West Coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino, Ucuelet, Long Beach

Stress. I hate it. It sucks the life right out of me, and leaves nothing but exhaustion and bad moods. In short, I don’t do well under a large amount of it for a long period of time. And when you consider that I haven’t been working weekends, I’m really wondering how I survived at Arkipelago for so long without going loony.

That’s pretty much the direction I’m headed in now — loony. Rather, I was, until the weekend. I’ve been busting my rear as of late … actually, as of the last two months, trying to get about a dozen projects to completion. Of prominence was the Scientific Research and Experimental Development tax credit report. It’s worth about 3/4 of a million to us, so needless to say, there’s a lot of pressure to get it done.

And that’s the problem — pressure. I’m under way too much of it. So much so that I haven’t slept well in more weeks than I can remember, and what little time I’ve had all to myself has been taken up by commuting from home to work and back.

I need a vacation. Badly.

Regrettably, my vacation won’t likely come until early October, when I plan to make a visit home. So until then, I take my rest time whenever I can get it. To compensate for my most recent bout of near-crazed stress, Allison and I opted to visit the Island for the weekend.

Unlike our usual habit, we drove the car to the Island (via the ferry, of course). We caught the last ferry out of Vancouver, which unlike normal, was full of people returning from the PNE. Not a total surprise — getting to the PNE from the Island is a bit difficult, but not impossible for the determined.

We arrived at the Collins’ just around 11:30pm, at which time we sat down and talked for a while. Jane arrived after not too long, said “Hello” and promptly vanished. Randy came home not long after Jane, but stayed around to talk. Before long, it was well after 2:00am, and we were ready to pass out.

The next morning, the house was virtually empty. The Collins were out with friends, and Allison’s siblings were nowhere to be found. It was time for us to vacate for our excursion of the day.

The West Coast. Since I arrived in Vancouver in January of 1998, I hadn’t been to the west coast of Vancouver Island. Sounds a little odd, perhaps? While the Island is not very wide (only a hundred kilometres or so), there is no direct east-west highway. This is because of a small mountain problem.

Getting to Tofino (one of our ultimate destinations) from Nanaimo requires a drive to Parkville, then to Port Alberni, then to Ucuelet, and finally to Tofino. All in all, it’s about 250 kilometres. There’s no way to do that in less than three hours.

Unless you’re a raving lunatic, of course.

The drive to Port Alberni is nice and easy — I’ve done most of it before (it’s the same route to Cathedral Grove). But once you’re out of Port Alberni, you’re into rough country. The roads weave, rise and fall like a roller coaster. The only difference is that you’re not attached to the track, and you have to deal with trains going in the opposite direction and trains trying to run you off the road.

Since I’ve arrived here, I’ve come to the conclusion that BC has some of the worst drivers in Canada. At least in Montreal, everyone expects you to drive like a maniac. Many people have suggested that “flat-landers” (aka everyone who came from east of the Rockies) can’t drive here — they drive too fast, they take turns to quickly, yadda yadda yadda. Given, I see a lot of out-of-province license plates on cars driving so fast it would make Mario Andretti queasy. But my general fear is of the freaks that are living in this province.

Anyway, we managed to finally get to Ucuelet shortly after 2:00pm. Starving, we found our way to a small grocery store to purchase snacks. We had thought of a restaurant, but Ucuelet (population: 5) isn’t well-stocked with interesting places to eat.

Okay, all seriousness aside, Ucuelet is a nice place. To visit. I wouldn’t want to live there. Allison’s cousin, however, does. Her husband is the town planner. You might think: “Why would a town that small require a town planner?” The answer to that is our second destination: Tofino.

Tofino was once like Ucuelet — small. Tiny. A blip on the map that you couldn’t get to without traversing gravel logging roads. It was an ordeal that few took. Then the government (bless their souls) paved the aforementioned logging road, and designated it Highway 4. Suddenly, getting from one side of the Island to the other was a bit easier. And Tofino was conveniently situated not far from Long Beach, which has some of the best surfing in Canada.

That’s why Tofino got bigger. It got big fast. According to many who told me, Tofino also sprawled. It went commercial. It didn’t have that “west coast feel”. Ucuelet, only 40 kilometres away (and much closer to the Highway to Civilization) opted not to become an eyesore. Hence, the town planner.

That being said, we figured Tofino had more to offer in terms of lunch, albeit a late one. So off we went.

Between Ucuelet and Tofino is Pacific Rim National Park. It protects Long Beach and the surrounding area. There are several areas to visit in the park, but on that particular day, we were only interested in getting to Tofino.

At first, I thought we had arrived in the outer limits of the town. From what others had told me, Tofino was a sprawling mess. I expected McDonald’s restaurants, gas stations — all the tacky stuff you’d expect to see in a tourist town. Frankly, I’d love to know what everyone complains about.

Tofino is … quaint. Yes, quaint is exactly the word I’d use. It’s small, compact, with no real “strip” to speak of. It takes about a minute to travel from one side to the other. Then you’ve seen it, and you can move on with life.

Tofino is more-or-less in the centre of Clayquot Sound. Name sound familiar? Remember all the protests a few years back? This was one of the centres for the protesters. Clayquot Sound has a lot of temperate rainforest — it’s the largest in North America, logged areas not included. It’s also the wettest … 20 feet a year. Luckily, we only got drizzled on.

Lunch being the major concern, we drove around briefly (like I said, the town is small), until we spotted the Sea Shanty. Perhaps not the most elegant name, but they serve a mean shrimp caesar wrap. Not that I ate one — Allison did, complete with the fanciest salad I’ve seen in a long time. I opted for a rather large bowl of clam chowder (not that I had the intention of ordering a large bowl, it just came that way) and a small caesar salad. Both of us were quite content with our meals, especially considering how cheap they were.

So, there’s my commercial for this issue — if you’re in Tofino and you’re hungry, go for the Sea Shanty.

Afterwards, we wandered about a bit, checking out some of the local stores, before we ended up at the Eagle Aerie Gallery. This is Roy H. Vickers’ personal art gallery. Roy Vickers is possibly one of the most famous (living) artists on the West Coast. He lives and works here, living in some remote town on the Island, with his gallery in Tofino.

He’s a Tsimshian artist who creates beautiful artwork with Native themes. His artwork frequently requires the use of special lighting so you get the full effect (sometimes you can’t see a feature unless you’re looking in the right angle). Allison and I would love to buy a print of his, except we can’t spare the $3000.

Upon exiting, Allison suggested we go to Long Beach. The sun was beginning to break through the oppressive cloud cover, so a trip to the beach seemed like a good idea.

Long Beach is aptly named — it’s a few miles in length. But don’t be mistaken — this isn’t your average beach. In fact, this isn’t your average coast. The west coast of Vancouver Island is quite dangerous. There are vicious rip currents, rogue waves, and storms that make The Blair Witch Project look like Barney and Friends reunion. Many people are killed each year who don’t heed warnings or take the right precautions.

The water is also cold. About 52F (11C) degrees. Unless you’re wearing a wetsuit, it’s not the sort of thing you want to be splashing around in for any length of time. Of course, that didn’t stop Allison or I from romping around the waves … so long as they didn’t pass our knees.

But even at such a shallow depth, you can feel the rip current. Normally, when you stand in the sand where waves hit the beach, the sand under your feet is eaten away and you sink. That effect is very pronounced at Long Beach. Still, there were many people out surfing in the waves.

We stayed only about 45 minutes, realising that if we stayed much longer, it would be dark by the time we got back to Nanaimo — and the trip back isn’t one you want to take in the dark.

We stopped for a short while in Port Alberni, partially because we wanted to see the infamous channel. This is a large fjord that runs more than half-way into Vancouver Island. Originally, it didn’t quite go all the way through to Port Alberni, but some simple dredging and blasting took care of that. Now Port Alberni is actually a shipping port, allowing ships to avoid the bottlenecks at Vancouver Harbour.

Returning to Nanaimo, we found we were unable to find a restaurant to suit our culinary desires. As such, we ended up back at the Collins, ordering Domino’s Pizza. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.

The next morning, I was awakened by the sound of a ringing telephone. At the time I didn’t know it, but it was in fact Allison doing a loop-back call with the phone so she wouldn’t have to go downstairs and wake me up. She was lucky that I was ready to get up anyway — I would’ve probably gone back to sleep, otherwise.

We were out of the house about five minutes later, heading to Wellington Hall. Mrs. Collins wanted to experiment with some ideas for the wedding.

Oh yeah, you probably wonder about that, eh? We put it off, due to some extenuating circumstances, and have rescheduled for next year, either in late July or early September (August is out due to Allison’s cousin, who is also getting married), depending on whether Allison decides to do her Masters or not.

We’ll let you know.

Anyway, we then ended up in Wedding Research mode, visiting several places around Nanaimo before finally giving up for the day. Still not enough decisions, but we’re not too pressed for time.

Getting home was another issue. We hoped to make the 7pm ferry … along with about 500 other cars. We ended up in a line the lengths of which I hadn’t even imagined, let alone experienced. Surprisingly enough, it went fairly quickly, and we managed to make the special 8pm sailing (BC Ferries will run periodic special runs when traffic is high).

It was a Fast Ferry. Yay. It wasn’t as bad as our previous experience, but then again, the Fast Ferry excels at the Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay run — it doesn’t have to turn around.

Soon, we were home, resting up for another week of solid work. Next week — off to Naramata for a wedding. Yep, another log entry’s a-coming…