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PART 7 - TOFINO TO SOOKE

July 16th - Day 48 - A Day in Tofino

I slept until late. Goodness me, after camping with a thin mattress, you appreciate how great it is to have a bed to sleep on.

The hotel receptionist last night found a great spot to keep the kayak behind the bar on the outdoor patio. “No one can see it here and it will be safe. You have to keep an eye on things in this town. Bicycles, and sometimes even surf boards let out on the porch grow legs at night and wander off never to be seen again.”

My morning priority was to find a laundromat and get my clothes washed. The heat from the three previous days meant that, by weight,  they were now more sweat than fabric, and I had to hold my breath to toss them into the washing machine. 

“Well, now to find some breakfast while these clothes are washing.” I thought.

There was a coffee shop a block away with a friendly look and a line spilling out the front door. 

“This must be a good place.”

When it was my turn I ordered a hot chocolate, a kitchen sink cookie and a four-egg omelet with cheese and bacon.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t take credit cards.”

“Really? Is your machine broken?”

“No, we just don’t accept credit cards. We are a cash business. The bank branch is next door, so we just deposit the money at the end of the day. It saves us from having to pay credit card fees.”

“I don’t have enough cash on me. Can you make an exception?”

“Nope sorry. You can use the bank ATM.”

I went to the ATM at the bank. It charged me 5% currency conversion fee which got me a little mad. Not with the bank, but with the coffee shop. When I paid my bill, I made it a point to hand them a hundred-dollar bill. 

“Sorry. That’s all the ATM gave me.” I lied. “Oh, and by the way, would you mind giving me 20 loonies? They’re for the laundromat. I have a lot to wash.”

The cashier opened the register and handed me all his coins.  

 

I made a short excursion on my kayak to Meares Island, where  my guidebook said there was a grove of ancient spruce trees. Getting there was challenging. The low tide exposed a maze of mudflats and sandbanks. When  I arrived at the island dock, it was the trough of the tide. I looked for the high-water mark but there was none.

“Don’t leave your boat on the sandbank. Put it on top of the dock. The water rises fast, and it will be floating before long.”

The voice was from a kayaker that had just appeared from around the channel bend and had spotted me walking on the tidal beach uncertain about what to do. He was a guide leading five other paddlers.

“I was wondering about that. The dock is a little high to lift the kayak up there on my own.” I said.

“I’ll help you get it up there.”

His words could not have been more prescient. I went for a walk in the trail to see the spruce trees and returned after less than two hours to find the entire sandbank covered in knee deep water. 

In the afternoon I took a stroll through town. When I went by the docks, I came across a curious billboard. “The Smoked Fish Store.” It said, and under the main sign was a catchy slogan, “Follow your nose.” 

Indeed, the air on the boardwalk was saturated with a delicious scent of smoked salmon and I reeled through the walkway to the shop’s front door like a fish on a hook.

“I hope there’s a strong padlock on your door. This is where the town bears hang out on the porch at night.” I said to the shopkeeper who laughed at my joke.

“They keep the drifters away,” he said. “What would you like?”

“You have candied salmon?”

“Of every kind.”

I looked through the glass case. There were indeed  salmon sticks of every kind. Some ruby red, and others with deep pink hues. One was chopped into cubes encrusted with a glossy layer of brown sugar, and another was flakey and covered in black spices. 

I chose a cut of cherry red sockeye smoked in maple syrup and another that smoldered with teriyaki sauce and black pepper. Both had a flavor that you could feel in your tastebuds recalling the experience in your thoughts.

“This is fantastically good! I wish I could take some home with me, but I don’t want to share it in my tent with a bear.”

“Since Covid, we’ve been delivering everywhere in North America. It’s vacuum sealed and guaranteed to arrive fresh on your door. If you want next day delivery, we do that too.” He handed me a business card; and I stacked it in my wallet for when I am back home in Florida.

July 17th - Day 49

I felt extremely lethargic getting out of bed. If the hotel wasn’t fully booked, I would have stayed for another night. Nonetheless, I got up, loaded the kayak, ate a breakfast of cereal bars with Nutella, and the remaining candied salmon, before heading to the  boat ramp.

I paddled out through the narrow gap between Wickaninnish Island and the mainland while being carried by the ebbing tide. This stretch of coastline is exposed to the southwest swells that roll in from the Pacific Ocean, and although the weather was calm, paddled over immense rollers from distant storms far out at sea. 

The beaches south of Tofino are a trendy surfing destination. I read in my guidebook that Long Beach was a prime spot where there was also a campsite with good facilities. Unfortunately, when I called in, the camp was booked solid for the entire summer. 

“You could try a little further at Florencia Bay.” My friend Lee responded to a text message while I was on the water. 

“Don’t get caught camping there, however, the park police will kick you out.” 

His warning reminded me of the time when paddling around Florida, I had pitched my tent on a public beach only to have the park rangers tell me to get back in the ocean just as the sun was setting. 

I paddled past the headland and into Florencia Bay. At the mouth of the bay was an islet that shields the north side from the southwest swells making a safe harbor. The waves build towards the south with the decreasing protection of the islet. Today however, the swells were rolling in slowly but with a steep face forming before breaking gently over a shallow sand bank some distance from the shore. 

“Perfect conditions for surfing.” I thought. 

Unfortunately, every surfer in Tofino read the forecast. They were so numerous on the water that from a distance I mistook them for a raft of sea lions and the beach was packed with a forest of sunshades.  

I found a quieter spot where I could land without knocking out the head of a surfer or two. Kayak surfing, it seemed, was not going to be happening today. Even the surfers were waiting in line for their turn on the wave. 

Instead of surfing I walked down the beach where I struck up a conversation with a family from Ucluelet. Eventually the conversation came to my journey around the island. 

“So do the park rangers really come and check if anyone is camping on the beach.”

“Yes, they do. Every day they come, and they are pretty strict about it. They will almost certainly catch you, but I heard that they normally don’t go to Halfmoon Bay on the south side. You can try camping there.”

They pointed at the small strip of sand near the south headland only visible during the troughs between the swells.

 

“It’s separated from the main beach by a headland and you can only get there through a very steep trail; almost no one goes there, and I doubt the rangers would want to walk all the way there and have to come back in the dark.”

I thanked them for their advice, got back on my kayak, and paddled across the bay where I squeezed between two rocks to disembark on a small strip of sand. I dragged my kayak behind a large driftwood where the shiny yellow deck would not be as visible from anyone on the main beach and waited until 9:00pm when it was nearly dark to pitch the tent. After the incident in Florida, I am adamant to take all precautions I can. 

July 18th - Day 50

At 5:00am I thought I heard the humming of a boat engine. That jolted me wide awake and I peaked my head out of the tent to see what was going on. Fortunately I think it was my imagination as there wasn’t a soul in sight.

The weather was calm, the swells had died down somewhat, but still looked good for catching a wave or two on the kayak, and the beach was empty. But unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling it this morning. 

“Ugh, I’m going to have to pack the kayak, paddle to the beach, unpack the kayak, pile all my gear on the sand, and then later pack everything again, and come back here and unpack again to camp. It’s too much work. I don’t have enough desire to surf if I must do all that.” I thought. 

“And who knows; the surfers will probably show up again today right after I catch the first wave or two, and then I’ll be out of luck. And there’s no place to bathe here, and there is a bed waiting for me in Ucluelet.” 

Maybe surfing and expeditioning aren’t meant to go together. At least not if you can’t find a proper place to camp. 

The harbor entrance into Ucluelet was very rugged and narrow with jagged rocks and towering cliffs. On the mainland side was a tall lighthouse to mark the tight turn into the harbor. The lighthouse looked down  to an archipelago of small islets where the swells crashed in enormous white puffs of spray and foam. In between bobbed a sounding buoy that made a puffing sound as it rose and fell with the swell. The buoy marks the safe route into the harbor, not too close to either the cliffs or the islets, which in storm or fog you would struggle to see, and where the water was deep enough that  only the largest swells in the worst weather would break. 

Today, however, it was calm. The sound buoy seemed to be breathing easy, and I paddled gently with the push of the swells past towering kelp beds swinging gently in the translucent water.

I made a quick stop on a beach outside the town and called JF. He appeared some ten minutes later with the air mattress I ordered on Amazon to his address. 

“You look so different in normal clothing. I’d begun to think that the red dry suit was your natural skin.” I joked.  

“I am sure you would look much fresher after a bath as well. You need laundry done?”

“My gosh, it’s only been two days since I slept on a bed. Has my cleanness worn off so quickly? Perhaps so… Laundry not so much. Got that done in Tofino, but thanks.”

I was really hoping he’d offer a shower and a bed instead of laundry, but I was embarrassed to ask. He said he had to get back to work and we were each on our separate ways.

Later in the day I found a hotel on the backside of town not far from the boat ramp, and   took a walk to the lighthouse I had seen from the water a few hours earlier. 

It is a little strange to see the same landmark from both the water and the land. From the land the vast expanse of the ocean looks ominous. Even the fishing boats in the distance are barely more than specs that disappear in the folds of the swells that roll as far as the horizon. Having my feet on dry land gives a comforting sense of security that emanates from the thought of not being out there. And yet, when I am out there, tucked inside the cockpit of my kayak, I do not feel dread or lost in the vast expanse. If you can see the land from the sea, you feel safe, because you know where you are, if you are on land looking at the sea, you see just how big the place the sea can be to be. If, however, you are at sea and you lose sight of land then maybe you might feel the dread of knowing you are lost.