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Rathtrevor Beach Park
Parksville, Vancouver Isle

It's been a busy week. I've been doing stuff instead of writing about it, and it's hard to be sorry about that. The journal habit comes and goes.

I was driving south of Campbell River last week when I came across the ferry to Denman and Hornby Islands, the "Jewels of the Gulf Islands". It says so right here in this brochure. I don't know what it is about islands just off-shore. They are expensive to get to, and difficult to leave. And generally there's not much there. These two live off tourists, but everybody professes to be relieved they're mostly gone. It's that false feeling of isolation, I guess, that gives value to small victories. Denman, for instance, has a good bakery and cafe, though these would be unremarkable were they not "on the island". It costs $35 to take a car to both of them on the ferry.

Denman has one campground, with 10 spaces, in Fillongley Provincial Park. I came over around noon and got the last space available. It's a nice sand beach, and many campers get out their rakes and go clamming there. My neighbor was having a chowder party with the results as I drove up. Boyle Point Park, near the ferry to Hornby, has a nice walk through old growth timber to good views of a lighthouse on Chrome Island off the south end.

At least Denman looks like real people make a living there. Hornby, on the other hand, seems to be filled with artistic types. Every other house seems to have a sign saying "potter" or "weaver". I took a look at some of this stuff at the Co-op, and it seems pretty ordinary. I mentioned the plethora of potters to people in the campground later, and the comment was "they smoke a lot of pot, too". That has to be the basis of the economy, cause there's just so many wall hangings and coffee cups you can sell.

More evidence that I'm getting old, I guess. Time was I would have thought this breezy bohemianism was cool, but now it just seems insufferably cute and useless. I heard one ersatz local "farmer" in granny glasses and overalls brag that he got almost one ear of corn off every stalk he planted. Gosh. The building codes seem to have been written by Hobbits, as they go in for round arches and wicker fences, and the "artisan built" community center is faced with round burls of spruce.

The '60s were good to me, but the charm seems to have worn off. Hornby's saving grace is Helliwell PP, where there is a walk along the cliffs even more impressive than Denman's. Soon as the walk was done, I went directly back to the ferry. I couldn't wait to get away.

This would have been a good place to kayak, but I walked instead.

Continuing down the coast, I turned west at the pleasant village of Qualicum Beach. Route 4 was a good road out to Sproat Lake, but then degenerated into the narrow, twisty, lumpy track typical of BC back roads. It's particularly bad on trailers. On 99, back on the mainland, my TV tore screws out of the wall in back, falling to the floor and gouging a hole in the vinyl. Good luck if you've got a rear kitchen.

About 5 miles short of the turnoff to Tofino, there were people parked all over the road, so I joined them. There was a black bear sitting by the roadside, eating grass. That seemed pretty odd behaviour for a bear to me, so I kept my distance and used the telephoto lens. Other people were getting right in it's face with flashbulbs, but it seemed oblivious.

Tofino is a tourist trap and trinket peddler, but it is pretty. There are a number of private campgrounds nearby, but the best place is Greenville CG in Pacific Rim National Park. This even has it's own slice of Long Beach, a stretch of sand and driftwood that reminds me of the shore in Olympic National Park. Very nice, but you need reservations, which I did not have.

So I went to Toquart Bay instead. The ride down there is pothole city, but the spot is beautiful. Mountains plunging to the sea, with clouds clinging to the peaks. Alternately fogged in and shining in sunlight. Primitive camping, pit toilets and a table for 10 bucks a night.

But this is the jumping off place for the Broken Island Group, and I was going kayaking at last.

I got one glorious sunny day, maybe 6 hours in the water, out around Hand Island and the Brabants, then back into the Pinkertons and home. That was just right. This is the first paddle of any length I've had in several years, and my first ever in salt water. My upper body was holding up okay, but the cramps that came from keeping my legs crossed and still for hours forced me out of the boat on various beaches. A matter of time and practice, I guess. I'm told there are 12,000 paddlers in here every season, many on multiday trips. I met dozens myself in the water. No matter. There are hundreds of small empty islands at hand, and maybe a thousand secluded beaches.

Gibraltar island was closed due to the presence of wolves. How do wolves get out there? They swim out, to feast on deer. Those are some hungry wolves. It's a two mile swim. It would be something to run across a struggling soggy pack while cruising in your kayak. Bump. Bump, bump. Owoooooooo.

I myself have been eating exceptionally well. Perhaps too well. When I started this trip I was losing lots of weight, but since the heart attack I've put most of it back on. That's okay. At least I've been doing it with style, perhaps in reaction to the gustatory desert of Port Hardy and environs.

I can recommend two restaurants in particular. The Blueberries Cafe in Euclulet has the best clam chowder I have ever eaten, bar none, for about 5 bucks a bowl. Light, creamy, with potatoes cooked down into a broth thick with meat, but not glutinous as many are. It's a soup, not a stew. Lovely large oysters baked in butter and garlic were another of my favorites. This is a small place, upscale without being up price.

In Tofino, if you have to go there, try the Rainforest Cafe. Much more pretentious and a good bit more expensive than the Blueberries, but the cooking was up to the pretention, so I have no real complaint. Much of the menu has an Asian bent. The highlight here was an appetizer, a mountainous heap of mussels and clams in a sweet pepper coconut broth. A meal in itself for 12 bucks. Slurp. I should have ordered two and skipped the entree. Prawns with star anise glaze were just weird.

But I ate every one of them.

After badmouthing Canadian beer earlier, I've found a couple of brands I like: Sleeman's Rainforest Ale, and Piper's Pale Ale. Okanagan Pale Ale is fair, also.

Of the two towns, I was charmed by Eucluelet. It is smaller than Tofino, less crowded, and there's a fine walk that starts right in town and goes out to Amphitrite Point, by the lighthouse. 8.7 kilometers laid out in a circle, but the best of it can be had by driving to the lighthouse and walking out from there. Finest ocean views yet. Reminds me of portions of the Maine coastline, with the added attraction of high trees and rain forest flora. Moaning buoys add an eerie touch. It's called the Wild Pacific Trail, and though it's hardly wild, it is pacific.

You don't even need to walk far. I could sit on one of the many benches and watch the boats go by among the sea-sprayed rocks below for hours. Some of these benches have a plaque showing they were placed there by families in memory of loved ones.

What a fine way to be remembered. Rest in peace, indeed.


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