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Ferry Freak


Wildwood CG
Vancouver Island
Port Hardy, BC

Ralph Lindberg brings good news and bad news. The good news is Ripple Rock Campground, a few miles north of Campbell River.

I arrived at dusk from the Comox ferry, managed to make it down the washboard road into Brown's Bay with only minor injuries. When I got all my teeth back in, I registered. By the time I was hooked up, it was full dark.

Only a little later it began. Walking back from the laundry, I was struck dumb in mid-whistle, motionless in mid-stride. My mouth fell open. There, entirely filling up the narrow channel of Vancouver Strait with light, drifted a small white planet shining in space, a floating dream of avarice and desire. It seemed an emblem of all you could want, just out of reach. I felt like Adam, fresh out of Eden.

It was, of course, a cruise ship, returning from Alaska, every light ablaze, passing slowly and majestically on its way to Vancouver. There were 3 more in the next two hours. One after another.

My mother went on such a cruise once, long ago. I remember wishing I could go with her. But now that I can, I can't. There's no escape from character. Left to my own devices, I'm a cheap bastard. So I'm taking the ferry to Prince Rupert.

In fact, I'm turning into a regular ferry freak. For about $70 US each way, you get half the scenery of a cruise, with none of that fattening gourmet food or the nerve-racking losses at shuffleboard. No gratuities to figure out, no neurotic activities director. Perhaps there's the odd fragrant hitchhiker sleeping across an aisle, but you can step over them. What a deal.

Thirty hours up and back, around 600 miles, weaving in and out of vertiginous cloud-draped islands tumbling to the sea. Fjords for the masses. It must be like living inside of one of those elegant old chinese paintings for a while, minus the tiny meditating monks.

How could I resist? How could anyone?

But then there's Ralph's bad news: "the weather is changing." Boy, is it. Every mile toward Port Hardy brought more rain. Then the fog closed in. Somehow I found the ferry terminal, but the lady there was unhelpful about the weather. You would think a marine service would have up to the minute forecasts, but all she could say was "you never know, eh?". Fortunately reservations are not needed if you don't have a vehicle and don't want a bed.

Perhaps I let the weather color my mood a bit. Port Hardy did indeed seem a drab place on a Saturday afternoon. I ate some indifferent prawns at an Oriental restaurant. The Ford dealer couldn't get to an oil change, and the Library was closed. I went looking for a liquor store, hoping for liquid cheer. Next to a hydrant in the parking lot I found a wallet, but it was flat. A couple of credit cards, though, and a driver's license. The lady at the liquor store knew the guy, and called him while I waited. I gathered up some beer, and left the problem with them.

Another way Canada reminds me of the US, forty years ago: Most liquor stores have only a dozen dusty brands of beer, and all of them taste like Bud or Coors. The way they have all this monotony stacked up and priced, they seem to specialize in selling by the case. "You can break a case if you want, though," she allowed reluctantly. I'm looking forward to getting back to where I can find a cold sixpack of Moose Drool, or a single bottle of some strange stout.

After casting about, I ended up at Wildwood Campground, perhaps a mile and a half from the Ferry terminal. This is a charming, older place that reminds me of the rainforest on the Pacific side of Olympic park. High trees dripping moss and gloom, a deep carpet of needles and lichen under foot. The manager was a young man who looked for all the world like John-Boy Walton. Talked like him, too. When I asked about storing the trailer while on the ferry, he said he'd ask his grandma. A little later, while I was getting hooked up, he walked down in the rain to tell me: "She says you can leave it right there for 2 dollars a day." Can't beat a deal like that.

John-Boy also said that fires were permitted. First time I've heard that since Wyoming. There's even free firewood, but it's soaked through, and I couldn't get it to burn with a propane torch. Finally I broke into the stash I've been carrying since Cody, and made some progress.

I have missed having an evening campfire. Fulltiming as I am, my social life rather depends on it. You know, luring in victims with the gift of fire. Since passing into Montana, I've practically become a hermit. People really need an excuse to be friendly with strangers. Without a fire or something like it, they tend to stay shut up in their trailers, talking only to themselves or their wives, and go to bed promptly at 9 pm.

Now I ask you, what kind of life is that?

I did get to know Ernie from Calgary while I was up at Athabasca Glacier, and learned a good deal about eating fish cheeks and livers as a child up in Manitoba. But that was a fluke. His trailer broke down, and I happened to have the wrench he needed to get the bearings off.

Come into my toolbox, said the spider to the fly.

O well. I'm just not clever enough to get away with regularly feigning a breakdown for social purposes, and I haven't got a dog. So I've learned to build a mean fire. Very occasionally I'll even furnish beer. Now there's a thought. Wonder where I can buy a simple small tasteful sign that says "Free Beer?"

Then when they start lining up I can tell 'em it's a want ad, and watch 'em scatter.

This particular fire is going out in all this leafdrip overhead. Looks like I'll have to wait until Tuesday for the next Ferry. With the smokiness this trip, I've about had enough of scenery that can't be seen. Just in case, though, I've packed a bag and set the clock.

If I wake up at 5 am and see the stars, I'm on my way.


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