosty nights, I opted to spring for a motel room. We found a small roadside motel (Dolphin Motel) with an eccentric asian woman at the front office. She gave us a great rate and allowed us to stay even with our dogs. Gabby you've seen, Cleo is my fiance's Peakanese that had to come along for the ride. She stayed in the truck for the most part and just waited for the whole thing to be over.

With a room so small we had to step outside to change our minds, but clean and warm; we headed out to explore for the day. Destination: Long Beach, and Tofino proper.

We headed off to see the sights and spent some time wandering around on the beach, exploring the inter-tidal areas and letting Annie and Gabby run around.

Crazy People... I mean, surfers.

After a stint at the beach, we headed to Tofino to wander around town, nose through a couple shops and see what was going on in a tiny little surf town at the end of the road, on a New Year's Eve. It was about as quiet as would be expected, and although we didn't find any noteworthy purchases, we did enquire about the tours to Hot Springs Island, and found the charter company to be very reasonable. $100/person for a 6h trip, with approximately 3h at the Hot Springs themselves. You get an hour and a half boat ride either way, with plenty of beauty to view.

The few shops in town exhausted, we headed back to the beach to view the sunset. The views were incredible, and there were quite a few people on the beach watching it with us, though most were good to stay out of each other's way for pictures. With the sun just under the horizon I brought Rachel up onto the rocks, and complete with sappy speach, and bent knee, I proposed, and she said yes. So, as aluded to in the story, my girlfriend of 2 and a half years is now my fiance. We have a wonderful little family that I absolutely love and it was time to make it all official and real.

With all that out of the way, we headed back to the motel to cook up some supper and soak in the warmth of our room and a hot shower.

After supper, we headed back out one last time to view the stars for a bit. We had intentions of watching some fireworks in town later in the night, but with the comfort of a warm room and a bed, we were all soundly asleep by 8:30. I awoke slightly at midnight to the sound of fireworks, just in time to snag a quick new year's kiss, and back to sleep til morning.

To be continued...
Friday 1

New sticker for the back of the truck from the Tofitian.

The next morning, we woke and made breakfast, before packing up the truck and grabbing a coffee at the Tofitian, a great little coffee shop. Wait, sorry, not a "coffee shop"; since when I asked for a coffee, I was politely informed "I only serve expressos." ...Well... Aren't I the uncultured heathen. 12oz Americano then, thank you. The girl was pleasant enough, and they have free wifi, which is nice because cell service is a bit dodgy on this side of the island. Touched base on Facebook, texted my parents to let them know we were alive, and off we went.

Morning mists over Grice Bay

With our ferry booked for tomorrow, we decided to spend most of the day exploring the Tofino/Ucluelet area, but intended to head across and spend the night back towards Victoria.

We headed down from Tofino, destined for the Long Beach Rainforest Trails. Boy am I glad we stopped to check this out. I love big trees. Something about being around something living that is so old, and big, and solid; it's just very humbling, and something I enjoy. Well this was virtually paradise for me. A rainforest, a real-deal jungle made of cedars and spruce. The trees were so big that pictures hardly do them justice, their scale is lost. We spent an hour or two wandering the raised boardwalk loop that takes you through a nice section of the old growth and back to the parking lot.

Annie the Explorer, leading the way into the rainforest. She was pretty amazed at the idea of being in a rainforest.

This isn't just a perception trick, Annie is almost even with the stump.

Bridge made from a fallen tree. They just flattened the top and added railings. Pretty cool.

Being January, many of the portions of boardwalk were slick with ice, but we tred carefully and made it through without any slip-and-falls.

We carried on with the intention of finding a shipwreck on the Tofino Inlet; we found the Alaska Pine Rd and turned off the blacktop.

We had only our Backroads Mapbook and iffy Google Maps coverage to guide us, and made it 90% of the way there, but when we hit a questionable fork, with the correct way looking a little too overgrown for what the map indicated, we chose right instead of left. We realized our folly fairly quickly but with other sights on the list, and the knowledge that we would most definitely be back to the area, we chose to cut our losses and head back out to slab.

3 humans and 2 dogs stuck in there... Still worth it.

We hit HWY 4 just east of the fork to Tofino or Ucluelet, and decided to make a quick swing into Ucluelet just to say we went. There was a lighthouse shown on the map, and that was a good enough excuse for me.

Once again, glad we decided to make the short jaunt over. The lighthouse was impressive on its own, but the shoreline was rugged and amazing and reminded me of Lake Superior, where I'm from. The waves were also fairly impressive given how sedate the day was. We admired the sound of the whistling bouy, and snapped a few pictures, loaded up and headed back across the island.

Sure looks like it can weather a storm.

Good thing... Today was calm and beautiful. Imagine a storm.

Back through HWY 4 and Port Alberni (noteworty, it's half way across the island, but still on the ocean, thanks to a massive inlet/fjord). The trip back across was a little frustrating due to a few very inconsiderate drivers who did not use the slow vehicle pulll-outs (several), and then played "passing lane gran prix" on the few, short passing lanes there were. We're talking 20-30 under the limit on dry pavement, and then 30-40 OVER the limit going through passing lanes. THey held up 4 of us for quite a while before we all managed to get by. Anyway, it was only for a while, and then it was smooth sailing. We carried on through Nanaimo with the plan to possibly spend our last night in the tent again, this time in Goldstream park, where it would be milder than the coast. That said, it was the end of a fairly cramped trip, and I figured spending our last night on the ground in a tent wouldn't be very much fun, so Rachel did some Google sleuthing and found us a motel for a very reasonable rate. Robin Hood Motel, clearly mostly intended for people who would be renting the room for a week at a time or longer, we were given a great rate and got a room with a small living room area and a pull-out couch for Annie to sleep on, and a separate bedroom for us to sleep in. Pet friendly, with a complete kitchen in the room; no complaints here.

We enjoyed another hot shower, a little TV, and our first solid and consistent cell service since heading away from Nanaimo on the 30th.

No pictures of the motel, but I would highly recommend it. Very clean, friendly staff, and pet friendly. Definitely glad I had Rachel call ahead though, by the time we were ready for bed, the no vacancy sign was on.

To be continued....
Saturday 2

Today was to be our last day on the island. Originally, when I booked our ferry, I had intended for us to return from Duke Point to Tswassen just as our trip across. However, with all things being flexible, and our trip winding us up back on the Victoria side; when we made the decision to get a hotel in Victoria, I also made the decision to rebook our ferry ride back to the mainland from Swartz Bay, which is the Victoria terminal. A much more picturesque trip, from what it looked like, and if nothing else; a different view.

We had booked the ferry ride back across for 3pm to maximize our time on the island, and kept the same time when we rebooked from Victoria. The crossing is roughly 2h so the timing worked well to allow us some exploration and still get us home at a reasonable hour for unpacking and whatnot before returning to work the next day. But that's at 3pm, and it's only 7am now, so what happened in the middle?

Well, we decided that since we did have a deadline, we would pick a few noteworthy things to check out, and then head to the ferry. We knew we'd be back, so it was our plan to enjoy a few things rather than try to rush many.

We started in the northwest and worked our way back across the city. First stop was Hatley Castle, from Wikipedia; "In 1906, B.C.'s Lieutenant Governor, James Dunsmuir, who was of Scottish descent, purchased the property. He and his wife Laura commissioned the renowned Canadian architect Samuel Maclure to build a 40-room mansion in the Scottish baronial style; the Tudor revival style was popular in the Edwardian period."

Since it was the off season, it was closed, so this was a quick stop just to look from the outside and snap a few pictures. Not much more to say, since we weren't there long. There were geese.

Next was Fort Rodd Hill. Now this was cool. An early 1900s gun battery it was part of a larger coastal defense system, and most of the structure is intact and explorable. The pictures largely speak for themselves, so here you go.

In operation that railing and stairway would not be there.

local wildlife. Lots of these little buggers around and they're not shy.

Light director's station. Two searchlights would be guided by an officer in this bunker.

Um... In my distraction of being a father I kinda forgot to take any other pictures of the command post, so here's the actual post in the command post...

After Fort Rodd Hill, we took a drive past the parliament buildings, which were gorgeous. We would like to take the tour next time we go across. No pictures since we didn't really stop. Just around the corner was Mile Zero of the Trans-Canada Highway (you'd think it would be "Kilometer Zero" but I guess that doesn't roll off the tongue as nice), and less than 300 yards away was the (former) world's tallest totem pole. The new record holder is located in a more remote native community further north.

Terry Fox, a Canadian hero.

Pictures don't do it justice. It's like, holy-crap-tall.

With our deadline approaching and traffic being what it is, we decided to start making our way to the ferry. A wise decision, we got there early enough to be one of the first cars in line (first on, first off); and we didn't have to wait an unreasonable amount of time. Just long enough to let the dogs stretch their legs and take a small wander around the terminal.

The final leg of the trip was upon us. And what a beautiful home stretch. The ferry ride was spectacularly scenic as it wound its way through very narrow passages between the islands before opening into the strait. With a stunning sunset casting its final light on us and Mt. Baker in the distance, we were pulling up to the dock before we knew it.

Quite the marel of engineering, really.

Mt. Baker glowing in the distance.

Our route

So much room for activities. This is not what you would call "open sea"

Good bye for now... We'll be back.

The drive home was short and easy, and just like that another trip was in the books. Certainly the best one I can recall. I always enjoy getting out, but this trip was particularly great for a whole host of reasons.

Now the debrief:

Camping: This tent sucks. I've had it for a few years and purchased it slightly impulsively when looking for a larger tent to use for vehicle camping. It's nice that it is tall enough for me to stand in portions, but the addition is not free-standing, and the tension placed on the zipper for entry has caused it to fail with greater frequency. Time to get something better. Free-standing would be nice, but just something more sturdy. I'm also seriously contemplating the idea of a platform and drawer system for my box with a cap. It would be a bit cozy with the animals as well, but we would all fit, since it's about the size of the mattress we use anyway. Either way, a new/larger vehicle is pretty much a requirement by next winter we plan on expanding the family.

Speaking of the mattress; I know air mattresses suck in the winter, but this was reinforced on this trip. We had a blanket under us wich cut some of the chill, but it was still not pleasant. It had been my intention to get this mattress, but I wasn't able to find one in time for the trip. It would have cured our woes for sure and made the camping experience much more enjoyable. The heater did a great job of keeping the chill off in the tent, but the conductive heat loss through the mattress made for cold hips for Rachel and I. Annie had an extra sleeping bag she was in and she slept snug and warm the whole time. The poor sleep quality was a major driving factor for the hotel rooms.

The truck. Part of the issue is that when I transfered my stereo over from my old car, I simply threw my sub box behind the driver's seat and was done with it. It's huge and kind of in the way, it essentially takes up half the back of the truck. We use it as a shelf, but that's about it. I have plans for a new one that will turn it into a flat platform only a few inches above the floor. This means Gabby can sit on that side securely, Annie can move back into her spot in the back seat, and everyone has room and comfort. The reality is I need something with 4 doors, but that's my own ongoing dilemma that I can sort out sometime over the next year or so.

Other than that, everything performed flawlessly. Truck got decent mileage, stove and heater worked great, everyone had a great time, and we made it home without incident.

Some might question whether this was truly an "adventure" or an "expedtion" but, with a thousand and change kilometers racked up, visting new and strange places, learning about our history, and having a specific goal of making a romantic proposal at the sunset moment of the end of the year, at the end of Canada.... I think it qualifies.