At some point early in the 6 weeks between my last exam and the day I left Canada, I said to a friend, “I love how I’m treating the fact that I have to get to Oregon soon as no big deal at all.”
You know, just playing the character: Cool, calm, collected solo female hitch hiker. Not afraid of anything. I play it so well sometimes that I believe it, but there was something about saying those words that day that flipped a switch.
“Oh shit,” I thought, “I have to say goodbye to everyone I know for a long time and hitch hike to southern Oregon in a few weeks.”
And so, my time for me turned (blissfully) into time for others. I went on a mad-dash around southern BC, clocking about 3000km, clawing after connection, having fun with far flung friends and family, but all with the shadow of how I wasn’t going to see them again for a long time hanging over us.
First stop was Powell River, which I rushed off to in the 4 days between my exam and a sailing lesson I had to teach, which also happened to be the last 4 days before my aunt moved to Montreal. I hadn’t seen my aunt and uncle in a time longer than I could remember, and I didn’t know when I’d see them again, so this was an emergency. I spent those 4 days at the beach, slicing fruit, eating delicious food (heavy on the home-baked goods), and drinking Townsite craft beer in the garden.
After 2 days of work in Vancouver, during which time I told zero people I was in the city and camped in Horseshoe Bay, I went to Victoria to see my mom. That was lovely, but I never really seem to do much when I’m there. Highlights included my mom’s company, my dog’s company, and how I left the worst bottle of alcohol in the world on a downtown street corner on my way to the ferry.
One last sailing lesson to teach put me back in Vancouver again, but this time I didn’t hide. I reached out to the small group of people who I felt like would keep me coming back to the city at least on a sometimes basis. I didn’t want to let them go.
I asked a friend to go sailing with me the next day, and he said, “Yeah, should I bring a bottle of wine?” That’s actually amazing, because I ask people if they want to go sailing all the time and it seems like I never actually take anyone sailing. In fact, I hardly ever go sailing, either. After a summer of being stressed out of my mind over teaching sailing, it felt really good to get out there and reclaim the joy that I know this sport can bring me.
I felt really busy for those few days, but I’m not sure what else I really did besides what happened during my last 24 hours in Vancouver. Those were like something out of a movie. I got up in the morning and biked down to False Creek, where I found Ashley in her natural habitat of on a swing set. The idea was to make a point to get at least one of the adventures we’d been talking about “definitely doing” all summer long done. So we put our bikes on the bus and headed for the North Shore, to Old Benny’s place.
I love walking around abandoned buildings and taking pictures, but this house was something special. It was ocean-front property and a gorgeous home that someone has decided should be empty. It was mostly untouched— no graffiti, lot’s of glass left to be smashed (not that we’re glass smashers, no no no!). Someone was going to town after the copper in an upstairs room, but the rest was clean and intact. The cool part, though, was this:
On a sunny patio, right at the ocean’s edge, I decided to lift up a wooden trap door. It turns out that beautiful patio was just the roof of a big, gross enclosed space. We sat for a long time, discussing what this underground space could be and we came to the oddly reasonable conclusion that it was probably a rum running cellar. It’s right on the ocean and looks like nobody has cared about it in a very long time (not since prohibition ended?!). What else could it be?
After we left the house— not before jumping off the patio into the water— Ashley and I rode our bikes across the Lions Gate Bridge (which I’d never done before) and back over to False Creek, where we met up with our friend Dale. Starring up at Mount Seymour from a Wreck Beach blanket on Beer Can Island, Dale suggested that we drive up to Cypress Mountain to eat junk food and look out over the city.
And so, my last night in Vancouver ended with 3 great friends, looking across the lights of the city that has gotten me this far. I hope that I’ll never live in Vancouver again, and don’t think that I will, but this day showed me that there are reasons I will always need to return to it, but just for a visit.
Next, I went to Rossland, because clearly I can’t get enough of that place. Oh Rossland, why are you so far away from everywhere? It took me two days to get there, but they were leisurely days. I didn’t even get on the sky train until about noon, after breakfast at Bon’s. I then got befriended by some really fun people while waiting out the night in Keremeos. So fun, in fact, that I didn’t get going until noon again the next day.
It was a good trip there, and I arrived just in time for a “creative meeting”/ fondue party hosted by my friend Becca for her project, “Rossville”— an alternate universe reimagining of Rossland, where everything was very weird and very art. I couldn’t get over how perfect the timing was. I rolled into town and right into a gathering of all my friends. We shared the most amazing things and had the most amazing conversations. Before the end of the night, I was feeling super inspired to help the project in any way I could. Not that I could help out a whole ton, since my leaving day was so imminent, but I made some of my poems into pretty things for the cause.
It was really hard to leave Rossland, knowing that I won’t be back for the next winter, but before I left, I squeezed in a Quesadilla party, a walk along the Colombia River, and sailing on Kootenay Lake.
Once I left Rossland, I was really starting to panic. I felt the deadline creeping up faster and faster. I decided to take myself on a dry run of solo travel, so I returned to the coast. After a quick pitstop in Vancouver to say goodbye to my dad and my main minions, Cameron and Graeme, I took the ferry over to Nanaimo and headed north to explore the Comox Valley and a place I’d heard of called Sointula.
I spent the first night scared and lonely, sleeping in an old coal mining rail car on display in the middle of a park near the main drag of Cumberland. To be honest, during that night, I felt like I couldn’t do it— or didn’t want to do it. I had been carrying around a tent with me this entire time, but I hadn’t opened it once. I had always been in the presence of friends, but I didn’t have any friends on that part of the island and hadn’t had the fortune of making any. I’ve done a lot of camping on my own since losing my travel companion, but it really isn’t as much fun as I try to convince myself it is.
However, the next morning, I climbed out of that coal car determined to have a good time. I went to a coffee shop and interneted myself some information about the weather, determined that I should hold off on Sointula for another day to let the rain pass, bought myself some instant indian food, and returned to the road.
After a couple short rides, I found myself somewhere between Courtney and Campbell River, and a little blue car pulled over. When I opened the passenger side door, the man inside told me, “I’m not going very far, but I know how it is hitch hiking.”
“Ah yeah,” I said, “But I did it to myself. I’m not going anywhere important. I just wanted to go to the beach, you know?”
“The beach? I’ll take you to the beach!”
Apparently he knew just the one, because without even asking, he made the next right turn off the highway and started driving on an endless maze of backroads. I was nervous, not so much because I was afraid of him, but because I was wondering how the hell I was going to get back to the highway from wherever it was he planned on bringing me.
“Don’t worry, this road runs parallel to the highway.” We came upon an intersection and he said, “When you come back out, just follow this road, and the highway is only about 5 miles that way.”
Then he turned down some more backroads and drove me even further from the highway. My back and feet were already aching, just from thinking about the walk, but I had everything I needed to spend the night, so I put my worries in the back of my mind and decided this was a tomorrow problem.
The man brought me to a place called Eagles Drive Beach, which I loved from the first moment I saw it. He gave me a can of bud light, told me that there were oysters once the tide got lower so I’d be fine, then he left and I settled in.
It seems crazy, but the gesture brought me a lot of joy. I spend a lot of time talking to concerned friends, family and strangers, just trying to convince them that no, I’m not about to actually get myself killed. Nobody ever tells me, “You’ll be fine.” Of course I’m used to defending my own survival skills, and I accept the worry as a sign that I am deeply cared for. However, for someone to just assume that I can take care of myself is a huge boost for my confidence.
I spent the afternoon exploring the beach. It was deserted, except for a few quiet cabins. I think I saw a total of 3 people in the nearly 24 hours I stayed there, all from a far distance. Although it was a distinctly rugged pacific northwest beach, it was unlike any I’d seen before. The large, rounded rocks had a coppery sheen to them and the seaweeds ranged from emerald greens to bright oranges. When the sun started to set, I boiled my packet of indian food in ocean water and ate it with a tall can of blackberry cider I’d been carrying around for a few days. I went to bed early, waking up only once in the middle of the night. I came out of my tent and suddenly found myself under the most incredible sky of stars I’d ever seen in my life. The whole experience was so blissful— exactly what I imagine in my delusions that camping by oneself is fun.
The next morning, I packed up my camp and set about solving the problem of my dangerous distance from the highway. It was quite simple, really. I made myself a sign that read LOST and started walking slowly in the direction I wanted to go. I walked for about 45 minutes before getting picked up by the second car that passed, thus proving once again that nothing is as scary as it seems and that the world is there for me.
I arrived in Sointula— a remote community on Malcolm Island that my aunt told me about, originally settled as a Finnish utopian colony— on the 5pm ferry. As is always my plan wherever I go, I planned to go to the beach as soon as I got there, but the wind was blowing really hard and I didn’t really want to just sit there shivering. I walked off the ferry with a bunch of people who seemed to know where they were going, so I tried to blend in. At the end of the ferry ramp, I took a decisive left and walked confidently right out of downtown.
Apparently I didn’t pull it off too well, because as soon as I got to the end of the main street, a woman asked me, “Are you a traveller? Do you know where you’re going?”
She told me that she volunteered at the local museum, so I asked her, as per my aunt’s suggestion, about the “Sointula Art Shed”. Her name was Brenda, and she was nice enough to take me up to the shed and explain the residency program to the best of her knowledge. Brenda then decided that I definitely needed to get out to the most beautiful campsite on the island, Bere Point, for the night. From how she explained the spot, it sounded wonderful. I figured it wouldn’t be completely impossible for me to hitch hike to, but Brenda had other ideas for me.
“Get in my car!” she insisted, “The grocery store is about to close for today and tomorrow!”
So Brenda took me grocery shopping with her, then panicked about where she could find me a map of the island, then went about asking literally everyone she saw if they were driving to Bere Point and might take me with them.
“Somebody needs to get her out there!” she near-shouted at one of her friends as I stood back, feeling very awkward.
“Yes, and that person is you, Brenda,” said her friend, “You live almost all the way out there. It’s the Sointulian way.”
“Oh, but I’ve never been there on my own before,” said Brenda, “I’m new to the island. I’ve only been here 4 years. What if I get lost?”
Eventually I convinced her that she should drive me as far as where she lived and let me worry about getting the rest of the way on my own, but when we got to her house, she kept going. We saw sign after sign, directing us to Bere Point, and Brenda just got more excited with every single one. When we arrived at the campsite, Brenda was ecstatic. “Now you can come here on your own,” I said.
“Yeah!” she replied, with light in her eyes.
Normally I feel bad accepting rides from people who aren’t actually going where I’m going, but this one was different. I feel like Brenda and I really helped each other. I wrote her a thank you note in the guest book when I visited the museum the next day.
Once I left Sointula, I told myself, “Okay, it’s business time!” All my travel from that point on would be southbound. I just had to make one last quick stop: Tofino. Luckily, I am the fastest hitch hiker in the world, because I managed to get all 465km of the way there by the end of the day, despite how I didn’t leave until the 2:30 ferry.
Upon my arrival, I got in touch with the only two people I knew in Tofino and discovered that despite how they hadn’t known of each other’s existence the last time I’d talked to either one of them, they were now room mates. And just like that, I had a sweet place to stay. I had only planned on staying in Tofino for a couple nights, but talking to my friend Kevin that first morning, he mentioned that he was playing an acoustic concert in a cave lit by torches at the end of the week. The moon would be full and the tide would be lowest just after sunset, making the cave accessible.
“That is so cool,” I told him, “I wish I could be here for it.”
“No offence,” he said, “but what exactly is so important about what you have to do that it can’t wait a couple days?”
“Good point,” I said.
And so I busied myself in Tofino all week, rather easily, in fact. I went hiking, surfing, miscellaneous exploring, and I drank a lot of beer while I did it all.
It was sunny and beautiful all week, until the day of the show. That day, it poured with rain. Kevin said that everybody could just wear their wetsuits, though. Tofino isn’t afraid of a little rain. I went early to help set up the lights: a row of torches in front of the “stage” and what must have been 100 tea light candles lodged in the crevices of the dripping sea cave.
In short, it was beautiful and intimate. Because of the weather, only a handful of people showed up, but we all sung together in our raincoats. The acoustics were incredible. I don’t know if in all my life living here that I’ve ever done anything anywhere near as “west coast” as this. I’m glad that I hung around.
Last but not least, I returned to Victoria for my final goodbyes to family. I actually got to be in the same room as my mom and one of my brothers. It had been so long that it felt like practically the whole family (sorry Peter). I also got to see a couple relocated Rossland friends. We sat by the water in the harbour, and I watched the boat that I knew would be taking me to the United States the very next day come and go from its berth.
I was still scared, but not as afraid as my mom was. She took me out for a fancy, fancy breakfast and told the barista that I am crazy. I think I might be. She went to work and I went to the boat station. The pages of the book keep turning. A chapter ends, and another begins.