The night after I found out that I’d lost the entirety of my adult life’s worth of writing to a poorly placed beer spill, I ended up on the side of a street in Victoria, sharing a 2 litre bottle of cider with a runaway teenager, a dreadlocked twenty-something year old dude in a onesie, and an honest to goodness magician. How any of them might have described me in 10 words or less will always be a mystery. Someone had found half a pepperoni pizza sitting on top of a dumpster, which we were using to try and befriend a nearby seagull, and a quiet boy played guitar in the corner. I had no plans for my future and what felt like no proof of my past.
I had been thinking that that the next day I’d probably be running away to Sooke with the not-even-that-cute-or-nice boy I’d met earlier in the evening. Or maybe I’d be hanging out with an old friend who was passing through town and going to a concert for a band I hardly knew the name of with him. Or maybe I’d just stay in bed all day and mourn the contents of that damn hard drive. I had my big backpack packed and ready to go, full of anything I could possibly need for an indefinite time on the road, just in case. I could have done anything, if only I could have picked something.
The next morning, when I woke up hungover in my mom’s guest bed, I still wasn’t sure what to do, so like any normal human, I grabbed my phone and started scrolling through Facebook. I read a post by a “friend” who I hadn’t even met before that said there was work helping to sand a wooden floor in a house on Galiano Island. I had never done any sort of work like that before, but the pay was good, the island was an old favourite of mine, and the only requirement for the job was the ability to be there the following day. That was the last time I felt aimless.
As far as jobs go, this one turned out to be the closest thing to a psychedelic experience that I’ve ever been paid for. Days started early with sunrise yoga to ease my sore muscles, a large jar of black tea, and homemade granola with huckleberries from the bushes along the driveway. I was camping in the yard and spent most of my spare time on the large deck, cantilevered off a cliff, overlooking the ocean.
All day, we’d weave around the massive house with progressively higher grit sandpaper on our floor sanders. We worked barefoot, so we could feel the difference we made with each passing lap. That floor was a work of art— made from recycled fir that used to be a sugar warehouse in Vancouver. You could see where the boards had once attached to each other in a different shape. They were full of looping patterns and knots, and when we swept the sawdust up, they shone in the afternoon light.
I got to work with three of the best people I’ve ever met— All of them nautically inclined, with lifetimes worth of amazing stories to share and quirky personalities to tell them with. There was Steph, the west coast punk with the beautiful dog who had just gotten back from Indonesia. Then there was Olli, the Finnish pirate who was unapologetically the most authentic version of himself every minute of every day. And finally, Wilfred, ex-Jehovah’s witness, turned gentle sailboat nomad, and the only one of us with any carpentry skills to write home about.
The first time I left Galiano, it was with Olli and Steph, on Olli’s sailboat. We left in the early morning, bound for Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island, but somehow we ended up in Ganges Harbour on Saltspring Island. Steph took off to a fetish party in Duncan, and Olli and I made pasta and shared a bottle of wine on the boat until it got dark, and he asked me to watch his boat while he went to another job for a few days.
Of course I have always wanted a sailboat. Anyone who knows the first thing about me knows that. By the time I left Otra Vida in Patagonia, I was sure that I’d have one in the next 5 years. But by the time those few days staying on Olli’s boat were over, I became determined to have one by the end of the year. Martin had made the idea of boat-owning seem possible, but very intimidating with his 38 foot boat, his label maker, his spreadsheets and his back ups of absolutely everything. It was so clean. I don’t do clean very well. Olli’s boat, on the other hand, looked a lot more like a space I could imagine creating. There were books, deer skulls, feathers, bags of dried mushrooms, coffee cups, water jugs, and spare sails spilling out from everywhere. The rigging and navigation equipment seemed simple, but it all worked so well. Seeing how Olli balanced his strange life made me believe that I could pull off something similar. I spent a lot of time starring at my own reflection, imagining my face on the body of a person with strong arms, standing in the cockpit of their own sailboat. I could see it, and I wanted it.
From Saltspring, I took off on a bit of a backpacking sprint. I went from Cowichan Bay to Victoria, to Port Renfrew, to Victoria, to Tofino, to Port Alberni, to Kennedy Lake. There, at Rainbow beach, I ran right into a bush rave to celebrate the summer solstice. I had a great time there, even long after I ran out of beer, sweating out the hangover in the sun on Rainbow Bridge.
I met a really nice boy there who brought me to Ucluelet, then to Cowichan Lake, then to the gates of Tall Trees music festival in Port Renfrew. I almost bought a ticket and went in, but then I got a text from Wilfred, asking if I wanted to come back to Galiano, and I was there before the sun set.
Wilfred and I worked for another 3 or 4 days, driving ourselves absolutely insane. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of working with “osmo” will understand. When we were finally done, Wilfred offered me a ride to Nanaimo on his sailboat, just because that seemed like a much more convenient place for me to be.
It was only a day’s sail to Nanaimo, which was more than enough time for me to figure out that Nanaimo was not where I wanted to be. After weeks for hanging out in small communities, a big smokey city was hardly something I missed. Besides, Wilfred and I had been having a great time together, getting stoned, making snacks, then obsessing over the trim of the gennaker for hours at a time. We discussed spirituality and swapped stories the whole day long. There seemed to be no reason we shouldn’t continue adventuring together.
After stopping for the night and to pick up groceries in Nanaimo, we set sail for Lasqueti Island, fighting a choppy sea upwind out of the harbour. We laughed at the other sailboats motoring into the wind, while we kept time with them under sail, zig zagging up the coastline of Vancouver Island. We had all the sails up and the boat heeled over far enough to have the leeward deck skimming the surface of the ocean. It was wet and wild and awesome and we rode it until it blew itself out. We anchored in False Bay on Lasqueti and got ashore just minutes after the pub had closed for the night, so we resigned ourselves to drinking canned beer on the dock, stirring up phosphorescence with the paddle for the kayak that was our dinghy.
I thought I might stay on Lasqueti, but seeing as I had made no friends, nor noticed anywhere I might make friends on the walk we took to the free store the following morning, I decided that this island wasn’t the place for me either. We pulled up the anchor and set sail again, this time with a sound track of old mix cd’s from the free store. We listened through playlists of forgotten songs from the late 1990s and early 2000s, and tried to imagine the individuals who had compiled them. The wind was slow, but we had all day to get not very far, so we spent most of the afternoon in hammocks up by the bow. An hour or two before sunset, a breeze picked up, and we sailed our way down Lambert Channel, all the way to Ford’s Cove on Hornby Island.
We were in this particular anchorage because it was the Canada day long weekend, and Wilfred had plans to be at a “Dishonouring Canada” party at some sort of anarchist collective on the neighbouring Denman Island, which featured no good anchorages. Since we had hardly talked to anyone besides each other in about a week at this point, I decided to stay on Hornby for the weekend while Wilfred kayaked across the channel. We planned to meet back up at the end of the weekend and sail a little further together.
Finally a land-based hitch hiker once again, I began walking down the road, away from the little store at Ford’s Cove with my big backpack. Someone in a white van stopped and asked me where I was going. “I’ve never even seen a map of this island,” I told him, “If you could tell me where I should be going, that would be great.”
“Okay,” he said, half laughing, “I think you’d better start at the Ringside. I’ll take you there.”
As we drove, he pointed to Heron Rocks, Strachan Road, Sandpiper sub development, and out across Little Tribune Bay— all of which I figured I’d never actually see, since I would have so little time on the island. I hopped out of the van at the four-way stop and was immediately overwhelmed by the amount of people milling about the outdoor market and filing in and out of the grocery store.
The only logical thing to do was to walk straight past it all, down the nearest street in the direction of the ocean. Within a few minutes, I was at the head of a short trail to the beach. My bag felt heavy and I was excited to put it down and take in the scenery, but as soon as I made it, I realized that this beach was just as overpopulated as the Ringside market that I’d just left. Of course, I panicked and just kept walking, turning right, towards a rocky point, instead of left, to the brilliant white sand beach where all the people were.
At the end of the point, I put down my backpack and stretched my shoulders. It was a hot day and I really wanted to go swimming, but accessing my bathing suit would have involved taking nearly everything out of my backpack. There was—at long last— nobody around, so I decided to just go for it and to swim naked.
I jumped off a big, flat rock into gentle waves, and it felt amazing. I had never really liked swimming, but I could tell right away that there was something different about this water. After a few blissful minutes, I climbed carefully back up the barnacles and stretched out on a warm piece of sandstone to dry. I don’t know how long I had laid there, but I was almost entirely dry by the time I noticed a family with young children paddle boarding around the point. I put my clothes back on in a hurry, not wanting to offend anyone. It definitely didn’t feel as good to sit in the sun with my clothes on, but it’s hard to complain about such trivial things when you’re on a beautiful island that you’ve never seen before.
After relaxing a little more, I felt ready to face people and maybe make some friends. With my clothes still on, I picked up my backpack and kept walking around the point in the same direction, deciding not to go back the way I had come. As I walked, I saw the tiny specks of people on this other beach grow larger. Thankfully, there were not nearly as many of them as there were on the beach I had come from.
As I approached the sand, I noticed a large driftwood fort to my right. There were two men sitting on a log outside it, and they waved to me, so I waved back, turned and walked towards them. That’s when I noticed that these men were naked.
“Nude beach?!” I exclaimed in disbelief, as I approached them, “This is exactly what I wanted!”
I threw my backpack down and removed my clothes as one man introduced himself as JD, and I realized that the other man was my friend Jason, who I’d met in Tofino the previous year. I thought that coincidence was probably a good sign. JD explained to me that I was welcome to stay in the fort, and that there was a big hippie cookout and jam session there every night that the weather was nice. “Welcome home,” he told me.
It turned out that JD was right. Home was exactly where I was, although I didn’t quite know it at the time. I did end up leaving the island with Wilfred to sail on to Comox, Savary Island, and then Lund, where I disembarked to go visit my aunt and uncle in nearby Powell River. After I was done there, I had meant to hit up Vancouver and then possibly continue inland towards the Kootenays, but I couldn’t help myself— my feet carried me straight back to Hornby Island, and there I stayed.
I spent an amazing summer hanging out naked at Little Tribune Bay and swimming every day, exploring the wild sandstone and conglomerate rock coastline, dancing to live music by incredible local talent, working a hellish job at a certain cafe that will remain nameless, drinking endless cups of coffee every morning at the co-op, and becoming friends with some of the most strange and wonderful people I’ve ever met. When the evenings started to get cold in late September, I finally made that trip to Vancouver that I’d promised everyone back in July, but only to grab my winter clothing.
What started out as a weekend trip has now turned into nearly a year, with no end in sight. I’m living in a super trippy airstream trailer next to a beautiful pond, with an adorable pug and a really really good human being named Kevin. I’ve learned how to keep a wood stove running, how to patch a car tire, what sort of scrap metal is worth money, how to drive, how to garden, what the difference between an axe, a mall and a hatchet is, how to use a drill, how to get tire chains on a car stuck in the mud, and how to handle conflict with strategies other than leaving town. And, most excitingly, Hornby is the place where I found and purchased the first sailboat of my very own. She’s a 27 foot sloop rigged fin keel called the Lucky Dog, and we’re in love.
Needless to say, my adventures won’t ever be ending, but I don’t think they’ll be drifting too far from the Salish Sea any time soon. I don’t know how much I’ll be updating this blog in the future, but if I do, I promise only the most excellent stories. Peace, love and crazy shit, everyone. Have a great summer.