Salty Sea Dog Reunion, Arrival in Tofino

Today. Oh my, today. Perhaps one of the best days I’ve had in … well, a very, very long time. And there are parts that I will regret tomorrow. But for now…

I couldn’t sleep. The bed in the basement is like sleeping on a concrete slab. I don’t know if it’s the same bed that was there when Alex and I used to visit in our pre-kids phase and we slept down there instead of the blue room on the main floor, but it’s uncomfortably hard. Or I’m getting too old. Maybe both. Either way, I was up well before my alarm.

Coffee. Jean and Allen were already up, prepping breakfast. I’d scheduled the family for an 08:30 departure the day before, as we had a 10:30(ish) ferry to catch. We had a reservation, so catching the ferry itself wasn’t the concern, it was the hour drive to get to the ferry, which could involve delays of any kind and I wanted time to avoid them.

I didn’t know it when I got up, but I was insanely anxious and excited to see my family. It’s been three years since I last saw my sister or my mother, in the summer of 2019 as we returned from Nova Scotia. COVID slammed the door shut on travel, and then the sheer irresponsibility of so many really just hammered home that travelling wasn’t such a great idea. So we waited. And waited. And waited.

And I didn’t want to wait any more.

Being at Grandpa’s means porridge. I know what you’re thinking, sounds gross, bla bla bla. It’s actually not, when made well, and the girls love eating it, especially when grandpa makes it. So it’s a thing we don’t try to avoid. For the rest of us, eggs and bacon and toast. Jean had secured a gluten-free loaf from Zeena’s just for Alex.

We departed a bit behind schedule, but that’s exactly why I set the time for 08:30 – I knew things wouldn’t be on time. And 08:30 on a Sunday morning in Maple Ridge is quite a bit quieter than I expected, so we whizzed our way out to Highway 1 via the Mary Hill Bypass in what was probably record time, though I wasn’t watching the clock too closely. By the time we reached the Upper Narrows bridge, I’d started to develop the rising sense of panic of not arriving at a scheduled event on time, something I’m used to (which, incidentally, is why I’ve never missed a plane, train, ferry, movie, concert, fireworks display, speech, debate, university course, interview, doctor’s appointment, or early morning opening of Japanese fish markets).

We arrived at the Horseshoe Bay terminal in plenty of time. Which is about when I got the message from Cathy that they were going to try and make the same ferry that we were on. But they hadn’t yet left Granville Island. To say I was doubtful would bely my utter pessimism.

I still can’t remember the last time I waited for a ferry at Horseshoe Bay. It very well might be 23 years, which would be the last time I deliberately travelled to Nanaimo (instead of just driving through it). I couldn’t remember much of what it used to look like, but even from the car I could see a lot of newer buildings that had sprouted likely in the previous decade.

PA announcements said that the ferry was arriving soon, further clamping down on the reality of Cathy + Family not making the same sailing, though her text messages seemed to indicate that she still hoped she might. I privately wished for them to make the sailing, but prepared myself and my family for the fact that they probably wouldn’t.

We didn’t see their Jeep glide past us two rows over. All we got was “we’re in line”. Fingers were crossed as the arrived ferry vomited it’s load of cars and trucks onto the highway, and our line (the first reserve line) was ushered onto the ferry’s top deck. We spotted them in the Jeep as we drove past, but couldn’t make eye contact in time. We were squirrelled away in the very sides, on a lane tucked in that would later result with us being among the last to get off.

Unloading, I spotted the tell-tale “too many glowing parts” of a car behind us that screamed “I AM ELECTRIC CAR”. Which it was, a Volkswagen ID.4, which I’d only seen specifications for. The last time I’d done a run on electric car research, just before we bought the e-Golf, the ID.4 had some decent specs but was still to be released. Here was the actual thing in front of us, and conveniently, some owners we could temporarily badger with a host of questions about their car and how different (potentially better) than it was to our little electric.

Our next (second) car will be electric. I think we’re finally at the point where we don’t need a gas car.

Up the stairs, we hunted for an area where eight people could comfortably sit and chat, which we found near the gift shop. We didn’t know whether or not Cathy + Crew would make the sailing, but we aimed for hopeful. Then I noticed Mom’s message: “Did you make it?” With no response. To me, that suggested that Cathy was on the move. There was only one reason she’d not respond.

Sure enough, it was answered with three celebratory emojis. I responded with “we have seats port front”. A few minutes later, I spotted Craig, with Cathy and the girls not far behind. As he entered our section of the ship, he quite loudly announced: “Honeestly, it’s not mine!”

It had begun.

Hugs all around and seating was done. A few minutes later, the ferry started it’s crawl out of the bay and into open water. And it was like we’d only seen them yesterday. Well, except for the girls. Our two were goofy and started beating each other up; Cathy’s two were staring at our two, wondering if they had to be seen in public with their bizarre cousins.

On the ferry to Nanaimo

The ferry trip takes a little over an hour and a half. During that time, the cousins farted about the ship, we all went up to the front to stand in the gale force wind (existing wind plus ship speed) that nearly froze Cathy to the core.

When we finally arrived at the other end, we split ways again. Cathy’s eldest – bordering on a professional swimmer – desperately wanted to get a practice in, which would let Cathy and Craig get some supplies for the days to come. We opted to head in for some lunch before heading to Coombs and our supplies.

Thus we found a nearby Vietnamese place, Sealand Pho. We love Vietnamese: it’s tasty, it’s fresh, and above all, it’s fast. Something we can eat and go in fairly short order.

Or at least that was the expectation.

It took 20 minutes just to be acknowledged at our table. Another 15 minutes before I had a Vietnamese coffee in my hand. Another 20 before we got our meals. It was 90 minutes from the time we entered to the time we left. Remember my anxiety about seeing my Mother? It was now full on rage to get our asses out to Tofino.

But we had to get through Nanaimo first. And then we had to get to Coombs. And we had to get through the Coombs market. And I had to, for the first time in years, tell Alex that we didn’t have time for her geocaches. I wanted to pin the car and go as fast as we could. I was turning into a full-fledged asshole about getting to Tofino, now.

If you’ve ever had the privilege of driving to Tofino, you know that “fast” isn’t an option. Even getting to Port Alberni is a bit of a challenge, as the road has to weave around and over numerous hills. The only thing that attracted my attention as we passed through Port Alberni was the state of the old E&N railway, which I noticed had been pulled next to Coombs (no connection to the rest of the line, anymore), but was still present in Port Alberni. After that, my only thought was getting out of Port Alberni, quickly.

A little too quickly. I sped. I know I sped. I was deliberately, unconsciously speeding, trying to get to Tofino. It was like someone’s life depended on me being there.

Then I saw the motorcycle cop pull over a Volvo that I had been sort of pacing, but falling behind (because even I have limits for how much I speed). And that was my sign that the road was watched. Two more RCMP vehicles down the road only confirmed that belief. I kept a much closer watch on speed after that, which was a good thing since the route only got windier, twistier, hillier, and going any faster was just stupidly dangerous. Add in 18% grades and more changes in speed limits than you can manage, I was occupied quite well for the next two hours. The girls read, while Alex stared out the window at the rugged landscape, desperately making me wish that we could stop so I could take a picture … but we needed to move. I needed to see my family.

And then there’s Kennedy Hill. Holy cats. I’ve seen some dicey roads in parts of Costa Rica, but this in-construction improvement to a rather nasty slope on the cliff face over a lake is about the craziest I’ve seen in Canada. It’s one lane, timed with lights on either end. You take it at no more than 30 km/h. And yes, Virginia, they send fully-loaded trucks over this thing. Sheer insanity, I tell you. I haven’t gripped a wheel quite that hard in some time.

We got the “where are you” text as we turned right where Hwy 4 branches off to Ucluelet. Everyone else had arrived. And that’s exactly when Monkey announced that she had to pee, right as we passed by a public toilet that we could no longer access. I figured there’d be one ahead – we were heading into National Parks, after all.

We found a toilet at Wickaninnish Beach. Which was, to my dismay, 2.2 kms down a road. And the moment we stopped, Alex leapt out of the car and down a path … not to the toilet, but to find a geocache. I groaned, but only Choo Choo heard it.

A brutal 10 minutes (that felt like an hour) later, we were back on the road headed for Tofino. I wasn’t going to stop for a damned thing. I didn’t care if anyone wet the seats at this point. I desperately clung to the speed limit, willing the signs to be 100 km/h faster than posted.

Finally the signs for hotels and such started to appear and I started scanning actively for Crystal Cove’s. I knew they had one, but wasn’t entirely sure what it looked like or when it would appear. As we passed a small pseudo-mall to our right, the Crystal Cove sign appeared to our left. I felt an audible relief as I turned, and we immediately spotted Jen and Rob, returning to the cabin from visiting a nearby store. We slowed only to hear Jen ask: “Do you know where you’re going?” and for me to reply: “Nope!” and happily sped on without any further information.

Fortunately, finding the office was easy. Cathy had, for whatever reason, taken the cabin I was assigned to. Not that it mattered in the slightest, as we had identical cabins, side-by-side. I skipped all the other instructions Mom had given me (such as credit cards and so forth), snagged the key, directed the family to our cabin, dropped our crap in the living space, and hucked it over to Cabin 20, where everyone else awaited us.

I had barely a step into the room when I assaulted my mother with the largest hug I could offer. While we had seen each other over the last three years, it was over Facetime. And as much as video communications is a blessing to our remote and physically-distanced world, it’s not the same as being in the room with that person. Or touching them, remembering that they are, in fact, real.

Jen thrust a beer in my hand. I think it was from Superflux, one of the bazillion or so breweries around Commercial Drive in Vancouver. It was about the best beer I’d ever had. I don’t know if actually tasted good, but after the hell of the previous three hours, the elation at seeing my family, and the strong nature of the beer (‘cuz I’m sure it was at least 6.5%), it could have been donkey piss and I’d still have been happy.

We ate charcuterie, Jen and Rob’s contribution to meals. (We are all on the hook for various dinners.) No sooner than my first beer finished that Jen tossed another one at me, a saison (I think?) from a brewery I hadn’t heard of, loved, and promptly spilled half of when I accidentally dropped it. We both cried.

Then it was time for the shirts. Several moons ago, Jen had gotten the idea that we needed commemorative t-shirts. I’m normally not that into them, as they usually turn out with a horrible colour or too cheesy, but Jen knocked it out of the park with a simple design, a beautifully neutral dark grey, and the phrase: “Salty Sea Dog Adventure Club”, marking “Tofino 2022”.

I already sense a pattern about to emerge. Which I’m perfectly okay with.

I stole off without Mom watching to get the shirts for Alex and the kids. The rest of us – Jen, Rob, Brenda, Mike, Cathy, Craig, Nat, and Tori – all dressed up, then introduced Mom to the club on the porch, with her own t-shirt. She might have cried, as might several more of us.

Salty Sea Dog Adventure Club

Out of beer, I might have switched to the Rubarb Gin Alex and I had purchased before leaving Calgary. I have to say “might” because I know that there was at least two G+Ts, at least one (probably two) glasses of wine, and exactly zero glasses of water. Or anything sans alcool.

Did I mention was really ecstatic to see my family and all sense of reason had pretty much fled?

The evening went on, the booze went in, and I’m pretty fuzzy as to some of the key details, though I do recall having a glass of (something) at Cabin 10 (my mom’s, which overlooked the beach and was the only one with a hot tub) with Jen, talking about the fun things we’d done in the past and holy cow it’s been too long since we saw each other, before we ended up in my cabin’s second-level sauna, fully-clothed.

Day 1. Ye gods, what will Day 2 be?!