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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Day 94 and 95: San Juan Islands, Washington, USA

Day 96 to 98: Sleepless in Seattle

Day 88 to 93: To Tofino and Back

Doing Vancouver Island with Marianne was a wonderful mix of laid-back sightseeing, high-octane chatter, death-defying action adventures and fiercely competitive card-playing. And that was only day one.

Seriously, though, we had fun. Moreover, it says something about our friendship that we never even considered that sharing a twenty foot box for a week might present a problem. It wasn't...And the days flew by far too fast. But on that first day out on the road - sun beating down and our little cavalcade heading up the TC1 past the murals of Chemainus and the quirky 'Goat on the Roof' in Coombs before we struck out on highway 4 towards Tofino - we felt we had all the time in the world.

Stopping for the night at the Sproat Lake Provincial Park just west of Port Alberni, we swam in the exceptionally warm waters for which this part of the island is known, and played cards down at the beach until sunset. It felt too good to be true for mid-September. It didn't feel anything like your typical Vancouver Island weather. As darkness set in we counted our lucky stars (quite literally) and cooked up a meal by the light of the milky way.

The next day found us climbing up and up through a narrow mountain pass before the road dropped down to the sea. It was fantastic to dip our toes in the freezing cold waters of Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park - to stare out beyond the intrepid surfers in their wetsuits and the sculpture-like rock formations dotting the shoreline and see nothing but ocean and more ocean. We headed up towards Tofino, amazed that so many people seemed to be heading that way too. We had expected the campgrounds to be empty this late in the season, but they were teeming with holidayers catching those precious last summer rays. We snagged one of the last available campsites at the Bella Pacifica campground on beautiful MacKenzie Beach, managing even to 'upgrade' to one of those coveted oceanside sites on our third and final night there. Walking out of our campsite and straight onto the beach by day, hearing the crash of the surf by night, was just amazing.

A lot of our time in Tofino was spent just hanging out on that beach, but on our second day we went out on a boat with about 10 others to watch marine wildlife and to visit Hot Springs Cove about 35 kilometers up the coast. The trip lasted about 6 hours, including a two hour stopover at the Springs - time to hike in through the rainforest to the steamy hot pools and scorching waterfall, sit and sizzle for a spell, wolf down lunch, and then hike out again. As for the wildlife part of it, we saw grey whales feeding and sea otters preening and sea lions arguing and seals just bobbing around - watching us watching them. It was all pretty fantastic - such a privilege to see these creatures in their natural habitat. And then there was the boat ride part of it all...Let's just say that there were those who found their sea legs a tad more easily than others; that a James Bond speed boat chase through choppy shark-infested waters had NOTHING on this. Back on land, we dined al fresco on the only possible option after a challenging day at sea: fish and chips.

It was hard to leave Tofino, but leave it we had to...Journeying back over that same mountainous stretch of road, stopping in this time to see the 800 year old redwoods and their ancient Douglas Fir neighbours at the magnificent Cathedral Grove. When we reached the eastern side of the island we turned left, heading along the coast to Deep Bay, staying the night in a small RV resort that looked out on a tiny island housing one of the last human-operated lighthouses in Canada. The walk along the beach to the Deep Bay marina was a stunner. So too was the result of that evening's card game. It prompted a re-match the following day as we traveled towards Victoria and our final night together. Pulling off at Parksville, we set up the cards on a beachside picnic table and faced off just metres from where Marianne's mother had sun-bathed and swam as a young woman many years before.

One of the nice things about doing Vancouver Island with Marianne was meeting her family and friends who are resident there. Our first evening together in Victoria had been spent enjoying lively chit-chat with her cousins. On our last evening - again, in Victoria - we were wined and dined by her friend Judy.

It was with great sadness that we took Marianne to the airport the following morning and saw her off to Montreal. By noon we too were onto the next chapter: sailing towards Washington State on the Sidney-Anacortes ferry, our road-trip across Canada now behind us, the long trek back home via the USA still to come.