After weeks of preparation, and quite a lot of anxiety, and making of arrangements, we hit the road for Vancouver Island on Friday, July 20th. The first hour of the trip was uneventful, and then we got to the park gates, just outside of Banff, and it was clear something was amiss. Traffic was backed up, and there were police and park staff speaking to the driver of each vehicle, and directing traffic.
“Apparently there was a mud slide” the woman in the van next to us said through her open window.
We got up to the officer, who informed us that a mud slide had occurred on the other side of Banff, and that the highway was completely closed. Banff hotels and campgrounds were completely full, and they didn’t know how long it would take to clear.
We asked if we could wait it out in Banff and he waved us through (apparently only a short time later they completely closed the gate, except to residents and people with proof of hotel reservations in town). The parks staff we spoke to at the pay booth said that he heard crews were hoping to have the mud cleared by 8:30, which was only two hours away, so things looked hopeful.
The highway beyond the gate was pretty much a parking lot. Many people were out of their cars, traffic practically inched along. I think we moved 2 kms over a period of almost two hours. We spent our time Googling news stories on my phone, people-watching, and listening to the radio. When we finally got to the end of the traffic jam, we spoke to another officer (turns out they had the road blocked down to one lane so that they could speak to each driver, and allow those that wanted to turn around, to do so safely). We opted to continue on. It was strange rolling into Banff. It was like a road-side town had spontaneously formed. There were loads of transport trucks lined up along the side of the road, and taking up the far right lane as well. Between trucks there were cars and RV’s and people everywhere. The road beyond the second Banff exit was totally closed, so we headed into town.
Our favorite restaurant (Phil’s) was closed, so we parked and walked over to McDonald’s, where we grabbed some food and used the bathroom. The news updates were disappointing. They had pushed back the clean-up time to sometime around 1am. We had already been delayed for over two hours, but what else could we do? We ate, discussed our options, and then decided to sleep in the truck until 1am and then see if the road was open.
We stepped outside and it was dark, and pouring. Of course, neither of us had brought a coat, and it was a long dash to the truck. Oh well. We got back to the truck feeling rather defeated and more than a little soaked through. I let my brother know (who was expecting us in Vancouver in the middle of the night) that we would be delayed.
After finding a dark place to park, we hunkered down. I dozed off and on, between checking Twitter (the most up to date place to find information, as it turned out) but we didn’t get much rest. Around 1am, there was a tweet from a news channel saying that the road was now opened. We decided to drive over and take a look, and if it wasn’t open, we could come back into town, or wait in the line.
When we made our way to the highway, traffic was just starting to slowly creep onto the now-opened roadway. Hooray! We were back on track.
However, the congestion meant that we were sharing the road with a HUGE number of transport trucks, and it was dark, and it was raining. The roads through the mountains are winding and treacherous at the best of times, and the going was slow, but we just took our time. When we got to Golden, we stopped and filled up the tank, and got some coffee.
As the miles ticked by, the drive got better. After Revelstoke, the sun started to come up, and the rest of the way was pretty quick. We stopped in Merritt for gas and breakfast, and then it was straight through to Vancouver city. It was around 11am when we pulled up in front of my brothers house, and got out to a warm welcome from two of my siblings Brian and Kyle). It was so fantastic to see them. We don’t get together very often, usually only once a year, and so there were smiles and hugs all around.
We decided the first order of business was getting some grub, and so we climbed into the Nitro, and Brian directed us to The Red Wagon Cafe, which was already lined up out the door. Brian said he had heard great things, so we pulled up some sidewalk and spent our wait chatting.
When we were finally seated, Brian, Mike, and myself ordered The Red Wagon’s claim to fame: Pulled Pork Pancakeswith Jack Daniels maple syrup. Yes, it sounds kind of gross. I added scrambled eggs to mine. Kyle ordered the pulled pork eggs benedict.
I really liked mine, but as it turns out, I was the only one, besides Kyle, who thought his was also awesome. I really like salty-sweet though, and I love pulled pork, and though it was an unusual combination of flavors, I thought it worked.
Brian and Mike were a bit disappointed, but we all rolled out of there feeling fuller at the very least.
We went back to Kyle’s place and spent over an hour just visiting. We talked a lot about their upcoming tour and how their band is making out. Brian advised us that we should get to the ferry terminal early, however, so that we wouldn’t risk not getting on a boat that day. It was a sad goodbye, but we plan to catch one of their shows when they come to Calgary in August.
Then it was off to the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal, where were bought our ticket, and then wandered around and waited for our boat.
We didn’t have to wait too long, since we were right at the front of the line. We got loaded, and then grabbed our camera and headed up to the deck to look around.
After snapping some pictures, and watching the other boats in the harbor (including a Princess cruise ship, although not the one we were on in Alaska last summer) we grabbed a burger and then found some comfortable seats to wait out the rest of the ride.
When we got to port in Nanaimo, we grabbed another coffee and then headed out towards Tofino. It’s beautiful on Vancouver Island, and after so many hours of travel, we were finally in the home stretch!
When we got to Cathedral Grove, Mike decided it was the perfect chance to stretch our legs. We parked and got out the camera.
From the BC Parks Website:
Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park, is one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island. Here visitors can stroll through a network of trails under the shadow of towering ancient Douglas-fir trees, majestic pillars untouched by the modern world – some more than 800 years old.
It was beautiful there, walking among the giant trees. Words and photos really don’t do it justice.
Then it was back to the road, as it was getting dark. By the time we got into Tofino, it was around 10pm, and the situation seemed a bit bleak. The hostels were both full, and almost every hotel had no vacancy. We drove around, debated about sleeping in the truck again, and then Mike declared that he wanted to get a good nights sleep before we did our hike the following day, and so we grit our teeth and paid over twice what we wanted to for a room at the Best Western.
The room was lovely mind you, and after being awake for almost 24 hours, that comfy king sized bed was the best thing I had seen in a while. We had a hot shower and then fell asleep as soon as we curled up among all of those soft pillows.
In the morning, we made some coffee and then I looked out the window to see the beach. It was gorgeous.
We took our coffee down to the beach and played in the sand, and checked out the tidal pools.
The smell of the ocean renewed our vigor to get going, so we checked out, and headed back into Tofino. We found the place to park, and the dock where the water taxi would take us to Ahousaht.
The tide was low, so we went down to the water and caught some crabs and pestered some star fish. We wandered around town, and had some breakfast and coffee in a local shop (A salmon bagel, an egg sandwich, and two cups of coffee came to almost $30, if that is any indication of how pricey Tofino is).
The next water taxi wasn’t scheduled until 4:30pm, but we decided to grab our backpacks and just wait by the dock. When we got there, some Ahousaht locals asked us where we were headed, and when we told them, they offered to take us much sooner (it was around 2:30pm) which was really very nice.
“Go ahead and sit in the boat out of the rain” our captain said, and so we clamored onto his vessel and waited. It wasn’t long until were jetting across the water way between islands. It was about a 20 minute boat ride, and despite what some might think, we found the local First Nations people to be extremely friendly and helpful. The captain even radioed the trail office for us, so that someone could meet us right at the dock and guide us to where we needed to go. If you are planning on hiking Flores Island, I would encourage you to just ask around on the dock for a ride, rather than having to wait for the scheduled taxi (which only runs twice a day).
When we docked at the village, we thanked our driver, payed him (it was $20/person) and then Tara met us and led us to the trail office, where she signed us in, gave us our map, let us fill up our Platypus, and use the bathroom, before pointing us toward the trail head and wishing us a great time. So off we headed, into parts unknown.