Three firefighters, a man in swim shorts and me.
Having just arrived back from my latest venture into the Canadian wilderness a few hours ago, I have realised that it’s inevitably time to face the elephant in the room. So that is this and this is that, so to speak. In other words, my Canadian blogpost is well overdue and it’s time I get my act together. For the moment, I’m solely going to write about the previous four days thus saving my general impression of Canada and it’s people for the next post.
Last Sunday, as a result of some whatsapping back and forth between Dave and his best friend, Roddy who now lives here in Vancouver, a trip was arranged for us to go to Victoria. We would be going with Roddy and two of his friends whom he met working as a forest firefighter in Revelstoke in the past year. One of them was from Victoria, a town on Vancouver Island, and was keen to show Roddy and ourselves it’s hidden gems. We heard mention of the largest trees in Canada; firs and cedars, well-off the beaten track that was traveled by most non-Canadians and Canadians alike. There was no question that we were going.
Keep in mind that when we left Ireland we packed for blistering sunshine and beaches in Central and South America. Hiking through the dense forests of the Canadian wilderness, while it was somewhat on the agenda, was not necessarily something we had prepared for. Again, Dave’s sister and brother-in-law came to the rescue, piling up layers upon layers of thermals and outdoor wear for us on the sitting-room couch. As we were also celebrating Canadian thanksgiving the day before we were due to go, getting everything together was a bit of a scramble. As such, I assumed the responsibility of packing our clothes up. When I asked Dave where his things were, he told me they were in a pile on our bed. I walked back into the bedroom and looked around for said “pile” to find a pair of swim shorts, a tank top, a t-shirt, a pair of jeans and a couple of pairs of boxers and socks. I forced him to reassess the situation and of course after a text from Roddy saying to bring thermals, he caved. I proceded to pack him some warmer clothes- a fleece, a few pairs of thermals, and a pair of more practical trousers. I took out the jeans.
So all set the next day, we collected Roddy and set off to catch the 10am ferry from Tsawwassen to Victoria. We hadn’t a clue what was ahead of us but were more than willing to give in to this ready-made adventure. At this stage, I’ll skip ahead few hours. We’re now all in Will’s car, “The Vibe”, as she was endearingly referred to. The Vibe was, let’s say…well-loved. She was missing a handle on the driver’s side but other than that well-intact with a few minor bumps and bruises to the exterior. When asked, “How’s the vibe?”, Will exclaimed that she was doing great, but that this belly-rubbing trip would be a test to her stamina. Slowly, I began to get a clearer of picture of what to expect from this journey.
Within maybe the first two hours of our ventures I had already bumped my head twice, once on the car boot and once on an overhead log, and also fallen smack on my bum, narrowly missing the steady slide into the water below me. However, we had also seen the blowhole of a whale in the distance, walked up a river, and walked under a waterfall on the Juan de Fuca trail. So despite my pride being slightly damaged by hastening to keep up with the boys, things more than balanced out, and I was content to be a member of their boy’s midweek getaway.
We set up camp at a place called Mystic River that evening, a beautiful beach met by the forest on one side. I left the fire to the experts and walked to the nearer end of the beach, perching myself on a rock in an alcove. The overhanging rock framed the setting sun in the sky ahead of me, and lit up the rippling sea with oranges and yellows. It was one of those liberating moments where I felt the world was at my fingertips. Once our tents were set up we walked to the other end of the beach, had a swing on the high-flying pendulum swing, and collected some mussels to cook up with our dinner. Dinner is always unbelievable when you’re camping. That night all we ate was a few salty mussels and sweet potatoes, some homemade bread and packaged vegetarian curry and it was AMAZING. After chatting about girls and puberty and the joys of pulaskis (a useful hardware tool apparently), I felt much more informed about what guys really do when they go camping, and soon after, when our fire was just a few embers in the sand, we hit the hay.
The next day we rose at our leisure. Dave showered in the fresh water of a nearby waterfall, Will went swimming in the sea, and then we all warmed up with breakie of porridge and apple sauce. We spent a lot of this day driving to our next destination, stopping along the way to see salmon making their way up the river, a bald eagle swooping down for an easy meal, and slowing to let a mama bear and her cub scamper off the road and up the closest tree. It really was a quintessential day in the life a Canadian. We stopped at the first of the notoriously large trees, at the side of a road. In the clearing which it grew, I was bowled over by it’s enormity. Despite it’s top having fallen off, it’s sheer mass was undeniable and you could feel the history emanating through it from it’s core. It was difficult to capture on camera, as these things always tend to be.
The next stop after that, we were all advised to get into our rain gear as we were more than likely going to get quite wet. There was some talk of a cave and we all put on our headlamps. Before I knew it I was on all fours, crawling through passages on the interior of the cave. Will turned to us to tell us to keep our eyes peeled for the cave crickets. He then pointed his torch to the roof and casually noted, “ They’re just daddy long legs”. I followed his light to see hundreds of spiders crawling all over the roof above my head. My body shuddered with the realisation that I was way out of my comfort zone. Spiders under my feet was one thing, spiders above my head was another kettle of fish. I persevered through the channel of the cave, not wanting to be the one left behind. Thankfully, my efforts were rewarded as the cave opened up, exposing a spectacular view of trickling water and curving, mossy rock faces. We returned to the Vibe a little while later, aware of the impending storm and hastened on to our final destination for the evening. After hiking for about 3km through thick forest on a slippery boardwalk, we came to two potential camping spots. One of these was on the sandbank of a relatively tame river, with about 1.5 metres clearance; an important factor considering the rain that was to predicted to fall. Our second option was a small clearing in the forest, close to the river but safe from flooding. We went for the latter option and, in the steady rainfall, set up our campfire on the sandbank, thinking this way we got the best of both worlds. Indeed we were right in thinking this, especially when we woke the next day to find the river gushing freely over our campfire spot from the night before. A near miss.
On our last day we spent some more time exploring the woodlands, led by our tour-guide Will, who generously shared his expansive knowledge of ecology with us. Everything in the forest was interconnected, from the mycelium beneath our feet cushioning our footfall, to the tips of the trees that towered above us. One couldn’t help but match the enthusiasm of our new pals. We happily snapped away on our cameras, keen to record our trip as best we could. White frills of fungus were carefully layered upon fallen logs and dew-spattered moss hung like small pulls of candyfloss delicately hung from each twig of the trees. It was like someone had decorated the forest just for us. At one point I turned to find Cole, open-mouthed and lost in thought, twiddling one such piece of moss between his fingers. It was a funny and poignant reminder of the forests spell which we had fallen under.
Eventually time slipped away from us, and for the last time we returned to the trusty Vibe. After a classic self-timer photo, we hopped back in and made our way back to the ferry. Not of course before spotting an elk in the forest next to the roadside on the way back. Our Canadian venture was complete. We were dirty and we smelt of an odd combination of bonfire and mac and cheese. But despite the three bumps on the head ( I bumped it again on the last day) and the consequential loss of brain cells, I certainly felt I had learnt something. Whether that was an appreciation for the natural world, camp dinners or boys being boys…I have yet to make my mind up.
Just a side-note: Dave ended up wearing only his swim shorts for the whole trip and I went through about five pairs of thermal leggings.