So what I have been doing for the past month is this: More, but mostly less living in Victoria and spending every spare day between sporadic Victoria-based commitments backpacking the island. One day, I was sitting around my mother’s house being generally depressed, when I decided that I should probably learn how to surf. Why? Because sometimes you just need to throw something new into your life, the weather had been pretty good, and I own a wetsuit that I don’t use enough.
My trip to Bamfield was only ever meant to be a stop on the way to Ucluelet, where I’d rent a giant beginner surf board and attempt to hitch hike with it to Long Beach. I was hoping to do some splashing around in the wash, get hit in the face a bunch, and maybe even catch a few waves. However, I got picked up at a gas station in Port Alberni and was invited to drink beer around a campfire by a nice guy called Uncle Dave. What can I say? I’m easily distracted.
The next morning, I woke up late to overcast skies, a hangover, and the knowledge that I had to be in Victoria, walking the dog for my mom in about 24 hours. Surfing was apparently not in the cards, but I caught a ride out to Long Beach before I left so that I could stare at the ocean and feel bad about my failure.
I went back to Victoria, walked that dog until he was real tired, then turned right back around. No detours.
I got dropped off a few hours before sunset at a little general store by Mackenzie Beach, where I befriended some surf bums of the motorcycle variety. To nobody’s surprise, I got invited to drink beer around a campfire. I make a policy of never rejecting an invitation to do anything while travelling unless it’s clearly just a bad idea, but this time, I just felt like going with them wasn’t the best thing the night might have in store for me.
I walked to the beach, in search of the tidal island that I’d slept on two years earlier, remembering not much about it other than how it was really cool and a great place to sleep. I had just put down my backpack to start exploring when I heard really good music coming from around a corner. I followed it straight to three beautiful people who were clearly having a killer time.
I ended up spending the whole evening with them. We got along great. They were a sickeningly cute couple with matching dreads and Australian accents, and a guy named Ace who just wanted to rave all the time, so he did— dead sober. We talked about their life at a place called Poolesland (which I had a very hard time wrapping my head around the concept of), danced, and explored the island together. At sunset, suddenly a half dozen people came running out of the trees to watch the clouds light up. My new friends knew them all. It was a surreal moment.
I spent the night alone on the island, and woke up feeling warm and wide awake. I walked out to the road and put out my thumb, bound for the surf shop at Wya Point, because I’d previously researched that they were offering the cheapest going rate of $20 for a day and because they were right by a good hitch hiking spot. I never made it there, though.
I got picked up by a couple guys who agreed to take me as far as Long Beach, where I could catch a little extra traffic, but once I told them what I was doing, they asked if I had my own wetsuit and suggested that I go surfing with them and borrow the extra long board they had strapped to the roof for some reason.
We changed into our wetsuits in the parking lot and I asked them “Is there anything you can tell me besides good luck?”They told me to keep the nose up, but not too far up, and to put my hands flat on the board, instead of around the sides when popping up. Then they walked into the ocean and left me on the beach, wondering which foot I should put the strap on. Luckily, some nice people on the beach told me it went on my back foot and then helped me figure out which foot was my back foot.
I walked into the water, fully expecting to get absolutely nowhere for a while, but then somehow I caught the first wave I tried for. I tried for another one, got it too, and even stood up for a few seconds. I was hooked, but also getting really tired really fast. I realized that I was starving. Somehow it was already about 1 o’clock.
I made myself catch a few more waves, then walked back to the car to grab a snack, vowing to go right back out once I felt a little better. But before I even finished one granola bar, my new friends came out of the ocean after me.
“The waves are too big here. We’re getting beat up. We should try Chesterman.”
At Chesterman Beach, I got right back in the water and paddled until my weak little arms could paddle no more. I counted 10 waves that I caught, and I’m liberally estimating that I got about 15 seconds of standing on the board in. Again, I crawled out of the ocean just a few minutes before the guys did. They announced that they were done for the day and I announced that I was definitely spending the $20 I saved by meeting them on beer to share.
We went on a long misadventure of errands, including the beer store, then eventually they pulled off a road into a place that vaguely resembled a campsite, with every form of temporary structure, from tent, to RV, to school bus littered throughout the woods. We stopped next to a pond and I was led over to an enormous hammock strung across a vegetable garden. Then, I got told that this was Poolesland— the place the friends I’d made the day before were talking about. A few of them even showed up and I got to know them better. It turns out that for all intents and purposes, Poolesland is a commune. Residents pay rent of $50 per month and work in the garden, but mostly they have a lot of fun. It’s a bit of a mystery how anything gets done.
A few hours later, I was sitting in a tree at the top of a cliff, watching the sun set over the ocean with a dozen other people in other trees surrounding mine. Endless forest stretched out in front of us.
“It’s crown land,” said someone, “We can do whatever we want here.”
And so, all night, we did whatever we wanted. We had a fire in a small clearing, drank beers and told stories that might have been true. People kept asking if I lived there, and I really wanted to say “I do now,” but the very next day I had to go again.
There’s a lot of things to take care of in my life right now. In fact, I’m writing this from my living room after a long day of moving in, and before my first day of school, which is tomorrow. My first day of work is in just a few short weeks. I’m back in the system, and although it’s not all bad, I can’t help but mourn the loss of the beautiful freedom this past year has brought me.
Also!!! On a sort of related note, if you happen to need any, I’ll be teaching sailing lessons.