18) An Epilogue, An Island
– May 3rd – 11th, 2014
This is six consecutive months now of living in the Cadet, our 6’x9′ home on wheels. She’s a fibreglass shell on a single axle, twelve inch tires probably not intended for the extensive kilometres we’ve spun them over, with a dry weight of only 600 pounds. It’s hard to be sure, but we’ve probably doubled that weight with our cargo – the water tank, for instance, seems to hold just less than ten gallons of water, so that’s almost a hundred pounds right there when we’re full.
With about 4500 kilometres in front of us still, we would be far from home, but here we were, at the very least, coming back to Canada. There is something a bit final and dramatic about making the crossing by boat, and in these six months the little Cadet and a road-weary Midge have not yet floated on water. I, like Midge, have a land personality; water does not suit me with its alien properties, and there is something quite unsettling to me about depth; I am even less comfortable flying through the air. Here is the Coho, the ferry which will, after six months and about 20,000 kilometres of self-propelled travel, carry us for the final couple of hours back into our home land, a phrase where here I mean to say, ‘the place where we happened to be born’.
Coho, float us back from whence we came, Coho, carry us not because we are tired, but out of novelty, and to Vancouver Island, where we will stick around for a half-dozen sunsets or so.
In Victoria, the capital city of this what we are currently defining as a Province within the place where we happened to be born, we will peruse thrift/antique shops, where we will buy ’90’s CD’s and “Book One” of Lemony Snicket‘s A Series of Unfortunate Events (A Bad Beginning). The car will drive through 1997 as no five-year-old car has done yet this year, to the soundtrack of Our Lady Peace‘s Clumsy, OK Computer by Radiohead, and Matthew Good Band‘s Underdogs (along with 1999’s Beautiful Midnight).
We thought we might drive a bit north first to see Tofino, which is probably as far as we would go before heading back for another ferry to the mainland. Towing our trailer, as small as it is, we paid $147 for a one-way passage to the island, and the ferry back would be about the same. We would learn that even the islanders themselves are not exempt from paying full price ferry fees, and just to walk on and off the ferry on foot with no car was $17 each way per person. We would have to find the harmonious medium of staying long enough on the island to get our money’s worth while leaving ourselves with adequate time to get home afterwards.
We found a campground on the way to Nanaimo, about an hour north of Victoria. This would be our last campground experience on our trip, for a reason I will explain later. In the morning we met Kat’s old high school friend Ashleigh, who was living in Parksville, near Nanaimo, with her husband Chad and their three year old daughter Myah. They shared a five acre property with Chad’s brother, two separate houses backing onto a nice quiet pond. Next door was a barbecue at one of the neighbour’s who ran a large trout farm on his land, and after the barbecue we all went to the park with Myah, which backed onto a beach.
Chad and Ashleigh mentioned a place worth checking out, called Goats on Roof. Goats on Roof was a huge market place just outside of Parksville, and on the way to Tofino, known most obviously for having goats grazing around on the low-lying grass roofs of the buildings which all adjoined. We spent the night in the Goats on Roof parking lot, waking up excited for some goats on roofs, but finding to our disappointment that the goats stay in a barn for the colder half of the year, and would not be making their triumphant rooftop return for one more week. (You can actually livestream the goats on the roof right HERE!!!)
We did a short hike for a couple of kilometres around Little Qualicum Falls which was quite scenic, and where foreign tourists failed to grasp our boundaries of personal space. Funny how a thing like that can be relative, like the reason behind why one person might have a problem with another breathing down his neck and standing only inches from him quite unnecessarily, while the other would have no concept their violations and presumably maintain no such personal boundaries for themselves either.
By the 5th of May we were in Tofino, a place we found quickly to be rather uninviting to people such as us who intend to find a quiet spot to sleep at night on the side of some road. There was an initial sour experience from the woman at the visitor’s centre, and we were told again from a couple of different people that we would not find an acceptable overnight parking spot for free. There seemed to be an overabundance of surfers who would show up in their vans, and Tofino seemed clearly to not allow them to pass through so undetected. Luckily, very early on, we met a couple who had been travelling in their Westfalia van from Halifax, Nova Scotia, since February. They had followed a very similar route to ours, seeing Carlsbad Caverns, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, just to name a few places, and they, like us, had driven north up the west coast and were now slowly making their way back home. They had picked up a third traveller named Martin when they were in San Francisco, who was with them as well. They told us of a place in Tofino where for five dollars you could park on somebody’s property, calling this place ‘the hippie commune’. One of them produced a cartoonish, off-scale map of the town, and sure enough there was a stereotype hippie van showing just a bit west off the main highway heading north to downtown Tofino.
We found the so-called hippie commune, and that same Westfalia van was already there by the time we arrived, although we didn’t see its passengers. We found the owner of the property, a man named Michael, who seemed a bit distracted with some pressing chores, but welcomed us to stay for the night. There was, however, a misunderstanding about the cost, and between Michael and one other, younger, community member, they fumbled for the actual rate, which seemed to be $10 per person, plus $20 per car, plus two hours each of work on the property. Suddenly, this seemed less intriguing, but with a bit more discussion we agreed to pay $20 in total and work two hours each tomorrow. I considered the work as something we could do out of personal interest in helping out a little intentional community, but for $20 a night plus work on top, we would probably only stay for one night. Although the circumstances were different, and I do sympathize with the real bills that faced this community, I think we had been spoiled by East Jesus back in California, which was a bit more relaxed in asking only one hour a day of work (though we tried to do more than the bare minimum out of actual care and interest for the project as a whole), had a lot more going on and was supremely more organized, and was, not to mention, free (again, not many communities have the luxury of a free living space, however, East Jesus simply rocks on many levels).
The next day Kat and I spent two hours just picking up garbage while walking around the village, which as I understand it, used to be called Symbiosis Eco Village, but is now Our Eco Village, and there are other “Our Eco Village” places around the island as well. It was a good opportunity to walk around and check out Michael’s land, and we used it to chat with some of the people we met around the village. It seems like there would have been at least ten acres there, including a large pond, a main structure which served as a kitchen and shower and meeting area, and many other ad hoc and less permanent structures. There was a guy from Quebec who had moved into a home made from spare lumber, which must have been constructed a long time ago, and had been sinking and rotting away on one side. The two of us plus another guy helped jack it up from underneath and set some new boulders under it to hold it up horizontal again. There were many boardwalk paths intersecting the land as well which also needed some mending. With so much rain and moisture here, anything wooden seemed to have a problem with rotting away, a similar if different problem from East Jesus‘s, where the sun reigned culprit and threatened indiscriminate disintegration to all, using only persistence and time.
I’m sure we could have stayed busy at Our Eco Village for some time (or perhaps it still is “Symbiosis Eco Village“, I’m not sure I understood correctly…), however, our travel procedure from this point forward would be marked by steadiness, speed, and distance, and always with less and less time. We had to say goodbye to the village. And though we had seen the Westfalia the night prior, it was gone now and we would not see it again. Back to Halifax no doubt, slowly but surely. We biked around the actual town of Tofino, walking along its howling coast, nothing west of here but the world’s largest ocean, a few distant and scattered islands, and eventually, Japan. Most of the town was closing down for the night by the time we arrived at 5pm, a reality that hadn’t occurred to us until stores were closing one after another along our bike ride through town. Time, after many months of this living, has become a less and less tangible theory, and our encounters with it are usually either in moderate-to-major cities where nothing ever closes, or quite disparately, in vast wildernesses, where there is little but the silence of still life, where time appears a stranger more than ever, reduced often to our mere judgements of remaining heat and light, until sleep finds and guides us into a new day.
Kat and I had determined a long time ago that May 7th would be considered our anniversary, marking specifically our first actual date, back in 2012. So a day before May 7th, that is to say, on May 6th, we went out for a dinner at a place called SoBo in Tofino, in recognition of our 2nd anniversary. (SoBo, as I read online later, stands for Sophisticated Bohemian, bearing a coincidentally striking resemblance to our own portmanteau of Hobohemians.) Later we biked around some more, and tried to buy coffee from a cafe, which to no surprise had just closed, however, the guy working there gave us free coffees as he was about to dump it all down the drain anyways. There are boat trips from Tofino out to some remote islands where tourists can get into some natural hot springs, and likely see some wildlife along the way. This is something that I actually experienced at about age 13 or so when I came here with my family on vacation. I hadn’t been here before that or since, but the occasional landmark or building seemed familiar. The boat tour shop that stood before us now boasted sightings of wolves, bears, whales, and more, all in the past couple of days. The shop, though, was closed. We were unable to learn of their rates for such boat trips, but they were likely not cheap, and we would have to be saving our extra moneys where possible to fund the tiny house once we got back. Time too was a currency to be rationed from here on.
The drive from Nanaimo across the island to Tofino is an almost three hour stretch of wilderness, a single winding and narrow road with many blind turns, ups and downs, and general uneasiness. It is marked by very few towns or signs of any civilization, save the road itself, and the scattered traffic consisting of mostly large trucks of one kind or another, who would unavoidably veer into the oncoming lane amidst numerous sharp turns back and forth around rock faces and rivers. This was the one road into, and out of, Tofino. We drove about an hour away from Tofino, and just after exiting the boundaries of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (where no overnight parking is allowed anywhere), we found a great spot to sleep just across the road from a nice river. With darkness settling in, there were few passing vehicles now, and we slept soundly until morning.
We had been told not to miss Cathedral Grove, though on our drive out to Tofino, we had done just that, passing a sign that mentioned it by name, but not realizing that it was signalling us to pull over in order to see the place. On our way back now, we pulled over this time. Cathedral Grove is an area of giant redwood trees, accessible by walking paths. Off we went for a short walk around the redwoods, standing hundreds of feet tall all around us, and with the loop being rather short, we were back in the car again within the hour.
I said that after May 3rd we would not be staying in campgrounds again. This was untrue. I failed to remember the Whiskey Creek Campground, where we stayed for two days now, from the evening of May 7th, and then all day on May 8th, leaving on the 9th in the morning. Really the only reason we stayed in campgrounds was to occasionally pay for all-day internet access, plus to use their showers. If a truck stop shower would cost us anywhere from $5 to $15 (usually closer to $15), then a campsite for $25 or so wasn’t a huge increase in order to have WiFi and a place to settle for an entire day and night. The crossing back into Canada marked some psychic change for us now to shift gears and focus on our upcoming tiny house project, something which was approaching us in time as we approached it in relative proximity. We could still enjoy our travels, but there came an overwhelming urge to be getting prepared as well. At Whiskey Creek Campground we would spend two days and nights online, researching and learning and preparing for the impending undertaking of ours which stood, at that moment anyways, still very much beyond our comprehension.
Coming back on the one road to and from Tofino, we eventually returned to Parksville, briefly seeing Ashleigh and Chad again. In Nanaimo on May 9th, after some shopping around both online and then in person, we obtained a “MiFi 2” mobile hot spot from Bell Canada, which was a slightly better deal than any of its competition. The main disadvantage of a mobile hot spot is the cost versus the available data, which is higher than paying for home internet, though the obvious advantage is that it is portable. Bell‘s coverage specifically, since we decided on their plan, is the most extensive internet coverage in Canada, and the hot spot itself is small enough to fit into your pocket, and with about a 10 hour battery life, so basically anywhere we go we have internet. (Finalizing this post finally now in early August 2014, after a few months with the hot spot, I will say that we have 20G per month of data usage, which in reality means that we just can’t stream a whole lot of videos, but otherwise the two of us are online as much as we want to be and have come in just under the 20G mark for three consecutive months now.) 20G/month is currently the biggest data package one can acquire right now in Canada for mobile hot spots, as they are typically marketed as a supplemental internet source and assume the customer already has a more extensive internet package at home. The monthly bill is a bit steep but the device itself was free and now we have internet anywhere that we go. No more depressing trips to McDonalds to mooch WiFi… that’s got to be worth something right there in itself.
Nanaimo itself seemed like an ordinary mid-sized town, more built-up now since the last time I would have seen it back in the late 90’s, and rather than heading straight to Victoria we found some alternate scenic route, called the Circle Route if memory still serves me. We took this Circle Route into Lake Cowichan, where my late great-uncle Jim had lived for years and years. Of course even despite the small size of the town I could not remember where his old house would have been, though we wandered around for a while and eventually spent the night in a conspicuously convenient pull off.
By the morning we were told, presumably by one of the owners, that it was private land, but by that point we were getting ready to leave anyways. The next town along the Circle Route – which was quite desolate and clearly a logging route used mostly by massive logging trucks – was Sooke. At regular intervals the road would narrow into a single lane for bridges which crossed over rivers, and vehicles would have to take turns crossing and waiting for oncoming traffic, when seldom there was any. Somewhere between Lake Cowichan and Sooke we picked up Jeff, who by this point had been hiking through the wilderness for four days and nights, and was now looking for a ride to Victoria. Jeff was from France and had been travelling and hitchhiking around the world for about 18 months; his only current plan was to be in Japan by the autumn. We stopped in Sooke where Jeff thanked us and said goodbye, while we shopped for dinner and found Sooke Laundry, an immaculately clean laundromat. After scores of laundromats in about a dozen States and Provinces, Sooke Laundry was found to be virtually the exact opposite of every other establishment of its kind that we had seen, so much so it would appear, that here I am writing about a laundromat months later which we only patronned once for a couple hours back in May. Weird.
Here comes the ferry now, in Swarz Bay, just north of Victoria. It’s Mother’s Day, Sunday May 11th. I could make some metaphor here about rebirth but I might have to reach a bit farther than I care in order to do so. In an hour and a half we will be reunited with mainland Canada for the first time in more than six months now, a fact met with mixtures of anticipation and anxiousness. There is a long way back home still, but something about this crossing seems final, as if our home town may as well be directly across the water, as if all of these past months might conclude so cheerlessly in the next 90 minutes. To thwart this impending inertia, we must prepare ourselves now both mentally and in actual fact for the beginning of a new chapter, of a new book altogether, where we will settle for a little while in pursuit of a more stationary journey, yet a journey nonetheless – the planning and building of our future tiny house. I can almost hear Vancouver now, just a little out of sight and beyond the horizon.