Return to main menu
Ryan’s Great Adventures
Volume 93: Saturday October 24, 2009
Our hero travels across international boundaries to test his limits in the quaint countryside of Vancouver Island. First Victoria, then the West Coast Trail!
The day was dark and overcast. Rain had already blotted the area, but it had let up by the time I was ready. I left the apartment wearing two backpacks and a trekking pole. The pack on my back was a colorful thing, made up of six different colors from four different types of fabric. I know this because I made it myself from fabric pulled out of the remnants pile. It was a large pack—the largest I ever had, in fact, with a full 30% more volume inside than the previous packs I used for my thru-hikes. Despite the added volume, the pack itself was simple, cutting out much of the padding built into my previous packs and half a dozen clips, slidders, and other plastic gizmos that you'd find on a store-bought pack, so it actually weighed less.
The smaller day pack I wore on my chest was also sewed myself, but being smaller, I only needed two colors from the remnants pile. I also followed an actual pattern and you'd be hard-pressed to tell it was a homemade job. The large pack on my back—it looked like the homemade pack that it was.
The large pack contained everything I would need to survive an 80-mile, 10-day trek through the woods. The smaller day pack contained a few snacks, water, and miscellaneous items to carry me to and from the trailheads. It also contained a duffel bag that I could fit my large pack into when I needed to check it for traveling.
It wasn't particularly comfortable walking around with two packs, and I probably looked a little stupid doing so, but I didn't care. I walked out to the bus stop, dashing across the street in a most stylish and outlandish manner, to catch the bus that just pulled up. It's not that I was running particularly late—I didn't even check the bus schedule before I left the house—I just knew buses came by regularly and I figured I'd wait for whatever came next. But when I saw the bus for downtown Seattle pull up, I figured I may as well be on it rather than wait for the next one to show up.
So I caught the bus downtown, then walked several blocks to the dock for the Victoria Clipper—a passenger-only boat that would whisk me away to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. I checked in, shoving my large pack into the duffel bag for checking. Only bags 20 pounds or less were allowed as carry-on, and there was no way my bag would ever pass for anything that light. But they didn't charge extra for a checked bag, so it didn't much matter to me.
I got in line, eventually boarded the boat, and was on my way.
Most of the trip was largely anti-climatic. In theory, there should be wonderful views all over the place. Views of the Olympic Mountains, views of Mount Rainier, views of the San Juan Islands. But given the dreary weather, mostly all I saw was fog. As we entered the Straits of Juan de Fuca, which separates the United States from Canada, the weather started to clear and the views improved dramatically. So did the swells now that we were exposed to the open ocean, and I chose to lay down on the seat and nap rather than sit up and possibly throw up from sea sickness. =)
We finally arrived in Victoria, about 2 1/2 hours after leaving Seattle. The view from the boat alone was amazing. Incredible buildings graced the harbour (I'm spelling it like they do locally), that I would later learn included the parliament building and the famed Empress hotel. Since I had crossed an international boundary somewhere along the way, was forced to go through customs and immigration. They asked the usual questions about what I was doing there, how long I'd be there, yadda, yadda, yadda. When I told them I planned to hike the West Coast Trail, the guy asked if I was carrying any bear mace. This concerned me somewhat. "Uh, no," I replied. "Do I need some? Are bears a problem out here?"
The guy seemed to find this amusing, then pestered me about what sort of food I was carrying. Typically, when I cross international boundaries, I prefer not to have anything edible at all on me if for no other reason than they don't have to question me about food. Unfortunately, I wanted stuff like dehydrated ground beef, fruit leather, and so forth for my hike. It was easier to supply my specialized food supplies in Seattle than in a strange city in a country that I wasn't actually very familiar with. So I told him about the food I carried, mostly in general terms. I emphasized words like dehydrated junk and powdered milk, and he finally waved me off.
There were a couple of hotels practically across the street from where the boat docked, so I walked in to ask about prices. I doubted I would stay at them—Internet searches before I arrived seemed to suggest that lodging in downtown Victoria did not come cheap—but it didn't hurt to ask either. The first one said the cheapest room available was $150/night. The second one said they had something available for $100/night. I passed on both.
I pulled out the map I printed of the area along with directions to a few hostels in town, then proceeded to waddle down the street with my two packs to the nearest one—the HI Victoria—where I booked myself a bed for two nights for about $25/night. (Keep in mind, these are Canadian dollars I'm talking about, but the exchange rate at the time was about US $1 = CAN $1.05, so the two were nearly interchangeable and the exchange rate considerably worse than I would have preferred.)
My bed was on the third floor, in a room shared by about 50 other people. I left my large pack there then went out to wander around Victoria and see some sights and get my bearings. It was getting dark by this time, so I did some window shopping, bought some postcards, and generally killed time until I was tired enough to go to sleep.
I woke up bright and early, with the intention of exploring Victoria in more depth. Stuff was open, the sun was out, and there were places to visit. I didn't originally plan to spend a full day in Victoria before my hike, but I book my 'non-refundable, non-changable' tickets on the Victoria Clipper before I found out that the shuttle bus running to the trailheads only ran every other day during the off-season. Lazy S.O.B.s.
I started with Miniature World, located in the Empress Hotel. It looked interesting and was near enough to visit. Very cool stuff, but I'll let the photos speak for themselves. The one thing that I found particularly interesting was how much was dedicated to events such as America's history such as the Civil War. Being in Canada, I would have expected historical Canadian locations and events—which there were—but a surprising amount of space was dedicated to American history. I wanted to take a bunch of pictures that looked, at a glance, like they were real photos, so I bent down to be at the eye level of the miniature figurines for many of the photos, careful to cut out anything in the background such as people (real ones, tourists such as myself) or other scenes that would have shown the real size of the scenes. Everyone else just stood around taking picture at their eye level—boring!—and watched me like I was crazy, but I just know my pictures turned out far cooler than theirs did. *nodding*
One thing I didn't get any good pictures of was the world's smallest working sawmill. It wasn't running when I was there—a sign by the display said they weren't allowed to run it due to fire department regulations or something to that affect. Instead, they showed a video of the sawmill in action. It was a fascinating piece of engineering, but the lights were terrible and I just couldn't get any good photos of it. If you do want to see the world's smallest sawmill and a video of it in action, you won't be disappointed taking this tour!
Then I wandered out to Mountain Equipment Co-op, or MEC. It's the big outdoor store there, much like REI, and I figured I'd wander around a bit and see if there were any last minute things I might need. Like, for instance, a map of the the trail I would be hiking. =) Ultimately, I settled on a small bottle of sunscreen and a small padlock to lock my stuff up that I left behind in the hostel. I didn't care for the maps.
When I went up to pay, they asked if I were a member, and I told them no, and they told me I had to be a member to buy anything. What?! "It's a co-op" he explained. Yeah, I knew that, but so was REI. You don't have to be a member to buy anything there, though. Becoming a member cost $5, and while I did not expect to visit Canada often or make use of their store, I decided to pony up. It's a lifetime membership, and surely I'll end up in them at some point in the future. They also ship internationally and if exchange rates are particularly favorable, perhaps I'd save money buying through them rather than domestically? And it was only $5. After that, I started telling people that I accidentally became a part-owner of a reputable Canadian company completely by accident. Whoops! =)
I wandered the streets. I wandered through Chinatown, where a street fair of some sort was going on. I found a little yellow box designated as a place to dispose of dirty needles. I took pictures of it—I'd never heard of such a thing before—then wondered if I had wandered into the bad part of town. After all, would the good part of town need a place to dispose of dirty needles?
I continued to wander. I wandered to the Ross Bay Cemetery, where I found a letterbox. I wandered into bookstores. I wandered into supermarkets. I wandered to the bus stop to make sure I could find my bus the next morning, and know exactly how far away it was. I wandered into a tobacco shop selling Cuban cigars. Cubans! I don't smoke—I don't even like the smell of it—but I found myself drawn to the Cuban cigars. They were illegal! At least where I came from.... Good thing Amanda kept me on a short leash in Amsterdam. ;o)
That afternoon, when I pulled my pack out from the locker, I heard my pack rip. Needless to say, this worried me. When I sewed the backpack, I had made a small mistake where the straps attached to the bottom of the pack, and I tried to cover up the mistake with an extra row of stitches, but the rip I heard just pulled out that extra row of stitches. Technically, the pack was still fully intact, but I worried if the pack would last the entire hike. The pack was not field tested, I hadn't even gotten on the trail yet, and it was already falling apart. Not a good sign. Hopefully it would last, I thought. After all, it was only a 'backup' stitch that ripped out. The main stitching was still in place.
Eventually I wandered back to the hostel for the night.
Let me stop here. There used to be a lot more to this story, but I decided to turn my West Coast Trail and Juan de Fuca Trail into a book. I put a lot of effort into rewriting this story so it's a actually well-written, and if you want to read all of the nitty gritty details, please--buy it! =) You'll find it on Amazon.com, both as a print version and as a 99 cent Kindle version. (You can read Kindle books on your computer if you don't actually have a Kindle.)
So go check it out--it's a fun read! =)
Return to main menu